Monday, January 30, 2006

Editorial Comment

I disagree with the talking heads in Wired 02/2006 039, who say "cyberspace" is dead (reminds me of an old existentialist movement, popular when Mom was going to college).

Yes, we could be creatures of fashion and rename the thing every few years, setting up a whole new "wired | tired | expired" loop. However, what these experts neglect is the Greek root (a root with root access, I think most will admit, witness greek letters).

Per my Grunch FAQ, "cyber" stems from the Greek "to steer" (as with a rudder), and cyberspace indeed serves that function, owing to its speed, breadth, and sensitivity (in the hands of an expert sand sifter anyway). See my Q: Isn't this just another right-wing, pro-corporate, propaganda site? (hey, the whole FAQ is kinda fun).

So I, for one, plan on keeping "cyberspace" in circulation. Besides, it's backward compatible.

Beyond that editorial comment, I thought this was a fun issue, worth referring back to. Tara is really getting into programmable robot dolls, more affordable than Disney's audioanimatronics.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

CBS Interview

I thought GWB was unassumingly presidential in his remarks last night.

I liked what he said about politics not really being zero-sum, e.g. Washington, DC can afford to welcome the fact of independently powerful metro areas, including within the USA.

Winning in Iraq likewise needn't be at the political expense of those who disagreed with the strategy of invasion and occupation (many Republicans in this category, and military personnel). Too many B Team policies were followed.

I wasn't surprised that Laura was his closest advisor, even though they fight sometimes (the garage door story) -- Dawn and I were fighting just today in fact (something about text messaging and right speech).

Finally, I thought he was wise in his choice of networks.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Noodling in a Moodle

Mark (PPS) gave me an opportunity to simulate a real math/CS course in a moodle. A moodle [link to Moodle] is a webspace, customized to face both teacher (course author) and students (course readers). As a teacher, I'm able to add text objects, quiz objects, link objects and so on (popup driven, point and click). Students watch my course evolve (or remain static once finished). I also collaborate with other teachers, optionally. So yes, it's a nifty system, one of many such, and prototypical of things to come.

The moodle I'm working on is called Python for Algebra Students, meaning I'm taking a "programming to learn" versus a "learning to program" approach. We start with Sequences, which motivate defining functions, which motivates class/object syntax, allowing us to customize our own objects. Once we're able to roll our own, it's on to: rational number type (not native to Python, though decimal is); polynomial type (they form a ring, getting to that); vector type (preview -- more later); then a quick leap into fractals (through complex + trig), group theory (group, ring, field) and number theory (EA, totatives, Euler's Theorem).

Calculus is getting shoved over to Physics (where we might also use Python -- or VPython).

Having a moodle allows me to invite collaborators to look over my shoulder as I develop the above in some detail, and in such a way as to encourage new teachers to explore in this direction. I think younger kids hunger for more crypto for example, and what better way to give it to 'em than to head in the direction of explaining RSA in terms of Fermat's Little and Euler's Theorems? Like in the bestseller In Code.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cartoon Physics

I've been flipping through this physics comic book Nancy lent me, along with a companion CD.

Combining with other stuff, I have this image of buckyballs vanishing here and getting tuned in there, with a mediating field described by a kind of ray tracing (a Feynman superposition) of all possible routes in between.

One maybe needn't imagine the energy in transit, since to see it at all is to detect it i.e. is to tune it in. Imagining a little ball going through either slit is unrealistic, is like spending money you don't really have. When some photographic emulsion registers a ping, that's when the energy reappears and a possibility gets actualized (maybe in two places at once -- nonlocality).

You might not think buckyballs (C60 molecules) are small enough to behave like photons, i.e. are too big to constructively / destructively interfere through a double slit apparatus. But they do so behave. This was the subject of Julian's research before he became an artist.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Wanderers 2006.1.24

Dick Pugh and Julian Voss-Andreae

Tonight Julian shared about his career as a physicist-turned- sculptor of proteins and other molecules. He's working on some exciting new projects.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More About Geek TV

Your stereotypical geeks love science fiction. Like, we just screened the entire Matrix series again, in our home theater this week (I only watched sporadically, having seen it recently -- to Tara it was mostly new).

The fictive tapestry we create as a background to reality, the stuff of day dreams and amusements, is often identified as "escapist" in nature, and certainly I have nothing against projecting into a completely different solar system (e.g. Serenity) or universe (e.g. Narnia).

However my dad, Dr. Jack Urner, was an urban and regional planner (University of Washington, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago), subscribed to The Futurist, so as a kid, I absorbed the view that humans could actually dream new stuff into existence.

I watched the whole Apollo thing from Rome (EUR and later Viale Parioli), our base while dad worked with Libyan counterparts on mapping and zoning (he worked with several Islamic countries during his long career, plus the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan).

When I started reading Fuller's enlightened futurism in earnest, back in the early 1980s, the Cold War was still in high gear. KAL 007 was shot down. Some nights on the TV news it seemed like the CIA and KGB had a monopoly on world affairs, and were using Central America as their proxy. Russian submarines were parked just off the USA coast, ready to launch if need be.

So how was a geek futurist like me to get any traction in this crazy, cold world? Fuller had a suggestion, embedded throughout his books: focus on the world energy grid concept. He had a lot of other good ideas too. So I wasn't without tools. Perhaps the situation wasn't as hopeless as it seemed.

Now, over 20 years later, I'm looking back on a lot of accomplishments. A lot of leg work has been done. My personal workspace edit/recombine studio (a GST concept) is evident in such products as Intel's viiv. Reality TV as a genre has been established around the game show concept, permitting an easy transition to World Game when the stars feel ready. And the world power grid is coming along nicely, with Iraq slated to get more kilowatts from Iran, once we've brought those power plants on-line (so, where shall we put that SeaWorld?).

What's true is a lot of people have been working on the design science agenda (no need to always call it that). I'm one player among many (a strong one, but powerless in isolation). Nowadays, I'm looking forward to scripting more reality TV (4D Studios work), producing commercials (e.g. for Global Data), and recruiting talented faculty to a bizmo-based lifestyle (cybervans, cram packed with educational programming and equipment).

I'm planning to stay Portland-based. I really don't mind all the rain.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Visiting OMSI

Tara and I checked out OMSI again yesterday, cruised Turbine Hall, cafeteria (twice), made a fast track through animations [see it looping in the background...] -- didn't make it upstairs at all.

We toured Blueback again (Tara hadn't been in years and specifically requested it). USS Blueback is the latest and greatest to be cast in electric-diesel technology, and she's still in mint condition (admittedly, the Willamette is sort of shallow for a boat of her kind, but our kids love it -- OMSI staff even organizes sleepovers sometimes).

Food was really good on this sub, in compensation for living cooped up like that, fewer beds than personnel (a deliberate design: you don't want everyone asleep at the same time on a sub). Only the captain could actually sit up in bed, without smashing his face into dirty laundry. I say "his" because these early subs were guy things. Women didn't have their own subs yet. Cooks competed ("Think Ney") and the best got bragging rights, and maybe a gig at the White House. The cafeteria (smallish), was also a place for pre-LCD TV amusements, like watching movies 'n stuff.

In officers' quarters, we all squeezed around a table and the lights went low, revealing some scaled silhouettes. Which one of these is the Blueback kids? Having made a fool of myself at SeaWorld, on that huge TV display, I kept my mouth shut this time, but one kid got it right: the smallest one. All of the others were US except the one on the bottom, a Typhoon class Russian, double-wide, and clearly biggest. But there was no sense of an enemy in this revelation.

Subs are these cool underwater boats, not themselves blameworthy for all they've been used for. We should keep them around, invent some new ones, invite more civilians aboard.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Peanut Butter Bonanza

I was glad to see on KOIN news last night how the Oregon Food Bank is scoring all that peanut butter.

Our food situation in Oregon has been somewhat dire of late. Less excess capacity has been coming our way, leaving us feeling cold and blue -- although we fully realize the victims of Rita and Katrina have needed it more.

Still, maybe all this peanut butter heralds a sea change of some kind?

I used to be a programmer for OFB and still know some of the people (hi Steve). My dBase code helped manage OFB's inventory, plus ran the distribution, a complicated formula for computing disbursements to satellite food banks all around the state.

That was some years ago. I doubt many NGOs use Ashton-Tate's original dBase any more. I started with dBase II, which a couple versions later forked into Borland's dBase V and FoxPro. Microsoft bought the latter, migrating it to Windows, which eventually led to our Visual FoxPro of today, now up to version 9, lo these many years later.

I still use VFP sometimes, still mostly in the social service sector, my focus since joining EMO's Center for Urban Education (CUE) in Portland in the mid 1980s. I'd left my job at McGraw-Hill, Rockefeller Center (there's a story here), and joined my parents to help pack up in Bangladesh. We came back through PDX and I decided to stay behind. The Boltons kindly took me in.

CUE was a management hub for refugee resettlement in the wake of the Vietnam War, plus had a big grant of Apple desktop publishing equipment thanks to Steve Johnson. We trained local area nonprofits how to leverage the latest high tech, like the IBM 386, the target for the first Linux, of which none of us had yet heard (Linus who?). Nor was Richard Stallman's free software yet available to our kind (soldiers in the social service trenches).

Whereas my recent stint at Free Geek during Ron Braithwaite's tenure was in some ways a deja vu experience -- we networked with similar nonprofit clients, via Penguin Day and so on -- our 21st century tools are so much more powerful (and yet this is still only the beginning).

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Kaa Meets Tiger

© Disney Company

I understand they'll be wanting me at EuroPython again in 2006. It'll be at CERN this year, the birthplace of the World Wide Web. Maybe there'll be an exhibit.

Relevant posts:
My Kaa impersonation
Re: Europython
Tygerblog link

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I used Don's cell to speak with Koreducators today, from within the hull of Meliptus. Since I regard them as affiliated with PSU, I asked Adam to put in a good word from me for Visual Math @ the Math Learning Center (MLC) should he run across a staffer.

I tried to get to first base with MLC some years ago, using a pre-publication Quadray Coordinates paper as entre. That got me nowhere -- I think he confused me with some math PhD wannabee, who'd have no intrinsic interest in pedagogy aimed at discerning middle schoolers. He was wrong of course, but on the other hand, neither was I as skilled back then as I am today (and I'm still learning).

Anyway, Visual Math uses these interesting tiling patterns to introduce algebraic formalisms, having students deduce an expression for the nth term in the sequence, given an example progression. Tara brings these home most days, and I've enjoyed the creativity. I also see ample opportunities for synching with my own sequence-based approach, which makes Python an implementation language for just such nth term expressions, with figurate and polyhedral numbers the focus.

I also encouraged Adam to keep talking to me about open source, even though I'm not the biggest name in town on that score (at least I know a few Free Geeks).

For its part, Koreducators is interested in recruiting for the new school (obviously). I said I'd try using my AFSC contacts to drum up more interest in northeast Portland (the target demographic this time -- we could bring more of the same on-line in other quadrants, should this experiment prove successful). Portland Impact probably doesn't need any help though, plus I'm no longer clerk of anything in AFSC world; younger talent has assumed the helm.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Re: Public Education (Oregon)

So the scheme I'm hearing about for Oregon is like:

k = kindergarten
e = elementary
m = middle
h = high
c = college

i.e. so-called k16, pre-school through college.

Of course this all looks very cryptic, but I'm just aiming at making it more memorable and compact.

I told some friends in South Africa it was:


in our neck of the woods but my wife says that's just not how it's done here. So I guess I'm not really the authority.

Anyway, my expertise is more in a specific subject area I tout as "a hybrid of CS and math," where CS is short for computer science and math is short for mathematics.

When you blend math with Texas Instruments, you get a calculator-intensive curriculum. But in PDX we've been leaning more and more towards GNU, Linux, open source in general.

So the calculators maybe don't have such a bright future here, except maybe as emulators e.g. kids can write 'em using some event-driven GUI framework, like maybe PyGame.

Addendum re organizational framework @ Math Forum.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dignity Village

Some of you quick draws probably already thought of this -- after all, there's the precedent in LA. What'll be fun is getting across that Santa really does care about poor people.

Of course you cynics see through all that: we're really talking about Grunch in a bunny suit, looking for good will on a planet grown tired of incessant bombing (not to mention outraged by all the collateral damage).

So let's try being at least a tiny bit decent for a change? What a concept! How'd that idea ever get passed the censors?

We've got some spanking new economics spelling out why being good matters, why poverty sucks. Of course we can't make evolution run faster than it'll go. Light speed (186K mph) defines an upper limit (and the normal rate in Synergetics).

I'm confidant that years of watching ecovillages develop will make for better TV (and sell more product) than years of watching bombs go off, per the current dark age in Palestine and Algebra City.

I think we're all tired of Coalition TV by now.

So let's demand something more uplifting for a change! Write to your local programming director -- maybe starting with KOIN?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Breakfast on Pluto (movie review)

This cute kid from Pluto uses his storytelling powers to keep it together, while working to establish an Earthian identity.

He tries squeezing affection from the male side of the species, which is difficult under the circumstances. There's this fight going on... anyway, the usual guy thing.

Although the police show some kindness, ultimately it's the sisters of the road who keep him safe enough to keep doing his research.

He finally reconnects with a father archetype (the church), plus establishes a long distance relationship with a mother figure.

Individuation achieved. A human is born. Time for breakfast.

Dawn really liked this story. I told her it reminded me of Pinocchio, also about a boy who got creative with the truth while seeking his own humanity.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Bumper Sticker

pretty popular in Portland
(with or without the business angle)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More re Public Education

I've had a couple breakthrough insights on the USA OS front lately, regarding how I'm to model public education:
More later, gotta run. Tara forgot her gym clothes for school. Speaking of which, I'm mindful that I've not said a lot about sports or star athletes (not just Hollywood and the military attract big numbers of spectators).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Front Page News

Today's front page headline in The Oregonian is "Oregon's bottom line: education" -- this is what most local business and elected leaders believe, whether or not they believe the necessary reforms will actually occur.

Of course I'm thinking my Oregon Curriculum Network might have a role to play in all this. True, I traffic in some rather alien content, but market research proves kids often groove on ET-like viewpoints, such as we provide through Google Earth (a big favorite at Winterhaven) , the space program, and science fiction.

Seeing our planet from the outside is a great starting point for any curriculum; then zoom in on the parts you want to elucidate and articulate, such as the Port of Portland and its role as a switch, between air-, land- and sea-based networks. I often watch the UPS and FedEx planes landing and taking off from PDX, from my viewpoint in the middle of the Columbia; and that daily Lufthansa to/from Frankfurt -- on which I someday hope to catch a lift, perhaps with family (pre-EU Europe was the site of my pre-adulthood).

Those taking the easy route will just think in terms of money and funding, without putting much real thought into actual programming and content. A lot of people seem to think that if the money is there, all that other stuff will just take care of itself -- just minor details. That's an outsider's perspective, shared by many politicians and politician wannabees.

As the television industry well knows, you don't bring viewers to your channel if you don't have any product worth watching. Money compensates talent, but doesn't create it -- otherwise those with money could simply buy their stairway to heaven. But neither God, nor the discerning public, was ever that cheap.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Location Scouting

So some years back I drop-boxed this JavaDome proposal to OMSI, suggesting a real Fly's Eye or the like, with programmable guts, perhaps on that green patch just outside the main lobby.

Fun idea, but of course a small science museum NGO (with some funding from Spirit Mountain) won't have a budget for such a pricey item. Only Hollywood and the military get those spectator numbers, with private industry standing by to provide the props (livingry or killingry, whatever pays the bills).

Hmmm... how could we script this as reality television? FreeGeek is a great location. No need to spend Hollywood millions to create a trashy, lived-in, gorgeously free-spirited ambience, with geeks galore (the real deal, not acting).

Fly's Eyes will have application in emergency and disaster relief scenarios, as air deployable command and control units, or so we might imagine. We'll use a lot of open source software, so global geeks have opportunities to customize and give back.

Then there's OHSU, including pieces under construction (world class MRI). Doctors Without Borders: helicopters deploy clinics, to places like Pakistan. I see the ingredients of some uplifting TV here.

I'm no screenwriter though (not yet anyway -- and why wait?). We'd need lots and lots of employees to really pull off the pilot (some new exhibits @ OMSI would be concrete proof of mission accomplished).

The key idea here is we don't fake the props. We do it for real, in the spirit of not lying to kids. Not that I'm against good science fiction (Tara and I projected The Matrix in our home theater last night (Tara: "a very unlikely hypothesis") -- I have many positive things to say about it, even though, as a Quaker, I think gunplay lacks sex appeal (I got bored with Mr. & Mrs. Smith, walked away to write this post instead)).

But the design science genre is about going from prototypes, field tested by those with the right stuff, to commercial products (after most of the kinks have been worked out), ala my Project Renaissance model. Burt Rutan knows the score (it's a lot about fun). SpaceShipOne is great reality television.

I'd cast myself as some spooky behind-the-scenes organizer who makes the rare on-camera appearance. That wouldn't be a lie either.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Microsoft Pulls Blog

I woke up to this story on Slashdot: a controversial Chinese journalist has his First Amendment rights trampled by Microsoft, out of deference to offended readers -- in China. OK, so now we know: Microsoft is not really an American company. I'm not especially surprised to learn this. Only a few big companies have the guts to play by the rules, when it comes to upholding freedom and democracy.

Related posts:
My 1/2006 blog entry re Google & censorship
Update in Slashdot Jan 31 2006

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Corruption in Congress

I do enjoy the thought of these comtemptible Congressmen soiling their own pants with emergency charitable donations.

Newt Gingrich seems to think there's time for reform. I think the lack of open source voting pretty much voids their credibility to restore integrity from within.

We definitely want our democracy back, but I don't see that Congress has the power to give it to us. I wish it did.

Of course we have some great public servants in Congress, today as much as ever. But as a body, the institution has denegrated itself to new lows. Until we get a lot more transparency into the system, there's just no trusting these offices to reflect the will of the people.

I vote we erect a temporary Capitol Building in LA, or maybe Anchorage. We could devise a new voting system from scratch, with all current members by definition ineligible to run.

Just kidding.

It'd serve 'em right though.

Update: I shared some prints of this post with folks Drinking Liberally at Lucky Lab this evening. The Nike guy was flipping through slides of his recent trip to Turkey.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More Music Millenium Notes

So I taught @ Winterhaven this AM, wandered home up Division, stopping to coffee up, use wireless (more words to math-teach, with lots of English (spin, see 5a)), eat salad.

Now I'm using my surround sound to blast Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. In my mind's eye, I'm watching polyhedra on 3D IMAX, with the trumpet chorus for soundtrack. This track is also used in Good Will Hunting, so I sense a comingling of beautiful minds here (not just Bucky's).

Note: I couldn't think of the name of this (very popular) song, so started with "most played" songs on the radio, worked my way through candidates, using the iTunes free sampler (you only pay if you want the whole song).

So how's that for computer skills? Helps compensate for my abysmal knowledge of the pop music scene, though thanks to Paul Allen's museum, I now better appreciate the true artistry of Britney Spears ("on the moon baby!" -- my Austin Powers impersonation (um, it was Mars actually)) -- and of the role of the Pacific Northwest in making it all happen. And of hip-hop: tagging, bboying, DJing and MCing.

Monday, January 02, 2006


I also watched quite a bit of feed from the space station on New Year's Eve. Some guy took us on a tour, showing us the food stash and trash system. Meals came in two colors of container: red (Russian) and blue (USA). I guess if a cosmonaut eats astronaut food, or vice versa, nothing bad happens, which is good, as color codes have a way of failing. Humans will fare better in space if they're not mutually poisonous. As a species, we're designed to be collaborative, history notwithstanding, is my take.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

So what did I do for New Year's Eve?

I tuned in asynchronously to watch Cedric the Entertainer do his White House gig (press corps dinner, way back in April -- the same event where Laura gave her funny speech). Cedric sang Folgers In Your Cup to prove his sincerity about winning a spot on American Idol, did his "black Pope" impersonation.

I also taped the part of the Dec 12 PPS school board meeting wherein Koreducators got their charter school approved (I show up as an extra in that one).

A little before 9 PM PST, I flipped through the channels hoping to find Times Square and the New Years ball (a 3-frequency geodesic) but no station seemed to think a synchronous view would be profitable, not even as a short break between regularly scheduled fantasies. I tried the web cams but they were already overloaded.

My wife and I spent some quality time listening to fireworks as the odometer flipped. Tara spent the night at a friend's house nearby.

Earlier in the day I whipped up some new curriculum writing for my students at Winterhaven.


If you're new to this blog, be aware that: I sometimes go back and fix typos, maybe toggle the time by a few minutes to leave a trace, plus occassionally I'll even add updates (with a date); also, when I say "big plasma" I probably just mean an ordinary LCD TV (but I think "big plasma" sounds cool, so I take that liberty); sometimes I'll just add links silently.

Also, you'll find links to the two sister blogs, controlroom and mybizmo, both here at Blogspot (check the right margin).

I thought about adding chronofile as a fourth blog, but that domain name was already taken. Oh well, four would probably be too many anyway.

Time to make coffee. And hey, let's take a look at my post of one year ago.