Friday, November 30, 2007

Reality Check

by Russell Towle, recommended by Koski

Dave Koski phoned recently. Whereas he's up on his Steve Baer style 120 cell decomposition of the Enneacontahedron, he's more tentative about his earlier belief in an off center rhombic dodecahedron somewhere in the mix.

Last we talked, he was still looking to reconfirm, using a combination of ZomeTool and vZome. I appreciate his commitment to an empirical approach.

And that got me thinking: getting a different angle is very essential sometimes. I'm talking about balancing, offsetting viewpoints, of which some are more generic, others more like prescription eyeglasses, designed to compensate for very specific aberrations.

Business partners, close friends, spouses, siblings, parents, colleagues, relatives are usually better positioned to offer the more customized feedback, meaning they have an individualized way of helping you see better -- each one of them makes a personalized contribution.

On the other hand, the more generic overview providers are also most welcome. It's not necessary for someone to know you, to help you. Don't always dismiss the value of help from perfect strangers -- sometimes that's really the best kind.

And sometimes you'll provide your own reality checks -- or call it the process of maturation. You revisit the same situations from new viewpoints over time, gain new insights. But if you're open to learning from others, that really can save you some time.

Followup: this just in from Dave, showing the off-center rhombic dodecahedron:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Talk of the Nation

OLPC's Negroponte was on NPR this afternoon, on Talk of the Nation. Some Wall Street Journal reporter was using the word "derailed" and Nicholas was more like "on track."

Lynn Neary wondered why the pissing match, let's just come out with the best laptop possible, for the lowest price possible.

Lynn's question was a good one, and I think the XO, which none mentioned by name, even when extolling its features, provides a clear answer: it's very much not for everyone, by design.

"One size fits all" is simply not a good approach. That's why we look forward to Intel's next entries, other brands. Monoculture means "all eggs in one basket" -- not a smart business model when innovation is critical.

The current XO is all about a minimalist new Python GUI (Sugar) atop Red Hat Linux with a Smalltalk (Squeak) image for eToys and maybe Croquet type stuff (i.e. immersive communications with a peer group, what you need right after you get an avatar).

That's a pretty specific architecture, very alien to most cube farmers, plus it's very geared for children, is deliberately not so adult friendly (like the keys are too small, plus it's Shrek- colored).

So yes, the XO is very niche market, a bold experiment, not too shabby a debut (a great flagship).

We're only 300K units into it, and already we're learning a ton about what it takes to sustain critical mass around such projects.

Judging by the success of the XO, I'm seeing Python 3.x as well positioned to get some heavy duty, real world Unicode workouts. Such trials by fire are just what it takes to anneal a language, make it robust enough to withstand the tests of time. So kudos to Guido for strategic positioning.

The rest of the interview got somewhat bogged down in yesteryear's business headlines, all about Linux versus Windows. That's not really front page news any more. Wall Street needs to figure out a new spin or new angle. That "dot commie" thing gets stale after awhile.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fixing the G

earlier photo by K. Urner
I took a picture of the electric utility truck, hoisting a man in a bucket to fix the G on the vertical Bagdad sign. Finally they got around to it. But I forgot to actually save the picture, and besides this was just with my cell phone. So just use your imagination.

Glenn and I were across the street having coffee, me pumping the guy for Wild West imagery. The Chinese apothecary will be important.

The partnership (say Smiley Dog Ranch) gets to explore itself as a virtual reality, like a miniature WestWorld -- or choose a different motif, and define your own mappings. The point is to show assets, liabilities, net worth.

Thinking globally (me in October of 1996):
Combined with this picture of our ‘Earth-appliance’ plugged into a ‘solar wall socket’, comes a ‘global balance sheet’ of assets minus liabilities, and resulting net worth. GST builds human intelligence into the model on the assets side, with the definition of intelligence as ‘energy channeling programming.’ Just as software processed through the CPU channels electrons in their to-and-fro trajectories enroute to the ground (motherboards being fancy detours between the wall socket source -- AC converted internally to DC -- and the ground), so human intelligence exercises energy-channeling control over whatever energy units, be these currency units or other assets (props).
Given Glenn's strong Southwest background, tanking up on good imagery wasn't hard. He also talked some about the politics of optical fiber around Portland -- what we'll need to use more of, if the projected toon-like "business worlds" keep getting more Uru-like.

Once back at the office, I dove head first into more mundane forms of telecommuting, wherein the eye candy is a lot less flashy.

People who don't need a lot of frills, like a spare or austere interface, have something in common with those Morlock command liners in Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning...

I'm somewhere in between these extremes: comfortable with stark simplicity in some of my native spaces, but needing more guidance and imagery when exploring less familiar terrain.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Birds of Prey

I enjoyed observing a few species of these in Sakgit Valley over the weekend, thanks to Elise.

Plus there's the inescapable Klingon meaning, if you're steeped in the same science fiction I am.

Anyway, in a couple of places recently, I've decloaked to put on a fun show, like here on a physics list (meet an assertive philosophy department), and here on math-teach (where women rule!).

OK, mouse time for Naga -- I can't justify just spinning around on my butt all day, fun though that may be sometimes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Campaign Trail

I'm listening to Russ Mitchell and Michelle Miller tell us about Black Friday on CBS News, catching up on some segments I've missed. No "one particular toy" this year. What about eMachines? Speculative small e-tailers, highly enterprising, merchandising over the web -- not a new pattern right?

So I've been running this campaign since the late 1990s, calling it the Great Math Makeover. I like the allusions to cosmetics, makeover TV shows, which leads to angry shouting about superficialness (standard to sling that at changes in math teaching, of any variety). Then I counter "this is not just skin deep," and so on. Fun. Catchy marketing.

So the big line in the sand these days is our group theory in high school plank. We're definitely up against the pre-calculus team and their TI palms. Our goal is to make RSA (aka PGP) transparently easy to comprehend, which requires Euclid's Algorithm, Euler's Theorem (the one that encompasses Fermat's Little (not Last)), an understanding of totients, primes versus composites. A fertile bed exists already: so-called "clock arithmetic" and books like In Code.

But our 21st century curriculum isn't content with just calculators. We insist on teaching programming in some general purpose scripting language like Perl. We're imparting sysop skills not just "factor this polynomial" skills. That makes sense in the Silicon Forest. We've already trounced our opponents in this neck of the woods. But other "belts" in the USA (e.g. rust) might not share our economic system exactly, just like not every country is a rain forest (many in Latin America are -- check out those Andes).

"Sysop" doesn't mean "basement existence" nor does it necessarily mean "male" -- this thing where "math is for guys (as in exclusively)" isn't surviving our migration to cyberspace-based curricula.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

We made our annual pilgrimage northward yesterday, to Stillaguamish country. Les had six turkeys going, in a vertical smoker I started calling a "gospador," because it has the same rusted pipe look and is likewise surreal and gorgeous in its own way.

Of course I'm alluding to Gospadors Monument Park on I-5, where Gayle and I (and Wanderer Sarah), took some time to pay our respects. I'll upload a couple pictures when I reconnect with my card reader.

Sarah is happy to be reunited with Bohdi, another four-legged. Elise and the girls made polenta from scratch, grinding the corn in this metal appliance affixed to the kitchen cutting board. Everything seems state of the art around here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Linus Pauling in the News

Sunday Oregonian, Nov 18, 2007
The house I frequent in connection with Wanderers, a group started up by Terry's ISEPP as a kind of informal think tank (we have a coffee fund and that's about it), was Linus Pauling's boyhood home.

He got started on chemistry in the basement I believe (I imagine a kind of wax museum diorama, with tourists traipsing down to see the boy wonder in frozen action -- or how about some audioanimatronics?).

A lot of us think Oregon does too little to celebrate its native sons and daughters. Kenneth Snelson, originally form Pendleton, is another local boy who made the big time as the tensegrity sculptor, plus he has other claims to fame (including some thoughts about chemistry).

The above article might explain why Pauling isn't more celebrated. He dared to question authority, and that's a no-no the way many people think (authoritarians especially). But then, that's another hallmark of our state. We question a lot. It's that pioneering, trailblazing spirit.

Questioning authority also means questioning your own beliefs and models of reality. If you don't do that sufficiently, in a somewhat unforgiving natural environment (Planet Earth for example), you may pay a high price (and as a species, we pay dearly and daily for what we choose to believe).

Friday, November 16, 2007

More Networking

Gayle prepares the "baklava cake"

Arthur Dye and I continued our discussions of AFSC history over Afghani cuisine on Hawthorne, plus I learned about the history of St. Augustine, Florida, where Arthur's family once owned a hotel.

Some of the most die-hard Native Americans were penned in a fort there, during the period of forced resettlement.

This was after seeing mom off at PDX, as she begins her six month sojourn in a warmer clime.

Anne Hyde commented on mom's excellent writings at the birthday party this evening, for Larry and Tom, turning sixty. I filled her in about mom's unpublished novels, especially her historical fiction around the life of Jacopa Frangipane.

Elise and family are just showing up at the front door, gotta go...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

About Branding

I was checking out some diagrams by William Irwin Thompson the other day e.g. a triangle and inverted triangle labeled Cosmos and Chaos respectively (Pacific Shift, Sierra Club Books, 1985 -- Appendix).

If that makes sense, then Fuller's "entropy = one negative tetrahedron" shouldn't be so hard to fathom, yet Arthur Loeb pokes fun at that in his introduction to Synergetics, as symptomatic of the work's supposed incomprehensibility.

Just turn those Thompson triangles into tetrahedra, duh, and you've got a handle on it (now adding "tetrahedra" to the computer's spellchecker dictionary -- again duh (nor was spellchecker itself a word, double duh)). Then read the Omnidirectional Halo essay again? Too hard for Princeton Philosophy, even in 2007? No way!

A lot of brilliant writers who might have done much to weave Bucky's brand with their own -- in the wake of Hugh Kenner's brilliant beginning (The Pound Era), and Applewhite's best shots (Cosmic Fishing, Chemical Intelligencer not to mention Synergetics itself (a collaboration)) -- chose to not do that, at least not effectively. Robert Anton Wilson helped a lot.

Anyway, that left the field wide open for a guy like me to capitalize on this crying need for strong branding, so I suppose I shouldn't complain too much.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Big Science

I crossed paths with Bucky Fuller at Hunter College, NYC. Did anyone save the video? This was in addition to that paper on general systems theory, written in Cairo, or soon after my return -- he thought it was excellent.

Prior to that, I was hanging out with my grandmother Reilley in Apple Valley, North Carolina, being "owly" as she put it (Harry Potter on steroids?).

The build-up to our meeting was suspenseful.

Laurie Anderson's album, Big Science, was especially important to me then, e.g. From the Air: "this is the time, and this is the record, of the time."

Today I'd probably say: listen to that album, if you want to decode me. Or listen to it anyway: good music, good art.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dust Numbers

I spent much of this morning browsing in The Cornell Library of Mathematics Monographs, following cues from Dr. Renfro on the Math Forum, one of our more scholarly filers. I found myself reading The Hindu-Arabic Numerals (1911) by Smith and Karpinski, wondering to what extent I might find corroboration for Bucky Fuller's curious telling in his Everything I Know, of the introduction of ciphers to Europe at the end of the dark ages:
I'm quite certain that the Arabic numerals represented a symbol for the content of the columns; and when they moved over and left an empty column, they had to have the cipher, so the Arabic numerals had the cipher. [1]
Our authors above do a fine job of describing how a mercantile class would have had calculating proficiency far in advance of what school men would have needed, but with only the latter having the time, training (and inclination) to write scholarly treatises. So the formal teaching of algorithms within the curriculum lagged practical applications by some centuries (a well known pattern, especially before the printing press). Bagdad (spelled with no h) was indeed a cultural center for both the formal and informal teaching of such technologies.

However, despite a lengthy discussion of numerals inheriting from sand-drawn abacus characters (so-called gobar numbers), the need for an actual symbol to mark an empty abacus column, versus simply a blank space, gets bleeped over, which seems to me a blind spot, as Fuller's hypothesis is highly credible.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Upgrades

I'm looking out over wet pavement from a Portland coffee shop, somewhat nervous about the upgrade process going on in the background, taking me to Ubuntu 7.10, the next version. 1127 files are being downloaded at about 124 kb/s. Yes, I'm being a bandwidth hog, but there's only one other laptop sharing the connection, so I think we're OK.

In addition to being on the receiving end of some upgrades, I'm also a source of same. Metaphorically speaking, we feed one another, but I won't say "to each according to his needs" or some such sugary slogan, because manifestly we go hungry sometimes, no sense denying the reality of suffering sentient beings.

Buddhism has a special image of the "hungry ghost": a being with a big appetite, but a pencil thin neck (like dial-up instead of DSL). Per usual, Google comes through with an image (above). Google feeds me, thank you Google, thank you Internet... thank you coffee shop, thank you Ubuntu, thank you PBS and Tibet House.

I'm still hungry though. Shall we call it a healthy appetite for life? Nothing wrong with that is there? We certainly could use some more upgrades around here (thinking of Planet Earth now, not just selfish me).

Feeding one another is both a priority and a necessity. Rampant poverty, starvation makes us all poorer, if only by lowering our self esteem as a species. The resulting misanthropy has us thinking "too many people" is the problem, but I've long assumed "too little intelligence" (i.e. ignorance) is the deeper ill.

Bringing electricity and mutually informative telecommun- ications to the "too many" (ourselves) is what will help make our numbers "just right." Our ability to share upgrades won't bottleneck so badly, as the generous among us share their art and their science, fueling our Be Do Have projects completion cycle.

OK, the upgrade to Gutsy Gibbon (Ubuntu 7.10) is complete. Yay.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

World Game Museum

As I mentioned on Synergeo a few times (a Yahoo! eGroup I used to be a member of), I've been collaborating with colleagues on what we now call the World Game museum.

Of course the Fuller Projection will be a big part of it, probably the centerpiece, maybe as a fold-out Geoscope the way he envisioned for the USIA a long time ago, before Expo '67 (see page 469 of Your Private Sky, edited by Krausse & Lichtenstein, Lars Müller Publishers).

In at least some of the rooms, we'll display once popular K-16 mathematics text books, exhibiting how the ultra-basic elements of synergetic geometry were suppressed by the corrupt, no-integrity scholastics, other idiocrats, of that very dark age. No concentric hierarchy, no A&B modules.

Our model will be some of those postmortem museums I've seen in Germany and places, depicting loser propaganda once popular in Old Europe.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pythonic Biology

from Connecting the Dots (Vilnius, Lithuania)
Included in my teaching gigs these days is a DNA, cell, creature progression, not a perfect analogy, but close enough. Here's a link to my hand-drawn handout (feel free to reuse).

At the DNA level we have primitive data structures, storehouses for information. Tuples, strings, lists, and dictionaries comprise the basic building block molecules of just about any running program.

Meshed with control structures, and provided with an ingestion port (a mouth) these stores get incorporated within functional cells. I say "functional" for a reason, as I'm talking about Python's functions here, top-level citizens in our Pythonic domain. Functions may actually eat other functions; mathematicians call this "composition" as in f(g(g(h(f(g(f(x))))))).

Finally, at the creature level, we encounter our primitive Snake, a class with a backbone, with __ribs__ like __init__. In a class definition, cells become organized into methods. We might switch to talking about internal organs at this point (again, the analogy is imprecise).

A class is a blueprint or template, it pays to remember, less so an actual object, or is an object of a different kind. At birth (initialization), a new self gets created, as in snake = Snake("Naga").

And teachers, remember to mention that "self" is not a keyword so much as a placeholder -- a different unicode string might replace it in some quirky program outside the Standard Library.

Related reading: Python in the Mathematics Curriculum (March 2004).

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Meeting for Business

Tara and I biked over to the Stark Street Meetinghouse today, headquarters for Multnomah Friends, to participate in the putting of final touches on this newly remodeled facility. I walked around with my Olympus 720, chattering with old friends, new acquaintances, letting myself savor the experience of future shock.

Mark (FreeGeek, Intel) and I had an especially interesting conversation, about the history of this Society. In thumbnail: after a period of intense persecution, Quakers become "power ins" in the business world, owing to their integrity and simplicity testimonies especially. People wanted to do business with straight shooters who didn't lie or cheat. What a concept! Mark reported FreeGeek is doing quite well these days.

However, after a lot of forks and schisms, it's not clear what happened to all that business acumen. I told Mark that I'd like to galvanize my brand of Quaker, not into proselytizing or evangelizing, into running more banks and businesses again, especially here in the Silicon Forest. Like someday we might establish some of our low key trademarked worship venues in downtown skyscrapers, with muted flatscreens showing off our colorful heritage.

As 4D Solutions CEO or whatever, I'd blend in some Islamic motifs, as I'm seeing lots of positive synergies these days, between Jihad and our Lamb's War; both are replete with alternatives to violence i.e. business strategies consistent with Quakers' peace testimony.