Monday, July 31, 2006

The Math They Won't Teach You

Or is it History they don't want you to know?

This message is brought to you by: the Oregon Curriculum Network.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Happy Day

This was yer basic good day for me. My cousins (quite removed) Mary and Alice drove all the way from Seattle to visit us, and now are on their way back. Mary is the ER doctor, while Alice started a shipping service with her soon to be ex.

Derek scored a gas lawn mower from Weldon, who is moving to Oklahoma. I added Lawnmower Man (stupid but fun movie) to Edward Scissorhands (a more brilliant one), to my small repertoire of impersonations (inside joke: the juniper still looks like a phage).

We shared corn on the cob, salad, hummus and pita, on the back patio. It's a cool day. Then we visited the Rhododendron Garden, where Dawn and I got married. Bhutan has lots of rhodies, or whatever sacred names. I took this picture, knowing it'd fit well in my blog:

But even on a happy day, we don't get to forget about suffering, close to home, around the world. Gaza, out of the limelight, has become a metaphor for Darfur, even further shoved aside and so on. Malign neglect remains the order of the day.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Creation Myth

Here's something I posted to a Quaker list recently, just when all are getting comfortable in their Bibles, dusting up on Tyre (an ancient interface twixt overland caravaners and Phoenicia). So I doubt many will have time for such blatant revisionism...

If you've cracked the cover of TetraScroll, you've seen yet another one of our creation myths, this one about how Eve did Adam a favor by goading him out of his nostalgia for a Garden of Eden that never was (something put there by temporal authorities).

The apple (yes, I know, not really an apple) was a symbol for the world being round, a sort of closed, finite Earth message (we're on a planet) that people weren't ready for. The priests jealously guarded their knowledge, and consequent authority. It was derivative authority however, as sea peoples had it as well, and used it effectively.

Demonizing the snake was a way to get these new Middle Eastern landlubbers to forget about the Far East, way more advanced in its civilization, and focused on Naga, a sea dragon. This dragon was also upsetting to local authorities, hence the story in Genesis, still used to frighten children to this day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wanderers 2006.7.25

Patrick Barton is sharing Powersim, modeling software in the lineage of Jay Forrester (ala Urban Dynamics, Club of Rome, The Fifth Discipline etc.). Simulation software lets modelers assemble complex systems from simple components: stocks, flows, linkages.

This event is well attended, by physicists, a banker (semi-retired), mathematicians (including Davids Feinstein and Tver). Terry is manning the camera. I'm in the side office, close to an A/C vent.

Tara uses powerful simulation software too, sometimes hours a day, but for fun not for pay. I'm thinking of Sims 2, Civilization IV, other such games over the years (SimCity, SimAnt...).

Back at OSR
, I impressed my social studies teacher Fred Craden (great guy) by doing my independent study on global modeling, including many citations to the Club of Rome studies, which back then (1971-72) had made the cover of The Futurist magazine (my dad a subscriber).

On screen right now: a model of a local dam system, relating to water levels, snow pack, flow rates. Engineers use dynamical models to load balance around electrical demand. Getting Portlanders to back off on the A/C frees more power for Californians, generating income for our state.

I've been thinking about Patricia lately, a motorcycle-riding field engineer for Bonneville Power for years and years. Diane also works for BPA, in a more back office capacity. Both are local Quakers.

Powersim turns out to be quite handy for modelers, with lots of interface widgets of the kind one might study under the heading of wxPython.

Patrick has been working with Glenn and I on this Global Matrix Project, featuring these hexapents I've been writing about (and depicting) of late.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Another Hexapent

Class III Hexapent
Packinon + POV-Ray

In the shell:

geodesic -c 2,3 2 | pol_recip | off_util -O | off2pov > hexapent.pov

My thanks to Adrian Rossiter.

Related reading @ Math Forum by me, plus this web page (also first issued today).

Download the above in OFF format (you may need to "right click" to save).

Note: Packinon also generates Waterman Polyhedra.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Apollo Chronicles

I subscribe to a number of e-services, including this one from NASA (snglist c/o that connects me up to program lore. Today, I'm reading about the first Apollo lunar landing (left foot first) and Armstrong's fascination with moon dust (rose petals).

The story, relayed in grade school English, is full of suspense, as the Sea of Tranquility was anything but, from a needing to find a parking space point of view: rocks everywhere. Neil, his heart clocking 156 bpm, saved the day (and NASA's ass) with a last second touch down, fuel meter on empty.

If there's a NASA cable or satellite channel sharing more commemorative fare today, it's not easily accessible from my household (or maybe it is -- let's speak hypothetically). However, the Google video archive is pretty well stocked with lunar lander memorabilia.

There's enough on the Internet for a homeschooler to bliss out on, plus Netflix for movies and documentaries. But does our homeschooler have access to either?

Thanks to TCP/IP, many Portland homes now have at least a well-endowed library's powers, when it comes to archival access. The Oregonian's business page today is about the new metropolitan wireless system (construction begins), intended as a free public service.

Synchronous and even asynchronous archiving of overseas broadcasts was still more a job for embassies and listening posts in 2006, mostly under the control of governments and their contractors, although many expats could tune in their home country's TV via satellite services. In Portland, many expats speak Farsi, others Russian, others Japanese.

Given I'm a curriculum writer, sometimes back office, sometimes in the field, I have a natural interest in knowing a lot of what a librarian knows. I want my lesson plans to match up with actual resources. I'm not just interested in science fiction.

If students have access to Google Earth, that opens up a whole new set of possibilities. If they're patched in through some synchronous feed to a team in the field, say at a marine archeological site ala the Jason Project, then we'd plan the lessons differently.

Our thought is to organize the lesson plans database around tags listing the expected and/or necessary technologies, sometimes with alternatives. A teacher could narrow the search by entering locally available tools and/or topics of interest (Python, SQL...).

In 2006, many of our global university students don't yet have access to the basics (e.g. food, potable water), and so their education remains on hold while we continue debugging a lot of broken "first world" code. Sometimes it's easier to start fresh and just bypass the old stuff. Other times, the old stuff was well designed and proves readily adaptable.

Side light: Tara's sims family didn't pay any bills as it ran overnight. This morning, the repo men have arrived with their ray guns, and are making appliances disappear. Fortunately, her family has enough in the bank to replace some of their stuff. What a hassle though. Which reminds me, I need to get new DEQ tags for Razz.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Rebuilding Indian Country 1933 (movie review)

This preWWII depression era newsreel is designed to reassure viewers that (a) Native Americans are being properly looked after, their living standards improved and (b) the navams are also working hard at their jobs, just as we the viewers are, the majority Europeans.

We earn (6:49-7:00) our place in the sun, and our government is looking after us too.

The film reasonably acknowledges that navams, also originally from around Baghdad (1:00-:18), might also have been called Americans, just as "we" are, had Columbus's reasonable hypothesis (that this was India) been falsified earlier (3:06-:37).

Be that as it may, now that they're Indians, they still deserve the respect and dignity owed every American (including in leadership roles), and their destiny will emerge gradually, through mastery of the civilian white man's tools.

Given the red man already has instinctive appreciation for color (27:34-:41), plus instinctive reckless ability (32:04-:14), learning new skills isn't hard for him.

A key tension in the film revolves around why Indians would necessarily want to change certain aspects about their [dirty hippie] pre-Euro lifestyles (25:08-:25).

Although the erosion going on in Monument Valley (Najavo Nation) is considered weird and ominious (22:41-:49), it's still not clear that the white man's control freaky response to everything is going to fly with these slackers.

However, given their need for revenue, the need for more control over the means of production is simply obvious. American industriousness and increasing mastery over the land is proceeding full speed ahead (Depression? What depression? We're happy to be this driven all the time).

Anyway, the answer is they don't have to change everything (like, we keep with the instinctual storytelling abilities).

Note the "radio voice" of the narrator. As Bucky talks about in Critical Path, the white man was standardizing his tones around then, as an aspect of nation-building. The invention of broadcasting accelerated the adoption of an overviewer's "metropolitan voice" which the narrator here expertly uses.

This film is from a time when many Americans wanted a big brother, and found one in the person of FDR. The upbeat tone and serene synthesis of man and machine, against natural challenges such a trackless waste (21:35-:47) and disease, contains no hint of a darker side subplot: WMDs (aka BLTs) and the AngloEuro's proclivity to use them, against the red man, against himself.

I found the emphasis on conserving civilians (with a whole corps devoted to that purpose) heartening. Governments seem so otherwise preoccupied these days. I can understand why sometimes the white man feels nostalgic for those happier days.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Information Harvesting

Alan Kay streaming from LA @ EuroPython
(CERN, Switzerland)

photo by Francois Schnell @ Flickr

This morning I'm checking a video blog with Part 1 of Alan Kay's keynote at Europython. The talk was itself streamed in real time from LA to CERN (Alan, recently back from Japan, was advised by his doctor to stay home).

I'm also sampling some Python411 news and teaching podcasts and mp3s (audio, no video -- Ron's talking about Alan's keynote at the moment), although I'm not using an iPod to do this.

Francois Schnell just viewed my Google Video presentation to Wanderers (about some aerospacey prototyping my subculture cares about), and came back with a Flickr photo of the Cornwall facility.

That led me to his Europython pix, including the one above (tagged as public). I'll email Dawn a link to his Tintagel slides.

And all this even before my morning coffee! The web, born at CERN, has come a long way in a few years.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

PR for the PL

Fuller's folding/unfolding global data display

What I like about our plastic money system (Visa etc.) is it provides a shared currency without making anyone salute another system's presidents, queens or whatever. You can be as pro-queen as the Queen herself, use a Visa card, and still feel like a sovereign.

People may imagine clusters of skyscrapers, when they think of some core management, but as Dee Hock explains, Visa is really chaordic. Like, my home page has linked to the Chaordic Commons for years now (check

Likewise, my philosophy of education is about increasing our inventory of memetic amplification tools, the stuff of PR firms: multi-track editing machines, cheap and usable computers. You're not buying into a monolithic imperialism here, but a way to make waves while rooting in your own tradition as deeply as you feel led.

Are you a wannabe orthodox something-or-other? Go for it. Be a hard-liner. Strut your stuff. We'll try to tune you in over the incoherent noise some kick up, with their inferior outward weaponry.

And so I think Buckminster Fuller was interested in tossing out (as in sharing) some great toyz, but not in being too control freaky about how we might use them. A nationless map would be a good thing to have in inventory, certainly, especially in light of its high tech hexapent flavor.

But he wasn't imposing that toy on all of us, saying "thou shalt not play the game of nations at war". No, he was leaving it up to some subcultures to so command and control themselves. For these semi-autonomous subcultures, a nationless map might prove eye-opening, a way of clearing away the clutter to really focus on the behind-the-scenes networking.

That game with the flags was always a bit of a shell game anyway, superseded or at least conjoined by games with corporate logos (e.g. Visa). Strategy: use symbols that command loyalty, in ways that get people motivated to fight on your side.

I do it too, gnu math recruiter that I am (somewhat unorthodox). My favorite brands resonate with subliminal messages for an attainable Kingdom, a Promised Land. We compete effectively with many other siren song singers, all prophesying alternative ways ahead.

Yes, the positive futurism we craft is supposed to be tempting. We're good at PR. Now, help yourself to the goodies.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Repositioning Think Tanks

So BFI's servers have been glitching, presumably over the heavier loads. This explains my getting an invite to join forums with Michael Ben-Eli, a former student and close collaborator of Buckminster Fuller, a week late. I've been making up for lost time.

Over on the Math Forum, I respun some of the overarching themes of my postings of late:
  • a proposed curriculum, still on the drawing boards, being developed in cahoots with some big names in computer science;
  • a focus on Portland as a happening center;
  • a commitment to conjoin open source community resources with a positive futurism somewhat informed by what I've been calling American Transcendentalism (fed by New England's);
  • a commitment to getting the military more involved as a source of constructive, not just destructive, engineering and know-how.
In the Ben-Eli forum, I had this to say, regarding the commitment to not waste energy and stay real regarding the consequences of well-known thermodynamic principles:

Into the Cool

Submitted by portlandio on Wed, 2006-07-12 14:08.

Per Sagan-Schneider's Into the Cool, our local situation is one of surfing the solar gradient -- meaning our local system plugs into the Sun (other stars), then reflects back what it cannot really use (the vast majority of the energy goes "to ground" i.e. radiates into space). Human systems are a part of this more encompassing system, which also includes things that'd destroy us if we let them (any good game has "challenges").

Anyway, I do not think it necessary that we view the problem as one of optimizing away all extravagant uses of energy, as if we're hoarding a finite supply in the face of certain and increasing Earthian chaos. That's true of some energy supplies, yes. I'm not trying to pitch this or that lifestyle in this context.

But I'm not into sponsoring this economists' "dismal science" meme, which pretends the 2nd law means ever worsening conditions aboard Spaceship Earth. That's not trully physics and is more about artificially lowering expectations as a part of a long-running propaganda campaign.

The biggest entropy increase is in the Sun itself, which overwhelms whatever little locally ordered world games we might play over the next several millenia. I expect we'll play many.

My premise is we can afford to live well and healthily over the long haul, on average.

That we're not already doing so (living well) to a much higher degree is more evidence of our lack of intellectual integrity, more than of any intrinsic energy shortfall.

We're slouches, slum lords, wallowing and warring in intellectual squalor.

But of course we're defensive against that observation -- seems kinda demeaning and we're a prideful crew (and pride in one's work needn't be a sign of decay).

For more thinking along these lines see: GST 2 -- part of what I'm calling Pentagon Math (more @ Math Forum).


Monday, July 10, 2006

Alternative View


I'm thinking we should deslave the Pentagon from a broken Congress and let the bases upgrade living standards educationally (in the name of national security, which is no lie -- there's already a mandate).

Model how we might have music, art, science, math, history, civics and prepare 'em for war college and stellar careers in the service, without being too stupid or wasteful with the hard-earned tax dollars.

Bring the TV people in to show off the new digs.

If we're successful, the civilians will sit up and take notice. They'll see technology doesn't have to mean piles of broken equipment surrounding an army of clueless teachers, wondering where it all went so terribly wrong.

For more context, check: this thread @ Math Forum.
Also: [1][2]

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Taking Refuge in J

Yes, J is a computer language, published by J Software. As I understand it, J is a collaboration between the late Kenneth Iverson of APL fame, and Roger Hui, with Kenneth's son Eric also taking an active developer's role and so on, in wider and wider circles (every novel line of J is in some sense a contribution to the language).

I retreat into J every now and then, sometimes as an antidote when I can think of nothing but Python. Although J supports an object-oriented way of thinking (as does Scheme and/or LISP) that's not the first model one thinks of. Rather, J connects to concepts familiar to English grammarians: word, sentence, noun, verb, adverb and so on.

Instead of learning a computer language through some math-oriented namespace (the usual approach), J pioneers a whole different set of associations, all with the intent to wean you from easy tutorials, and put you right into the J Dictionary (a source you'll use even when you're a pro).

However, unlike English, J is more right-to-left than left-to-right, but with little leap froggy motions, where dyadic and monadic verbs hook and fork in various ways. It's kinda creepy how much dense mathematics cram into a single line, when you start hopping around in this way. Probably something like how DNA gets so much done.

Sometimes I imagine projecting J on a bed sheet somewhere, strung between two trees, camp fire crackling. We've already looked at Stellarium and Celestia, and quite a few of them are already asleep, given the long day of tracking moose or yak or whatever. But for those still wakeful, here's some fun mathematics guaranteed to knock your socks off (if you still have any).

And now, pleasant dreams.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

MI3 (movie review)

I thought Tara might enjoy a Mission Impossible episode, as I did back when it was a TV series. The Bagdad was down to one piece of pizza, with no plans to make more, plus the sound system went bad, with no projectionist in the booth for quite some time (time enough to buy that last piece for Tara, plus a lemonade, plus a Hammerhead for me).

What I liked about the TV show were the subtle interventions. But once we're on the big screen with an action figure like Tom Cruise, and Hollywood driving, there's not much room for subtlety.

The plot line is actually quite lazy, as the most difficult operation is retrieving some stupid bioweapon (aka "rabbit's foot") from a skyscraper in Shanghai. The sleight of hand is versus the audience in this case: get Tom in through the roof (a big leap even for those suspending disbelief), then cut to a van, and a prayer for some cat.

What's going on inside the building? What clever tricks enable spiderman to snag the biobunny, presumably guarded? He crashes through some upper floor window with a parachute (where'd that come from? -- "exotic gear from nowhere" is another persistent theme), interrupting the prayer. Whatever he did to pull off this heist of the century was left on the cutting room floor (if ever shot in the first place).

Another big plot hole: masked gunmen in a helicopter attack a US civilian bridge with high explosives and everyone just sort of looks the other way. No congressional hearings, not even closed door ("who authorized the drone?"), no outrage in the papers. The US civilians have apparently blindly accepted their role as mere extras in vicious shootouts staged by faceless others. Not so unbelievable actually, as US civilians get this message a lot: sit back, relax, and let the pathologically violent handle your security concerns (including your foreign affairs).

Tara thought it dragged quite a bit, but liked the music. I enjoyed some of the backdrops, although I doubt the Vatican was pleased by this faux priest with the fake Bible, stalking prey through its quiet gardens (all simulated of course).

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Movie Sunday

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
(photo by K. Urner, March 24, 2006)

Today we unzipped the roadshow projector, stored on the "time capsule" (a weird piece of furniture that came with the house, art deco in flavor), and hooked it up to the laptop (blue).

Dawn and I played through Neil Young: Heart of Gold, a concert in the Ryman in Nashville. We both enjoyed it, having both connected with Music City in various dimensions.

After giving the hardware a rest (it gets hot), I dove in to the 3rd in the Qatsi trilogy, which I'd seen before in a real theater.

I really like Philip Glass music set to images in this way. The "Hopi Prophesy" spin makes sense, if you remember Tom Paine's intuition that "to prophesie" means "to sing" (good singing requires attunement).

This Qatsi film (so-called because all three titles end in qatsi: Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi), may seem apocalyptic in places. The old Greco-Roman facade is crumbling (opening sequence) and we sort of forget why we fight (military drills).

Then we reconnect with a simple truth: we're operating some very capable, very expressive equipment (our bodies, ourselves). So take heart. We've got what it takes.

Tonight: more Lost.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Back in the USSA

Yes, an intentional misspelling, yes, an allusion to a song by The Beatles. What I'm on about this morning is an experience many USAers never have, of flying back into their home country.

In the Pacific Northwest, our border with Canada is actually right inside their Vancouver BC airport. Little handheld eyeballs (webcams) snap your mug shot, if you're cute and French, or anything else exotic (lots of interesting passports).

On the intra-airplane TV, as you approach BWI or EWR or whatever, a list starts scrolling, of all those enemy country people that'd better have their paperwork in order, or else. Once off the plane, you might get sniffed by dogs (trained professionals). Hey, it's your choice to be in the USSA. Get over it.

Of course tourists complain that "USA 911-style" is relatively unfriendly (why scare little children?) and so are holding back with their tourist dollars, even if Chattanooga does sound intriguing.

However, the all-American freakout didn't start as recently as 911. Remember back to Y2K? I was in Maseru, Lesotho when the odometer flipped, from 1999 to 2000, watching the telly. The BBC's control room flitted from one time zone to the next, on and on around the world, always with happy campers, celebrating our shared good fortune (you know, like having found us a habitable planet and everything).

Then came the USA time zones (CNN feed mostly). These were not happy campers: "Air Force, still aloft?" "Check"; "Battle Cruisers still afloat?" "Check"... -- and so on through an impressive roster of military assets, all still operational thanks to the "Y2K bug" not having induced the paralysis so many had anticipated.

For the rest of the world, this was kind of a heads up that something was up in the USA. They'd gone all panicy over something rather mind-boggling and abstract, a big digit changeover, a millenium line crossed.

Not every calendar was odometering in this way at the same time, but this Romano-Christian one... well, let's just say a lot of doomsaying has focused on "The Millenium" and Y2K really did sound pretty apocalyptic, something like Nostradamus might have prophesied about.

Then came 911, which also has a 2 in it (what doesn't?). OK, so that must have been what Nostra was on about. He always makes so much sense, given 20-20 hindsight.

And so it goes, an ongoing panic attack, sometimes amplified through television. If more USAers returned to their own airports (having ventured abroad), I think they'd benefit from the reality check. Fearfulness: a two way street in our Wild West.

There's this urban legend of a small previous millenium town with only two car owners so far. No left-lane right-lane conventions had yet been established, no traffic lights implemented (what, for just two cars?).

They had a head on collision.

Freeze frame, captions: Humanity at the Wheel. Think About It. Please Drive Safely.