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).