Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Window on Physics

Dr. Bob Fuller was through again, this final day of 2006. We had coffee at Peet's (hazelnut latte for him, eggnog latte for me, and thanks Bob, for buyin' -- on me next time).

Since last May, he's completed that article for CISE (see Vol 8, Issue 5) regarding how computing is figuring into college physics classes, a topic I gleaned info on at New Mexico Tech as well (Dr. Sonnenfeld let me study his final for his strenuous Matlab in physics course).

Bob briefly reviewed the history of the Calculus Reform movement for me (a lot about Harvard), part of which he saw from the vantage point of West Point academy, where civilians had been hired to implement said changes.

Students would now know how to look at calculus through four windows: graphical, textual, analytical and numerical (think of the four windows of a tetrahedron).

What helped big time at West Point was the discipline of rank: the department head would be a colonel, the classroom teachers captains. So if the order from on high was to "reform calculus," then by golly that's what happened, provided the mission was well planned and well executed (and at West Point, you'd expect higher odds of that happening).

For my part, I relayed more information regarding my summit in April, with The Shuttleworth Foundation, on the subject of revamping analytical thinking courses using peer teaching models, for ages 8-18, in the RSA.

Again, although these various "reform" movements (think of them as well established voices of dissent, counter-cultures) don't tend to dramatically take over all that often, they do remain simmering sources of back burner thinking, thereby tending to influence even front burner offerings over time.

For example, in this case, the mainliner calculus texts which to this day dominate the market, are more "reformed" than they used to be.

Early Calc Reform mottos: "lean and mean"; "a pump not a filter."

Tara got one of those Lego Minstorms™ products for Christmas, so now I'm off to the store in search of ziplock bags, given the myriad little pieces (over 500) that come in the kit. She and Brenna want to build the humanoid on the box, more fun than the little demo guy we built together on Christmas.

Later, Dawn and I watched the retrospective on Ed Bradley's career on 60 Minutes.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Lunch Near Pauling House

:: pauling house ::
Tara and I discussed the latest Bond movie some more, over Thai curry and tea. She was impressed that the two thugs molesting the villain's girlfriend would notice Bond's earpiece as they passed him in the hallway, which reminded me of his partner's earlier obvious ear fingering.

Both times, being too obvious with the ears nearly cost Bond his job. Both times, he was able to compensate, thanks to earlier training.

The tan leather jacket has gone missing, while another, black, Tara's size, came and went. Dawn's (also black) is still in good condition, hangs in our closet. I briefly had fantasies of the three of us (Carol and Julie have returned to LA), looking like the Biker Family for our holiday letter. Not this year.

Tonight, we'll be celebrating Mike Hagmeier's birthday again, per tradition. He's been more active in Wanderers lately, but during times I've been absent, in either Florida, New Mexico or closer to Canada.

This afternoon, we're celebrating Greg's and Yulia's getting together last October, in a matrimonial manner. Greg mostly lives in Russia these days, is the son of Chris & Larry.

The math talk has been interesting of late (to me at least), delving both into theoretical stuff around limits, a calculus topic, and into an application of casino math, as applied to anti-racism.

:: yulia & greg ::

Monday, December 25, 2006


photos by K. Urner

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Homeward Bound

:: souvenir t-shirt ::
We're back in the same Albuquerque hotel room where we started (a Holiday Inn near the airport with free wireless), watching the Biography Channel. So many unfamiliar frequencies (channels) we don't get at home.

So am I the last semi media savvy guy on Spaceship Earth to know Angelina Jolie is the daughter of actor John Voight and an Iroquois princess (Marcheline Bertrand)? Like Princess Di, she took on the landmine issue. Lara Croft cross references: OSCON Day 2, An Adventure, Peer Group Networking.


The TSA guy said he liked my shirt (above), as he patted me down. Homeland Security says we're on orange today.

The Indian Pueblo Culture Center on 12th, just off I-40, is a peaceful place, as I commented in the guest book. A proud dad of the Laguna Pueblo introduced his family of dancers (2 older boys, a 14 year old girl, a younger girl in training), then sang and drummed, while his kids demonstrated growing mastery of ancient ways.

:: eagle dance ::

Friday, December 22, 2006

Secrecy and Democracy

Even back in Ronald Reagan's day it was always a question of how to promote transparency in government while keeping vital secrets from falling into the wrong hands.

This is the perennial question for a democracy, presuming enemies exist, which is pretty much a given, as it's a difficult form of self government to practice, and many want an easier way, especially where selfish ends are concerned.

As geek culture gets more experience, with its new tools and ethical codes, some of the same questions arise in new forms.

I asked this of Richard Stallman when he came to Portland: what if there're groups you think unworthy of your free source code? Shouldn't we geeks have the right to not empower those who would subjugate us?

I suppose a good answer would be that this is just a cost of doing business, and in the long run, those who collaborate will win out over the more isolated and necessarily secretive.

These thoughts continue my ramblings on geeks as role model math teachers. Keeping our mathematics strong, free and open is part of what gives our democracy a backbone. I'm also continuing my Katrina Math thread.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Casino Royale (movie review)

This was Tara's first Bond movie, and she worried at first she'd need more of the back story. I whispered the basics, about the Brits and their double-oh mythology -- not much to know.

I actually read some of the Ian Flemming books in my youth, and Casino Royale rings a bell as one of his first and mine (as a reader). Sure enough, Bond is just earning his wings in this movie, trying to impress his MI6 boss. Yet the timeline starts post 911, somewhat subverting the earlier films. Batman Begins seems kinder to its less proficient sequels.

The club (as in the card suit) does look a bit like a Mandelbrot Set -- I hadn't made that connection. I caught the global matrix motif (red hexagons) as Bond zoomed in on the villain's powerboat's location in Nassau, using M's computer.

Tara'd been asking about Venice. That's the fun of Bond movies, getting to see the backdrops, and in a mode that'd blow the average tourist budget in a heartbeat. Interesting touch to have a defibrillator in the car (is Bond finally showing his age?).

The Swiss bankers come off as a bit goofy, but still handle the money securely. Lots of brand placements per usual, though I can't remember any beyond the Sony Vaio at this point.

Winter in Santa Fe

:: hotel room view ::
We drove through exciting blizzard conditions from Socorro, pulling off in Albuquerque at the height of the snow storm to retrieve the humidifier kit from Apria (on McCleod just off the Jefferson St. exit) -- an attachment for the O2 concentrator we're borrowing. Dawn's been off the 02 in Portland lately, but here in New Mexico we're a mile high mas o meno.

Further north on I-25, we got out ahead of the snow, back to 75 mph driving conditions. The storm caught up with us after we'd already checked in, making this place even more picturesque than usual.

Now we're just hangin' out (no, the wireless ain't free -- must key to MAC address because the ISP didn't hassle me this morning). I've got saline and TPN goin' on Dawn's two lumens (PIC line), while Tara blisses out on Cartoon Network.

Last night we watched a Harry Potter on HBO (plus I used up my free 60 minutes playing Luxor 2), but the guest in the adjacent room had a TV remote keyed to the same frequency and kept ordering porn films, interrupting our viewing -- a good metaphor for something or other. Anyway, room service fixed the problem (rekeyed our TV and remote).

I'd scrounged a fresh baked pizza from an upscale joint nearby (given the snow, I was the only other customer). But I forgot that "four cheese" (actually "quattro formaggi") in upscale-speak means just the cheeses (no tomato base), probably one of them goat, meaning Tara couldn't eat it (she tried), meaning I had to snarf most of it myself (I gave her the crusts). We also raided the minibar. Cheapskate that I am, I'm hoping to replace at least the beers from a local supermarket.

Wanderers called me from their morning meeting and passed the cell phone around. Jon warned me to steer clear of bad art in this most galleries per capita town (even more than Catalina?). A lot of it's pretty good though -- and well outside of my price range.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Day at the VLA

very large array
Today we drove to the VLA, a radio telescope situated on a radio-quiet plain at around 7000 feet. Some scenes from the movie Contact were filmed here. There're some pictures of Jodie Foster in the Visitors Center -- another kind of star.

dish garage
The 27 dishes ride around on train tracks in a Y pattern, 13 miles to an edge, and share this one hangar for maintenance.

magdalena, new mexico
The nearby town of Magdalena features a traditional soda fountain, Evett's, in what used to be a bank.

traditional soda fountain
(dawn, richard, cody, tara)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Blogging from Albuquerque

One more interesting number is that about 13 million people have created blogs, but only 39 million say they read someone else's blog. Crunch the numbers. That's an average of three readers per blog.
Census: We're Fat, Lonely, Smelly (CBS News, 2006.12.15)
Math point: that average holds only if those 39 million read an average of just one blog each. My experience of the blogosphere is it's a place to go digging i.e. there're lots of blogs to explore, including Eleanor Rigby's.

Yes, a blog may be like a personal diary for some, but they have other uses as well.

Given the bookkeeping connotations of "journaling" (the Quaker term for blogging) I tend to think of mine as recording transactions, the movements of money or mojo, whatever bull. I read others' blogs for such clues as well.

Bucky Fuller developed his Chronofile as a means for tracking his experiments with 'Guinea Pig B' i.e. himself.

Also in the news: a suspension of executions by lethal injection in Florida, because the procedure wasn't working properly -- shades of Mr. Death.

Toon by T. Nast
(click for larger view)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wanderers 2006.12.12

:: invading "biships" ::
(click for larger view)
Last night Gus Frederick of Silverton, Oregon, briefed Wanderers on a famous Oregonian not all of us had learned about in school: Homer Davenport, a master political cartoonist for the Hearst newspapers in the late 1800s.

Homer, a native of Silverton, taught himself editorial cartooning in part by studying the works of his hero, Thomas Nast. To Nast we owe much contemporary political iconography, including those familiar Democratic and Republican icons, the donkey and elephant respectively.

Nast also developed the Tammany Tiger, which may linger in the affected "richie rich" mannerisms of some subsequent toon tigers, including Disney's perhaps. The above cartoon is one of Nast's, in support of public schooling.

Gus has done a lot of independent scholarship plus self-published a collection of Homer's drawings, interleaved with the back stories required for their full appreciation.

Lynne Taylor was late to the meeting, a slap-forehead missed opportunity to quickly review the same slides we'd just seen (often a good exercise). Wanderer Shomar joined us even later.

:: shomar ::

Monday, December 11, 2006

Katrina's Aftermath

I've long had a Google query checking in the background for news items mentioning "geodesic" and "mosque" in the same story. Usually, it comes up empty handed, but today it provided a link to an interesting article in ReasonOnline, from which I'll supply this excerpt:
In addition to Common Ground, secular organizations such as Emergency Communities, the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, and Four Directions have joined a multitude of small church groups in the region to provide services where government and big aid organizations fell short. When necessary, they simply ignored the authorities’ wrongheaded decisions: pushing supplies through closed checkpoints, setting up in unapproved areas, breaking the rules when it made more sense than following them.

Their organizers, as well as their volunteers, have little experience with relief work. They live in tents or sleep on cots in repurposed churches and community centers. Volunteers run the gamut from hippie dropouts to middle-class students on spring break, and the outposts they’ve built are filled with things you’d never expect to see anywhere near a relief effort: free acupuncture, vegetarian cooking, cross-dressing volunteers, a giant geodesic dome. Despite their inexperience and occasional outlandishness, they are organizing and delivering some of the most effective relief work in the area. [Italics mine]

What's especially telling, in light of my angle on things, is this sense of surprise at seeing a "giant geodesic dome" in any way associated with any relief effort, and in December of 2006 no less -- a measure of our degraded IQ as a culture by some accounts, including mine.

Still, what the article chronicles, people taking responsibility, getting the job done, gives me hope. The keyword "mosque" is in connection with Common Ground, a focal NGO in this story, and which got started in one in Algiers, a neighborhood of New Orleans.

Related reading:
Satire @ Math Forum
Dwelling Machine Prototypes

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More American Heritage

Many older generation North Americans of the English speaking variety have this expression "What in the Sam Hill?" meaning they've never seen it before, have no ready explanation (the question usually comes with a skeptical edge to it).

What fewer probably realize is Sam Hill was a neighbor in these parts, alias Prince of Castle Nowhere, which castle he constructed along the Columbia Gorge not far from his lifesize model of Stonehenge, in turn close to his tomb.

Maryhill Castle, now a museum, includes a treasured Rodin collection -- that's the guy who did The Thinker -- plus an admirably large collection of chess sets.

Back in the day, when I was still living in Rome, my friend Seth Tuska would sometimes dramatically assume a standing version of The Thinker's pose when questioned about something -- an endearing mannerism I thought. Both Seth and Muqtada al-Sadr remind me of John Belushi in some twisted way (great thinkers all). But then, I'm the guy who linked Rush Limbaugh to Barney.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Mingling Traditions

I spent much of the morning chiseling away at my Wittgenstein Bridge twixt Fuller's philo and an already crowded "chat room," hoping to recruit a few more philosophers over the C.P. Snow Chasm to the engineering and mathematics side, maybe to help us further improve the curriculum over here.
I treat Fuller as a post linguistic turn philosopher instead of pre, which most people never thought of doing. Like (a) they didn't think he was a philosopher in the first place and (b) they didn't think his 'deliberately remote namespace' idea would fit in so easily with the language games vista. [ Synergeo 31040 ]
We'd also like more media people, many of whom are likewise philosophical or psychological in outlook, people with well developed aesthetic sensibilities (whatever that means right?). You needn't come by any bridge. Boats, tunnels, whatever. Plus this traffic is bidirectional -- at least C. P. Snow thought he could detect some healing, according to Bucky, who apparently kept up with him, and with the late H.S.M. Coxeter (it's an unwanted divide, damaging to our culture).

This evening: a celebration of Empiricism at Winterhaven, the annual science fair, with just about every student showing off the results of an investigation, guided by an hypothesis, with a description of procedure, conclusions, preferably numerical data, visualizations (graphs), a photo or two. Lots of judges. Lots of adult scrutiny and peer review.

Tara's entry focused on falling geometric shapes, each with 100 unit squares of surface area (on each side). Which hit the ground fastest? Sounds trivial and pointless (I grumbled a bit) but that's missing the point (I now realize): it's about the discipline of doing, thinking it through, planning and executing, and around a not knowing that you're seeking to get to know. There's humility in it, and a sense of dedication.

I helped Tara just a little this year around finding the edge lengths of a pentagon and pentagram, both 100 squares on each side, like the other shapes (square, circle, triangle, rhombus). I was lazy and relied on Google for a clue. Last year her award winning experiment involved hot oil, I helped more, and yet we almost had a disaster.

I respect Winterhaven, one of Portland's public's, quite a lot, not just its computer science, which is cutting edge and experimental.

Tara is definitely maturing quickly. She's found at least two post-Aibo robot dogs in Korea, one shown in a video clip, the other an artist's conception. I find it too random an interface, this idea of flipping up a lid and reading email on your robopet. Would I watch a movie on my robocat, or maybe unscrew its head and use the body as a wall projector? Tara thinks it's the future. Anyway, we're still in the early phases, when all things seem possible, worth testing a bit.

Then, after a quick stop at Burgerville, we headed over to the Scottish Rite Center, where Revelers were staging a slice of life from a 1600s era piece of what today we call France, in turn imitating inherited traditions, and filtered through today's contemporary American culture (whatever that means right?). Lots of King Arthur type stuff, little psychological skits around dragons, knights, and pretty women.

It's a franchise of sorts, with Revelers in several cities. The program was ambitious, with some 40+ musical numbers, many including audience participation, a huge cast, many children, some stage effects, a dog, lots of interesting dancing. We all sang Dona Nobis Pacem (Latin for "give us peace") which I already knew from our Quaker hymnal (we sang it in Rome a lot when I was growing up, when meeting in private homes -- Phil and Winnie's, Li and Andy Braid's, our place...). Twelve Days of Christmas -- yeah, I knew that one too (of course).

Much of the singing was in French, which I've mostly forgotten, was never much good at (all the Romance languages collided in my head, turning to Bose-Einstein condensate).

Dawn says these Revelers rotate through different ethnicities. She's wanted to see them in action for some time, is making a point of catching these things that she's missed, always wondered about. She missed Festival of Trees though. Another good reason to stick around for another round.

I'd never heard of these Revelers people, nor ever set foot in this Rite Center (Portland Valley's), so the whole evening was quite an eye-opener for me. The audience, and cast, consisted entirely of people I didn't recognize, with the exception of my immediate nuclear family.

They say Portland is a small city, but it's not that small.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Newflash: Lights On in ToonTown

Today's Oregonian, Business front page
So like three days after I evacuate from a quasi-unfree zone, MetroFi turns on the lights, or at least so says The Oregonian today. I still have a few odds & ends at ActivSpace, have yet to give notice, so now have the laptop loaded in Razz, planning a visit, and will add to this post re my findings below.

Before I give notice and return the key, we could brainstorm keeping this as a branch PKL office, provided the rumors are true. I'm open to advice from readers; send HQS a gmail if you like, take some IQ tests (just kidding (not! (see Borat, like this))). Derek? Trevor? Wanderers is open agenda tomorrow, I'll plan to solicit feedback there as well.

But keep in mind, it's just a very small 2nd floor office (with elevator), utility sink plus electrical (and free wireless, if rumors are true).

I've so far removed everything but David's T-modules, which remain scattered on the floor (not in mint condition). Those all could be yours. Going once, going twice...

And did I mention the neighbors were fun? They were all jammed in the bigger corner office next to mine, sharing Friday Margaritas, when Derek and I showed up in the pickup, as moving gentlemen.

We've started a countdown for New Mexico, still in the high T-minus phase (i.e. lift off still days away).

Mixed Results:

Rumors are true to the extent a free Metro-Fi node, plus premium channel, show up on my list, but right now I'm still depending on the good graces of some neighboring private enterprise. MetroFi wouldn't handshake, or maybe it's not really open for business quite yet.

I responded by cell to Nirel's voicemail, reaching her in LaLa Land (LA). She aced almost all my IQ tests, per usual, but only to inform me she'd already acquired a target in Seattle, wasn't gunning for Portland.

I can see from whence that old Portland-Seattle rivalry stems: we lose some of our best California girls to our big sister up north. Anyway, I fed her some shark tale (all true) about how I'd gladly share goat meat with her (we're family) were I to score some, other carnivorous imagery (rather off-putting I would imagine -- actually we're on the same wavelength: coffee shops, as in owning, with rooms to host colloquia, symposia).

Anyway, I'm happy enough just seeing the node, to wanna celebrate. Hence the (open) Foster's Special Bitter on the floor next to me, amidst the Koski T-modules, and a Spicy T.L.C. sandwich (tofu & carrots) by Higher Taste of Portland.

Additional results:

I ran the next logical test, which was to find a location where Metro-Fi's signal was stronger, to see if signal weakness was to blame for my above failure to connect from 8th & SE Main. Empirical result: I'm connected, using free MetroFi, but from Lucky Lab, which already had free Portland Telco, sans the ad banner (and counts as a free premium service therefore, but without as much coverage).

The MetroFi node, with Microsoft's sponsorship, wanted to know my income level, a mandatory field. Seemed kinda intrusive. Like, when Saturday Academy asked my ethnicity, I wrote "mixed Asian Anglo" in the provided "other" blank. That'd have to do, no time for fine tuning. I find these computations difficult to just do on the fly. I also put down I was a CEO (a type of chief) -- not lyin'.

:: nirel's dream coffee shop,
storefront / interior,
2323 2nd Ave, Seattle ::

Monday, December 04, 2006

Superman Returns (movie review)

Walter Kaufmann (we overlapped at Princeton) felt semi- compelled to translate Nietzsche's to "overman" given what the Americans had done with "superman" i.e. dressed him up for a career in the comix.

But he probably shoulda kept it, as Thus Spake Zarathustra was a proto comic book of sorts, in terms of its archetypal and colorful imagery, its propensity for parables -- like Narnia, like Manga.

The very word "comic" bespeaks a victory of sorts. And to his lasting credit, Kaufmann found some of Woody Allen's works refreshingly hilarious (me too) i.e. he knew philosophy could be gay at times, serious guy though he was. Smallville includes a tie-back (check what Clark's reading when the klutz drops his books, duh).

Clark is especially goofy in this version, which blatantly satirizes the "mysterious masked man" motif. I mean, the guy is the spitting image of himself, with not so much as Groucho Marx glasses for cover (just an ordinary pair). Yet everyone buys it, because his deliberately deflective demeanor is so "not hot" as an office dweeb (shades of Spider-Man, shades of just about any male superhero, although that Batman Begins guy seems a chick magnet even as Bruce -- but I digress).

The genius of this North American storytelling is its obvious and unsubtle use of raw elements and states of matter as a haptic mirror. Very Synergetics. The phony poser to the throne uses Superman's own crystals against him, and the battle royale is a Phase Rule extravaganza, strongly dramatizing the consequences of disequilibrium, expressed in the foreground as tugs within love triangles with doubled edges, quadrupled if you start juxtaposing Lex and his girlfriend as more shadowings -- a complicated family this, veritably bursting with secrets.

Artificial Intelligence
was sadder, though still close to the comic book genre -- looks more at a mother-son relationship, whereas this one's son-father.

Friday, December 01, 2006

NanoTech Talk

Our ISEPP speaker last night, Meyya Meyyappan, was good on the intro: the surface:volume ratio is a function of size and properties change as a shape shrinks to the nanoscale. Four grams of nanotubes have the same surface area as a football field, mas o meno. Nano gold particles melt at a lower temperature than gold bricks.

He didn't mention buckyballs, which I called him on at the dinner (excellent salmon, unfortunately for our guest, a vegetarian).

Clearly tubes have an edge these days, though I'd heard they'd stuffed buckyballs through buckytubes that time. Except now we call 'em nanotubes. So maybe the tubes are so popular because now there's a way to avoid saying "bucky" so often? Just asking.

Anyway why not say nanoballs? We should try that on for size. Nano could be the next turbo. We could have store chains like Nanorama. No, the merchandize wouldn't be invisible to the naked eye. Just because it's nano doesn't mean you can't see it, Meyya was quite clear on this point -- like, there could be buckyballs in your shampoo someday!

[ Geneva airport security did this fast juggling of purses and bags, sleights of hand, such that my mom got confused, didn't realized she'd been parted with her new laptop, the Sony Vaio, 'til Zurich. She has high confidance in the Swiss, thinks she'll see it again. I'm not so sure. ]

Anyway, properties at the nanoscale provide a whole new quantum mechanical ball game, and the goal of engineers is to usefully capitalize on that fact, and in more ways than one.

I sat next to a caustic and witty critic of nano all through dinner. He thinks a lot of pigs at the trough are self-servingly taking credit for work they didn't actually do, piggybacking on unsung heros, attracting funding away from more worthy players.

I told him I liked the talk because one of the slides had two CCP cuboctahedra side by side, of two different frequencies. Those are like icons for me. Not bad, to gain control of the Schnitzer, all those impressionable young minds [rubbing hand noises, maniacal chuckling].

1, 12, 42, 92, 162...
Another guy at our table, one Mr. Owl, expressed admiration for Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age (a book about nano), while our speaker expressed some trepedation about Prey (the movie version's not out yet). Will paranoias about "gray goo" inconvenience the nano family, the new Beverly Hillbillies on our block?