I-90

yin yang by ~kristuzhe

yin yang by ~kristuzhe

I had to drive to Albany to meet with the State of New York folks. The two hour drive each way provides ample time to enjoy the scenery and reflect. For the mathematically inclined, I have an important once in a lifetime date to celebrate on November 16th, 2009. On that day, I will have lived the first half of my life in Armenia, and the second half in America (not counting minor temporary absences) where I arrived on Henry Ford’s 130th birthday. The more time I spend in America, the less I want to go anywhere else. Strange… The more I live in Massachusetts, the less I want to travel to other states. Crossing the border on I-90 to New York seemed like I had entered a different country for some reason.

But I enjoy the ride on I-90 West. It brings back memories of my childhood when we would pretend we were heroes from the The Last of the Mohicans, a story that was what Star Wars is to my son. I feel bad that our children do not have a chance of experiencing a childhood similar to mine but maybe that’s what every parent thinks. The trees, the road, the scenery bring back thoughts of times past when people had to actually survive the harsh winters in these areas without the conveniences of today. How did they manage to do it? Life seems so hard at times yet the early settlers managed to live and with each generation make this country a better place. Then the mind wanders… how many people had to work to build a road like the I-90? How about all the roads in this country? Smooth and flawless, straight, with clear signs they stretch from coast to coast, from state to state. I drive some more and notice houses not too far from the highway. How do these people live? Where do they work? I drive some more and notice the McDonalds plaza. Didn’t I just pass one? Then I start to notice the NPR static, time to find the NY station. Ah.. I forgot that Marketplace is on in the morning here. Gloomy news about the economy, or no wait, it’s good news, no wait… Ah.. forget it.

Every time I drive on a long stretch of highway, I remember my mother. She once mentioned to me how much she liked going on long rides. The only long ride I can remember with her was the trip to New York City. What a wonderful time we had…

I am back now. The meetings went well. Next week I will spend a day and a half flying to Canada to speak for 20 minutes. How does that make any ecological sense?

With 10.2% unemployment, I better go drum up some business. Even if a few folks are hired as a result, maybe it’ll have been worth the effort.

A Simple Question

An exciting new project caught my eye recently. The description from the site reads:

Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

So I asked the age-old simple Armenian question and this is what I received:

Ինչ կա չկա

Ինչ կա չկա

Let me ask in Armenian.

Ինչ կա չկա – Հայերեն

Ինչ կա չկա – Հայերեն

Looks like they had been expecting my question. It seems they have built a machine that answers most complex questions but fails at simple ones. Give it a try anyway, it could become your new favorite toy.

I couldn’t resist and tried Google which gave me its usual list of useless links that answer every other question but mine.

Ինչ կա չկա - Google

Ինչ կա չկա - Google

Technological innovation has a long way to go before it reaches any kind of maturity or saturation. We are still only just at the very beginning.

Their Lasting Legacy

I am shocked that I haven’t been able to find a few minutes to add a few thoughts to the site. The past couple months have been somewhat demanding. These challenges are nothing compared to what I am capable of handling but they certainly consume the most precious gift I am given – my time. Creating something new with a virtual team in five time zones is not easy but is nothing compared to the lifelong efforts of individuals who create the truly remarkable. Their gift from the Creator enables them to leave a legacy that spans generations. My humble unknown place is not even noticed today, let alone a generation or two from now. There are also those who are remembered for their negative impact. A perfect storm of events over the past year culminated in the historic exchange of paperwork affecting all Armenian earlier today. The entire process has affected me very deeply taking away all ability to even utter a few words of disappointment and disgust.

Limits To Consider

bow to greatness by ~4dreamer

bow to greatness by ~4dreamer

Our kindergarten teacher once told my mother that she thought I was a “մտավոր հետամնաց (mentally lagging)”. Couple weeks later we were given small paragraphs to learn for a performance. I brought home the handwritten piece of paper so my mother could teach me what I had to say. She instead corrected seven or eight grammatical and spelling errors with red ink and asked me to take it back to the teacher. This teacher I think had the wrong diagnosis. After years of denial and disagreement with my beautiful wife, I finally came to the conclusion this week that I probably suffer from some (maybe mild) form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When I mentioned this to her a couple of days ago, she smiled and said that she still loved me.

Along the lines of self-examination, I also rediscovered my “plain vanilla” nature lacking in extraordinary abilities and exceptional gifts. Maybe this is a blessing. Perhaps extraordinary people who can see more, understand more, command more also suffer more. I was reading about Enrico Fermi after a book recommendation from Rocky Humbert who kindly bought me a cup of coffee last weekend for which I completely forgot to thank him as we were having a most interesting and enjoyable conversation. Rocky is also someone with an extraordinary mind. My nuclear physicist friend once told me that the difference between exceptional and average people is time. That which takes me hours, days or years to learn or understand may take them seconds or less. Also, when I commit one hour or one day to a project, they commit a year or a lifetime.

Deep in the comments of an interesting post about hubris, Don Chu mentions that “the referential individual unit is certainly the level where all significant achievements originate.” I hope that the three-letter-acronym mentioned above will not get in the way of living my life of average achievements. Regardless, as Don says: “And the result in every case, always: mene mene tekel upharsin (numbered weighed, found wanting — divided).”

Musaner, Awakening, Komitas, Inspiration

Ara Sarkissian and MUSANER

Ara Sarkissian and MUSANER

Last Saturday night we were at an interesting and special concert. Despite all of the efforts of the organizers to advertise to the local Armenian communities, only about sixty to seventy people came and most of them seemed non-Armenian.  I was very disappointed in the Armenian turnout but was very happy that my beautiful wife did not let me miss it. Ara Sarkissian had done a fantastic job organizing the folk-jazz ensemble. To sample some of the most beautiful Armenian sounds you can visit his Komitas Project page. The project is named after the great Armenian composer Soghomon Soghomonyan named Komitas after a poet and author of sharakans from VII century. Some of Komitas’ works can be freely downloaded from here.

Ara Sarkissian’s ensemble with majority non-Armenian musicians played a different kind of jazz, one that intertwined the classical with the modern, the Armenian with the non-Armenian, the simple with the complex, resulting in an absolutely great evening. Of these, the ratio of Armenian to non-Armenian sounds and the contrast between the two reflected life for me. We speak Armenian and English in roughly the same proportion and attend Armenian events and participate in the Armenian culture in a similar mix. The Armenian culture, with a smaller footprint in this country, in the world, and in his concert, nonetheless is very close to heart, special, and necessary for me as it was for his music. Also, Armenian culture can be understood, appreciated and celebrated by many non-Armenians the same way that the melodies were played and celebrated by his non-Armenian musicians. Just as some amount of reality is required in humor, some amount of life is required in art. The concert had a great amount of life and represented a welcome encounter with art.