Friday, April 29, 2011

Wanderers 2011.04.26

Peter Donovan
:: Peter Donovan ::

Looking back three days later: I'd "raced" (who with?) to Pauling House on reminder from Don, from the park where we serve, to the lap of Mt. Tabor. I hadn't remembered we had an invited speaker, from Eastern Oregon, from even beyond the high desert where Sam & Judy take care of Judy's mom (of Unity church, a New Thought manifestation of the American Transcendentalist variety).

But I wander.

Peter Donovan is what you might call a "deep ecologist" although that sounds a bit too ten-years-ago (or was it twenty?). His concern for the Earth is evident. Someone told me later he has a lot of background in the shepherding, in Hell's Canyon or one of those. Which brings me to Bill Sheppard (means "sheep killer" more like a wolf), whom many of us are visiting these days. I included Nirel in the huddle via Skype, used in IM mode (what a lot of users do, same at work).

He talked about the whole carbon cycle and went through a lot of classic experiments tying it together: where carbon comes from and where it goes. The net loss of coal to the Earth has changed the atmospheric mix and it's clearly getting hotter, humans or no humans. Lots of fires, many of them deliberate. Stewart Brand worries about the Venus future, if humans don't take self organization to a next level. And clearly humans do effect the climate in the plastics department, if we admit that climates have such a thing as plastic. The word "biosphere" was in many ways more prescient, as humans clearly are affecting that. Our presenter spent some time praising the Russian who came up with it, has had Margulis on one of her visits. It all comes down to coal and nukes and oil and solar and wind and rain. There's a vast Phase Rule computation going on, with degrees of freedom, pressure, temperature, all viscerally accessible. It's not like planetary changes can't mess with your head.

My question was about glaciation and what he felt about the remineralizing role the glaciers might have, and of returning the Earth to cold storage, after another age had burned through its metabolite and made a junkyard of the place. He seemed to agree it came down to soil richness as so critical to the equation. If we want to prolong the life of metabolite, we should maybe not worry if lots of pavement returns to grassland, simply as a natural process. The homeostatic tendency is a real one and there's no reason every mile of paved road needs to be preserved as vital infrastructure, let alone parking lot. Major ecosystems of the future will include abandoned industrial sites as much as they include sunken wrecks of seagoing vessels, many of WW2 vintage. Suburban subdivisions have their various trajectories, as campus facilities, co-housing cube farms (study studios) and whatever. People will still find ways to make use of them.

We talked a lot about those fires, those hectares of jungle sacrificed to a few seasons of growing, then grazing of scrawny beef, turning pharmacopias into carnage for the fast foodies. North Americans took the same route and denuded vast tracts, some still under cultivation, though heavily dependent on fertilizers.

The FNB crowd tends to be seriously vegan, and athletic. I kid you not when I mention a triathelete in training, who comes to us for his calories and proteins. Fresh organic produce direct from the Earth is hard to beat and Friends have a pretty nice kitchen, although that St. David of Wales one is quite a bit bigger (as is the congregation).

Our Wittgenstein Study Circle met at Lyrik next time, a variation on the theme (of a Coffee Shops Network). I became the proud tender of a larger flock of tomes by or about Ludwig Wittgenstein, to be corralled on the Time Capsule (our art deco hemicylindrical book case in the foyer). Alex enjoyed getting to meet Keiko. I showed him my corner office.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Horse's Mouth (movie review)

The art of movie watching has changed since the advent of the DVD and its random access through a front end menu. This one goes to the original opener, Daybreak Express, a random "documentary" set to a Duke Ellington piece that is truly a great work of art.

Horse's Mouth is the filmic world making fun of the static frame oil painter's, in some degree. The movie's director is likewise teaching his art ("the sculpture is so big, it's out of frame") in the longish interview. You'll want to see that, and the documentary on the documentary (Daybreak Express), so get the DVD.

As fluke would have it, I'd gone to Movie Madness for this DVD, only to find it checked out. Since I was in the Alec Guinness section (they file by actor quite a bit, as well as by director and genre), I settled for Hitler's Last 10 Days. In some ways, I couldn't have picked a better pre-quel (in historical terms), as here was a frustrated artist, Adolph, who would have been so benign as this later bass voice fulminator, same guy in a lot of ways. I'm remembering how Aguirre became that "rubber baron" in Fitzcarraldo, a later lifetime. If only these guys could have waited?

Another thing to see on the DVD is the original trailer. How did they tease their audiences in 1958? The film world, inheriting from vaudeville and penny alley, was titillating the neo-Victorians. There's a nude, from the back. Maybe if I pay my tuppence, they'll turn that camera around. Those gutsy artists, with all their angst. Alec Guinness sure knows how to play 'em.

The poignant story is about the youngest most earnest actor in the film, paying tribute to Alec Guinness as the "artist wannabe", only to die of a sudden illness before the movie was done shooting, and needing to recruit a voice to finish the dubbing. Like I said, you'll want the DVD version.

Yes, the fulminating Hilter character couldn't help but connect me to the carousing introvert in that stage play movie about Nixon, again on DVD. That's only to praise the acting. It's hard to really "be" these "responsible" men (and women).

The world of actors and directors, promising new talents, only partially overlaps the world of painters. They grab a "big tubes" guy off the street, on advice from Kenneth Clark, and he goes nuts with the canvases, knowing his art will live on, as that of a fictional character's, by some talented novelist. Holy smoke, what an opportunity. But to have to commit to that wall, that the filmmakers had intended from the beginning would be knocked down (five cameras, from every angle)... he understandably had a hard time with that. The world of transient media, committing to film: it's like jumping out of an airplane (one gets attached to one's creatures).

The director does a long riff on his "God's light" theory of illumination. Too many light sources, and you've doomed your look and feel. How intriguing, to hear from these pros. Our world's intersect, partially overlap, almost touch.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Just Use It

From an ad campaign I've been orchestrating:

Python:  Just Use It
Making Math
Blurred Mandelbrot Set

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Multitasking Again

Buzz is updating me on FB re the DL on the standoff between rivals in Tibet (virtual nation).

Google is reminding me it's about to pull the plug on any video content I've hosted on Google Video, news to me. Lots of downloading and uploading (to Youtube). My critic is hot on my trail.

A discussion of Free Will on the Wittgenstein list probably seems like a waste of time, but I'm busy fleshing out this post-PIC memeplex that's meta to same (PIC = prison-industrial complex, as some call it).

The local temple, Pauling House block, is doing as service, as is Santo Daime, both today. Then there's the play at the school. However, I'm feeling deadline pressures so can't pull away from the desk job right now. HB2U AA.

Too crowded for me though (the temple). I told the two I was coming in with that I didn't want to add to the discomfort if the concert was already packed, which it was. I got a few shots of the perimeter and headed over to the Bagdad for Unknown.

Carol is in Boston. Tara's aunties took her out for breakfast and shopping today, for the next debate contest. Other members of the household are on their respective and concurrent tracks. Time slithers on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

PPUG 2011.04.12

PPUG = Python Portland User Group. I took the bus, having a Workingman's Red at Bagdad as I awaited the 14, transferred to 9 at 6th and Main.

I was pulled towards the Pauling House as well, as Duane Ray was going through telescope lore, Bob McGown in attendance (he'd been to like half of them). I almost skipped boarding.

The chairman, Steve, and I texted to and fro, while in transit, stuff about various keys, given Open Bastion (west) is a part of the same complex as Glenn frequents, in terms of living quarters (or chambers, as one might have in some dorms).

PPUG was great once I got there, certainly worth making. I'd invited at least one PSU Systems person. The place was packed, almost every chair occupied.

I got to read in Infinite Jest along the way, and the guy who sat next to me at the meeting was like "Is that your first time through?". I'm going like "Finnegans Wake" at which point the old guy in front of me swings around, wants to see it. I tell him "this is different".

Then the same guy with the laptop starts pulling up Parthenon pix while multi-tasking, doing slides about concurrent queues. That gets me to go off at the end of the talks, asking if he knew of the Parthenon Code (like Da Vinci's but completely different) and did he know how the Python fit in? You see, as a PSF member, I'm known to pipe up with this Cult of Athena biz from time to time. I've been designing a philosophy and biz model on this basis. Turns out he's with Parthenon Software.

Adam Lowry knocked out a couple modules from standard library, the traceback module, which will do more for debugging when exceptions get raised, and the cgitb module for pretty printing such output, making it be all HTMLy. Of course the frameworks usually supply their own better runtime messaging.

Then Chris Pitzer compared Python to Javascript, with each interactive in a split screen presentation, using customized tools in both cases. A tour de force, and at a pretty deep philosophical level. JavaScript seems somewhat alien to Pythonistas, in its use of the new keyword to bless a function, turn it into an object of some kind.

Finally, Michelle Rowley did a superb presentation on how to give presentations, with lots of credit to Moshe Z. She practiced as she preached, completely meta to her talk, and therefore present in her fearless if nervous way that inspires. I bet we'll have no shortage of talks for a long time to come, provided we don't get diverted into some calamitous situation like has overtaken Japan.

I bussed back to 97214, texting old contacts from my cell while awaiting the 4, deleting some. Those Wanderers I caught up with had clearly been inspired by the telescope lore. Having taught Python at the Space Telescope Science Institute, I could see where I'd feel pulled to both events, like by gravity's rainbow.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Richard Stallman at PSU

For those who don't know their philosophy, Richard Stallman is one of our premier pragmatist - ethicists. His training in logic revolved around LISP, one of the more sophisticated executable notations. His work in that brought us Emacs, much as Bill Joy's research brought us vi, later updated to vim by Bram Moolenaar.

At the end of his talk (I've caught it before), Richard likes to pause, walk over to his bag of tricks, and pull out a robe and a halo. He transforms into St. I-GNU-sius and starts spouting all kinds of offensive mock-religion, Subgenius style. This tends to disarm those who decry his wearing some holier-than-thou halo, as clearly he makes no bones about doing so.

St. i-GNU-scius

Stallman's rap is well-structured in an Hegelian trope, with Logic on the one hand, History on the other. The thesis - antithesis pair is unfree versus free software. Their fusion is an unholy alliance that colors the chronology (history).

Those wanting (and defending) liberty above mere convenience make a point of not using those portions of the Linux code that masquerade as part of an "open source" kernel, but are no more than slapped-in binaries, mostly support for higher end video cards, wherein the competition is cut throat and trade secrets are jealously guarded.

Such competitive environments tend to challenge the "love thy enemies" approach of sharing source with all comers. The proprietarily minded are simply among the most selfishly misguided, and so are in special need of liberal arts alchemy (new world geekery). SAAS and Apple both get special treatment, along with DRM (all tools of Idiocracy).

He then went on to spell out the four freedoms in detail and why each one mattered, and what the symptoms might be, were each one curtailed.

There's the freedom to run the software only when and if you wish, the freedom to share it with others unmodified, the freedom to modify it as you please, and the freedom (option) to help others by republishing the altered code.

Seeing through the eyes of a debater / judge, I could see that Stallman has reached a well fortified position. I've been circling his name in our Wittgenstein Study Circle, as one of the greats of our age.

Without GNU, there'd have been no free C compiler and the Linux kernel (named for Mr. Torvalds, as Stallman calls him) would have been a long time coming. GNU helped connect all the dots and sparked a revolution in computer engineering that still baffles many classical economists.

Second tier (academic) philosophers, self-marginalized from today's core cultural conversations, have had relatively little to say on this revolution or its implications. Their reluctance and/or ignorance and/or timidity has left universities semi-rudderless when it comes to answering student questions about the ethical integrity of their own computing practices.

Why do universities use closed source software to manage their own internal affairs? You would think they'd be more interested in walking their talk, plus giving faculty and students more insight and control over their own code. Does PSU eat its own dog food, or lazily piggy-back on Banner like everyone else (we know the answer, but why not form that consortium we've been talking about?).

Stallman brought a toy Gnu to the podium, maybe from Finnegans, probably cost him like $8.99. He auctioned it off for a cool $450. He was also able to control the room's temperature (a tribal center built for just such convenings of tribal elders) simply by flapping his arms and uttering friendly directives. The man still has both power and charisma and philosophy has been lucky to have him (computer science too).

I sat with students in the Systems department, whom I've befriended (John is the architect, introduced to me by Dr. Consoletti).

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Beat Goes On

The local media have switched to disaster relief as the number one topic, knowing well we're not good at it. Katrina, Rita, the earlier tsunami, the floods in Pakistan, earthquakes in Italy, China, Chile, New Zealand... and now the big one in Japan, complete with out-of-control nukes.

Portlanders have realized they've stashed almost all their emergency vehicles on the east side, so if only one bridge remains, which is optimistic, they'll be OK. Of course emergency vehicles may not be apropos in unnavigable rubble.

Whereas national guards and emergency agencies need to be training, forecasting, planning, which includes deploying in "away teams" to share the work elsewhere, gaining valuable experience, the resources are caught up in nefarious "war games gone wild" where the species deploys its least-competent-to-cope technology: killingry.

When you're at the end of your rope, you resort to extreme measures and here we are, suffering big disasters, and our younger generation is already deployed, doing other things for Iron Mountain. They were pretty easy to recruit they tell me. So what else is new.

So many of these skills are transferable to civilian scenarios, which is why converting those military bases into girl (and boy) scout training camps makes so much sense, although not every circumstance is well simulated in the tropics. A "freezer building" might help, a place to acclimate before deploying to Oklahoma some winter.

Lindsey's lyrics have veered into dark allusions to this species incapability. We find it hard to look at ourselves in the mirror sometimes, and art helps us do that.

In other news, PyDev 2.0 for Eclipse is out. We've been tracking this, given its importance at work. I sent around some memos just prior, reminding readers of what we had learned during the last staff meeting, people flying in from Illinois, Oregon, St. Louis.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Systems Studies in Portland

Originally uploaded by thekirbster.

My thanks to John Driscoll and Glenn Stockton for helping me get back in the groove.