Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Skyping About Math

edubuntu terminals, LEP High
I set my cell phone alarm for an early rising and hopped on a pre-arranged Skype call from Germany to chat with some young math students and their instructor about our futuristic math teaching experiments in Portland, Oregon, an open source capital.

Basically, we phase in object-oriented talk when introducing such concepts as vectors and polyhedra, and then we use those vectors to actually build those polyhedra on screen. I didn't go in to all the details, although I did hold up the MITE cube and dissect it (this was a video linkup).

In Germany, there's more of a top-down, "government tells us" approach, whereas the USA has this tradition of treating states as laboratories, where many competing approaches run in parallel, a kind of genetic algorithm wherein new hybrids at least have a fighting chance of finding a place in the sun.

Our computer math hybrid starts using Python pretty early, mainly to generate sequences at first, such as the Fibonacci numbers and successive rows of Pascal's triangle (e.g. see Pippy on the XO for a currently non-generator-based approach).

generator based Pascal's, Python 2.5.x
These are very short programs, with longer ones provided as scaffolding, so rather than losing lots of time to debugging, we stay with much of the traditional content (linear and polynomial functions, trigonometry (some spherical), some calculus ideas though with a more discrete flavor).

However, we also mix in more semi- and non-numeric algorithms (e.g. around XML), plus some elementary group theory with an eye towards explaining RSA in some detail by senior year high school (group theory also helps in later physics, intimately connects to those polyhedra and their rotations).

Monday, January 28, 2008

More Show & Tell

So I'm continuing to refine my homey Internet skills, via Skype and Youtube.

Obviously these things take practice, and by submitting my work to a general audience, I get back such useful feedback as "don't be chewing that gum!" and so on.

Plus I consider these cameos, like ol' Hitchcock saying peekaboo on camera. Like I said earlier, my role is more behind one.

Tonight was another State of the Union (SOTU) speech, a pretty relaxed affair. Like that guy said on CBS, sounds like George and Condi have something up their sleeve for the Middle East, if they think it'll really fire on both cylinders by year's end (speaking of Israel/Palestine).

Other than that, it was pretty not-lofty and straight political. I thought the Kansas governor was elegant and dignified, but I had some raucous teenagers watching with me, so I can't say I heard every word.

After the speech plus analysis, I headed off to my office for a little daily practice with my toyz.

Thanks for watching, and thanks to Naga for putting up with some man-handling (hey, circus life gets rough sometimes).

Friday, January 25, 2008

War College Philosophy

E. J. Applewhite. Synergetics Dictionary.
Garland Press, 1986. Vol. 4 page 140

In a civilian school like Princeton, the philosophy department tends to hash over what might still hold water, although it's OK to venture back along the time line and study what, by today's standards, are truly unbelievable belief systems (medieval philosophy and such -- I took at least one course in that, found lots to agree with).

But when you're looking out over a battlefield, trying to figure out why people dressed that funny way are taking up swords against that other group over there, you can't afford the luxury of believability. You just need to know what animates these people from the inside, to help with modeling, anticipating what might be coming next (just saying "one damn thing after another" is sort of a cop out -- clients won't pay for that).

The OWL/DAML community is happy to talk about ontology, a philosophical term, but has less use for teleology, which is where I think Bucky Fuller might lend us a hand. He spoke of teleology in terms of voltage pressure.

Just as hamburger fuels long divisions among 8th graders in North America, so does water held back by dams, give us the pressure to turn huge coils through magnetic resistance, generating that back and forth push/pull of electrons known as alternating current (AC) -- keeping the lights on in those schools. We also use direct current (DC) and convert back and forth, from AC to DC, from DC to AC.

OK so where does teleology come in? In how we switch all that power, in the form of energy investments. Do we drive with this or that control panel API? What tools do we commit? What skills will we need? Does the storyboard depend on any unproved or as yet unavailable technologies? If yes, is this all just science fiction then?

Putting it another way, to every ontology, however unbelievable, there corresponds a pressure to perform in this or that way. Perhaps aggressively, perhaps with vindictiveness (stay alert for that stuff).

You still need to do a lot of intelligence gathering, as the devil is in the details. Plus you'll need repositories in which to store your findings, like DemocracyLab or whatever.

Even better: enlist the assistance of true believers to help with their own modeling, plus remember to share the road i.e. don't be too proprietary about your own way of thinking, especially if you want friends -- help 'em stay up to date and in the game, or they'll have no choice but to work around you.

Where both physics and theology agree to some extent is in judging that some beliefs just don't have much underwriting, in terms of laws of nature and/or God's will. If you think you can fly, and jump off a ledge, more power to ya, but really, probably here's a belief system with a short TTL.

To have "no integrity" doesn't mean to sneak around lying so much (too obvious) as it means you've already stepped off that ledge, and so now we'll see: does it really fly? Unless Nature is behind it (Fuller's "generalized principles"), then the answer is no, at least not for long. But of course that's a borderline tautology, plus a frustrating outcome is always a good excuse to try try again, and yes, sometimes persistence pays off.

Fortunately for us humans, we're able to auto-reprogram to some extent, especially by staying open to Spirit (what we believe as Quakers anyway -- that there's that of God within each one of us, potentially to the rescue in times of belief system melt down).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wolf Moon

I sampled chatter among engineers last night, in some hotel room along Sandy. We were a green building designer, two solar steam engineers, an artist, and myself -- a reunion of sorts after 17 years, with me the gray eldest.

Earlier I visited a recuperating college professor in the company of a Quaker war veteran. We talked about muppets on Saturday Night Live, among other topics.

Lots of telecommuting and cyberevents (such is life in the big city) -- still horse from all the howling (a "wolf moon" is a full one that stays visible all night long (I learned that from CBS affiliate KOIN)).

Monday, January 21, 2008


We're having a serene federal holiday today, with visits from good friends (including from Stillaguamish country) -- lots of sampling of trax.

Tara ordered up Serenity, fittingly filed with FireFly at Movie Madness. I spaced her dentist appointment this time.

Lighting a candle at Red Altar.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saturday Meetup

Today's work included ferrying Micheal Sunanda, aka the goofy sufi, back to his Portland base camp (he's visiting from Eugene).

Coincidentally, Andrew Frank called while Micheal was sitting on my living room rug, eating something organic.

Andrew, Micheal and I have all been on KBOO, plus Andrew and I did some Portland Cable Access many years back (I've not seen him for almost two decades). Micheal and I also did a radio interview together, anchored from Chicago.

However, I'm happier behind the camera, in storyboarding and production, where a lot of hard work goes on. There's true talent on all sides in this business.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More on G1G1

I enjoyed the interview with Michail Bletsas this morning. He too envisions XOs, other models, in Darfur.

G1G1 or Give One Get One was OLPC's marketing campaign aimed at giving the program's domestic partner a way to donate a laptop to a talented overseas counterpart with no hard currency, while getting an opportunity to snuggle with a live XO (cute).

On Synergeo, recently rejoined, I'm thanking Adrian for his excellent C++ resources, which have enabled us to pitch futuristic bookkeeping front ends to providers of gaming solutions, soon to be like Sims for grownups if all goes as planned:
As you browse through these 4D++ worlds (yeah, jargon), you become aware of motifs, themes, which may suggest company lore. My 4D Studios is even more inhouse, but has a public face on (as 4dstudios). That's another storefront for Synergetics out there, and the many ToonTown productions it inspires (John, you were asking about applications...).
I'm also advising Brawley to replicate his Tverse project (more C++ modeling) on the Linux platform:
You just find the corresponding editors, compilers, linkers and libraries and then go to town in C/C++ or C# on Mono. Lotsa fun, lotsa (eXtreme) peers, development time in general way less -- but because these are real cyclists, not wannabes (I'm a wannabe -- my C skills are piss poor, couldn't write a kernel to save my own hide).
Alexia is in a chat window.

Errands, TTFN.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Uphill Slog

Those watching over my shoulder for the past decade may have concluded that the ideas I champion can't be that viable, or more would have happened by now. There's a self-fulfilling aspect to feedback sometimes, which is sometimes positive, not always vicious.

In the case of learning math through developing one's coding skills, using a free state of the art language like Python, the idea is a no-brainer, meaning of course it's a good one, and for all its shortcomings, I'm pleased to see Pippy going out on the XO, complete with Fibonacci sequence (of Da Vinci Code fame) and Pascal's Triangle (a grand central station of convergent concepts).

I'm not sure what all has changed since the 1980s, but when I was a high school math teacher in Jersey City, going to night school in education theory at St. Peter's College, my observation was teachers considered their jobs low paying and low status, and coding skills were regarded as a ticket to some other more glamorous profession. Math teachers were especially likely to escape to new careers by this route.

The reason we don't teach Python programming as a way of learning mathematics is most people with such skills aren't interested in teaching at the K-12 level, and/or have no certification to do so.

In small pockets, tiny schools, it's possible to enforce higher, or simply different, standards.

The teachers I work with most closely tend to have pretty good computer and/or multimedia skills, although not always in Python.

But then I'm the guy who wants my back office managers to have a general systems theory background -- "just economics" won't do. No wonder we have so few at the top in my virtual world. Most jobs go begging.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Store Management

The franchise or chain has its advantages, presuming management is friendly to itself in the back office, in which case a clever innovation by some anonymous employee over here translates into quasi-spontaneous improvements throughout the organization.

Given the wide diversity of environments in which a company replicant must provide services, a geographically diversified chain is going to adapt more quickly, given all the good ideas from the field.

On the other hand, new chains have to start somewhere, and often it's the mom & pop approach in some difficult new environment, like Portland's, like Coffee People, that gets it right in many dimensions.

"Parallel prevails over serial" is one important maxim in business. What it means is you'll want to get many experiments going in the face of big uncertainties, not knowing in advance which will succeed, but knowing that "one at a time" is slower than "many at once."

However, not all management teams are prepared to support parallel operations. In this sense, management is a lot like an operating system. How good is it, at managing memory? And don't blame management for every memory hog application an end user might want to load, on insufficient hardware. Typically, they'll plan to pay you a pittance and ask for the moon, moan and complain if you don't deliver.

In sum: the franchise many-storefront model is ideally a theater for parallelism, and therefore better at fitting in, provided feedback from the field is taken seriously; any highly evolved chain was likely once a corner grocery, and probably had high level, well-exercised skills thanks to some ornery customers or other challenges.

Remember: some of the best stores actually pay managers to go under cover as ornery customers, in order to test the effectiveness of their own store training and policies, sometimes scouting for new managers in the process.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Buckaneer Lore

Some tracked Bucky because they loved the dome and what it portended, in terms of sheltering big dishes or whatever, whereas others, an earlier cohort, came because of the car, the dymaxion vehicle.

Jay Baldwin was one of the latter. Although he worked closely with Bucky on many dome projects, including a first pillow, his heart was in automobiles and auto mechanics, futuristic concept cars especially -- another way to make the future happen.

Jay's dad, like Jay, has a very Native American appearance and would stand proudly on the parade float, in like Montclair, New Jersey, as a last Mohican or like that.

Jay headed to the west coast as soon as he was old enough to drive. He loves the LA freeway system, that Worlds Fair future many dreamed would come true, yet today often villainize (too many drivers).

Personally speaking, I consider the North American I-net one of the great wonders of the world, nor have I anything against car nuts.

Friday, January 11, 2008


The above encasement of an IVM sphere (that the sphere appears to really be made of tiny dots is not unfortunate in this context), outlined in black, is the rhombic dodecahedron.

The long diagonals of each diamond facet (one is shown in red) form an octahedron, while the greens (short diagonals) form a cube. The relative volume ratios are 6:4:3.

Of special importance in Synergetics is this space-filling shape, shown in red, called the Coupler. It's a non-Platonic octahedron of volume 1 relative to the above 6:4:3 schema, and may be developed in terms of the cube (left) or in terms of the rhombic dodecahedron (right).

Below is the shape most people think about when they hear the word "dodecahedron," if they think of a shape at all. Centuries of Platonic bias stacked the deck such that "dodecahedron" means the Platonic one, kind of like when some USAers say "Americans" and just mean themselves.

We needn't waste time "blaming Plato" for ignorance of the rhombic dodecahedron among the lay public. Indeed, one may correctly view Synergetics itself as a form of NeoPlatonism, although American Transcendentalism fits at least as well, if you're shopping for an "ism" with which to pigeon-hole this work.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas Folk Lore

In at least one telling, no boxes were exchanged on Christmas Day, no incense, no gold, as the Kings didn't arrive until January 6, Epiphany.

Whether we call these three "Kings" or not is open to dispute, as some prefer "Magi," a nickname for "Magicians," although that later sounded too pagan, although "Wizards" was worse (plus they were pagans).

Anyway, in some folks' tellings, there's this fourth King (affectionately known as King Moron) who showed up really belatedly, after the first three had long gone. This tale provides cover for people sending truly late gifts, even after Epiphany is long over.

This fourth King is a bit too much the clown to be admitted into classic tellings, such as Christian hymnals and so forth. Besides, he wouldn't be in the manger scene anyway, so there's nothing to add in this case.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wanderers 2008.1.8

We have a packed house tonight, with Glenn Stockton speaking about Synchronicity, part 2 in our Opportunity series (I missed the first one).

Glenn began with a history of the concept in the West, which traces to Jesuits in Portugal and France bringing home news of the I Ching from the East to which Leibniz was subsequently introduced.

The eight 3-bit strings, or trigrams, pair up in a matrix of 64 permutations, which are consulted by oracles, shamans, truth speakers, housewives, hardhats or whatever.

Glenn brought along a lot of books to show and tell about.

The I Ching Workbook by Wing looks like something put out by the Dharma Initiative.

David Peat's reminds me of when David came to Wanderers to discuss his Blackfoot Physics.

C. G. Jung's is about explorations undertaken with Wolfgang Pauli and others.

The discussion was lively, the wine plentiful. Glenn's repartee was just light enough to keep us moving and on topic.

I kept having flashbacks to Jersey City and my time with Ray and Bonnie Simon, later baby Julie, for whom I was a babysitter (I'd quit high school teaching by then, to work on a startup).

Ray is/was a huge synchronicity buff, had techniques for encouraging its workings in his life, some of which he tried to teach me.

I was happy to provide transportation to Eve Menger for this one.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Trying to catch up in a number of areas (teachers assisting), including gender studies (North American focus [1][2]), Panetics, Japanese Traditions. Finished Lost DVDs from Santa. Upgraded to .NET 3.x on KTU3. Moved 16 Words to iPod, also An Introduction to Quakers. GB's Stand Up! rescheduled to May 11 so as to not conflict with SOTU. HB2KC. Topped Mt. Tabor, gym.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


:: an honor well deserved ::

Posted retroactively on Feb 2, 2008 with thanks to Dave Koski, a Wenninger fan. Thanks also to Glenn Stockton for snagging a copy of Wenninger's Polyhedron Models from Powell's recently, in very good condition.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Fish Tale

As I was pointing out to some family and friends over the holidays, my little Mathematical Canvas website, 4D Solutions a sponsor, has an embedded message on the cover page: Alaska. See it? I like the fish for its Tlingit appearance.

Here in the Silicon Forest, we see it as our responsibility to offer relevant curriculum of the kind future Silicon Foresters might need. As I was writing to a contact at Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster recently, regarding a proposed Skype interview:
Discussing the US picture as a whole might be too unfocused for me to speak intelligently about as there's no "national curriculum" and the state standards are little more than outlines cribbed from the various text books, with a minor role played by industry and commerce (private sector)....

My job in Portland is mostly to circumvent the standard obsolete curricula (any math with no programming would be considered too 20th century to remain viable or relevant).
Let's look at an example of what knowledge workers in my sector of the economy have to read to stay current:
Relational databases can be accessed using the Structured Query Language (SQL), and every popular programming language has libraries that allow manipulating data in relational database management systems (RDBMSs) such as Postgres, MySQL, MSSQL Server, and Oracle.

Not long after relational algebra was invented and the first RDBMSs started appearing, another similar rise from obscurity to market dominance took place. Procedural programming began to give way to object-oriented programming, which allowed the bundling of data and actions into objects. [page 152]

Rapid Web Applications with TurboGears: Using Python to Create Ajax-Powered Sites - Graphically Rich Book Rapid Web Applications with TurboGears: Using Python to Create Ajax-Powered Sites, by Mark Ramm, Kevin Dangoor, Gigi Sayfan (Prentice Hall, ISBN-10: 0-13-243388-5; ISBN-13: 978-0-13-243388-4)
Although the style is accessible to young adults, the content remains alien, unfamiliar, even though "algebra" is mentioned and "success in algebra" is considered a primary indicator of future success in college by much of the math teaching community.

The problem is mass textbook publishing, to remain economical, especially in this environment of rising paper and shipping costs, mostly needs to recycle previous content, adjusting it slightly from year to year, fine tuning, to keep up with the latest math teaching fads, which are often superficial, purely cosmetic.

Over the last two or three decades, this recycling of old content has precluded much true pioneering inventiveness at the K-12 level, to where college profs now do little more than throw up their hands and complain about their low caliber entry level students, in need of so much remedial course work.

Computer science goes begging for new majors.

The Silicon Forest ends up importing much of the talent it needs.

As a matter of fact, the traditional math curriculum contains many candidate segments that have the potential to become segues into our more relevant Digital Age content (relevant from the point of view of working in our Silicon Forest economy -- other bioregions may well have different needs).

For example, ever since the New Math in the 1960s, we've had segments on truth tables (boolean logic) and Venn Diagrams (unions and intersections). The former connects directly to logic gates, the basis of all computer chips, and the latter might be used to launch forays into SQL and the relational algebra mentioned above.

Unfortunately, the math teaching ethnicity (an ingrown subculture worthy of anthropological study) is pretty well stuck in the calculator era, just a step beyond slide rules, and calculators don't do SQL.

Switching to a language like Python for hands-on math exploration is just too much future shock for most rank and file math teachers, already set in their ways. Plus the NCTM tends to baby them by telling them just what they want to hear, no matter how head in the sand this might be.

Fortunately, given the Internet and North America's mostly wired schools, a burgeoning home scholar movement, circumventing yesteryear's dino textbooks has become mindlessly easy, a piece of cake. MIT's OpenCourseWare, other flagship offerings, provide plenty of raw material.

A new breed of more progressive teacher is emerging, more of a hybrid between web wrangler and classroom presenter (itself a type of theater, with the faculty lounge a backstage).

These mostly younger teachers, some of them returning war veterans, understand about letting students multi-task, don't feel so threatened when all eyes are not on the authority figure at the front of the room, are maybe focused on Google Earth instead.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Random Trip Pix

pet trick

in northern california

santa barbara pelicans

quaker midnight, philadelphia time

driving home