Wednesday, July 18, 2018

OSCON at Twenty

Girl STEM Star

OSCON is waxing nostalgic on its 20th.  Tim O'Reilly expressed his pleasure in being back in Portland, though maybe bringing some Texas weather.  For sure.

From humble beginnings in UNIX culture, free and open source culture took off and now (semi-secretly) powers the economy.  Heavy hitters come to OSCON seeking to recruit new devs.

At OMSI last night, some of the OS community expressed their sense of OSCON closing in around core devs and seeming less accessible in terms of providing a more Maker Faire style front end.

That's not a new development, as OS migrated to the cloud, where it gets configured into proprietary back ends, inherently closed, but with components contributed back to the community.  The cloud world is dominated by big name monopolies, sometimes abbreviated FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google).

Tim O'Reilly wondered from the stage whether the cloud companies were becoming too greedy around empowering themselves at the expense of others, versus catalyzing new synergies and surfing on network effects.

The question need not be posed in terms of morals, unless one sees ethics in engineering as a restatement of scientific principles.  "We're doing science" said Tim, which means experimenting to find what works.

Generosity (definition goes here) is a component of long term business strategy, and more than airy fairy investment in "good will" per the old school economics textbooks.

Morning Coffee

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Elementary School

Had Wittgenstein been in a position to avail himself of computer languages, as his student Alan Turing was starting to do, would he have found these sufficient to make his points regarding rule following in mathematics, or would he have taken the position that some formal logic, woven by not-computer-scientist philosophers, was essential fabric?  I'm thinking he'd have found our world of programming languages sufficient for his purposes.

In Synergetics we see non-executing notations referred to as "empty set" versus another category of math notation as "operational". His math is of the latter type and seems destined to run on computers, both in serial and in parallel processes and threads.  In the meantime, there's plenty of prose to munch on and run neurally, in search of tips and clues regarding generic heuristics.  "Think in terms of planets" might be among the mantras we come away with.  In other words:  mnemonics that employ connected graphs in biospheres will help you play World Game more effectively.  Peter Sloterdijk helped pave the way.

The challenge in elementary schools is to expand their horizons to needing to wrangle large numbers of numbers.  That doesn't necessarily mean the numbers themselves have to be large.  Imagine of herd of a billion numbers, all primes, plus negative one, and low order primes at that, no well established RSA number factors.  Those would be too large.  It's the billions and billions of numbers we need to work with.  Store them.  Process them.  Save them.  Return to them later.

Fortunately, none of these challenges are extremely new and without precedent.  Businesses have always needed to track inventories, large and small, and to measure capabilities.  The physics and chemistry world is keeping track of atoms and molecules, in terms of moles, in terms of various measures.  Even individual molecules may be tagged and made to fluoresce.  The mathematics of large quantities is ancient history.  We just need more of it in the early grades.  Supermarket Math to the rescue.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Nomenclature

Gregory Bateson, the systems theorist and anthropologist, recognized the emergence of Cybernetics as one of the major landmarks in human history.  However, "Cybernetics" per se (the word itself), like "Biosphere", has not enjoyed the wide currency many expected.

That doesn't mean Gregory Bateson was wrong, only that the precise language used is highly mercurial vs-a-vs the less fickle concepts themselves. Systems that auto-tune in the presence of an environment, in order to optimize various capabilities, don't have to be identified as "cybernetic" in order for them to get their work done.

General Systems Theory (GST) actually includes an appreciation for "word meaning trajectories" meaning we track the significance of words in semantic space, and not just according to their frequency (common versus esoteric).

The concepts to consider here:  biases, weights, precession.  The first two seem obvious and show up in linear algebra specifically.  The latter, precession, is borrowed from Synergetics, often lumped with Cybernetics (for good reason) and has to do with the curvilinear paths (the geodesics) formed in the presence of feedback loops, tensor fields, some of which may be self reinforcing (e.g. the "vortex" pattern).

Planets were originally conceived of as "wanderers" because from the standpoint of Earth, their orbits are not simply elliptical, as they are from the standpoint of a Galilean observer, looking from outside the solar system.  Picking the viewpoint from which bodies in motion have a simplest set of relationships is a non-trivial application of machine learning. At least metaphorically, the fixed point theorem applies: there's an identity function hiding in a forest, like a singular tree.

Machine learning is somewhat like fine tuning an ear to hear, inside a chamber with characteristic frequencies we hope to detect.  Train your ear while creating a track record, a history, of improvement, thanks to feedback loops.  Then correctly categorize new sounds, as evidence that you've practiced some generic skill and aren't helpless outside the training cocoon. In today's Tensorflow tutorial we distinguished training, validation and testing data.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Forks in the Road

World Cup Flag

Regarding the Friday 13th indictment of Russian nationals, the talk of the town in this chapter (except for the World Cup, which is on at the moment, last day), we're seeing a fork in the road when it comes to the readership, itself a small percentage of those who care.

Reader A is seeing all the details sprinkled therein, with specific servers in Arizona and Illinois, unit numbers within the GRU, and of course specific names, and is impressed, ready to believe.  Knowing the indictment is unlikely to result in a trial, Reader A is willing to presume the story is true, skipping that step (a trial with evidence), and go from there.

Reader B is thinking of Colin Powell's detailed presentation regarding Iraqi WMDs ("aluminum tubes") and may in general have the view that a big part of spy stuff is crafting stories to look believable ("yellow cake").

The assassination of JFK comes to mind as well (I've been watching Jerry Kroth's latest).  Some people even don't believe the moon landings happened (I think they did).  They're skeptics by nature, especially around anything Cold War flavored.

These are not the only two camps of course.

For example, Reader C may think, like Reader A, that the story holds water, is probably true, but we should be thanking Russian intelligence for doing the job investigative journalists no longer do.

Reader D thinks more like Reader B, but also thinks the intelligence community is now global and this is its way of moving conflicts between major powers out of nuclear hot war space and into the cyber arena, which is for the better.

I haven't even mentioned Nine Eleven and probably should.  Once again, major events that have changed the face of history, do not always build much consensus.

People agree on the magnitude but not on the significance.  The many mutually conflicting stories cancel each other out to some degree.  For example, as a student of Col. Fletcher Prouty, I don't believe the Gary Powers U2 was "shot down".

Understanding these forks in the road helps with analysis as we move forward, as it becomes easier to understand people's thinking when we remember we don't share the same past.

As for me personally, I have some sympathy for Readers B and D, but want to keep an open mind.

The indictment suggests Guccifer 2.0 is a persona, not a person, and that part I'm thinking might be true, but then who invented him?  He seems to have implicated the GU rather overtly, with those Word templates.  If he was a Russian invention, he was not that smart.

Reader A and Reader B therefore have some overlap.  Reader A thinks the Russians have been caught red handed (retro pun intended) precisely because they were sloppy about the coverup.

Stories that Guccifer 2.0 was actually a disguise for Russians came out well before the indictment.  People doing searches will again reach different conclusions.  Reader A sees a consistent story shaping up.  Reader B sees collusion as a cabal seeds the media.

I'm probably sympathetic to Reader B because I don't think politicians in the UK did a convincing job of proving Russians poisoned the Skripals with fancy nerve agent.  Nor did I buy the following April, 2018 chemical weapons attack story in Syria.  The debunkers seemed more credible.

I do think people make stuff up to incite sentiments and also to increase that sense of being under surveillance.  I believe that's a big part of spy craft:  writing believable science fiction.

I think those in a prosecuting / investigative role have little choice but to press forward with their story.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  The goal should be to tie off loose ends.

For example, the "AMS panel" in Arizona maybe counters a line of reasoning raised by some retired NSA types suggesting the metadata was inconsistent with any transcontinental data transfer.  The indictment adds that the files were compressed.

These details go towards addressing the "leak versus hack" forking, providing more ammo to Reader A.

What I noticed in the forty eight hours following the release of the indictment was how hard it was to find any official Russian reaction.  This was not a focus of any of the news stories I could find, but for a paragraph here and there.   We'll likely be getting more along those lines in the next few days.

I'm more interested in the Russian counter-spin than on whatever CNN has to say.  I prefer RT to CNN, any day, thanks to the Americans who work for RT USA.

I'll go upstairs now and see if I can find the World Cup on Fox.  I'm in the Steve Holden Chair of Computer Science in my living room, which is propped up with a log in the back.

Carol, my 89 year old mom, is trying to get ready in time for Quaker meeting, however I don't see us getting there in time, even though my car is back from repairs at K&M near 50th and Division.  We'll likely make it for social hour.

Congratulations France.  I managed to catch just the last five minutes.  Someday I'm hoping to go back and watch a compilation of highlights, from all the games.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Headline News

Headline news in my subculture is Guido van Rossum (GvR) is stepping down as BDFL (Benevolent Dictator for Life) of the Python community.

In practice, Guido had final say over what PEPs were accepted (PEP = Python Enhancement Proposal), however he discovered winning approval for a recent PEP to be an exhausting process.

Stepping down after winning a grueling battle (assignment expressions are to appear in Python 3.8) is probably a good way to make an exit.  Guido deserves a vacation.  He's not disappearing from the scene.

An issue for most dictators is they have no exit strategy, or they appoint a heir to the throne.  Python's community will need to reinvent its own system of governance going forward.

Guido deserves praise, not only for his skills as a language designer, but as a community organizer.

Chris Angelico and Tim Peters were also behind this PEP.  I've read it through and see the logic of adding this new feature.  Like other Python semantics, it might be inelegantly abused by some.  That's no argument for not including it.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Remembering Lisa

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The meetinghouse was full on this occasion, with both Multnomah and Bridge City Friends, and a lot of Sisters, a Catholic order based in Mt. Angel (about fifty miles south of Portland) that allows lay participants, known as Oblates.  Lisa was one of those as well.

I only attended Bridge City a few times in the last year.  Great seeing so many familiar faces, and chatting with some of them.  Greetings Dave Fabik, Ron Braithwaite, Jane Ewert, Gail Sanford... Betsey Kenworthy (I'm mixing the meetings).  Janet Jump.

People remembered Lisa as especially real, authentic.  She made a big impression that way.  She was devoted to non-humans, took care of pets, including her own several.  She loved dogs and cats.  Her authenticity likely traced to her living with beings of so little guile.  Mischievous but not phony, these fellow travelers.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Cyber Tourism

Much as I'm in favor of actual tourism, there's much to be said for getting to know one's world from the comfort of some home base.  When physically touring, there's usually less possibility of integrating into some local lifestyle, like an anthropologist.  A cyber tour guide, on the other hand, may take you on some more intimate journey.

For example, my Twitter feed this morning was about following the adventures of an old lady needing new glasses and going to "America's Answer to Communism" for this purpose.  Those were vice president Richard Nixon's words, in a speech at the dedication.  The Cold War was about showcasing what competing socioeconomic systems might do for their participants.

Americans were going to wait less for a greater abundance of goods than ever, to the point of instant gratification in some cases.  Citizens of the USSR, their economy deeply wounded by two world wars, were lining up longer for fewer goods.  Then came Sputnik, the satellite.  Were they studying harder?  Was their mathematics better?  The space race was on.

The old lady was able to schedule her eye exam for an hour later.  Medicaid paid a lot of the $89.  The frames were $170.  The frames industry is a known scam with lots of history behind it.  Where systems compete is in their ability to provide stakeholders with basic care, including eyeglasses, some dental.  Veterans get less dental benefits than many suppose.  My American War buddy Glenn had to resort to a low cost cash only dentist, with inexpert help.

The Lloyd Center has apparently turned off all its public-facing electrical plugs.  I have a Mac Air from O'Reilly Media, where I used to work, that has to be plugged in, and no it's not a battery problem.  I've been able to plug in at Lloyd in the past, but not today.  I'm taking refuge in a nearby McMenamins (where Thirsters meet, more Peace Corps connections) with plugs and WiFi, while the old lady, my mom, gets her new lenses ground.

The Chinese Peace Corps plan to give free eyeglasses and dental care to Detroit's underserved, sounds a lot like science fiction.  Seeing is believing in that case.  I went to some meetings at Wayne State some years ago, about whether military welfare was the way to go.  The US military is a major experiment in military socialism.  Every time someone joins, they're saying civilian life in a democracy is too precarious.  In the military, one takes orders and shares property owned by the state.  Some health care is available.

Cyber tourists might even get inside some military or another, not as spies necessarily but as welcome witnesses to a friendly service.  Given today's telecommunications, there's no reason militaries can't lurk in on one another's high level meetings.  A "tour of duty" doesn't have to mean lots of time flying in some jet.

Portland, where the Lloyd Center is based, has a lot of eggs in Refugee Camp Science.  I'm not sure what OSU and University of Oregon offer, specifically, in terms of degree track preparation.  "EPCOT West" has been one of my media campaign operations, aimed at highlighting our focus on working with refugees.  MercyCorps has sent a speaker or two to Wanderers (Linus Pauling House) over the years.

What's it like trying to get an eye exam and eye glasses in a refugee camp?  That all depends on the camp.  Are we talking Palestine?  Cyber-tourism helps the Chinese Peace Corps figure out where they're most needed.  You don't have to leave Beijing to follow an old lady around in Portland, seeing whether she's able to score a pair of glasses.  How about in Detroit?

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Six-Hearted Sex

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Some of our heavyweights turned out for a science talk on octopus sex this morning, July 4th, as is our freedom.

The octopus favors deeper waters, say two hundred feet on average, or at least that's true of the species we're looking at.  They occupy all levels actually, including the shallows.  These creatures contain venom as a defense. Sometimes the little guys are the most deadly.

We use the term mantle to refer to the gut sack, connected to one side of the head. The octopus has multiple hearts, one associated with each gill funnel (mantle openings, or intake valves), and one more centrally located.  Two octopus ("octopi" is wrong) equals three plus three hearts, hence the title for this talk.

One exhaust port takes care of everything going out, including deoxygenated water. There's a mouth of course, lips around a beak right at the center of the radiating arms.

The arms are called hectocotles (with ligula at the ends) and one of gets involved in reproduction, when a male pulls a spermataphor from its own funnel and places it through a gill opening into an ovaduct.  Arms are not tentacles.  The octopus has no tentacles, technically.

Each spermataphor contains billions of sperm cells.

The oviducal gland nurtures the sperm for maybe six months or more. A given octopus may have been fertilized through both gills meaning both sperm incubators might be active.

Hariana Chilstrom is our presenter. She worked for many years with the Seattle Aquarium. She knows many of the creatures in her pictures by name.

In our discussion list she wrote:
Although there are thousands of invertebrates with crazy, sexy lives that live largely unnoticed by most people, octopus are animals that most folks recognize. But there’s a lot of misinformation about them, much of it involving anatomical inaccuracies that affect descriptions of the mating process. “Six-Hearted Sex,” is based on first hand observations, studies with a cephalopod expert for ten years, and research from primary sources.
Potential mates sniff each other out for a protracted period.  They're discriminating and in the wild have a choice of several partners.  They don't always get along.  Sometimes they run away from each other.  Sometimes cannibalism occurs.

If they do mate, the process may last for some hours (say four). Some researchers theorize the male ligula may even scoop out sperms injected by a previous male.  That's speculation however is a pattern seen elsewhere in Universe.

Placing the eggs in clusters and guarding them until they hatch (if all goes as planned).

Males tend to go crazy or lose their will to live or whatever in older age, becoming fish food in open waters, especially for sea lions in the Pudget Sound area.  The females tend to die in their caves.

The octopus has a reputation for being very intelligent.  They have big eyes and a large visual cortex. It's believed their vision is monochrome, but high resolution.  They've been known to blow bubbles and chase them, indicative of playfulness.

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Monday, July 02, 2018

Fifty Years of Sixty Minutes

Deke phoned me last night just as this program was coming through broadcast media. Although I have optical fiber with television signal, I use a digital antenna. My home sports a satellite dish, but it's not turned on.  Remember when you see vistas of Medieval cities sporting dishes, that only some of them are able to tune in.  Great to get a look back.

Yeah, Iraqis weren't lying, and were being ripped off leading up to the first Gulf War from the point of view of national sovereignty. But nations are more just for show in those regions of the world, there for the benefit of TV viewers.  If you're an historian of this period, don't neglect to dig deep.

The show stumbled a few times.  I've talked about that elsewhere.

An irony with active journalists like that is they wouldn't get to play at that level if they were major couch potatoes, and yet TV depends on couch potatoes for its budget.  At some point, couch potatoes start resenting their own lives in front of the TV and switch off, seeking adventure.

TV programmers, like computer programmers, have to walk a thin line, as if they make their worlds too engaging, they create a matrix people sense is hypnotic and seek defenses against.  Good people, the kind we want to buy our consumer items and take our drugs.  "Make TV good, but not too good" is the rule.  60 Minutes has been perilously too good at times.