Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mom on TV!

Mom and Ellen Thomas are on a road trip, making stops and talking about the Countdown to Zero campaign (known by other names as well).


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ethnic Diversity


The common wisdom around Portland is we're not very racially diverse.  I'll be the first to cop to Oregon's sad history, in having it in the law books that you couldn't be here and be black.  Says who?  Who were these anonymous authorities no doubt claiming Biblical Authority when push came to shove?

On the other hand, to get right to it:  obsessing about race is what blinds one to ethnic diversity.  You heard me:  thinking in terms of race makes you stupid about ethnicity.  A fool.

We all know this, when we stop to think about it.  A racist can't tell the difference between a Mexican and someone from Guatemala because they're all just Latinos, as if that were a race.  Or as if White were.  As if there were races.  That's a big "as if" says Ashley Montagu, respected anthropologist, but who listens to him?

Portland is extremely diverse, ethnically.  We have people from many lineages from Southeast Asia, Indochina in particular.  My first real job, when I moved back to Portland in the mid 1980s, was in a refugee resettlement agency, a federally funded NGO (oxymoron?) helping Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians... get a toehold in this "New World" (certainly new to them, in many cases).

But if all you can see is "races", you miss out on so much.  Remember Boris Yeltzin?  Funny guy.  He came to North America once and said, to this effect:  "hey, why do we fight so much, we're all just white guys, right?"  I thought that was funny but folks were in no mood for boorish humor.  Yes, I've been to South Africa.  Yes, I write "stream of consciousness" (so do you, but we all conform, based on feedback from the locale).

So look, I'm an alien.  As in ET we could just assume.  I have a US passport (have since the 1960s -- jet setter here) and know how to recite the pledge of allegiance, though rarely in adulthood are we required to do so.  Quakers, BTW, do not swear oaths on the Bible.  We're alienated by such quaint customs and think they belong in the dark ages passed.   We're more like Humanists (ethical) in that way.

Racism blinds one to the true dimensions of human diversity, which lie along other axes than those of arbitrary genetics, a grab-bag of attributes, owing to which we say we're more or less pure (i.e. a "pure black" is closer to the archetype, as would be a "pure white" versus various brands of Mongreloid, the "one true race" for the rest of us -- you believe this BS?).  You'll come to Portland and see a lot of "white people" missing completely they're "white Russian" half the time (check Wikipedia).  Don't quote me on "half".  I'm not omniscient, OK?

Nevertheless and in spite of the above rant, I did find this joke funny, and have repeated it:  "Portland.  You're so white your blackest neighborhood is named Albina."  LOL.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Conspiracy Dynamics

Amateur sleuths and Sherlock Holmes types, when looking to penetrate a cover-up, need to factor in various dynamics.

Having just slogged through more 911 videos, prevalent on Youtube, I feel this observation is apropos:  even if you have no idea who did it, you may see your rank or position as tied to the perception you might know.

As a player, you may wish to foster your reputation for being in on whatever plan.  You might even do this to further your own investigation.  If people know you already know (but you don't) then some who really do know might let their guard down in your presence, imagining you already know their secrets.

Consequence:  many people will adhere to a cover story not because they themselves believe it, and not because they know the truth, but because it's safer or otherwise more productive to follow an insider party line than to sound like an outsider skeptic.

Lets take Allen Dulles for example.  He not only served on the Warren Commission, he of course supported its chief finding, that Oswald acted alone as a lone gunman.

Given Dulles was a one time CIA director and the CIA itself has been fingered as a chief suspect in the Kennedy assassinations, at least the first one, does that mean he knew the details of what really happened?  Not necessarily.  Ditto regarding the U2 "shot down" over the Soviet Union -- he stuck to the cover story.

Working backward from the above, one sees the need for a cover story that people might cling to, an authoritative version of events.  But what if those with the most access to the media don't actually know what happened?  Inventing an official explanation that later unravels at least gives people something official to hold on to, which is what they wanted.  "Playing it safe" is the name of the game.

So serving up a "likely story" is sometimes the next best thing, even when it's full of holes.  Why?  In part to comfort those who were freaking out.  But also to deny one's enemy the satisfaction of controlling the narrative.  Pumping misinformation into a system is a way to degrade it, and sometimes that's the intent, in order to counter a perp.  "If I don't know, nobody else gets to know either" might be the mantra here.

That's another aspect of psychological warfare some people miss.  Lets consider the profile of a serial killer who really wants to be noticed and who takes pleasure in leading the police on a grisly chase, following a path of dead bodies.

The police might intentionally come up with a confused story in which murders the killer had nothing to do with are considered "linked" in the newspapers.  The narrative becomes blurred, misinformed.  The perpetrator experiences frustration at not seeing credit given where credit is due.

The purpose of a cover-story is therefore at least two-fold.  Wannabe insiders, such as politicians who want to seem "in the know", may get to bolster their reputations by supporting a cover story, even a clearly false one.

"They must know who really did it then" the clueless spectator falsely concludes, "which means they're powerful insiders" (what the politician wants these spectators to believe).

But then as mentioned, another purpose of a cover story may be to divert all or most of the attention away from the perp's intended cause or message.  Without even knowing who did it, one may see ways to control the narrative nonetheless, or at least ways to not surrender to someone else's.

My recommendation to conspiracy theorists is to think deeply about what it means to lose control of a narrative.  One becomes an outsider, no longer authorized to tell some story.

Some players fear losing control of the story more than they fear the truth, which seems unlikely to be agreed upon any time soon, and for this reason they continue to cling to a version that feels safe to them, unlikely to come apart at the seams. To others, this same version may seem shallow and phony.

Of course the classic / conventional situation is the cover story is invented by the perps themselves to hide their true motives and actions.  My point here is to counter that over simplification.  Sometimes the cover story is invented not by the perps, but by those still keenly hoping to find out more. That the cover story is clearly full of holes only motivates others to sift through it more.  Who said that's bad?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Built to Not Last

The title might seem like a typo or misprint.  Aren't we looking for "Built to Last" when we're shopping?  How could baked-in transience be a virtue? Is this more of that silly Geek Talk [tm] wherein "laziness" is a virtue?  You betcha.

The "new car smell" everyone talks about isn't just or only a smell, but the whole ambience of having a new car, unblemished by actual use, like a puppy on its first day in the garden.  Such innocence may be annoying in some contexts.  A fresh laptop is maybe so far from customized to what one needs, but let's not turn pessimistic.

In the Cloud, the analogy is obvious:  "build one to throw it away" means we're free to "just doodle" with some serious resources at our command.  Spin up some JuJu on Ubuntu and define yourself a rig, a rack, a framework, or whatever.  Test your business model, fine tune, unit test, keep it agile. You may want to take it live, but probably after a number of iterations.  Alpha versions mature into betas until an actual release candidate is rolled out to the world.

Likewise on the first day of school, one's desk is pristine.  Students used to have desks unto themselves, not just lockers, where possessions were conveniently stored, persisting from day to day.

That practice may have eroded in many districts, or never caught on.  My personal memories hearken back to the Overseas School of Rome, one classroom in particular.  They tilted up, those desk lids. Lockers start pristine also, at least if all the old stickers come off.

We know from the get go that experiences are a lot like novels or films:  they start, have a middle part, and then they're over.  Life is episodic.  So the specification that it "not last" could be said to belong to "experience itself" (getting philosophical here).

When you know going in that it's a doodle or throwaway version, might you take more risks?  Would you enjoy it more, and therefore gain more, from the challenge?  When the changes are more permanent, one likes to know in advance about one's choices, and mull them over.

However, like ice cream on a summer's day, accept in advance that even with the privilege of choices, none of them were "built to last".  Some elementary particles only fleetingly exist before separating into decay particles that in turn interact and so on.  Lightning happens in a flash.

Role-playing games involve rotation quite a bit, or can.  You're not stuck in a role forever and indeed are better at role playing more generally for having moved around and seen the game from different points of view.

The idea that you needed to be just that one thing when you grew up, like "the milkman" or "the nurse", was a tad too simplistic to ever gain much traction.  Life goes in chapters.  People were not built to be typecast necessarily.

Monday, January 11, 2016


@ < guild />

I'm lurking in on a boot camp scenario.  That might sound physically onerous but it's more metaphysically steep.  We climb, attain skills.  I'm just a noob in this picture, marginal to the action.

However I'm in the wings, like an understudy, and could be called in front of an audience, as soon as Wednesday. So like theater.

Last night I dove into Volume 3 of Knuth's The Art of Computer Science, just starting to get into it. He immediately turned to permutations, a mathy type object I've been dinking around with.  I felt led to add to my code's capabilities.

My puttering was lassoed for a post to MathFuture, with a link to the current source code.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Business Logic


As I was leaving the training facility (<guild />) this afternoon, turning the key in my car's ignition, it broke off. Having a backup key somewhere hidden under the car would have been nice. No such luck. At least I had one at home, and access to public transportation.

What are the chances of such an event happening? I'd have been less surprised to find my battery dead. However upon polling a few peers, I found many had similar "ignition fail" stories, so the event is not that uncommon, is a contingency we might plan for. Or code for:


and so on.

Python has to be indented that way; the keywords are in blue. Just scanning the code reminds one of the "poetry" of starting one's car, and what failures (exceptions) might occur. One may use one's imagination to further extend the code.

We've designed coding languages to model businesses, to where we might now play "what if" games (simulations) using code as a medium of expression.

The point is not so much to run such code, although it adds to readability if it's grammatically runnable. The point is to use code as a way of giving shape to our thoughts about risk management.

"When we try to do X, what might happen instead, and what ways do we have to handle or cope with these eventualities?" Consider modeling your answer using try / except syntax. Use the grammar of a computer language to tell the stories.

With ISO 9001 2015, "risk management" takes center stage, replacing "preventative measures" as where to focus. The try / except syntax of modern computer languages, common to more than just Python, suggests that language designers have baked risk management into their very fabric.

Computer programs need to deal with the same fact businesses do, that their surrounding world might be VUCA. Might we take advantage of these innovations? Might we sketch the workflows of a company in pseudo code (that runs)?

A secondary motive for modeling workflows, and risks, in simple code, is to bolster our willingness to digest meaning in this form. Given the centrality of IT to so many businesses, the willingness to eyeball source code with comprehension, as a part of everyday business communications, is more than ever a worthwhile commitment.

Management and IT will more smoothly converge to the same page to the extent that high level memos reflect the way a business is actually implemented at the coding level. UML was a step in the right direction. Indeed, what I'm recommending here is already a fait accompli in some board rooms. The whiteboard is typically mix of diagrams and pseudo-coded objects, even when taking the ten thousand foot view.

As we move to assess risk and develop strategies for managing it, lets remember the positive feedback loop, the synergy, between our computer languages and the real world phenomena they strive to capture in running code. As with mathematical notations, of which these languages arguably form a part, once they have been applied to the reality we care about, our powers of imagination kick in and new possibilities open. A language about "what's so" grows to become a language of "what could be", as we bootstrap ourselves towards a better tomorrow.

As for me, I've learned I must make more backup car keys and keep them easily accessible.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Workaday World

IT firms look for expertise in specific areas.  "The I/O loop as used in Tornado" is one example, and here's a landing page for the above YouTube that explains it.

Think "design pattern".  A Python generator is like a piston that fires through a next cycle when triggered, but is non-blocking in between.  The code above gets many generators going, each eager to take a next step, pending a green light from a socket monitor.

We call them co-routines when we start using send to make the yield statement two-way.  An object may keep spiraling through, interlaced, chronicling a pilgrim's progress through an oft paused journey.

In the co-routine pattern, a Task class drives a generator piston to keep firing it as soon as ready.  Each GET request to the server (relatively slow) is wrapped in a task.  Watch it again to see how the Future class queues up the work that needs doing.

My thanks to Jesse for sharing his expertise.