Thursday, December 31, 2009

Entering Y2K + 10

:: mom in whittier ::

Part of my work today was digging through old invoices remembering what I did for Urban League, Vision Northwest, Clackamas and Multnomah counties, Ecotrust, Northwest Regional China Council... all those varied and interesting nonprofit agencies.

I'm fortunate to have a Visual FoxPro database with that historical material.

I got a kick outta being "Foxpro guy" all those years, coding up a storm, writing applications. Working with heart people was pretty exciting.

My daughter has been learning her local geography better. When I was her age, Rome was my challenge, and I thank that city for its kindness to children in those days, including to visiting foreigners like me.

Sometimes (rarely) I mentally ride pieces of bus routes 26 and 55, two of those near our family abode, close to Piazza Ungheria on Viale Parioli.

So yes, it's a day of looking back, over more than just the one year.

Looking forward, I found myself defending what should need no defending: the relevance of hexadecimal numbers in our digital age.

I'd like to think we were getting more done, making some headway, but really how could that be? Here we are in 2010 (in most time zones) and math teachers are still debating whether base-16 is relevant? What about ASCII and Unicode? Anything?

Koski, Sam and I were surfing through chemistry by email, though on different wavelengths.

I was also thinking about Ron Resch, who slipped away from us this year. His daughter's name was Tara too. I was fortunate to get to know him and collaborate a little, towards the end of his life.

My late wife's step dad Arthur Dix, a beloved father to her, also died just a few days ago. I've been thinking of him and Gail.

Congratulations to Chris and Larry on their new grandchild.

Thanks to the Linus Pauling connection, Sam and I are immersed in discussions of icotwinning and Mackey shells, per this web site (I've since returned those borrowed tomes).

A material commonly able to assume the cuboctahedral fcc in a restful state (like a yoga position) will sometimes go into a rotationally five-fold symmetric icosahedral shape under stress, like if it's really tiny and surface tension becomes more a controlling factor (as happens at the nano scale).

I get into some related science in my 1991 Synergetics: the Invention Behind the Inventions:
Chemists have been able to generate icosahedral clusters of atoms by forcing xenon gas through a nozzle at high pressure. The xenon clusters, which spontaneously form as the gas cools, consist of concentric icosahedral shells - named Mackay shells after crystallographer Alan Mackay. The total number of atoms in such clusters is expressed using the familiar synergetics formula:

N = 1 +SIGMA(10F2+ 2)

Or, alternatively, one may derive:[2]

N = (10/3)F3+ 5F2+(11/3)F + 1

This icosahedral cluster growth pattern cannot be maintained indefinitely out to any frequency however. At some point, it jitterbugs to release pent-up stress and relaxes into alignment with the isomatrix to become a stable crystal. As Dr. Bjornholm of the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen puts it: "The point is that hard spheres cannot really be packed into the icosahedron... The spheres have to be soft... As a result a strain builds up in the cluster and at some stage it becomes favourable to release the strain through a rearrangement of the atoms leading to the familiar cuboctahedral structure of the macroscopic crystal."[3] The jitterbug transformation has been discovered in nature.

Woo hoo, I'm the life of the party, cutting and pasting dry chemistry on a day of kissing and celebration. Hey, it takes all time zones.

Happy New Year everyone.

:: dad and sister, 1977, China ::

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Math Teaching in Portland

:: a mini-course for teens ::

Sam and I served as co-teachers for our own kids last night, walking our talk as geometry teachers. Where does Flextegrity fit in, what's its context?

We pulled up the website on an XO (One Laptop per Child) to set the theme: design science, livingry (the opposite of killingry), making the world a better place.

One of the teens brought his high school geometry book to class. Was R. Buckminster Fuller anywhere mentioned? He checked the index. Yes, Fuller is given sidebar treatment on a page with a tetrahedron in one of the exercises (coincidence?).

We learn that Fuller is the "poet and philosopher" behind the geodesic dome, and yet there's zero information about his synergetic geometry, what he'd consider most relevant to teenage geometry students.

I covered some basics of space-filling, "tessellations in 3D", focusing on the rhombic dodecahedron of volume 6 (relative to our unit tetrahedron). Yes, the cube (volume 3 in our hierarchy), is likewise a space-filler. Regular tetrahedra (volume 1) fill space in complement with octahedra (volume 4) to form the octet-truss (a space frame or lattice). Our minimal tetrahedral space-filler, the Mite (volume 1/8) may be used to assemble all of the above (except the unit tetrahedron is just A modules, volume 1/24).

These whole and simple fractional volumes help kids tune in and stay connected, help them track. Mnemonics matter, provide a mental glue for cohering concepts. The concentric hierarchy is a pedagogical breakthrough, a life line, yet has almost no footprint in today's mass produced paper textbooks (why?). This explains our compulsion to supplement. We're an ethnic minority, a subculture, hoping to keep our flame alive and pass the torch to future generations.

The aforementioned octet-truss, variously named in the literature (CCP, FCC or IVM per Fuller) is a focus in many sciences. Flextegrity uses it as a backdrop, extending a purely geometric concept with real world materials (the difference between pre-frequency and frequency in Fuller's philosophy). There's a background / foreground relationship. Alexander Graham Bell was another original pioneer in this domain.

Sam covered tension and compression as co-occurring in any structure. He wanted to communicate the load-bearing responsibilities of real materials at different scales. He had assembled a tensegrity for this purpose, given how it isolates tensile and compressive elements. Kenneth Snelson of Oregon, Black Mountain College... he wove the historical tapestry, adding threads from his own life where appropriate (he'd studied under Joe Clinton while a poor student in New Jersey -- I'd forgotten that, even though by coincidence I had one of Joe's CDs in my bag).

Our kids were not expected to sit passively through all this. They ran the camera, interjected observations. Sam and I plied them with questions, solicited feedback. Our time was limited though, so no hands-on modeling, computer programming, video editing -- maybe some other time. This wasn't part of some grand scheme or plan, was more a spontaneous get-together. It's not like we have a private school on the side.

How might we encourage more teachers to join us in adding a more user-friendly spatial geometry to their toolkit? Here's a golden opportunity to augment and surpass stagnant standards, to innovate and pioneer. Oregon aspires to grow its high tech economy. Effective pedagogy is critical to realizing this dream. How might we signal a green light then? What wheels need to turn?

My other props included a Fuller Projection, CubeIt and Ball of Whacks. The latter two are useful for discussing further modular dissections of space-filling polyhedra. The concepts aren't difficult with the right mix of graphical and lexical. Going back and forth, between "left and right brain" is another aspect of load-balancing. Mathematics is imaginative.

Speaking of imaginative, the teens had all seen Avatar, more than once in some cases. We agreed that our tetrahedral geometry might be considered Na'Vi, the ethnicity under siege in that movie. That would go with our "geometry of nature" theme. Or just call us Earthlings, hoping to save our ship.

My thanks to crew member LaJean for a healthy vegan meal and insights regarding the power of hidden persuaders. She has a doctorate in nutrition and health, is also an authority on textiles and fabric, is able to sew together anything from a tent to a tuxedo. As I perused 4D Timelock after class (Fuller's early barrage of shelter-related writings), Sam and LaJean discussed Fuller's possible over-reliance on rationality, on reason, as a chief motivator.

Marshall McLuhan, Vance Packard... TV provides a window into the collective unconscious, sews the seeds of self-fulfilling prophecies. You'll find lots of readable tea leaves on TV, with even more on the Internet. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eternal Recurrence

Design Science Tableau
design science tableau
(click for Photostream view)


I'm back at Duke's hanging out with assorted characters. What impresses me most is it's 52 degrees Fahrenheit or thereabouts, feels colder, even though I'm wearing layers.

Lindsey, with fewer layers and a cold, is toughing her way through a partial set.

I'm the old guy in this picture, reading works by younger men: an articulate 15 year old on the Math Forum (my daughters age); a poorly formatted yet thoughtful essay by Aaron Tabor, on the similarities between Nietzsche and Blake.

I brought some props, took some pictures, polished recent blog posts, adding links.

Chris and I talk about high desert Oregon, where he's traveled some, including by hopping a freight. Shades of Wendy and Lucy. He likes Applegate, Oregon.

Back at the ranch or whatever, cell call from Koski. He's steeped in molecular biology these days, wanted to yak about the Williams versus Fuller meanings for A and B particles. The Williams B contains an A, if you wanna look at it that way. The B, A and T of equal volume (1/24) is pretty clean. That being said, the Williams way makes plenty of sense (Koski's point), has its grounding in history.

I went on to tell about Gregor's contribution, in connection with my so far only one sample lesson plan for Martian Math (marketing's idea). Students use Python or other language (Logo?) to have a turtle draw the plane nets. Gregor's for the T was elegant and to the point.

MPG wrote awhile back asking about using this stuff in Detroit. I pointed to that sentence about metal stamping. Cars are like metal origami. We're using plane nets for A, B and T modules as stand ins, excuses to focus on, this kind of machine work:
Materials: No matter what your local construction material, perhaps paper, perhaps imaginary and/or computer generated, consider metal stamping and folding a possible topic. How are car bodies made? Watch some YouTubes or listen to machinists describe their metal work.

Does your school have its own metal working shop or perhaps sources of clay? Paper is not the only option. You may wish to recycle already manufactured parts in some lessons, not construct from raw materials.
Although it's late, I'm on kitchen duty where the beans are concerned. I already had a plan for some talking head tapes (sorrows of empire type stuff). However, POV-Ray is calling. I need to render what Koski sent me, get into the VRMLs. vZome (virtual Zome) outputs in both formats and I've been touting it as a school-friendly. Some of the outputs are still on the pathological side though.

Some kindly Mormons came by today, lent me their book with a specific passage to read. I okayed the mission, will follow up next week.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Homily

This could well be my imagination, however my impression is the seasonal "peace on earth, good will to all mankind" rhetoric has been subdued and scaled back this year.

Most people aren't thinking like Freeman Dyson, that 2010 would be a great year to cut way back on those nukes, as another step towards their eventual elimination.

Speaking of rhetoric, as a practicing geek I've sampled a kind of "world domination" talk in these blogs and elsewhere (e.g. at Grunch dot Net -- which I'm in the process of moving today).

I'm seeing where this self spoofing nod to some inner drive or motivation might be misconstrued as an endorsement of unsustainable lifestyles based on militarism and/or brute force, especially to the casual reader.

Let me just say again for the record that "world domination" and "self mastery" are the two sides of this coin, and true "jihad" (as a spiritual discipline) means working together for a world less cruel, nurturing an internal psychology well suited to this purpose.

Neither nationalism nor racism are in the driver's seat here.

Peaceful co-existence is the name of the game, which to my way of thinking involves many flourishing civilizations, with people free to explore their shared planet, heritage, global university, promised land.

Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are some of the themes here.

If you find a subculture that reflects your values and heart's desires, see about joining and becoming an insider. A "subculture" might be a religious group, a company, a cult, a tribe, an art colony... an extended family. Of course we've already joined in the world game playing right from the get go, by virtue of being born.

Diversity, not uniformity or mono-culture, is what to nurture and respect even as we work within one set of non-humanly contrived universal principles or "laws" (such as we investigate in science).

I apologize to my readers if I've not been clear enough before, about where I stand. My interconnected world-readable writings, video clips etc. are what I call my curriculum. I'm some kind of teacher engaged in work/study, and people will want to know what kind, especially if they think I might be influential in some way. What flames am I fanning? Whose politics do I espouse? Even if nobody is asking these questions, it's up to me to have some answers.

I'm also acutely aware that we feel trapped within institutions not of our own design or choosing. We fill prisons to overflowing, struggle in poverty, suffer under oppressors. Hopelessness and despair stalk the planet.

Religion and science are not eternally opposed. Intelligence and ingenuity are chief assets of our species. We have the ability to design new institutions, invent new roles for ourselves, stage different dramas. Our technologies work together in ways not anticipated by these components in isolation. "Compassionate engineering" is not an oxymoron.

Feeling called
by our deeper nature or higher selves is what many identify as a religious sense of God's will. Others think in terms of evolutionary pressure or the fury of being. We needn't all use the same language. It's a sign of strength that we don't.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Real and Rational Numbers

:: vZome: octa + 1/4 tets by D. Koski ::

Today's triangle, one of them, was the Wittgenstein list and Math Forum. True, the reforms aren't that radical in the sense of sudden. This was a slow phase-in and got going long before I started tracking. Like when Arthur Loeb was writing Remarks on Some Elementary Volume Relationships... in 1965, I was still in Portland, just starting on New Math in 1st or 2nd grade.

We've got plenty of stuff on-line by now. Google Books has a lot of the Peter Pearce book, which I'm borrowing from Flextegrity Inc. What a gold mine.

The pace has been glacial, which is maybe reassuring. Geological time is cosmic time, so maybe it's more likely to stick?

My suggestion to Bill Marsh, who was following cues from Dr. Wu, was to handle real irrationals and rationals as a part of the same Uru-like vista and (this part is new) to use our wholesome whole number volumes tables to motivate the rational part, the discussion of fractions.

:: vZome: 1/24th of 1 ::

Historically, we've not had much option to toss around non-rectilinear blocks with volumes like 1/8, 1/24, 1, 4, 6. Our "wrong angle" family has been more out of sync, out of sight out of mind, with relatively intimidating irrational volumes. I'm among the first generation of math teacher able to avail of this new pedagogical tool, complete with world-readable literature, toys, kits, computer animations, even a world map.

The real numbers discussion, including incommensurability, would be with reference to the edges or vectors, with lots of surds, phi, sqrt(2). Associating number and length is primal, many authors agree.

Discovering the diagonal of a square is not a ratio of two integers was a big Greek achievement. In our own age: the discovery of chaos, even in the Newtonian realm, might be of parallel magnitude. So using a cube's edges to anchor this history of the irrationals is already the way it's done. We're not rocking any boats by staying with sqrt(2) and phi distances. Jay Kappraff's Connections: The Geometric Bridge Between Art and Science , as does Glenn Stockton's stuff.

The suggestion from Dr. Wu, with which Bill Marsh agreed, was to get the number line going earlier, even before fractions, as "measuring numbers". There's an interval based approach, pinning a number down by zig-zagging in, using binary biting.

The other scene graph
was about local institutions. I tossed my hat in the ring (again) as this curriculum writer with a website named Oregon Curriculum Network. Lots of Python stuff, also some J. Free and open source software, with a math teacher's bias (I used to be one, St. Dominic Academy in NJ). There's also some precedent for the Martian Math stuff.

I also mentioned ISEPP in my Math Forum column, as a source of opportunities. Example: my academic discount on that first international conference on buckminsterfullerene, thanks to some official letterhead. That wasn't such an easy trip, driving to Santa Barbara and back, however it was a great adventure. I still remember that German chemist I hung out with.

Another opportunity: the recent field trip to ONAMI, thinking back to the field trip and the Zome kit I saw there, for making a Buckyball -- like going full circle. Pearce had his own most excellent connector kit, which I seem to recall using or at least seeing a few times.

This got me talking about Scott Vorthmann's vZome and Dave Koski's latest art. The quarter tets on the octa faces, giving the rhombic dodecahedron, is one of my favorites (up top).

Dave is quite attuned to the fact that a left A-module might get different edge colors in vZome when turned inside out. From a Synergetics perspective, this is less than ideal, given the left A and the right A both have the same edge lengths. Something to do with the hubs? The software allows

Brian posted an impassioned contribution to our Wanderers archive. He's an ecologist with a conscience, sometimes disappointed by the politics buffeting our commons. I've been in there with my math teacher hat, seemingly preoccupied with remote esoterica. Polyhedra? WTF.

In the physical therapy waiting room, I read most of that New Yorker article about Georgia, the one in the former Soviet Union. Pretty amazing stories. I also met Peter Ford that day, me thinking like a Pacific Rimmer, yakking about politics.

PPRC just called, 1 AM. Punishment Park, by Peter Watkins, is cued up, an ultra-dark product of the tumultuous Vietnam years. I might review it later. Watched the director's intro. Few venues show this film.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Philosophy of Mathematics

Multiplication

I've done some followup on the Wittgenstein list I frequent, hoping to get some wheels turning. Our current crew doesn't seem predisposed to discuss philosophy of mathematics all that much. No wait, JPDeMouy is keeping it going. That's wonderful!

I introduced the above figure as akin to something we might find in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. It relates to how Fuller's philosophy uses triangles and tetrahedra to model area and volume.

Here's an excerpt of something I wrote for Lionel, another long treatise on the meaning of dimension in Fuller's writings, a topic in which I've specialized:
In Fuller's namespace, we go with 4D for the tetrahedron because of its pronounced fourness. When you draw the XYZ three, as the corner of a room, you think of another facet between you and the apex (the room corner) making four walls. That could be a symbol of the wall behind you, if your viewpoint is inside. Either way, the 3-ness of XYZ is considered incomplete, an inadequate expression of two complementary sets of three, the two zig zigs of a tetrahedron. Which is where he gets his six.

I think we maybe get worried and anxious with these alternative uses because we feel this might call into question some authority to use all our favorite math tools, such as XYZ coordinates, trigonometry, who knows what else. I think this is an unfounded stress reflex, as there is no challenge at that level. Useful tools are useful tools. You wouldn't have had free Linux without free C.

That worry may be projected such that we see someone like Kirby trying to single-handedly replace centuries of math and physics in one fell swoop (fat chance of that happening). I'm not trying to do that. I'm looking for a modest place in the sun for precious heritage we need to protect and nurture. Do US Marines know how to build domes any more? Does anyone? Have we lost the ability to build domes? Know of any big new ones, of the geodesic variety?

Call me conservative, but I'd like to keep these advances alive, don't take for granted that we will, given all the backsliding.
Given Synergetics is difficult and not typically assigned as reading-for-credit in any department, my little tempest in a teapot is ipso facto esoteric, something I often reflect on. Widening this circle would help a lot, ergo my going among academic philosophers, seeking converts to the cause (more world game players).

Tara opted out of the annual Solstice Party, hosted by good Bridge City Friends. We've been off the radar a lot; no other kids going.

What amazed me about the weather reports last night (CBS News) is the inflexibility of our car culture. The storms might be terrible, the risks rather high, yet the option of rescheduling, rewriting the script on the fly, seems even more dangerous somehow. Those dreams must come true. The airlines are smarter, with safety a chief concern. They simply cancel. Yes holiday plans are changed, that's what it means to have weather, an environment.

The word "hell bent" comes to mind, and I'm not thinking this with an aloof or superior attitude, as I'm also known to be stubborn to the point of foolhardy sometimes. Plus I realize that weather is sometimes surprising. One would have gladly stayed home, armed with advance notice, but even our best weather models have a strictly limited time horizon.

Those stories were east coast, like from I-77 in Virginia. People needed their National Guard.

Our weather in the Pacific Northwest is relatively balmy, although it's good those sleeping bags for the homeless were military grade and rated to go below freezing.

We're transporting appliances relating to food preparation to a start up community kitchen this evening. I have a small refrigerator no one is using, other household items. Uses of the company car tend to be utilitarian these days, counting doctor and physical therapy trips. I am fortunate to have stores within walking distance. Many people have lifestyles dependent on owning a car. I'm one of those people, am a part of the car culture.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Recruiting Philosophers

I upgraded my Ubuntu at Lyric, staying with Jackalope but getting all the latest patches. That knocked out my wifi again, eliminating the proprietary device driver. Getting that back required jacking in with a cable.

I'm making appeals to Wittgensteinians for some help with the Martian Math curriculum. People are giving me a hard time for showing off some innovative mathematics that's basic enough to impact classroom teaching. Readers of this blog know what I'm talking about.

There's no hostile takeover planned. What I sometimes call Gnu Math is not about attacking our core beliefs. On the contrary, as William Bennett once explained, it's already like an enemy has invaded, dumbed us all down. Casino Math and related modules aim to preserve our core heritage.

But it's the Martian Math that they're more worried about. Supermarket Math looks very Chamber of Commerce. Fine, we add some SQL, long overdue, fine we talk about web frameworks some, makes sense.

Martian Math takes us into nanotechnology, biotechnology, crystallography, has that high tech look and feel. It's more hexagonal and 60-degree based than rectilinear.

The question on many a teacher's mind is whether it's safe to introduce Martian Math to Earthlings. Will the effects be disruptive, deleterious? Those who've exposed themselves to this material seem to turn out OK. Indeed, many have developed impressive portfolios, gone on to make names for themselves.

So the question in my mind, in contrast, is whether it's safe to leave Earthlings as much in the dark as we do. The question is rhetorical, as I share Bucky's existential commitment to keeping options open where utopia vs. oblivion is concerned.

A strong philosophy department, able to steer teachers clear of their confusions, might lead to peaceful co-existence and more technology jobs for Oregonians.

That's where the Wittgensteinians come in, some of the stronger philosophers out there. They could teach us about language games, about the foundations of mathematics, about giving different "forms of life" their place in the sun.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More World Game

Long time readers know that I regard "Casino" to mean "large meeting hall" like a movie theater in Avalon (Catalina). No gambling may occur, yet there's always a risk in going out, sitting next to someone, so life is a gamble. This is not such a quirky spin, is actually closer to the dictionary meaning.

I bring this up because I imagine transitioning an experimental casino from one form of game playing to another, while keeping quite a bit of the same infrastructure. The arcade or video game palace is another influence (Avalon on Belmont).

Imagine playing a game of skill and being able to donate your winnings to invisible children somewhere in need of your help. There'd be some real circuitry here, thanks to data banks like Facebook and Paypal. You might pick your recipient, your game, and then play. Do you want your track record made public? You have that option.

What kind of games you ask? They might make you smarter. They might be recruiting commercials of some flavor, or even counter-recruiting commercials. People have choices about how they spend their time, whether to play any games at all. Video arcades seem oppressive to some. Not all games require video.

Because this model offers players a way to track their donations, there's an atmosphere of shopping for worthy outfits, getting more bang for the buck. Some dynamite nonprofit that really gets the job done (e.g. ONAMI) will bathe donors in reflected glory. Who knows how to pick winners? That's part of the game. Many gems in this ocean.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pep Talk to a Math Teacher

A math teacher was concerned that polyhedra might not be relevant, as a mathematical topic, for elementary, middle and/or high school students. Here's an excerpt from my reply, promoting the Bucky stuff in particular (a focus of the Synergeo e-list this comes from):

Maybe don't start with the Greek idea of polyhedra.

Recognize that we're talking about space in general, i.e. the right brain, i.e. the visual imagination, as well as one's spatial abilities with tools, such as airplanes. Any four non-coplanar points define a tetrahedron or more generally, any four events. In this sense, they're inescapable.

Thinking coherently about volume, space, the relationships therein, involves thinking about the planet, stars, great circles. It also includes thinking about micro structures unseen by the naked eye. Not just crystal lattices but molecules of all kinds, viruses etc.

In building up spatial fluency, we have this backbone construct called the concentric hierarchy that's like a Swiss army knife of geometric relationships. You can anchor discussions about duals, relative volume, power law, space-filling, left and right handed, honeycombs, angle vs. frequency, and so forth. In other words, if a science teacher can simply take for granted that all these students have already internalized the concentric hierarchy, jitterbug included, then said teacher knows she or he doesn't have to start from scratch when explaining some architecture or chemistry.

This blog post might help as well:

http://mybizmo.blogspot.com/2009/05/show-me-polyhedra.html

Remember, it's not just any approach to polyhedra that you're promoting, but one that's supremely memorable, dense with information, and centered around the volume tables here:

http://mybizmo.blogspot.com/2009/12/another-rant.html

In today's environment, I think a selling feature would be that these students would join a tiny elite receiving information in this form. The link to Bucky could be explicit. They'd know about the map too, and about how they're privileged in knowing one of our great minds wanted us to focus on the electrical grids, how they're joining together and spanning the globe. A really cogent curriculum would be generous with such global data, but of course such data isn't that easy to come by, even on the Web. We're not in the habit of doing serious place-based education to begin with. You'd think Google would be into it. I should apply as their electric grid specialist and chief curriculum writer eh? They do hire curriculum writers I've noticed.

World Views
:: global studies class, Portland ::

Sunday, December 13, 2009

High Stress

My daughter was hit in the crosswalk, is OK though sore, bruised, went over the hood apparently. I have the name of the driver. She called me from her babysitting assignment, not from the scene of the crime. I'm shaken.

Thank you to the cast at Duke's Landing for just hanging out tonight. I showed Troy my Digital Math pages and talked to Mike D. about Ed Cherlin's knowing about some APL for the XO. Mike is interested.

Wave to Evelyn.

Patrick walked Tara home and we had a long talk in my driveway, Lindsey there too. I thank my friends for their support.

I'm glum about my career as a "Bucky stuff" teacher.

Let's get it on big screens in coffee shops and places, use it to sell stuff if we have to, call it advertising, pays for itself. Rah, rah.

Nah, that's too hard, we're too busy being Capitalists or whatever.

Good stuff though.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More PKL Talk

I coined Portland Knowledge Lab upon my return from London, where I got a tour of the London Knowledge Lab and gave a talk.

In that talk, I underlined the work I'd been doing for the Hillsboro Police Department through Saturday Academy, bringing a hopeful, less distopian future within reach of area youth.

The Sesame Street for adults meme was always central, an archive for collecting recyclable segments that'd feed a studious demographic, wanting to gain insights. The Intel-sponsored segments on chip fab would include peaks inside the plant, a few talking heads. There'd also be plenty on NAND and NOR gates, the kind of stuff Intel sponsored at OMSI, maybe does to this day.

Youtube has already provided a lot of infrastructure, as have the other streaming and archiving services. However, editing together shows with a theme, finding the right people, conjuring the right effects, takes management and creative vision, lots of overview. Who does Portland already have, that might coordinate this initiative?

ISEPP has long envisioned storing up videos on a server. Something like PKL could accept some of the edited segments, some gems, and mix these with content pouring in from other sources. Sponsors connecting their brands to this effort will be perceived as providing Portlanders with more opportunities to participate in building our technological civilization. Tourists will be amazed at the quality of our educational web sites and TV shows.

Glenn reminded me this morning that the civilian house icon of two walls, a floor, and a pitched roof, is likewise a five-edged affair, a pentagon. I guess that's why he was the NSA cryptographer guy: he sees patterns everywhere, and sometimes decodes them. Having Glenn for a math teacher would be like reading a non-fiction version of Neal Stephenson's Cyptonomicon.

Portland has a lot of artists and animation houses. The collection will be eclectic and "toony" (lots of cartoons). I'm hoping my Oregon Curriculum Network will be tapped, on the basis of a strong track record, for some of the material. I've got those hypertoons on Youtube, a genre still begging for more concerted development. Our Digital Math curriculum is brimming with timely and tastefully developed information and skills.

I've been casting about for sponsors overseas as well, hoping to make this a cosmopolitan effort.

Beyond having some intellectual capital, I'm not in a position to deep pocket the thing.

What's maybe kept me more off-line than I should be is my commitment to all this newfangled Bucky stuff. "If his approach were important we'd have learned of it by now" is the kind of chicken-egg thing I'm confronting. Probably only television has the power to turn things around and that's supposedly controlled by "the corporations" (or "the Grunch" as Fuller called our potentially philanthropic supranationals).

You'll note that math mavens tend to find positive things to say about Fuller and his work -- it's just there's no going into any detail about just what that work was, beyond his inventing a tear-drop shaped car, some rowing needles, and a house on a pole.

The concentric hierarchy is alluded to in the museum exhibits, but rarely gets the kind of crystal clear write-up I've been providing. There's some kind of cultural barrier to allowing this thinking a place in the sun. There's probably one simple word for it: nationalism.

What's the difference between nationalism and patriotism? That's for another post, but we're in the ballpark of allegiances and loyalties (like in Afghanistan). Nationalists are more willing to coast on past glories I think, are more in a mood to squander heritage than cultivate it. Patriots are closer to prophets, more likely to say the "wrong thing" and play a dissenting clown role (more like the court jester).

Certainly I'm on the side of boosting Portland's living standards by prototyping new lifestyles, thereby ending homelessness. Companies wanting to showcase new civilian tech should be invited to test market in our neck of the woods. Advertising should mean more than indulging in nostalgic imagery around unsustainable, unaffordable palaces, amidst fake cop and doctor shows that have nothing to do with building community. Kill your TV before it kills you?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Egyptian Room

I'm using AC (60 cycle) from behind the bar, shades of Cascadia, while Lindsey Walker, in a good mood tonight, sails through some pretty dark material (reflecting my own mood at the moment).

I posted a short history of Constructivism to Math Forum today and am promoting it here and there, even though I don't think it's very good. Why promote it then? Because I'm at least endeavoring to bring the story up to date, to register some awareness of where we are today. Most of the math teaching threads out there feel too antediluvian, just rehash whatever issues people feel comfortable rehashing, regardless of whether this activity has to do with inventing a shared future.

AFSC was on my radar today. We're on the lookout for a 501(c)(3) that might wire up to our PayPal donation button, given fundraisers in the pipeline. We have other options. Consistency with Quaker values is a must of course. Locally, for me, that involves two media campaigns: starvation == torture; stop loss == slavery.

The latter campaign may be short term as the practice was supposed to end in 2009 anyway.

Pretty much everyone recognizes that enslaving Americans while claiming to advance the cause of democracy overseas is too hypocritical to fly. Troop morale is undermined whenever the voluntary nature of military service is subverted by bureaucratic legerdemain. Any political party publicly in favor of such practices is endorsing human trafficking, thereby undermining its own legitimacy.

Quakers have a long tradition of assisting those impressed into military service involuntarily and so need to keep their principled objections operational.

The "starvation == torture" campaign is longer term and was launched in recognition of the fact that we have sufficient nutrients in principle to sustain our Global U student body. Food Services needs to get on it.

Starvation is a result of willful negligence and/or a broken university curriculum. An administration that puts up with starvation is an administration in name only.

Of course not everyone uses a "Global U" metaphor for Spaceship Earth. Most neo-liberals see Spaceship Earth as a vast Saturday Market wherein the right to live is something you "earn" through "good works" -- a Protestant mindset inherited from a European context. If there's no rewarding work to be done in your dead end refugee camp context, then hey, you lose, have no "net worth" to "the economy" (i.e. "the gods", "the power structures").

Don't ask me to justify this value system; I'm not its lawyer.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wanderers 2009.12.8

The geezers have gathered (sorry guys), to learn about economics.

Cascadia Wild's Maid Marian brought some marionberry pie last night and didn't tell anyone, so I'm gnoshing on a slice, sipping wine brought by Jeff Goddard, our computer systems guy with a Masters in international management from Portland State. He's in the process of turning himself into a hacker.

We're also graced with Joe Arnold the psychiatrist, Barry Redd the retired bank examiner and operations guy, Maris the electronics engineer, more of the usual suspects.

Our guest tonight is Cay Hehner, Director of Education for the Henry George School of Social Science. His dad commanded a German minesweeper during Second World War. His grandfather flew with the Red Baron.

He's glad the fascists lost and that we're not all goose-stepping, dead, or in camps.

He's studied the History of Ideas at the University of Berlin. He's been running the Henry George School in New York for the last six years, had a career as an investigative journalist before that.

His school offers free adult education classes in the basics of economics, cutting through a lot of the BS (economics is a topic especially hard to speak truth about).

The NYT business section announced the end of business as usual back in January. The Wall Street Journal has echoed with similar sentiments. In 2007, the housing bubble burst, leading to a credit crisis of a magnitude not before seen on the planet, followed by an election year.

Truth about the real depth of the recession started coming out in 2008. Given we're almost to 2010, the semantics would suggest the term "depression" is not out of line (recessions are short term).

The old world order of five worlds has crashed. 1st world: capitalism (LAWCAP); 2nd world: USSR, others behind the "Iron Curtain"; 3rd world: non-aligned nations (Brazil, India...); 4th world: breakaway regions falling outside the established nation-states (incipient states, like Basques, Kurdistan... Texas); 5th world: counter-cultural movements that challenge the first four (think anti-WTO groups at the Battle of Seattle, anarchists, buckaneers etc.).

Cay was one of the journalists covering the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Given the 2nd world has disappeared as of about 20 years ago, this five-worlds house of cards has fallen apart. The Russians are busy being capitalists while the USAers are nationalizing their industries to an unprecedented degree.

The Chinese are "free market communists" which would make Karl Marx "rotate in his grave" -- it's like turducken (one system inside another, or like Russian dolls). Basically, it's all just a lot of word salad these days.

The old framework (way of thinking) is just crap. Even if there's no "new world order" that people agree on, we at least know it's no longer the old one.

The new wars for world domination will be fought in cyberspace, in the virtual world. The theme is still resources of course (the preconditions of human life) but the edges are psychological and in the realm of computer science.

Resources are what satisfy the base of Maslow's Pyramid (like a food pyramid) and therefore have intrinsic value (whether or not they involve work, human labor).

The scientific consensus is there are sufficient resources to take care of humanity's primal needs, provided we make full and appropriate use of our know-how (technology, smarts). The oil is running out though i.e. this isn't about perpetuating bad habits developed around fossil fuels. Lifestyles will need to change, but that doesn't mean "for the worse". "More with less" means more quality of life, not more mindless wastefulness. If everyone tried to live like a currently well-off USAer, even ten Planet Earths would not suffice.

Cay sees Malthus as a "contract writer", a shill for the British aristocracy anxious about the USA and French revolutions (1776, 1789) and hired to write something to justify the enduring authority of a ruling class (1798). The world population was under a billion at the time, and he was already pushing the panic button. Per Fuller, and with the wisdom of hindsight, we see that canned food and refrigeration would greatly change his equations.

Wealth and money are not the same thing. Confusing the two is a source of a lot of craziness.

Way back in 1894, Henry George provided some analysis that might help us out of our spasmodic throes, our awkward responses to the breakdown of "first world" lawyer-capitalism. Per Ricardo's Law of Rent, you get high and low pressure areas (land values) like the weather. These fluctuations result in "financial winds" that might power the equivalent of energy-harvesting windmills.

Taxes from speculation that exploit these ever changing differentials, channeled to public good, leaves people free from taxes on their own labor ("income tax" = "highway robbery" in this system). These differentials are often societal to start with (land values go up because of an added subway line, or because the minerals were there in the first place -- no thanks to property owners -- or simply because of increasing population density) so it stands to reason that society should reap the benefits of its own public investments.

Cay and his colleague Jeff Smith, the Henry George experts in the room, applauded my last two paragraphs as an apt summary, so I'll take a bow as a perspicacious blogger.

Speaking of economics, I should probably just drop my health insurance, as it's all premiums for no benefits beyond a huge deductible. I can't afford normal health care because I'm gambling on getting hit by a bus or having a heart attack. Do other countries know how to provide? On math-teach I wrote:
I'm paying a huge premium for a huge deductible, think I should be allowed to shop overseas for better plans, with the local system (e.g. Providence) getting reimbursed from say Sweden or Russia (if that's where I buy my care).
Tara is healthy and I'm switching to a more vegan diet. If I opt out, it may be hard to opt back in again, even minus pre-existing conditions, but there's no USA-based solution on the horizon anymore (the USA seems effectively dead in that respect). Citizens making under $100K per annum have been effectively dispossessed, walled away from their heritage. Besides, my favorite family physician is fed up with my insurer. What's the point anymore?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Cascadia Wild

:: glenn's presentation, other stuff ::

Cascadia Wild had one of the biggest turnouts ever, according to natives. The bitter cold was not a deterrent. CW has headquarters here in the Pauling House, unlike Wanderers or the 4D Syndicate, which meet here but have no offices in the building.

This is an outdoorsy group, stows some gear in the basement.

I don't usually get to CW events (recalling the excellent avalanche talk), however tonight Glenn Stockton is here to discuss lapidary, aspects of Neolithic technology.

Pebble culture started around 1.5 million years ago: bang two rocks together to get a sharp edge. Add a hot fire and a hand ax and you've got a culture, about 1 million years ago. Having tools that make tools is the name of the game.

Tools, not weapons, are the primary thing to make. Don't forget musical instruments.

He's demonstrating what stones work on what other stones, is passing around examples of early money, from different regions. Spiny oyster and turquoise in the southwest. Other kinds of shell, antler, bone... tusk.

He's discussing the concoidal fractures associated with flint, obsidian, agate, jasper, a consequence of their crypto-cystalline structure.

He's brought a valuable collection of primitive artifacts (stone arrowheads, an impressive spearhead), in addition to some of his own work.

Early Neolithic is about 100K years ago, after Paleo and Mesolithic eras.

Cultures based around nets, for fish or small animals, have a different dynamic. Net-making and deploying is a relatively democratic business; almost anyone can play.

Even today, obsidian tips some of the sharpest surgical implements.

Stingray spines make cool tools, not to mention jewelry.

Glenn actually uses Neolithic tools he's found for production work. He practices with originals. He lived without electricity for a long time. His cats claw throwing stick is a wonderful piece of work. Hopi and Anasazi would use these implements.

From our interview earlier this morning, I know he started trapping mice at age four, moving up to moles by age six (these were family authorized activities). Here at the Pauling Campus, he's been after the raccoons.

I'm limping around having sprained my foot, maybe by walking so much over the weekend (which I enjoyed doing). The company car does very little besides necessary company business.

I did chauffeur myself here though, helping my foot.

But hey, this is a workshop in Neolithic Math in some dimensions (also Supermarket Math, given all this money), so I'm punched in, auditing one of our certified teachers, and documenting the event.

Speaking of school: Tara won two out of three of her debates. She's actually surprised. The one she lost was to a recognized champion so that made sense. She appreciated all three opponents for their obvious talent, wants to be better prepared for the next meetup.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

District Standard?

Legendary Concentric Hierarchy
original drawing by R.B. Fuller

concentric polyhedra

12-around-1 by Richard Hawkins


"relative volumes"
(Python + POV-Ray)

A & B modules by Richard Hawkins
(SGI workstation, early 1990s)

Rhombic Triacontahedron
rhombic triacontahedron
(click for more context)

Speech and Debate

Tara has just been briefing me on the Lincoln Douglas debate format, as practiced at debate tournaments around our state. She was at an all-day meet yesterday, up against some serious opponents. She's not a big fan of flow charts but encourages their mention as a part of one's argument, as that's what many judges are using. Also, good debaters give a road map up front, of the argument they're about to make.

Discussion turned to Afghanistan and the perennial "why are we there?" question. I told the story of a black sheep incensed at USA bases in proximity to Mecca, the Bin Laden construction firm, the use of this area as a staging ground, still the primary justification for ground operations today.

Per Gates
, "nation building" (as in "shoring up some central government in the context of some western-style democracy") is simply not in the cards. That's for the Afghanis themselves to work on, in a context wherein many don't begin with this country's very existence as a core precept, given the arbitrary hack job performed by quack imperialists at the end of their 113 year reign. Why believe in what's incredible, when you've got Allah for certain?

Per Walking With Nobby
, I'm of the school that there's no moral opprobrium attaching to the cultivation of pharmaceutical crops, the same decision reached by many a military commander, knowing the pain-ameliorating value of opiates etc. vis-a-vis the condition of soldiers under his command.

If there's ethnic or ethical weakness in this picture, it's in a culture or curriculum that doesn't practice substance control successfully, such as by over-criminalizing (as in the US), or by allowing the sale of tainted goods (no "truth in advertising" standard), by over-pricing, by over-permissiveness. Individuals make these same mistakes as well, and learn as they go (or fail to).

Lots of on-ramps to careers in health care, such as nursing, with a pragmatic approach to drug use, will help steer a population away from militantly counter-productive approaches to the medical supply chain, e.g. less terrorism against opium or cocaine growers on a hospital-like spaceship (Spaceship Earth).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Helping Vets

I just got one of those NGO calls raising money for disabled vets with spinal cord injuries. The implication was the government is doing rather too little to assist its people in need, and that vets need to go begging to the private sector, hoping for supplemental assistance.

To me, this is proof positive the government shouldn't be sending these people in the first place, given how little it does for them out the other end. Squandering soldiers for ill-defined plans is what the fight is about in the first place, what we need to stop doing.

Government benefits for veterans with such injuries should constitute full coverage with ample access by TV networks, Red Cross etc., for quality assurance purposes. A nation that keeps secrets about vet treatment is just as likely to keep secrets about torture overseas. Such a nation has been subverted by criminal syndicates (e.g. Al Qaeda, Mafia etc.), a cue for police action. Let's help our vets.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Doing Less with More

Scholarly Tome

I'm back at Laughing Horse Books in my chauffeur capacity. The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges is an interesting title. From the dust jacket: "The more we sever ourselves from a literate, print-based world -- a world of complexity and nuance, a world of ideas -- for one informed by comforting, reassuring images, fantasies, slogans, and a celebration of violence, the more we implode."

This reminds me of my text-drives-graphics posting, and my general sense of living in a time of intellectual slovenliness. It's really not president Obama's fault that Americans have become mental midgets. You go with the army you've got.

I've been thinking back to Madison Square Garden in 1979 (right?), an event I did not attend, where Bucky was telling us we needed to go with the tetrahedron over the cube. WTF?

You need a serious-minded intellectual culture to even engage in a discussion that metaphysically advanced i.e. it takes some setting up, some context. Who has the patience, the focus? Seeing The History and Mystery of the Universe might be a place to start (in DC next year), but doesn't television have a role to play?

When were the Discovery or National Geographic channels planning to get around to this chapter in our history? Probably never right? What's a tetrahedron anyway?

As I wrote in Synergeo earlier:
Of course many of the specialists aren't really able to follow the action that well, having next to no grounding in the basics. It's a kind of chicken-egg problem, as you can't see what the fuss is about until you take the time to study the battlefield and that's hardly encouraged by the antediluvians (what the battle is about: keeping Bucky obscure, the more obscure the better -- so art colonies are a worry, also museums, think tanks... glad we're on the right side of history eh?).
Alan Kay seemed somewhat skeptical that we'd have the brains, in this day and age, to reinvent something as amazing as TCP/IP. This was at our summit in London a few years back. As Dr. Susan Haack pointed out, there's no guarantee against backsliding. Kay might be right.

Per the thesis of Idiocracy, we may have been over-taken by over-specialization, reached some point of no return. Of course I don't want to believe that, why be such a defeatist? Perhaps we still have some aware zip codes out there? Nod nod, wink wink (to quote Monty Python).

Like we've got Trevor Blake, Dave Koski... other scholars of note. But if you look at what passes for math teaching... what a vast sea of mediocrity, with little uptake or manifest ability to adapt.

And what's up with Philosophy these days?

All this dim bulb activity doesn't keep 'em from raising tuitions I notice. "Less with more!" would appear to be the rallying cry in the gulag.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Meeting with Sam


Twas my good fortune, and Lindsey's, to hang with Sam Lanahan yesterday evening. His flextegrity invention has been a feature before in these blogs, as well as in my Photostream where I've chronicled additional meetings, including with Trevor and D.W. Jacobs (at this same fish house).

Back at his pad, Sam and I watched Monday night football (Saints winning against Patriots) in high def while discussing various matters. He's taking another shipment from China soon, a version 6 of his prototype.

Sam's work relates to Alexander Graham Bell's around the octet truss, as we later came to call it (based on Fuller's patent).

Whereas Bell's designs held the main hubs in place by rods running perpendicular to what would be their planes of inter-tangency -- were they to grow into space-filling rhombic dodecahedra -- Sam's 3-piece solutions hold the hubs together by more ingenious curvaceous arms, taut bands, other schemes of his own devising, none the less up to load bearing duties. Sam's hubs are icosahedral, not spheres, for maximal robustness.

Sam reminds me of Santa Claus, but with just the one toy, a good one, in many versions (and not really just a toy). So maybe one of Santa's elves?

Speaking of rhombic dodecahedra shrink-wrapping those IVM spheres, volume six each, I took Sam on a tour of some recent work on Wikieducator and edu-sig publicizing these T,E,K-modular studies, both in extended precision decimal and with turtle graphics (my thanks to Gregor in Vienna for help with the latter).

The T, you'll recall, has the same volume as the A and B modules, which assemble said space-filling dodecahedra. 120 Ts assemble the volume 5 rhombic triacontahedron (30 diamonds) which hugs the sphere more closely. I showed Sam that picture from Synergetics 2 about just how close the T's radius comes to 1 on the nose (he had his copy close at hand, good design scientist that he be).

Why we don't have more entertainingly technical shows on TV is beyond me. National Geographic channel is good, but their piece on DARPA (the Lockheed skunkworks in particular) was somewhat knuckle-draggy, the usual "deliver the payload to the enemy anywhere in the world within 20 minutes" shock and awe kinda stuff, ethnic and droll, nocturnal emissions from some sorry-ass empire (shoddy screen writing, bloated budget).

We should show more pride in civilian technology if we get around to an Oregon-based version. Outward weaponry is by definition dark ages, given the coolest killingry is all virtual by now (did I mention Les had climbed to within the top 200 on Evony, out of more than half a million players?). Cyberspace is where the action is.

I'm always revisiting the Bruce Adams nightmare around why civilizations fail (maybe ours in this way?). We get so secretive and paranoid about laymen and/or "the competition" getting a sneak peak at some insider view, that we keep a whole next generation in the dark, sometimes too much in the dark to have any hope for a positive future. They turn cynical and distopian, give up seeking rewarding careers, resort to fighting a losing game whereas it might have been more fun to advance this civilization (if given a real chance).

You won't recruit a new generation of engineers if you refuse to strut your stuff, show us what you've got, explain how it works to some enlightening degree.

Television works well for this. Maybe on a weekly schedule? ISEPP TV? Portland Knowledge Lab? Focus on our own industries, challenges, entrepreneurs. Tim's electric car. Nanotechnology. Fab. Martian Math Etc.

We'd need lots of technical toons, animations i.e. interesting clips for which the world has an appetite, a kind of advertising in some cases.

We should get busy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Make Sense or Money

USAers have this way of wanting to spend themselves out of poverty. This strategy has been on display in Afghanistan where troops perform as power shoppers in the various street malls (bazaars), irrigating the merchant class with Uncle Sam's dollars.

This proves a satisfactory arrangement in whatever city it's practiced (or so they tell us), it's just damned expensive, like a million dollars per troop per annum or something on that order. Beats shooting however, which accomplishes a lot less for a lot more.

In contrast is Kerala, in India (or so goes the anthropology) where the evidence suggests (not surprisingly) that talking matters out in a highly literate and informed manner is more likely the way to hammer out lasting agreements, ones that work better over the long haul, because there's simply no magic bullet that money might buy in most situations. Banking on some deus ex machina is not always the best strategy.

Getting USAers to engage in public debate is a tricky business however, as they're somewhat out of shape, a lot of 'em, having left matters to pundits for so long. Their so-called town meetings about health care proved to be PR disasters.

Civics is not taught
. Cynicism about government is encouraged, but without any knowledge of what that government even looks like. In the meantime, geeks have needed to roll their own, having been left to their own devices. FooCamp and BarCamp are where it happens, or at those "unconferences". Virtual cyber-nations have grown up all around us, are currently jockeying for position in a vast new Cyberia with plenty of drive space (shared memory).

College radio stations have not been replaced by as many college television stations, despite the promise of cable, leaving the Internet to pick up the slack where public debate is concerned.

There's not much diversity of opinion on the airwaves these days. There's a calcified left versus a calcified right, and not much flowing in the middle.

This multi-decade switchover to social networking channels (including email and usenet) is a major change and I'm not about to rush forward claiming to have all the answers. This isn't about me being a wisenheimer, last time I checked, even though I have my educated guesses.

My point is simply that our debate is taking new forms, given the roadblocks in some media, the prohibitions and inhibitions. If those were to disappear, then yet other forms of working through our differences might appear, regenerating our democracy (thinking of DemocracyLab some).

Spending one's way out of poverty is not a bad strategy if you know the fundamentals, which all have to do with solar energy (a kind of fusion energy) and our planetary solar gradient, the source of agriculture and that vast separation of gases associated with homeostatic life (so-called Gaia in mythic models -- in no way a stupid idea). So yes, you do have a steady energy boost from the cosmos, a fire hose to turn on your challenges.

However, the key is to design intelligent circuitry for that energy. Money "in the raw" (as in "millions and billions") is merely a symbol of brute force, potential energy, which in some lines of work merely signifies "bull headedness" i.e. spending sans IQ. The education system is supposed to pick up the slack here, by making the invisible hand less clumsy and goofy. "Market choice" is quasi-meaningless if "dumb and dumber" are your only two.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

TG 2009


:: thanksgiving 2009 ::

I meditate on karmic cycling this time of year, going through the winter tunnel.

Earlier times
blend with the present, foreshadowing times yet to be.

I think about my relationships, the people in my life, and I am grateful.

I-5 was not so rough going north. We enjoyed festive time with family, are now watching Winged Migration in Stillaguamish country. Mom and Tara joined me in maxi-taxi (the Nissan, shared with LW).

I am thankful for birds, for cats, for animals besides our kind (homo sapiens they call us, not always sure why).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ONAMI Tour


:: Wanderers @ ONAMI ::

A posse of Wanderers caravaned to ONAMI today, Oregon's nanotechnology headquarters, situated on the Hewlett-Packard campus in Corvallis, but belonging to Oregon State. ONAMI is a non-profit tenant in this building, charged with managing a state investment fund aimed at assisting startups taking advantage of new breakthroughs in materials science.

Robert D. "Skip" Rung, the president and executive director, took us into the Willamette conference room on the 2nd floor and gave us a sample of his various talks, the kinds of slides he shows to investor groups, politicians, researchers, fellow citizens. He puts a lot of emphasis on the green aspects of nanotechnology, countering public fears about unforeseen consequences and/or dual use applications. He mentioned "grey goo" explicitly, along with Bill Joy's fear-mongering.

I found it poetically appropriate that this building used to house Hewlett-Packard's famous ink jet technology skunkworks. Today's nanotech, a lot of it biomedical, is all about doing more with less, making individual atoms work harder. Sometimes you only need a very small amount of something, and at the nano scale, materials tend to be mostly surface area, relative to volume, so reactive atoms will have maximal exposure. Less waste equals more green, is one equation.

Another equation is keeping Oregon at the forefront in some niches, such as hemodialysis, filtration, imaging and so on. The design pattern here is fairly standard: intellectual capital is your surplus for bartering with others, so unless a region has unduplicated know-how, it has to compete in commodity manufacture which, given globalization, is more effectively outsourced.

Our group mostly played the role of the intelligent layman, bringing up those fears of unforeseen consequences. This was an easy topic to harp on, given our numbers. Skip was happy to spar a little, showing off his PR skills. Embryonic zebra fish, semi-transparent, provide a first set of case studies, when investigating the effects of a new nano-substance on a biological system.

We were too large a group to fit into any small spaces, mostly just took a brief look at the facility currently under construction. Windows on the 2nd floor look out over the floor space. This is not a place out of Andromeda Strain. Potential toxins will be handled with hoods (special handling boxes). The building is not under negative pressure or anything like that.

PNNL, a national lab with facilities in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, is turning out to be a major player here too. Various companies, like the hemodialysis one, will lease space, share equipment, in order to get their production processes more developed and tested. Bringing new materials and processes together, with an eye to commericalization, is what ONAMI is all about.

The conference room included an assembled buckyball made from the commercial Zome kit. I brought up my experience attending the first international conference on fullerenes in Santa Barbara and Dr. Smalley's "it's the yield, stupid" speech (alluding to a political meme at the time), which I wrote about in the BFI's TrimTab. Yield is still an issue of course: some of these nano-substances are quite expensive in pure form. However, you can get a veritable "dog's breakfast" of differently sized nanotubes of varying metals for cheap, Skip suggested.

Speaking of nanotubes, Skip speculated that they'd come in handy for improving the conduction of electricity over long distances, sooner than they'd be needed for that space elevator people sometimes yak about.

If I were cluing high schoolers about this content, I'd harp on my HP4E meme (hexapents for everyone), named for Guido's CP4E. Synergetics, in focusing on natural geometries, is a goldmine of relevant visuals, good for advertisers, animators with a focus on biomedical and materials science ala Zome.

I wrote this account in Steve Mastin's car on the way back to Portland. We encountered an early rush hour (this day before TG), ended up taking Sellwood Bridge instead of Marquam or Ross Island. Glenn Stockton was sitting behind me. I read the draft back for comment, tweaked it a little. Some of us regathered for lunch at Thanh Thao. Don Wardwell phoned me later, to request I post about Jon Bunce doing a concert at Terwilliger Plaza on Friday night at 7:30.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A New Quadrivium

Calling it that ("a new quadrivium") is somewhat cheeky, which could backfire, however, be that as it may, I do have this cool new "math tetrahedron" developing along four inter-related tracks:
None of these are especially new themes with me. What's new is getting a fused package committed to Wikieducator.

In combination, this four-fold approach might be adjudged to contain sufficient discrete math content as to qualify as a four year track through some arbitrary high school, and/or might be notched up for college, refresher courses for working pros.

Given the high technology angle, these could likewise become comfortably familiar vehicles for introducing new skill sets around the latest cool new tool suites, many of them free and open source.

Today's web framework may not be quite like tomorrow's, yet "supermarket math" will likely remain a viable delineation of connected topics, likewise the other three.

Having one of the modules be named Casino Math is a PR risk, and the teacher notes are full of caveats and disclaimers. Martian Math is probably less controversial.

In both cases (Casino and Martian), we aim to avoid being too prosaic and dull, an important feature where math is concerned, considered a dreary subject by many a world weary student.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friendly Business

Influential Tome
:: a childhood favorite ::

I showed up with the ostensible purpose of delivering mom, who is running an informational meeting on FCNL today (in progress).

Barb Frank roped me in on the middle and high school education program, lots of other adults present, wondering if we might use the meeting wifi to show that little Youtube rap song, filmed in Pendle Hill.

I was happy to oblige and Betsey (our clerk) was right there to approve the activity. Unfortunately, our Internet connection proved shaky, so I was only able to show it to Ben Selker at low volume in the office (he'd not seen it), then it cut out (now it's back, go figure).

Ben and I are also connected through the Music Scene on SE Belmont.

Next came signing cards to a list of people Oversight had singled out (Overseers around a coffee table encouraging others to join us), a meeting with Megge V. on the topic of Quarterly Meeting Planning (she's nominating chief), and with Diane H., who gave me her QPC binder.

My objective, working with Megge, is to find a clerk in their 30s willing to work with our committee on staging Fall Quarterly right here in Portland (all three days and two nights) in 2010. We shall see.

I updated Annette Carter regarding my collaboration with a socialist revolutionary, trying to figure where my techno-occult gets an API. Am I petty bourgeois bucking to become less petty?

My view is both capitalist and socialist societies package celebrities, have their movie stars, rock stars, astronauts, engineers -- judge a culture by its role models. In other words, there's no ideological contradiction in wanting one's show business to transcend the various ideologies (a trait shared with many religions).

Aside: Trevor's scholarship in the area of systematic ideology is probably where I should focus, in terms of bridging these diverse communities. Pauling House is only tinged in this matter, in the sense that I go there, although Glenn Stockton fits the bill (joined me at Esozone, appreciates Laffoley). I'd implicate Quakers more deeply though, for their American Transcendentalist connections, a gothic bridge.

Frank Carter and I discussed Martian Math in some detail. As a geologist, he's of course familiar with lattices, the vocab of gemstone collectors, crystallographers, medical device manufacturers.

Casino Math
:: casino math ::