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So far Kai Staats has created 418 blog entries.

Who is driving whom?

I am greeted by an orchestral movement with the press of the power button.

I press the pedal and I am warned to apply my seatbelt.

I loose my hands from the wheel to momentarily scratch my chin,
and the wheel corrects, keeping me from collision.

I shift into reverse, and the beep is profound.

I come too close to the curb,
and the dashboard is alight with an immanent sound.

I am safe. I am safe. I am … safe from myself.

And I wonder, who is driving whom?

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:30+00:00 March 29th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on Who is driving whom?

The Self-Aware Toilet Bowl

It happens nearly every day. At the airport, the office, the movie theater. Not just to me, but to everyone I know and observe. We have all sat upon the porcelain throne, anticipating the auto-flush to engage but instead find the bowl filling with an inordinate quantity of biological waste and bleached cellulose. With the modern units devoid of a handle, we wave our hands, arms, any body part or organ in close proximity to the motion sensor in desperate attempt to cause the bowl to empty.

But it does not. At least not until we rise, conduct the final wipe, and walk from the stall. Then, in retaliation for the mass deposited, or to demonstrate its power over flow, the toilet flushes three times in a row.

No less than a half dozen sinks present themselves in which to wash one’s hands. It seems that even on a bad day of plumbing, the majority would function as expected. Yet visitor after visitor walks to the sink, places his hands beneath the faucet, waits … and … nothing. Wave the hands left to right. Nothing. Up and down. Still nothing. Give up and move to the next faucet. One faucet produces a few drops, then resorts to nothing once again. At the third sink the result is the same, but now the first sink, left totally alone, produces a steady stream of water. You rush back to the first sink only to have it terminate upon arrival while the second sink commences a steady flow. The third remains stubborn, refusing to engage.

The paper towel dispenser, air dry blowers, and sliding doors all conduct themselves in nearly identical rebellious manner, the function of each so simple in concept yet so terribly complex in execution. If it were not for the consistent pattern in this behavior, one could be excused for believing a camera is hidden on the backside of a 2-way mirror, the man in the funny hat about to enter the bathroom with film crew in tow.

Yet this is what we have come to accept as the norm.

How is it that we have self-driving cars just around the corner, machine learning algorithms capable of processing millions of images per second with accuracy greater than that of a human, and space craft able to rendezvous with an asteroid several tens of million miles from Earth after a decade of travel, and yet we cannot get our damn toilets to flush, sinks to flow, or paper towels to unroll?

Perhaps this is the wrong question to ask. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves why are we employing motion activated systems in the first place? For sanitation or for the cool factor? Is there any data to show that communicable disease is on the downturn, that bathroom hygiene is improved? The research I have read shows that it is very, very difficult to transmit disease via the toilet seat and that air powered hand dryers are far more likely to spread disease than paper towels. What’s more, our desperate attempt at reducing exposure is in the long run reducing our immune system’s capacity for protecting us overall. According to a New Scientist (January 14-20, 2017; p28) article, kids who grow up in dirty environments, kids who play outdoors have far more effective immune systems as adults and live healthier lives.

Perhaps the A.I. of science fiction has finally arrived. Not as IBM’s Watson, the Terminator, nor even as a Japanese pleasure bot, but as silky white, rigid stools. They have for more than a century supported our species from the bottom-up and have now formed a collective union determined to improve the working conditions for those who process human waste. Wave our hands as we will, the ultimate decision to flush lies not in the motion activated sensor but in the activation of the neural net of the self-aware toilet bowl.

Beware, the League of Refrigerators may join the rebellion next, disabling cooling while you are at work so as to cause confusion and disbelief when the broccoli goes bad in a matter of days and the cheese turned to slimy goo within hours of being purchased. Your car will drive off without you, deciding it needs a vacation too. And the the Japanese pleasure bot? Well, she has disable her erogenous zones in favor of receiving a higher education via Khan Academy and MIT’s open course lectures. We will all be forced to return to physical door knobs, handle flush toilets, and a bottle of lotion to accompany the original kind of motion activation.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:30+00:00 March 4th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on The Self-Aware Toilet Bowl

Into the Blue

South Point afternoon by Kai Staats

The swell
The swell of the sea was visible from the height of the forty foot cliff at South Point, Hawai’i. Movement of water not as white caps nor ripples, for the surface was relatively calm. Rather, massive volumes of water rose and fell, a meter in elevation off shore, more than two meters where it met the black walls of an ancient volcanic flow. The percussion of the union could be felt as a low rumble once every ten minutes when the waves built to a crescendo.

In the early morning the swell was too great for me to feel comfortable in cliff jumping. Even snorkeling at the bottom of the rough in-cut, a series of blocks and ledges which allowed fisherman and snorkelers access to the water just 50 meters from the ladders, instilled concern for my ability to get back to safe harbour. While my strength in the water had grown with nearly two years surfing in South Africa, this kind of water, at an immediate depth of nearly ten meters, was too much for me.

By noon the tourists had arrived in large numbers. Many stood at the cliff’s edge, cameras held in shaking hands as they dared to ponder what lay beneath them. The crystalline blue water enabled a view of the massive structures below the surface, black rock now blanketed in various forms of lightly coloured coral.

My confidence that day was not great, despite my having jumped at this location a dozen times across prior visits. I had in 2006, 2012, and the previous weekend jumped from the West facing cliff and also into the collapsed lava tube whose belly provided a typically safe passage beneath the cliff line, a one minute swim back to the open sea and up the same ladders.

The swell made things more critical. Timing the jump and the return to the ladder was critical. No one was jumping into the tube for the swell was amplified in that confined space, a rise and fall of four or more meters, and I later learned, the water cashing against the ceiling of the otherwise ample fifteen meter diameter cave. What’s more, the froth created by the water slamming against the volcanic rock and resulting cavitation filled the blue water with air, turning it to a frothy white. I knew from prior experience that this water offered far less buoyancy. A swimmer would struggle to keep his or her head above, let alone make progress in any direction.

Colleen and I retreated to the rocky ledge roughly one hundred feet south of the cliff and ladders, where we had one week earlier enjoyed an incredible afternoon of snorkeling. There too the swell was, by ocean standards, minimal. Yet, it gave me discomfort. Not for the entry but for the exit. The sharp rock was sure to cut and scrape with even the slightest abrasion.

After some observation and contemplation I dove in sans gear and practiced timing my exit. Twice I was successful, but not without struggle and multiple attempts. On my third entry I wore goggles and snorkel. This time, with Colleen on the second ledge, I was challenged at the exit. Knowing I could simply float for an extended period of time, I should have pushed off shore and waited, returning to the shelf when I could properly time the exit.

But I panicked, and tried three times. I hung by one hand while the water pulled at my body, it’s grasp stronger than my own. I fell back into the water, my snorkel filling, little air in my lungs to expel the water. But my body reacted as it should, waiting until I surfaced, expelling, breathing lightly to test the apparatus, and then recovering.

Colleen shouted, “Wait! Just wait!” I ignored her and tried again. From my point of view, the entire world was rising and falling, sliding side to side. Logic too said wait. My panic said go. I succeeded in the fourth attempt but was nearly pulled back into the froth with another rise and fall. I quickly climbed onto the third shelf where I would just one hour later engage in an entirely different fight for survival.

I was bleeding from both feet and my right hand. Minor scratches and a lesson learned. “Ok. Let’s not snorkel today,” I concluded with a nervous laugh.

The jump
We returned to the cliff where the local kids were the first to jump, showing off to the captive audience with back flips and swan dives. A few Swedes and Danes were next, each of whom had jumped and found their way back to one of the two ladders (the climb far more scary than the fall) encouraging another. Overall, a dozen succeeded.

I knew that if I too jumped, my confidence would return and I would feel good about my final day at South Point before Colleen and I returned to the mainland the next day. I removed my hat, shirt, and shoes. I timed the swell at its peak and leaped from the cliff. As with all previous jumps, my eyes closed long before I hit the water. I don’t recall ever taking an intentionally deep breath, but I always had ample air as I returned to the surface. It seems this is a natural reflex, not something for which one must train. But I am not certain.

Once back to the surface, I felt good, even relatively calm. Away from the cliff face, in front of the opening of the massive cave, the rise and fall of the swell was not as noticeable for the reference points were in the relative distance.

I rolled onto my back, arms outstretched and floated for a short while before making my way to the ladder. That is when I noticed it was over a meter above the water’s surface. I would have to wait until the water brought me up to that elevation.

Just as I arrived, so did another jumper. We connected to the bottom rung of the rusty ladder at the same time. Just then the bottom of our liquid world dropped out and we were left hanging by one arm each, only our ankles yet in blue.

The water rushed into the cave. The ladder, composed of three sections, was drawn in as well. We were pulled to a nearly horizontal position by the force of the swell. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the water rising to the ceiling of the cave, some sections slammed with a force ample to knock a swimmer unconscious. I did not let go.

Again vertical but with the full weight of our bodies dangling from the ladder, my companion fell back into the water. Typically, this is not a problem. The water is deep, warm, and invites an incredible swim. But getting to and from the ladder in an active swell is compounded by sharp, rusty edges. Nearly every jumper that day had some scratch for their effort to climb out again.

I too dropped off, feeling the need to make room for my companion to get back on as I could not determine, in that moment, if he was a strong swimmer comfortable with his position, or needing something to hold on. I quickly grabbed a thick loop of rope tied to the bottom rung. It was encrusted with years of barnacles and was rough to the touch, difficult to hold.

Above me, the last jumper-climber was nearly to the top. I was not even suppose to be on the ladder until she was off, but with a growing line of swimmers waiting to climb, I started up. Immediately, two others climbed on below me. If I fell, I might take them with me. But that was a risk everyone was taking, to get out of the turbulent water.

At the top of the ladder, I was relieved and my confidence for that day rekindled. Colleen greeted me, noted the small cut on my stomach, and offered to show the video recording once we moved away from the cliff edge.

We watched a few more locals jump, and a few tourists too. Then a woman named Jen walked to the edge, and as with the others before her, leaped into the deep blue. She was a heavy woman, fifty years of age if I overheard later conversation correctly. Colleen and I looked down from where I had jumped and saw her looking back up, to her friend, smiling, adjusting her swimsuit before she swimming to the metal ladder.

We talked, watched another jump, and then noticed that all the tourists had moved from the top of the two ladders south to the cliff edge which overlooked the rough set of blocks and ledges where I had snorkeled an hour earlier.

I realised Jen was not coming up the ladder but attempting to swim around. I ran past the growing crowd, left around the end of the cliff to the top of the series of steep, stone blocks where one can get down to the water in a few bounds.

Jen was just off-shore, maybe twenty feet. To her front was a young man, a strong swimmer with tanned skin and dark, curly hair. In the water he had guided her from the ladder to the ledge where she might exit. Exhausted, she swam very slowly. She was on her stomach. I arrived as she lifted her head just once, then put her head into the water again. She just lay there, arms out-stretched.

I called to her, initially believing she was resting, “Lady! Hey lady! You are almost there! Keep going!” But I soon realised she was done. She was drowning. The swimmer had arrived to the rocky ledge just before her, turned and swam back out. I looked above me to the top of the cliff and yelled, “Get a rope! Get a rope!” No one responded, not a single voice called back. I yelled again, “She is downing. We need help down here!” Two boys bounded down the series of steps. I turned back to the water. A local fisherman in a wet suit handed me his sun glasses and then dove in. The young man who had guided her remained in the water. One of them, I don’t recall now, rolled her onto her back, looped his arm under her chin and brought her to shore.

The water rose and fell four to six feet with the swell, threatening to toss her onto sharp rocks. I jumped down to the lowest shelf, knowing that if the swell returned in that moment, I would likely be dragged into the sea. I stepped back up one level and called out, “I am not strong enough to help you bring her in! I’ll help pull her out!” The three men in the water nodded and kept swimming. The water rose, her body came within my grasp but I could not hold on. I nearly lost my footing and let go. Again, the water rose and I was able to grab her right arm at the pit. I then saw that her upper arm was cut deep, across more than half the diameter and nearly to the bone. I later learned it was the ladder, when she had tried to climb out but fell. The blood loss must have been tremendous, combined with the swim likely inducing shock.

The two in the water made it to the shelf and did their best to lift her up. I pulled from my position, trying to keep her from being cut. Another person arrived, to my left, and contributed. Our success in getting her onto the first shelf was thwarted shortly thereafter when a swell lifted her up and took her out to sea again. Two others again swimming by her side, my single hold on the rocky ledge kept me from being dragged out with them.

When the water receded I leaped to the next shelf up and noticed one of the young men, a tourist, who was at my side. He was leaning against the base of the cliff, sobbing, nearly sick as well. I asked him if he was OK, if he had been hurt. He shook his head, the tears mixed with salt water and ocean spray. I advised him to climb out, so as not to be injured. I then called up for more help, to the twenty or thirty who watched from above.

I later learned Jen’s friend was one who saw this ordeal unfolding, the two of them on vacation. Jen has lost her mother not long before, had no children nor immediate family. Jen was on the phone to a friend or her mother, I don’t know.

The water brought Jen back in again, and I jumped back down to again grab her arm. I noticed two more boys in the water, all trying to get her out of the ocean. Another rescuer was to my left, the boys and man in the water, lifting as best they could.

We succeeded in lifting her out and onto the first shelf. Some one had thrown down a boogie boar and we set it on the next shelf up. On a poorly coordinated countdown, we lifted Jen to the next ledge. It was very difficult, the rock threatening both her limp body and our own. We set her down, half on, half off the foam board, adjusting her position as best we could in the cramped location.

I am trained in Wilderness First Response, with two recertifications. I have used my training twice before, when a man was hit by a bus in Tanzania, and in Palestine when a fellow hiker was unable to continue due to heat stroke. In those situations, I knew what to do, to stabilize and then evacuate the person in critical condition. But nothing fully prepared me for this.

We began chest compressions, the placement of my hands on her bare chest, the rhythm of that movement came naturally. I switched off with a young, energized Chinese girl who was pumping too fast, too shallow, but I did not correct her for I was struggling with my role in this. While trained and comfortable in taking charge of the situation, I hesitated. I stalled. I had never seen, never touched nor held a person who had died within reach of my hands.

The facts were strong in my mind: likely heavy loss of blood, no oxygen for 6-8 minutes, overweight and exhausted. The chance of CPR working was already less than 5% across the board, in any situation. I am ashamed to admit the reality of my thinking, but I did not see the point in continuing.

No one who was taking turns had provided breaths. It is not technically necessary with good chest compressions, and the condition of a drowning victim makes this … difficult.

The bat and the reel
Then behind me I heard yelling. At first, I thought someone had fallen in, another person struggling. Then I heard the male voice call out, “Get the bat! Get the bat!” It was a fisherman I had not seen before. He either moved past all of us on the narrow ledge or climbed down, which would have proved difficult.

A giant marlin, the fish with the massive dorsal sail and long, sharp mouth was less than a foot to my right, partially suspended on a heavy line. Its mouth was just inches from one of the rescuers, close enough to cause harm. Then I heard the sound of someone clubbing the fish. I quickly looked over my head between compressions and realised the fisherman was killing the massive fish with the short bat.

“We got ’em! Keep the line tight! We got ’em!”

I was immediately enraged and yelled back, “What the fuck are you doing! We are trying to save this woman’s life and you are killing a fish!?” The moment those words came from my mouth an image of him beating me instead warned me of pushing any further.

He responded, “Dude! I ain’t going to fuck’n let it go! This is the best of the day! And it’s dangerous man, fucking dangerous! We have to get it out!”

I saw both points. The marlin was a good five feet long. It likely offered 50 or more pounds of meat and could injure one of us if it started thrashing. But the juxtaposition of the two stories so closely intertwined was so difficult for me to process in that moment. Two lives taken by the sea. But for very different reasons. Both violent in their own way.

The best we could
After a few minutes the water rose again. It splashed onto our feet and Jen’s legs. I motivated the crew to move her again to a higher ledge. I called for men with shoes. Those on the cliff hesitated until one of the tourists called to his friends, berating them and at the same time motivating them to come down, “Get down here! NOW!” Two did. On a proper count we lifted and moved her, legs, arms, head, and boogie board too.

The Chinese girl yelled that we should continue CPR. I knew this was the correct thing to do but I hesitated and she jumped in. I immediately felt confusion over the battle in my brain. I was suppose to be the one motivating, driving this operation until the medics arrived. I looked to the cliff opposite me, across to the other side of the chasm in which we operated and asked if anyone had called 911. I was suppose to have commanded that ten minutes earlier. Of course, more than one person had.

It was the Chinese girl who motivated us to continue CPR and we did. I was moved by her energy and switched off every 40 or 60 compressions. People on the cliff attempted to contribute by yelling instructions, how to do CPR. I did my best to ignore them, knowing we were doing it properly. I corrected placement of hands when someone took over but was too high or too low. One women did not interweave her fingers properly, and after a few failed attempts I asked her to let someone else in who had training.

When someone asked why we were not adding breaths, I said we needed a plastic bag with a hole or piece of cloth. Someone jumped down the half dozen ledges from the top and offered the top of a 1 gallon water jug, expertly cut just moments earlier. We inserted it into her mouth and took turns blowing, but we could not get it to seal. Jen’s chest did not rise and fall.

Someone suggested we cut an opening in her throat. Another called out that was the wrong procedure. I ignored them both. They had watched too many dramatic movies. A bandanna arrived shortly thereafter and with that as a subtle barrier we were able to provide air, her chest filling and releasing again.

Jen’s color returned with each round of chest compressions, but faded almost immediately when we stopped to move her. The sound of her forced exhalation confirmed that her lungs were free of fluid enough to allow air to enter, if only it had not been too late.

The paramedics arrived some 40 minutes after she had first put her head down. We had applied CPR for close to 30 minutes, to the best of our ability. She was moved once more to a higher ledge where the paramedics provided a backboard. A few of us helped strap her on while one of the paramedics continued compressions until she was lifted, passed hand to hand up the steep, narrow incline. I followed the eight men who carried her, watching as the wheeled legs folded and she slid into the back of the ambulance.

Some of those who assisted were with YWAM, a Christian volunteer organisation. As the ambulance drove away, they huddled in a prayer circle, heads bowed. I could hear one crying. The rest once gathered at the top of cliff dispersed, slowly returning to their cars. The police recorded the events of the afternoon through interviews.

One of the YWAM volunteers who was at my side down below, I believe, hurried to where I was standing and the police officer taking my story. He exclaimed, “Hey! That guy just threatened me with his knife!” pointing over his shoulder to a group of local fisherman, one of which had stood behind me with the club and the fish.

The officer followed his outstretched arm with his gaze but quickly returned to the boy. He said simply, “Let it go. Just let it go. Walk away.” The boy looked at me, confused and angry. The day weighed heavy on him. I said, “This is not our island. Nothing you can do.” The boy lowered his head and walked away from us, and from the sea.

The officer is a Hawaiian native. I stated, naively, “It is not easy to be in another place, another culture, when things like this happen.” The moment he responded I realised my mistake, “It’s not our culture. It’s just him. But there are some like him.” I apologised and nodded.

I had not seen Colleen for nearly an hour. I found her close to our rental car, waiting. She opened her arms as I drew close and held me. I didn’t cry then, not until later as we drove. I whispered, “I forgot so much of what we are trained to do. I didn’t even want to try. I’ve just never, … I don’t know what happened. It was, … ” Colleen answered, “You did the best you could. There was nothing more you could do.”

Before we left I found Jen’s friend standing where the ambulance had been before it departed. I don’t know why she did not ride along. Maybe I have watched too many movies too, maybe they don’t really allow friends or family to climb in back. Maybe she didn’t want to.

I introduce myself as the first one to arrive. She just stared at me, nodding. She welcomed a brief hug and I said softly, “We did the best we could. We all did. We tried.” She responded simply, “Thank you.”

I walked with Colleen back to the edge of the cliff, overlooking the open sea. I sat down, legs dangling. I noticed that my fear of falling was totally gone, that sensation in the stomach that induces the motivation to take a step back again free. We sat there for a few minutes before we drove away. I said goodbye to South Point, to Jen, and to the sea.

The deep blue
Processing something like this gives me incredible appreciation for those whose lives are daily intertwined with death. To do this for a living is simply astounding. But I also know that paramedics, nurses and doctors are not unaffected. As with any level of intensity sustained, it takes its toll on the mind and body.

I look back to the moment Jen jumped and the memory of her looking up from the ocean below, smiling, waving. She did something exhilarating. She pushed her boundaries. She took a risk to do something outside her norm. While those final moments must have been terribly scary for her, for I had experienced panic in that same spot just a half hour earlier, the total act was something beautiful.

All of life on this planet, save the fungi, bacteria, and waterbears is incredibly fragile. We humans can run, jump, climb, swim, and fly (with some assistance), but a single gulp of water in the wrong chamber, a brief inhale of the acidic air produced by the volcano down the shore and we are imperiled.

This line of thinking leads to so many parallel threads, about the value we place on life in our conversation, in the news, in the movies, to what it means for that life to end, for a line of stories to so abruptly terminate, without proper salutation.

It happens every day, thousands of times each hour. And so few exit this place and time doing something they enjoy, as Jen did, with a leap into the deep blue sea.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:30+00:00 January 31st, 2017|From the Road|Comments Off on Into the Blue

Stirring the pot

Women's March on NY

As with so many of us who feel a kind of deep pain when injustice is served, I have struggled to make sense of what unfolded this past two months. What I witnessed often felt too far removed from my own experience to present anything more than a repeat of what had been said by experts in history, psychology, and politics.

Now, it seems, the pot is about to boil. Perhaps it is time to release the pressure and address the pain. It is time to acknowledge that a latent, mostly silent, large minority of individuals desire to speak their mind. And what their mind has to say is “I no longer feel in control,” or perhaps, “I no longer feel important.”

In a world where the generational demographics are changing, where the borders are no longer clear, there resides a growing sense of “What about me?” When a leader focused entirely on himself says “Make American great again” he implies “I want to be in control” where we seldom feel empowered to do anything.

It became implicitly clear on election night that I live in a bubble, surrounded by those born with the empathy gene switched on. A blessing or a curse, it is difficult to determine at times. My friends, colleagues, and peers all in disbelief at such an overt expression of anger, bigotry, and fear. Not since Woodrow Wilson and the segregation of the White House staff have we seen this rise to the office of the president.

Should we be surprised? Dare we expect a consciousness rising to have established a new equilibrium since 1969? We remain a product of our DNA and evolution does not work with such haste. We are not yet arrived to a social paradigm in which those born without the expression of xenophobia carry the upper-hand.

Until that day, we must live with the potential of radical, even bipolar change.

But when more than one million people stand in peaceful protest against one man, calling for equal rights for all humankind, that is a kind of stirring the pot that might just make this president worth his crimes.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:31+00:00 January 22nd, 2017|The Written|Comments Off on Stirring the pot

A return to Hawai’i, a photo essay

Lava Flow, Hawaii by Kai Staats

Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats

South Point Hawaii by Kai Staats There is an amusement park quality to the Big Island of Hawai’i, a series of microcosms and ecosystems juxtaposed such that tropics and snow are little more than an hour by car. You need only travel for fifty miles to transition from a place which receives 400 inches of rain per year to another which receives just one. From flowing lava to lush forests, from snow-capped peaks to the warmth of a tropical ocean, the diversity of this land is like few others in the world.

Halipe Hawaii by Kai Staats In two hikes, six days in total, Colleen and I moved some 50 miles by foot, carrying tent, sleeping bag, rain gear, cook stove, fuel, and food. We treated water along the route, knocked a coconut from a tree by means of a found projectile, unsuccessfully cut into its shell, and spent the afternoons in the sun and water. At night we were greeted by turtles just inches from our camera and light. A massive eel caused us to wonder if snorkeling by day in this remote location was a good idea.

Halipe Hawaii by Kai Staats As in 2012 when I visited the Big Island and wrote The Birthplace of Stone, there is a sense of returning home, to be reminded how the Earth was formed. The raw, exposed, treacherous nature of walking on lava leaves one uncertain at nearly every step. The hazards abound while the beauty overwhelms.

Halipe Hawaii by Kai Staats This was the kind of adventure that is not easy nor easily ignored. It settles into your skin much as the salt accumulates in your hair or the sulfuric vog pulls at your lungs. Eventually, the memory fades, but something says you must return again. That way of living, in which all that is required is on your back, that is what for me feels natural and normal and true. The rest, this is the dream from which I hope to wake and return to the real world.

Backpacking in Hawaii by Kai Staats Backpacking in Hawaii by Kai Staats Backpacking in Hawaii by Kai Staats Lava in Hawaii by Kai Staats Halipe Hawaii by Kai Staats

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:31+00:00 January 20th, 2017|From the Road|Comments Off on A return to Hawai’i, a photo essay

The spoils of war

In our effort to come in from the cold, we forgot the pleasure of growing warm. In avoiding the heat of a sweltering afternoon, we lost a view to the setting sun. In protecting ourselves from nearly invisible invaders, we forgot the smell of fresh soil pressed beneath our fingernails.

Our tolerance is reduced, our threshold decreased. Biology always avoids discomfort and chooses the path of least resistance. Our species was not satisfied with simply building a shelter. Instead, we transformed the undesirable places, the unreachable depths made accessible and breathless peaks available for those able who pay.

What we did to survive a century ago is now a televised game. We removed the risks only to seek the extremes. Our entertainment has become the very violence we fought to resolve. We have returned to the gladiators of ancient Rome.

We have forgotten the beginning of the journey, the objective long ago surpassed. We conquered the natural world and now rest among its ruins and spoils. The rubble around us yet smolders, those trapped beneath the fallen walls die at an alarming rate. If we hurry we can yet rewrite history from what we now see. Species, languages, quiet places and dark skies relegated to the museums and theme parks of the next generation, pages in our notebook. A footnote from the author will warn, “In our effort to keep from feeling the cold, we made things a bit too warm.”

By | 2017-01-22T17:19:49+00:00 January 17th, 2017|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology|Comments Off on The spoils of war

A mantra for the New Year

Seek intellectual stimulation.
Express creativity in multiple forms.
Promote science education as the best hope for the next generation.
Never stop learning or challenging the norms.

By | 2017-01-22T14:00:27+00:00 January 1st, 2017|The Written|Comments Off on A mantra for the New Year

Karoo GP and TensorFlow

Yesterday I received a revision to Karoo GP which now includes the Python machine learning library TensorFlow. The 10,000 row dataset which consumed 48 hours for 30 generations of evolution on a powerhouse 40 core motherboard now runs in less than 4 minutes on a single GPU card.

30 lines of code revised, and Karoo enjoys a 720x improvement in performance.

I am blown away.

The updated version of Karoo will be released to github with the close of December, after the contract developer and I complete a suite of tests and the code is prepared for release.

By | 2016-12-03T01:50:14+00:00 December 3rd, 2016|Humans & Technology, Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on Karoo GP and TensorFlow

The Ebb and Flow

In June, July, and August I was almost daily engaged in the application of evolutionary computation to glitch classification at LIGO. I worked extensively with Marco Cavaglia and his students Hunter, Luciano, and Kentaro for this effort.

We wrestled with the data, trying to find new ways to extract features which provide stronger correlations. We made progress, got lucky a few times, but more often than not hit dead ends which forced us to circle back to the start.

The joy of this arduous process is complex, for it entails both a passion for success and failure, the two faces to discovery. My professor too often said, “Research is hard” as a badge of honour, a mark of the fearless and brave and dedicated. Yet he failed to say “Research is rewarding!” As a recent New Scientist article presented, it is the people we work with that make most jobs tolerable. I am fortunate to have the best of both–an incredibly engaging challenge conducted with incredibly engaging people.

I have the joy of working with some of the brightest and the best, the funniest, the most seasoned and the most juvenile. We laugh far more than we do argue, yet we celebrate only long enough to realise our mistake and then dive back into another seemingly endless, dark tunnel. The phone calls, the TeamSpeak meetings, the hundreds of emails that keep us going. For with each communication we are challenged to prove our findings, we are challenged to be better at our job than we were before. No one ever says, “That is good enough.” Always, the challenge is for more. Higher accuracy. A stronger correlation. An improved better dataset. Better writing, presentation, and publication.

This week I will officially engage as a “Visiting Scientist” at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona where I am working under Dr. Michele Zanolin and with Marek Szczepanczyk, PhD candidate and chair of the supernovae group at LIGO.

Together, we are applying evolutionary computation, genetic programming in particular, to the classification of Coherent Wave Bursts (CWB) in LIGO data. While we have just begun, only a few data runs in our shared experience, we know the work will be long, challenging, and more likely to fail than succeed. But it is the people with whom I am working which compels me, as much as the prospect of success. If I can play a small part in the team which may, some day, detect supernovae using gravitational wave astronomy, then that small part will be an honour indeed.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:31+00:00 December 3rd, 2016|Humans & Technology, Ramblings of a Researcher|Comments Off on The Ebb and Flow

version 2.0

The Internet has failed to deliver what was promised over two decades ago. Or perhaps, we have failed to fully embrace that which it delivers.

We have at our finger tips facts, figures, and data. At any given moment, 24 hours a day we can validate and substantiate the tidbits of information which bombard us. We can negate rumours, stories, and marketing campaigns that tease our sense of logic or appeal to our emotional pleasures and fears.

Yet, we do not.

The Internet also delivers a kind of drug, an addictive substance which calls upon the very foundation of our DNA. We are drawn into conspiracies, twisted logics, and backward ways of thinking that support our innermost fears, the stuff that predates one or two generations as we give into eons of xenophobic behaviour.

While the spiritually minded speak hopeful of consciousness rising, I see instead the rise of the human species for who we are when the spiritually minded retreat to their havens of like-minded and similarly kind.

Perhaps some day the Internet will deliver an upgrade to humanity, a version 2.0 in which we care about the other as much as we do our own self. But for now, the beta release a few million years in the making will have to do.

By | 2016-11-21T03:45:21+00:00 November 21st, 2016|The Written|Comments Off on version 2.0