Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More Polemics

my handler says I should "be a good diplomat"
(citing from ISBN 0-06-088102-X pg. 170)

I'm sounding pretty ugly in this thread on the Math Forum. I'm like this whimpering, snarling, monster dog, fangs dripping, just inches away from something I'd like to eat (damn this leash). So I make a cartoon out of it. Flip flip flip.

On an up note, the Gardner people sent me another beautiful invite. I really don't have the budget right now. I blame Congress (snarl, whine, whimper, drool)...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Econ 101

Today, I'm chatting with Russ, a fellow Python programmer and open source expert (I've seen him at OSCON), but also The Angry Economist. He's really frustrated with Quakers who don't know the difference between "debt" and "deficit" and otherwise oversimplify complicated issues.

In my view, Earth is this giant spherical motherboard, powered by starlight (the Sun mostly). We insert our waterwheels and what not to get work done (what we consider work, i.e. bread making).

We don't repay the sun (a fusion furnace). We're like a giant not-for-profit depending on grant income i.e. cosmic energy (measured in calories or joules or what have you).

And what's the business of this Earthian economy of ours? I think of it as a giant university system. We're trying to get smarter (and succeeding to some degree), so we get more work done with less of a downside.

Right now, we're still pretty dumb though. How do I know? Humans suffer way more than feels right to me. Higher living standards = less preventable suffering.

Pretty simple huh. Too simple?

Addendum: Hazel Henderson is using a computer metaphor too I see: "Economics is now widely seen as the faulty sourcecode deep in societies’ hard drives." (The Politics of Money) Economics = faulty sourcecode. Heh. Works for me.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Revisiting Malthusianism

So I'm back to debating with Brian, a fellow Wanderer, about what's really in short supply: physical resources or intelligence?

What's lacking I'm thinking is more contextual / alchemical. We need some new myths (means good stories, not untruths).

I'm taking the standard Fuller School line here. The Hunger Project took a similar tack (i.e. tried to "shift the context") but people got cynical hearing talk like that.

My views are more popular in the developing world, which sees lowering birth rates through raising living standards as the only ethical way forward. Global energy grid etc. etc.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dome @ Long Beach

Here's a semi-obligatory picture for a Bucky-related blog like this one. As any middle school student in LAUSD and environs oughta know, this n-frequency (?) dome (see the pentagons?) was a home for the Spruce Goose -- and we all know what that is, yes?

Right, an airplane, brainchild of Howard Hughes, now in McMinnville, Oregon.

The dome is still used, although for exactly what I don't know. I saw cruise ship passengers walking through it. The Queen Mary is permanently parked nearby, another tourist attraction.

Followup: another diamatic dome in the LA area: the Faith Dome.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


me on Silver Bullet
(robot camera)

Knott's Berry Farm has acquired quite a collection of roller coasters over its lengthy tenure as America's first theme park.

I sampled Silver Bullet (front row!), Ghostrider, Boomerang and Xcelerator. The Farm won the Lisebergsapplåd award (name for Liseberg in Sweden) in 1988.

PS: yes I know this "inflated chipmunk" look isn't my most popular -- maybe too much like Elvis (the dead one). But hey, family members found it endearing. So just call me "a master of many disguises" (that's like a note to old girl friends or something).

Friday, February 17, 2006

Morning in LA

I'm using wireless from a private residence close to my hotel. Bright blue sky, pool and jacuzzi a stone's throw away -- ah, this is the life (Portland was supposed to be in the 20s today).

The LA Times was fun this morning: there's a long page one article dissecting the Niger yellowcake rumors, saying the FBI investigation into who forged the documents has been "reopened" (why ever closed?); and Bill Maher's editorial is clever, about what I call the Eleanor Rigby Syndrome (we want "them" to listen).

The Budget rental car lady really tried hard to get me to upgrade to the yellow Mustang (hard top).

Richard Metzger's disinfo.com has a new blurb (Feb 15) on Bucky's Montreal dome with links to a couple Google videos. That makes a total of three Google vids (to date) that come up in response to "Buckminster Fuller". I just re-edited the description of my little talk to make it the fourth.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Octet Truss

Portland World Trade Center
(photo by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

I took a series of photos yesterday focusing on an architectural feature of one of our downtown buildings: a spaceframe known as the octet truss. The above photo shows 12 spokes emanating from a common hub, corresponding to 12 balls around a nuclear ball in the face centered cubic packing (FCC).

I incorporated these shots into my slide show for sixth graders at Winterhaven today, along with a slide borrowed from my OSCON 2005 talk featuring Alexander Graham Bell standing next to one of his "kites" -- likewise an octet truss.

The photo below shows the 12-spoke hub in Bell's construction kit.

Fuller called this lattice the isotropic vector matrix (all vectors are the same length) and related it to Avogadro's ideal gas model.

Of course gas molecules aren't static, but their average uniformity in a volume might be associated with the isotropic distribution of "spherics" i.e. the rhombic dodecahedral voronoi cells around each ball in the packing.

Related reading:
More Oregon Curriculum stuff, posted from concourse B, PDX airport.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Illahee is a Native American word meaning this place, our country. Peter Schoonmaker shared with Wanderers this morning about his work with the Illahee Foundation on ecosystem planning, focusing on urban centers, and Portland in particular.

Peter's group produces a lecture series, similar to ISEPP's in some ways, but focusing on these different themes. Last year's theme was How Cities Learn (taking off from Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn -- Stewart being one of the lecturers). This year it's Water & Oil (watch for the ads on Tri-Met buses).

Fortunately, Wanderers Dick Pugh and Jim Buxton were present, both "long now" types with an understanding of our place on the geological time scale. We joked about the thin stratum of asphalt and other petroleum based products we'd eventually become, as the world goes on turning.

Peter is on Mayor Tom Potter's visioning committee, aimed at coming up with some credible, actionable futurism for Portland. He finds the process rather plodding compared to Jaime Lerner's fast-paced style, but not every city is as lucky as Curtiba (in Brazil), where Jaime served a few terms as mayor.

Wanderers agreed that roping in more creative types, including Portland's illustrious science fiction community, might be a good idea. Jon Bunce cited Ursula LeGuinn's 1971 novel Lathe of Heaven for anticipating Portland's future (the 1980 made-for-TV version was filmed in Dallas, while the 2002 remake features Ursala's home town of Portland, including light rail).

Indeed, according to Peter, Jaime Lerner likes his planning committees to consist of three main types of people: architects for their design sensibilities, journalists because they know how to meet deadlines, and poet-philosopher types, for their powers of precognition.

After Peter's presentation, I hooked up my wireless laptop to my projector, and screened my OMSI Dome and Dignity Village blog entries, about getting FEDs (Fly's Eye Domes) showcased around Portland.

Although designed for service in more rural areas, FED-style infrastructure draws support from urban control rooms, studios, and classrooms, i.e. is the brainchild of our KBE.

I shared my view that corporate media need only shift gears a little and we'd have some dynamite reality TV complete with exciting product placement opportunities. Politicians needn't be in the loop on this one, which is fortunate, as when it comes to brainstorming potentially positive futures, they're apparently otherwise engaged.

Indeed, I'm flying down to LA tomorrow (after my Winterhaven gig), where I hope to stir things up a bit. Why should this science fiction capital, in a state with a movie star governor, lag so far behind Portland when it comes to intelligently brainstorming about our American Dream? Let's get Hollywood up to speed, shall we? We could use its media know-how.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What the Bleep (movie review)

What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole is a remix and second draft of the original What the #$*! Do We Know!? with some added material, most notably the Dr. Quantum cartoons (and did Ramtha smoke a pipe last time?).

The film lays a neurobiology layer atop a quantum mechanics layer in an attempt to boost the observer's quality of life. Thoughts and attitudes matter; reality is maybe more plastic than you'd presumed. In that sense, it's a religious film addressing aspects of the human condition, while piggy-backing on science's credibility to drive its message home. Like, really use those frontal lobes and make your world a better place.

I found the cosmetics too thickly applied, what with the hallmarky backgrounds, music and lighting abetting the already expressive foreground talking heads. Also, I'm philosophically biased against Abbott's Flatland meme, although I found it well-rendered, in the form of a concluding Dr. Quantum cartoon screened within the Bagdad Theater (the observer's very venue in this case).

The film doesn't have anything intelligent to say to parents in the developing world, watching their children die of medically preventable causes such as starvation. It's more aimed at relatively well cared for mid-life urbanites with little excuse to not be over themselves already.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


I resigned from all my Yahoo groups today, except the two where I have official responsibilities. Plus I think I've about exhausted what I have to say in the Math Forum, at least for awhile.

My goal is to shake up my reality a bit and look for some new venues, plus my web sites could use some more upkeep and maintenance. Like, I just got an email from Alastair Farrugia about a small group theory error I need to fix on one of my crypto pages (plus he shared some links to fun software).

Dad always warned against getting "stuck in a rut" and had several self-disciplines to keep that from happening (e.g. he liked to keep changing where people sat at the dinner table).

I had breakfast with Dave Fabik this morning, at Cadillac Café on Broadway (very crowded, we sat at the bar).

Dave and I were also lunch mates on Thursday, with Henry Sessions and young Christopher, and Don Wardwell. Henry is in the final stages of becoming a physician's assistant (PA), having come from a career in public radio and public relations (PR), including for the American Red Cross.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Kepler Project

Dr. Gibor Basri focused his well-attended lecture on the Kepler Project, designed to answer the question: how many earth-like planets might we reasonably expect to find in our galaxy?

The instrument will be fired into space on a Delta rocket c/o NASA, presumably in 2008 although the schedule has already slipped for bureaucratic reasons.

The space platform, nowhere near as expensive or sophisticated as The Hubble (will Hubble get that last upgrade before it dies?), consists of CCD panels focused on a star field near the Northern Cross and Vega.

The idea is to stare, unblinkingly, at all these stars, for about 4 years. Periodic dips in brightness, caused by planets partially eclipsing their parents, will show up upon filtering the continuously downloaded data. The word "planet" is built in to the etymology of "wanderer" by the way.

The mathematics will tell us how many of these planets are earth-like i.e. in some habitable zone that would in principle allow for liquid water on the surface. Whether there actually is any liquid water, let alone life, on these particular planets is not something Kepler will reveal.

During the Heathman Dinner (I sat next to Glenn Stockton, retired cryptographer, and Jon Bunce, musician, plus David Feinstein, mathematician, Don Wardwell, boat captain, Nirel, web wrangler and Larry, retired chemist, were at our table), I asked whether solar systems ever form directly in the wake of exploding stars.

Dr. Basri said yes, that two of the first earth-sized planets ever discovered beyond our solar system were both in orbit around a pulsar, the remains of a gas giant's exploding and collapsing.

Thanks to the Mentor Graphics Foundation, a lot of high and middle schoolers get to attend these lectures, which would be too expensively inconvenient for them otherwise.

Our regular attenders have built up a lot of appreciation for contemporary science and engineering over the years. Portland's average dinner table conversations are probably pretty sophisticated, public policy wise, compared to those in many other towns (even Washington DC's I'd hazard).

Before the lecture, Glenn and I joined Patrick and Diane Barton for dinner at a McMenamin's brew pub (the one nearest the Art Museum downtown). The Bartons, a Wanderer couple, used to work at Sandia (a national lab) in connection with supercomputer modeling. Glenn used to work for the NSA. And I'm a Fuller Schooler.

Yes, I realize that's two dinners in one night. That's why I just got a hummus plate the first time (plus Hammerhead -- the beer, not the shark). And Glenn had ahi twice (a taste of heaven).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Restoring Integrity?

Now that we've turned the corner on implementing more design science within K-16, we need to get to work on repairing the damaged integrity of various key players in this picture. The war is over, rehabilitation and rebuilding is now the name of the game.

Sometimes this means working with former enemies, such as the NCTM. Even the MAA is not unscathed, having failed to do anything very sensible with the A & B modules when it could have made a real difference at a critical time. Oh well, that's all water under the bridge by now.

In general, the Ivory Tower has not performed well during this interlude. We've seen too much blaming of others (politicians especially), given how overspecialization leaves its victims feeling powerless and blue.

There've been many stellar exceptions of course, but this doesn't change the fact that reforms are sorely needed. I'm sure "the experts" will be rushing forward with their lists of much-needed changes.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Philosophers Gather

Linus Pauling House, Feb 7, 2006
(photo by K. Urner)

Terry Bristol, president of ISEPP, lectured on American Pragmatism to a packed house of curious Wanderers last night. Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, John Dewey, and Joseph Priestley are among those whom Terry cites as influencing his thinking.

Tara (age 11) kicked off the program by demonstrating her two robot dogs, Robopet and I-Cybie (she didn't stay for the lecture though).

That's a picture of a young Linus and Ava over the mantle behind Terry.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Broken Flowers (movie review)

I suppose some might read a tone of moral condemnation into this portrayal of an older man's pilgrimmage to past temples, each containing a goddess of some kind: no high moral principles, no glory, no battles for God; secular-materialist (aka "western") civilian life is empty and decadent and yadda yadda.

But that wouldn't be me behind that reading (except I liked the goddess part). I savor that twilight zone of airports and rental cars, soft ring tones, faceless announcements, a little turbulance, dreams. The allusion to Buddhism is apt, amidst ripples of Lost in Translation. Murry's character is overflowing with love in the Void. He's a bodhisattva. America is beautiful.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Moral Relativism?

I've been chatting with a certain SWM on a Wittgenstein list (a Yahoo! group) -- both of us appear in the acknowledgements in Duncan Richter's new book by the way (Historical Dictionary of Wittgenstein's Philosophy). We've been yakking about moral bedrockism (absolutism) versus relativism, whether Wittgenstein was either, and tangentially, where do we come down?

I know for myself I'm coming to the following elucidation: moral relativism is a first line of defense against the morally inferior; let 'em all duke it out, and the bedrockers among 'em 'll likely percolate to the surface, ready for round 2 etc.

I mean, we're of harder and softer metal, along many different axes or principles. Alchemical mixings of archetypes. I'll budge where you'd never and vice versa. We wonder at one another's weaknesses. I'll grant you all that.

All the more reason to not step in as some Grand Mediator with a handy fix for every problem. I'm not doing that either, believe me. I'm just another guy in the ring, sometimes more than ready for that next bell.

But when they're all still just kids, needing tools of self expression, I'm saying: I won't deny you some dynamite training with these multi-track audio and video sequencer devices. You may grow up an enemy, but you'll know how to express yourself effectively, which means you're less likely to resort to brute force, the strategy of those at the end of some rope already.

You shouldn't run out of editing tricks that fast. Like, I'm not impressed when you go for the guns. OK, so you failed, what more shall we say? But if you know how to edit TV, do a good job in journalism, know how to research, think critically and analytically, then hey, let's watch your programming. Let's see what you think it's all about. I'll help give you those skills, or learn them from others, and make them your own.

It's not like I know in advance if you'll be with me or agin' me. At least you'll be free.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Our local mayor is working to inject new dollars into a flagging school system. See today's Oregonian, Metro section, page B6 (One step closer to a winnable school plan).

My approach is to talk turkey directly i.e. let's join the school board in looking at curriculum. This Old Library Studio has some right stuff: lots of music-making booths ala EMP, with software for working in multi-track (mostly Apple, though Noah is likewise a Linux devotee).

The multi-track metaphor is likewise what we use in television, however both stem from the older orchestra conductor view: lots of instruments (now called devices) scripted into a whole, with this overview person tasked with waving a wand, making facial grimmaces and so forth (I've watched them work, but have nowhere near the musical knowledge to do much better than mime the performance).

So our curriculum aims to equip kids with mastery of multi-track editing in various contexts. A toy company I used as a base for these ideas has gone out of business (slow link), while my Alien Curriculum (giving academic rigor to these ideas) languishes at my Oregon Curriculum Network website (except not really: I do have a fan base).

Speaking of that article on B6, another conundrum appears right next to it: Calling Inspector Clouseau. This one is about some middle aged guy tripping on his own shoelaces and smashing some Chinese vases at the bottom of a staircase. Playing the clip in reverse: a man back-swims towards heaven's gate, as these Humpty Dumpty type objects reassemble in his wake.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bruce Adams Presents...

robotic wafer processor from Bruce's slides
Our Wanderers gathering this morning focused on Bruce's work on a diode laser technique for flash-annealing silicon circuits.

The ion-injected dopants disrupt the local lattice. Thermal treatment restores it, but if cooked too long, the dopants diffuse, ruining the junction.

As Moore's Law has continued to push the number of transistors on a wafer, the layering dimension (Z axis) has become critical. Multi-hour lamp-driven baking techniques don't work at these smaller scales, nor is multi-second rapid thermal processing (RTP) fast enough at these smaller scales either.

R&D groups are exploring various solutions, Bruce's being one of them.

Jim Buxton is looking forward to the Libya trip (eclipse viewing). I found it encouraging that Myanmar and Zimbabwe are picking up the slack on the official enemies list these days (referring to last night's State of the Union Address). Libya is a new friend.

Gordon Hoffman joined us today, offering his unique perspective as a long haul Silicon Forester.