Friday, December 15, 2017

From BestThinking

BestThinking is shuttering at the end of the year.  We've been invited to recover our postings and share them elsewhere, such as I'm doing here.

Thinking Out Loud
Posted in Technology / Programming / Python

Mining the 20th Century: 

Wittgenstein Meets Buckminster Fuller

Mar. 31, 2016 12:17 pm
Keywords: synergetics, applewhite, anthropology, wittgenstein
Classic Geodesic Dome

A goldmine of useful memes, textbook examples, blueprints for thinking, missed by most philosophers, is in the intersection of mathematics and anthropology. We tend to call this area "ethno-mathematics" by which we mean studying archaic practices from the past, such as Sumerian astronomy or Viking navigation techniques.

We don't look at contemporary coding subcultures (such as Python's) nor at "alternative mathematics" through the lens of anthropology because of the blinders we impose on that discipline, and because of the religious flavor of some mathematics.

Enter Wittgenstein, who studied and commented upon Frazer's Golden Bough, a first hat in the ring of this emerging discipline, anthropology. Wittgenstein's later philosophy may be seen as anthropology turning on its own culture, the one giving us anthropologists, to become more an investigation into the use of language and thereby more of a philosophical enterprise. Wittgenstein blends two flavors: ordinary language philosophy (which he helped found) and anthropology.

Fast forward to the end of the 1900s, and we get to the publication of another strange work of genius, Synergetics in two volumes, by R. Buckminster Fuller in collaboration with E.J. Applewhite. The latter wrote a separate tome, Cosmic Fishing, about shepherding this exotic text through Macmillan, in addition to recounting the collaboration process itself (Fuller narrated, providing prose, figures and tables, while Applewhite organized and typed). Another four volume tome called the Synergetics Dictionary was produced from Applewhite's documenting process. Both Synergetics and Synergetics Dictionary are available on-line.

How these connect, Wittgenstein's philosophical investigations, and Synergetics, is through the foundations of mathematics, an area much remarked upon by both. Specifically, Fuller develops an alternative geometrical model of 2nd and 3rd powering such that "squaring" and "cubing" would not be the appropriate verbs. We could say "triangling" and "tetrahedroning" instead. We don't of course -- speak that way -- but the fact remains that our mental pictures of 2 x 2, or 4 x 4 x 4, so ingrained, could be altered in a logic-preserving manner. We would enter the wonderland of a new and different culture, a so-called "different paradigm".

As an undergrad at Princeton, I wrote a thesis on Wittgenstein's later philosophy. I later became friends with Applewhite and started sharing my writings on this new doorway twixt Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (one of Wittgenstein's) and "explorations in the geometry of thinking" (the subtitle of Synergetics). He really liked the direction I was taking. I wish we could have collaborated more before he passed on.

My wife was diagnosed with a most virulent type of breast cancer (IBC) the day before Ed (short for Edgar) and I were to have dinner in DC. We had met several times before, at his place, at fancy restaurants, also in Portland where his wife June joined us. This meetup looked especially propitious. We had just finished a Fuller Symposium, Applewhite a speaker and now a Pycon was starting (a Python conference, a computer language) on the same GWU campus.

The phone call came through from my poor distraught wife who had just been given a death sentence by her oncologist. She had gone from zero to stage three overnight, with chemo to start immediately. I needed to drop everything and hurry home. Ed and I continued with phone conversations and emails but never got to meet again after that. Ed died on Valentine's Day in 2005. Dawn, my wife, died on St. Patrick's Day in 2007.

What's true about working in a goldmine is the payoff is premised on gold having value, as currency, as a precious metal. Without a culture around me that values these men of genius in the 1900s, and makes use of their ideas, I have only a private language to get lost in, and that's no fun. So of course I'm motivated to push these ideas into the public domain, via Youtubes or whatever media. If you follow the bread crumbs, you'll find me connecting these dots in several venues, including those frequented by Python programmers and mathematicians. In Portland, you'll find me at the boyhood home of Linus Pauling, one of Oregon's top celebs, the two-time Nobel prize winning activist chemist. A group of us, fans and friends, meet every week.

I also engage in talk of STEM and STEAM, the former being the much-hyped science-technology matrix, with the "A" then added to give the humanities more of a foothold, and typically meant to mean "Art". However I say "A is for Anthropology" and bring it back to my pet projects.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Revised Position

Regarding an improved curriculum design, with the goal of phasing in "programming", I'd bought into the common wisdom that "somewhere around algebra" or even "after algebra" was where programming first started making sense.

I'm not sure why that coupling existed in terms of suggesting programming and algebra be contemporaneous, or that "the math" must always come first.  On the contrary, kids from a very young age have an application for a coordinate system, springing from the same original source as it did in the first place: artists needing to put colors on canvas.

The algebra teacher should be forwardly thinking in terms of students already having some coding background, and building on that.  The formal introduction of "function" in its native namespace, with surjective, bijective and so forth, might then build on already familiar semantics, even coming from purely block-based languages such as MIT Scratch.  It has "define" blocks for organizing other code blocks into shared routines.

So no, I don't think waiting until after algebra makes any sense, and that's a good thing, as the status quo in my neck of the woods is quite the opposite:  kids are diving into coding long before they encounter a traditional subject called "algebra". I'm glad I don't have to fight the status quo on every front, as that gets exhausting.

The main barriers to lexical programming have to do with keyboard abilities.  Yes, we have ways to employ voice recognition and coding is not necessarily about speed, as it's not done to a metronome (not counting the company clock).  Still, faster typing means being able to keep up with one's thoughts, with "thinking in code" more fluent when not held back by slow fingers.

We have all kinds of thoughts about algebra, in terms of "rules of equality" and "finding unknowns" and we'll get to that.  However programming a computer is more like scripting a play, a stage, a theater, or a television.  It's about providing content in a structured manner, at a sustainable rate.  We like things to happen quickly where purely rote processing is concerned.  We should let kids enjoy the speed of their CPUs and GPUs long before we insist that they study these gizmos algebraically.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Meteor Man

Astronomer Doug McCarty and Dick Pugh

Dick Pugh graced Wanderers with the latest version of his meteor talk this morning.  He has polished this presentation over the years, however there are always new developments to roll into it.

Besides, good stories are worth hearing multiple times, like a favorite record album.  Remember record albums?  Dick is a world authority and former high school teacher.  His talks are engaging.

He's still an avid collector and is savvy regarding the going rates for fragments from specific debris fields.  Part of the fun of his talk is how it's peppered with mentions of obscure treasures, such as a junky old car, now worth oh so much more, now that a meteor has totalled it.

Dick gets several calls a week, average one or two a day, from people hoping what they've found is somehow valuable.  More often than not, they have a piece of Oregon basalt, a ubiquitous material that makes Oregon an especially difficult hunting ground.  The quarry (prey) and the background look so much the same.

Finding meteor fragments is so much easier in a sandy desert or in some arctic setting, where a large chunk of iron, or stone, sticks out and calls attention to itself.

Meteors come from asteroids, but also from Earth's moon and the planet Mars.  High impact events fling fragments from those bodies into space, some of which fall into Earth's gravity well.

Don and I huddled over our computers after the talk, trying to get wanderers-announce working as a Yahoo! group.  We already have wwwanderers (with three ws), which caters to those wishing to yak about issues of the day.  Of late, few are yakking.

Contrary to popular belief, meteorites are not hot to the touch, even if they were fireballs upon entering the atmosphere.  They've been coasting near absolute zero for eons and a short encounter with the Earth's atmosphere is not going to undo some billions of years of running cold.

Meteor Fragments

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Coco (movie review)

Informants, e.g. Deke, tell me this film is getting high marks from critics, though I've not read a single review.  Melody was also drawn to this film based on previews, which made it seem promising. I was not disappointed.

I'm feeling rather neuro-skeletal myself these days.  Nathaniel Bobbit and I have been talking about a Blender rigging of the skeleton by email.  Mainly it's my left knee that's demanding my attention.  I forced myself up Mt. Tabor this morning, as a diagnostic.  Yikes.  Not again tomorrow.  Where's that microwavable bean bag?  Ibuprophen, do your magic.

The idea of a family altar with ancestors depicted, took me back to the writings of Fletcher Prouty regarding Vietnam, and the hype about how Catholics were being forced south, long story. How true was that, versus how much fake news?  Lansdale was a storyteller, in the midst of wars.  Preying on Catholic fears of non-deists (e.g. "Communists") was big in those days.

Mexico is fine with the concept of an afterlife, and Disney is not afraid to embellish on the metaphysics, as Disney is no stranger to either death or mythologies, these being eternal themes.  I'm happy to have animation delve into various cultures, with expert care.  I still need to see the Polynesian scenario, my bad.

I'm not going to recount the plot.  I'm only going to underline my admiration for a cartoon World of the Dead.  Not heaven, in the sense of angels playing harps on clouds.  Far less stupid.  And there's death in that world too, that comes from being forgotten, or "garbage collected" as we say in the Python world.

Good job Pixar. I'm fine with the lack of priests and churches.  We don't need their mediation to remember the ancestors, or to explain how it all works after death (Purgatory etc.).

Speaking of Purgatory, coming down from Mt. Tabor I stopped in at Common Grounds to nurse my knee and read Harper's December issue. The journalist doing the profile of what it's like to work in refineries in the Emirates seemed a bit of a clod, but really dedicated.  I'll look for the book.  Good job on countering the myth on Middle America (another article), but it's hard to fight ingrained tropes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Post Thanksgiving 2017

I managed to crank out the above Youtube last Sunday, having returned from points north, via Amtrak. I manage to sputter through a Concentric Hierarchy presentation, hoping to connect the RD of volume 6 to the CCP, if that makes any sense (watch the video?).  Getting a train in there was a plus, as Synergetics has it's "great circle train tracks" converging to what we might think of as "Grand Central stations".

Connecting to this content, which I consider American heritage, is my recent writing on Medium, wondering aloud of a charter school network might want to escape the scourge of modern standardized testing, by covering STEAM content not currently tested.  A curriculum might risk anticipating what will be critical tomorrow, versus today.  We call this "looking ahead" (not an original concept).

Along those lines, I've been urging on math-teach (from which I've resigned, given signs of its immanent demise) that we do more with cryptography at the high school level, which includes making use of such tools as pycrypto, though not to the exclusion of studying the bare bones mathematics.  My Supermarket Math component (one of four) is all about eCommerce, which entails HTTPS, which entails RSA.  Some high end high school curricula go there, e.g. Phillips Academy's.  I expect Stuy's does as well.

Edgar Allan Poe fits in here, as a novelist and storyteller who understood the value of encrypted messages as plot drivers.  Didn't I see a whole book on that?  An article?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wanderers 2017.11.22

Pugh re Madog

I got to this one a little late, having worked night shift to 10:30 PM, and then diving into boning up on data analysis, something I share about.  The meetup starts at 9 AM.  I was there by like 9:15 or so.

Dick Pugh, last name Welsh, was sharing about a long-lived rumor, regarding "Welsh Indians" pre Columbus.

Quoting from our Yahoo list:
"Welsh Come to America in the year 1170, Long Before Columbus, and Become the Mandan indians, Who spoke Welsh"
9:00 AM, Wednesday morning, November 22, at The Pauling House, 3945 SE Hawthorne.

Hope to see you there!

Apparently one Maddog might have made it from Wales circa 1100 AD and helped establish a new tribe with Welsh customs and artifacts.  Given I came late, I'm not sure by what route.

Mainstream news poo poohs this hypothesis, Dick was quick to admit.  However he wanted to be sure we had a chance to check the evidence.

In general, our understanding of when the Americas entered into trans-oceanic lore, has been getting updated.  The idea of Vikings along the Great Lakes doesn't sound as absurd as it used to.

This rumor, of "Welsh Indians" goes back at least to the time of Thomas Jefferson and the US versus UK boardroom brawl ("American Revolution").

Jefferson asked Lewis and Clark, the great explorers who mapped their way to the Pacific and back, to keep a lookout for any signs of such a tribe.

Dick gave a great presentation and all present felt well informed.  I won't try to do his presentation justice in terms of relaying all its content.  You had to be there.

A later governor had this removed

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Friendly Convergence

A van of us guys from the Men's Group, organized by Joe Snyder and borrowing the Reedwood van (thank you Friends!), got to Mapleton, Oregon and back in one day.  That's the freeway age for ya.  With time to spare I might add.

Wes had all kinds of ties to Oregon Friends that I'm only just learning about.  Our Stark Street meeting traces back to College Park Association in California, and Iowan Friends striking out on their own upon being disowned by their brethren.  So be it.  The brand "Religious Society of Friends" would not be surrendered.

On the other hand, Gurneyites moved west also, and their trajectory takes other forms, namely Northwest Yearly Meeting, distinct from the more Hicksite flavored North Pacific Yearly Meeting, of which Multnomah Meeting on Stark Street is a member.

Wes Voth traces his schooling back to Newberg, Oregon.  These are more the Hooverite Friends associated with George Fox University (GFU).  There's overlap with Liberal Friends on many fronts, but if you're a scholar of the Quaker lineage, you know we're prone to forking, and don't always think that's a bad thing.

Politics aside, Wes Voth was a naturalist and his thinking was deeply informed by the natural patterns of his watershed.  It may be a cliche to think of watersheds as the lungs of the planet.  They are integral to the way fish live their lives, and thereby serve at the basis of many a food chain.

Pacific ocean salmon start and end their lives in these rivers and rivulets, adding their carcasses to the inland soil, fertilizing rainforests.  Ecosystems don't run on fumes, much as fumes matter.

Wes knew all these basics like the back of his hand, and then could go on about the smaller details, in ways a city rat like me can only marvel at, and I did.  At our last meetup at Great Bear Camp for example.  I sat at his feet, slurping up the lore of the land.

The memorial service was held at the Lions Club which shares digs with the Mapleton Public Library, what used to be a public school.  The meeting hall, which doubles as a theater and gymnasium, was packed with just about everyone in Mapleton, not a big town.  Out of towners rounded out the crowd.

We all respected Wes a lot for his honesty and respectful ways.  He served as a postal carrier in this later chapter, and had maybe just recently retired?  We felt his departure was all too soon.

This was Veterans Day, or Armistice Day as some call it.  Among the songs we sang, was one of Wes's favorites (mine too, for its check on nationalism): This is My Song with lyrics by by Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness, to the score of Finlandia by Jean Sibelius.  It's in our Quaker hymnal.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Life, Liberty and...

My study groups have been cycling back to Student Debt, which becomes a noose, and the Overdose Epidemic, which becomes a way out, or at least a temporary escape.  Any dose is an overdose where most of these drugs are concerned.

The law abiding become despairing when they recognize that organized crime rules the roost.  This article in Rolling Stone keeps pointing to people in high places, high office, as the ones at the top of some Ponzi scheme.  The state becomes a prison state.

Recently we learned more from the DEA about its losing battle against Big Pharma.  Organized crime has eaten through the medical establishment.  Drug pushing is the backbone of a new economy, breaking the backs of many old ones.  No, we're not talking about glossy mags in marijuana country.  We're talking about fentanyl and worse.

Clearly the student loan crisis and the overdose epidemic go together.  In closing off all promising avenues to a brighter future, one reaps the harvest of hopelessness.

The positive futurism I latched onto in my young adulthood was not a popular brand within academia and those paying high interest for borrowing against their futures were for the most part not schooled in any of it.  Nevermind about the Medal of Freedom.
R. Buckminster Fuller: 
A true Renaissance Man, and one of the greatest minds of our times, Richard Buckminster Fuller's contributions as a geometrician, educator, and architect-designer are benchmarks of accomplishment in their fields. Among his most notable inventions and discoveries are synergetic geometry, geodesic structures and tensegrity structures. Mr. Fuller reminds us all that America is a land of pioneers, haven for innovative thinking and the free expression of ideas.
At issue was the USA itself and whether it had strayed too far from its founding documents to be considered a constitutional democracy anymore.  Had it been hijacked by oligarchs and plutocrats who could now use it to press their own agenda?  Princeton was inclined to see it this way.

Roll forward, and we see the wasteland this land has become.  The morgues fill with its victims.  The criminals get appointed to higher office.  Is there any longer a debate?

Welcome to the Global U, an energy consumer and an intelligent responder, to some degree.  We're plugged into the sun, as so many 120 watt bulbs, thinking of ways to survive, one day to the next.

Our institutions are supposed to leverage our numbers, our individual talents, into orchestrated and constructive responses to our circumstances.  Which ones do this?

The criminalization of nuclear weapons per the UN Ban Treaty, developed by the General Assembly, has at least helped us see how the "rule of law" was a fragile sphere.

Criminal syndicates control human affairs.  The electronic communication networks were our organized response, an attempt to gain traction.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Playing with Blocks

Back in the early to mid 1990s, I would make trips to California in connection with my work with Synergetics. I went to the GENI organized Centennial in 1995, when Tara was just learning to walk.  Before that, I'd been to a Pergamon Press sponsored conference on Buckminsterfullerene in Santa Barbara. Another time, we had a confab in which "modules" were thematic.  David Koski was curious about what Yasushi Kajikawa and Einar Thorstein were up to, in their respective modularization games.

Much more recently, within the last year, Koski's block-themed play has turned towards a dissection of the E-module, the one published about in Synergetics.  I've called it the Beanstalk Series as that story, of Jack and the magic beanstalk (grown from magic beans) provides etymological roots for the Fe ("fee"), Fi ("fie"), Fo ("Foe") and Fum modules.  Of course there's a tie-in with Grunch of Giants (one of Fuller's last books).

The wrinkle Koski introduces, with all of these shapes, is that of "phi scaling", meaning notching up all straight-line inter-distances by phi, not quite doubling at 1.618.  When linear distances amplify by that factor, volume goes up as a 3rd power of same, giving us a vocabulary of ...E6, E3, E, e3, e6... modules, where the lowercase 'e' signals "phi down" and uppercase "phi up".

Spatial geometry is not getting its just deserts as a curriculum topic these days, especially in kindergarten, because that would mean telling the truth about more things, and truth is not always convenient.  Using a calibrated bucket of liquid to show displacement is also potentially messy when done for real.  The schools that make instructional video making their specialty will have a head start.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Officers' Club

I spent this beautiful Fall Saturday in a cushy chair, missing the great outdoors.

An indoor lifestyle left one a lighter skin shade, no matter the baseline, and that could mean different things, one being perhaps one was more of a managerial bent, suited to keeping track of stuff, more into the big picture.

Such folks need offices, become officers, then become pale, and pant more for breath pretty soon.  Chances are, they're not getting enough exercise, plus who knows what they inhale for entertainment.

In the "grass is always greener" tradition, husky, hard working blue collar types, perhaps more reddened around the neckline, would imagine the coddled life of someone floating in a think tank, hardly needing to move a finger, let alone grunt under the strain in this merciless heat or cold.

The paler skinned knowledge worker types are kept alive for what passes between their ears, and communicate by moving fingers ("hardly" meaning wiggling them over a keyboard).

So yeah, that was my blood thickening day, attacking the intricacies of regular expressions as used by Django to parse those incoming URLs.  Do you ever say "earl" for URL, or always "You Are El"?

I also played with Pillow, which sounds so comfy and nice.  Read in a picture file and study the Image module API.  Make the colorful koala bear turn gray, as in grayscaled.

The idea is to work up enough of a head of steam to drive a tour bus through this same terrain, keeping up my end of the bargain as someone who knows a thing or two about the ins and outs.  I'm the trusted local, the native.

Django, if you've gotten this far, is a flagship website development framework Made in Kansas.  I've got this little teaching website buried on Cloud9 that basically implements a lookup service against some read-only databases.  The design roughly parallels what I've done in Flask at my Pythonanywhere site.

With these basics now in place, I need to pour some glue into it, some adhesive language designed to keep it all stuck together.

My students will come away thinking more like officers than ever.

However I'll challenge them to get out there and do some heavy lifting in a more physical sense, even if that just means hauling their own bodies up some nearby mountain or whatever.