Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Bug's Life (movie review)

An innovative ant, with creative assistance from the circus, stages a design science revolution against tyrannical grasshoppers and wins (Disney/Pixar 1998, rated G).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Education Reform (part N, N > 2)

"What will it take to maintain the United States' position as a hotbed of innovation? Robert J. Herbold has an answer: improve K-12 education" (quoting from the Boston Globe). A big part of it is the usual thing about paying the best teachers a lot more money ("$125,000 or $150,000 if they're really good").

But I think in some ways this is a typical CEO mistake. In CEO world, net worth is an important parameter, and it's often not so much the job itself one loves (something about insurance), as the status and clout that comes with being able to name at least six figures on your personal income statements, maybe more. But teachers usually don't earn their clout by bragging in that way. They've had to evolve a more-with-less aesthetic, meaning it's efficiency and economy they admire.

In contrast to using personal net worth as a key parameter, consider how it goes in the military. Here the fun is in access to institutional wealth. No one with a piddling six-figure income can afford a personal F16 or an aircraft carrier, let alone a personal nuclear submarine. These are like corporate assets, which CEOs use as well: the company jet, a private retreat in the mountains someplace. But the point is these assets are on the books as owned-in-common (with taxpayers, in the case of the military, with shareholders in the case of an LLC).

So now consider really good teachers. How is a mere six figures going to make better infrastructure materialize? What about those DVD juke boxes? The cost of the hardware is tiny compared to the amount of hours needed to stock them with clips.

Consider a teacher such as myself. At OGI I get a ceiling mounted projector, fast Internet, and every student has a fairly decent workstation. That's the kind of apparatus I need to make my curriculum go. If I'm at Podunk High, and you start paying me six figures, is it that I'm supposed to go out and buy this stuff for my school? That'd be silly. So how are my dreams for a dynamite curriculum being advanced by teachers having all this new personal income, minus any infrastructural improvements? That's like tripling a soldier's pay, yet providing no better armory. So you get to live high before you die. But really, what was the gain professionally?

I want a bizmo, a home office gizmo. It'd be one of many, part of this fleet of "master teacher mobiles" fanning out across the country and representing a more futuristic and secure planet (a next upgrade for Spaceship Earth). We're backed by control rooms, and have dynamite curriculum to share, like really cool GPS/GIS and folding/unfolding Fuller Projections courtesy of National Geographic. We already have the technology. It's just a matter of fitting existing puzzle pieces together.

We go into communities and stir things up with appealing imagery of Tomorrowland, only in some sense it's already here and happening. We're happy to recruit new teachers into this lifestyle, or one like it, just like the military does, with flashy toys, eye candy, and promises of adventure. We'll compete, and on a more level playing field. Like, we'll have some real institutional wealth to show off, including USG supported, corporately co-sponsored campuses you can apply to, as a student, as a teacher -- just like on Star Trek (well, sort of).

But I won't be able to do any of this with a mere six figures. Pumping a lot of money into "best teacher" wallets is a divide and conquer strategy, aimed at keeping we the people from demanding public investment in shared infrastructure. CEOs tend to not understand the idea of public wealth, even as they enjoy corporate assets, because so often their job is to externalize costs i.e. to erode public wealth, to pollute, to politically corrupt, in order to concentrate profits and buy fancy boats (which more than half the time just sit in the marina). In fact, a lot of the time, externalizing costs means making the military pay for it.

So I guess I'm more interested in hearing what career military people have to say about improving our education system. At least they understand socialized/institutional wealth. They understand that master teachers are masters because they have high powered professional/public goals e.g. to develop a more realistic and positive brand of futurism, and not just private/personal ones e.g. access to health care. Master teachers are committed to evolving the infrastructure, and that includes curriculum.

Also, on another front, Herbold doesn't say anything about our Fuller School and our many curriculum contributions. Again, I'm more inclined to tune in the Pentagon Channel. A lot of these private sector CEOs are really quite ignorant of American history, of the global military situation. I'm having an increasingly hard time taking them seriously. They've been too busy making money to make sense. They need a new curriculum as much as anyone.

Some earlier ed reform posts (this blog): [1][2]

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Methodist Morning

Today I accepted an invite to attend a Probers gathering in Lake Oswego, where Dr. David Smith, former staff psychologist with the CIA, was presenting on the topic of "U.S. Intelligence Reform, Is It Enough?" (quoting from the double-sided handout). Apparently he'd taught some weeks earlier, so this audience of United Methodists was already up on a lot of the jargon (DI vs. DO, DIA vs. CIA and the rest). He screened a Great Decisions episode featuring ex acting DCI John McLaughlin and a couple other white guy experts, talking about various possible post-911 reforms.

This was a pretty upscale crowd, and the campus, which architect Harold Long helped design, bespeaks much socialized wealth. Some of the older guys get to wear colored robes (we Quakers don't have that) and everyone's spiffed up in their Sunday best. I felt slightly out of place, in the company of Harold's gregarious ex, wearing black jeans and T-shirt under a bright red and black windbreaker with the fleece removed. My nametag looked homemade, instead of slick and glossy.

David surveyed the audience to find out what security issues Probers might be concerned about. Many worried about the politicization of intelligence, and about the Pentagon getting the lion's share of the IC budget (like 80%). But ex Pentagoners in the audience were quick to point out that satellites and submarines are expensive to operate, and even if their brassy bosses were Kings of the Jungle, at least their reign was benign, their power willingly shared with the CIA and the rest of the IC.

David was clearly loyal to his agency and, like the bright stars on TV, thought analysis, not just collection, deserved more budget. Congress took flak for being dysfunctional -- no one seemed inclined to defend Congress, although some lip service was paid to its oversight responsibilities.

I piped up once from the sidelines during a feedback interval to plug Mahle's book, which David had on display (one of four, Clarke's another), though I had to admit not having read it yet (I saw her on C-SPAN, and later on Buzzflash). I wanted to second her eagerness to see a more mixed demographic in the upper ranks. Maybe an Arabic-speaking Asian would be too big a shock, but could we at least see some more women? This proposal seemed acceptable to many in the audience, which included a female ex bishop.

After the presentation I went up to plug Lindsay Moran's book -- at least she was embedded with Bulgarians, even before joining. David could see where having a Bulgarian boyfriend might raise some eyebrows in his agency. Background checks -- always a big issue.

In the car afterwards, Maureen queried whether I thought God's plan was for white males to continue as the somewhat ruthless global masters of the universe. I went into some riff about dogs and how we have lots of mutts 'n pedigreed blends but don't feel a need to decide exactly which dogs rule (I said not a word about bitches). I just wasn't into narrating the movie using lame genetic metaphors -- plus there's all this confusion about ethnicity atop the pseudo- biology.

Harold, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, had lunch with me and Ed Applewhite at John's Landing that time, almost a decade ago. Ed was really interested in architecture, and Harold in Bucky, so I thought it'd make a good meal. Ed was from Harvard and Yale, as well as the CIA, and hinted a few times I'd look good in a suit (I look OK in a suit). I pointed out he always wore a tie, which he agreed was habitual -- and to his credit, he didn't wear one the next time we met in Portland. And I wore a spiffy gown coat, the next time we met inside the beltway. We learned from each other, exchanged intelligence. What more can one do?

Influential Readings

Friday, February 18, 2005

Adventures in Radio Land (part 2)

James Arthur Jancik
(web cam snap)

Per my blog entry back in October, 2004, Sunanda and I were interviewed by James "Black Knight" Jancik for a talk radio station syndicating out of Chicago. I've archived the page advertising this coming Sunday's broadcast since it'll go away soon. The broadcast itself should remain accessible in the past shows section off the show's main web page.

I've heard the broadcast and like it OK, although the audio quality sucks in the first 12-13 minutes -- the boost on the phone line adds an annoying hum. Plus I'll rightly take flak for saying blacks outnumbered whites in the lower ranks in Vietnam -- I should have said blacks were under represented in the higher ranks.

The gist of my remarks: insofar as we still have any great pirates, they'd be operating collaboratively to raise global living standards, as it'd be in their own best interests to do so. However, the petty pace at which we creep suggests the breed has died out.

This analysis'd be consistent with Bucky's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth wherein he suggests those with the best overview kept their grip on power by keeping others specialized and compartmentalized. This strategy backfired when science pushed the frontier into the extrasensory realm, off the visible spectrum, and pirates could no longer see their treasure i.e. their ability to follow the action was drastically reduced. By now, everyone is overspecialized and no one has overview (the headless chicken syndrome).

However, if you're still looking for great pirates, I suggest knocking on doors in Japan, as that's where miniaturization and more-with-less innovation seem to be happening the fastest.

My colleague, elder and co-interviewee, Micheal Sunanda, provides more of his trademark back to nature, unreformed hippie perspective (he's been on this show before). The fact that we're opposites in so many ways (yet both students of Fuller) sharpens our banter with contrasting shadows and polarized light.

Given the trickle of new browsers to my page coming from this radio show site, I figured it was finally time to fill in the blanks re food, shelter, energy, education and health. I kept it short, commensurate with the expected average attention span.

Excerpts in Real Media (.rm) format:
[ school of nature ] [ recruiting ] [ russia & japan ] [ cold war ]

Excerpts in .mp3 format:
[ school of nature ] [ recruiting ] [ russia & japan ] [ cold war ]

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Adult First Day Program

"First Day" is archaic Quakerese for Sunday, and I suppose traces to a time when naming a day for our local star and fusion furnace was considered problematic. Nowadays, we perpetuate the jargon for its anachronistic charm, ala that Planters Peanuts logo.

Our guests this morning, Henry and Scott Sakamoto, were invited to share about civil liberties and the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry following Pearl Harbor. Henry was 15 at the time, and attending Lincoln High. He completed high school at the Minidoka Relocation Center (Hunt Site) in Idaho, then went on to college in Ohio.

Scott, his adult son, experienced the shock and horror of 911, followed by trepidation over the possible backlash against Americans of Middle Eastern ancestry. He assumed a community leadership role with an intent to keep history from repeating itself.

The USG did eventually acknowledge the whole policy was wrong. A 1988 government commision determined that Executive Order 9066 was more a result of racism, war hysteria, a failure of political leadership than a response to any real military need.

The camps were dismal, and Henry lost his older brother to a curable illness, but they were not mirror images of the Nazi death camps in Europe. The internees had access to mail order catalogs (e.g. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward), were not tortured, and could apply for jobs or school on the outside. For example, Seabrook Farms in New Jersey made a special point of hiring workers out of the camps.

The exclusion zone was from the Pacific Coast to about 200 miles inland, so families with means could relocate, and thereby escape internment. For example the Naito family, still very prominent in Portland, moved to Salt Lake City.

Since these Americans had only about a week to settle their affairs before being interned, many were forced to sell land or stores at pennies on the dollar. Sometimes a neighbor or true friend held a farm and returned it. Other families weren't so fortunate and had to start over in late middle age.

After Adult First Day, the Sakamotos joined our children for more discussion. Rachael wondered if the inmates had radio access to baseball games and music, without which she would go crazy. They did, but in remote Minidoka, AM radio reception was rather poor. Emily wanted more details about the barracks, and took notes; she's doing a research project on the internment camps for school. Lucy discussed the importance of organizing in defense of civil rights.

Our meeting gave the Sakamotos a copy of Lives That Speak (ISBN 2-888305-32-0), plus I gave Scott a copy of My Dinner with Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi, Fuller's adjuvant, was born in the Heart Mountain Internment Camp.

We plan to purchase a curriculum about this chapter of American history from the Portland JACL -- another treasure for our meeting.

Additional Reading:
Jack Seabrook explains (Realaudio file, Kurt Vonnegut narrating)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Memorandom FS-4702

Happy New Year!

Bob has Synergetics back up. His Fedora upgrade mashed the servlets enabling readers to file comments, an experiment netting mostly spam (mine were good). He's all for Chris running a mirror at SNEC, plus we're brainstorming around other experiments. Were we to serve Synergetics in Russian or Japanese, how much would get lost in translation? Should we do one in English (wry smile)?

I proposed a 45 minute talk at OSCON, but the short synopsis left organizers begging for more technical detail. I filed background info regarding Elastic Interval Geometry and some of our sphere packing studies (Watermans etc.), research undertaken with open source tools. Plus I'm doing a class at OGI that wires the concentric hierarchy to Python programming.

Coincidentally, python dot org itself has been down today. Fortunately, we have a lot of mirrors (I say "we" as one of the site's content administrators).

Not so fortunately, my collection of copyleft DVD clips for the bizmo jukebox is behind schedule. I can't yet promise OSCONers a sneak peak at a lot of cool geek channel clips, weaving Fuller Projections with TCP/IP networks, Neal Stephenson's 1996 article for Wired notwithstanding.

I also wanted to talk more about how our school's commitment to open source global data sharing is making a difference in universities, but the rank and file is slow to pick up on our syllabus. The Pentagon, in contrast, is the very model of responsiveness, not a headless chicken at all, and I'm quite pleased about that.

Anyway I'll be understanding if OSCON turns me down -- hey, there's always 2006. I haven't given up though, not by a long shot. Maybe the Pentagon Channel will have a cartoon feature for all those kids on base: Lt. Col. SpongeBob's Encounter with the Icosahedron or something. Plus Pentagon kids need programming skills. But do we start 'em out with Ada? I don't think so.

Followup (2005.3.7): OSCON accepted my talk proposal.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Exit Strategy Part 2

I'm looking foward to my power lunch with local area geeks at the Kennedy School. I don't know if it'll come up, but if conversation turns to Iraq, I'll share my position, which is as follows:

I think the Sunnis are playing it smart, offering to hop on board the democracy train (now leaving the station), plus do their best to put the brakes on terrorism, through their contacts within the militant underground, provided the occupying military machine gets moving with that exit strategy.

Sunnis don't want to be perceived as quislings, as hapless puppets doing the bidding of their imperial masters. That'd wreck any chance the nascent government might have for long term credibility in the eyes of young Iraqis, the next generation of potential militants.

This mechanism (politicos unify, militarism goes out of style) will solve a lot of problems: civil war will be averted, as various political factions with shared goals will gain practice working together, and US soldiers will get to go home, mission accomplished, Iraq well on the way towards a democratic future.

Neighbors have signaled their readiness to help, plus their intention to implement democratic reforms themselves. What more could we reasonably expect at this point?

There's a real window of opportunity here. How long will it stay open?

Given the Pentagon's stated purpose is to back Iraqi police against the criminal element, the tools at hand need to fit this purpose. There's a lot of irrelevant heavy machinery littering the landscape (and seascape) over there, that serves no purpose but to remind people that they're occupied.

I think now is the time for the Pentagon's top managment to show us it has control of the situation and realizes what a golden opportunity it has to make things right. I've seen some glimmers of intelligence certainly, which is a good sign.

The decayed state of Iraqi infrastructure, in the health care sector especially, is responsible for many more deaths per diem than the militants, even though that's rarely reported.

The focus needs to shift to infrastructure, and Iraqis working together, with some outside help, to get electricity and water 24/7 365/365. That's the only agenda really worth pursuing, from the standpoint of those depending on public support to stay in office (the premise of democracy).

If every car bomb is used as an excuse to keep an overkill force overdeployed, then obviously we're just dealing with a mindless bureaucracy, a chicken with no head.

I'm interested to find out what kind of animal we're dealing with, and I don't feel like I'm the only guy watching.

But as I said, Iraq may not even come up. Mostly we're just gathering to talk about a big domestic civilian project we're storyboarding.

Iraq is a long way away, and DC prides itself on handling such situations. Most people in the Near East (as some call it) have never heard of PDX, and our civic discourse is more focused on other matters, as it should be.

Portland is not a headquarters for any vast imperial power and to become such would represent a drastic lowering of our high living standards.

Followup: Well, Iraq never came up. We stuck to more geeky topics like World of Warcraft, a LAMP solution for a local NGO, Plone, OSCON, Motorola Canopy, other stuff. My lunch was paid for, as I was on tap as an expert in one or more of the above. Now for my 14 mile bicycle loop -- it's time to start gearing up for the STP again.

Relevant background reading: Exit Strategy (part 1), Oct 2, 2004

Monday, February 07, 2005

Children's Program

So in this month of February, 2005, I'm childrens program czar for BCFM (alphabet soup alert!). My predecessor, Jane, and clerk of our committee, had done a lot of legwork around Sparklers, Too!, a 1989 work by Nancy Pickering, and a publication of FGC.

However, given this pre-web material would require yet more legwork, in the form of trips to the library, and given I'd feel more energized were I to indulge my penchant for doing my own curriculum writing, I resolved instead to google for gold. Jane relayed her support for my taking the intiative, yet expressed nostalgia for programming around physical childrens books as well (not just web stuff), as some of these are quite beautiful.

The goldmine I found was A Visual Glossary of Religious Symbols. My reasoning was this: these younger children for which I was preparing a lesson plan have much first hand experience with not reading, are indeed many of them still native nonreaders. And yet human language has for ages had to reach a majority of nonreaders, as literacy in the modern sense was a rarity among the common folk for many centuries.

But the prevelance of illiteracy didn't mean the PR gurus and spinmeisters of old were helpless to communicate with their flocks or other target audiences. Obviously they wielded the spoken word, plus song, and dance -- some things never change. And in place of these dictionary words (as we now refer to them) they used petroglyphs, cave paintings, tapestries, mosaics, etchings in wood, stone, and skin (tatoos), even hand signs. As semiologists might say, a web of signifiers was cast, a network of mnemonic triggers, nevermind if most people still couldn't "read" in the modern sense -- they could still read in a way that mattered.

So... (my wheels were still turning) let's investigate this world of signifiers that aren't words, and in particular let's consider the role of such signs in religion. How have humans wordlessly communicated about matters of spiritual and/or eternal significance? However, let's also not be too strict about dividing the world of symbols into the religious and the not-religious, the sacred and profane. Human is human, after all.

Consider a large multi-national airport. The humans going through there, but for the youngest, are for most part literate; they can read as well as write, but you can't in practice use all their local encodings on every bathroom door -- there're just too many of them. So you still need some universal symbols for Men and Women. And on the computer desktop what do we find: icons -- and logos from advertisers, often obnoxiously popping up when we least expect them. Our languages, our religions, our sciences, still demand so much more from language than mere words, as useful as words may be.

As it turned out, this First Day only three children showed up, two of them sisters and quite young. Fortunately, within my OSCON bag of tricks were two cultural icons, both stuffed and cuddly: Tux the Penguin and Elmo of Sesame Street. The older boy was beyond such dolls but I had other goodies for him, including a dissectable cube (not really a symbol, but geometric at least).

Dave led the session with Rocky (the psychologist, and the boy's dad), with Martha (the girls' mom) and I helping out. We spread out the symbols I'd printed off the web on my HP DeskJet 952C and then each chose a few to redraw with colored pens.

Much interesting conversation transpired as we doodled, on many levels, with the children included. Dave copied a caduceus while Martha looked up its meaning in a dictionary I'd brought (Cirlot's). All of us marveled at the emblem of the Tohono O'odham and their proud nation. None of us appeared to have tuned in the emblem of the Unification Church before. Dave and I agreed the compass and square seemed especially relevant, in light of the fact that MMM (an affiliated meeting) is still eyeing that next door Masonic temple (and its parking lot). I drew attention to the Glastonbury insignia, as Dawn is planning a pilgrimmage to that site come spring.

All in all it was a good lesson and a good time was had by all. I've banked much of the material in the BCFM archive (a plastic box) for future reference, including some literature we might want ot take up later in Adult First Day (a different program).

After the rise of meeting, I discussed blogs with Darl, mine being the first she'd visited (though she'd long been aware of the phenomenon). We agreed that keeping blogs was natural for Friends, given our pronounced proclivity for journal-keeping. Indeed, Darl and I could well-imagine republishing some favorite Quaker journals in blog format, complete with original dates. Imagine reading the journals of George Fox or John Woolman or Margaret Fell right here on blogger dot com! The only hitch is the current interface doesn't allow back dating posts that far -- a limitation we might take up with Google at some point.

Tara and I watched the Superbowl yesterday, starting with the half time show (she's a true Beatles fan, sang along, wondered about Ringo). I liked the commercials a lot better this year. Toyota's was good -- used the word synergy (and yes, the getting-nowhere pace has been frustrating). Bud's designated driver ad was fun. The popsicle sports car driver was humorously macabre. All those corporate logos in one room, eating together -- heart warming. Plus Pepsi showed off some of its delivery fleet on steroids (bizmos!). And those imaginary beings teaching dad to be more generous with the snacks was inspiring.

Speaking of imaginary beings, Tara had a new toy to show me this evening, not one I'd seen: a plastic three-headed dog, all heads looking pretty vicious and mean. I recognized it from mythology and offered that we might google for its proper name. Someday, when I get my digicam replaced, I'll upload its picture.

Followup: Tara and I followed up on Cerberus this morning. I suggested nicknaming her toy Cera, an allusion to our one-headed pet, but Tara felt Berus would be better, as she considers him a boy. I described his job as "border guard" between two worlds (ours and Hades -- not so much Hell as prechristians were less judgmental of its inhabitants). And speaking of Negative Universe (that's one reading), I got a call from Ashley this morning, regarding Ed, her dad, who is truly not long for this world. Bonnie is flying out there to be with him, a messenger of our love and best wishes.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of the Union

I've not heard nor read the president's State of the Union speech yet, though some USA Today outside Noah's Bagels flashed news of a hopeful tone. Sounds good; I could use some uplifting. Yesterday left me in a cranky mood, what with the sudden firings in the small world I frequent. Both Dawn and I had friends put down.

If you've watched The Apprentice (I haven't yet) and concluded that it's only inside these Trumpy for-profits that people get vicious and paranoid, around money issues especially, you'd be wrong. Life gets just as ugly in the NGO and GO worlds, as any veteran could tell you.

Plus I have some hopeful news of my own to report. Our battle for hearts and minds under the No Child Left Behind initiative is going well. So on that front at least, the Union is lookin' good.

You may well wonder why a self-proclaimed liberal like me is keeping company with "the right wingers of the NCLB" (sounds like a Playboy issue). Well, I'll tell you why. It's because I'm a liberal that I think our kids' education is way too important to become a mere political football. I'll work with whatever cards I'm dealt to make sure we don't lose stray sheep to the wolves (although in Oregon, if you do see a wolf getting lucky, you're no longer allowed to shoot it -- the law sides with the grays out here).

And so I've got my capable herd dogs working overtime, shepherding the flock along. Just call me The Pastor (some Quakers are pastoral BTW, the majority in fact -- we call them programmed Friends, vs. those of the more liberal unprogrammed variety).

So that's how to talk out of the right side of your mouth I'm learning: just work in lots of Biblical allusions and you'll be fine (and if you're talking to imams, better bone up on your Qur'an). And if they paint you with horns and a tail, just say you're flattered to be associated with FreeBSD. Like our geek saint Richard Stallman, I believe any good religion is meant to be free and open source -- free as in freedom.

Followup the day after: Yeah, lots of gray in the mirror over here too. Those DCers program in a strange language I don't quite follow (lots of significant standing up and sitting, like a Catholic mass on steroids), but the tone was up beat and I parsed the bit about upgrading the electrical grid. I'm thinking grid talk might be a good ice breaker for when I'm partying with ayatollahs (a rare event in PDX, I admit -- Ed was here once). Speaking of Ed, Synergetics at Bob Gray's site has been down all day; I asked Chris Fearnley if maybe we could set up a mirror at SNEC and he agreed that'd be feasible, desirable. I'll probably go roller skating tonight (I'm getting better at it).