Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What is the Best Do It Yourself Landscaping and Home Design Software?

In efforts to help improve the Carola L. Gough 3D Art Museum in Second Life (learn more about it at http://www.CarolaGough.com), I am evaluating commercial software that lets you model gardens, landscapes, and complete homes. I'm looking for opinions on the best packages available.

Videos of Art Gallery and Sample 3D Landscapes and Home Designs

First, a sample video of how Carola's gallery looks. Actually this is a bit outdated by now, but you'll get the picture.

Narrated Tour

Tour with visitors and music

This tour features Slip Stringfellow, otherwise known as Mike, an Irish music musician from Atlanta. See his web site at http://www.SlipJig.org.

3D Landscape Model

This is interesting. These videos are produced by a company in Atlanta named BotanicaAtlanta. Looks like they have a cute staff member too: http://www.botanicaatlanta.com/ourstaff.htm with a degree an associate's degree in horticulture and a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture.

And, it looks like they build some really nice stuff: http://www.botanicaatlanta.com/photogallery.htm

I assume that this 3D model is a "prototype" that they create for their customers in order to come to agreement as to what ultimately will be built in the physical world. This helps them save costs, obviously! These videos are complete with sounds of birds and wildlife, very much like Second Life.

There is another neat one by the same company that cannot be embedded easily for some reason:


Landscape Design Documents and Specifications

This reminds me very much of the documents my cousin Matthew (from Georgia) showed me a few months ago as part of one of his courses.

3D Lanscape Animation


Home Fence Design

Home Theatre Design

Product Research Notes and Links

Top Selling / Well Rated

Amazon has a category for Home Design software, available here:


Sorting by "top rated" is misleading, so I sorted by Top Selling and then looked at the ratings amongst the top.

It does appear that Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer Suite 7.0 is the top-rated amongst high sellers, with 4 stars amongst 21 reviews.

Note: this software is built by a company called Chief Architect, which provides a neat animated tour of their software at this link:

Watch an Animated Tour of Chief Architect X1
Chief Architect

Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer Suite 7.0 Information

The production description from Amazon.com is pasted below. This seems like a good choice for modeling, far better than sitting inside of Second Life and trying to model. I wonder if there is a way to export the model though and then import into Second Life. Here is the product home page URL:


Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer Suite 7.0 is software developed by Chief Architect for home enthusiast remodeling and home design projects. This software helps you design the home of your dreams with 3D models, virtual tours, even more library items, easy to use building templates, a new Plant Encyclopedia and landscaping features with over 1,000 plant terrain and outdoor items. Combining the leading-edge home design software with the consumer design editorial expertise of Better Homes and Gardens, Home Designer Suite 7.0 is the best software tool you will find anywhere for home and remodeling design.

No matter your level of design expertise, Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer Suite 7.0 will get you moving toward a stunning visualized design of your dream home. The Getting Started Tutorial will guide you through basic design projects. Watch more than 30 videos for step-by-step instructions. Select from over 1,500 sample home plans or use the House Wizard to design your house. You can create your dream home today with the look and feel before it is built with styles, colors, wallpaper, flooring, and materials. Plus, you can quickly place and arrange walls, windows, doors, cabinets, and architectural objects from a library of over 4,300 items to create a 3D Model in minutes. Use the Library content to size your rooms, evaluate traffic flow, and create a visual model of your design.

Create your Dream Home
Design your dream home today with Home Designer. Quickly place and arrange walls, windows, doors, cabinets, choose colors, place furniture, create decks and landscaping. Design and visualize your home with 3D Models and Virtual Tours.

Choose from Design Templates
With Home Designer, you can quickly place and arrange walls, windows, doors, cabinets, choose colors, place furniture, create decks and landscaping.

Powerful Home Design Software
Enjoy the same building and design tools the professionals use--Home Designer is made for the home enthusiasts. Powerful building tools like automatic roof generation, stairs, decks, framing, CAD, dimensioning, realistic 3D models, and Plan Check makes it easy for anyone to use.

Create Floor Plans
Select from over 1,500 sample home plans or use the House Wizard to design your house.

Design Tools
With the program's Planning Center, you can use Material Painter to create a virtual look and feel of the design before it is built. You can test your design with actual colors, wallpaper, flooring, furniture, windows, and even window treatments.

Building Tools
You'll have complete automatic building tools for roof generation, framing, dimensioning, foundations, and more at your fingertips. You can even automatically generate a materials list for project cost estimating. The software includes a complete set of CAD (Computer Aided Design) tools to detail designs and Plan Check, which automatically validates the design against the most current building standards.

 Runners Up

The author of this site provides some reviews here:


He highly recommends Better Homes and Gardens Landscape and Deck Designer, but Amazon users give it only 2.5 stars!


Here are a couple of screen shots of what it produces:







A database of more than 1,200 plants offers both detailed information and photorealistic models for your visualizations.








Terrain Tools help you create topographically detailed views in 2D or 3D.








The software includes a library with a wide variety of backdrops, objects, images, and textures that can be used in your designs.

Any opinions much appreciated!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Carl Sagan, An Introduction

I had dinner with a friend tonight. We discussed science and art. She had a great book that had all kinds of maps made by peoples of the past that explained their conception of the world at the time. It depicted how humanity's thinking about reality changes over time. The book included topics on art, math, astronomy, religion, and more. It reminded me a lot of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series. As a child, my family showed me this series on PBS. Sagan's expansive thinking and encyclopedic knowledge about the universe and the Earth astonished me and planted the seed of critical thinking and reason in my mind.

Love for Humanity

Many astronomers and scientists have a vast amount of knowledge about their subjects. Sagan had another trait that too few other people have, scientist or not. He had a love for humanity and remained patient and tolerant of all questions and all ideas asked to him. After all, he realized that if he were rude or short with people, then he would lose their respect because people don't like to be talked down to as if they are ignorant just for seeking answers to questions that may not impact their daily business. Because of this, he was able to interact with people from all kinds of backgrounds and belief systems. He sought to engage people at the level of their humanity. I've written about this in my essay "The Eternally Curious Carl Sagan" earlier in my blog.

More Resources

Find out much more about Sagan here:

  1. Cosmos, A Personal Voyage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmos:_A_Personal_Voyage
  2. http://www.CarlSagan.com
  3. Cosmos video clips: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=cosmos+carl+sagan&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&sa=N&tab=wv


I wanted to provide a few YouTube videos and other resources to get a quick introduction to him and his work.


New Stories on the Day Sagan Died

Sagan is remembered by many of his students, both those who attended his classes, and those, like me, who he taught through his Cosmos series, as one of the best teachers of all-time. Aristotle said that "Teaching is the highest form of understanding." Another friend of mine emailed me today and said he has decided to become a teacher because so many young people have no one to guide them and no one to look up to. I was very proud of him.

This video shows news footage covering how people remembered Sagan on the day he died.

Cosmos: We Are Star Stuff

Evolution, on a GRAND scale!

Pale Blue Dot

This photograph is of the Earth, as seen from Voyager 1, some 4 billion miles away from Earth!

Read more about this photograph at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot

Carl Sagan's Cosmos for Rednecks (Family Guy)

This is a humorous depiction of Sagan :-D

Cosmos: Stellar Nursery

This is an excellent clip from Cosmos about stellar nurseries.

Cosmos: The Edge of Forever

This is quite poignant.

Cosmos: Nuclear War

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Monkey Altruism and Frans de Waal, Emory University Primate Researcher

This episode of Discover news discusses Monkey Altruism:


Here is a YouTube video about it too:

More About the Moral Sense in Animals

Here is more information about the moral sense in animals, copied from Wikipedia, which features 3 footnoted sources.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals (Click for more!)

Three footnoted examples of animal altruism

    * Dogs often adopt orphaned cats, squirrels, ducks and even tigers.[1]

    * Bonobos have been observed aiding other injured or handicapped bonobos.[2]

    * According to the research of Gerald Wilkinson, vampire bats have a "buddy system" in which a bat who has had a successful night of feeding will regurgitate blood for its less fortunate companion.[3]

See these web sites for examples of dogs adopting cats, including baby tigers, and more:

Mutt-ernal Instincts: http://dogsinthenews.com/stories/060929a.php

Excerpt from the site:

This week WNBC reported that "Bell" the Dachshund is the proud mother of 2 felines. Along with her recent litter of puppies, Bell nurses, cleans and protects the kitties as if they were her own.

Frans de Waal, Emory University Primate Researcher and One of Time Magazine's Top 100 2007 Leading Scientists and Thinkers


Here is an excerpt from the announcement on the Yerkes National Primate Research Center's web site, http://www.yerkes.emory.edu/index/yerkes-app/story.76/title.time-magazine-names-frans-de-waal-to-top-100-of-2007

ATLANTA – Frans de Waal, PhD, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and a C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory, is featured in TIME magazine’s 2007 Top 100: The People Who Shape Our World special issue, available on newsstands today. de Waal, a world-renowned primatologist and best-selling author, is widely recognized for his behavioral and evolutionary work with great apes as well as for his nine books, two of which The New York Times named “Notable Books of the Year.”

Science Friday has an interview with de Waal, author of the book Our Inner Ape on this episode:



More about the researcher: http://www.emory.edu/LIVING_LINKS/OurInnerApe/meet_frans.html

You can watch author Frans B. M. de Waal discussing animal love in this interesting segment:

Here is a list of other books by Frans de Waal


Primates & Philosophers (2006)
Frans de Waal

Our Inner Ape (2005)
Frans de Waal

My Family Album (2003)
Frans de Waal

Animal Social Complexity(2003)
Edited by Frans de Waal and Peter L. Tyack

The Ape and the Sushi Master Frans de Waal (2001)
Frans de Waal

Infant Chimpanzee and Human Child: A Classic 1935 Comparative Study of Ape Emotions and Intelligence
by N. N. Ladygina--Kohts Edited by Frans de Waal

Tree of Origin: What Primate Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Social Evolution (2001)
Edited by Frans de Waal

Natural Conflict Resolution (2000)
Filippo Aureli and Frans de Waal, editors

Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Primates 1998 (1982)
Frans de Waal

Bonobo: Forgotten Ape (1997)
Frans de Waal and Frans Lanting

Good Natured (1996)
Frans de Waal

Peacemaking Among Primates (1989)
Frans de Waal

Side Note: Francis Collins: Outdated Arguments

This is very interesting, especially in light of recent prominent scientists writing books on both sides of the "God" question. In the case of Francis Collins, he is arguing in favor of belief in a Judeo-Christian god, not the Spinoza-Einstein style of god. (Some say Collins conception of god is more like deism, but I have not read his book, only have read and listened to interviews with him).

This observation of altruism from species-to-species and a "moral sense" in animals goes directly against Collins' statements. He tries to discount kinship and reciprocity in his arguments to Dawkins, but how can he explain monkeys and dogs adopting cats in any way other than a god giving those monkeys and cats the same, or better "moral sense" that a god supposedly gave human beings?

See the debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins here:


It's really quite astounding that he continues to advance that argument in light of all the research that has been done on this subject.

Collins, we know, believes in evolution and defends it against attacks from proponents of "intelligent design" (creationist) explanations, but I think it's far more parsimonious to explain the nature of morality in terms more close to what Dawkins said. Dawkins can be very strident in his tone and approach, and I don't always like that, but his arguments in the debate are much more grounded in scientific reasoning than Collins'.

Dogs 'N Cats

Finally, for a funny YouTube video of a male dog "nursing" a cat, see this:

Alexis De Tocqueville : Touring America

I confess that in America I saw more than America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn what we have to fear or hope from its progress.

~ Alexis de Tocqueville

I subscribe to The Writer's Almanac email written by Garrison Keeler. Strangely, I don't usually enjoy his radio program too much, but that could be because they play too many reruns on weekends when I'm driving and tuned into NPR on 90.1 here in Atlanta.

Anyway, here is one essay that struck a chord with me today. It is about Alexis de Tocqueville and his 1835 book Democracy in America. The excerpt is on this page:


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, born in Paris (1805). He's remembered for the book Democracy in America (1835), which he wrote after he took a trip to the United States when he was just 26 years old. He wanted to write about the American style of government as a way of improving the government of France. After a brief stop in Newport, he arrived in Manhattan at sunrise May 11, 1831. Over the course of the next nine months, he traveled more than 7,000 miles, using every vehicle then in existence, including steamer, stagecoach, and horse, going as far west as Green Bay, Wisconsin, and as far south as New Orleans.

More than anything else, Tocqueville was impressed by the fact that American democracy actually worked. He wrote, "America demonstrates invincibly one thing that I had doubted up to now: that the middle classes can govern a State. ... Despite their small passions, their incomplete education, their vulgar habits, they can obviously provide a practical sort of intelligence and that turns out to be enough."

He also believed that one of the fundamental characteristics of all Americans was a certain kind of restlessness. He wrote, "An American will build a house in which to pass his old age and sell it before the roof is on; he will plant a garden and rent it just as the trees are coming into bearing ... he will take up a profession and leave it, settle in one place and soon go off elsewhere. ... In the end, death steps in and stops him before he has grown tired of this futile pursuit of happiness, which always escapes him."

For those of us who prefer to be YouTubified, we are in luck.

This video is more about the United Way, but it covers its Alexis de Tocqueville society celebration and describes his life:

One very frightening and prophetic quote from him is as follows:

"I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all for fear of being carried off their feet. The prospect really does frighten me that they may finally become so engrossed in a cowardly love of immediate pleasures that their interest in their own future and in that of their descendants may vanish, and that they will prefer tamely to follow the course of their destiny rather than make a sudden energetic effort necessary to set things right." - Alexis De Tocqueville

That's pretty scary because it resonates with the shameless promotion of what passes for "entertainment" in our culture. Entertainment bores the hell out of me. I want to create. I want to think. Stop feeding me nonsense.

Here is a lengthier discussion about Alexis de Tocqueville and his impact and legacy. One of the speakers is from Wappingers Falls, in the Hudson Valley, New York, where I am from originally and much of my family still lives.


This comes from http://www.tocqueville.org/, a great web site for information about de Tocqueville.

Finally, reading more about his book "Democracy in America" from Wikipedia, here is an excerpt:

In Democracy in America, published in 1835, Tocqueville wrote of the New World and its burgeoning democratic order. Observing from the perspective of a detached social scientist, Tocqueville wrote of his travels through America in the early 19th century when the market revolution, Western expansion, and Jacksonian democracy were radically transforming the fabric of American life. He saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as the community. A critic of individualism, Tocqueville thought that association, the coming together of people for common purpose, would bind Americans to an idea of nation larger than selfish desires, thus making a civil society which wasn't exclusively dependent on the state.

Tocqueville's penetrating analysis sought to understand the peculiar nature of American civic life. In describing America, he agreed with thinkers such as Aristotle, James Harrington and Montesquieu that the balance of property determined the balance of political power, but his conclusions after that differed radically from those of his predecessors. Tocqueville tried to understand why America was so different from Europe in the last throes of aristocracy. America, in contrast to the aristocratic ethic, was a society where money-making was the dominant ethic, where the common man enjoyed a level of dignity which was unprecedented, where commoners never deferred to elites, where hard work and money dominated the minds of all, and where what he described as crass individualism and market capitalism had taken root to an extraordinary degree.

The uniquely American mores and opinions, Tocqueville argued, lay in the origins of American society and derived from the peculiar social conditions that had welcomed colonists in prior centuries. Unlike Europe, venturers to America found a vast expanse of open land. Any and all who arrived could own their own land and cultivate an independent life. Sparse elites and a number of landed aristocrats existed, but, according to Tocqueville, these few stood no chance against the rapidly developing values bred by such vast land ownership. With such an open society, layered with so much opportunity, men of all sorts began working their way up in the world: industriousness became a dominant ethic, and "middling" values began taking root.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Carola L. Gough : April 17th, 1911 - July 25th, 2007 : Her Legacy Will Live Forever

My great grandmother Carola L. Gough passed away yesterday at age 96 + 3 months and 1 week. She lived every single second of those years and days and gave 100% of herself to others. I am forever indebted to her life example.

Our family will be creating The Carola L. Gough Foundation for Art & Science Education. This organization will be dedicated to preserving her artwork, letters, journals, photographs, and films and furthering her legacy in the world. It will focus on educating young people about art and science.

Learn more about Carola and her wonderful paintings at http://www.CarolaGough.com

Once there, please take a few moments to sign Carola's guestbook page in remembrance of her. Just click the "Guestbook" link in the menu on the page. Instructions are included for how to log in and sign the guestbook.
The rest of this post contains a note and letter from me, Carola's eldest great-grandchild, me, and the maintainer of CarolaGough.com.

Carola L. Gough

Daughter, Friend, Artist, Mother, Volunteer, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, Mentor, Great-Great-Grandmother
April 17th 1911 - July 25th 2007
May her life and example continue to live within us and inspire us all

Carola Gough passed away on Wednesday July 25th, 2007, passing on to her surviving descendants an astonishing legacy of love and commitment. The photographs of her paintings and newspaper appearances contained on this web site are just the beginning of what will be made available in the coming years. Carola and her husband Gene of 65 years kept meticulous records of their world travels, including hundreds of letters, thousands of photographs, and hours of film. The Gough family is currently working to digitize all this material as per Carola's wishes in order to preserve their legacy. Their body of work communicates their wholehearted embrace of life in hopes that they can continue to inspire not only their descendants, but also their friends and families as well.

In order to further the appreciation of her artwork and express to young people the beauty and potential of life in this world, we will create The Carola L. Gough Foundation for Arts & Sciences. This organization will strive to bring art and science education and appreciation to young people in person and through the web.

Letter to Carola Gough From her Eldest Great-Grandchild, Joshua Gough

Listen to Josh reading this letter aloud here: http://apps.ultravioletconsulting.com/audio/reading/GiGiLetter.mp3
Note from Josh:
I've known of my great-grandmother Carola and her husband Gene for my whole life, as I state in this letter to her, but I did not really get to know her in depth until I moved to Atlanta and my grandfather and grandmother started flying her down to spend many Christmas holidays with us.
It was during this time, from age 17 to age 28, that I got to know her and learned about her paintings,  her notecards, her illustrations, her teaching art in Africa, and, ultimately, her volunteer work with children at age 90.
Not only did Carola and her husband lead full lives, they kept record of their lives in writing, photography, video, and in paintings and have left all of this to us to preserve and propagate.
When I visited Carola during her time in hospice care the week prior to when she passed away on July 25th, 2007. On the last day before I came home, I went to see her with her son Kerry. Confined to her bed now, with no ability to swallow and thus very little ability to mouth words correctly, she made an extra effort to converse with me in those minutes before I left for Atlanta.
I told her I was going back to Atlanta the next day. She asked me how. I told her I was flying on US Airways. She asked if I was driving back to Matt & Christine's house. I said yes, and she that is good that I have a place to stay. She told me to call her when I got back to Atlanta to let her know that I had made it home safely. I told her I would.
I leaned closer to her and told her what I wanted her to know more than anything, "Spending time with you, seeing your artwork, understanding how you have lived your life, and seeing your example of volunteering with children in your 90's has made me believe that I can achieve any good and noble purpose I set out to accomplish."
These next words from her I will always, always, always remember.
With 96 years, 3 months, and 1 week of life worth of life experience and wisdom, she raised her head from the pillow, squeezed my hand and mouthed her last instructive words to me, "You can!"
And so, I will.
I turned toward the door, said good night to Kerry, said good night to Carola and told her I loved her. She said, "I love you too, and drive carefully."
I told her I would, said good night one last time, then left for my car. Both of us knew it was the last time we would see each other. She is my mother's father's mother. Four generations. We witnessed this presence of four generations earlier in the week when we were together with her with her eldest son Gene, Kerry, her daughter Linda, Gene's son Kevin, my uncle, and me. Life gives us no time to take any of this for granted. Not one second.
Earlier, before I left, she told Kerry and me some of her fond wishes.
She said, "I would like to make dinner for us all so that we can sit down and eat together."
Later she said, "I want to say thank you to all my children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren for coming to visit me. You know, if this thing works itself out, I'm going to send out an announcement to all of you and we'll have a big celebration together".
We know that she knew that would not likely happen, but she has made her announcement.
Her wish is for us all to sit down at the table to dine and to celebrate our lives, together.
"Whatever life has to throw at you, run to meet it head on" -- Carola L. Gough, April 17th 1911 - July 25th 2007

Congo Family, by Carola L. Gough

Dear Great Grandma Carola,
I recently read in your journal that you gave to me what you always told me: whatever life hands you you run to meet it head on. I am sorry to hear about your stroke and I am hoping that you will recover from this soon. I am looking forward to coming to see you in August to complete my interview with you about your paintings.
The grace, patience, and attentiveness you have displayed in your life, your paintings, and your attitude toward embracing change is the most inspiring and invigorating force I have personally ever known. Always, always, always know that I have the utmost gratitude for the loving kindness, patience, and inspiration you have given me in my life. I could never even begin to repay you for this, and I know that is not what you want. You want me to extend that outward to others, and so that is what I'm trying to learn how to do in life. I try to do this through my writing and through my own actions and efforts.
Whenever I feel like I cannot accomplish something or as if I'm not making a difference, I remember you, your life, your words and what you have given all of us.
First, you had a vision of family and gave life to it, raising three children. Then you gave guidance, wisdom, affection, and attention to their children, your grandchildren. And, nearly thirty years ago now when I was born in 1977, your first great-grandchild, you saw, at age 66, another opportunity awaiting for you to someday calmly and patiently teach that little boy to run to meet life head on.
You did that in so many ways, implicitly in your paintings, explicitly in your actions through your phone calls, your cards and letters, gifts, and your time taken to read every word I have written to you or shown to you. You did it through example in 65 years of marriage. You and your husband did it by taking time to think of us and visit us. Presence is the world's most precious gift. And, time and time again, presence is what you gave, whether that came in person, or through the objects you made present with us.
You understand very well the effect of presence and actions upon the lives of your descendants. As a small child, even before I met you, I knew of you. A painting of yours, The Goughies , hung on the wall, depicting my mother Kathryn and her three siblings, Kelly, Kevin, and Kara. On the coffee table I saw a mysterious gift from far away lands, a carved jar from Zaire brought back from when you and your husband Gene lived there for three years. I thought to myself how exotic and far-removed from my kind of simple life you must have been! But, when I met you and got to know you, I realized that being "far-removed" was not part of your vocabulary. No, you have been fully present in every moment and in every meaningful way. Indeed, you have always been "closely-involved".
When I saw you volunteering with kids at age 90, I knew I could do it too at age 23, and so I have, and everyday the commitment I have to help ensure that the young people I know grow compassionate and committed to improving the lives of people around them, and thus themselves in the process, grows stronger. I think to myself about what I can help accomplish over the next 60 years of my own life if only I commit to the same principles that you have passed down to your family.
A few weeks ago you told me on the phone that you enjoy helping make some of the "little old ladies" around the assisted living home feel better about themselves. We should all  strive to have this same attitude in life!
I want to share with you a small passage I wrote a few months ago.

Practice attention, patience, and compassion to achieve success. Here are a few words on each of these.
Attention is more than a direction of the eyes, attuning of the ears, straightening of the spine, or a steadying of the hands or feet. Each of these forms the skeleton of attention, but its muscle is the brain. There is no Cartesian division between mind and body. The two are one. Direct your eyes, attune your ears, straighten your spine, steady your hands and feet and focus your brain on the task before you and expect success. With patience and compassion, success will follow.
Patience is not the ability to sit idly by, waiting for other people to come along and show you something new, but is instead the inability to refrain from joining with others to share something that is true; Once you begin to do this, there is no limit to what you can achieve, together, for the good of yourselves and others. Notice I said "begin to do" and not "learn how to do", because you can't learn without doing. You just do it, and understanding will follow.
Compassion is first the recognition of a physical or psychological struggle in others that you have seen, and perhaps overcome, in yourself. Second it is the inclination to join with them to be then their eyes, ears, hands and feet, or voice. Finally, it is the understanding that their struggle is as much your own as it is theirs for without their success and uplifting you also are stuck at an altitude far below that which you can soar.
Success is an accumulation. But, it is not solely the accumulation of physical objects and financial assets. These things are well and good when used for a noble purpose, but success is much more than this. It is the accumulation of memories of kind words and actions extended from you toward others and from others toward you. Layer upon layer of such memorable actions builds in you an infinite cushion into which to fall when you face setbacks. Knowing always that you can brighten somebody else's day with a kind word or a smile will be your secret to success. I guarantee it or your money back.

Attention, patience, compassion, and success. I learned a great deal about all of these by being around you and observing how you have conducted your life.
You also told me to get on the dance floor and dance. You should see me now taking salsa dance lessons. I'm just a rookie and not very good yet, but I will be. You've shown me, and all of us, that we can and will achieve whatever good and noble purpose we set out to accomplish.
I don't know how to live up to all you have achieved or how to love as thoroughly as you have loved, but nothing in this world can stop me from trying.
Great Grandma: you love, you are loved, and you are love. I know this for certain, and I am looking forward to seeing you better very soon.
Love always,
Your great grandson Josh
P.S. When teaching me to paint water colors a few years ago you told me,"You're the best thing that's happened to me, great-grandson". All I can say is that I have been the luckiest great-grandson in the world. You are always, always, always loved, and you are the greatest thing that's happened to me.

Guitarist, by Carola L. Gough

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tell Somebody About It

I just listened to Scott Hanselman's Be A Better Developer in Six Months podcast. You can listen to it here: http://www.hanselman.com/blog/HanselminutesPodcast72BeABetterDeveloperInSixMonths.aspx

He spoke with .NET Rocks host Carl Franklin about things you can do in six months to be a better developer. This gives me an opportunity to discuss what I've done in the past as well as my plans for the future.

Some of the fair recommendations, in their and my estimations, include:

  • Read books
  • Read other peoples' code (like open source code)
  • Learn about a very different programming language (Scott is reading a book I saw about F# that I was tempted to buy too)
  • Speak at events

Some of the best recommendations included:

  • Start a discussion group
  • Teach
  • Mentor an intern or other younger or less experience developer
  • Keep tabs on IRC server channels

The number one recommendation:

Tell somebody else about your plans to have them hold you to it.

What I Did When I Was Younger
There are a few things I don't think that were mentioned that have helped me tremendously when I was younger, a few years older than the 17 and 18-year-old interns that Scott interviewed in his previous show entitled "Talk to the interns":

  • Volunteer with an actual open source project.
  • Look at things you just don't understand.
  • Try something you're probably not ready for.

I will elaborate on these now below.

Volunteer with an actual open source project.
I don't consider myself anywhere near the level of coder like people like Scott or Carl, but I definitely recommend contributing to some open source projects to learn how to be a better developer from an overall perspective.

When I was in college, I contributed code to a few open source projects. They were relatively small contributions, but it was what I could do at the time.

  • I taught myself C by contributing to the X-Chat IRC client for Linux. I rewrote the channel list window and gave it the ability to sort by several columns and the ability to filter by regular expressions.
  • With Rob Ginda, I implemented the first UI prototype for "MingZilla", the precursor to his ChatZilla IRC client which is now an extension for FireFox / Mozilla.
  • I built bindings to Gtk for the Mozilla JavaScript Engine, JSENG, getting lots of help from Mike Shaver.
  • I created a Mozilla JavaScript Engine language support module for SWIG

While I wish I could have done more than I did, I still learned a great deal from these experiences. I did most of that in a one or two year period during college, outside of my classes.

Scott and Carl talked about how open source projects are often under more scrutiny, and this is very true from my experience with X-Chat and Mozilla.

For X-Chat, I learned to be as meticulous as I could about commenting and memory management. The patch was accepted on the first try. Accomplishing that gave me more confidence as a young developer.

For the Mozilla contributions, I learned about source control and distributed development. I spent a lot of time in #mozilla and #javascript back then on irc.mozilla.org and irc.freenode.net

With SWIG, there was a real challenge to me because I was writing C++ code to generate C code which allowed people to write JavaScript code to call C libraries in an object-oriented fashion. Fun stuff!

Look at things you just don't understand.
My grandfather Gene and his son, my uncle Kevin are both computer experts, and both are software engineers / application architects / managers. I've always been around computers, even if I didn't know what the heck was going on. My grandfather was always setting up LANs or new laptops, thumbing through PC Magazine, or writing some program to automated his photo albums from his digital camera download.

Come on now...be honest, how many people can say that about their 73-year-old grandfather? When I sent him the Fizz Buzz challenge from Coding Horror he wrote back promptly with this small program in REXX:

/* fizzbuzz
: */

- Show quoted text -

Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100.
But for multiples of three print "Fizz" instead of the number
and for the multiples of five print "Buzz". For numbers which
are multiples of both three and five print "FizzBuzz".

do i = 1 to 100
if i//5 = 0 & i//3 = 0 then
msg = 'FizzBuzz'
if i//3 = 0 then
msg = 'Fizz'
if i//5 = 0 then
msg = 'Buzz'
msg = i
say msg

end /* do i = 1 to 100 */

Since I was probably 17 or so, my uncle has always given me CDs from MSDN or links or ideas about tons of things, but he has always shown me things that he knew I would not understand, like big, huge requirements specification documents, sequence diagrams, work flow diagrams, glossaries, and more. He works primarily on toll lane systems for major transportation systems and bridge systems, involved in everything from the hardware interface to the user interface.

I remember being in his office and seeing coin collection machines from toll booths and the C++ code he wrote to process transactions. Perhaps because of its bizarre sounding name, I have never forgotten the word "semaphore". Just what is this semaphore, I thought. It is like a half-smore? And how do you cook one of those without burning your hand?

It was only later that I really understood what it was, and even later that I learned of its physical origin, prior to its use in computer programming, in telegraphs, railways and other systems:


“The semaphore or optical telegraph is an apparatus for conveying information by means of visual signals, with towers with pivoting blades or paddles, shutters, in a matrix, or hand-held flags etc. Information is encoded by the position of the mechanical elements; it is read when the blade or flag is in a fixed position. In modern usage it refers to a system of signaling using two handheld flags. Other forms of optical telegraphy include ship flags, Aldis lamps, and Heliographs.”

So, looking at those diagrams and devices I did not understand expanded my imagination and gave me things to ponder about how things work and how software enables devices to work.

Try something you're probably not ready for.
When I was 18 or 19, and having coded HTML, JavaScript, and PERL for about a year or so, my uncle hired me to implement a small order-tracking system for a client of his in PERL. I did not like his criticism and got very frustrated with him! I eventually finished the project and it worked fine. I can't even remember what the issue was now. I'm sure he knew I was technically ready for the project, but I had no "consulting" experience prior to that, so I'm sure he was prepared for me to make mistakes.

What I'm Doing Today

Today I have some of the same goals and some different goals. I want to be a better developer and architect, but more so than that, I want to help younger people who have aspirations to become good at whatever it is they want to achieve. Some of them are interested in computer technology and programming, others in graphics, music, medicine, mathematics, or horticulture.

I try to keep my eyes and ears peeled for topics of interest for all of these subjects and share that information with them.

A main interest of mine right now thus revolves around how I can further my own educational and intellectual growth as a professional, both also involve their interests and expand their horizons. I have two projects in the works to help achieve these goals.

1. The Carola L. Gough Web Site and 3D Virtual Art Gallery
My great grandmother Carola, aged 96 and currently, as of this writing, in hospice care after having suffered a stroke is an inspiration to everyone who knows her. She told her family she never wanted to be kept alive on tubes and machines or in a nursing home. She has been in hospice care without food or water for more than a week, and is still responding to our voices over the phone and from people in person at her side.

She has lived an astonishing life. Her paintings hang in galleries all around the world, and her life example has given our family strength of resolve it could not otherwise have. See her paintings and the 3D Virtual Art Gallery we have built for her in Second Life at this URL:

My plans for this are:

  1. Finish scanning her photos of her paintings
  2. Scan and transcribe several of her journals she sent to us, dating from 1947 to 2004.
  3. Scan and transcribe the two years worth of correspondence she and her husband maintained with family during the time they spent in the Congo in their early sixties.
  4. Publish a calendar for sale based on her paintings of Congo and donate a large portion of the money to a cause to help the victims of the horrible wars taking place there.
  5. Publish a book based on her paintings her writings
  6. Make the CarolaGough.com web site and 3D Art Gallery highly interactive and a worthy commemoration
  7. Get as much contact with people who own her artwork as possible and involve them on the web site
  8. Learn about 3D modeling and find a way to recreate some of her paintings in 3D immersive landscapes.

This project is only fitting for commemorating a person whose life has touched so many people and will forever inspire all of us to, as she advises, "Whatever life has to throw at you, run to meet it head on."

2. Create a Multi-player XNA Game Based on My Old Two Player Game from 1998
I wrote a simple two player dice game to teach myself the basics of Winsock in 1998. I've enjoyed the game over the years with friends and family alike, but it's time to pump this thing up. I want to make it multiple-player and make it using the XNA technology. Ideally, when running on Windows, it would connect to a centralized game state server that would store historical data on players and games played. This would allow for multiple front-end clients to interface with the game server.

But, I want to try my best to involve the younger people I know who are interested in many things with this project. As a video game, there will need to be people with skills in many different things, like:

  • Programming
  • Sound and Music
  • Level Design and Landscape
  • Mathematics
  • Graphics

So, my personal goal in this project will be to develop my technical, organizational, and leadership skills while helping younger people experience teamwork and goal-setting and accomplishment.

I know it's a lot, but now I've told it to somebody, so now we've got to make it happen.

We've already got Carola's encouragement. Before I left San Francisco last week, I told her that my time spent with her over the years and seeing her life and her example has shown to me that, "I can do any noble and good purpose I set out to accomplish."

She immediately said to me, "You can!"

And so, I will.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Cyberbullying and Can YouTube Make Presidents More Ethical in the Long Term?

Cyberbullying on The Rise

My grandfather emailed an article from New Scientist about the rise of "cyberbullying" and some alarming results, including suicide, that have resulted from this relatively new form of aggression.

Here is a quote from the article from a father of a boy who killed himself after he was harassed online:

John Halligan, the father of the boy who killed himself after being harassed online, continues to lobby for cyber-bullying legislation that specifically targets children. He also talks to school groups and runs a website recounting the events that led to his son's death. "It won't bring Ryan back," he says. "But it is helping a lot of Ryans out there that are still alive and don't know where to turn."

I read an article in New Scientist or Discover a few years ago about the depersonalization of killing, with regard to executioners in that example. It said that some executioners operate in "teams" and multiple people push a button, but never know whose button-push actually triggered the lethal event for the condemned. This apparently left them less anxious than if they knew for certain it was them.

Along those lines, here is another quote from the article:

The lack of face-to-face contact might tempt bullies to new levels of cruelty. "On the playground, seeing the stress and pain of the victim face-to-face can act as an inhibitor to some degree," explains Carr. "In cyberspace, where there is no visual contact, you get more extreme behaviour." Kowalski says the effect is unique to computer-mediated communication. "There is a distancing of the self and immediacy in response that we don't have in any other form of communication," she says. "On the computer, it's like it's not really you."

I think there is a lot of merit to these arguments. In many cyber-age industries, such as operating an ecommerce system, you do not have to interact directly with customers or users. It can become very easy to be unconcerned or ignorant of the realities they face. But, humans are social creatures, and social interaction among people in face-to-face situations are what force us to become well-mannered and treat people with respect.

The moral of the story is that you should treat people with respect, regardless of whether they are in your classroom, on your bus, next to you in line at the grocery store, present with you in an online chatroom, or dancing with you on a dance floor.

There is a flip-side to the stories of cyber-bullying that cyber-bullies probably don't quite understand, and that is the permanence of their record. Perhaps these kids hear from old movies or administrators, "This will go down on your permanent record." Well, a "permanent record" usually traveled from school to school, but was eventually lost by the time a student went to college.

On the Internet, there is no such thing as "lost". What these ill-behaved kids do by cyberbullying, should they get caught, will be recorded basically forever. That's a lot more permanent than paper records.

There is a silver-lining in this whole story, however.

Can YouTube Make Presidents More Ethical?

I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in today's day and age. In the past, thousands of years ago, you often had to just take ideas and words at face value because you had no way to research them. A politician could oily-handshake you and look you in the eye and try to convince you that he'd be an ethical person with your best interests in mind.

In today's world, people can share information much more rapidly. Perhaps generations that follow will be aware of their conduct, and will, at least in public, be forced to behave more ethically and thoughtfully. If they choose to be idiots and act disrespectful, someone could post them to YouTube and show their true character, as you can see with these examples.

You can go to Google and type the terms "bush middle finger video", and watch this:

You could also type "bush clean glasses youtube" and watch this one:

Or, you could type "I'm the decider" and watch this ludicrous video:

Or, you could type "now watch this drive" and get this:


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Salsa for Klutzes Episode #3 - Left Turn

It's here. Episode 3 of my much-anticipated Salsa for Klutzes video series hit the sites today, arriving first on Google Video while YouTube experiences technical difficulties. I hope you enjoy, firstly, laughing at me, and secondly, learning a bit about salsa. If you cannot achieve the second part, then, by all means, go learn from someone who actually knows what he's talking about!

Here are all three episodes

take care,

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Surgical Robots: R2D2 to the Rescue & The Visible Human Project

Robotic Surgery

The Standford University Medical Center's Thomas Krummel gave a speech entitled "Surgical Robotics: Is R2D2 in Your Future?" on March 23, 2006. You can watch his speech on the Research Channel, a great web site that aggregates videos and audio from hundreds of universities. Here is the link:


He mentions science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov's three laws of robots that appeared in his book, I, Robot.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

He said that these laws are used in modern products.

More information about robotic surgery is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robotic_surgery

Mentioned in the presentation are several robotic surigical systems:

  • The da Vinci Surgical System
  • ZEUS Robotic Surgical System
  • AESOP Robotic System

You can read more about these at How Stuff Works also: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/robotic-surgery1.htm

The da Vinici Surgical System

Frontiers of Medicine features a show about Robotic Surgery:


Here is a page about the Zeus surgical system:


The degree to which 3D imaging and information technology is changing the face of surgery is astonishing. I know some young people very interested in getting into medical professions. It is going to be very important for them to understand many things, including both human interaction and robot operation and technology.

3D animations are being used to educate doctors about the human body. Here is a very compelling animation:

Find many more animations on Nucleus Animation's YouTube channel here:


The Visible Human Project

The Visible Human Project is amazing. You can read all about it on the project web page at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/research/visible/visible_human.html

Here is a 16 second clip that shows what doctors can do using software built on the Visible Human Project data sets:

I recommend the Frontiers of Medicine 30 minute episode all about the history of the Visible Human Project. I purchased it for $1.99 to watch it. It's well worth a couple of books to learn about this. Here is the link: http://video.google.com/url?docid=-7010341131100431930&esrc=sr1&ev=v&q=the%2Bvisible%2Bhuman%2Bproject&srcurl=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D-7010341131100431930&vidurl=%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D-7010341131100431930%26q%3Dthe%2Bvisible%2Bhuman%2Bproject%26total%3D52%26start%3D0%26num%3D10%26so%3D0%26type%3Dsearch%26plindex%3D0&usg=AL29H22xcnmRrolnYnjt98_ACtuObf3ZZQ

You don't have to be a doctor to get access to the Visible Human Project software, you can slice and dice the human body in three dimensions on your own by logging into this web site:



If you are an aspiring surgeon or computer graphics student, just imagine the world of possiblities and responsibilities that can await you if you learn about and find out more about technologies like these! The best thing for you to do would be to talk to teachers, guidance counselors, parents, friends, and mentors about how to learn more about things you need to do to prepare yourself for college and the life you'd like to make for yourself. It's going to require commitment and education, but the sooner you get started, the better you will be.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, Star Wars

Joseph Campbell was the great American mythologist whose works inspired George Lucas's hero archetypes in the Star Wars films. You can learn about this in the following video program about Joseph Campbell in which George Lucas says that if he did not read Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces he probably would have been still writing Star Wars!

In the interview he discusses how he was fascinated with native Americans, talking about the traditions of stampeding the buffalo over the edge.

Joseph Campbell - The Hero's Journey

Note: This is depicted in some paintings by my great grandmother Carola. You can see her paintings of native Americans on her web site at http://www.CarolaGough.com and in her virtual gallery inside of Second Life that is linked from her site.

21 Southwestindian11 Wildhorses_jpg20 Southwestindian10 Buffalo_jpg19 Southwestindian9 Swan_jpg18 Southwestindian8 (Strong Woman)_jpg17 Southwestindian7 (Legend of the white buffalo)_jpg16 Southwestindian6_jpg15 Southwestindian5_jpg14 Southwestindian4_jpg13 Southwestindian3_jpg12 Southwestindian2_jpg11 Southwestindian1_jpg

Bill Moyers Interviewing George Lucas About the Mythology of Star Wars

Here is a quote from George Lucas about how he sees his responsibility in film-making:

"I have a philosophy: that we all teach. Anybody in the media has a very large megaphone that can reach a lot of different people, and so whatever they say, whatever they do, however they conduct themselves, whatever they produce has an influence, and it’s teaching somebody something." -- George Lucas, filmmaker

More Videos

The Power of Myth Part 1 of 6: The Hero's Adventure

The Power of Myth Part 2 of 6: The Message of The Myth

The Power of Myth Part 3 of 6: The First Storytellers

The Power of Myth Part 4 of 6: Sacrifice and Bliss

The Power of Myth Part 5 of 6: Love and The Goddess

The Power of Myth Part 6 of 6: Masks of Eternity

Here is an excerpt from the Joseph Campbell Foundation web site about his background:

"Over one hundred years ago, on March 26th in 1904, Joseph John Campbell was born in White Plains, NY. Joe, as he came to be known, was the first child of a middle-class, Roman Catholic couple, Charles and Josephine Campbell.

Joe’s earliest years were largely unremarkable; but then, when he was seven years old, his father took him and his younger brother, Charlie, to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. The evening was a high-point in Joe’s life; for, although the cowboys were clearly the show’s stars, as Joe would later write, he “became fascinated, seized, obsessed, by the figure of a naked American Indian with his ear to the ground, a bow and arrow in his hand, and a look of special knowledge in his eyes.”

It was Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher whose writings would later greatly influence Campbell, who observed that

…the experiences and illuminations of childhood and early youth become in later life the types, standards and patterns of all subsequent knowledge and experience, or as it were, the categories according to which all later things are classified—not always consciously, however. And so it is that in our childhood years the foundation is laid of our later view of the world, and there with as well of its superficiality or depth: it will be in later years unfolded and fulfilled, not essentially changed.

And so it was with young Joseph Campbell. Even as he actively practiced (until well into his twenties) the faith of his forbears, he became consumed with Native American culture; and his worldview was arguably shaped by the dynamic tension between these two mythological perspectives. On the one hand, he was immersed in the rituals, symbols, and rich traditions of his Irish Catholic heritage; on the other, he was obsessed with primitive (or, as he later preferred, “primal”) people’s direct experience of what he came to describe as “the continuously created dynamic display of an absolutely transcendent, yet universally immanent, mysterium tremendum et fascinans, which is the ground at once of the whole spectacle and of oneself.” (Historical Atlas, I.1, p. 8)

By the age of ten, Joe had read every book on American Indians in the children’s section of his local library and was admitted to the adult stacks, where he eventually read the entire multi-volume Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. He worked on wampum belts, started his own “tribe” (the “Lenni-Lenape”), and frequented the American Museum of Natural History, where he became fascinated with totem poles and masks, thus beginning a lifelong exploration of that museum's vast collection.

After spending much of his thirteenth year recuperating from a respiratory illness, Joe briefly attended Iona, a private school in Westchester NY, before his mother enrolled him at Canterbury, a Catholic residential school in New Milford CT. His high school years were rich and rewarding, though marked by a major tragedy: in 1919, the Campbell home was consumed by a fire that killed his grandmother and destroyed all of the family’s possessions."

A wonderful quote from Campbell:

"When you see the Earth from space, you don't see any divisions of nation-states there. This may be the symbol of the new mythology to come."
- Joseph Campbell

Who can argue with that? See Google for verification:

Another quote purportedly from him:

"God is a metaphor for that which trancends all levels of intellectual thought. Even the categories of being and non-being. Those are categories of thought. It's as simple as that."

Read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

And read much more about him here: http://www.jcf.org/index2.php

The Hero With a Thousand Faces


Campbell's first original work is still one of his best known and most important. It stands as a classic in the field of mythology and comparative religion.

This influential study traces the story of the hero's journey and transformation through virtually all the mythologies of the world. Originally published in 1949, it has inspired generations of students and artists and sold nearly one million copies in various editions.


The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell



Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth is essential viewing for anyone old enough to appreciate its vital teachings. One of the greatest interviews ever recorded, this six-part, six-hour encounter between teacher- mythologist Campbell and student-journalist Bill Moyers (recorded in the two years preceding Campbell's death in 1988) covers a galaxy of topics related to Campbell's central themes: Mythology is humanity's universal method of seeking the transcendental, and "follow your bliss" is the timeless formula for spiritual satisfaction. Campbell himself is the embodiment of these themes, an erudite scholar and quintessential storyteller, recalling a wide spectrum of myths from throughout history (Japanese, Native American, Egyptian, Mayan, and many more) to illustrate humankind's eternal quest to grasp the mysteries of creation. Historical artifacts and illustrations bring these timeless stories to life.

An astute interviewer, Moyers is an acolyte in perfect harmony with Campbell-as- mentor, wording questions with penetrating perfection as their intellectual dance reaches exhilarating heights of meaning and fascination. Moyers also finds the perfect hook for a global audience, examining Campbell's admiration of George Lucas's Star Wars saga as a popular tapestry of ancient myths, and Lucas himself is interviewed in a DVD bonus segment ("I'm not creating a new myth," he says, "but telling old myths in a new way"). Campbell's seemingly endless well of knowledge reaches a simple conclusion: we need myths to survive like we need oxygen to breathe, as a life force with which to understand our existence--past, present, and future. --Jeff Shannon

The Power of Myth, starring George Lucas and Joseph Campbell