Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Wanderers 2005.8.30

Bob McGown is giving a thorough overview of our search for ET tech (might not involve any communications). Lots of impromptu discussion. We've found quite a few planets outside our solar system by this time.

We're taping to Hi-8 and I'm hoping a streaming video site will enable us to asynchronously serve excerpts (synchronously too). We could do audio with podcasts (the new iTunes makes it easy).

Given our line up, a growing on-line archive makes some sense. OPB has its eye on doing a Doug Strain interview with broadcast-quality equipment. But given the relatively lower bandwidth of most Internet circuits, consumer camcorder feed is sufficient for our purposes (at least we use a tripod). We've booked Doug for September 6.

Terry thinks the Institute of Noetic Sciences is on a good trajectory. Allen Taylor likes what the Acceleration Studies Foundation is up to. My wwwanderers.org web site is expected to keep morphing c/o wandering web wranglers.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Bridge Pedal in Rear View Mirror

"top of the Marquam"
Congressman Earl Blumenauer
(photo by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

First year in a long time the Bridge Pedal taversed all 10 bridges -- maybe the first time ever. I was through the chute by 6:30 AM.

This isn't a race, it's a ride. No prize for being first.

Shorter more family-friendly alternatives are provided. It's a city-wide event, on a Sunday, when traffic is minimal anyway.

Sisters of Providence a major sponsor.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Outdoor Project

Repurposed Loft

This has been one of my projects over the last few days.

The loft was disassembled and moved to the garage some weeks ago. I prepped and stained it, added a purchased 4' swing and chain Made in Ohio, plus other hardware. I bought the custom cut 82" beam it hangs from at Home Depot on Mall 205 (it fit in the Subaru). My solution to fixing the beam in place: three brass braces at each end, two atop, one under, these purchased from Divison Hardware.

The finished swing now sits in the back yard, facing the Mother Mary statue.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


(photo by K. Urner with D. Wardwell's Canon PowerShot A510)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Wanderers 2005.8.16

Today's presenters, Sam Lanahan and LaJean, unveiled Sam's so far unnamed invention, a building system based on a meshwork of tensile and compressive elements. The several Made in China plastic prototypes (plus the welded metal one) provided interesting visuals, plus LaJean's slides were distributed as bound color hand-outs. We failed to solve the projector puzzle (the mouse cursor froze every time we connected it to the PowerBook).

We used the occasion to stream video (with audio) to/from Terry, vacationing with family on the Oregon coast. Both ends used Apple laptops running iChat, with vidcams connected by firewire. Down the road we plan to host multiple real time clients, funds permitting. Don and I agree our setup was too obtrusive; we'll try a different arrangement at our next opportunity (maybe shoot from the side office, putting the computer on Terry's desk?).

Does Sam's invention have commercial (.com) or military (.mil) applications? Might NGOs use it in emergency relief situations (.org)? Possibly. David Feinstein's earlier remark, that it's a solution in search of a problem, seems on target. However David Ulmer felt it'd be of immediate relevance as a teaching tool and encouraged Sam to make it available to universities (.edu).

I enjoyed catching up with Julian after so long -- he's been very busy with his hemoglobin sculpture, nearly finished. He's hoping to meet up with Kenneth Snelson this fall. Sam, a long time student of tensegrity, would like to meet Ken as well.

Other threads:

I watched Cinderella Man at the Bagdad last night; Russell Crowe goes back to playing a gladiator, after playing a mathematician in between (link: a spoof with no Netflix listing -- sigh). What's more hypocritical than an adult who decries violent video games and then pays to watch this barbaric sport, wherein the injuries are real? Million Dollar Baby was just as depressing. NBC's The Contender: pure exploitation.

I'm enjoying Agile Web Development with Rails, purchased at OSCON. Powell's sold a ton of 'em, thanks to Ruby's high profile at this conference. Unfortunately, none of my ISPs currently support the Ruby on Rails option.

Monday, August 15, 2005

March of the Penguins (movie review)

Conceptually speaking, this movie branches off the earlier Winged Migration, and might have been named Ambulatory Migration. The storyline is more complicated this time, so there's more work for a narrator. Morgan Freeman supplies the voice-over for the USA version and does an excellent job.

The life-cycle:

Small bands of would-be parents waddle and slide about 70 miles to the camp. Like other migratory birds, emperor penguins have built-in GPS, so only a few get lost, though some perish from exhaustion.

Upon arrival at camp, the moms- and dads-to-be pair off. The gals outnumber the guys and sometimes fight for a date -- the guys seem to enjoy this part. There's no rule about finding the same spouse as last year, and some don't find significant others -- better luck next year.

There's not much to do in Antarctica, and relationships are very important. The penguins bond strongly (to call it a marriage would not be out of place), which is fortunate, as the coming ordeal will test both parents severely.

After the egg is laid, mom keeps it safely pinched between her feet and her belly for a little while, but she's starving and so the pair rehearses kicking the egg over to dad. Getting it right is essential: if the egg is exposed to brutal cold for more than a minute or two, it'll freeze solid. Inexperienced teams sometimes flub the hand-off. Either way, mom heads for the ocean, 70 miles distant.

While the mom's are off to fill up (eating for two), the also-hungry dads keep themselves warm against the bitter polar winds by huddling. After some weeks of shuddering cold, junior hatches. Dad and junior bond, but dad is hungry -- he coughs up one meal for junior, but mom better be back soon (she'll be able to cough up a lot more).

When the moms finally get back, the dads turn over custody and head for the ocean, as now it's their turn to feed. The moms do child care for awhile, but take off a little before the dads return, because the chicks need a preview of life on their own -- a sobering experience. Dad gets back shortly before junior totally freaks (unless junior has been eaten by a predator).

This process of parents switching off, with some family time in between, goes on for several months, but with increasing frequency as the ice is melting and the ocean is getting closer. By the time the young penguins are ready for reorientation, the ocean is pretty much adjacent to camp.

Finally, having done some initial training, the parents disperse, having discharged themselves responsibly. The young adult penguins hang out in high school a little longer, then dive in for five years of college in the deep blue sea, only to emerge as full-fledged adults, ready to start their own trek to the camp ground. And so it goes. There's a lot of conformity here, few lifestyle options.

I was glad for the outtakes during the credits, showing the human camera teams at work. I dislike documentaries which pretend camera teams don't exist -- my main beef with that IMAX film Everest, which never shows the camera team at critical moments (even a few stills would have been an improvement).

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kirby @ Free Geek

On invitation through a FreeGeek email list, I attended a presentation by Ying Ki Kowg, PhD, PMP from the Department of Human Services within the State of Oregon. His office is overseeing a large contract between Oregon and various vendors who are adapting a solution already developed for the State of Oklahoma.

My take: Oregon will end up with the resulting source code on its list of assets, and so might in theory open source what it's buying. Another state could start out that much further along. Any federal or state project involving the procurement of source code is logically a contributor to our growing pool of assets, given who ultimately picks up the tab (we the people) -- unless, that is, there's something inherently not open about the process being coded (e.g. it's a weapon, not a voting machine).

If government buys software, and doesn't release the source, the public is entitled to know why (national security improves when many eyes see in, and fewer bugs go undetected -- an important function of journalism if/when the press is really free). Naturally, if contributing source back to the community is built in as a business requirement, then the project will be run a little differently, e.g. state-approved licensing requirements may change.

Speaking of FreeGeek, Ron Braithwaite and family are back in PDX, having failed to gain entry to Canada for the purpose of starting a new life, new school, and work on CareWheels of Canada (Ron's pet project). Their paperwork was not in order. New quarters have been secured, and the 25' U-Haul has been unloaded, the mission aborted.

Tomorrow: 38 miles on my bicycle, over all 10 bridges in Bridge City (aka Portland). Read more on that later in Bizmo Diaries (captain's log).

Related threads: [1][2][3][4]

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Terry gave me the green light at our meeting this afternoon to launch Wwwanderers.org. I wasted no time registering the domain with Godaddy. Propagation through the DNS system seemed to happen pretty quickly.

I notice Bob Parsons, the CEO of Godaddy, links to his personal blog from the top of the Godaddy home page.

His posting of today is about overcoming the Universal Human Phobia against committing violence against other humans. He's glad firefighters, police, and emergency workers train to overcome this phobia to protect his way of life. Without such warriors, trained in the latest violent techniques, his lifestyle wouldn't last more than a year.

He ends with a link to a music video celebrating the attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah. "During combat, there is no music" he writes, which isn't always true. Many soldiers wear mini-headphones and/or pipe their tunes through the speaker systems which modern weaponry provides.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Tara has been eyeing this El-Fish box on my book shelf for some time, thinking it might be fun to install and run. This software was developed by Russians retired from the Cold War and wanting to wrap their heads around something more genetic. They started with wildflowers and butterflies, but the final commercial version, a game, features an electronic aquarium full of genetically rich electronic fish (hence "El-Fish"). The product was created by Animatek (a Russian company) and published by Maxis.

Unfortunately this product dates back to 1993 and the floppies had gotten corrupted after all these years. Even after finding it archived on an abandonware site, I was unable to run it (so far) on WinXP. Maybe I'll set up an old box to run DOS in a partition, like Simon did. Simon is a 3rd grader I know (4th grader by now); he also got his Thinkpad to work as a Linux-based telnet server, to which he'd connect from his school's Win2000 boxes (he'd install Putty for this purpose).

And speaking of kids I've mentored (through Saturday Academy or Portland Public), Ki Master George accidently wiped out his IM prototype and blog for Father Bob (the latter was a school project). Fortunately, Father Bob wasn't adding new content, and Ki'd already received full credit and glory for his efforts (he'd customized Pybloxsom to run with mod_python on Apache, with algorithms to re-skin the interface based on important dates on the Catholic and US calendars, e.g. the interface'd change color around Easter, plus flag election day). KMG was in 8th grade back then, is now heading into high school.

Related blog post: Twenty Wall Posters

Thursday, August 04, 2005

OSCON continued

Additional OSCON coverage is available in the August 2005 section of my neighboring blog, My Bizmo Diaries.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More from OSCON

I spaced the fact that Max now goes to Expo (yellow line), and snapped out of it a stop or two north of the Steel Bridge. I was happy to see this part of town: the Gotham Building (complete with coffee shop); those large grain elevators, one with Amazon.com painted on the side. I joined a last trickle of geeks headed into the great hall on the 2nd floor of the Convention Center, bypassing the OSCON/StarBucks coffee bar, missing part of the first keynote.

Summarizing the keynotes:

Speakers: Nathan Torkington, Tim O'Reilly (both O'Reilly Media), Kim Polese (SpikeSource), Andrew Morton (OSDL), Jeremy Zawodny (Yahoo!), Jonathan Schwartz (Sun Microsystems).

Apparently there's considerable ferment as IT moves to support open source in self interest, meaning geek cultures need to adapt to more corporate hookups, usually around more vertically integrated software stacks with a faster release cycle.

The more slowly evolving backbone of free resources (e.g. LAMP, kernels) provides raw material for more malleable, form-fitting services, with much of that malleability stemming from the fact that the source is supplied to the customer (as customers increasingly demand).

Open source is often safer and/or of higher quality than protected source, because the field is so Darwinian i.e. what survives strict public scrutiny usually has some strong advantages. The code ends up more robust, more vetted.

Enthusiasm for open source is spilling over in the realm of hardware per O'Reilly's Make: magazine (shades of Popular Mechanics).

Atop this growing open source stack, bleeding edge innovation occurs out of necessity, oft times in secrecy. Successful closed projects of today provide the new open resources of tomorrow -- a pattern being followed by Sun's Solaris, now OpenSolaris (there's a big booth about that).

Python stock seems to be on the long term increase, although market share is still small, judging from O'Reilly's statistics. Tim keeps close tabs on technical book sales data, as one might expect of a publishing czar. His talk dovetailed with the Yahoo game demonstrated last night, which uses search engine data to track the buzz on specific technology topics, which is graphed alongside game player trading on these same topics (as if topics were companies) within a virtual stock exchange.

Old timer do-it-yourselfers may be suspicious of this new do-it-together work ethic. They worry about communism or some other failure-prone altruism, per Larry's allusions last night: the People's Republic of Perl slide; his cast of cartoon spies, at least one of whom (cute chick) was no doubt Russian (Larry himself identified with the Chinese guy). I think today's keynotes would prove reassuring to these worry warts: this is unbridled capitalism at work, in the ancient sense of "using your head" (Latin root) as a private individual, as free as your peers to collaborate, to partner, to take risks and reap rewards -- and as willing to make it all work.

Across the speakers' lounge, I spy Jim Hugunin (IronPython) chatting with Miguel de Icaza (Mono) -- bright stars in my private sky. Interesting how few from the conventional press report on these doings. Granted, the storylines are somewhat esoteric, yet history is being made nonetheless. I still think we need one or more geek channels on television, along with an open source archive of downloadable, recyclable clips.

I chatted with Alex earlier. He's quite satisfied with the work environment at Google, where he doesn't feel pressured to always be the smartest guy in the room (lots of smart cookies at Google, which company has a popular booth showing off all the global data it serves -- partly as a result of collaborating with the keyhole people).

My presentation:

I had tech support fiddling with sound during the opening, while I browsed my presentation manager's source code for a minute or two -- didn't get into it as deeply as I'd have liked, but hey, it's on the web. The sound problem was soon solved.

Then I launched into the slides, with an interruption at slide 9 to go out on the web and run both Springie and Fluidiom. My general theme: thanks to open source and design science, our school's ability to collaborate has become vastly easier and more effective over the years.

I covered a lot of material using a sort of frenetic pin-ball/scatter- gun approach, using the slides as a guide: the nationless Fuller Projection, Rick's dome program, Kenneth Snelson, tensegrity, elastic interval geometry, Alexander Graham Bell and the octet truss, sphere packing, quadrays, Grunch of Giants, E.J. Applewhite, intellectual property, education reform, making a difference -- a bit too manic for my taste (45 minutes isn't much time). The people who came to the table afterwards seemed seriously into learning more, especially with regard to providing kids with a better education. One guy asked what planet I was from.

At one point in my talk, I predicted we'd soon have open source repositories of downloadable audio/video clips, which kids'd pull down to their computer desktops, mix with new content, and reupload back to the servers (the same process used with software today, but applied to making video). Schools like ours could harness this economy to foment the production of more relevant educational materials.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

OSCON (Day 2) + Wanderers

I'm listening to Dick Pugh tell the story of our Willamette Meteorite. Dick feels sure this multi-ton lump of metal was pushed by a glacier, then a big flood, from a great distance. The metal itself (a mix of several, some gold even) dates back about 4.5 billion years (mas o meno) and likely came from the asteroid belt.

People have fought over its possession ever since it was discovered. These days, it's in some museum in New York. Dick has a couple little pieces of it. The museum itself broke off some to trade for Martian rock. Native Americans have some ceremonial control.

Now I'm back at the Convention Center, in my Mono Bootcamp venue (room E141). While still at the Pauling House, I downloaded the 40+ meg installer for Windows. Upon rejoining OSCON, I ran the installer and tested the demo of gtk# widgets off the Start menu, which worked well. Mono implements .NET on various operating systems. Of course I'm interested in Mono/.NET mainly because of IronPython.

I had a choice of buses, coming from Hawthorne District: the 75 to Hollywood, transferring to the Max, or the 14 to downtown, transferring likewise to the Max, but going the other direction. I positioned myself strategically to take whichever bus came first. Not surprisingly, it was the 14 (it runs more frequently). Enroute, the middle exit door got stuck, meaning a rider had to make his way to the front. The driver literally rebooted the bus, twice. The second time, he had to get out and do something at the rear. Rebooting the bus solved the door problem.

I handed off a copy of my open source OSCON talk to some guy with a USB stick, after we talked for a few minutes (it's on the web too). This guy turned out to be D. Richard Hipp, creator of SQLite, as I found out later, when he received a $5K Integrator Award from Google.

I'm connected by wireless, which is why I'm able to do real time blogging, check email, news and so on. Yes, I'm concerned about the shuttle, have been at least since reading about NASA seeking replacement parts -- CPUs -- on Ebay. I'm in substantial agreement with the LA Times opinion (The Wrong Stuff, July 28) that "no shuttle should ever fly again" (new technology is needed).

Highly technical talks may be sampled on many levels. I appreciate the freedom to not give my undivided attention to the C# code being discussed on the big screen right now, even though it's really cool.

Larry Wall gave a whimsical State of the Onion based on Spy (a fictional computer language). Damian Conway delivered fun with dead languages (e.g. Latin, Lisp, PostScript, C++...), featuring Lara Croft and Conway's Game of Life which latter was also important in last year's talk, about programming in Klingon. In between, Paul Graham discussed what businesses might learn from open source and blogging (or die).

Monday, August 01, 2005

OSCON 2005 (Tutorial Day One)

So I'm sitting in the Oregon Convention Center listening to Stefan Neufeind from Germany introduce us to XUL. Earlier, at the Starbucks breakfast coffee bar, two geeks discussed the relative merits of Python and Perl (especially Perl 6). I couldn't have scripted it any better; OSCON is off to a great start. I will now give my undivided attention to Stefan...

XUL references Ghostbusters (the movie). The ghost Zuul possesses a certain character (Dana Barrett) and says "There is no Dana, only Zuul," giving rise to a slogan: "there is no data, only XUL." This slogan serves as an engineering guideline: don't incorporate actual data in your XUL documents -- just link to it, and make XUL all about the layout (interface).

Documents of the xul-type (application/vnd.mozilla.xul+xml) talk to the Gecko rendering engine in Mozilla-based browsers (e.g. FireFox) or in whatever clients (other engines may speak xul too). XUL is a DOM-extending XML namespace providing a <window></window> framework within which to lay out widget-containing boxes (variously oriented, directed, packed, flexed and aligned -- bottom-to-top, right-to-left OK too), in order to make a cross-platform front end to back end data sources and runtime objects (e.g. XPCOM gives you hooks to C/C++ library resources). You'll gain control over menus and toolbars as well.

CSS usually plays a role. JavaScript listens for and handles events (Python is a batter up).

Note that mozilla -chrome on the command line will let you substitute your own top window, independently of the default browser, with all its menus, tabs and so on. Chrome is the look-and-feel repository (consulted by Gecko) providing window trim.

A lot of this stuff is similar to my bread and butter Visual FoxPro, in that widgets trigger specific events (oncommand, onmouseover), as does the <window> itself (onload, onunload, onclose). Plus you've got the tabindex attribute with which to control the focus ring.

Try this in FireFox.

I first learned of XUL from Claude Goodman of CareWheels, who mentioned at a Free Geek meeting that he envisioned his interface as XUL-defined. I made a mental note then to find out more about XUL (this meeting was over a year ago by now I believe). I met up with Claude again at Ron Braithwaite's presentation to Wanderers.

Don and I attended Ron's 'Off to Canada' picnic at Creston Park yesterday, before heading over to the Brewer's Festival on the waterfront (stopping enroute to register for OSCON). Lots of motorcycles showed up for the Braithwaite party (plus Jasper's battery- powered bicycle from Taiwan), some ridden by Bavarian Illuminati (Ron is one).

I had lunch with Randal Schwartz and friends, Randal being a heavy lifter in the Perl community (I've studied his Perls of Wisdom in the library). His group of four graciously accepted Kevin Altis and I, both Python people, as table mates at Red Robin. Perlmongers filled us in on some of the community- bending soap operatics surrounding the DBI class, plus offered friendly advice about how we snakecharmers might do something like CPAN, the global Perl repository.

The distinguished Alex Martelli, now with Google, has a new mustache, and joked how European males, upon moving to the US, tend to sprout facial hair to better signify their European origins (Alex is Italian). Guido, you may recall, recently grew a beard.

My afternoon tutorial: Ruby on Rails (a convention-driven framework for website development, based on the Ruby programming language).