Monday, June 29, 2009

Brief Vacation

:: biosphere 2, photo by Pierre R. Schwob ::

Unlike a school teacher with summers off, I'm more into sporadic breaks, a sort of "cat nap" approach, though dogs nap as well. That means I don't have weekends off either, but I bet my rest intervals add up to a full sabbath, an argument overused with some taskmaster Rabbis no doubt.

For example, yesterday evening I got to recharge my batteries with a brief visit to Tomahawk Island. When Delphia (not her real name) puts in to Island Cafe, heads turn, as you don't see a 1940s Chris Craft in mint condition every day. No engine outages today either, just fun in the sun.

My understanding from the papers is they're just gonna talk about Georgia, nothing about Kyrgyzstan even on the agenda, unless to accelerate the closing experience (yesterday woulda been better but we can't all be professionals at the same time I guess).

I'm enthused by all the Turtle Art and advances in PDF generation, Python a capable driver in both cases, though Ron Resch hand wrote his in Postscript, fed it through Ghostscript I think it was. I've got one free sample, plus my workstations never had enough RAM for the full egg version, worthy of IMAX treatment.

We were surprised and sorry to lose Lou Geller to negative Universe, a befitting way of saying it given how active he was on Synergeo, the quintessential behaviorist, loyal to B.F. Skinner to his dying day.

As an American Transcendentalist, I can't help but embrace Walden Two as a kind of long lost brother (better than Biosphere2 in some ways). We keep trying to jump start these ecovillage experiments, as communes, as space camps, as kibbutzes. Lowering barriers to entry increases the likelihood of some worthy reality television.

Speaking of Synergeo, I've continued to defend my thesis versus the owner of Audrey2, my code name for one of my chief sparring partners, who also crusades against the monkey-tailed religulous, especially in the midwest (e.g. the incredibly credulous).

This afternoon I'm back in my corner office, outfitting Jackalope's temporary replacement with cygwin, thinking ahead to October. Derek and I are working on the PKL PDF collection, as well as trying to rescue > $100 of iTunes from Tara's virus-downed HD.

Just off the phone with Providence. More duties tomorrow.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

About Algebra

[first published to Math Forum, typo fixed, links / pictures added]

There're a lot of comparisons one might do between any two Lower48 textbooks, I agree, although perhaps it'd make more sense to define what we mean by "algebra" and what learning it means.

Of course there's simplification of algebraic expressions and finding unknowns through the rules of equality, algorithms pretty well automated by now, even on some calculators, yet we do want to teach some of this stuff. But why? What's our context?

At the core of algebra is this notion of sets of things or objects "of the same type" i.e. all integers are connected in being members of the set Integer whereas all rational numbers, a superset of Integers, defined as p/q where p,q are Integers, comprise another type, a more inclusive type in that every integer p is likewise p/1 i.e. a member of Q.

So we want the notion of sets, some set notation probably, and a strong notion of types. The "type" discussion is necessary to define "closure" i.e. when you do an operation (unary or binary) on members of a set, do you get another member of the same set, or do you fall out of the set, perhaps to an object of another type? For this kind of thinking to make sense, you need that all important notion of type.

:: investigating types, note pi ::

We also have this notion of operation, which we combine with "function" i.e. 2 + 2 and add(2,2) or (+, 2, 2) are different ways notations express addition. You have these specialized operators (+, -, /, *) -- here already converted to their more standard computer-signified equivalents -- but under the hood you can simply think of "feeding the fish" i.e. a function is like swimming in a fish tank (namespace) and you feed it arguments (objects, sometimes other functions, as when feeding the "return a derivative" fish). If you feed it arguments of the wrong type, the fish (function) may "barf" (and we have hours of interactive slogging (hard fun!) to discover what that means in practice (might use more Java at this juncture as Python's duck typing means barfing at runtime if there's barfing at all and often there isn't, nor should there be)).
(scroll down for "guards at the gate" scenario, a traditional YouTube motif wherein kids themselves get to act, in the tradition of Monty Python skits i.e. it's not always about making cartoons, we also use live action to communicate math concepts, just like any teacher does).

With operations come identity operations, those which leave the arguments unchanged, or identity members of the set, such that "assert __mul__(a, 1) == a" generally evaluates to True in Python, unless you've done something perverse with your operation's definition. In a formal algebra, we expect group, ring and field properties to be present or not present i.e. we wish to think in these terms.

In building up a notion of "types", which so many computer languages are intrinsically strong in, we develop an "algebraic sense" among our students. Plus we connect to all the traditional topics in using trigonometric functions, whatever computer algebra systems (I favor writing a lot of low level object definitions, e.g. for rational numbers Q, for vectors V -- not taking too "black boxy" an approach, not when first learning the ropes). We cover N, Z, Q, R, C as consecutively concentric sets i.e. each is a superset of the one before. We also do a lot with finite groups, such as the totatives of a number (closed under multiplication modulo that number), a way of reinforcing prime vs. composite and setting the stage for RSA.

Of course students running through all of the above are going to out-perform most analog math track students per the criteria we care about in the Silicon Forest, e.g. familiarity with at least one computer language. Although we believe in consulting multiple textbooks (PDFs), the idea of buying truckloads of Lower48 poopka and wasting kids' time with that would be an anathema to our well-to-do, thinking parents. There'd be instant action and the school would go away, replaced with a charter with "the right stuff" (as we like to call it).

But I understand demographics differ around the country, from zip code to zip code, and some math tracks still insist on using calculators (har!). We tend to feel sorry for those poor slobs, know they won't have an engineering-related job in our region so easily, but there's always remedial college work. Nice if you can get it in high school though, on a competent digital math track (which does include some calculus, as our web sites make clear -- might even use some Mathematica at this point, depending on budget).

Also, your algebra needs to bridge the lexical with the graphical in some way, obviously through vectors and the polyhedra you might build with them, but the devil is in the details. My stickworks package, offered free to Portland schools, pretty much solves the problem of how to get colorful rotating objects on screen, a must in any math lab worth beans. What I don't do much about is the music or audio track components, needed for editing the final results (student work -- a lot of it headed for YouTube you'll see). Other teachers help me where I'm weaker. We collaborate, form voluntary associations with federal agencies e.g. VOA, and private companies e.g. 4D.

The school I teach in is called Saturday Academy although I'm off at the moment, busy lobbying, as I think we shouldn't have so many backward schools in Rose City especially, nor in the rest of the state. Seattle isn't really my purview, although I regard Silicon Forest to sometimes extend that far north (to Northgate, where our Math 'n Stuff sells Huntar CubeIT!, that thing we use to show MITEs, or minimum tetrahedra -- but that's going back to like 3rd grade so I'm getting off topic).

Stash of MITEs
We also band together as tutors over the summer, as many a "self scholar" is full of curiosity and wants to study interesting stuff, once the day care service is no longer available. That's where the coffee shops come in as well, as most of this is available through wifi (though it helps to have a guide).

I mostly tutor other adults, or run workshops for everyday math teachers ready to launch a digital math track through their school, an increasingly popular idea as teachers notice that once you throw away those calculators and start using Google Earth 'n stuff, the students perk up, say "why weren't we doing this earlier" (often there's no good excuse, as "spending too much money on dead tree textbooks" is more a confession than a reason for anything, an admission of corruption).

Here're some web pages from PPS/Winterhaven, a geek hogwarts I taught at. Compare this to the muggle educations you get in the rest of Lower48. If you wanna be a geek, maybe move to Portland, as that's not the training you'll get in other places probably. They're really slow out there, and not because less intelligent in any way, just docile, herd-like (the midwest is all about herding, whereas the east is all about thinking Europe is ahead in some way (snicker)).


Thursday, June 25, 2009

More Lore

The notion of a Linux workbench as a kind of Wright Brothers bicycle shop, a space for inventors with low barriers to entry, other than a willingness to learn, is somewhat new (gnu). In the early days of AT&T Unix, the only low cost POSIX was FreeBSD whereas most NGOs, worthy causes, had to make do with the "PC revolution's" DOS-based solutions, later Windows.

A GUI on UNIX meant Solaris or SGI or something else equally unaffordable. The rich and spoiled used UNIX, VMS, CMS etc., (more cathedral types, than bazaar types), the idea of "programming for everybody" not yet having traction. Apple went POSIX only after the Jobs @ NeXT chapter, having been more generous with NGOs pre OS X (not free to this day).

My own career as a tech savvy guy committed to helping NGOs, an idealist of sorts, took me through the Microsoft experience up through my using Ubuntu in tandem, by way of cygwin along the way. Although familiar with and respectful of the Bourne Again religion, I'm in no way the bash guru some are.

When meeting the econometrician recently, I was extolling the spare starkness of the version control systems (cvs, svn, bzr, git... hg), but I'm not one to memorize all their switches. I fumble at the command line much as I fumble with Tinkerbell, and no Boeing 747s have emerged from my humble garage of late e.g. I have not a single line of code at CodePlex, home of "Python Fe" (IronPython).

Thanks to cygwin, I'm thinking our early math labs, stocked with hand-me-downs in many cases, won't have to play second fiddle all the time, even to private industry's more opulent setups.

Our students have the same hunger for command line skills as their forebears, but maybe their day care center doesn't offer any real numeracy (gnumeracy) training. A laptop in a coffee shop works just as well, or maybe the shop provides its own workstations.

Kids learned the "forbidden math" on their own, while at "school" it was all about dinking around with doofy calculators (remember those?).

This was the early 21st century recall, with many 1900s holdovers squeezing out this "analog math" from their gruel sack, tree killer textbooks, meanwhile turning their backs on our best heritage. Our guy's 42 PhDs weren't enough or whatever (I forget all the reasoning of which there was precious little ("stonewalling" was their game, laughably weak in retrospect, but nevertheless devastating to many a promising career)).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wanderers 2009.6.23

George Weissmann and Joe Arnold
:: george and joe ::

Joe Arnold is giving a talk on psychiatry, looking back on close to 40 years of experience. He noted Ed McMahon's passing (also on CBS News), using this milestone to register some disappointment and/or disillusionment regarding our progress in the science of mind.

Going into it, he expected grand revelations. Looking back, he's seeing a lot of the same tired old views, such as "depression is a chemical imbalance". These statements are close to meaningless. One may practice in a bubble, surrounded by fog, such is life.

His focus will be biological however. The guy is a careful thinker. He has his references stacked up, a Synopsis of Psychiatry, a Textbook of Medical Physiology, both with venerable traditions. The National Library of Medicine on the Internet is a good on-line source. His hand-outs help us navigate to our evening's core topic: depression.

Genomics has come a long way in 40 years, but so far not a great deal has come from it, where psychiatry is concerned. The control of the gene and its products has to do with its complementary environment, i.e. isolating DNA sequences doesn't "explain everything" (whatever that means).

DSM4 defines some five dimensional space (five axes) which Joe accepts with a grain of salt, thinking "axis" is somewhat high-minded, over-inflated (faux precision, a kind of marketing). Psychiatrists enjoy inordinately high-flown language, helps them specialize and gain niche markets.

David Feinstein jumped all over this, bringing his five dimensional math thinking to bear. "He's saying it's bullshit" I translated. But David wanted to know in exactly what sense. We spent several minutes on this. For Joe, it's about nomenclature.

Psychotherapy is about the restoration of morale. Some people are intrinsically comforting. You should never underestimate the power of encouragement (or the power of negativity -- both are contagious).

Psycho-pharmacology: we went through a run-down of some of the drugs, which have been getting better.

Worry warts, perfectionists, people into world domination, are among the prime candidates for depression.

Sometimes artists traffic in the kinds of imagery associated with psychosis, so we might think of them as being so. That might be a hasty judgment in some cases. Explorers of psychological worlds, including psychologists, have these occupational hazards, sure, but they go with the territory (tantric thinkers take a similar view i.e. if you're not wrestling with angels on occasion, then you're just being lazy (or are wisely hanging back, not having any relevant training or coaching, not unusual in some cultures)).

The discussion of cell biology was fun. There's a clear API such as we might code in Python. The better understood drugs (tri-cyclics, SSRIs) are usually explained with reference to this diagram, although there's lots more going on, lots of incomplete theories.

We had a great turnout tonight. Jon Bunce is back, woo hoo! And Steve Mastin, haven't seen that guy in years. Our questions seemed pretty smart.

Psychiatry is still a lot like working on a Swiss watch with a sledge hammer, and it's easy to make people worse instead of better. It's not a futuristic Star Trek world in which we really know a lot about the mind, though some docs may act like Spock sometimes, perhaps as a part of their bed- and/or couch-side manner. Vulcans can be inspiring sometimes.

likes Steve Weinberg's writings on consciousness, read aloud from The First Three Minutes. I was able to confirm Steve had been an ISEPP speaker, calling up my new

My question was whether medical ethics permitted subcultures of psychiatrists to test drugs on themselves as human subjects, sort of like "first person physics", some branches of anthropology. Of course Timothy Leary got in trouble for doing this. The answer was not surprising: playing it safe is more the name of the game. We live in a risk-averse culture (probably what makes it so dangerous, given the way human psychology seems to work).

Actually, I read the above paragraph aloud, as my way of asking the question, the answer already guessed. Joe's answer was more nuanced: in his own training, practitioners were allowed to take small doses of stuff, and as one goes further back, the case literature is full of good doctors self dosing. Coming forward, he doesn't see off hand how self testing would be that useful, although we didn't brainstorm too extensively.

Monday, June 22, 2009

At Work Again

Lets hope the Wanderers retreat went well. My weekend was cram packed, what with the Race for Justice, sampling the music scene, Quaker solstice party, Carrotmob.

Back at work, I'm blasting that DM track with help from the Philippines. Ateneo de Manila, a Jesuit academy, and the State of Oregon, are about the same age (150 years old this year). I've reported back to my user group re OS Bridge, wearing my "math teacher" hat, also zapped that Synovate resume to Mosaic for followup (yes I'm head hunting again).

Not having Cubespace puts a crimp in my style, but there's always Fine Grind for small meetings, Urban Grind for large ones, so I'm not planning to stress too much about the change in routine (not that I was always in there or anything, mostly for meetings). Lucky Lab is another hangout.

The next big topic will be classroom layout. At West Precinct (HPD), we used a U shape, with workstations (Redhat) facing the wall, conference table at center. Students could shift between two modes, while the training team (two Saturday Academy teachers in our case) had an easy time seeing over shoulders, no need to squeeze between rows.

This configuration makes it easier to simulate planning meetings, including watching shared projections, taking turns with lightning talks ("be phase") punctuated by implementation ("do phase") i.e. pair programming, solo exercising, self testing, performing routine sysadmin duties, other development. We're simulating a school intranet for teacher trainees sometimes.

Here's a diagram:

Also, given cultural differences, the benefits of XP (eXtreme Programming) will need to filter out differently. The same software tools used to pair program at a distance may be used in close proximity. Sometimes, rather than pair chairs, we'll pair subnet IP numbers (it's not either/or).

Sara Ford showed us their setup in Redmond, yakked about their pair programming practices, how to "talk to the room" etc., with junior and senior devs not hiding behind closed doors. Everything seemed more open and egalitarian, even with division of labor and hat switching. But that's just one corporate culture. How does Google goo?

Today I also helped Glenn with the inventorying of 87 ISEPP tapes (, plus lent him a scanner. We're trying to get more organized in anticipation of our Wanderers reviewing project.

Taking Inventory
logging assets

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

Solar Powered

We celebrated the long evening yesterday by watching solar charged Japanese lanterns turn on by themselves once it got dark enough, or one could help them along, say with some shadow (a paper plate works).

The raccoon in the tree had done something evil, as signified by its burping noise, a lot of upset birds circling. I was not an eyewitness, took it in as veridical, even saw a picture or two.

Nor was I an eyewitness to the "Portland Massacre" -- not really a killing field but by Portland standards pretty rough, with a lot of PSU kids sent to the hospital, by baton-wielding police, like in a scene from Burma VJ.

This was during the Vietnam war era and local patriarchs were practicing playing the heavy, cracking down on war resisters. I heard this story at the party, between sips of chard. The storyteller dropped career plans in criminal justice after witnessing this event, as the corruption just seemed too deep in that area... no regrets.

We also talked about Manas. "It was evident that news about the final order from Washington to leave Manas came as a surprise to Kyrgyz observers" writes the Eurasia Daily Monitor (June 19).

Urners joined Multnomah Friends this morning, for worship and potluck, with Father's Day the main theme during unprogrammed worship. Given our internal calendar, we celebrated that event last week, so have today clear for solstice-related activities (like staying up late).

I've been thinking about fatherly archetypes a lot though (a Jungian thing?), writing to friends with our fathers in mind.

OK, time to photo-document the CarrotMob action @ Hotlips.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Show Time

:: os bridge, 2009 ::

I'm in David Mandel's Open Source on the Farm, feeling somewhat guilty for missing the teaching seminar just after mine. This will be about agriculture. I'd listed it as one of my top three, though ended up missing the one on Parrot (Allison not doing it).

Instead, I took my time this morning, driving my props over in Razz (polyhedra, posters, map, beans, various battle-scarred artifacts, even extra speakers), then going home again, uploading some pictures, and returning by Max.

David is the new executive director of Linux Fund, a job JC was doing when I first met the man. Yeah, I told my police story again: Saturday Academy (me 'n Jerritt) helped HPD try to do what the schools should have been doing e.g. teaching about responsible exercise of one's freedoms -- one of my favorite stories.

I'm relieved to be finished with Python for Teachers (slides -- 6meg), believe I've mapped out an actionable strategy and communicated it clearly enough, even if in a somewhat scrambled order (I wander sometimes, have lots on my mind).

In the Q&A, Josh asked "what's next?" and I emphasized teachers and students both seem eager for these changes, are chomping at the bit in many cases, especially if there's merit pay involved. So what's the hold up? Not Portland I don't think.

Maybe we're unstoppable? "World domination achieved, so now what?" might be our bumper sticker du jour. There's a lot of hubris in that maybe, wishful thinking, but it's good for morale building, plus we can point to quite a blit of collateral (Applewhite's term for corroborating evidence (blit is a term from animation)).

Insufficient agreement on "the lore" might be a temporary bottleneck? The USA math teaching establishment may not have a sufficiently sharp focus on "the Bucky stuff" (e.g. Mites, Sytes and Kites), other focal points, even as we do our best to make this curriculum less esoteric (e.g. it's not all Britney Spears).

Our world domination schemes can't really afford to wait for USAers to embrace their own heritage, but it'd certainly help if we did (this wallowing in idiocracy only benefits a small minority).

I talked up ISEPP and Linus Pauling House quite a bit, with our Hawthorne District the "birthplace of the silicon forest". Having a think tank in the picture helps provide ballast, suggests inertia, an establishment (gravitas).

I also introduced this model of casino customers "investing losings" e.g. after some traditional gambling, customers might commit bonus packets to tribe-defined goals, such as OMSI, improving ecosystems, youth programs etc. (whatever house priorities). Could this help with our teacher training camps?

"Let's not pick battles we can't win" was another theme of my talk this time. For example, let's embrace being "pirates", as we'll be seen that way anyway. This doesn't mean we illegally board vessels and steal their goods. "Pirate" doesn't mean "Robin Hood" in Fuller's namespace (e.g. see Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth).

Yes we "objectify" (that's just how we're trained, at least in Python) -- doesn't mean we're without empathy. Let's remember about namespaces i.e. "to objectify" and "to disrespect" need not be linked. We're subjects too ("self" not a keyword, yet an MVP in Python). It's not either/or.

I'll upload a buncha slides, showing off all the props 'n stuff. I tried to be entertaining, grateful for another chance to put it out there (a competing vision of the future, not necessarily mainstream).

David, a semi-retired farmer, with training as a mathematician, is naturally predisposed to open source. Unless you can see how it works, why would you trust it? FOSS culture is about a lot more than just software: hardware, data, books, ideas, algorithms, techniques, procedures, genetic material.

Farmers naturally work together, spontaneously form collaborative relationships (teams), so the collaborative nature of FOSS development is consistent with farming. GIS is a focus with this group, not surprisingly.

Some FOSS tools farmer David uses: OpenOffice, emacs, gimp, xv, inkscape, qcad, grass or qgis, R, web development frameworks (e.g. Plone), Postgres, MySQL etc. Special purpose distros are popular, but why isn't there one for farming. Too diverse?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

OS Bridge Begins

We're off to a smart start, Twitter on name badges (oft times), picked up my credentials with zero fuss or bother, ran into Michelle, her Emma company one of our sponsors. I got my "ecotainer" of coffee, so feel like a power nester. Pretty soon we'll have keynotes.

Some guy accosted me in the lobby to say I've had "too much to say" on PPUG lately, but hey, archives aren't "mandatory reading" in these parts, we both skip each others. Then we got to talking, and it turned out we had a similar marketing plan: hold off on touting Python until we're done with this leap (from 2.x to 3.x) as right now it'd be more like stampeding over a cliff for a lot of 'em, caught in a chasm, wondering which one is cooler (hint: 3.x is cooler but we need to give the librarians time to update their offerings, not always a trivial undertaking).

That's Michelle Rowley I was talking about (1st paragraph), one of the Pythoneers around here i.e. one mean engineer (meaning "mean" in a good sense, in case you're reading from out of town), as in "rides one mean Django pony" (insider joke about her subculture's mascot). Her boyfriend is here too, likely mean in a good way as well.

I'm using Patrick's Jennifer 2 this morning, given Jackalope Down. However, for my talk I've selected "noisy Windows" (loud fan), the Toshiba Satellite I took to London I'm pretty sure, though transmogrified through Alexia's care at some point, now outfitted with World of Warcraft devices, other wickedness.

Was just jokin' with this geek about Silicon Hills (Austin), suggesting OSCON rotate: Hills, Valley, Forest, Hills, Valley, Forest... like that. Like, why not include Texas, make it part of our union? Keep America Weird.

Amber Case
, you're a dynamite cyborg anthropologist, thanks for trailblazing. I'm so glad we're getting away from that stupid Borg idea of a human-machine interface. Prosthetics make sense, but if you don't need 'em, why use 'em?

Put another way, Google is a prosthetic, sure, but you don't need to wire it directly to your pineal gland in order to get the religious experience of using it fully. Just tap tap with those fingers and have your screen reader whisper the results, in a soothing voice maybe (nothing wrong with soothing). Thanks for joining us at ISEPP the other night for the Netness talk.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Patient Tracking

First generation patient tracking systems did a lousy job of actually keeping the time line clear, events between admit and discharge. We had to fight with one vendor because the date stamp was supposed to be unique to the cath procedure, yet two caths in one day is not unheard of. Plus where did the patient go in between events A and B? That would be hard to reconstruct, if not impossible.

For statistical purposes, only a few useful intervals were recorded, such as EMT response time (e.g. from dispatch to ER).

Once in the cath lab, we had detailed timelogs going. The doc didn't always show up right away (how could she, this is reality, not television), whereas other times it's more elective and slow moving (not urgent).

My account of research hospital work isn't a criticism so much as a chronicling. Hospitals haven't had the luxury of affordable digital computer equipment for that many years. Insurance companies are actually better endowed in some ways, although those scales might be tipping. The question is more how do we move forward, capitalizing on know-how, like with RFID on the wrist bands, on the gurneys, on both, or on neither.

"Depends on the hospital" would be the short answer, and the kind of job vendors do, persuading us they're really sharing rightly (an allusion to "right sharing", a Quaker concept). You want efficacious use of precious time/energy as there's little room for waste where saving lives is concerned.

A schemaless system isn't thereby unstructured (JSON is malleable but not structureless) and might be used to "grab everything potentially useful" in a "jumbled bag" kind of sense. There's a new cath model getting tried, a new valve, a new stent. Docs will think of things they might like to know about, but aren't sure, might be barking up a wrong tree.

With SQL (RDBMS), it's a total PITA to keep wonking on tables, why the Registries got imposed. Docs had to discipline themselves to keep the Dilberts from stressing out too much, and charging too much money, making administrators angry.

"Make it top-down" was the IT voice from above, "don't let them use Access and keep messing it up." Some docs became shy about nursing pet theories at the local level because every little request seemed to upset someone's applecart. Other docs rolled up their sleeves and dove into computer science, trying to figure out why the hold up (like what's up with this open source business, and what wheels do we keep needlessly reinventing?).

Anyway, now we're in a new era. A patient entering a hospital potentially starts a data stream like on Facebook, though not as public and chatty, lots of technicians making notes. There's a structure here (in the LMRs), but they're not "fill in the blanks" uniform, as you'll find if you create two or three of them randomly, express different patient histories. Medicine is too ramified to think in terms of everything hitting the same dots, even with lots of overlap and family resemblance.

Then later, safely removed from the point of care, not interfering in any way, we write MapReduce scripts (in JavaScript or whatever) to comb through these "has everything" grab bags ("has lots of holes" is also still true) and populate relatively stable SQL models after the fact.

In statistical research, you're looking for samples, so if patient X gets skipped over, it's not necessarily an omission in treatment. Sensors will randomly sample, right from the get go. Clinical research records (CRRs) aren't what a doctor uses on an individualized basis, but for outcomes research. Even if the legal medical record (LMR) is likewise electronic, these two kinds of record are conceptually different, in terms of workflow.

Do patients spend more time in hallway A or hallway B, when routing to cath lab, and does it matter if there's a coffee shop open upstream from C? Hospitals with time for those kinds of question would be in the small minority.

Traffic analysis in urban settings gives a sense of it though: you don't need to track every car in intimate detail to get an overall picture, but where a patient's hospital experience is concerned, more data is better, as thoughtful analysis doesn't occur in a vacuum.

Empirical measures are the life blood of medical science. So in terms of "erring on the side of caution", we're likely to record too much rather than too little (or wish we could -- again, bioinformatics is still in its infancy).

For further reading:
Charting the Future
(for sysadmins) in my 4D Solutions presentations folder.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Personal Tutor Model

Just as gyms have personal trainers, so does a workout shop like Free Geek, a place to learn bash (a shell language), have its coaches, its designated "show me" types. I've worked this angle myself, in cahoots with Rita, rounded up a bunch of home schoolers and transmitted some skills, had a good time doing it.

In merry olde England, the spoiled rich kid in the castle usually got some Merlin type. This was long before the scandals of the late 1900s, with people waking up once again to various types of abuses, however we don't have historical evidence Merlin was gay, just turned into various animals and stuff, per job description. And even if he was, he didn't mess with King Arthur (Merlin, living backwards, was jail bait by the time that one ended).

As I pointed out to an associate, if you wanna work directly with teenagers, as I do sometimes, you need to be fingerprinted up the wazoo, have a pretty spotless record, which I do, on top of two years in an all-girls Catholic school, lotsa knock outs, lotsa beautiful mind types like I go for, me one of the lucky few male faculty. We'd look at each other (me, Joe, Jim... Eddy) and go "B movie" (like one of those old black and whites, not sure of the plot, but definitely lots of sisters in uniform, maybe a Robert de Niro or Meryl Streep, so OK, way better than B some days (most days, really a great job, recommended)).

Anyway, back to my topic, the corporate environment has lots of ways to accredit itself in the eyes of the state, to where it could do more outreach in terms of rotating its management through teaching and teacher training positions. Woman engineers are of course in hot demand as we have a perceived lack of role models in that department, although in some companies the women slaughter the guys on most aptitude tests that we care about i.e. we know it's memetic, not genetic, these various "management design patterns" (lots of professors of that by now right?).

My point here is I think we'll continue to get creative when it comes to bringing back the personal tutor. It'll probably be a lot like a personal trainer in fact, with some workspace or open projects area, lots of shared tools, people sitting huddled with their Ruby on Rails coaches, like seals snarfing fish (or sea lions, as the case may be).

I'm reminded of a somewhat improbable movement, 1980s maybe, when the philosophy degreed, me one of 'em, were wondering what it'd mean to hang out a shingle. We felt in competition with psychotherapists somehow, maybe because of est I'm not sure. However, the whole phenomenon makes more sense when you look at the FOSS revolution that's happened in the meantime. Why waste your life in some backward-thinking day care situation, when you could be enjoying some real skills building, courtesy of daily practitioners of said skills? "There's gotta be a way" is what many are thinking.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mortal Coil

There's a literary allusion here, as in "shuff off" (like a python does), but in this namespace (context) I'm actually talking about a piece of the ignition puzzle in a 1947 Chris-Craft, with a Chrysler engine. Some of them have their resistance internally but if you leave the key in the on position or make other mistakes, you might shorten the life of one of these through internal heating. Another version parks the resister outside, but hooking it up wrong might cost you your one chance at bat, and I was thankful to have even that many, admire the captain's readiness in having the spare puzzle pieces and a just long-enough anchor rope (fast current, just west of I-5 bridge). All I missed, as a grateful passenger, was the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, which I can get as a podcast (sometimes, if it's working).

Instead, being famished, I went straight to Fred Meyer's and did the sushi train for the first time, then I started browsing the products, which got the sushi chef (some guy with a knife) chasing after me, because I was supposed to walk it to the special register (but there's a queue) and not browse for more purchases. I could see his point and promptly paid, sneaking in next to the shopping cart guy, who was making a night of it, knocking over some pastries in the process (happens all the time she said -- "maybe some buy 'em out of guilt for knocking 'em down?" I wondered to myself).

Having notified base, I went straight then to the Quakers, for the Oversight Meeting. Betsey, our clerk, was up first, having been working all day at this sometimes thankless job. We had lots of membership business, which I've been diligent about. I tried to explain my branch practice to EF in terms of DVCSs but so much geekspeak doesn't always win me points with these liberals, not used to "fascist math" (I'm uncomfortable calling it that, prefer "supermarket math"). I also talked about the "Quaker guts" in Nancy Irving's office.

In any case, even though I'm not using "member" in my branch, I do my best to support NPYM's F&P as articulated in the operating manual (yes we have one, every meeting does).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Windmills R Us

Something that came up early in my Chicago workshop this year, was during free association around windmills, while staring at a picture of a camel. My focus group came up with Don Quixote (finally got me to get it) then I somewhat dismissed that out of hand, as if this great Spanish classic were beneath me or something.

A lot of people don't read a lot these days, yet know that "tilting at windmills" is a synonym for "hopeless", not sure if because windmills are large, and what's "tilting" anyway? Not everyone is in the Society for Creative Anachronism. But in any case, windmills come down to us as symbolizing the Dutch establishment, set in its ways, and any "tilting" is just going to mean "barking up the wrong tree" yet again.

I have some happier associations with windmills in thinking of Python Nation, aka Windmillville or WMV. Here is the Dutch HQS where our dictator lives, our Guido. You see us on the border with "the camel kingdom", the neighboring Perl Republic, frequented by Wall, Conway, Randal and those characters (among my favorites, as I discuss in my workshop (and here in my blogs)).

If this is where Don Quixote was trying to get work done of some kind, more power to him: it's a beautiful place, very free and open, yet puzzling sometimes, like Uru by Cyan, especially now that the windmills are so slender looking, with birds of prey adapting to not fly into them so often (secret: birds learn).

Also, given your generic windmill has microprocessors, might well hook to infrastructure with Pythonic APIs, by Enthought or whatever firm, this "I am a windmill" mindset is becoming more commonplace within the engineering community, with "I am a..." and "I have a..." being accepted mental constructs in object oriented programming (OOP), as well as in test driven development (TDD), whereby we're encouraged to develop intuitive empathy for our materials ("feel the force" as it were), though not as a replacement for empirical measures.

We start learning our engineering early around here, like from childrens books. "I'm a dike in Holland: I hold back the ocean and really hope I don't break". Sometimes we'll use Madlibs to teach string substitution (e.g. with string.Template), the basis for legal forms, dynamic web pages of all kinds. We stay earthy and relevant in this way, even invest in grossology. Like we're not trying to disconnect from all the dirt. This is real world engineering, not stupid prissy stuff, i.e. not pretending to be "pure" (whatever that means), love those hybrids (of anything). Does this make us liberals then? Cosmopolitan maybe.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Machine World (ongoing)

Those of you tracking this little tempest in a teapot know we lost a bunch of computers, one after another. Tara's desktop, its many civilizations (Spores and Sims 2), mine (the Jackalope), and mom's (a flood -- disasters come in threes if you're superstitious).

The upshot is we'll imprison Tara's infected drive as a museum peripheral, gradually pick through the rubble, start fresh with something factory fresh (just talking about hard drive, mobo is OK). Jackalope died of natural causes, David found a hair ball so maybe that was it, definitely fried electronics (why Frys was well named). Mom's is in the hospital, awaiting a verdict. She'll fly off without it, run the AFSC on will power alone (joke, we share steering). Her voice is raspy, needs her rest. I'm advising her to knock off using Dawn's workstation and take a nap (actually, her idea).

I broke out the Chalk Hill this afternoon in celebration of Tara's starting to learn Python, using the Hello World! book by the Sandes (while I mowed the lawn). We had to use KTU3 as her "software sources" were borked in Gutsy Gibbon, upgrading to Hardy Heron as we speak (on her laptop). I did show her how to draw a tetrahedron right off, wanting to set some kind of world record ("from zero to sixty").

Meanwhile, I'm using Patrick's loaner, Jennifer 2, practicing world domination skills on a diminished scale perhaps, but still "winning the war" (as I mentioned to Goofy Sufi, in transit to our Go By Train building). I may lug this Toshiba Satellite to Wanderers tonight and try to capture some of the essence.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Getting Older

You might think from the title I'm gonna make some mid life crisis speech, but I had mine already and I'm really thinking about my 15 year old. We had a family breakfast at a favorite eatery to celebrate, plus Tara became a WILPF member, paid through the year by her grandma Carol (soon to fly off again).

Before others awakened, I made coffee and plunked down on the couch, in case I might intersect with the Sunday Morning Show on CBS, as I knew we had a segment on Bucky airing. As chance would have it, I caught it perfectly, tuned in just before air time in the middle of some swanky cowboy boots (Whoopi!), then it was on to the Billies, whom I'd seen at Fox Tower as a part of the lead in to that documentary film about Burma.

I'll do more semiotics on the Bucky segment on Synergeo probably.

Over breakfast, we discussed my prospects as a teacher trainer, in case anyone wants to phase in more "Bucky stuff", or even just more computers in math class, where you'd think they'd be already, but we're in the middle of a recession and can't afford to get smart. I shared my usual "any day now" enthusiasm, easy to do over a full plate of food, ever the salesman, the closer, looking to seal the deal.

Given our work on the new DM track through high school, you might expect some faculty interest, especially in smaller academies where the CM/DM distinction is obscure to begin with (only two teachers for the whole of mathematics in some cases -- if you count the gym teacher as one of 'em).

Next up: a meeting with ISEPP's senior fellow, or at least that looks likely, with another pow wow scheduled for this evening. HB2U.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Open Source for Adults

Some of these Wall Street types are shouting "enough is enough" with the open source business, time to close shop and make a profit, altruism has its limits.

What they're not getting is (a) lots of closed shops run open source and (b) this isn't about altruism, it's about keeping Wall Street types from thinking they own all the hard work of others, just because they speak this obscure "capital ownership" nonsense.

Engineers don't have time to prove that they rule in a court of law, easier to just keep working hard and not looking back. We own our own work, 'nuff said. Plus we're not trying to own body parts (beyond our own), Amazonian plant life, nor patent how to swing sideways on a swing set -- all that stuff that makes lawyers the butt of jokes at our parties.

For example, take Facebook. You'll hear lawyers complaining about all that "lost revenue" from free service, which magically turns into "money lost" i.e. "bad business".

What they're missing is how hard this community worked to (a) develop Cassandra and (b) establish this cyberspace nation as full of fun and frolic, and not just with "people who can afford it" (i.e. another corporate morgue).

Now that it's valuable, after all this hard work (community organizing), suddenly it's something to "own" and "charge for" which, in the Wall Street mentality, is simply a matter of entitlement (i.e. "step aside, we'll take over, now that it's worth having").

I explained it for children
a little earlier, amounts to the same thing: too much selfishness is not OK among grownups either. Why reward such behavior? Spoiled means spoiled.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Rose City

Escorting older MVPs around may mean doing something other than scary rides at Waterfront Village (what they're calling it this year) or Oaks Park. Today, for example, twas the roses at Lloyd Center we visited, also the DMV.

Lloyd Center was "capitalism's answer to communism" according to then VP Richard Nixon (I wasn't tracking at the time, found out later this was the answer).

Now that Russians are playing the game of global investments, snapping up low-priced stocks 'n stuff (lots of petrodollars), we could say that "using one's head" (a root meaning of CAP-ital) does indeed have its advantages.

Lloyd Center Plaza

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wanderers 2009.6.3

Our out of towner had joined us before, was deep into it when I showed up late, minus a laptop this time, which cramped my style.

Sure enough, I found myself tromping back to the office to get some morning's work done, wrapping up something I'd posted yesterday, re the math track we're designing (Dick doesn't believe we're a "we" I don't think, based on traffic at Synergeo).

I was back for the ending, enjoyed comparing notes with Jim Buxton, lots of ham radio talk giving the upcoming festival at Seaside.

I ran my DM track thing through the Wanderers list as well, drew it on the white board, however I'm expecting our next meeting to focus on ISEF, just completed.

I was glad to get these reports of others' doings and to have our resident Henry George expert back in the hot seat. He's in town for the reunion at Reed, one of our venerable colleges.

Wonderful Patrick could join us. Much of the conversation was on the structure of the Japanese language, a segue off the ham radio thread, as many of the operators in this area have that in common, plus we have the immersion programs. Carribean hamsters will also be represented.

The sun is in a valley with its sun spot cycle these days so fidelity over the Pacific isn't as great as in some seasons, less ionosphereic mirroring.

OK, time for that next meeting (re ISEF).

Thanks Patrick, for letting me borrow Jennifer 2 (a Linux laptop).

Monday, June 01, 2009

Big Science

A big win for OMSI tonight, as well as McMenamins, for hosting another Science Pub, the first at The Bagdad. What a delightful evening, despite the sobering topic: crime scenes in Oregon and the work of our state police to solve them, using the top talents and technology available.

Given the huge lay audience interest in the three CSI shows, Bones, NCIS, Forensic Files and more, the premise of Kori Barnum's talk was easy: how is reality different from what's on TV? In one respect it's the same: she was absolutely as cute and endearing as any character a screenwriter has ever come up with, bar none. Otherwise, there're quite a few differences.

She was brutally non-censoring, in yakking about semen and underware, blood spatter patterns, decaying corpses (not to be retrieved while scantily clad, a difference from television), her love of shooting guns (a convert, initially skeptical), despite terrible aim. She was exactly the right person to be representing OSP (Oregon State Police), with colleagues and a husband in the audience (their eighth wedding anniversary).

Derek joined me, plus I randomly sat next to a PPS employee, a math teacher with her family, obviously talented, and yet they're talking budget cuts for people like her, unimaginable, even as they rake it over to greedy banks. I'm amazed by the talent and competence in our public sector, even though I'm an entrepreneur. I've spent my career working with these public spirited citizens; don't let anyone tell you they're second banana.

Anyway, I learned a ton, said so on my evaluation form. Thank you OMSI and McMenamins for this very wise choice of presenters, someone from our own community. A Charlotte Bronte lit major who fell in love with the human skeleton, and the beautiful words for it, and now studies for the courts -- you can't beat it, I'm sorry, though I'm looking forward to more. May I suggest George Heuston? I don't know if he still works for HPD, but he's got a lot of forensics experience on the data side, is a dynamite presenter I already know.

The final amazing feature of this evening: dear Barbara Stross, an apparition, as I'd just been gabbing with her through the Wanderers list, imagining her in California. But she's hurt her shoulder, was checking in with the doc. She won't make it Wednesday, but it was wonderful to squeeze the real deal, another wonderful teacher in my life.

So Browning was a practicing polygamist, didn't know that, which means his wives were that too. He invented a lot of weapons. Was that in defense of their Mormon compound? I don't think he was Mormon, I should check Wikipedia (I learn he converted).

The venue was packed, as many women as men, maybe more, with some children, lots of middle aged, people in my bracket. The Q&A was fantastic. Bravo once again.

A main lesson from Kori's talk: this will never be an AI game. Human intelligence rules, get over it. That being said, we really appreciate what computers can do for us, IBIS and all the rest. Another lesson was to study science and follow your heart even as you test the waters.

Another thing I learned, from the multiple choice questions (slides) -- I had two hours to just sit. Oregon's official state saying: "She flies with her own wings." I was praying that would be the answer, and it was!