Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Blender 2.41

Today version 2.41 of the open source 3D software Blender has been released. It follows on the heels of last month's much larger-scale update to version 2.40, but this post is sorta making up for me missing posting about that ;). In particular that version had an overhaul of the animation tools.

Blender is a tool of choice of the subculture of low-budget computer graphics hobbyists. I first came across this culture when I came upon the POV-RAY raytracer and the related online contest, the Internet Raytracing Competition, in early 2002. This is a very "right-brained" program which generates 3D renders directly from a plaintext mathematical description of a scene (so Blender's graphical interface came as a relief even for a math major like me!). POV-RAY certainly has an interesting history behind it on its own, being maintained for over a decade by volunteers on the Net; it has one of the oldest continuosly operating domain names on the Net; and the program's original creator David K. Buck (the program was originally named "DKBTrace" after his initials) recently posted his memories of POV-RAY's beginnings. The IRTC (as it's known) has been running as an open contest since the Net's early days (stills since 1996, animations since 1998); one highlight is John Van Sickle's series of animations about "Rusty" and a bunch of other robots (amazingly, these are in almost every round and are completely done "by hand" in POV-RAY); this round's animation is appropriate.

Meanwhile, selected Blender art can be seen in the official gallery and the Community Journal. One blog that's keeping track of Blender news is the newly started B@rt's Blender News, which has its own post covering the new release.

Rousseau biography at Project Gutenberg

The complete two volumes of John Morley's biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, after spending a very long time in the Distributed Proofreaders rounds, are finally available as an eBook on Project Gutenberg.

Of particular interest is the chapter (volume 2, chapter 4) about Rousseau's book on education, Emilius (usually known as Emile). One notable passage deals with how the Enlightenment's changing conception of human nature away from original sin affected education, as "part of the general revival of naturalism":
The rebellion was aimed against the spirit as well as the manner of the established system. The church had not fundamentally modified the significance of the dogma of the fall and depravity of man; education was still conceived as a process of eradication and suppression of the mystical old Adam. The new current flowed in channels far away from that black folly of superstition. Men at length ventured once more to look at one another with free and generous gaze. The veil of the temple was rent, and the false mockeries of the shrine of the Hebrew divinity made plain to scornful eyes. People ceased to see one another as guilty victims cowering under a divine curse. They stood erect in consciousness of manhood. The palsied conception of man, with his large discourse of reason looking before and after, his lofty and majestic patience in search for new forms of beauty and new secrets of truth, his sense of the manifold sweetness and glory and awe of the universe, above all, his infinite capacity of loyal pity and love for his comrades in the great struggle, and his high sorrow for his own wrong-doing,—the palsied and crushing conception of this excellent and helpful being as a poor worm, writhing under the vindictive and meaningless anger of an omnipotent tyrant in the large heavens, only to be appeased by sacerdotal intervention, was fading back into those regions of night, whence the depth of human misery and the obscuration of human intelligence had once permitted its escape, to hang evilly over the western world for a season. So vital a change in the point of view quickly touched the theory and art of the upbringing of the young. Education began to figure less as the suppression of the natural man, than his strengthening and development; less as a process of rooting out tares, more as the grateful tending of shoots abounding in promise of richness. What had been the most drearily mechanical of duties, was transformed into a task that surpassed all others in interest and hope. If man be born not bad but good, under no curse, but rather the bestower and receiver of many blessings, then the entire atmosphere of young life, in spite of the toil and the peril, is made cheerful with the sunshine and warmth of the great folded possibilities of excellence, happiness, and well-doing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Battlepanda warms to libertarianism

In two posts last month, "The Future is Orange" and "Two Flavors of Libertarianism", Battlepanda revealed that reading the blogs on the Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left and the left-wing "egalitarian, compassionate, bleeding-heart libertarianism" espoused by them, she had changed her mind about libertarianism, realizing that not all of it was warmed-over corporate apologism:
I've also come across a lot of fine sites that totally refreshed my concept of what it means to be a libertarian.... The blogs that are championing Cory Maye's case have a decidedly different tenor to them that I also really like. One of them, Brad Spangler, even went as far as to say "Large corporations as they exist today are, in actuality, appendages of the state and not "free enterprise""! He's definitely not the kind pro-corporate market-worshipping libertarians I know and currently link to.
Those of you who read this blog regularly knows that hatin' on libertarians is a recurrent theme here at the Battlepanda blog.... So I thought I had made up my mind on libertarians, pretty much. Until I started reading this guy [Brad Spangler]. And this guy [Thomas Knapp]. "Free Market anti-Capitalism"? [a post on Kevin Carson's Mutualist Blog] Whoa! It seems like there is a whole 'nother kind of libertarians out there (they even have their own webring). In fact, Kevin Carson refers to the kind of pro-corporate Ayn Rand lovin' libertarians as "vulgar libertarians". His excoriating description of vulgar libertarians is a perfect distillation of everything I thought I hated about libertarians...
This is good. It shows that us left-libertarians really can change minds—a task which sometimes seems hopeless given the marginalization of radical classical liberalism on both the left and right.

I must say that until pretty recently I also was dismissive of libertarianism, given that I'd seen only the corporate capitalism apologist "pot-smoking Republican" type. It didn't help that I'd also seen some truly extreme reactionary and cranky stuff going under the label—such as The Bell Curve co-author Charles Murray, "brownlash" anti-environmentalism (itself often containing heavy doses of apologism for environmentally irresponsible corporations) repeating stuff by the likes of Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg; and anti-feminism.

And so, at first I was leery of the left-libertarian stuff I read. But it didn't take me long to realize that the sort of libertarians who frequent the BLL have a genuine sympathy for left-wing causes (rather than using nice sounding terms like "liberty" to mask a reactionary "greedy Republican" agenda), and that there was a intellectual and historical continuity with the anti-authoritarian left in general (indeed in the 1960s libertarians like Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess worked with and were deeply influenced by the New Left of the time; the article "Rothbard's Time on the Left" provides an overview of this period). In my case, the main blogs involved were Kevin's and Roderick T. Long's. (Long's stuff about the distortion and smearing of Herbert Spencer was the first stuff that I read by him, and Spencer's case is a paradigmatic example of the marginalization of the left-wing radical classical liberal tradition which forms the historical basis of the modern libertarian left). I was also previously familiar with the "single tax" ideas of Henry George and his followers — who had a very large movement in the late 19th century, and who based their critique on privilege on the classical liberal laissez faire economics of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Spencer.

As the quotes above show, Battlepanda was impressed by the role of libertarian blogs in bringing attention to wrongful conviction of Cory Maye, which she describes as "just about the ugliest nexus of race, civil rights violations, southern juries and our criminal justice system that I can think of". So, activism on real world issues is going to be essential: when libertarians roll up their sleeves and get to work supporting their local food co-op, union, community bookstore, listener sponsored radio station, free school, or whatever leftish alternative institution people would think that libertarians would never support because they're nice and community-based rather than greedy and corporate "market" organizations.

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted, Battlepanda put up a response on her blog, saying that:
I remain a big, fat, cheerful statist despite "warming up" (or prehaps "wising up" would be a better way of putting things) to left-libertarians.

I find them an interesting, invigorating lot. I give them props for being more consistant than the right libertarians who yammer about big government then willingly bends over for the NSA. I agree with many of their ideas, share much of their sympathies, but the fundamental difference remains -- they want to abolish the government, and I don't.
I should've made it clearer in my original post that I wasn't saying that she was now libertarian, only sympathetic to it (my mistake; a reminder that I've got to pay more attention about avoiding such ambiguity in writing about these sort of things). That was pretty much the point: that, in contrast to the many examples of condescending or nasty dismissal of libertarianism, there's dialogue going on between left libertarians and the rest of the left, and that leftists don't have to be libertarian to agree on some points (and respect the left-libs' consistency in sticking to their principles).

Also, this post seems to have kicked off activity in the comments section ... there have been more comments on this post than on all other previous ones!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

my composer friend Daniel has a website!

My friend Daniel DeCastro, talented composer and fellow atheist, finally has a web presence. He has two MySpace pages: his personal page and, most importantly, his music page with samples of his music! I've been hoping that he'd do this for a long time; and the samples include a movement from of his amazing Symphony #1 in progress. He's also writing a string quartet and a set of preludes (one in each key, like those of Bach, Chopin, or Rachmaninov), so when I'm talking to him about his composition I almost feel like I don't know what century I'm in—but his music also draws from the distinctly 21st century inspiration of video games and anime.

For another local composer's webpage, see that of Columbia University's Christopher Bailey, who among other things is the composer of dorkbot and artbots theme songs and has music online at his compositions and MP3s pages.