Friday, October 30, 2015

Remedial Philosophy for Geeks

As an aspiring geek, you may have taken some philosophy courses at the university level.  Chances are, though, the even the basics of engineer-philosophy Buckminster Fuller got bleeped over.

Don't blame yourself.  Those training up as philosophy teachers in the 1900s came conceptually ill equipped and most of them never learned to shift gears.

You'll get up to speed on your own, studying the great variety of materials provided.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Looking Back


Visual FoxPro, abbreviated VFP by Microsoft, is the name of the power programming tool I used around the change of millennium (late 1900s, early 2000s).  The package went through several editions, up to VFP9, and that was after Microsoft bought it and made it run inside Windows.

The computer language VFP implemented was more formally known as xBase, with a first commercial implementation known as dBase II (there was never a dBase I).  At one point, Microsoft expected BASIC, xBase and C to be three major pillars going forward (a magazine cover I recall).  This was well before Java, or Python, or the .NET ecosystem.

Given I'd cut my teeth on programming at Princeton (Class of 1980) using both punch cards and a dumb terminal, by the time I returned to Portland five years later, I was ready to get up to speed and take clients.  Given my wife to be was a fund accountant for nonprofits, it makes some sense that I'd work in that sector also.

We sometimes had the same clients, as was the case with Vision Northwest, providing support for mostly older adults losing their eyesight to varying degrees.  Dawn did their bookkeeping while I launched their first Vision Voice application, a programmable phone tree that came with its own circuit board for the PC.  Users could navigate to informational recordings, made by VNW staff, including sale prices for grocery stores.  Fixed income seniors needed to save every penny.  I also wrote dBase for them.

Dawn and I became a business partnership in 1990 having both served at CUE (Center for Urban Education), itself a nonprofit providing tech support to other nonprofits.  Steve Johnson ran the Apple computer center (Macs + LaserWriter).  Thanks to a government contract, we later added PCs by IBM and its army of clones.

I took on dBase clients, and even a FORTRAN client, starting then, plus taught computer classes.  Dawn was the CUE bookkeeper.  My boss was Carol Slaughter (later Slegers).  Her boss was David Lansky, through whom I made my initial connection with Providence Health System, eventually to become my biggest client for my Visual FoxPro programming services.

Visual FoxPro's tenure at Microsoft was uneasy, because (A) it had its own IDE distinct from Visual Studio (B) it competed for market share with Access, a Microsoft flagship product (C) it started to spread free of charge, in Europe especially (I heard Prague was a HQS), outside of Microsoft's control.

I'd say reason (B) was the most devastating, as Access was the Microsoft flagship in that important realm of cube farm databases, but then I'm not a Microsoft insider and have never been a BASIC fan (in any of its incarnations, including VBA) though I appreciate how it filled a niche.  So lets count me as biased.

VFP was able to parse SQL in-line as part of its object oriented syntax.  It has (or had  -- Microsoft discontinued support for the language this year) a stellar development environment, in terms of letting one drag and drop widgets into place.  On the other hand, the separate DBFs for each data table, with external indexes, was immature.  Talking to a dedicated SQL engine makes more sense and in that sense the writing was on the wall:  xBase would be going away.

These days, the most standard architecture is to have a general purpose computer language talk to SQL and noSQL engines through APIs.  The Microsoft tool stack includes Visual Studio with Apache Cordova or maybe Xamarin, allowing programmers to write for iOS, Mac and Android, even Blackberry, as well as Windows.

However, given the demise of VFP, I've not been on the Microsoft bandwagon for some time now, except at work, where I run Eclipse on a Windows server back ended into a Linux filesystem.  I teach Python, which runs fine on Windows.

At the height of my career with VFP, I was juggling both CLAIR and CORIS.  CLAIR was the Cath Lab Angioplasty and Interventions Registry whereas CORIS usually decoded to Cardiac Operating Room Information System or something of that nature.  A co-worker, Andy Bennett, made up these abbreviations.

CLAIR ran in the cath lab and helped technicians capture useful research data at the point of care.  CORIS did much the same thing in the operating room.  One of the heart surgeons took CORIS on the road to show it off to other companies as the kind of thing hospitals might use (given ours did, under his supervision).  Our collaboration was no doubt influential although neither application spawned directly derivative works.  They were each one-of-kind.

I'm not the only "VFP refugee" who had to turn to other technologies.  The fact that Microsoft had made VFP fully object oriented, even more so than VB, and the fact that xBase had always had a shell (called the "dot prompt"), or REPL, made learning Python pretty easy.  C# is too low level, coming from a FoxPro background, meaning it requires too many lines of code to get too little work accomplished.  Moving from VFP to .NET of any flavor was not a paved, well-signed highway, so many VFP refugees took off in different directions.  Yes, a diaspora.

Nowadays I look at the Python-Jython / Clojure / Java ecosystem as my homeland.  I'm actually towards the bottom of the Clojure ladder, but that just means lots of room for advancement.  When you're at the top of all your ladders, that's not necessarily a pleasant occasion.  I like having both object oriented and functional programming languages running on the same VM, in this case the JVM.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Patriotism vs Nationalism

I'm digging into an eBook on my Kindle, entitled Cultural Idiocy: Why America is Losing the War of Words by Joe Marconi.  Here's a paragraph from the introduction:


The root of the problem, or at least another serious symptom of it, if we read on, is insufficient respect for professors (the author is one) and academic values.

I'm willing to buy that to some level, i.e. work / study programs are indeed important in fighting obsolete conditioned reflexes.  Even though I only climbed the degree ladder so far, I still believe in ladders and climbing.

This attitude of "dismissing [other countries] as lesser beings in terms of intelligence and accomplishment" is one optional aspect of what I'll call patriotism, not necessarily mentally healthy but also potentially innocuous.  One needs a home team to root for, be that a home state, school or company campus.

Patriotism traces to an internal "private sky" i.e. a "virtual country" or "land" which we sometimes think, in all innocence, is widely shared and well understood by "the masses" (i.e. "other people") -- a step towards nationalism's stronger need for literalism and one conception of reality uber-alles.

A self-conscious patriot embraces solipsism, not as a factual truth, but as a constructivist premise.  One constructs one's own reality, meaning one's country within one's world, which all has a "might have been" (subjunctive) flavor.

In actuality, it's the call of a higher Self that we answer and serve, toward some greater glory.  We seek a larger more cosmic purpose, however that manifests (for some, as a nation, for others as corporation or a religious institution -- some converge all of these in some multi-faceted bliss).

Thoughts about the inferiority of "other countries" need not go with the territory, but often do.  We certainly feel more "at home" in whatever "homeland" is ours, by definition.

Americans indulge themselves with permission to see themselves as "ahead of others" as "the wealthiest nation", as a "superpower". They're groomed to think in those ruts by generations of Manifest Destiny rhetoric, in my book a root cause of the very idiocy this author is talking about.

Indeed, when we lose the psychological and subjective dimension of a promised or promising land, and project our sense of "country" as an "objective nation" on the world stage, then our tone may become more authoritarian and defensive, as the memes of Nationalism creep in.

Citizenship may become more of an entitlement, but also an obligation.  Others may need you to die for them.  The company may need you to be a hero in some way.  Here is where defending one's country, remaining patriotic, may mean going against the expectations of a mere nationalist crowd or mob.  Nationalism is too shallow to comprehend a deeper patriotism.

When patriotism turns to nationalism and requires us to become more obsessed with borders and taking our inner life more literally, that's when we start building physical walls and other such barriers.  Whereas anyone may have a virtual country to serve, a whole planet by default, a nation requires political theater, i.e. concerted acting out.  More props come into play, such as visas and passports.

Was there ever a time that the United States was in any position to "dismiss as lesser beings" these other nations?  What has been the trajectory on the world stage so far?

Certainly individuals may be inventive but nation-states are legal fictions and devoid of personality, inasmuch as corporations are, or do we think only nation-states have what we now call corporate personhood?  Have we worked out what that means?  What are the metaphysical implications?

The USA was hammered together by many groups who'd been rejected or were on the run from the more dominant societies of Europe.  These were refugees, many of them impoverished.  The Statue of Liberty was their beacon later on, but the flight of outcasts and disowned did not begin with the installation of that statue.  We tell the story of the Mayflower.  Pilgrims were seeking new freedoms.

Lets try on for size that the USA was populated by some of the least socially adjusted, who then became further brutalized in prosecuting a form of genocide against native populations.

The collective IQ of America, so-called, has therefore always been exceptionally low.  As a nation, the US has always been at best a bold experiment, but in many chapters was more of a basket case, unable to exert self control or stop itself from gross misdeeds.  Lets see the US as "most retarded" if only in the name of "tough love" (back to patriotism).  That's how this book is having us see Americans too, as losers, with some advice on how to again win.

Do we "boast" of American exceptionalism (last quoted sentence)?  I always considered it more of an accusation.  Americans are too absorbed by "ahead of" and "behind", dissing and dismissing the "behind" while being "number one" i.e. a "superpower" in their own not so powerful minds.

Even with the cult of individual initiative and doing it one's self (rebellious independence), "Americans" as a population still take credit for and thereby socialize the accomplishments of individuals and suddenly it's some "we" that's innovative.

Aren't individuals the entities who are innately innovative?  How is it that fictitious beings are innovative?  Lets give credit where credit is due:  to humans, not their own contrived institutions (which humans invented).

Patriotism supplies the personhood.  People have the same sense of patriotism about their companies, so the fact that sovereignties are getting put in their place by the supranationals makes some sense.  The playing field has leveled more.  As long as we're in the realm of fictitious personhood, more than just nations can play.

Nationalists are more puzzled by these developments than more self-aware patriots.  Patriots understand the "love of country" involves a more metaphoric use of "country" with arrows pointing inward.  Nationalists are too dull to get that and project their inner dynamics outward, expecting the world to reflect their own internals by proxy.  In forgetting the power of psychology, they become its victims, its puppets, its idiots.

A nationalist is someone who believes in nations.  A patriot serves a higher selfhood without necessarily believing so hard, without adhering so strongly to contemporary dogmas about just what or where those nations are.  Those nations may be just political theater, often farcical and fleeting, strutting and puffing their hour upon the stage.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In Corvallis

I'm not cleared to get onto the OSU secure network.  Some buildings no doubt have Guest or Visitor access, like Valley Library and La Salle, but I'm tucked away in Gilmore Annex, one of the conference rooms.

I came along on this trip as a chauffeur for Carol, the WILPF big shot around here.  Although Linda Richards emailed some details, I was too aloof and skipped doing much homework, thinking mom had everything under control.  As it turns out, she's as oblivious as I am, so between the two of us, we're sort of bumbling through the day.  Fortunately, we're surrounded by less clueless.

Fascinating stuff though.  The Special Collections section of the library has put together a rather unique exhibit on matters nuclear, as in atomic.  The Linus Pauling heritage features prominently.

I've posted about that Special Collection before, Doug Strain the key benefactor in many dimensions.  I took a ton of pictures.  I bet I'll not be handling those Nobel Prizes again.

Then we adjourned to Gilmore Annex, where I'm writing off-line.  The group is talking about how to further the Countdown to Zero campaign but in this namespace they call it Reaching Critical Will, or at least WILPF does.

FOR is represented and is speaking now.  The Scottish Nationalist Party campaign against the Tridents seems what these USers are alluding to.

Speaking of USers, I was in a McMenamins earlier, talking to Farmers Insurance, and two folks came in with their passports to get them stamped.  Those sure do look like real passports!  McMenamins has this language game going where getting McMenamins passport stamps pays off in terms of free beers etc.   Rogue Nation is another brewery that's taken on "nation state" memes, including a faux news network.

What's next?

We're to move to an auditorium and hear some music maybe?  As for tonight, something about AirBnB -- but again, I was in denial about needing to study up on what I was getting into.  I'm still not entirely sure.  We're having an interesting day though.

I'm not very talkative, ducking out for coffee, and to take more pictures.  I guess I'm feeling pretty up on this content, whereas the OSU campus is more of a known unknown (to me), so why not explore?

My mom forgot her hearing device but she seems to be catching most of it.  She is highly talkative today, given WILPF is somehow officially connected to this event (Ava's legacy).  Tomorrow she'll go back to Special Collections to study the exhibit some more, while I find a place to do WiFi.

Quakers have Annual Session here sometimes so the place is not completely unfamiliar, but it's been quite awhile since my last visit.

For those unfamiliar with Oregon geometry (geography), we have a river, named the Willamette, that comes south from the Columbia River all this way.  We drove south along I-205 merging with I-5, turning west on 34 south of Salem and Albany.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Wanderers 2015.10.20

Cute Bat
:: fruit bat ::

If you know the ethnography of our region, you'll know that Halloween, the upcoming major holiday, is associated with a Gothic sensibility regarding the underworld, featuring what we call "creepy" imagery centered around cemeteries, skeletons and... bats.

This linkage, of a flying mammal (the only one -- those squirrels don't really count), to a folk meme-plex (not forgetting Dracula and vampires more generally), is rather unfortunate, as humans act out based on such nonsense.  Their brains are wired to allow such melodrama.

So, for example, entire caverns of important colonies, responsible for keeping insect populations in check, helping farmers, who feed the people, have been torched by irresponsible "idiots" as Dick calls them.

Bats were killed by the thousands in some zip code areas, by ridiculously ignorant hominids with uncultured neuro-systems, run amok.  We see that a lot in humans, less so in other species.  So many freaks of nature commit vandalism and wreak havoc in our midst!

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself here .  Thank you Bat Conservation International, for helping us to understand.

Dick Pugh was our speaker tonight, despite his bad cough, and he has a lot of personal experience with these animals.

It's not like he hasn't disturbed bat habitats in the name of science.  In the early days he trapped live specimens for the university at twenty five cents a pop.

However good science seeks to learn how and when enough is enough and is today highly sensitize to the high value of bat colonies.  Sure, some are bloodsuckers, but actually not that many.  The vast majority are pollinators, sometimes the only pollinators of a species, and spreaders of fruit seeds, in addition to keeping insects under control.

To attack one's bat population deliberately is usually not a good sign i.e. chances are the humans in questions have been overwhelmed with delusions.

During the Eisenhower administration, the attack was less deliberate than unknowing.  The importance of bat colonies was one of those unknown unknowns.  The front burner concern was personal safety and the fact of gaping holes in the earth known as abandoned mines.  These were dangerous places that invited reckless and/or adventurous individuals to injure themselves, so the policy was to dynamite their entrances thereby rendering them inaccessible.

The problem with this policy was important bat colonies were already taking up residence and the ecosystems were in a new equilibrium.  Disturbing the status quo this drastically brought unexpected ill health to the economy.

Again, farmers are forbidden by law from applying DDT, at one time considered the miracle pesticide, and have wised up in general about the health effects, in the ecosystem beyond just supermarkets, of these toxins.

Establishing bat colonies in and around the same fields on purpose is a way to keep some species of pest more or less under control.  The benefits are tangible.  Letting nature work for you, instead of working against nature, turns out to be sound business strategy.

Back to bats.  Some have enormous ears.  "Echo-location" we call it, but then photons bounce too and we sometimes emit them with flashlights.  "Ear-sight" might be another name for it.  They can pick bugs out of the sky and lick the surface of a lake with their elongated tongues.

Humans have had some close symbiotic / friendly relationships with bats.  The founder of the BCI had one hanging off his arm during presentations, an old friend.  We heard other stories of this nature.

Dick has worked a lot on restoring and / or boosting bat habitats, including through a Cleveland High School program aimed and building bat houses for Oaks Bottom.

The new approach regarding abandoned mines and some other caverns, is to make them bat friendly, in terms of egress and entrance, but inaccessible to unauthorized humans.

Of course truly malicious humans will find other ways to mess with the bats, but most of us are willing to co-exist with our ecosystem partners and appreciate their hard (if unpaid) work.

Keeping it Bat Friendly
:: keeping it bat friendly ::

Monday, October 19, 2015

Women in Combat

I find myself for the most part agreeing with remarks by former US Marine Chad Russell interviewed on NPR for a show airing today, saying the US military is moving too quickly to put women in combat roles.  He was sharing his view (and that of many like minded) in light of recent remarks US Navy Secretary Ash Carter, who questioned the validity of any tests suggesting the status quo be sustained.

Chad's reasoning was roughly as follows:  the NFL is all men playing football (the US kind), so lets integrate that with women first.  As an experiment.  Lets do something in the civilian sector first, because war fighting has to be about winning, that's paramount.  Anything too political and it's no longer about winning militarily but appeasing voter-spectators, playing to the crowds.  That's a different form of campaigning, closer to mob psychology.

That's a loose paraphrase as actually Chad was saying nothing about football, only citing recent test scores hinting that given an all woman football team, versus an all male one, both selected to be the best in their gender, the male team would more likely win.  They bulk up more on average and a team of them would just be more ugly and orc-like, no matter how hard the females tried.  Turn this into a battlefield, and the orcs win.  The tests in question were not about football either, but about boot camp.

Isn't there a reason we have women's soccer separate from men's?  It's not necessarily all about modesty or locker rooms or equal opportunity. It's about making this be a sports event, meaning a level playing field in principle.  "Best of breed within gender" is found to be more fair, through actual experiment, as a result of trials with real humans as guinea pigs.

So if the sports leagues are separated by sex, what's the argument for saying combat should not be?  Those urging the Marines to change their ways first, and not the NFL and/or FIFA are maybe abusing their powers of command?

The former Marine was not sexist just realistic, in my view.  He was making the point that the laws of physics and statistics do not bend even for US Navy Secretaries.  He was very nice about it.

That being said, as a Quaker I see combat as Freaking Out at the institutional level, with individual soldiers behaving rationally to protect themselves from harm.  The work is not glamorous because it's a wholesale breakdown in decorum and polite civility as droves have their dreams for a sane experience shipwrecked.

Every episode of combat is akin to a ship going down and people dying at sea, except the latter is more likely to be more romantic.  Battle shows humans behaving at their worst, earning their title as Fallen (sinful, disobedient to God, assholes).  The thought of dragging the fairer sex into this sewage pit, or simply accepting their presence as perps, seems like further degrading humanity as a whole, one more step towards depravity (whereas combat is already rude and crude, beyond the pale).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a good example of a woman in a lineage wherein women are best.  In her discipline, you don't find many if any men.  Letting women cultivate roles that emphasize their strengths would be better than letting them play Hulk.  Not that a female Hulk wouldn't be interesting, especially as she provided companionship to Mr. Hulk in the thick of battle.  Maybe they'll make that episode.

I know "letting" as in "letting women cultivate roles" sounds condescending to some as if I'm talking man-to-man behind the back of the women.  Female Marines might counter "we're not asking, we're taking and you're in no position to 'let'".  I admire such spunk.

Let me change pronouns then.  You ladies should think about completely dominating at least 50% of the sixteen government agencies (see below) that self style as being Intelligence (Homeland Security is one of them, so include TSA).  Like, grab the CIA as yours and yours alone why not.  Kick out all the old white guys to start with; keep a few tokens (don't make the takeover too obvious).  One of the top honchos, John Brennan, just had his emails hacked we heard on the radio today.  The time is ripe.

Just because women don't get to infiltrate the Marine combat units would not mean they couldn't form their own Special Units.  Why not do more in those directions, before going up against chromosomes?  And yes, there's a lot to be said for letting individuals cross over and play for the other side, talking about trans gender, with a cis female going by Sir, as some top Vulcan.  Or maybe just call her Boss?  Might this be an opportunity to make GMO something positive?  Perhaps with gene therapy we could someday have even more XYs in core USG IC work?

I'd say the AFSC is already not-a-patriarchy in many dimensions.  Although AFSC is a Quaker NGO, not part of the USG IC, intelligence gathering and networking, as well as analysis and community organizing, are among its skills.  I offer this example as encouragement to those frustrated by any glass ceiling in academia.  In living an academic's lifestyle, you may not have the same opportunities to live on the front lines in some war for hearts and minds.

NGOs have traditionally attracted females with little patience for "making money" as a life's goal.  They're more like Roz Savage, in it for the adventure, and to set new performance records outside of some one-dimensional "net worth" money-oriented measure. Careers in public service e.g. in government, cater to that same sense of taste.  That being said, having the top "richest people" in the world include at least an equal number of females would be refreshing.  A better balance within the USG IC may help catalyze the needed changes.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Starbucks / Asylum District


Starbucks is an institution built around coffee, a brew of chemistries, and inheriting work already done, say in France, to make the "coffee shop" an alternative to the tavern, or speakeasy.

People go to bars and taverns to maybe get somewhat rowdy, to sing loudly in chorus even, and to cheer for their sports team on TV.

People go to coffee shops to read magazines in private, use the WiFi, and, stereotypically, engage in one-on-one conversations, about geopolitics, philosophy, trends in art.

However those are merely two ends of a spectrum.  Some bars, such as Lucky Labrador, are quite friendly to laptops and nerding out over board games.  Geek bars are not sports bars.  Lucky Lab has no TV.

As a rule of thumb however, there's osmotic pressure to not take your laptop into a bar for solitary WiFi activities.  For one thing, it's pretty easy to spill beer.

Coffee shops keep the WiFi tap open and flowing freely, hoping customers will continue to sip beverages and buy baked goods.

Given this background, it's not surprising that the coffee shop, not the pub or public house, has become more of a business buzz space, the place to do work.

Given the lighting and relative quiet, the coffee shop is a safe space for job applicants to meet potential employers, for contract negotiations, business oriented conversation (BOCs or "boxes").  Especially those who work at home need a neutral ground to make deals in.  Even politicians hold court.

Bars and taverns were targeted by Puritans in the US, who tried to permanently ban them as an institution, by means of a US Constitutional Amendment (called Prohibition).  Taverns were the devil's churches, congregation halls wherein sinners might practice their vices with impunity.

However "the boys" coming home after the World Wars would not be denied their grog, having put their lives on the line for their country.  Some had sampled the best of Germany's craft brews, as well as England's and so on.

However the post WW2 invention of aluminum pull-top cans and TV dinners changed the equations:  the exGIs could stay home to watch TV with their war bride sweeties, drinking the new factory-scale national brands, such as Bud and Miller Lite (craft beers would re-emerge big time in the 1990s, starting with Anchor Steam simply staying alive).

Thanks to the I-system (the freeway interstates) and the trucking so enabled, drinking beer at home, not just more expensive wines and spirits, became the new normal.  Even though Prohibition had been lifted, the anti-tavern mentality had made lasting inroads.

Sex outside of licensed relationships (unlicensed sex) is what bars were perceived to foment and enable.  Bars were the enemy of marriage (in the nuclear family sense) and tranquil nests, thanks both to loose women ("floozies") and dad coming home drunk, beating the wife and kids in some melodramatic show of patriarchal frustration.

As most of us know, unlicensed, oft paid-for sex, is typically de-legitimized as prostitution (a known vice), and run as an organized criminal business (by definition). In joining the military, a studly young man hoped to escape domestic Puritanical strictures by having "a good time" overseas, where, in some tropical paradise, sex without a marriage license was no crime at all.

Coffee shops were and are to this day seen as much less of a public threat to law and order.  At worst, the latter were more likely to give rise to "beatniks" (later "hippies" then "hipsters") and political subversives (e.g. "commie symps").  Eggheads in general are more likely to question Puritanical authority and spread dangerous ideas regarding "open license" sex (known as "licentiousness" in the Puritanical vocabulary) and alternatives to marriage.

True to form, in being a geek and business oriented, I've been hanging out at the local Starbucks learning about ISO stuff i.e. ISO 9001:2015.  One of the world's leading authorities on that topic hangs out there on occasion.  I was introduced by Deke the Geek.

At home, I study the certification system, with its certifiers of registrars and so on.  By means of ISO 9000 and so on, companies work to appear to one another, and/or to governments, as "squeaky clean" (the opposite of criminal, plus competent and sincere).  Such cosmetics are important for organizations and may go a long way towards attracting the "right" clientele.

I got my own certificate of completion from such an auditing outfit, named the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), when I read through their lengthy guidelines and took the reading recollection quizzes.  I've usually been pretty good at those.

However certifying organizations is not the same thing as certifying individuals and my taking that course was but a small part of a larger organizational undertaking.  My co-workers took it too.  The boss told us we had to and we did, knowing the goal was increased long term viability for our school.

Coffee Shops are sometimes allowed to sell a few beers nowadays.   In Asylum District, cannabis products are available for recreational purchase a few doors down from any coffee joint.  Even if Starbucks is not directly selling THC-spiked edibles, there's nothing to stop their customers from consuming same, while continuing to uphold a business-like sense of decorum.

Time will tell how these new chemistries will sort out.  Other states are watching.  Chances are, as the culture continues to mature, the Asylum District will continue to produce new concepts in industry.  The Silicon Forest already owes a lot to this neighborhood, a boyhood haunt of Linus Pauling, and later host to first offices of ESI and Tektronix.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Intelligent Design

As I was thumbing through Youtubes about ATP Synthase, I realized sometimes I was looking through a "church window" meaning a religious group was framing the animation as "proof of God" in some ongoing battle we mostly find in Euro-Anglo cultures, but I'm sure elsewhere as well, perhaps on planets yet discovered.

I hearken back to an ISEPP lecture in which our teacher very much wanted to say that bacteria were intelligent.  He wasn't trying to say they knew the alphabet (well... OK, RNA is kind of like one), but that they shared genomic material (alphabet soup) in ways that short cut merely random responses.  They adapted quickly, they adapted well.  Random mutations would be mere fumbling in the dark, relative to the responses he was seeing.

Some kind of against-the-odds upstream leap appears, a non-predictable leap, a surprise, which we might attribute to a black box (for now):  Synergy:  the behaviors of wholes unpredicted by the behavior of their parts considered in isolation.  "Emergence" is another word we find applied to this phenomenon, sometimes associated with "intelligence".

Donning a Wittgenstein-inspired Sherlock Holmes hat, and lighting my pipe, affecting Victorian mannerisms, I would investigate "intelligence" as a word,  a tool of communication, and note that we've oft admired non-human i.e. "natural" phenomena for their intelligent design.

"Intelligent design" is a meme fragment, a piece of textual RNA, like a protein set in type, that we'll likely have seen before, if used to reading, in connection with all kinds of "natural" phenomena.  A bird's nest.  The bird itself.  A bat (echo location).  Bird migration.

We see the sense of it:  the solution makes sense in light of the challenges.  Our use of "intelligent" is in light of our own understanding of its fitting cleverness.  We comprehend.  We're impressed by how it gets the job done.  That gets us thinking of jobs we do ourselves.

We may not pause at first to ask "who's idea?" but if we do, we might answer "God" as a way of saying we have no more complicated answer, as we might regarding something humanly contrived.  For some people, having such an unsatisfying answer is enough to squelch the question i.e. if you're just going to say "God" all the time, why ask?

But lets remember:  if we've entered the realm of patents and proper names, we might have a lot more to say, regarding "whom" or, in some assumed ethnicity, we might say "it's the Queen's" as the titular owner of whatever is in the Realm ("the company" plays a similar role in that its employees may be awarded with titles in lieu of outright ownership of their inventions, which company lawyers need to account for as distributed to an inner circle of partners, some hidden, or stakeholders / shareholders).

What's odd about this word "natural" and why I bring out the scare quotes is how we of academic schooling use it specifically to exclude the "man made" or "manufactured" which in some sense relates to "intentional" and/or "designed intentionally" -- to which we link such memes as "a thought process" (such processes are the stuff of philosophy books).  Finger nails are natural, but finger polish is not.  The lens of an eyeball is natural, but the corrective contact lens is not.  Brains are natural, but thoughts about them are not.

When people think things up and then build them, we don't say that they're "natural" any more, but of course whatever humans do or make is in another sense within the natural sphere, the domain of Creation as some might say.  Nature is at least as intelligent as the humans it contains and partly consists of: we could say that as a truism, but for the fact that "nature" is so often used precisely to cleave reality in two.

"Human stuff" is distinct, across some invisible line from "non-human stuff" -- and then lo and behold, when we find intelligence on both sides of said invisible line, we get spooked, as if encountering aliens in the X-Files sense.  At that point we might think things like "we supposed we were the only intelligence around here but..."

Not that we all go through that.  Many humans have always taken for granted they were in some continuum with other beings, some "higher" than ourselves. That doesn't render them immune from future shock, but then "shock" is decidedly negative.  "Surprise" is more neutral.  Imagining oneself in a community with non-human intelligent beings does not shield one from being surprised by community developments, I suppose one might say.

Those having a sudden rediscovery of Synergy as a principle may feel "less alone" as when angels, ETs and even polytheistic type beings show up as a persistent possibility (perhaps not all at once -- the possibility of "just ETs" is sufficient for an example of that new awareness of otherness, no close encounter required).

We need to conceptually visualize these "intelligencia", these alternative "sapients" ("alternative" because we imagine ourselves to be such) and fill our canvases accordingly, with story lines and figures.

One may have these experiences and yet still adhere to a Buddhist doctrine of "no self nature" meaning these visions depend to some extent on what one had for breakfast that morning, i.e. the illusion is always of parts with a sense of anchoring (maybe, at best) in some whole.

Psychology is likewise ready with answers that don't involve bending the rules around physics or admitting to the efficacy of whatever superstitious nonsense is sold to keep false hopes aflame or, conversely, crush morale with false certainties.  Many simulations dissemble.

So the machinery is this:  we start out democratic, allowing for "intelligence" to be manifest all over, but then we have this "just us" syndrome (the folk etymology of "just-ice") whereby it no longer seems appropriate to apply the word "intelligent" to such as bacteria.  That perfectly rational usage now becomes "poetic license" or "a metaphor" whereas humans learning to read are "quite literally intelligent" for doing so.  Talk about superstition!

"They can't be intelligent only humans are truly intelligent..." -- objections of that nature arise because the same word ("intelligence") is caught up in different games.  We want "intelligent" to mean "has thoughts" all of a sudden whereas maybe that wasn't so important last week, when we visited the aviary.  In some schools, "having thoughts" is a sign of slowing down.  We have the phrase "knew in a flash" to suggest "having thoughts" may be too plodding for some forms of intelligent activity.

Call it "human exceptionalism" maybe, this desire to excise ourselves from nature and posit ourselves strangers in a strange land (existential aliens).  We get to be different, and that's no big surprise as the language belongs "to us" (or so we think).  We sometimes spook ourselves, by positing intelligence everywhere, then forgetting that's allowed (even given), and getting shocked when coming up against what therefore seems to be a contradictory usage.  The contradiction gives us pause, and a sense of appreciation (perhaps), even wonder.

What's more anthropomorphic, thinking humans are special or thinking intelligence is spread out all over?  It's easy to say which is more anthropocentric, supposedly a sin to avoid when being really serious about one's science.

Monday, October 12, 2015

He Named Me Malala (movie review)

Carol and I watched this in the Regal Cinema at Fox Tower.  Today is Indigenous Peoples Day.  Portland has said good bye to Columbus, officially.  He's had enough days by now.

I woke up forgetting it was a holiday and started bugging people at work, my bad.  Then on leaving for the film, I left the front door to the house wide open.  Thankfully, Melody came by at random and took care of it and then hung out with Sarah-the-dog (she gets lonely).  Lucky me, to have such friends.  Melody just has to take some last exams to get her license as a massage therapist.  Her knowledge of the body's musculature and specific pathologies is quite extensive, plus will be deepened with more experience.

Just before the film we saw the Suffragettes preview, coming in a few days.  That provided some good shading (as in nuance) regarding the dark ages patriarchy we've been enduring for some time.  Men have needed to run things, at least in their own minds.  And we're not out from under said patriarchy yet.  Those with an XY chromosome still seem to suffer from some sense of extreme entitlement.  Something about brain chemistry?  Are we talking nature or nurture?

Whatever the explanation, I'm thinking the imbalance in power and opportunity is indicative of a defect in the species.  The combination of monotheism coupled with thinking that God has male gender, would seem an unfortunate memetic mutation.  As with any archetype, that one needs to be counter-balanced lest it become a runaway train.  Monotheists are notorious for not being team players.

What is "education" anyway?  Does it always look like classrooms?  Is it a carbon copy (a dated term) of the institution you attended in your youth?  I had a good experience with schooling on the whole, so lets not paint me as bitter and complaining in raising questions about conventional notions.

Definitely the process of educating oneself includes learning to read, that much is clear, but when do we learn about intuition and listening to inner promptings that are not mere temptations or cravings others have cleverly implanted?  When do we learn to become less gullible, less someone else's puppet or stooge?  Becoming informed and building character happens in many ways, through many life experiences.  Let's not become the prisoner of our own stereotypes.

A most important aspect of elementary school is it makes the acquisition of specific skills, such as numeric computation, a peer group activity such that one's likelihood of future success becomes a public topic.  One is graded relative to others.

There's a zero sum aspect to any curve based assessment.  Even though we think the collective IQ of humanity has been increasing, whatever that means, renormalizing means we don't see that fact, and that in itself is a way of deceiving ourselves.  One learns to measure oneself relative to a cohort of cronies with little sense of cohorts past.  Malala is subjected to these same regimes, in the name of "schooling".

In that artificially created zero sum sense, school may be a crushing and cruel institution for many an impressionable human (with the unimpressionable past hope), so I'm hesitant to romanticize said institution as "the better fate" for all girls, in any sweeping sense.  That'd be too cavalier.  There's too much that's pathological about "schooling" to wish it on everyone in its present form.  So even as we bring more girls into education, lets transform what we mean by education.  It's not like all the future shock is for the Taliban alone.

Suppose one sees through the social media that other kids one's own age have learned a lot of skills.  They read and write, surf the web...  that sense of "peer pressure" is still there, but perhaps with less potential for public shaming?  Humans nudge each other to perform at higher levels, but with more privacy restored?

Lets focus on creating safe personal workspaces for every student, places to be left alone in for awhile (out of choice, not punishment) places to study quietly, to read, to write, to reflect.  Being crowded together with others:  is that somehow intrinsic to what "education" means?  Who taught you that?

It's not either / or of course, but so often these days it seems "school" means exclusively either "under the watchful supervision of authorities" and/or "in crowded spaces, a space of endless random interruptions".   Neither environment may be conducive to learning.  One might suggest such circumstances are specifically designed to prevent too much learning.  Was a lot of what we called "schooling" really more about "warehousing" when we look back?

In point of fact, there is no one institution entitled to call itself "the" school to the exclusion of all others, just as no one human is "the" teacher of all the others, not the father, not the mother, not the uncles, not the aunts, not the sibs.  All are teachers, no "one" is.

Put another way:  bringing a child into the world is a social act and the world gets to be a collective teacher, not just one adult (another preview was for The Room).  Learning to read opens more windows, and the possibility of more relationships.

Lets remember that the invading Euro-Anglos used their "boarding schools" quite deliberately to tear into indigenous societies, to abduct their children, to ensure the native ways died out in favor of what was "Christian" (or whatever nonsense) -- still a pattern to this day.

"Education" is often code for "learning to think more like the victors and less like the vanquished" i.e. we need to be clear that "education" may be a vector for genocide, a tool of missionaries, perhaps well meaning, but nevertheless on a mission to crush and defeat whatever customs or ways they demonize as inimical to their own.

Obviously genocide is what the Taliban fear, as the prospect of educated women in the sense we're talking about suggests lifestyles entirely different from those they had imagined for themselves, as future patriarchs.  But then we all live in a time of future shock, and a lot of expectations don't get met all around, including those of men in other cultures besides the Taliban.

Prayers for cleverly planted desires may go unanswered or worse, lead to unintended side effects.  The easy availability of weapons makes "blaming others" and "making them pay" a no-brainer for the many shocked by their emerging futures.  People "go postal" in their disappointment, wanting to share their pain with a world turned enemy.  Sometimes the military is a great outlet for collective freaking out, and taking it out on others.  Ain't that NATO in a nutshell?  Not so different from ISIS in being run by aggressive males anxious to preserve their way of life.

Lets agree that sometimes taking the children away from home and placing them under the authority of other adults is not the only or best way to transmit a culture.  Educate the whole family at the same time why not?  Don't give up on the adults or tune them out.  That's mistake number one.  Malala's family does a lot of learning together.  That's healthy.  Good show.

We see that girls are born into the midst of wars, meme wars, PR wars, same as boys.  A tug-o-war ensues, pulling them in all directions.  Exercising one's ability to think for oneself and to follow one's own intuition, while retaining some power to exercise freedom, the power of choice, would be the goal of a liberal education.  But many an education is far from liberal in its goals.  So be vigilant!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Martian (movie review)


I've been clamoring for "positive near future science fiction" in my writing for like decades, and/or noticing its absence.  The near future has been dark and oppressive, with civilization off the rails, such that "future noir" has just about taken over the genre -- so different from happier times when the culture was upbeat about where we might be going.

In this film, the world is free to unite behind a brave effort, and not because we're fighting off aliens this time.  We're rescuing one of our own, struggling valiantly to stay alive on the Red Planet.

We know it's the near future,  versus the far future, given we're told the date and some on the crew still have a bond with the same music we recognize in 2015.  The technology looks quite similar to our own.  Aside from NASA's logo everywhere, and JPL's, there's very little product placement.  CNN gets to play the TV news anchor.  Times Square is recognizable.  We don't get to look at their cars.

Yes, the film is about recruiting talent, helping youngsters project future selves onto a canvas.  The puzzles that need solving all require STEM and/or media skills, in addition to bravery, stamina and good looks.  Geodesics need to be calculated, communications established, medical treatments self administered... astronauts have to be DIY jacks of all trades.  Everyone knows about ASCII (a hexadecimal code for numbers and letters) and Lord of the Rings (associated with geekdom).

We also get a taste of compartmentalization, bureaucracy, sharing information based on "need to know" and making tough calls, giving orders.  We're in a semi-military culture the civilians have opted into, a culture that has absorbed the military's cavalier sense of hubris regarding plutonium in treating it as one more toxic substance that needs to be buried a few feet in the sand under some dorky flag.

When our hero gets cold, his solution is to dig it up and drag the container all over Mars, possibly jeopardizing the future habitability of the entire planet should he flip the truck and commend all those radio-toxins to the Martian dust clouds.  Should Americans be allowed to take radiotoxins to Mars, given this is their attitude?  An astronaut from another culture might have done the more honorable thing and self euthanized.

Only the US seems keen to have its people on Mars in this future, though we're not completely clear on their motivations.  The level of public excitement seems to be a the main variable to track and the public doesn't like people dying in tragic circumstances (outside of war that is, currently still a bestseller).  The primary motivation is to put on a good show, to give the public its money's worth in terms of infotainment.

No other institution seems to have caught the Mars bug to the degree NASA has.  Apparently the US Congress was able to boost borrowing authority through a number of election cycles.  What's the national debt level I wonder? 

No one says "days" anymore, as in "24 hour period".  The word "sols" has taken over.  Hey, maybe it's already that way at Mission Control.

As in Oblivion, futuristic aesthetics involve LCDs that make that high pitched "screen making letters" noise.  That's an old convention in science fiction, since X-Files at least.

2001 Space Odyssey deserves mention simply for how we've had to reset the clock.  The technology projected in the late 1960s is still mostly ahead of what we've come to.  No Hal.  No moon base (apparently -- or maybe the Russians have one?).  No cryogenic sleep to make the time go by with less aging and fewer intake needs.

On the other hand, the aerospace aesthetics are familiar, with hints of geodesic structures, airlocks, docking, and of course retro-rockets, which, unlike in the movie Gravity are allowed to make noise, even in the total silence of space.

The bandwidth seems awfully narrow though.  Even with communications re-established, Earth is unable to send better music?  We're maybe supposed to conclude that our hero secretly likes disco.  As shown in other scenes, these geeks routinely say the opposite of what they mean in a joking way.  Engineers still get a little dodgy when it comes to expressing their true feelings I guess.

The acrobatics in zero gravity are persuasive, especially inside the Hermes.  No real effort is made to simulate the lower gravity of Mars, much greater than our moon's, but still quite a bit less than Earth's.

I'd say geeks have moved from the carnival to high end circus, with the space program center ring.  This was Apollo 13 on steroids, a real world almost-disaster about which a major movie was made.

There are no "bad people" in this film.  Catharsis is not achieved through watching the bad people get what's coming to them.  I can't recall a single handgun in the entire two hours.  A circus without violence is not very Roman is it?  No love triangles (that we get to know about).  No sex (OK, a tiny bit).

The fact that nature is equally unforgiving to all and therefore fair, in terms of applying the same physics across the board, while humans are fallible and fragile, yet ingenious, is enough to drive the plot. In many ways, this is a hopeful film of the kind I've been wishing for, so far be it from me to be a wet blanket.

Let's not overlook the atavistic / supranational posture assumed by the hero himself:  it's not the US colonizing or claiming Mars for itself in this picture, but a lone pirate and his newfound treasure (an entire planet), a more "outlaw" experience.  He celebrates the existential scenario over a more fictive institutionalized self, and yet still remains loyal to his tribe. He's a conquistador with a plutonium teddy bear (his Wilson -- though he doesn't talk to it).

The astrogeek's tribe, in remaining loyal to him, also verges on becoming a tribe of outlaws themselves, pirates.  Overriding commands from on high is sometimes the stuff of heroism.  We saw that for real in Fukushima, when the head engineer insisted on dousing the plant in saltwater, overruling his bosses, thereby quite possibly saving Greater Tokyo from evacuation.  Perhaps Japanese engineers take plutonium more seriously?

The movie has been sold out at The Bagdad on at least one occasion, me being one of those turned away from the Friday showing at 7 PM.  I went to the 10:45 PM showing last night, Saturday, having met with a former co-worker and his nephew at Rogue Hall (I say "former" co-worker because as the website clearly states, we're dropping the "school" moniker; the original team from Useractive -- formerly NetMath -- has already mostly dispersed).

Thursday, October 08, 2015

So You Wanna Be a Martian Math Teacher...

dedicated to Sarah 
(old dog on the audio track)


Digital Mathematics:  Heuristics for Teachers
Martian Mathematics @ Reed College (Saturday Academy)
Storyboards:  Concepts for Synergetics Animations (Flickr Album)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Reciprocal Bases

Citizen diplomats are planning to counter any permanent base presence by the US military in Germany or Korea with reciprocal bases in the US, with an humanitarian purpose, and allowing personnel to rotate through on missions.

We co-organize with the more free-wheeling intelligence community, much of it west of the Mississippi i.e. in West Region.  The Pentagon need not have essential input into this plan.  Existing bases would include the embassies already on the ground.

A next generation of such bases (or call them campuses) is already under construction.  Most US military personnel have no clearance to participate in this work.  Different skill sets (partially overlapping) required.

The US military's concern is properly the US military's bases, co-owned with NATO and the Eurozone in some cases.  They had that one near Bishkek for example i.e. they have plenty to manage without trying to mind our business as well.  We're not in their chain of command.

Today:  General John Campbell reneges on a promise to end his dirty wars in Afghanistan.  We will have an Afghani presence above and beyond a normal embassy presence in the US as well.   Weapons inspection is one of the goals, operation Countdown to Zero and all that.

The logistics system is currently under development.  Learning to become a weapons inspector takes some fancy education, like you might get at Reed College.

Some training bases, other facilities, in the US may be given over to our program.  I welcome the leadership Princeton University is providing.

Funding / investment should be more balanced.  We also need more helicopters.

"We have the situation completely under control in Iraq" says McCain on the radio.  Who is this "we" he claims to speak for?  The people of Arizona I guess.  He said the attack on the hospital was justified by the presence of an enemy in the same city... or was that Alzheimer talking?  Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Masked and Anonymous (movie review)

Jack Fate (Bob Dylan) is on a most amazing magical mystery tour.  We don't see most of it, as he emerges from some underground cave, and leaves in some van, but the part we do witness gives us a ringside seat on life's circus.

Each event is cram packed with thematic content, and all Jack does is mostly listen.  Mostly, he's a witness too, a listener, somewhat self-effacing, an Oriental, or a Stoic.

We hear him think, watch him listen.  When it's his turn in the limelight, it's to make music, with those wanting to play politics piggy-backing on his rhymes (or simply writing them).

The World we get with Jack is one of poverty and dictatorship, i.e. is mostly Blue Meanies.  In a way, he's the proverbial emperor in his own Kingdom, while an impostor owns the throne (shades of Hamlet).  The world is akilter, setting him adrift.

He's not unlike the Buddha, arising from some presumed idyllic matrix, of father, mother, son (remembered from fading footage) only to see that never-never nirvana-world morphed, transformation by transformation, by infidelity, betrayal, and disownment, into the samsara-world of this star-studded movie.

He's a persona non grata, or perhaps a legend in his own time, take your pick.  He's a has been.  However in the musical numbers he's not a "has been" but as good as ever, channeling the voice of the volk i.e. the folk, passing on what he's learned.

[ Bob Dylan was the great folk musician who then went with the electric guitar, a fork in the culture.  He endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as this movie recreates by analogy. ]

In getting these big name actors together, including Luke Wilson (Idiocracy) and John Goodman (Big Lebowski), the director Larry Charles and screen-writers (Bob one of them) wisely give them great rants.

One of my favorite rants I call the "misanthropy rant" (actually Beautiful Animals is the scene name) and is delivered by Val Kilmer.  I was able to find it on Youtube.  Notice the deliberately rough editing, reminiscent of Dr. Brule's show on early morning TV.  Note also that this soliloquy contains the title of the film.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Some Quaker History

Connecting Hicksite with Hume

a letter to the editor linking Hicksites to Hume (source)

I drank my morning coffee, a combo of Seattles Best and Dunkin Donuts i.e. leftovers (both good quality, just I wanted my allotted twelve cups -- some saved to the fridge), while reading The Atlantic.

David Koski had found that recent article by a Professor of Babyhood, Alison Gropnik, recounting how she transformed a midlife crisis into something useful to scholarship:  more evidence of David Hume having some direct knowledge of Buddhism through Jesuit sources.

That got me Googling, finding Hume's poking fun at Quakers, only to find, on fast forwarding, that by the 1830s, the Hicksite branch of Friends were being demonized by Orthodox as Hume-inspired (that infernal Priestley was another baddie).

Connecting these dots gives insights into the conversations of today, as the more Orthodox church-minded continue to find fault with their more Buddhist-like off-spring.

Lyndon LaRouche and Jane Addams then entered the mix as typifying this split.  Jane, founder of WILPF, had a Hicksite dad and formed liberal ideas.

Lyndon, also of Quaker heritage, but of the more Orthodox / Evangelical persuasion, decried David Hume as anti-Platonic, and Hicksites + AFSC as Communists.

One might hypothesize / speculate, empirically, not as a matter of pure deduction, that Alison Gropnik probably admires Jane Addams more than she admires Lyndon LaRouche.