Monday, October 17, 2016

Meme Machine

Many amnesiacs are staring at their TVs in perpetual disbelief at the prevalence of genitalia in political discourse.  "When will this stop?" they ask, in a frozen moment of perplexity.

That snapshot of the shocked TV viewer has something of a Norman Rockwell flavor, as decorated by MAD Magazine. Lets remember the long slog through the Monica story on shock TV and radio just a few seasons back.  Horrific right?  A real nightmare for the poor girl.

We do scandal, then war, which is scandalous, then back to scandal, and so on.

What gets old first, the soaps, or the expressions of shocked amazement?  Aren't they but one and the same?  We call it the tabloid press.  There's a reason it sits there at supermarket checkout lanes, and as click bait at the bottom of each newspaper article.

However, lest I fall into my own trap, and register shocked outrage, that my neurons are being so expertly played, let me say again that the meme machine is well-oiled, and with a note of respect.

People get paid by the tweet I'm sure, in some industries.  Entertainment, i.e. show business, is one of those "must go on" kinds of things ("too big to fail").

The danger is less in having an Idiocracy than in allowing these soap operas to get so out of hand that we don't get any work done.

When will the US citizens of Puerto Rico be allowed to vote?  Not this cycle either?  When then?  Snore.  The TV viewers didn't come for that.  They came for more scandal out there in scapegoat land, not the nasty business of thinking through a problem and implementing a solution.

I think a counter to frenetic TV is to change channels.  Not all TV is like that.  You maybe expected I'd say "kill your television", but if you haven't yet, then that's maybe stale advice.

Youtube, which is TV on demand, is the same way. If your goal is to get something done, to get on with your life, then learn to ratchet forward. Challenge yourself with some worthy goals.  Learn. Study.  Don't just get outraged that the world is going to hell.

Don't get carried away by the swill we might call the "mass mind".

Have a mind of your own instead, it's worth the extra effort.

Meanwhile, in Mosul...

Friday, October 14, 2016

Shop Talk

Last night I met with my current crop of students for the eighth time, wondering if we might be in for some weather.  Apparently the media were full of rumors of an impending tropical storm, or the tail end of one, and indeed the Pacific coast of Oregon was already taking a pounding.

Two days before, as chronicled below, we'd experienced a significant power outage in Asylum District, causing drivers, pedestrians, cyclists to mutually encounter Chavez & SE Hawthorne with no traffic signals ("the robots were dead" as a South African might put it).

However by the time class rolled around, the valley was still, just getting more rain, not unusual in October, given our rainforest ecosystem.  "Rainforest" is recognized as a single word in Wikipedia, so I'll be adding it to my spellchecker, goodbye red wavy lines.  Speaking of which, I don't like typos in my tweets and will go back and delete some for that reason alone.

What we got to, in this class on Python programming, was a second pass through both decorators and context managers, as topics, first encountered on Tuesday.  Then I ripped back the veil to reveal some of the deep mysteries behind the keyword yield, one of two still giving problems on the quiz, the other being nonlocal.

I needed this running jump to reach my goal in the final segment, before the last lab:  using a decorator from contextlib to wring a decent context manager from a generator function.

Steve Holden covered all this in his O'Reilly School curriculum, meaning I'd iterated through this material for some years.

I'm no stranger to this area, in other words, and so act as a tour guide for those venturing this deeply into the Land of the Pythonistas (sounds like Florida, doesn't it?).

Python is not the only language to sport something called "decorator syntax", basically a way to transform the behavior of callables with other callables, at design time.  It's syntactic sugar really, but really useful syntactic sugar.

I'm working with Jasand Pruski on the quadray stuff a little.  Keeping my remarks on Synergetics to thumbed SMS messages and Tweets is good discipline.  All we're missing are polyhedron emoji.

Regarding the mysteries of yield, the story got deep when the send( ) method came along, and then throw() and close().

I'm grateful to David Beazley for helping me to disentangle and distill the concept of co-routine from what could be a big mess.  That little decorator he does to "prime the pump" i.e. take us to the first (yield) ready to accept a value, is most illuminating and worth passing on.

Today I hacked on, a minimalist web application implemented in Pythonic Flask, a WSGI application.

I made the CSS a little tighter, organized the landing pages (yes, I still hand code HTML tables), and stuck a dashboard of navigation buttons across the top).  I'm deliberately using code cut and pasted from well known teaching sites, such as I'm using the the Mars.2 Release (4.5.2) Build id: 20160218-0600 version of Eclipse in an effort to stay in practice with that capable IDE.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wanderers 2016.10.12

Fall 2016

The Pauling House block and environs were enduring a power outage this morning.  Even the busy intersection twixt Chavez and Hawthorne was without signals.  Drivers and pedestrians had to play the game of round robin.

Our speaker today was Roger Paget, who has appeared previously in my blogs.  He speaks in a Chomsky-like baritone, looking back over a long history of living around the Pacific Rim, including as a translator for Indonesia's Sukarno at one point.

He reminds me of John Taylor quite a bit, another native English speaker who has developed fluency in Indonesian (one of thousands of languages used in that region).

For most of the talk, I attended to his use of the pronoun "we" and possessive "our".  He looks somewhat like a king, the way Santa Claus does, so it was easy to slip into hearing a "royal we" -- a perceptual shift I'm used to making (I focus on pronoun use a lot).

I concluded we were kings of rather different kingdoms in that my use of "we" bears only some resemblance to his.  For the most part, his kingdom sounded rather alien.  We both think of ourselves as US citizens, but differ in the details of what that entails (in terms of how we each use our respective "we").

Nevertheless we may learn from one another, as kings and queens often have.  Better to learn than simply argue.

Elizabeth Furse and Marianne Buchwalter and were among those who joined us.

I didn't participate in the discussion other than to eat some of the donut pieces Marianne brought from Blue Star.  We didn't have coffee thanks to the power outage.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Flying Circus 2016.10.10

Monitoring IP Traffic in Real Time

Tonight was brilliant I thought, with many interesting threads, plus an excellent talk by Charles CosséFlying Circus is taking off.

For those new to this blog, I'm referring to a weekly meetup at PDX Code Guild, for which Neil Raja and I have been serving as co-organizers.  We're not the Portland Python User Group, which meets elsewhere (we're smaller and stray from Python quite liberally).

Charles plugged his Raspberry Pi 2 Model B into the big screen monitor using the HDMI out, and shared both slides and working application, at that time about 75% complete.

He shared a generically useful pattern (see slides), which is to have Django, the Python web framework, talk to a suite of daemons (one or more), each monitoring some data source, and then sharing summary visualizations with a web client running JavaScript, talking to Django over AJAX, using JSON.

Django talks to the Python daemons over xml-rpc (remote procedure calls).  The daemons might monitor IP traffic in various ways.  Think of a patient's vital signs.  The heart rate, oxygenation level and so on go back to d3.js, a 2D visualization library that updates a dashboard in real time.

In this particular application, the Raspberry Pi serves as a hotspot with two Wifi connections, one for random clients, e.g. the smartphones of people there, the other connected to the school's hotspot.

The Pi is acting as a wifi enabled router in other words.  Since d3.js contains maps (as in Mercator Projection), the mere fact of logging to the service registers as a dot in Portland, Oregon.  Then we can watch who's hogging bandwidth, other stuff.

Electron is to Chromium as XUL is to Firefox, providing a client container capable of hosting a DOM and running client side JavaScript.

Sheri, the school's director, clued me about a free course at Oregon State in permaculture, that starts on Halloween.  I signed up.  I'm interested in Biosphere 2 type experiments, or just maximizing efficiencies -- ala New Alchemy Institute -- in some Bucky dome someplace.  The campus is remote, so best if the fruits and vegetables are grown locally.

As has happened in some previous Flying Circus meetups, crypto-curriences, such as bitcoin, became a topic.  We had some people who'd one their homework.  I'm not claiming any of us were actual bitcoin miners, a technical term, but some of us knew people who are or were.  Neal and I are both working in support of Measure 97.

Pro 97

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Nuclear Summit

Here's one of mom's friends, Alice Slater, yakking with a journalist on Russia Today.

She sounds pretty sensible to me.  She makes the good point that Indian Point, not far from New York City where she lives, is itself a "dirty bomb" once hit by terrorists hell-bent on creating some kind of Fukushima situation.

RT does a good job streaming archival footage on the left panel, not getting into showing the missiles or atmospheric detonations, keeping to the theme of (non-submarine) nuke plant internals.  Slater ventures to talk about WMDs as well.

I'd probably sound more fringe in that I'm still skeptical of the conspiracy theory that Al Qaeda was behind 9-11 (Slater brings this up), which attacks just seem too sophisticated in retrospect, to have been conducted from some cave in Afghanistan.

I'm by no means alone among Friends in finding the official History Channel conspiracy theory somewhat hard to believe.  David Chandler, in our Meeting, is all over Youtube expressing his brand of skepticism. I know many Mormons think the same way.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Doing Homework

I've been digesting David Beazley videos this morning, among others, once again tackling the topic of asynchronous multi-tasking in the Python computer language, by means of coroutines.

Coroutines are a new type of object in Python, a "subtype" of generator in that they use much of the same implementation code as generators.

However they're a whole different animal, are not a subclass in the Pythonic sense.  What coroutines do is surrender control back to the awaiting caller.

Coroutines ratchet forward as driven by some whip-cracking task master, cranking forward a notch at a time, perhaps awaiting on other coroutines internally.

Getting a lot of coroutines notching forward "at once" (each inching forward, then surrendering control) is what gives us the multi-tasking flavor, but it's all happening in the one thread.

The trick is knowing when to gracefully say "not ready yet" in a non-blocking manner.  Don't make the waiter stand there while you consider your order.  Let the waiter cycle back again in a few minutes (milliseconds or less).


Tuesday came off without a hitch except Carol left her favorite bright green water bottle at Providence.

Carol chatted with Wanderers about the obsolescence of outward wars.  That doesn't mean all the engineers engaged in "destructive engineering" (aka "anti-civil engineering") have retired yet of course.

Uncle Bill actually used to be a maintenance engineer for the DEW line radomes; I hadn't known that.

Uncle Bill

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Living Room Overhaul

XO Reappears

Carol (mom) was hoping I'd wake her up for Quaker meeting today.  I rattled around in the kitchen some, making coffee, however her health is a priority and getting enough sleep is a big part of that.

She's been slaving over WILPF deadlines, pulling all nighters.

I woke up Saturday not planning to overhaul the living room, but once into it, I found it hard to stop.  I also yanked out a kitchen drawer in our fall-apart metallic cupboard system, a kit kitchen from the 1950s or so, already a relic of another age when we got here in 1995.

For awhile I despaired of getting it working again, but then paused to realize there was an intelligent design to it all, that I just needed to work with, not against.

Part of overhauling the living room was discovering where Lindsey left the XO-1, in a nice little bag with the charger.

I got to playing with it, nostalgic for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and before ya know it I was grabbing a newer copy of Sugar and all that, from the Lab.

I've got it on WiFi, though not for any good reason.  I'll likely pass it around at the next Flying Circus.

I got the fireplace cleaned up as well, however I don't have a habit of using it much.  Unless a client needs to work in the CenturyLink room and pay for mainstream heat, I'm happy enough with most rooms running cold, more European in flavor (more Greek).  We could space heat that room too.

Portland just doesn't get below freezing that often (more Mediterranean around here) and I already have space heaters in the snake room (where we keep the snake aquarium) and in Carol's office.

The previous owners had a giant wood stove right in the middle of the living room.  We had that taken out first thing.

I see Carol managed to wake up on her own ("I should have used an alarm, that was silly of me"), so maybe we'll make it to at least the last part of meeting.

Winter Configuration

Friday, September 30, 2016

TV Ethnography

In retrospect, I was one of the "fickle kids" this documentary talks about.  But hey, why make it The Munsters or Batman.  I'd gladly watch both.

I'd balk at going to swimming lessons given the cliff-hangers around Batman and Robin.  My own physical development was taking a back seat to a gripping fantasy.

Then our family left Portland, Oregon for Rome, Italy and it was somewhat cold turkey, at least on shows like this.  Italian TV didn't even start until early evening, sheesh.

I didn't unplug entirely.  On the contrary, I developed more of an interest in advertising.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Strategy Session

We've been putting our heads together, "we" being a clique of Measure 97 supporters, wondering if we might rescue mathematics teachers from their double bind.  On the one hand, the high school track is brimming with disappointed students, unable to hack it, but all attempts at reform hit a brick wall.  The name of that brick wall is "computer science".

The quality of public debate remains low, as people without the terminology or concepts just cannot participate in the conversation.  They stay with what they know, such as "will using a calculator make Johnny too dumb to multiply single digit numbers?"  I'm not saying that's an out of bounds question.  However for someone living in the Silicon Forest, calculators are not the issue.  Lets talk about computers, and about the bash shell.  Crickets chirping.

Having been party to these conversations for some decades by now, with thousands of posts to my name in the infamous Forum 206 @ MathForum, I don't see any sudden clearing ahead at the national level.  I do see regional and even more local breakthroughs happening.  A lot depends on individual teachers, such as Peter Farrell in California, and A. Jorge Garcia in New York.  Both of these math teachers understand that "learning to code" and "learning mathematics" are not antithetical (big word, means "not in opposition to one another").

Most of the action is in Twitter-verse from my point of view.  That doesn't mean decisions get made there, only that here's an application that lets us study memes, up close and personal.  Watch how "AI" and "data science" mix with "big data" and "machine learning" to give us new blends of science fiction, influential simply in their being widespread.  I'm not saying these concepts are empty.  On the contrary, substantive shifts are afoot.  Drilling down through Twitter gives analysts access to some of the most important memes in a highly distilled (refined) form.

We meet on-line, in coffee shops, at brew pubs.  I'm not saying we all see eye-to-eye.  My talk at Wanderers about matters Raspbian included plenty of Measure 97 talk, 98 as well.  Tiz the season.  We may not win at the polls, but the opportunities to organize have opened up anyway, and that is for the better.

I'll have more time to devote to these issues, as I conclude my two year term as Clerk of the Information Technology Committee for North Pacific Yearly Meeting.  That wasn't a paid gig, given Quakerism is volunteer role playing, for the most part.  However I did learn some new project management skills which I'll take with me as we enter this new chapter. That was originally a three year role however the position has a reputation for morphing and I'd rather kick the ball to another team player at this point, now that the job description has changed yet again.

Welcome to Algebra City

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Star Party


"Star Party" is a bit tongue in cheek (a wry joke) as the night sky was overcast and not even the moons (of Jupiter) were to be seen.  Never mind, we knew in advance that'd be the case.  This was our Wanderers retreat, coupled with an open house for Brenda, who runs a farm out towards Mt. Hood.

Carol (mom) has been glued to the TV (Internet) watching a conference she didn't make it to in WDC (Washington, DC).  Given quite a number of registered ended up in overflow rooms watching on TV as well, her remaining in the comfort of her home office seems a good decision.

Since her program started up again early this morning, and for other reasons, we didn't say at the farm very long, were among the very first to leave (when latecomers were just arriving).  I tried some really interesting and tasty dishes, including some "LDS beer" (home crafted dark ale by a Mormon craftsman).

Given I was the designated driver (with two passengers), I was light on the alcohol, imbibing only three thimble sized cups in the last hour, with my usual couple bottles in the first hour.  If we'd stayed any later, I would have switched to coffee.  As it was, I was awake and alert both ways, not a problem.  We shot out on Hwy 26, returning by I-84 much of the way.  The art car works great, still plenty muscular for my needs.

Glenn recently found the third of three volumes (with an index), in translation, by that German philosopher guy, bucking to be the next Heidegger maybe?  The title of this one is Foam.  Glenn says it's about insiders and outsiders, as defined by container metaphors (i.e. spheres, bubbles, systems of any kind -- like a tetrahedron).