Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Biz Page


I went for a small slice of cake after salad in my cafeteria today, got flavored coffee in error (still liked it enough though).

Yesterday's business page looked especially interesting: Warren Buffet is helping with a Mars + Wrigley merger; Intel's new fab plant in Ho Chi Minh city is getting going in earnest (The Oregonian, April 29, 2008, E1).

We had some good meetings today.

Back at the ranch, more fun with YouTubes: Battle at Kruger and Elephant Paints Self.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Designing Democracy


In this tableau, assembled on my living room table for a change, the light-reflecting ruler symbolizes the drawing board aspect of DemocracyLab.

Although I sneak a little Python logo into the picture, partly for continuity, we really haven't settled on an implementation technology at this point, at least not that I know of.

I've been urging my peers to take a closer look at Adobe's solutions, since we already have Flash savvy on our team, but we're not talking either/or here.

I missed the most recent BBQ, hope to make others. The sunny season has only just begun.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Kitchen Tableau


I've always been something of a collage artist, which spills over into these still life montages, wherein I attempt to capture some thinking in a somewhat iconographic language.

For example, here I'm reflecting back on Pycon 2008, where XOs were very much on display (including disassembled), and where the ASCII to Unicode bridge served as a unifying topic.

The commitment of the open source community to a fully internationalized experience is quite evident, as symbolized by the Python logo, a computer language currently making this very ASCII (or Latin-1) Unicode transition. The Chinese dragon likewise symbolizes how the Unicode codespace has plenty of room for its characters.

Also, thanks to my overlap with Ian Benson, a mathematician and champion of Caleb Gattegno's brick-based approach to early algebra learning, I'm representing bits (0 or 1) and half bytes of four bits (e.g. 1011) using Cuisenaire Rods.

The longer sequence of bytes on the XO's keyboard is a veiled allusion to UTF-32 although it's only 16 bits long.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More on Interface Design

I don't think it's entirely coincidental that the iPod sports a Sugar-like interface, in the sense of putting a circle front and center. Thumbs are good at turning a wheel, plus ever since the mouse wheel, our GUI has gained that tactile wheel-sense. This adds a welcome dimension to our gizmos, makes them more like old televisions, whereon the channel selector was always a dial, same on radio (AM and FM).

Sugar, for those who don't know, is another example of Python working as a glue language with some visualization library. Python has no "native look" in the sense of having one set of bundled widgets that defines the Python experience. Programmers have their choice of APIs, to such toolkits as Tk, GTk (Gimp ToolKit), Java's Swing (via Jython), many others, some yet to be developed.

From my angle, having a generation hammer on Python under the banner of OLPC has been a positive development, as languages become more robust and agile as a result of such field use. I'm also pleased about Pippy, which is giving a lot of kids a first look at Python source code, not that different in appearance from Perl, C++, Java, C# or whatever (in the C family), but minus so many curly braces (the indentation level works as a scope delimiter i.e. whitespace is significant).

As of this writing, Sugar was starting to float off the XO platform to other platforms, including Ubuntu, with the XO as hardware free to run other desktops. Developers had long been using XO emulators to start with, so making Sugar another Debian-like package, complete with GPL protection, was in no way a surprising development, given the habits of geekdom.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

About Town

We're about to have a scheduled outage @ Google 4 PM, so just a quick note:

Enjoyed assisting Dave move the kayak from its underground staging area, then to Jiffy Lube for some much needed R&R for Razz (she took us to LA and back, no problemo).

Seeing lots of action in cyberspace today, but Portland is calm, waiting for spring, rather patiently.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom

My mother turned 78 today. She spent most of it flying, from DC to Omaha, to O'Hare (Chicago), to Denver, to LA. She is a woman of conviction, good will, much skill, real courage.

In honor of her birthday, I mailed John his cassette tape collection via UPS ground (finally) -- in honor of his birthday too.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Treasure Hunt on Hawthorne

:: pirate day ::

Friday, April 18, 2008

Making It Real

Given our gnu math emphasis on databases (a pervasive feature of modern life), moves are afoot to rescue elementary set theory from its currently dumbed-down context, as a mere relic of the ancient New Math.

The concepts of Venn Diagram, subset, intersection and union, belong in the same namespace as Structured Query Language (SQL), rows and columns as records and fields, primary keys and so on.

Every pre-college student should have ample opportunities for hands-on practice with SELECT, UPDATE and so on.

ISETL made some headway, in terms packaging sets for interactive exploration. Python's set, a collection type, is likewise a good starting place, provided your school has escaped from the dark ages, isn't still wallowing in some antediluvian mud hole, a done-for dino.

How does this focus on set theory help counter the Ivory Tower's multi-decade anti-Bucky boycott? We talk about that Other Tomorrow, in which we take our American heritage, our world heritage, somewhat more seriously.

The retro flavor of New Math and the 1960s more generally, now augmented with SQL and the concentric hierarchy (geodesic spheres included), gives us an edge in some circles, especially around Oregon and California I'd hazard.

Dystopia's legions of fear and war mongers deserve competition from buckaneers don't ya think? Support the home team.

Speaking of which, Saturday Academy netted over $90K from that recent fund raising event, yay.

Background Reading:
Re: Teaching Set Theory to kids in Middle School: ideas?
(Math Forum @ Drexel)
From an interview with Bjarne Stroustrup
(math-thinking-l)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Surrealist Hoax

At Saturday Academy, we teach various ray tracing methods for developing realistic scenery, such as shown in the "photograph" above (very professional, and not by one of our students so far as I know).

The animation industry depends on faux landscapes for backdrops, much as the rest of the movie industry does, so I don't begrudge pupils learning these skills, use them myself sometimes.

However, I also encourage positive forms of realism, not just surrealism.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Quaker Spectrum

Last week I promised I'd lug my little XO to meeting, the one given me by Juliet and Jerome.

I threw together a few paragraphs, thinking to make some exhibit of my own Quaker futurism, tangentially related to the XO in ways I explain, and mentioning Bucky Fuller in the process.

Being a tad late for M4W, I was hanging out in the library when Paula Blanchard's biography of Margaret Fuller caught my eye.

I've often referred to Margaret in passing, thanks to the Bucky connection (she was his great aunt) but hadn't taken much time to actually explore her life, her tragic death.

She was brave and independent in so many dimensions, took a lot of flak for it too. I kept reading the bio during worship, assembling more of a picture of what her life was like.

After social hour, I found myself in a well attended study circle focusing on the writings of early Quaker women, with Judith Applegate, one of the editors of Hidden in Plain Sight: Quaker Women’s Writings 1650 – 1700.

We read some of Barbara Blaugdone's accounts of her harrowing adventures in the 1690s. This woman was fearless and often effective in her ministry, assuming the role and responsibilities of a prophet, and enduring great hardships, imprisonments, dangerous travels as a consequence. She lived into her late 90s for all that.

I also started distributing my newest homemade DVD, quirkily named Pythonic Quaker, which includes my Quakers on YouTube (a compilation), the short one of me showing off my pet snake, and my longer Chicago talk, wherein I mention my Quaker futurist role.

I have it easy compared to both Barbara and Margaret, yet still find myself leaning on women for strength. There's a feminine culture, led by women, that helps sustain my enthusiasm, gives me courage and hope for a better tomorrow. I have been greatly blessed, to have experienced these strong female players (and slayers) in my reality.

Speaking of which, mom phoned from O'Hare this evening, having done some more planning in Omaha, Washington DC next up.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday Morning Meeting

I had another productive planning meeting this morning, the upshot of which is my main office chair no longer has arms, as the padding was gone leaving dangerous hard edges. Sometimes it takes a visitor to point out these little details.

Throwing the I Ching in unicode is appropriate build-up to the summer olympics, finally starting to come over the horizon, after lots of preparation.

Portland bills itself as part of the Pacific Rim economy (not a new idea), has a venerable old town, complete with Chinese Gate and Garden. The Japanese Garden is back up in the hills, part of the Washington Park complex (including the old OMSI, now Childrens Museum). Tibet Spirit has recently moved to better digs, right on the main section of Hawthorne, nearer to Cat's Meow.

I've been taking Tinkerbell on my 20 mile loop some, though the I-205 bike path is all torn up again, owing to new track going in (light rail extension).

Tink is my alter ego of sorts, kind of heavy, like me. I'm planning to get a sleeker sportier model at some point, but only as an addition to my stable, not as a replacement. Pedaling Tink around town has definitely been good for me, and I thank her for that.

I filed both state and federal tax forms yesterday, the personal income stuff electronically, the partnership return by snailmail to Ogden, Utah. I still need to pay my Trimet tax.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

sa: @ 25

:: swag ::
My thanks to the law firm which hosted me, a Saturday Academy instructor, at the annual fund raising event at the Oregon Zoo today (my donation on Visa).

We heard two very heartfelt speeches, one from a daughter who'd discovered her love of chemistry, having worked with a pro, a Sister on faculty at the University of Portland, and one from a proud dad reflecting on his son, who'd not been challenged in high school, but who found in computer science a real calling, again thanks to Saturday Academy's internship programs.

Still high off Pycon Chicago, I came with some swag, which I distributed strategically at our table.

Speaking of Python, said language is much in the news this morning, as Google is unveiling its new beta engine for building webapps.

I've joined the ranks of developers, have plans to serve my little CGI script for the I Ching, more as a demo of Unicode than anything, and to finish getting 4D Studios booted in this intriguing new context.

Anyway, everything is very Pythonic in this new Google- engineered environment.

Taxes look easy enough this year, but I'm still collecting the data and paperwork from various computer systems scattered around.

Dawn's bookkeeping savvy in this area is greatly missed, but it's not like she never showed me the ropes.

Portland's emerging open source business community has been supportive as well, in terms of providing advice and free auditing.

:: statistics ::

Saturday, April 05, 2008

National Math Standards?

The idea might sound attractive at first blush, but consider the dampening effect of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, when it comes to experimentation and innovation, learning from others' mistakes.

As a Quaker, I've learned from my elders that "knowing experimentally" is a key way we know. We need to tentatively feel our way ahead by trial and error, not in response to some edict from on high.

The freedom to forge our own way as a faculty is therefore a cornerstone liberty. That doesn't mean we reinvent every wheel. But neither do we allow just any wheel to be imposed by outsiders. We're very selective in what we import.

Making every teacher teach to the same set of tests is potentially another form of tyranny, a practice worth of subverting, should the source of those tests itself not pass muster in some critical way.

Any mention of MITEs, A & B modules? We American Transcendentalists have a right to at least ask. As a tiny minority we have our heritage to preserve, our children to look after.

Shouldn't our tax dollars count for something? Why must any family living in a geodesic dome almost by definition have to home school, because our geodesic math is precluded from ever propagating widely under our current form of idiocracy?

If we all make the same mistakes, redundantly, we've imperiled our overall efficiency as a nation. What happened to states' rights and every state is a laboratory?

Concentrating control over curriculum standards should be a right winger's worst nightmare (another government gone crazy, control freaking out). So is it we liberals who're clamoring for 'em? Not me.

Why should bureaucrats in Washington D.C. busy themselves with math teaching as one of their special jurisdictions? No founding document gives 'em such responsibility or authority.

Thinking every kid should be on the same page on the same day, within some state approved curriculum, is holdover clock fetish aesthetics, a degraded form of Taylorism, nothing to
celebrate from a contemporary management perspective.

Let's not even start down that path, OK?

Followup:
Some comments @ Math Forum (April 6, 2008)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wanderers 2008.4.1

Last night's open session was well attended and highly animated.

I admit to stirring the pot, still pumped from all the fan mail I'm getting in the aftermath of my futuristic talk in Chicago.

I fell back on old habits and started trash-talking Abbott's Flatland again, a manifesto of the hypercross dogmatists, even though we have no such dogmatists in our midst, only competent engineers and mathematicians, intelligent laymen.

Aldona's book with the poem by James Clerk Maxwell may also have fanned the flames a bit. Here's an excerpt:
March on, symbolic host! with step sublime,
Up to the flaming bounds of Space and Time!
There pause, until by Dickenson depicted,
In two dimensions, we the form may trace
Of him whose soul, too large for vulgar space,
In n dimensions flourished unrestricted.


To the Committee of the Cayley Portrait Fund
Anyway, I'd intimated ahead of time I'd be open to presenting on my experiments with the I Ching and Unicode. Lynne showed up proclaiming the prospect of a formal presentation is why she came so long a distance, whereas Steve likes the unprogrammed format, specifically because there's no designated speaker.

I suggested as a compromise that we borrow from Python culture and open the floor to "lightning talks," emphasizing how all important is that five minute time limit. Or do Wanderers want to jigger with the formula? Maybe go for ten?

Actually one can say a lot in five minutes if one is well prepared, so that's what I'd suggest to Tacoma and Eugene.

So I got to do my lightning talk, mostly at the white board, saying more about Unicode than the I Ching. Seven, then eight bit American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) has been subsumed as Latin-1 within a context of 114,112 symbols, with room for future growth.

Even the I Ching's 64 hexagrams (themselves in a binary tree), have allotted slots in this codespace, though not every font will bother to include them as glyphs.

Whereas UTF-32 is a fixed-width 4-byte standard, UTF-8 and UTF-16 are both variable width, meaning they lead to more economical file sizes. All three schemes address the same codespace.

Python 3.x source files default to UTF-8.

Dick's lightning talk followed mine, and had to do with urban forestry solutions to the growing asthma problem among school children, especially those close to freeways. I thought his arguments were well reasoned and on target.

We could also drive on freeways less, and/or use different fuels.

I'm channeling my futurism in other directions now, back to my usual venues. Like on Synergeo today, regarding some supposedly authoritative web site: "Still not a space-filling MITE, nothing about the unit volume tet and how that rationalizes other polys -- after more than 30 years. If you need proof that we live in a corrupt, intellectually slovenly society, you've got it." (#39145)