Sunday, January 30, 2005

A Salute to Iraq

I was submerged in teaching and programming during the actual elections, which were more like on Saturday given the difference in time zones. I'm just now coming up for air and spouting some words on this topic.

The news reports look promising. Iraqis risked life and limb en masse, in a good faith show of support for that bright democratic future they've been repeatedly promised. "Are we there yet?" I'm hearing them ask. Of course there's still a long row to hoe, but let's put the swords away and do it with ploughshares shall we? Such is the fond hope.

So now all eyes turn to the US military. Looking out from my control room, I've seen many promising signs that the exit strategy is in place, awaiting the signal. I've seen the commercials, the positive reviews from the field. Iraqi security personnel are ready to deal with the criminal element. The Marines think so too. Even the Navy has shown a willingness to defy conventional wisdom and get with the program (too bad about that sub by the way).

Of course some clueless neocons and arm chair retirees think they have the inside scoop: the secret strategy is for the military to pump up its muscles in the Iraqi gym, while the USAF grids Iranian air defenses and gets ready to soften targets. It'll be Operation Preemptive Thunder Part 2. General Custer will sound the battle cry, like Howard Dean on steroids, and we'll crush those Iranian heathen under the hooves of our awesome cavalry. And if we're really lucky, the promised Apocalypse will soon follow (anyone seen the Antichrist yet?).

But we've always had crazies in the Pentagon (like, what big bureaucracy is immune: witness Dilbert). What changed after 911 is they got out of the box and ran with the ball. Osama freed them. So the State Department was sidelined, and the CIA was told to put its propaganda machine into overdrive (which, ever the obedient servant, it dutifully did).

But that was then and this is now. The chain of command is in no mood to be dictated to, what with the commander in chief feeling galvanized and encouraged, free and independent. If there's to be another fight against terrorism, it'll be quick and to the point, and at a time and place of our own choosing.

In the meantime, there's lots of domestic dry rot that needs attention. The infrastructure is failing (schools included). Children are getting left behind, everywhere you look. Uncle Sam wants to show us the ropes in the stock market, but hasn't a dime to bet with (like any wise investor, he uses other people's money).

Both the USA and Iraq need rebuilding. That'll take a lot of civilian smarts and savvy, a lot of management know-how. So what better time to be friends with a diverse and thriving society living in the cradle of civilization? May we learn from one another's experience, what real democracy is all about. Let's keep it a two way street, live long and prosper.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Thrill Seekers

Just following the rails folks!

Dawn doesn't usually do coasters, so this was something of a coup. Me, I'm a big fan of these rides. In 2000, Matt and I drove a small U-Haul pickup, with stuff from Mom's shipment, from PDX to her place in LA. We made a special point of visiting Magic Mountain, a Six Flags coaster park, and spent the day seeking thrills.

Note: I'm just gonna coast here for awhile, but not because of writer's block or anything; per the sidebar, you'll see I've just launched two new blogs. I'm moving the action to those for awhile. Here, I'll just enjoy the ride for a spell.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Some Space Program History

Tara has been home from school with a cold. Our house rule is no TV or computer for the time she'd normally be in class -- bed rest and reading OK. An exception to this rule would be parent- approved educational programming, and we've been using this down time to plough through many more episodes of From The Earth to The Moon, an Emmy award winning HBO series about NASA's golden age, inspired by JFK in that famous speech, and culminating in the Apollo moon landings. In Apollo, a perennial human longing had at last been fulfilled (which isn't to say we've had our fill of such adventuring).

I'm somewhat confused where I even got these two VHS tapes (it gets that way at chaos manor). I thought maybe from Larry but he denied it after Meeting for Worship on Sunday, where I spent some time vacuuming up crumbs with a Hoover (we had a party to celebrate Bridge City Friends Meeting's new and transferring members, with my own self-made nametag reaffirming my attender status -- a long story).

Tara and I have both learned a great deal of history we didn't know from these tapes. This morning's fare included Sam Shepherd's story (Episode Nine) which I found one of the most compelling, perhaps because he went to the moon as a somewhat older guy (47) like me (46). Plus I really empathized with that MIT geek who had to program around a faulty abort switch under extreme time pressure -- wow, nice save! And I really liked that Grumman CEO in earlier episodes -- the guy behind the LEM (the lunar module). So how true to fact is this series, in minute detail? I haven't had time to run many fact checks, even with Google right here at my elbow. Like, did he really let off steam that way, by bouncing a rubber ball against the wall?

I hear some readers asking themselves "so when do you do your job Mr. Urner, if you spend all this time on TV-viewing marathons?" My answer: "this is my job." Like, I'm a parent for crying out loud. This series provides a lot of historical context, showing anti-war demonstrations, assassinations, unfolding tragedy in Vietnam. My daughter (10) could use some perspective on all that, and what better person to provide some than her dad, who actually lived through a lot of it? Plus I just made her a hot lunch (ravioli from Trader Joe's). Her mom is snowed under with year-end bookkeeping tasks, so yes I'm on child care duty, and that's cool with me.

In fact, one of the bizarre features of dark ages America was how even single parents would have to work long hours just to scrounge enough money to pay for other adults to take care of their kids. In this way, families were put asunder so a few privileged shareholders could "earn a decent living" on the backs of the working poor. I thought Moore's Bowling for Columbine did a good job of investigating this phenomenon -- a stronger piece of filmmaking than Fahrenheit 911, maybe because he wasn't trying so hard to both write history and make it at the same time. And no, I haven't yet seen Mel Gibson's magnum opus -- I'll get it from Netflix for some rainy day. And I wonder if the Dalai Lama has seen Kundun yet; last I heard, he hadn't.

Anyway, back to the space program. Per Critical Path (1981), Bucky's hope was the kind of high tech management and training programs which'd enabled humans to set foot on the moon (even drive on it) in but one short, tumultuous decade, would then turn itself to the larger job of designing a way out of the dark ages. We'd use our newfound smarts to really start getting our house in order (Spaceship Earth). Now that Apollo-Soyuz had symbolically converged the two hemispheres, WWIII (aka the Cold War) would finally fizzle in the desolate moonscape of Afghanistan.

But it didn't happen so easily. LAWCAP (defined in a chapter called Legally Piggily) didn't like this scenario and resolved to not go quietly. The USA, which LAWCAP selfishly (and mistakenly) thought it might own and control, would finally have its unilateral day in the sun, as the last/only superpower, and an Imperial Presidency would gaze out over some grand unified end times, the envy of other would-be tyrants around the world.

Bucky lived just long enough to see this new battle for hearts and minds shaping up (exDCI Woolsey aptly named it WWIV), and knew this one'd be highly cerebral, because this more hopeful agenda would be based on longing more than fear, a mix politicos weren't especially familiar with. So in Grunch of Giants (1983) he focused on the CIA a lot. This made perfect sense: inside our intelligence community is where a lot of the invisible power struggles would inevitably occur, almost by definition (his analysis was "grammatically correct" as Ludwig Wittgenstein might have put it (some philosopher I like)).

So yes, Bucky anticipated all this way back in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Nor were Reagan and then-DCI Casey clueless about the impending battle. Nor were the Russians of course. The American people, on the other hand, seemed largely oblivious, were too busy earning a living to catch up on their reading. And the dark ages school system, including the universities, continued suffering from hyperspecialization's chief symptom: a severe lack of overview. LAWCAP capitalized on this sorry state of affairs, and behind-the-scenes proceeded with plans for global domination by force of arms. The tragic and horrific events of 911 played right into its hands. With the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq a fait accompli, it looked like the dawn of a New American Century had finally arrived.

And in some sense, it had -- although the Russians and Chinese felt in no way compelled to keep calling it that. Because, under the surface, the transition from LAWCAP to GRUNCH (Bucky's economical shop talk -- others will have their own words for telling this story) was much more evolutionary and transformative than a matter of anyone wresting control. As the level of disinformation in the media was gradually lowered, in large degree through networking in cyberspace, people spontaneously began to wise up, to become more aware of their options, and this Spaceship Earth idea took on a renewed realism. The prospects for humanity began to spontaneously brighten. So in this sense, the American dream of greater freedom and democracy for humankind was beginning to bear fruit. Henceforth, tyranny would find little purchase or foothold.

However, to be honest, fear did, and still does, play a role, even though longing now has the upper hand. The prospect of global warming, of an ecosystem dangerously out of balance, was and still is unsettling. Clearly nature would not be put on hold while petty minds raced to keep track of petty differences. Bigger changes were clearly afoot, events of a more cosmic nature. Human beings, now more than ever, need to remain engaged as information harvesters and problem solvers in Universe, as Bucky liked to put it. The looming challenges ahead are real.

Humanity has always been somewhat spiritually adept, mind-endowed, intuitively aware (God fearing, as some put it), and therefore simply the passage of time has made our hopes for a better tomorrow seem ever less dismissable. This natural evolutionary process has gotten us to the point where, by now, in late January of 2005, I'm able to write all this using a fairly matter of fact tone. I'm not peddling some brand of hopelessly naïve utopianism here.

Now of course I'm mindful of the fact that some of my contemporaries are going to read this strange and unfamiliar (to them) omnitriangulated historical narrative and deride it as just more outrageous and unfounded Fuller School propaganda, space case lunacy at best. But hey, this is my blog and I'm free to tell it as I see it. Send me an email if you think I'm full of it. Maybe I'll get back to you.

Followup: I see Friend Johan Maurer is picking up on a lot of these same themes (including Reality TV) in his blog Can you believe...?. I'm glad to see we're on parallel/convergent tracks. I initially launched this blog back in September 2004, after reading in his.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Assassination of Richard Nixon (movie review)

I was thinking maybe to see Ray or Hotel Rwanda, but Matt said he'd prefer something more uplifting, so after an early dinner at McMenamins on the park blocks, we wandered over to Fox Tower for a last economy-priced showing.

Sam Bicke, played very effectively by Sean Penn, is a guy in need of an extreme makeover. If you watch as his guardian angel (the camera's viewpoint), you'll see lots of missed forks in the road. He's another grain of sand determined to make a difference and even has these fantasies of starting a business on wheels (me too). However, unlike me 'n Sean Penn, he's short on skills, and that leads him to shipwreck and disaster.

The easy diagnosis is that, unlike Napoleon Dynamite, he's cowardly; one longs for more measured and proportionate acts of defiance, versus that final inept sicko wipeout ala 911. Trying to sell Black Panthers on his Zebra concept was a promising step, but he should've just taken the initiative and started a chapter. When asked to shave his mustache, he could've pulled a Bartleby and said "I'd prefer not to" -- maybe no happy ending that way, but no hellish climax either.

A deeper reading accepts his basic human integrity and looks to the surrounding culture for better options. The self-help materials he got from his mentor Jack Jones (whom I liked) didn't really speak to his condition, were too intertwined with salesmanship and moneymaking. Had he been younger, maybe growing his hair and joining the counter-culture would've saved his life. A few years later, there'd've been est. Today, he'd've had the Internet.

His brother was too stern and proud of his rectitude to offer any constructive suggestions. Like, hey guy, why not visit a rabbi? If those little sales tricks are so bothersome (shall we deliver this desk tomorrow or the day after?) why not join a religious order? Or the military?

In a parallel universe, Sam might've taken that bitterness at being denied the American dream, and turned it into more constructive hatred for one of America's officially sanctioned enemies: communists and/or satan. At least this would have turned him into a tool of the state and/or church, either of which could have put his anger to work in some more coordinated institutional framework.

Basically, Sam just needed a bona fide community (sangha) -- people who wouldn't turn away when he indulged in crazy talk about wanting respect, dignity and taking on "the system" to improve his lot. Plenty of people were talking that way in his day (those Indians on TV for instance), yet he never found his niche, remained isolated and lonely, with only a faulty guidance system to fall back on. Those around him, even his one friend, weren't savvy enough to point him in the right direction, nor really fathom the depths of his despair (they had their own to contend with).

What some critics might bleep over is that Nixon too felt like a cornered man running out of options. A kind of subtle doubling is going on in this film. True, Nixon was a much smoother operator, and had found his niche, his community -- though not many close friends (Bebe Rebozo comes to mind, and to a lesser degree Kissinger). And because he'd more successfully adapted, he passed enough screen tests to gain long term access to the cockpit (the Oval Office). Nixon, unlike Sam, managed to get a lot of planes to fly low. Angels (or Friends) should've provided better guidance in his case as well.


Speaking of community, just previous to hopping a bus downtown for dinner and this movie, my job was to participate in an Internet Orientation at West Precinct, Hillsboro. I joined a chat room from my Portland office using an alias. Although these kids were all in the same RedHat9 computer lab at the station, they didn't necessarily know one another's aliases (part of the fun), plus only at the end was it revealed that one in their midst had been a stranger.

The purpose of this exercise was to sensitize kids to the possibility of anonymous individuals surfing in chat rooms, perhaps up to no good. We want our next generations to really enjoy the new freedoms provided by high tech, which includes an ability to steer clear of pitfalls. I'm linking to this souvenir snippet of our on-line banter without revealing any true identities but my own (I'm jojo).

And speaking of buses, these days in greater Portland we don't have much advertising inside (outside we do) to catch those wandering passenger eyeballs; we have poetry. Really. I'm so proud of our town.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Beyond the Gene

So Friday night was another ISEPP lecture at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Broadway, our most opulent old-style downtown theater. We have a district named Hollywood too (where I used to rent a basement studio) so maybe we're trying to mirror the American showbiz world in microcosm. Plus our ISEPP lecture series mirrors way more than that: top name scientists and mathematicians from all over the world have helped make this one of the most prestigious gigs in the country (as that Morgan Stanley guy exulted from the podium, with special thanks to Terry) . We've heard lectures (sometimes more than one) from Jane Goodall, Stephan Jay Gould, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan, Richard Leaky, Jean-Michael Cousteau (son of Jacques)... and the list goes on and on. You can check out the stellar roster at our web site (I say "our" because my wife Dawn is the ISEPP bookkeeper).

Our featured talent of the evening was Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller, a physicist turned biologist. The gist of her talk was that (a) she'd been prescient in predicting that yesteryear's gene talk would be overtaken by a more sophisticated chatter in which the atomistic idea of "genetic building blocks" would come to appear quaint and obsolete and (b) biology shows signs of eclipsing physics at center ring in this circus. Biology is where the action is -- and the money (more about that below). However, fortunately for the other sciences, biologists are ravenous for expertise in other disciplines, including physics, and especially computer science. The new management isn't going to be mean, arrogant and elitist (unlike some other managements we know).

Given Dawn and I have been ISEPP groupies from the beginning (we've known Terry since well before the Ione Plaza penthouse, which was in turn well before the newly restored Linus Pauling House on Hawthorne), we usually attend the more intimate followup dinners at the nearby Heathman Hotel, where our illustrious guests are wined and dined then put back behind a podium, to take questions from some of Portland's most science-literate (we might've been podunk before, but after all these lectures, we're quite the discriminating crew -- like Viennese to music).

Dawn asked a cancer-related question, which got Dr. Keller launched on a diatribe against moneymaking. What happens, all too often, is corporations will find a financially rewarding formula, and then stymie further evolution, because money is the sole measure of success. So even if the biology is from the dark ages, as long as consumers don't know any better, advances are slow, and all too often merely superficial and cosmetic. And unfortunately consumers may be counted on to not know any better, because look at the sorry state of their knowledge base (present company excluded of course). Like, most people still buy into the old gene talk, are pretty darned clueless about the ongoing renaissance in the life sciences. This was music to my ears of course, given recent brainstorming about pedagogy going on among the Wanderers.

Speaking of Wanderers, "ecology boy" was to my right (I added him to my cell phone, with a photo), and "energy boy" to my left next to Dawn. I'm concealing their true identities (not trying to be patronizing -- these "boys" are both among my heros). Energy boy schedules megawatts for daily delivery over the regional power grid, but for a firm with far more integrity than Enron. We often indulge in grid talk, which, after a few glasses of wine, tends to get rather raucous and jovial. He's quite the libertarian.

Friday, January 21, 2005

FAQ: So what's Global Data?

Corporate media tell us the key equation in Iraq is the preparedness of its new domestic security force. But what about the state of its infrastructure? Talk to your average Iraqi and you'll get an earful about that. Politics is expensive, especially democratic politics (so many movers and shakers!). Providing all that champagne and cake to upper deck ballrooms requires a state of the art cruise ship. Beyond a well-appointed kitchen, you need smooth sailing, which entails a well-equipped bridge, 24/7 engineering, GIS/GPS and other sensors, densely informative interfaces. Aircraft pilots will identify, but most police aren't certified on such equipment. And demolition engineers don't build cruise ships, democratic or otherwise. They just send enemies to the bottom (where Iraq already is, so what's their mission again?).

Here in PDX, I have easy access to diagrams of under-street pipelines if I want them, plus satellite imagery of my neighborhood. Our kids need to learn that water from the tap doesn't appear by magic and won't keep flowing without continued planning and maintenance. I've urged OMSI to consider a permanent exhibit regarding our regional water supply, featuring Joe Miller's Bull Run and all the rest of it. An open society educates its children about their heritage, and that includes the infrastructure. Here at the Global Data Corporation, we consider the whole planet, its long term management and care, to be your problem (ours too). And so we want you to have all the data you might need -- and packaged in a form that's usable (by you).

OK, so how are you going to get fuel and power reliably flowing to the Iraqi people? What's your plan? You might need to play with Sims while exploring your options. So, does the Iraqi grid connect to others? If not, why not? Who drew the plans we have today? Are they any good? And if no one asked you, how democratic is that? Oh, so you're not an Iraqi? That never stopped the Americans from making plans for the region. So I guess you don't have to be an Iraqi to think and care about the cradle of civilization -- nor by the same token an American to think about how America might be rewired. Global grids are like that: limiting your thinking to just one patch of Earth, because of some design in your passport, just makes you retarded. Flags, logos, brands, bar codes -- lots of grist for our data base mills.

Here at Global Data we really do care about quality and want our brand to inspire confidence. We don't want you risking big money on the basis of warped or incomplete information. In school they show you a colorful patchwork of countries, all with capital cities -- so what? How usable is that information? National Geographic does a lot of good work to fill in the blanks. But what if their next issue isn't focused on your problem? TV is even more frustrating, compared to what it could be. As if the readiness of the Iraqi police was all you needed to know about. What nonsense. More die from bad water than from car bombs.

Let's show Iraqis some competent management for a change, and with their best interests at heart. If Bechtel and Halliburton won't do it, let's do it without 'em. How about more indigenous consortia? Or maybe invite some Brazilian supranational to the table. The permutations are endless. Whom do Iraqis trust? Run some opinion polls why not? And why shouldn't some of the infrastructure be state run? Because Paul Bremer said so?

We could start with better media: more global data on the screen, and more rational discussion about infrastructure. That means more engineers, fewer politicos. Maybe it's time to get that geek channel showing some control rooms. I know, I know, people are really busy; B2B takes time.

How about we stop abusing the military as a cover story -- as a human shield -- to keep the real deal under wraps? Tell us more about that oil. The global literacy level has gotten too high for those same old bedtime stories, over and over. Our collective IQ won't permit this snail's pace any longer, all this business as usual. We just can't afford to wait for LAWCAP era CEOs to weigh and reweigh the risks -- too risky. Just give us the all data we need, filtered through multiple perspectives, and we'll take it upon ourselves to learn the chatter and start processing, even if we're still just teenagers growing up in Tikrit. The brains are out here in plentiful supply, and real democracy is inclusive, by definition. Let's dive head first into world game.

There's this copout convenience which the prospect of terrorism presents: we can't let you know the real deal about infrastructure, because you might be a terrorist, or, even if you're not, glasnost is simply too dangerous. We can't afford to move ahead with perestroika because of 911. In other words: terrorism has won and you, dear reader, are destined to remain forever in the dark, in some "just trust us" charade wherein this tiny elite decides what's best on your behalf. Sure, there's a facade, a Hollywood set, called "freedom and democracy" but scratch the surface and you'll find it's just a made-for-TV sham.

So, thanks to terrorism, and those using it to their own exclusive advantage, you've been walled out. You're a human being, designed to think and act locally (yeah it's a podunk solar system, but we like it), and yet all those pretentious mickey mouse executives won't let you do your job, won't share any information. OK, so I guess the problem for you right now is to find out how to work around 'em. Perhaps Global Data will be of service (we hope you'll like our commercials).

Obviously my management team considers much of the 911 rhetoric a ploy, used by the selfish to keep what should be common knowledge under lock and key. Sharing the gist of how the water system is set up, in either Portland or Palestine, doesn't mean handing out all the secret access codes. Security is a concern, and unauthorized access is something to protect against -- at least half the time because the incompetent will just get themselves killed for no reason, and maybe win a Darwin award. We don't want that. But nor do we want the crew aboard Spaceship Earth to be kept dangerously clueless about the proper care and feeding of her electrical system, her satellite system, her circulation system, her metals. The CIA World Fact Book was just a beginning in our view.

Nor do we imagine any special "white man's burden" such as Kipling once penned about. The once big secret of the dismal scientists, the inevitability of a Malthusian melt down, is neither secret nor widely accepted dogma any more. Sure, some cults hold to it, but here at Global Data, we're admittedly influenced by Fuller's World Game projections (we plan on using his map a lot, even more than we have been). We tend to think the espousers of apocalyptic prophecies are merely singing their own swan songs, projecting their small-minded myopia on the big screen, and scaring themselves silly. These aren't the kind of people you want on the bridge, right? Haven't you already heard enough phony fear mongering and wolf crying to last a lifetime? Well, if you do miss your doomsayers, feel free to campaign for them. It's a free country after all. But don't expect Global Data to back your guys (our yes men might). Our favorite candidates spit a much cooler fire.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Morning's Meditation: Energy Slaves

OK, so here I am, reducing the overall entropy in "chaos manor" (an allusion -- this blog is full of 'em), which includes vacuuming (I have this story about the time these Kirby people showed up and tried to sell me one, but I'll save it for later), and meditating on Bucky Fuller's concept of "energy slaves." Instead of using imaginary horses as a unit of power (at one time a good analogy, but growing remote), Bucky thought in terms of imaginary humans, and how many it'd take to screw in a light bulb or complete other energy-consuming tasks.

Like, you hear these slogans, like Seven Billion Billionaires (an upcoming title I believe), and think, "oh Bucky, how could you be so naïve?" Clearly we don't have enough gold to give everyone their own stash of bricks, and those giant Rockwell International machines @ would burn out before we could ever keep up with all the inflation this'd create (maybe they've already been replaced -- I'm not fully up to speed on Treasury business). So, Bucky, how could you really mean anything by such silliness? Fuller's answer was simple, essentially the same one he gave in Fortune: energy slaves.

The realistic "gold standard" by which to measure living standards is not in terms of the periodic table element Au, but in terms of today's compared with yesterday's. Like, we were touring in the USSR that time, and maybe thinking the standards weren't all that good. But that's not how the Russians saw it. They were still remembering WWII, which so many Americans experienced only vicariously. From the Russian perspective, what counted was security, and now, at long last, they had some. Sure, the Cold War was unsettling, but Apollo-Soyuz proved that mir was just around the corner. By now, moscuvites have their own monorail (line M1) -- pretty cool.

So, how many energy slaves does the average American have at her disposal? You may immediately think "vacuum cleaner" (like I have this nifty bagless Bissell, with a separable suck unit), flash on other household appliances. Yeah that's part of it, sure. But there's more. Think Google. Think NNTP, FTP, SMTP, HTTP, ICMP... all sitting atop TCP/IP. How many energy slaves is that? (I know: you have no clue).

Think of it this way: you're a top information harvester and problem solver for the King of England, circa the time of George III. If you'd had Google then, what kind of advantages over your non-Googling enemies do you think you'd have had? Couldn't you have just slaughtered those obstreperous Americans? OK, dumb question. The whole idea makes no sense. I got it. But still: you get my point, yes? You're a goddamn King of the Hill (or Queen, or choose a title). At my beck and call, at the touch of a mouse, I've got a veritable army of energy slaves going about my business, 24/7 365/365. The Wizard of Oz never had it so good, let alone Mickey, who got in over his head (yes, another allusion -- treat yourself: see Fantasia if you've never, or even if you have (my cell's ringtone is Night on Bald Mountain by the way)).

Last thought: so how do I get away with being this ultra-high- powered CEO of the Global Data Corporation if I spend my days in some nondescript battleship-gray chaos manor, vacuuming my own floors? Don't I at least need to have servants? There you go again, thinking like some 20th century numbskull (they had an excuse back then -- it was the 20th century). Look, my family has had household help, great individuals, and we're still in touch with Flora & Victoria to this day (we drove north to visit Victoria in Canada in 2003); but when it comes to living high and mighty, all I really need is energy, intelligently channeled. Bonneville takes care of that, and Qwest, and like that. I capitalize in business by leveraging what many ordinary Americans already have at their disposal. I just happen to take fuller advantage of the assets I'm given. Like, I don't just know how to click a mouse, I know how to write a mouse driver (OK, I lied, but I do know a lot of tricks -- I'm a native to this brave new America, let's just say).

And I'm not just talking about the Internet (although hypertext is the answer to so many of my prayers). I've got all these VCRs (some queued to tape: viewed Rushing on NOW just now), radios, DVD players, Netflix... I've got equipment like Sir Walter Raleigh would have killed for (unless magic really worked as advertised back then).

PS: I think my BizMo should have that cosmic fish logo stuck on it with maybe no others as prominent, because through someone who knows someone, we're all connected, and designed to advantage one another, and that wisdom is simply integral to the native American psyche (we call it basic intelligence -- the kind of thing you learned in kindergarten).

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Brainstorming About Pedagogy

So today was another Wanderers meeting, at Linus Pauling's boyhood home on Hawthorne. Eve Menger and George Hammond, both accomplished chemists, presented their ideas for a new introductory science text book aimed at non-science majors, prompting a lively discussion among the many scientists present.

I took a plastic bag with some favorite writing examples, including one purchased yesterday for 20% off at Barnes and Noble, where I became a member for $25 (netting another 10% discount, plus no sales tax, because I live in Oregon -- and thank you Subaru, for picking up the tab on that drive train job): Head First Design Patterns (ISBN: 0-596-00712-4). This book is the latest in the Head First series, which O'Reilly is justifiably excited about. I know Guido'd like to see a Head First approach to Python, but the market is more Java-centric these days. Fortunately, if you know Python, a reading knowledge of Java is not hard to come by. I also bought Ruby In a Nutshell, Ruby being, like Python and Perl, another scripting language, with a big following in Japan.

What's special about this book (pre-figured in Who is Fourier?, another title in my bag), is the attention given to the proper care and feeding of the human brain. Without pretending to any advanced neurological theory, the authors (with background at Disney) intersperse clever graphics, scrawled handwriting, jokes, stories, puzzles. Why they do this is spelled out in the Intro, and raves on the back (hi Ward) are testament to the effectiveness of their approach. I'd say the "for dummies" series (with wanderer Allen Taylor one of its authors) has also pioneered in this direction, but with O'Reilly there's not even the pretense that the readership is dumb. One of my favorite graphics is on page 12: this arms-folded, somewhat defiant-looking young woman has this thought bubble: "I don't see why you have to use an interface for FlyBehavior. You can do the same thing with an abstract superclass. Isn't the whole point to use polymorphism?" Hah, I love it.

Anyway, George and Eve were very open to this kind of informalizing, yet purposeful innovation. Allen pointed out that Head First is a trade book, not a text book -- a distinction publishers sometimes worry about. I also had Concrete Mathematics in my bag (a true text book), which I thought prototypical in its use of marginalia to make things friendlier. Beyond that, it's more typical of math texts: austere, intimidating, a monument to the authors' intellect.

The Hammond-Menger approach to energy as a unifying theme is also refreshing: the sun powers earthly operations, and we take in a lot of that energy as calorie-laden foods. Relating physics to personal human experience is also our approach in First Person Physics, which will have a precessional impact with or without NSF funding.

The geek channel I've been brainstorming (including in this blog), takes these kinds of pedagogical advances to the next level. We won't be abandoning book learning, but high bandwidth audio-video will tap into even more brain power. As David Feinstein pointed out, 60% of our brain circuitry is about visualization, and 20% of that is about sensing motion. So if you supplement your pedagogy with moving pictures (e.g. animations), you're ipso facto making your audience more intelligent, and your content more illuminating. Bill Nye the Science Guy always stands out in my mind as a great pioneer in this direction.

George and Eve also circulated copies of A Dangerous Signal to Science, an editorial by Alan Leshner of the AAAS (Science, Vol 306, 24 December 2004, page 2163). Many wanderers expressed their concern that fear parasites are draining the budget for civilian science education, leading to a dumbing down of ordinary Americans. That's all by design of course. If Americans were more science-savvy, they wouldn't be such easy prey for those capitalizing off Pentagon waste (e.g. unnecessary soldier deaths), thereby undermining our long term social security, which is not their concern (yet it is our president's, who, like Reagan, is no dummy -- something the Russians could tell you).

Followup 2005.1.20: per email from Eve and George, I fixed their surnames. Plus I watched the USA's presidential inaugural this morning. Although cameras picked up protestors being escorted away by police, the corporate media I heard was too busy manufacturing consent to comment -- an interesting novent given the content of the speech itself (which was right on the money in a lot of ways). My family is honoring various boycotts today, our way of helping Cheney defend the Constitution against foot-dragging domestics -- LAWCAP slowpokes that're hardly moving compared to an up-to-speed USA. Last night, I watched Inside Iraq again, using the external Sony DVD drive on KTU2.

National Treasure (movie review)

So I was back at Dick Hannah's getting Razz a new viscous coupler (we name the cars in our family), and decided to see National Treasure at the neighboring mall, with my friend Dave Fabik, a Quaker vietvet.

Like Polar Express, you need to see this as a film for kids -- which makes me suspicious there'll be some theme park ride deriving from it (in the case of the train movie, I'd vote for a real roller coaster over a simulator). In the guise of this somewhat formulaic vehicle, Disney clues newbies that there really is such a thing as intellectual history, that it glues monuments and documents together (by making sense of them), and that it includes such things as secret societies and their cryptic teachings. Indeed, our shared treasure is the historical record itself and what it tells us about ourselves as human beings -- and portends for our future (the booby prize is the big house and fancy car).

On a more adult plane, Multnomah Friends are looking at buying a Masonic Lodge across the street, or risk losing the parking lot (Masons use it Saturdays, which works well, but what if they sell to a competing Sunday user?). The deal hasn't closed -- still processing. Last night I passed on to the clerk my two cents that it'd be worth it to have the deepest pipes snaked to make sure all the under-street plumbing is in working order. In our century-old neighborhoods, that's really not a given, a fact houses on either side of ours have recently had to deal with. When I shared this Friendly concern with Dave he joked that instead of "eye in the sky" my viewpoint was more "camera in the sewer."

And speaking of real national treasure, I phoned Ed Applewhite from the Barnes and Noble (a segue to my next post). He's feeling upbeat that Fuller's legacy is, now more than ever, irrevocable (and I concur). However, Ed himself is starting to say his good byes. We've enjoyed a strong friendship, and I look forward to staying in touch with his kids.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Text Drives Graphics

Python + VRML
An important point to emphasize with a new generation of computer-savvy student, wowed by eye candy, is that even if the graphics are glitzy, the source code behind them is still text-based. In other words, the programmer's world still looks more like free verse poetry than Saturday morning cartoons.

One way to show this is to start with a VRML graphic, such as the 5-frequency icosasphere in the right window above, let students interact with it, using interface controls (Cortona's in this shot), then switch to the left window, where a scrolled session demonstrates a corresponding text-based API. What bridges left and right is a lot of scripting language, in this case Python. These scripts take user parameters and generate the underlying .wrl file (world file), which the VRML browser then processes and displays.

Likewise, even where the effective use of such scripts is to valve electrons on a motherboard, in order to make state changes to a hard drive, the engineers who designed this mutiple layering of hardware and software used a lot of human-readable text in the process. We're still firmly anchored to what we most need: comprehensible readings (even if highly technical sometimes).

The moral of the story is, contrary to outward appearances, the culture is not moving away from reading, i.e. the process of eye-balling text to extract meaning. The right brain is getting more of a workout, what with all the visual cortex stimulation, but so is the left. So the old balance between left and right is still recognizable.

Fuller's goal in writing Synergetics was to make a more geometrically sophisticated right brain process accessible to strong readers in the humanities. Per Applewhite, Fuller was even contemplating a free verse format. The idea here was that artists and designers of our future artifacts would need to have a strong background in the humanities and the sciences. In developing a more mathematically informed poetics that would excite the liberal arts reader, while at the same time driving a set of precise geometric visualizations, Fuller hoped to bridge what C.P. Snow considered a chasm between the two cultures.

Most scientists and mathematicians who've taken a look at Synergetics, thinking it might be a work in their discipline somehow, have come away frustrated because it doesn't yield the kind of strictly literal "bottom line" interpretation favored by fundamentalists.

Readers in the humanities, however, although more tolerant by training of multi-dimensional readings, typically disconnect early-on, because this really doesn't look like anything they're used to in American literature. Too crazy-making. They'd rather take the easy path and try to write Fuller off as a naïve technophile who couldn't really master the language. But his strong track record in terms of real world physical artifacts made that difficult. Plus he'd held the Charles Eliot Norton chair at Harvard for awhile (see Critical Path, Chronology of Prominent World Events: 1962), and coined the term Spaceship Earth. Not so forgettable, huh guys?

As a liberal arts student at Princeton with a strong background in Wittgenstein's philo, I wasn't so hooked on the need for a literal meaning, plus I was willing to let Fuller develop his own meanings operationally, i.e. through use. Erhard's est Training also helped provide focus in that the Centers Network was clearly taking Bucky very seriously, thereby reinforcing the idea that American philosophy ultimately wasn't going to bleep over a powerful contribution to American literature, regardless of what the rank and file in academia might be about. Plus I noticed another sector of American society that was taking Fuller very seriously: the CIA. My CIA Report on the Centers Network (1985?) was an attempt to better unify these two threads (I think Stanford has a copy -- can't find mine right now).

All of which brings me to American history: if you haven't been paying attention to either the literature, or the philosophy, then how much about it do you really know? Something to think about (especially if you consider yourself an American): some Russians know it better than you do.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Freezing Rain

We have freezing rain in PDX today with traffic conditionings worsening. Saturday Academy is canceling across the board. In more normal conditions I'd be driving out to Oregon Graduate Institute this morning. I phoned all my students. is having email problems in multiple states per a recording on their support line.

Dawn has this tenderness in her armpit, and that's keeping me on edge. Probably nothing, but once you've had IBC, you're always sensitive to any signs. If it doesn't abate, we'll phone a doctor next week.

When Bucky lost his first daughter, his despair was at first self-directed and he strongly considered suicide. Then he realized that, despite not making a lot of money, he'd been a productive human being (he'd served admirably in the navy, had some civilian structures to his credit -- the domes were still in his future) and he came to another place: human society was backward and behind schedule, i.e. if only we'd advanced further along our destined path, medical sophistication would've been greater, and his daughter might have lived (and yes, in 2005 she likely would have).

So Bucky committed to becoming an engine designed to propel us forward -- as a whole species, not just as one specific family, tribe, or nation. He felt his effectiveness in the world actually derived from his commitment to the whole. And the objective record is testament to his effectiveness. Lots of Chinese read his books with interest, and not because they thought he was brainstorming about ways to kill them (refreshing).

I share Bucky's sense that we're dangerously slow, especially in light of the fact that, even after giving it his all, we tend to dismiss his life's work. Academia has moved on, in a way that mostly just bleeps over, never comes to grips with, his contribution. Like at least he bequeathed some good American literature, right up there with Edgar Allan Poe's (I'm thinking of Applewhite's speech at the Bucky symposium last March, a day or two before I learned of Dawn's cancer diagnosis).

So why don't we read his poetry at least -- for credit, in university? And the concentric hierarchy, his way of organizing simple shapes: I've taught it to 2nd and 3rd graders with no problems, and yet mostly I meet with blank stares when I mention it to adult educators, and we're talking thirty years after the publication of Synergetics.

Yes, there's a lot going on in our little network. We're not at all moribund. In my class today, I was going to show off Braley's VRML interpretation of the pillow dome skeletons, used in Cornwall for the Eden Project. We have a Win2000 lab, so the Cortona plug-in would be the way to go. Then I was going to show how I'm able to generate VRML files on the fly using a set of Python utilities written by Adrian. Because they're open source (BSD license), I'm able to modify them. Likewise, I've contributed a lot of code, a lot of curriculum materials, aimed at making the Bucky stuff more contemporary and accessible.

No one has paid me to do this. Getting this paying gig with Saturday Academy is new, and I think a good sign. But I can't shake this feeling that we're running behind schedule. No matter how effective I am, I can't completely compensate for all that waste in the Pentagon for example. It's just not an even fight. Like, they're losing big time, true, but why do they fight against their own USA? Don't they realize: resistance is futile, we are borg?

A message from the Fuller School: you won't beat us, so how about joining us? Make those geometry cartoons show up in the dot mil domain how 'bout? And what about those BizMos? I should already have one by now. I blame the United States Navy for not being on the ball. Like, aren't those admirals supposed to have great overview or something?

Followup: Dawn's new theory is the pain is actually joint pain owing to the Arimidex -- definitely a more positive spin. Tara and a friend are planning to stay indoors and watch Spiderman. Nick is a guest in our basement, but I think he's out on the coffee shop circuit, per usual. Mom phoned from DC in high spirits -- she's been working with Congress and making significant headway in her own estimation, and I have no reason to doubt her.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories (movie review)

Few of you will have had an opportunity to view this one yet. Mike Shiley, a guy from my neighborhood, armed with a still camera and video equipment, ventures alone into Iraq with hastily arranged press credentials. Later, he gets certified to operate a tank's machine gun -- whatever it takes to get the best camera angles. With beginner's luck (or perhaps Allah's protection), he out performs most seasoned pro journalists to bring us this story.

Mike's premise is that spreading democracy is indeed the mission, and in that light, he shares his qualms and misgivings, but without delivering "a left wing rant" -- I use the quotes because he told us this directly; the guy was right there in the theater, and selling the DVD when it ended (I bought one, picked up a biz card).

The Iraqi lady in the car says it well: we're suffering too much, and democracy will never happen amidst this ongoing chaos and destruction. The level of incompetence that delivered us into this mess is extreme. I won't get too personal on that score, but many histories will be less restrained. My policy is more to forget than forgive.

I did come away thinking there must be a special place in hell for people who make and deploy land mines. The compassionate response would be to arrest them now, and save them from certain oblivion. Or maybe not. Let others judge. Maybe ABC News, for which Mike was on assignment, will air this nationally and uncensored. That'd help orient a bigger audience in a shorter time than will the art theater circuit.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

More About BizMos

So why would the US Navy want bizmos, which are here conceived as dry land mobile units equipped with telecom and various sensors? Well, aside from being like little subs on wheels, serving as simulators for more pressurized (i.e. under water) team-based living, there's always the recruitment angle. Most USA schools are still on dry land. In other words, if the Army already has them on the drawing boards, then the Navy won't settle for less.

Obviously Mercy Corps needs bizmos. Yes, in major disaster situations we must resort to helicopters and other airlift technologies, both for resupply and emergency evacuation, but not all situations are major disasters. Sometimes you just need the average reconnaissance vehicle looking for mosquito breeding grounds or other precursors to epidemics, having to do with sanitation, irrigation, water management in general.

The teams need technical expertise, GIS/GPS, access to data bases, and ways to alert follow-up teams better equipped to actually deal with the biohazards. These teams may well be entirely indigenous, thanks to the comm tent and DVD library left behind, combined with folk wisdom, which is often intact and just needs a chance to operate minus interference from myopic absentee landlords who only care about resource extraction, ecosystem be damned.

In my case, it's more just this middle class family, like you find at camp grounds, tucked away with some fire in the grate, glowing in the moonlight. Kids and their parents mosey over to see what this tricked out little RV is about, not realizing that it's really a BizMo in disguise. There's this InFocus projector, DVD juke box, GIS/GPS, and stuff you might think would make more sense in a submarine. It all feels vaguely science fiction, like some Hollywood prop that escaped the lot, but everything works and is for real, and that's cool and reassuring. Apparently, there's this futuristic lifestyle available, and some Americans are already living in their dream machines.

"So where do we get training and access to BizMos?" the average camper wants to know. Well, there's the military, as I was saying, and Mercy Corps type operations. UNICEF has a fleet. Really, you have lots of options, so think about your philosophical commitment and figure out what you want to say. Maybe you're like Charles Kuralt, out to see America, and chronicle your findings for viewers tuning into your network. You've got a CBS logo on your BizMo. That'd make sense, even in an overseas context.

The bigger picture, as I see it, is Project Renaissance. Private R&D is collaborating with the public sector to prototype what may not yet be ready for prime time, in terms of safety or eventual utility, but is on the way to commercial viability thanks to test pilots, pioneers, Navy Seals or whatever (thinking of Jay Baldwin's kid). I see retreat centers sprouting up which give average Americans exciting opportunities to train on the new equipment, which includes more stationary radome-like living quarters, some sponsored by corporations (CEOs will want first dibs, per their usual greediness), or by tribal casinos for their young people.

Faith-based organizations will want a piece of the action of course (Church of the Brethren has a cool camp near Remote, Oregon). I'll probably set up a few such high tech faith-based encampments myself. Maybe we'll draw a giant pentacle on the ground to show the helicopters where to land. Like, we liberal Quakers at least have already forged some strong alliances with Wicca, a fact which, as a reader of this blog, you probably already know.

Related Readings:
Brainstorming on BuckyWorks
What's a BizMo?
Project Renaissance
(some other classified stuff)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Dark Side

Some of you who've heard my polemics (or technoinvective as Applewhite called it -- more out of dismay than admiration sometimes) may suspect I had something to do with that school strafing back in December, 2004. I assure you that I had nothing whatsoever to do with that.

Yes, I think our students get terrible service and I'll likely spend the rest of my life tearing into the fabric of an obsolete and incalculably damaging curriculum with gusto, like a pack of wolves devouring its prey, blood spattering everywhere, beastly screaming noises -- but that's just a videogame, just figurative language.

I'm a Quaker and I don't condone the use of outward weapons, especially not F-16s versus undefended school buildings. I mean, that's just sick.

OK, that out of the way, I'm buckling down to do more data submissions, and later on, I'm interviewing a candidate for the class of 2009 for my alma mater (more paperwork). There's a Python meetup tonight with some RSVPs already returned. On the whole, I expect this to be a fun day.

I do have my blue meanie moments however -- a mark of weakness I'm sure. But hey, this is my blog, and I have a right to come clean about my darker nature (apologies for the Pink Floyd links again -- gets tiresome I realize).

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Morning Mail

Today's morning mail (electronic) continues recent threads regarding the tetrahelix and the Richter Transformation. On synergeo, we've been discussing Bob Gray's colorful notes on these subjects, plus I brought up Gerald's finding that tetrahelix vertices, if they start rational, stay rational, but with no tetrahedron precisely juxtaposing (by translation) with any previous one.

I wrote a little Python program to generate tetrahelix coordinates in rational number format, using a tip from Adrian.

John Braley pointed out that the 3-tet boat (a short helix) is already an octahedron, just not a convex one. John Brawley complained that Bob's description of the transformation (to a regular one) is confusing. I think having Braley and Brawley, both Johns, on the same list is confusing, but I don't blame Bob.

I forwarded some of this material (electronically) to Julian, a Wanderer, an artist, and a physics student who did graduate work with buckyballs in Austria. Bob is a physics guy too.

Monday, January 10, 2005

A Tale of Two Toymen

So I just had a beer at the Bagdad with Rick Engel, CEO of Polymorf. He's done his homework and has his ducks in a row. I sort of discouraged him from paying for a booth at the upcoming NCTM conference in Anaheim, as I can scarcely imagine wanting to give that group any money, after all these years of its not doing its homework worth beans (a Pythagorean reference, but no doubt based on a misunderstanding).

We talked about hypertoons, space-fillers on cable TV -- one could fill a whole channel or just the odd time slots between regularly scheduled content (Eve's concept). Basically, I'm talking about an iTunes visualizer on steroids. We go spatial, and we go 4D: a network of animations connecting key frame nodes, with a randomizer for passive viewing, or choice-points if interactive. Key frame: Icosahedron. Key frame: Fuller Projection. Both are like grand central stations (like Pascal's Triangle), with a gazillion scenarios branching off, but with some connecting the two, by way of smooth (?) transformations. Sound track optional. Ambient Music for Airports (hello Brian Eno).

The above is in contradistinction to a more didactic approach, wherein we actually delve into some hard math pedagogy. That's more classroomer or homeschooler content. What I'm doing, with my 4D Studios, is front-loading a tough-going curriculum with eye candy enticements. But not out of any desire to deceive. I trully get sustenance from this product, or, as we say in geek circles, I eat my own dog food.

I shared with Rick about my friend Stu Quimby, CEO of Design Science Toys. Last I knew, Stu was throwing in the towel, looking for a buyer. The big box retailers have walled out the esoteric boutique shops in large degree, hurting Stu's customers (mostly retail chains, but not the big box ones). He could cut costs, by moving ops overseas, but he wants to support his community in Tivoli, New York and environs. Is that a crime?

His strategy, with strong business school backing, was to try direct-to-customer sales over the web (B2C instead of B2B). He invested in a state of the art Plone site, complete with community access portal (note .org and .com: same basic site, different skins), and a catchy domain name. But home shoppers hardly beat a path to his door (except when Stu got on QVC a few times). Why? Because American consumers have been educated by a mass culture with no clue. How many CEOs know what an icosahedron is? How many NCTMers actually know that rhombic dodecahedra fill space (like duh!). 'Nuff said. This is the Dark Ages, pure and simple.

What happened to end the last Dark Ages? Well, the Greek stuff went into hibernation in Europe (movie & book: Name of the Rose), but was kept alive in Islamic circuits, where it was amplified and improved upon, until when it finally got back into European cultures, it sparked a revolution, called the Renaissance in retrospect. In other words, to make a long story short, the cradle of civilization (Persia and company) saved our collective butts. So maybe something similar will happen again? Geodesic mosques. Could be big. Which reminds me: Rick used to be a tilapia farmer in Jordan, near the Gulf of Aqaba someplace. Over lunch (curry chicken pita) I shared stories about my experiences in Ramallah, helping to build that swimming pool (then ice cream at Rukab's).


Hah, this title makes me think of Randi Rhodes on KPOJ (620 AM, Air America in PDX): she's always making fun of Homeland Security types talking about "chatter," and playing that Rolling Stones cut in reply. Also thinking of monkeys (they chatter), and therefore of monkey mind -- lots of chatter about that too, in pop psych & spirituality circles (you go, google).

So, turning to this morning's Oregonion: ah, I see Dr. Albert Starr's name on the front page, in an article about Providence, a nonprofit I work with.

And on the next page: Sunnis say they won't boycott if the US military spells out its redeployment timeline. Well, last week the US military was saying it's consolidating to bases, slimming to an advisory presence among police, with an eye towards pulling out big time if voter turnout is big.

Sounds like Sunnis and CENTCOM are on the same page: we'll vote if you leave; we'll leave if you vote. Basically, to vote at all is to vote for an end to the occupation. That's a fine exit strategy, if you ask me. I hope the car bomb people are smart enough to stop blowing themselves up and start working for a free Iraq.

Ah, and I read Palestinians also got to vote. So will the occupation end there too? High time, don't you think?

A true story:

Some time ago, I went to a local mosque at the invitation of some local Muslims (many at Intel), post 911, pre invasion of Iraq. Their agenda was to touch base with a lot of local Christians, to share views and perspectives, so we'd better understand where they were coming from. I went with Friends (i.e. Quakers).

OK, so it was a good and informative talk, going over the basics of Mecca (who, what, when, where, how), and then turning to the Palestinian issue. Here, the speaker was a bit heavy-handed, sort of laying it at our doorstep about all the Palestinians the Israeli soldiers have killed, and how he, the speaker, an official Muslim, was officially aggrieved.

My problem with this analysis, when speaking to Friends in particular, is that we're not strangers to the plight of Palestinians. Many of us, including me, have spent time in Palestine and know first hand what it's like. Some Friends have spent their entire careers trying to bring some sense to that region.

Our speaker, however, was from Bangladesh I'm pretty sure. Now he's at Intel, enjoying the good life (which I applaud). Had he ever spent much time in Palestine? Not clear. So was he really any more clued in than his audience?

I don't think which brand of religion you buy is the heart of the issue. The issue is freedom and equal rights, regardless of religion.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Happy B'Day Sarah

Between brainstorming about geodesic mosques (could be big), setting up for a new class (starts tomorrow), and doing some data submissions before deadline, it's another busy day in River City -- but never too busy to celebrate Sarah's birthday.

Sarah is mostly a yellow lab, but we think maybe part pit bull or dingo. Strangers stop to pet the "pretty dog" (she's lean, has good lines), but then maybe back away, because of her "smiles" (we sometimes call her Smiley). The young nightshift staffer at Howl-a-day Inn was so freaked by this behavior that we've had to overnight her elsewhere ever since (she's still welcome for daytime play). So yeah, Sarah's a little weird, but very affectionate with the people she trusts.

Speaking of our nonhuman friends, and continuing yesterday's theme (rebuilding Iraq), I'm always interested in reports about zoo conditions (thanks Lindsay). I'm hopeful that the Baghdad Zoo gets more of an Internet presence, complete with web cams for remote viewers like me. And how about a Sea World with a clone of Shamu? Maybe that'd be more practical in Umm Qasr. There'll have to be security, like at Disney World.

The lowest life form of them all, the adult perp who intentionly hurts innocent children (maybe by killing their parents or pets) , may try to frustrate these GRUNCH projects, but we know that ordinary Americans love children as deeply as anyone, and will join us in prayers for an end to the violence (maybe in a geodesic mosque), so that we're able to start rebuilding in earnest.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Rebuilding Iraq

As the US military moves towards redeployment, many generous-minded Americans are wondering if they'll be able to participate in Iraq's post war economy. The devastation there is just as real as in the wake of the tsunami. Just look at Fallujah.

But how welcome will Americans be, given these last gasp retro attempts of a dying LAWCAP to assert its imperial ambitions? Obviously the new government isn't going to be following the Bremer Edicts to the letter, now that the US military is shrugging them off (the Pentagon was never the private dream machine of sad sack neocons, after all).

When dad first went to Bhutan, and we were provided with that extremely luxurious two-story home, near RICB apartments, overlooking downtown Thimpu, his salary came out of a loan from the World Bank. However, dad didn't want the Bhutanese thinking of his income as some kind of accruing debt, and arranged to credit his salary to Helvetas, the Swiss technical assistance agency (also right near our house).

I share this story as a reminder that GRUNCH is sophisticated. Americans who genuinely care about Iraqis will find ways to join the rebuilding effort even if some of the flagship corporations aren't big familiar names like Halliburton or Bechtel. Maybe Russian or Japanese companies will play a bigger role -- it's really up to the Iraqis to decide at this point. However, my expectation is that proud Americans, especially those who know something about supporting democracy, will have multiple ways of sharing expertise and securing incomes, given the sophistication of our shiny new post LAWCAP global capitalism.

Followup: Dick Hannah's Subaru dealership fixed the passenger-side mirror this morning (that's in Washington State) -- see recent Xmas Eve blog entry for details. While waiting for repairs at the adjacent Barnes & Noble, I stumbled on Lindsay Moran's new book (ISBN 0-399-15239-3). I started reading it over a latte at the in-store Starbucks; looks like fun, purchased.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

And now this...

A cosmic fish
(from clipart archive)

Grain of Sand is sponsored by:
the Global Data Corporation

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Shanghai City

Today it was Allen Taylor's turn to regale the Wanderers with real life stories of adventures around the world; Shanghai this time. Dr. Taylor, as he is known at Fudan University, is part of an accredited degree program offered through Portland State University. Graduates of this state of the art curriculum get a PSU diploma. Much of the instruction is by video, so this was a unique opportunity for students to finally meet the on camera talent live. Jovi and others invited Allen out for a meal -- one of many such invitations, which kept the happy couple busy and joyous the whole time (sounds like not much was lost in translation).

PDX has a long history with China, as does Oregon State. One of the first Chinese apothecaries the westward drifting European pioneers had ever met settled in John Day awhile back. Plus the verb "to shanghai" developed real meaning here in Old Town. An underground railroad rescued alcoholics from a dead end lifestyle, and took them out to sea. They'd wake up shipboard, and not necessarily in a mood to express gratitude. I don't know how many ever managed to talk their way back to shore, but no doubt some got to see China.

These days, Portland is proud of its state of the art Classical Chinese Garden (the Japanese one is likewise faithfully rendered), and an approach via West Burnside will take you through our Ceremonial Chinese Gate, a gift from Kaohsiung, Taiwan. For years, my wife and I have done programming and bookkeeping for the Northwest Regional China Council, which helps broker cultural exchanges and relationships.

Allen is an entrepeneur, not just an academic, and so had some business proposals for his Chinese hosts. Plus his wife is into stuffed toy penguins, as well as the real thing (she and Allen visited penguins in Antarctica recently). Did you know GenToo was a subspecies, hence the name of that well-regarded Linux distro?

One proposal was to distribute Evil Cult, which Allen produced, and his family stars in (in the movie, his son Rob, alias Neil Stryker, keeps wanting to go back for his stuff). This proposal was shot down however, as digital media just get copied willy nilly in that neck of the woods. Traditional copyrights don't get much respect. But that doesn't mean you can't secure an income in the software biz, where it's often more a matter of who gets it first, even if the code is later made more widely available (yes, the open source model is big in China too -- makes sense).

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Napoleon Dynamite (movie review)

Hah, at first I wrote Bonaparte in the title (guffaw). Yes, it was at the Bagdad. An anthropology film, investigating the generally positive influence of African American memes on middle American dorkiness -- of course through a modest filter of caricature.

There's this one guy (Napolean's uncle right?) with a not-cool orange BizMo, mainly not cool because of the guy in it (like, my grandparents had a bright orange VW bus like that, and they were pretty cool with it). This uncle is stuck in a 1982 idealized vision of himself, to the point of wanting to time travel. The gizmo he gets off the Internet for this doesn't work as advertised however.

This 1982 guy seemed like a caricature of some Burt Reynolds characters, plus reminded me of Anchorman, which is also about invoking, and poking fun at, a recent time frame in American culture (in that film, biz culture sexism gets a send up).

Napoleon has some redeeming qualities himself. He's not especially cowardly towards life, even if he's bullied a lot, and he thinks about the welfare of others. The African American piece gives him some missing moves, and his prospects have brightened by the end, although his audience might need some therapy.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year

So it's the start of 2005 according to this very widely accepted calendar -- though Brenna did ask about changing to a new animal last night, and we had to clarify that it's the Chinese who do animals, and it flips a bit later -- plus they started (or reset?) their stopwatch earlier.

Thinking back to Election Night 2004, I was impressed by that slick data display the anchor was using to slide stuff around on CBS. Very Minority Report, but also not over the top, not too science fiction (some past election years were too gussied up with faux futurism for my taste). This display of data savvy was far more interesting to watch than those stupid ribbons at Rockefeller Center (NBC's focus as I recall). I never checked Fox (I rarely care to be fair and balanced, when I think about that sorry operation).

I've been colluding with Quakers to dig up a lot bigger time frame around the anatomy of political elections, my point being that it never has really worked as advertised. Tampering with the vote is not a recently discovered invention. The USA's history is sordid and yet it's still a great democracy, worthy of celebration -- like I'm happy to put out for pyrotechnics for mutual entertainment and enjoyment on July 4, even if I sometimes use products Made in China on or off the rez (good with gunpowder ya know, one of their inventions, and wisely, a controlled substance under the Khans).

If the American people want, a really secure voting infrastructure could probably be implemented, using public key encryption, one-time-use, identity-keyed polling devices, highly secure data bases with multiple cross-checks and integrity checks, and so on. Geeks know a lot about securing computers. Punch cards aren't necessarily the problem, or the solution (that was a red herring). However, what we had in 2004 was nothing, repeat nothing, like this pie in the sky voting system of tomorrow. We're talking toy software, baby computers, and incompetent coders (or highly paid crooked coders, depending how you want to spin it). Which isn't to say all the private companies are equally culpable or pushing the same agenda. But think about it: if you could sell election results, and keep secret how you do it... goldmine! Don't think this thought hasn't crossed a twisted mind or two (sheesh).

That's my take anyway. I'm not claiming to have the inside scoop on a lot of juicey details here (talk to some of my colleagues about it). That's why I was suggesting the longer view, some historical perspective. It's not all about criminals either. Sometimes it's more about wrongdoing, and with legal authority. Slavery was legal here for a long time, wasn't it? Not a big secret. Not a big surprise if, like right after the Civil War, former slaves didn't immediately have equal rights. Wouldn't be that simple, would it? OK, so let's start the story there and roll forward. We could even squeeze in the part about how corporations get the same rights as humans, artificial zombie-wombats that many of them are, and even before blacks do. Better paid lawyers I guess. And so science fiction becomes law. Welcome to Wild America (and was she ever tame? really?).

Again, I'm not the big historian here. Don't come running at me with those silly cameras, expecting a raw dump of American History. I can't do it. I majored in philosophy at Princeton. But hey, I'm interested. I'm looking foward to watching some pro DVDs, kind of like that documentary on PBS about the Civil War. Really thorough, somewhat painstaking. It'll take time. It's not an easy story to cover. I'm not expecting Netflix will have these listings immediately. However, we should keep taking those oral histories -- including the ones we're collecting about 2004 (lots of great raw footage, already safely archived).