Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ban Constrictors?

"What would it cost to eradicate Python, Boa or Eunectes individuals or populations, or similar species, if found?" asks Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks [FR Doc. E8–1770 Filed 1–30–08; 8:45 am].

The Fish and Wildlife agency is using the threat of a nationwide ban, on the import and interstate transport of such reptiles, to motivate a public response, both pro and con. This way, the government need not sponsor any scientific studies itself, need only rely on biased feedback coming from affected parties.

Presumably the mostly urban pet store owners will push back, claiming the vast majority of their stock stays within the "virtual zoo" of a pet owner's environment, while feral snakes in the sewers actually serve on the front lines, holding down a disease-bearing rat population, taking the fight to where they live.

Rural farmers may know differently however, as one sheep after another is picked off by some boas gone wild, rampaging through the outback. Prairie dogs may soon be an endangered species.

The deadline for a public response is April 30. Uncle Sam wants a list of all pro-constrictor people handy, just in case that position proves unAmerican in some way, in which case Homeland Security might be on your case as a snake owner in violation of the Lacey Act.

Burmese pythons on the loose in Florida's Everglades are of special concern. Is a nationwide ban the best answer?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hairspray (movie review)

This remake of the John Waters comedy is disturbing, as it leaves me wondering if our failure to achieve escape velocity from the target of both spoofs, the 1960s, means we're destined to keep to this lowly orbit, forever and ever.

Truman Show
, Pleasantville, Yes Men... and yet we're still here?

Then I realize the movie explores some new ground, spoofing the movie and musical genres more completely (clich├ęs on steroids) plus it explores ageism a little, not just racism.

Still, I expected Travolta to strike a disco dance pose or two, a wink to the audience, more water under that bridge.

But in doing nothing so covert, he brings a surprising innocence to his role as Divine, reminding me of De Niro in Stardust somewhat (I hope I don't get in trouble for saying that).

When it comes to spoofing musicals, Portland loves the Buffy episode that does that.

Two other things struck me about the rented DVD: the preview for The Golden Compass was like a complete synopsis, truly a preview; and for extra features, you needed a computer and a very special case stack of software, which I just happened to have, but not the patience.

Some sly winks about camera tricks, in salute to a great director- psychologist.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Talk in Chicago


Kirby Urner addresses conferees in Crowne Plaza Hotel, March 14, 2008. This is the audio track from that event, slightly edited, supplemented with stills and short screen scenarios, added later in Portland, but in many ways matching what got screened at the talk. For higher definition, check here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Designs for Living

Sometimes the home construction industry maybe feels threatened, by the prospect of aerospace types muscling in, but that's not how to look at it.

Interior design and decoration still need to go on, once the surroundings have been tuned. Our lives need their settings. Storytelling doesn't cease, just because we've inherited the geodesics.

The large shell or transparency that gives shelter from the elements, needn't be the focus of stage management, theater people. Our cameras still need their pattern language of foci. Studios R Us.

In fact, OK to make the sets flimsier than ever, which doesn't mean "not sound proof" or "not light proof"; whatever it is you need, we have the materials, but their potentially more ephemeral nature is owing to the safer more robust externals.

That being said, not every scenario need involve some giant superstructure with delicate village cultures therein. That's one way to go, not the only way to go. People understandably get nervous about style changes. They don't want to go overboard.

However, given the currently shabby state of humanity per average living standards, I'm not thinking aerospace campuses ala Orlando's, public or private, are really a threat to the competition. We simply don't have that many.

It's a problem many of us would welcome, to have to compete in such arenas.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Celebrating Dawn

We gathered at a small rural cemetery today in west Pennsylvania, where Dawn's paternal side of the family is remembered, to spread some ashes.

I felt grateful to be here on this first anniversary of my wife's death, especially after managing to miss the flight from Chicago to Pittsburgh and driving for eleven straight hours instead.

Dawn's two girls were both forgiving and supportive, a lot like their mom.

Cousin Pat guided us through winding back roads to Aunt Betty's farm, where we enjoyed home made lasagna and rolls with strawberry jam, family stories.

Back in Portland, Laurie, Elizabeth, Gayle, Chris and Barbara went to the Grotto, then joined others who knew Dawn to walk the labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pycon 2008

I've not attended Pycon since Dawn joined me for Pycon 2005 in Washington, DC. This year, I am grateful to have Tara and Alexia to be with. They get to explore Chicago while I geek out in the hotel near O'Hare. I joined them Thursday evening, in a somewhat perfunctory visit to the city of my birth.

I've enjoyed reconnecting with Patrick O'Brien (Schevo) and Ed Leafe (Dabo).

Guido sat with us briefly, friendly and relaxed, his keynote behind him. Making small talk, I noted Vilnius is one of Chicago's many sister cities, plus asked why "callable" was going away (answer: because it's redundant, now that stuff's cleaned up; just check for __call__).

Jeff Elkner, high school teacher and long time Python enthusiast, is looking forward trying some new approaches under STEM, maybe using some math through programming techniques, also my focus.

Patrick Barton, a graduate of my Python for Wanderers class, is here with his Chicago-based company, getting more exposure to the Python community. He shared some ribs with me, which was most apropos (__ribs__).

My talk, on the "Pythonic math class of the future" was a big hit, with lots of people interested in connecting with me afterwards. I made my joke about uniting our open source language communities against a common enemy, Texas Instruments, only to find we had a Python-friendly TI guy in the audience.

Python's role in the future of education is of intrinsic interest to many of us here, especially given all the OLPC activists (lots of XOs on display).

This was my first exposure to Ian Benson's campaign to further popularize Caleb Gattegno's "brick based" approach to math learning. We seem to share an interest in problem solving as an energy-consuming activity (link).

I'm heartened by what Josh showed me of The Open Planning project.

Pyglet looks promising.

Good seeing Johnny Stovall (aka "the impossible man") from Indonesia again, and Steve Holden, newly chairman of the PSF. Good meeting Vern Ceder from Indiana, Jessie Chavez of Google, Andrew Harrington of Loyola University (Chicago), and Jonah Bossewitch of CCNMTL (a Princeton philo guy, like me).

This was the biggest Pycon ever, with over a thousand attenders.

Related:
my Pycon photos on Flickr

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wanderers 2008.3.12

I showed up at the Pauling House earlier than usual, given the school's early field trip to a local judicial branch facility. Glenn showed up later than usual, tricked by a laggard clock, not yet on PDT.

A lot of today's conversation, expertly steered by Bunce, was about the origin of Oregon, as the name of our state. One can find when the whiteman explorers started using it, in connection with the Great River of the West, but why? Many myths circulate, no one really knows. A most plausible hypothesis is it's a mistranslation of Wisconsin.

What's true though is locals take pride in saying Orygun. That's like secret insider knowledge. So if you're like a tourist from "New Yawk" or something, trying to pass for native, and say Oregon (as in polygon), then you're the legitimate object of concealed titters, behind paper fans or whatever. Of course if you're not pretending you're not a tourist, OK then, you're forgiven.

We also discussed the perennial need for a more Christmas-like holiday in July, ostentatiously commercial, designed purely to galvanize the economy (not conflicted like Xmas, where we're supposed to be pious and greedy at the same time (i.e. kinda schizo)).

I proposed a "fourth king" folk tale and cover story (he shows up way late, other kings long gone), for those wanting to revise and extend within the Christian tradition.

David Tver was among us, and suggested more Judaic approaches.

Other religions welcome to step up to the plate on this one, or give us something scientific to celebrate, some annual migration or something (what are penguins up to in July?).

Of course some killjoys say we already have July 4 for a pig out and BBQ, lots of merchandise up in smoke. But I'm thinking of something less loud, more demur. How about something more geeky (lots of shopping online (where the penguins fit in?)) with a dash of gothic (ala Happy Halloween)? Summer movies play a role.

We also discussed the ethnography of joke-telling, how certain ones stay popular at like the 4th grade level, have probably passed kid to kid since Roman times and before, and yet don't seem worth telling once you're out of that head space (which isn't to cast aspersions on 4th grade humor necessarily -- some say IQs apex at that age, all downhill from there).

Monday, March 10, 2008

More on Sims

One might presume the puppet master in this electronic doll house would go for replicating actual family, trying to make a mirror image of her or his own domestic matrix.

However, I've rarely if ever seen a kid take to it in this way (of course that's just me, not some "universal observer" so your mileage may vary).

Avoiding the attempt to transliterate one's own reality gets around the challenge of needing to model oneself in the software, as a cartoon, with whatever hairstyle and outfit -- could be time consuming to get it just right.

Then there's all that zodiac stuff, the motivation settings -- who has the time to be so self-indulgently introspective? "It's just a game for crying out loud, let's get on with it" -- another playmate protesting the slow pace.

On the other hand, one might imagine psychotherapies deliberately built around The Sims architecture, with the express purpose of working on various complexes.

In my own household, some part-time staffers were marveling at my always-clean fish tank. How often do I change the water? I explained about the filtration system, powered by the Columbia River and FDR's progeny. So put like a talk balloon next to my sim, with a dam hieroglyphic, maybe some lightning bolts, smiling fish...

Of course every life saved in the big city, thanks to a steady supply of AC, means livelihoods lost in the fisheries business (except in the hatcheries), including among fish (and the sea lions who feed on them).

Finding a sustainable balance remains a dynamical systems challenge, not something to resolve once and for all. Nature doesn't pause at any equilibrium, just hovers around them, sometimes stretching to limits, again optimizing, and so on. In a very primitive sense, "evolution" means no more than this, against a backdrop of generalized principles.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Peace Teams

Tonight I learned a lot about Alternatives to Violence (AVP) and Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) workshops, in conflict areas around the world, from a visiting all star cast of Quaker practitioners, in Burundi, Kenya, Colombia, other places.

My thanks to Nadine Hoover for sharing some of her Indonesian adventures with me during potluck, including some illuminating service committee stories.

People naturally seek healing, and sometimes a new context for looking at their own suffering is a first step, even though real life is a more difficult set of circumstances than a facilitated workshop.

This new context: respectable alternatives to violence take more skill, are more effective, and we (the participants) wish to become more skillful and effective.

Of course there's plenty of unskillful / violent behavior in the USA as well, where AVP is likewise available.

I don't know if AVP credits the encounter group movement of the 1970s and 1980s for its content and format. Definitely the exercises are more powerful when involving actual parties to a violent or potentially violent conflict, and a long term test of workshop effectiveness is whether these conflicts actually resolve nonviolently.

Restoring a sense of community outside the workshop format, drawing upon already ingrained cultural values, is the name of the game.

HROC ("he-rock") is more geared towards overcoming PTSD, a prerequisite and/or concomitant to AVP in some circumstances.

My thanks to Multnomah Friends, Andy Cross especially, for bringing us all together.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Hairspray (movie review)

This is about the 1988 John Waters contribution, with Divine & Company. I'm looking forward to this new one with Travolta & Co., a topic of discussion among Quaker youth these days.

This is fantastic ethnography, when knowing stellates pointedly poke fun at their own historical context, in this case the early 1960s, high school teen culture (pre Buffy).

The hippies are just beginning (cite Cool Cat & Chick, both brilliantly played), however Jahiliyyah is already in full swing, in this Elvis lookalike contest (a few James Dean wannabes).

Amazing to think these people'd be invading Iraq down the road apiece (Vietnam first though, and still a presence in Korea).

That psychologist (psychiatrist?), played by John Waters himself, is the funniest character, all tricked out to deprogram, a shaman protecting his tribe.

Divine plays both the racist carnival boss and... well, Divine.

Waters enjoys this technique of zooming in on a colorless television, then zooming on through to reality, by upping the volume and changing to color. He does this several times, poking fun at the medium.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Protein Folding

Top priority this morning was fixing a lesson plan and student handout, making the POSIX commands clearer, based on valuable feedback from test users.

I also posted some writings about calculus, and the importance of algorithms in sparking a Renaissance in Europe awhile back.

Then I met with a teacher, to discuss weighty issues, plus talk about that ferris wheel for canal boats in Scotland (thanks Jim!).

Yakking about kayaks ensued, in a subterranean maze (part of ToonTown).

Back at the office: protein folding on YouTube, checking out the state of the art in low rez.

Ironic that many high school biology students have no access to these films from inside biology class, given onerous school censorship. But hey, there's always playing with Folding@home on the PS3.

Over on edu-sig, I told a funny story about a Quaker MUD I was peripherally involved with (MUD = multi-user domain, early text-based gaming environment).

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Back Early

We enjoyed an abbreviated version of the family retreat this year. My XO proved a big attraction to the kids, which proved triggering to a few parents with luddite tendencies, so I put it away.

Not all Quakers are geeks by any means. Electronics in general are seen as "of the devil" by some, or something like that -- I'm not up on all the latest thinking in Quakerdom, that's for sure.

I made my nest in the cavernous rec room near the wood stove, so I could take in the late night folk singing around the piano in a soporific state.

I also learned that orthodox Judaism has a long-running reincarnation thread (we had some yeshiva grad lecturing us). I'm sure there's much more to be said on the topic -- probably not here though. DWA check 11793, payable to MMM.

We capped our day on Hawthorne, walking the dog and purchasing a 30th anniversary reissue of Dark Side of the Moon, on heavy vinyl, from the new music store Juke Box, replacing Goddess Gallery (an old haunt).

Happy Birthday Alexia!