Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wall-e (movie review)

I was pleasantly surprised by this film, a work of art right down to the closing credits.

The allusions to Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 Space Odyssey are transparent, more subtle are the ones to Idiocracy (a lesser known film) and even more subtle to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, a story that really got the ball rolling on this whole genre (future as satire) in some ways.

Eve is this hyper-spy Morlock, designed to self protect at any cost, whereas Wall-e is living the philosophers' dream of always replacing the next broken part, and so immortal in some machine world sense (very Archie, to have a cockroach as a fellow traveler, the proverbial bio-survivor -- might as well be mechanical).

The machines are the Morlocks, humans the Eloi, a twist Wells would likely have much appreciated, plus the rendition was exquisite I thought. Wonderful to cast Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the space ship.

So why is Google down in Edmonton, Canada today, or is that not the problem? Turns out it wasn't.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blast from the Past (movie review)

Brendan Fraser plays like a Tom Hanks in Big, a doofy big kid out to lose his virginity, and with his father's fear of adult book stores and all things communistic ("dirty hippies" were still to come).

Alicia Silverstone plays an endearing been there done that type, disillusioned with role model alternatives, not sure where to turn (the "cultural malaise" president Carter was talking about?).

We get more satirizing of the atomic bomb era's Nuclear Family (a mostly anglo-suburban demographic), of which later Americans were manifestly not proud, on many levels.

So I can think of worse fates than 35 years home alone with Sissy Spacek, but that's just a fan talkin'.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More Media

Left to right: Amy, Hunter, Jaime, John
Democracy Now!

I'm blogging a lot about Bucky Fuller in the news these days, reviewing the articles I've run across in the New Yorker, New York Times, Herald Tribune and like that.

Amy Goodman did a piece on Fuller today, timed with this show opening at the Whitney Museum in NYC in a couple days (through September), and making a bigger media splash than the retrospective @ Noguchi Garden Museum last year.

Hunter Lovins, Jaime Snyder (Fuller's grandson), and John Todd were her three luminaries. Thanks to Wanderer David Tver for the heads up on this one.

I like the quote from Bucky himself they dropped in, something about how increasing world literacy moves us past a tipping point, to where we have a different more democratic relationship to one another, needn't feel subordinate to political leaders, much as we continue appreciating strong leadership, found in many walks of life.

I've been drumming up some interest among the math teachers I hope, via the Math Forum's math-teach and geometry.pre-college.

:: cool hat! ::

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Energy Economics

Students interested in computing come to see "sorting" as a kind of "work," in that imposing or discovering an order among items takes joules, calories -- how many depends on both the field to be sorted, and the algorithm's efficiency.

"Sorting" as a metaphor for "organizing" more generally has that anti-entropy flavor of "work" per information theory i.e. adding signal versus noise, with the two extremes hard to tell apart sometimes (undeciphered pure signal looks just like pure noise).

Linking to business education, we see world trade as a kind of sorting, getting the right antiques to the most interested collectors and so on. This sun-powered enterprise takes real humint to keep humans happy i.e. you can't "do it all" with "just AI" (too anemic).

July's Scientific American shows an uptick in graphical sophistication in its latest article on hypercross physics (Quantum Universe): lots of triangles, hexagons etc., "very synergetics" in some ways. The Menger Sponge on page 48 is named for Eve's dad.

Of course when it comes to energy, humans harness and channel only a microfraction of nature's relatively vast pattern integrities, such as typhoons. Design science is not about "conquering nature" so much as about "learning from nature" and respecting her powers.

From my iGoogle quote of the day service:
I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth. - Umberto Eco

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Major Barbara (movie review)

I snagged this 1941 classic from Movie Madness owing to some recent discussions on Synergeo.

The film, based on the play by George Bernard Shaw, follows the career of a rebellious heiress who fights the establishment (her father), only to attract the worshipful attention of a classics professor (nicknamed Euripides) who makes no secret of his wish to hook up and be her #1.

In the mean time, Major Barbara eventually comes to see that her dad (nicknamed Machiavelli) sponsors a lot of positive assets, including her own Salvation Army. The transformation isn't easy though, plus future morphing seems likely in her case.

Bottom line: the Shaw era UK may export death and destruction (it still does), but there are enough benevolent ideologies at work to get Barbara through her dark night and into the right mood to stick with Euripides, who inherits the dad's arms business.

Back to the Synergeo context, I'd have to say the film reminds me of Laurie Anderson's concluding lines in O Superman (#2 on the UK singles chart in 1981), which I read as an ode to mother nature first and foremost, our ultimate sponsor:

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
In your electronic arms.

According to commentary at IMDB, the arms merchant Undershaft (a dark father or "darth vader" archetype) was loosely based on Shaw's contemporary John Cadbury, the Quaker chocolate factory dude. However, for the purposes of this play, a Quaker Machiavelli would have been a less effective foil for our principled princess.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Random Zine Covers

:: tragic ::

:: comic ::

:: deep ::

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father Still Learning

It's Father's Day again, with many of us remembering and appreciating someone dear, perhaps near.

We listened to Weird Al's White & Nerdy enroute to and from Quaker meeting today.

Some Winterhaven kids enjoy this as a spoof of their own ethnicity. Me too, though I'm more a geek than a nerd, plus I suck at JavaScript.

I just added it to my iPod, along with the Chamillionaire original (Ridin' with Krayzie Bone).

Gayle presided over the ritual handing out of peacock feathers today, to our most youthful Friends (Dave Fabik got one). A special congratulations to Rachael, a stellar player on our team.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poor Slob Bucky (PSB)

Probing... R. Buckminster Fuller
Herald Tribune, June 12, 2008

Here's one of those "poor Bucky" articles, making it his failure that the world is still so ugly, despite all that fun with the patents, awards, honorary degrees, trips around the world, stellar students, hot books, groovy gigs etc. "By conventional measures he accomplished little" says our journalist.

Plus he apparently experienced lots of despair, so couldn't really be the god he thought he was etc., probably even faked that egocide event, just to win fans and blah blah. Looks like there's a whole book of this stuff in the pipeline (probably several). I call it the "Bucky-as-Britney" genre and, as a big fan of both, am looking forward to more (including on HBO).

More seriously, I think part of it's cultural: "saving the world" was branded "crazy messiah talk" (ego maniacal) back then, whereas "saving for a rainy day" was considered acceptable, sounded sane. Nowadays however, it's considered perfectly normal to be working to "save the world" from global climate change, pollution, overpopulation... terrorism, so yesteryear's "crazy messiahs" just blend right in, as more everyday heroes, more decent human beings. Times change.

The guy didn't last at Harvard because he was a rebellious contrarian who didn't find his professors Olympian enough, preferred sneaking off to study visionaries, liked show biz. Sketching him in a pathetic light, skipping over Annapolis and military service, in a rush to this 1927 personal crisis, sells readers short, makes the maudlin lighting and dime store psychology more plausible. The easier interpretation is he anticipated the counter-culture, had a way of getting "beyond squares" (both literally, and psychologically), and Harvard wasn't ready (still isn't most likely -- not our problem).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Literary Investigation

Casting Bucky Fuller as a New England transcendentalist, in the same lineage as his great Aunt Margaret, is fairly easy to do (dare I say a no-brainer), given his far out metaphysics and Bear Island beginnings.

If we zoom out from these New England beginnings and start talking about American Transcendentalism more inclusively, then whom might we add to our cast of characters?

I think many would agree on Walt Whitman. Nick thinks Gary Snyder and Thomas Pynchon more recently, and I've been asking about Edgar Alan Poe, because of Eureka!, a proto-Synergetics in some ways.

But if we include Poe, then what else might be said about the relationship of Transcendentalist to Gothic writers? Taxonomies have their dangers, can get in the way.

As one approaches the present day, it's a lot about television and film, not just printing presses.

Going back again, there's also the question of Unitarianism and its roots in Transylvania -- lots of overlap with the transcendentalists there too, notably in Emerson.

I touched on these questions in my paper for EuroPython last year: Connecting the Dots: American Transcendentalism Meets Pythonic Math (Vilnius, 2007).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Saturday, June 07, 2008


So many happenings today: Tara's 8th grade graduation party, and birthday, Rachael's high school graduation party, Ron's photography opening at Clinton Street Cafe, Kathy taking the helm at Western Friend, me driving around like crazy in Razz, enjoying all of it, including ribs with Dave.

Also today: Glenn sent me some pix from decades past, uploaded a few, including this one from our Jersey City days:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Staying Weird in Portland

The title for this entry alludes to a recently published Weird Science slide show in the on-line version of The New Yorker (magazine) as well as to Portland's Keep Portland Weird slogan, maybe pirated from Austin.

Here's how I linked them, in a post to Synergeo (#40427), subsequent to a fine Wanderers meeting, full of lightning talks, Thai food after (hyperlinks added):
The whole 4 page article is there too, just finished reading it, by Elizabeth Kolbert, a talented and eclectic writer (was just checking into some of the other stuff she's written, like on CCD, some "disorder" that makes bees not respond well to major changes in their environment (like, let's blame the bees, make it be their problem)).

The missing thread in this account is how his back to the drawing board near suicide experience led to vows about doing one's own thinking and starting up with this deliberately remote vocabulary and way of thinking, the word "Dymaxion" just a superficial aspect of this somewhat crazy-making language reinvention project.

But whereas postmortems focus on all the "failures", how many men both wrote great philosophy and scored all these engineering breakthroughs? Is that because he knew how to "think different" (recalling Apple's marketing campaign)? Could be. Just maybe.

Also, people make far too much of Brand's damning the dome. They don't all leak, lots of expensive radars entrusted to these skeletons. Yes, some domestic custom builds had problems, but here I think J. Baldwin tells the better story, about smuggling still unverified numbers out of Joe Clinton's lab. Some of the tables in Dome Handbook had significant errors, hence the propensity to leak. Of course there are other reasons some domes lack integrity, but is the goal to be boring, or to tell a good story?

Mostly I think North Americans squander their opportunities to tell good stories around Bucky. It's all about what a big failure he was, whereas he got to be good friends with some of the most interesting and engaging folks on the planet, Marshall McLuhan for example, very generous in crediting Bucky for his ideas. Arthur C. Clarke, Werner Erhard... what a trip! Not my idea of a "failure story" no matter what these cold case autopsies show.

On the other hand, I appreciated the light touch, the humor, the fact that we're not doing hagiography here (Applewhite never liked that genre much).

On balance, I'm happy to see something in the pages of The New Yorker, giving analysts a reality check on where we're at in some circles, when it comes to party talk, even pillow talk ("did you remember to empty the drips bucket dear?").

Good to see what people are thinking, a whole quarter century after his passing, to sample some Talk About Town in some towns. Also, given our Keep Portland Weird campaign (in tandem with Austin's), I'm happy with the "Weird Science" moniker -- definitely something we can work with. So thank you Elizabeth, for the kind and welcome boost.