Saturday, August 31, 2013



I'm ensconced high above street level in Hotel World, peaking over Steve's shoulder.  I'm one of the speakers at Djangocon.

Django, for those who don't know, was a world class musician, and as such, had some things named after him, one of those things being a web framework known as Django.

Web frameworks rule, in the sphere of eCommerce, so there's a community of geeks associated with this free, open source software, that ekes out a living doing that, to a degree that annual conferences are semi-affordable.

This may be a golden era for the Django community; I'm not saying I'm the crystal ball holder here.  Frameworks come and go, as do computer languages.  Django is written in Python.

The people in front of me in the Alamo rental car line at O'Hare were appropriately concerned about the escalation of violence in the Middle East, Washington DC a top committer in that regard.

This is 2013 and we're looking back on "shock & awe" plus a president making fun of himself looking for those never-found weapons.  The pretext for the war was a sham.

CNN is causing wars, by not ever pulling back and giving the big picture.

Has the USA used chemical weapons recently?

Lets start with white phosphorous in Fallujah.  We should also talk about DU and the fine powder people breathe.  A lump of uranium as a door stop is not the same thing.  Packaging matters.

CNN won't zoom out and adjust the focus and is therefore causing war.  You can see it on the serious faces.  The journalists and pundits being interviewed know they're the cause of serious and escalating violence.  How do they live with themselves?

CNN turned out to be a terrible idea and Ted Turner is not a hero for creating it.  CNN caved early, when journalists started telling the story of American warriors on the side of the North Vietnamese and how they were attacked with chemical weapons.  CNN caved when attacked for reporting along these lines.  That's when we knew it was in the tool bag of warmongers.

You'll say I'm not being fair in criticizing CNN and not Fox, but Fox was never about news or objective reporting.  CNN has some pretense in that area.  Fox is a joke (a sick joke, but a joke).  Al Jazeera is way better than Fox, as is Russia Today, and I'm not saying either of those is that great.  Being "better than Fox" takes almost no talent whatsoever.

I'm checking out Chicago.  This is a huge North American city, lots of tourists.  I recommend it as a destination.  Do some homework first.  There's plenty of history to appreciate.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wanderers 2013.8.27

Given I'm swamped at work and boning up for a workshop, and given Lew Frederick is a state representative, so there'd be constituents and interested parties galore, I didn't feel I should grab a front row seat.

Lew knows a lot about education and has the same conversations I do a lot of the time.  We were there to learn from him, not me.  I sat on the steps on the west side of the Linus Pauling House, our Wanderers venue for many years.

Then I went home to get something for his legislative assistant, something from her bro who moved to St. Louis recently.  I delivered that item, then went home again, to work on my Python stuff.

Even though billed as commemorating the I Have a Dream speech, I was glad to see no one nostalgia tripping, even though we were oldsters for the most part.

The controversies were today's:  kids getting the message they'll be letting their school down, their families down, everyone, if they don't perform well on high stakes testing.  It's a "corporatization" as Lew puts it, meaning there's no empathy in it, no humanity.  Corporate persons (so-called "personhoods") are literally soulless, and it shows.

Hey, did you catch the recent Harper's article, Wrong Answer: The Case Against Algebra II by Nicholas Baker?

I've been filing my own summary remarks on the matter, revising and extending for the record.
I'll be in Champaign-Urbana, site of University of Illinois, one of the players when it comes to setting the tone and speed of many a high school. I'll be making fun of Algebra II, as usual, not because you have to be smart to learn it but because you have to be dumb. You have to be a sucker for all that musty-dusty stuff that pretends it's state of that art at Musty Dusty High, then it's off to Musty Dusty College. Lots of moola, lots of dough. But do they ever get to the good stuff? A lot of times, no.
That's from a recent posting at the Math Forum.

Long time readers of this blog know I hang out there.

Lew and I go back a long way.  He's had a lot of experience and has met a lot of the players.  I'm glad we had him at Wanderers again, where he's been many times, always welcome.


Wanderers retreat: Joe Arnold, Lew Frederick, Terry Bristol
(June 2007, at Joe's place)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Policy Debates and Advisories

In a recent public speech by a native American and treaty rights activist, I learned of some government official saying "someday" the toxic radioactive waste from Hanford might make it into the ground water.

She pointed out how misleading that comment was, as that day is already long in the past.  People taught to stay ignorant and take their cues from pastoral cattle prod wielders (aka pastors) are not known for their acuity in debate.

Natives confront vast hordes of average know-nothing Americans who take on faith what "the government" tells them.  That leaves them feeling lonely, surrounded by a sea of mindlessness.

Anyway, the ability to discuss radioactivity in the environment in scientific and rational terms begins with simple acceptance.  Nuclear meltdowns have occurred and that era of safety we were promised by some (most are too young to remember) was never backed by the engineering.

PR is rice paper thin sometimes.  If you choose to fall for a false facade, at some point blame yourself, draw that line.  If you're a sucker, suck it up.

However, I'm not into "blame the victim" as a favorite art form.  The innocent people around Chernobyl were simply not in the loop.  Then as now, sensor readings were hard to come by.  I just did a survey of Oregon's public sites and so many of them were saying "we're so sure there's nothing to worry about we're just not taking readings."

That's like students saying, these exercises in our math books have been solved thousands of times by our ancestors (yes, our textbooks are old), the solutions are known and shared in teacher manuals.  Why do you make us slog through solving these problems the solutions to which are already known?  The answer is obvious:  so that you might be ready to put out a fire when it comes to your home.

Just develop the practice of taking readings.  The art of placing sensors, and reading them, is a skill in itself (not that it's always that easy as sometimes your "sensors" are dead birds and fish).

Place sensors in "perfectly normal" areas and practice reading them and proving a reliable source of data.

Find parameters it makes sense to measure and develop a model of how theses parameters inter-relate.

Draw on existing research and resist temptation to become overly secretive about your findings, condemning yet another generation to rediscovering what you already knew.

I am pleased that resort casinos understand the museum industry as a worthy interface between a specialized culture and a lay public.  The Warm Springs Reservation has an excellent museum, as do the Pueblo in Albuquerque.  The interpretive center as an institution makes sense to "Indians" as it would to ETs.

The System of Reservations (aka "jurisdictions" or "zones") which the Federation of States United (FSU) put in place -- I'm getting it slightly wrong, close enough -- is well-positioned within the museum industry to keep educating the public about the ecosystem and its cause and effect networks (its "karmic wheels" as some call 'em, meaning they're super-size big and slow-turning, not human, and/or sometimes they're atomic / subatomic).

Call them science museums if you wish.  OMSI is a good representative.  Where art meets science is in the science of effective presentation, which includes Tufte but also Crumb, Disney, and Dr. Seuss.  We use animation and simulation to impart information.

Not all exhibits need take the same broad path or recruit the same public.  Highways and byways remain useful.  I've got my eye on the Portland Hilton for some esoteric events.

Changing topics a little, I wonder about how the abortion debate would reshape if deformities per pregnancy were on the rise.  I'm not saying that's our world at this moment but imagine the moral debates in such circumstances, wherein viable offspring are a rarity and may have to come from implanted genetic material kept in lead-lined repositories deep within the planet (call it Krypton if that makes you feel any better -- I'm fine with generalizing beyond Earth).

Back to measurement-making and sharing results:  sensor networks are not intrinsically about "worrying" and/or "not panicking" the public.  They're intrinsically more neutral than that, like thermometers and barometers.  Their mere presence is not saying anything about what's expected.  When people with measuring devices show up, or fly instruments over you in drones, they're not necessarily foretelling doom.  They're about providing reliable global data that might be good news as well as bad.  The information may leave you indifferent.  But at least the information is being collected.  "No change" means you're establishing a baseline.

New scouts need to learn to make a fire.  To take a reading is routine.  To log a result is your habit.  Data gathering is something humans do.  If they ask you why you're attending to sensors and sensor data, taking readings, ask them why they're not.  When you monitor your environment, you are "minding your own business" -- don't let them tell you otherwise.  Tell them you're working for a museum, the one that will treasure your data someday.

If you need to focus on the "half full" aspects of the glass, closet pessimist that you are (an "out there" optimist), then subscribe to RSS feeds about happy camper villages where air quality is going up and people are happier with their lives than ever.  I'm not saying you won't find such news if you dig.  I'm subscribed to a few of those channels myself.

Summary statements:

Just don't let yourself off the hook if you prove yourself gullible.  At some level, you need to set your own standards.  Suck it up and move on.  Don't use the shock of finding yourself hoodwinked (fooled), lied to, as an excuse to stop probing.

You have a right to keep puzzling away, trying to think it through, whatever "it" is.  Admit you've been lied to, and you believed, and make that part of your mental model going forward.  That does not mean to never again extend trust.  That's a decision to keep making:  when to trust, when to not.

People lie, some are paid to, and your ability to discern "the story" will be continually challenged.  Accept the challenge.  Remember computer games.  You get to die many times.

If you watched a lot of cop and detective shows, or read those books, you have that scientists' sense that true stories have this advantage over false ones:  they cross-check and omni-triangulate, demonstrate internal consistency, to a much higher standard than cobbled-together postpone-the-day-of-reckoning falsehoods.

The latter (make-believe fabrications) tend to fall apart upon probing, which is why a lot of times it's really up to the prober:  how much do I want to believe this story?

Acknowledge your biases, at least to yourself.  Is it shameful to wish for better living standards for sentient beings?  Was the mistake that you trusted, or that you were let down?  It cuts both ways.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Novel Plots

In the old days, according to Glenn, the gentleman farmer Republican, to some extent mythical in his role as founder of this nation (v.2), had a different relationship with his pharmacist than today, under Obamacare and under administrations in my lifetime (I go back to the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition, the one Col. F. Prouty writes about).

The GFR (say Abe Lincoln) could walk into a log hewn pharmacy and consult directly with the Chinese apothecaries running it.  Ol' doc Watson down the road was for other squeaks and squrims.  You didn't need to bug him for a piece of paper (Rx) or have it faxed over or phoned.

Those days are long gone of course, except in some of the mail eating professions (say psychiatry), where big pharma ships samples to every registered practitioner it might legally mail to, and then some if in Canada (statutes differ from nation to nation, as most are aware).

I'm not knocking trying the samples sometimes, as you're also remiss if you're just pushing to patients with no first hand experience, and is that a psychiatrist you want in your service.  At least rattle-bearing shamans could be counted on to have tried before they'd buy.  Same thing in anthropology:  if you won't drink the kool-aid, what right have you to be "an authority" on these people.

Yes, I'm sampling some long-running debates.  Many plot lines twist and turn around polarities like this, any novelist or screenwriter knows.

Of course some GFR want to turn back the clock and return to the old days, when they had more authority to self treat and self heal.  All this red tape is for bozos, the "boat people" of all varieties who quickly complicated the scene, and the myth. 

This is their agenda behind "legalizing drugs" (which doesn't make much sense given most drugs are already legal, at least the good ones).

Inertia is not on their side though.  Huge staffs of migrant workers make a living interdicting supplies and enforcing various codes.  Customs and borders have always been this way, an opportunity for families to get their fair share.  Call them "bribes" if you must, but there is often risk involved, and the families "on the dole" are proud of their roles in the grander scheme of things.

We could make this about the "pepper trade" if that made it more accessible.  Apparently people got a lot more out of pepper than most of us today, simply because we take our own living standards for granted and are always lusting after the "next big thing", aka whatever next "spice" as they say on Dune.  Again, these plots have been around for awhile.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Visiting The Open Bastion

Company Logo

I've mostly holed up in a corner office, not the one at Lyrik, my HQS for the longest time, as that place has vanished, but somewhere in the same neighborhood.

Today though, I wandered down Hawthorne to Common Ground where I opened a tab.  Bagels and lox plate for lunch, downed with more coffee and a lemon Pellegrino, followed by, more than an hour later, berry pie for dessert.

I tend to treat myself well when slaving, er slaying.  That sounds Buffyesque, intentionally.  I enjoy the resonance.

Dave DiNucci was there, a fellow Wanderer, formerly NASA, a computer geek (with CSC for awhile I'm pretty sure, like Lindsey was before reporting to my office).

Then I wandered back to The Open Bastion and slayed some more.  A first floor walk up, counting ground as T as Italians do.  Tara worked here a lot this summer, recruiting sponsors.

At OSCON she met a young woman crewing a bizmo who boasted she'd be retiring at 23 and "never needing to work again".

That's not the physics meaning of "work", or at least of "energy".  Just to breath is to work.  Gamma rays are doing work.  Work is just change, once you take away its value, a moral and economic quality.

We've been yakking about all this on the PER list, physicists and chemists, with the occasional information theorist, all talking about Entropy, what a mess (smile).  This is the Buffalo University archived list I joined with encouragement from Dr. Bob Fuller.

Patrick was hard at work on some art, which I photographed for this blog post, as it's promoting my workshop or talk or whatever.  I shared with PPUG and Chipy about it, also edu-sig.  There's a group signed up already.


On the way between Common Ground and The Open Bastion, I came upon a colorful kid, tooting his own horn so to speak (I'm not sure if it was his literally, or if borrowed from some temple -- we have a number of those around here).

Little Buddha

I've seen other child buskers on the street recently. You don't have to be an adult to be talented.

Child Busker

Speaking of "little people" as Laurie Todd calls them, I've been thinking more about how to bring new life to the grandparent - grandchild loop. These are the people with time on their hands, and a natural tendency to want to bridge generations.  The people in the middle, the parents, the teenagers, are just too busy, poor them.

I've been thinking about these Internet BizMos (see BizMo Diaries for more on the "business mobile" concept) that travel between "nursing homes" trying to sales pitch adding more from Cyberia.

You want the old folks to catch up, thems that wanna. And so you run like an anthropology course. You encourage talk about social trends (but not too much talk as they'll have time enough to listen to themselves when the van-like thing, the UDO, has departed).  You continually sample the subcultures, letting 'em know what's "out there".

Youtube genres and long-running themes: LOL cats. Fail compilations. Annoying Orange.... Mandelbulbs.  Oh, and yes there might be that so-called erotic stuff.  We could sanitize a cupid site if the home had a policy.  There's a lot of material to get through so it's not like we actually stop at Trevi Fountain.  Just throw your coins for good luck and remember it was real.

I forgot to write, in my review of Monsters University, how much the not-scary guy reminded me of Annoying Orange. Scholars take note.

But we don't just skate along the surface. The Global U, maybe via Cyberia, will help you learn Python too, so you can learn it with your grand kids. Study it together. Not just Python (computer language) but all kinds of things cyber.

Which is not to forsake the "real world" of insects and flowers 'n stuff -- is National Geographic avoiding that world, by only having pictures and not the real thing? Nonsense, right? You do what you can, with the media you're given.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Monsters University (movie review)

As always, it's fun making fun of movies that make fun of real life.  The idyllic college campus in the fall (autumn), the orange color of the leaves... that all makes an impression.

The formula is a standard for kids:  the contradiction.  A shark who's a vegetarian; an airplane afraid of heights (preview); monsters that aren't scary...

There's a place called "work" where the monsters scare children enough to power their world, and a place called "school" where you train for that place called work.  Those deemed unsuitable for the high prestige jobs start getting that message early:  you could never be one of them.  Some of them, in the meantime, have a strong sense of entitlement.  That's a core tension:  the entitled WASP named Sullivan versus the newcomer with a Polish / Eastern European name.

I thought the dean was marvelously scary, perfect for the part.  She was so many people for me.

Don't be fooled kids:  the adults are programming you big time with movies like this.  First there's Smallville, then... wait, Clark never gets into college.  He goes straight to the city paper, The Daily Planet, does he not?  Well, according to the latest version, he works on fishing ships and stuff, while we wait for him to get older.

There's a similar lesson in MU:  if you flunk out, it might be because you're really too good for that place, and if you apply yourself in that Monster Factory instead, you might work your way up, starting from the mail room.  Then you work in janitorial, cafeteria, and before you know it, you're "discovered" and it's just like they said Hollywood would be:  from waitress / waiter to celeb -- and without the expensive Scientology classes.

When the team is losing hope, they study the adults and each finds a role model, a Scarer they might become.  I found it poignant that they had to risk their necks to such a level to get this message, whereas the school, left to its own devices, would demoralize without restraint.

Back to stereotypes, the studious nerds are the butt of jokes at this party school of obviously mediocre quality.  Its grads are trained to just pick on children.  When adults are targeted, the economy proves unable to harness that level of energy.  Adult fear is something too intense and therefore verboten.  As a cartoon by Disney, it's OK to hint about those things, but lets remember some of the scariest people have been nerds, and I mean that in a nice way ("scary" = "bad ass" = "worthy" in this namespace).

Monday, August 12, 2013

Man of Steel (movie review)

I think I'll skip making any critical remarks about the film as a film.  Thoroughly competent, nothing to complain about.  A confidant and comprehensive rendering of the myth.

More I'm just meditating on the whole matrix of filmdom.  Once you've lived to be my age, you've seen a lot of films and recognize the signature patterns.  You see the pattern language.

I want to highlight what I saw as an homage to Marco Spitoni's CodeGuardian, which I've shown often in Saturday Academy classes, as an example of what can be done with rendering and a small competent crew.  The appreciation for film making is there too.  The word "Guardian" is used even as a truck is thrown at an oncoming airplane by some robot -- or close enough.

Like the most recent Star Trek, Into the Darkness, allusions to 911 infuse the crashing building scenes.  We have these views etched in the collective psyche and here they surface.

Contemplating what it would be like to be contacted by another hominid, landing in space ships.  That's etched in the psyche from surface ships landings too.  One day, the Spanish ships were there in the bay, and life was never the same.  Or they came to Plymouth Rock.

Smallville is small town midwest North America, amidst fields and railroads.  Familiar brands fill in the mindscape:  IHOP and Sears.  What time are we in?  Vaguely before now.  There's no concerted attempt to make it the 1950s, but then we don't see cell phones.  The NORAD type place seems way ahead of it's time, as does the satellite.  No international space station.  There's a subtle nostalgia, but only because Superman Comics have that baked in.  They come from that place.

Spending a generous amount of time on Krypton is a good investment I think.  That's a fairly tough angle to take given we have to create a whole world.  Somehow an alien world has got to segue to the hokey uniform and somewhat embarrassing caped look, made fun of in The Incredibles.

A great dream in the chest of our child, caped crusader, jumping up and down in bed, slaying dragons.  We come from there.  Superman is an ego struggling to master being in a body, having senses.  I need to be a hero in the face of anxieties, one of the hardest ones being aging and dying parents, who also seem more like strangers.  The family argues in the truck.  Alien means alienated.  Dad is soon gone, mom more fragile.  We meet Lois in the cemetery, someone willing the share the grief.

My thanks to all the talented people who advanced us to a next iteration.  Good work.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Star Trek: Into the Darkness (movie review)

I'd call this a "meta Star Trek" in that it truly starts over with a new cast, yet gets back to its roots in the collective psyche, where it has its roots in the first place.  The space of comic books, of fantasy, day dreams, children at play.

The Federation has always flirted with military aesthetics, what with the usual male-dominated hierarchy of obsessed-about-rank, rule-governed bureaucrats.  We flirt with this big time, alluding to all that's fashionable in uniforms, a familiar theme in the films.  There's the Darth Vader admiral, wanting to pilot a Death Star in wartime.  His daughter is disgusted.  Savagery just doesn't cut it with the newer generation.

This finding of too much war abhorrent is set early in Star Trek history.  The crew is young and looming war with the Klingons, Cold War foes, would give way to a truce in future chapters, a token Klingon on board.  Universe gets more and more into Civil Rights.  The 1960s fade in the rear view mirror.  But first we need to live through it a little, encountering the Battle Crazed Galactica -- the warrior archetype, frozen in time, eternally a possibility.  The dark father thaws one, a symbolic opening of Pandora's war games again.  We go back to 911, more nutty times.  The audience is not necessarily happy about all this.  So much death and destruction, with so little comic relief.

The comedy is in adhering to the formulas, with a guest appearance from Leonard Nimoy.

There's irony in working hard to sound the themes, even when they're so well known.  Kirk is all too human, a bundle of bravery and intuition, whereas Spock is more geeky but not without dignity.  These characters know how they go together.  More comic relief with the twist though, of Spock in a lover's quarrel.  The original Star Trek was always testing his character in that way somehow.  Jim is bravado and hubris.  Spock is rule-bound.  As aspects of the Personhood (what corporations wish they had), we recognize familiar faces.

The credits salute post-911 vets, a nodding acknowledgement of the dive into militarism the culture experienced, with darth vadery types coming out of the wood work.  There's a claustrophobia in this eternal return.  For all this rushing into the future, it's still so Art Deco, so much our own projection.  Our collective imagination hems us in, knitting us a fabric of spacetime.

The physics is familiar:  the airlessness of space, a suction, its debris, the shedding of heat shielding upon re-entry.  The frenetic parade of planets at the end suggests those comic book origins, the "outer space" of our inner imaginations.  The theme music is boldly operatic.  Universe:  a place to feel at home, but not free from danger.

Friday, August 02, 2013

More Ruminations on OSCON

I try to get to R0ml's talks, and as one of the screeners, I bring my experience of "what's an OSCON".  We like Perl people.  Larry and family like R0ml talks.  So do Alex and Anna (fellow Pythonistas -- she had the Google glasses this year).

This year he was talking about the reflex-conditioning around "secret source" and how it still impacted open source practices.  Aren't "config files" just a holdover from not being allowed to compile in your favorite settings?  It takes less code to say it in source, he showed in slides.  And what about testing?  If you're doing that because the source itself is closed to you, then you're a good little monkey, but studies prove more bugs are found by people reading code with comprehension.

On this last point I could feel audience unease and we had a hand go up.  Defense of testing runs deep and R0ml was uttering deliberate heresies.  Even though we knew that, it was hard to not formulate a come back, right there and then.

As background, I should come clean that I take the podium in favor of "test driven development" for money.  It's a soap box, with examples, and I know in the business world that strict TDD was never king of the hill.  What's TDD?  You actually write the tests of your code before you write the code, and then your code is all about passing your own tests.  It's like playing chess against yourself.  The testing is looking for weaknesses.  You do counter-intelligence against your developer self, and that makes your developer self develop, which is why TDD is a valuable plank in the "agile" platform.

The other talk I've been thinking about is the one on Race and Racism.  She was good at making us endure a little awkwardness as the theory is Race is best confronted with such a willingness.  Your first moves as a ballerina, as a wannabe, might make you feel awkward, given you're a blundering oaf.  Shrek trying to play Tinkerbell.

However much I appreciate the Gibbsian / visceral approach to self analysis, I think we should also provide road maps, topologies for these topographies, ala Euler (I'm using these names with a Buckyesque spin).  She was always asked "what are you" in terms of race and she was force fed the usual answer of "mixed" having had a "white" father and a "black" mother.  The idea of "mixed" implies "pure" a kind of phenotype, and then we're back to the five, seven or eleven "races of man" depending on which Bible-informed Social Darwinism or other Anglophone pseudo-science we happen to be reading.

As I was saying at NPYM, I really don't trust the Anglophones to puzzle their way free of the Race concept, because they base so much on it.  The investment is still there.  Getting "beyond" race does not mean deconstructing the concept as anthropologists, but being "tolerant" of other races and such bull crap, buying into the basic premise, which is there's some essence or blood substance we're keeping track of, and fractional bookkeeping applies.

1/32nd Native American is supposed to make sense.  And it does, after a fashion, when it comes to family inheritance, legal rights and so forth.  Membership in a tribe may hinge on proving that 1/32nd is "real".

But this is not really genetics.  The genetic code has no specific "race" gene and the kind of mixing that goes on is not captured by our feeble words like "white", "black", "yellow" and "brown" (or "blue" if you think aristocrats are divinely "blue bloods").  Those are kindergarten concepts, for politicians who choose to avoid science.  But they're also very embedded in English, these concepts, which taints it and limits its utility.