Sunday, May 29, 2016

EduSummit / PyCon 2016

AQR Capital and Eventbrite are sponsoring this fourth annual EduSummit, wherein educators from around the world converge to discuss strategies and initiatives around Python in education.  You may have heard of the Raspberry Pi, and Microbit devices.

The UK has been especially on the ball in getting this technology diffused.  One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) was an even more ambitious project, global in scope, wherein Python played a key role.

Nicholas Tollervey, a UK-based Pythonista mentioned edu-sig as a listserv worth jumping into.  He acknowledged me for helping keep it breathing.  S'been rather quiet lately, though with some thoughtful threads.  I've habitually posted to said listserv since its inception.

Pygame Zero is based on PyGame, GPIO, 0MQ.  The target audience is teachers looking for interesting projects for their students, based on some of the most affordable devices available.  One of its jobs is to provide relevant error messages, so that students experience more helpful feedback.

What sort of Manifesto might wrap this up, give a nice summary statement?  Nicholas and others are brainstorming on the question.  I have my own rant.

The teachers coming to Pycon UK are those tasked with teaching "computer stuff" -- as distinct from mathematics -- much like in the US.  Physical Education teachers, business application teachers, want to know what to do with the Microbit.

The US has no institution like the BBC, with a long history of giving out computers.  The BBC has a Royal Charter, is not a for-profit private company per se.  The charter says the BBC should educate, not just entertain and inform.

My impression is the UK is pulling ahead of the US, thanks to the US not having its act together.

MicroPython is Python 3.x for micro-controllers, including the Arm chip on the Microbit.  This solution allowed Microsoft's TouchDevelop to change their approach (TouchDevelop is one of a few ways to flash runnable bytecode to the Micobit chip).

In response to teacher demand, Nicholas and friends are developing Mu, a combination REPL + Editor (i.e. an IDE).

Tollervey's background as a musician is a big plus I'd say.  Microbit comes with a music module, that comes with canned tunes.  They'll be available for sale in the US in a month or two for about fifteen to twenty pounds.  Think of them as a stepping stone to Raspberry Pi programming as a follow-up step.

We have a lot of librarians at the Summit this year.  I wish Multnomah County had taken my job application more seriously, for Diversity Inclusion Fellow.  No interview even.  Because I'm too old? I wrote back to say I'd be happy to work with whomever they end up hiring.

Also frustrating is how Peter Farrell is being excluded because he didn't sign up in time.  We have some empty seats (there's one to my immediate right).  He's at the forefront of the "learning Python to learn math" movement.  He gave me a copy of his softcover book yesterday.

Dr. Craven spoke about his experience as a college intro to programming teacher.  He's the author of Program Arcade Games, a Python and Pygame based curriculum.  Lesson plans should evolve exactly the way software does, with lots and lots of revisions.  Improve the curriculum constantly, it's not a "dead document".  The new kind of teacher will do that.

Watch out for feature bloat.  "Taking away" (paring down) is often as effective or more effective than stuffing with content.  Internationalize.  Self publish, maybe include a Kindle version (forget the Nook).

Other advice from Dr. Craven:  Do video versions.  Take out the "ums".  Do on-screen markups of the code using a tablet.  Use a good microphone.  On-line quizzing gives the curriculum writers useful feedback.  Create lots and lots of free-standing examples.  Don't just stick to developing one super-long application.  Archive to Youtube or Vimeo.  The latter allows more of a paywall.

Skip using Youtube ads. Flipped classroom doesn't work (different from on-line classroom).  Animated code examples not worth the trouble.  PDF downloads lock you into old versions.  Dynamic revising means keeping it fresh on-line.  Use the Arcade Library based on OpenGL and Pyglet, not Pygame which is perhaps going stale?

Actually not, as the next speaker persuasively suggested that Pygame is still alive and kicking.  But does it install to a Mac?  Python using Minecraft is certainly plenty easy, including with Jupyter Notebooks as a front end.

During the Lightning Talks, I talked about my Martian Math class for Saturday Academy.  This was a math class more than a programming class, but using VPython was certainly a big part of it.  I mentioned how thinking about terraforming Mars gets us thinking more about terraforming Earth, showing pictures of Celilo Falls turning the the Dalles Dam, where Google is plugged in.

Perhaps in my allotted five minutes (I used only 4.5) I failed to communicate there's a lot of published literature behind Martian Math, much of which is simply Synergetics in disguise.

Should Grok Learning really be registering an error if a student enters print("Hello World") instead of print("Hello, World").  The English are sticklers for grammar.  The missing comma strikes them as egregious.  A large percentage of students therefore initially fail to get it right.

I was up early wearing my anthropology hat, posting to MathFuture about the various brands (flavors) of mathematics that use the meme "4D".  Given my company name, this makes some sense.

I've been teasing apart what I call "Coxeter.4D" from "Einstein.4D" using proper names to designate namespaces (per Python).  Unless we understand there's a difference in namespaces (and what a namespace is), it's bloody hard to interject yet another sense of 4D: R. Buckminster Fuller's.

Why we might want to interject the latter has to do with the positive futurism connected thereto.

Long time readers of these blogs will know I frequently cite page 119 of Regular Polytopes by H.S.M Coxeter (that's the Dover softcover edition, 1973).  I'm doing that again for Adrius (in Lithuania) and others.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Blockchain and the Global U

Avatars for blockchain and related technologies sometimes focus on anonymity as the core draw, using words like "dark money" and dredging up underworld imagery, on purpose really.  "We're not criminals, we're just dodging the power-hungry who would interfere with our freedoms" is their libertarian tone.

Without raining on that parade, I want to underline what Ethereum and other programmers are pointing out:  you might program the money to reach only a Specific Individual and have it be redeemable from a specific Catalog of Things.  The transaction is both earmarked and tied to a specific party who would need to initiate the chain of events.

The concept is far from new.  It's all about the affordability of the implementation.

Micro-payment systems coupled with "auth" (identity verification) were for the longest time an oxymoron, as the overhead of tracking bazillions of micro-payments outweighs the fees for service collected.

Tracking all those details was just not practical minus serious auditable automation.  The margins were negative, not just thin.  With computers and cryptographic algorithms on the leash, all that changes.

Once digital computers were in the picture, checking and charge card systems expanded financial services to a much larger percentage of humanity, extending credit while reducing the demand for paper money.  Yet in 2016, the majority of humanity is still unbanked.

Going the next step, taking transactions to the next level, using cell phones as devices to both send an receive payments, within specific "games" or "services", is what the new crypto-currencies are all about.  The games may be made more intelligent, and more identity-dependent.

As a work / study student in the Global U, your reward for applying yourself in biology is better access to more equipment, travel opportunities connected with your research, other goodies.  People stand to gain from your work, perhaps on a cure for cancer, and so are eager to reward you with job-relevant tools.

There's social pressure to assist people in getting their jobs done, assuming these jobs redound to our collective social benefit (true, it's not always obvious that's the case).  We compensate bus drivers to have a bus service.

The problem with cold cash is not its anonymity so much as its not having any earmarked function.  In tagging the money with what it's good for, budgeting becomes more self-enforcing through the blockchain and/or other consensus-building workflows.

Work / study students get credits, good towards better access and more privileges, without needing to get cash.  The bookkeeping system sees their choices:  which microscopes they pick, what conferences they attend.  That's not surveillance or a privacy breach, that's a student creating a profile (timeline, chronofile, log, journal).

Again, in stressing how currency may be coupled with identity, I'm not applying the wrecking ball to more anonymous schemes.  The "dark money" business stays a business.  But lets not confuse programming the blockchain in a general sense with just a few of its special case applications.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Junkyard Nations

A lot of pundits across the spectrum indulge in the game of "I told you so" when it comes to putting the nations into some train wreck scenario and predicting some "world war N" though with little agreement on what that number N would be.

Were WW1 and WW2 two chapters in the same war?  That's what Sheikh Imran Hosein thinks, as he predicts all manner of woes.  Or was the Cold War actually WW3?  So would it be WW2 or WW4 we're going into?  What if it's entirely cyber and therefore WW0 (inside joke)?

All Syria and Russia and Israel etc. are good for in such trash talk is as radar blips on some End Times crystal ball, playing out some farce, some wimpery "end of the world".  Some Planet of the Apes goofball major fuckup.

If this is all the language of nation-states is good for these days, then I'd say it's been seriously deprecated.  No one had to lift a finger.  Entropy is a physical principle.  Obsolesce is planned, but not necessarily by humans, is another way of saying it.

However I know some UN types still use the lingo for the betterment of humanity, and not through the lens of some apocalyptic "holy book" that one is paid to be right about. These dedicated upholders of the heritage are all that keeps that tired politico-hack language from flying apart at the seams.

A lot of us though, sensing a growing ratio of junkyard crazies wallowing in the tatters of what used to be a functional language, no longer have time to learn it to a high degree.  It's more for pigs than for pearls by this time, legal fiction for the most myopic-minded.

Engineers have real work to do.  Sitting on our butts spinning out reams of End Times PR is not considered "work" on our team (more what a burn bag is for).  Let the pundits have their Youtubes, I'm all for freedom of speech.  I'll view them asynchronously if I get to them i.e. I'm not looking for front row tickets.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Garage Purge

Staged for Transfer
:: staged for transfer ::

Even as I hunt for gigs, feed my on-line fans with cool content, and monitor the political sphere, my "garage karma" still dogs me.  Lets just say there's not been room for a car in many moons.

I've been thinking of that coffee table book where different lifestyle practitioners bring all their stuff out and array it for public view.  I'm doing that, bringing out big black boulders of trash.

The process is actually more finely tuned as amidst all that trash are the treasures.  Things kept in plastic tubs fared best.  The rest tended to succumb to the relentless attention of a squirrel population.  Lots of nesting and shredding has occurred.

The triage process also involves sorting.  Good Will is getting some electronics and choice clothing, books in the pipeline.  My thanks to Glenn and Deke for helping out, and Patrick.  The local church arranges for a community dumpster once a year.  That's a target.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Crypto Currencies

At the code school last night, I pumped Ben for insights regarding crypto-currencies, as I've raised with NPYM Friends the possibility of accepting bitcoin in some contexts.

Ben immediately directed my attention to Ethereum, a Web 3.0 initiative.  I've been immersing myself in that subculture, mostly using YouTube for that purpose.

For those just joining us, Quakerism is a decentralized role playing denomination, a network application based in 1600s innovations within the namespace of Christianity.  Power is not concentrated in any one individual.  Management is by rotation.

The Monthly Meeting, with a monthly business meeting is the Node for this network.  That our Meetings might want to develop internal currencies is no surprise in hindsight.

Perhaps it sounds paradoxical that a practice with a reputation for encouraging honesty is so interested in systems that do not require trust except in mathematical and physical principles.

"Gaming" or "scamming" or "undermining" a blockchain or other well-designed consensus protocol is difficult to impossible in a correctly implemented system, which doesn't mean bitcoin and ether are prohibiting gamification of businesses (those are different meanings of "game").

Cheating in a malicious sense can't be done against physical laws.  Illusionists give the impression it can be.

Why I in particular am researching in this direction is two-fold:

(A) I'm the clerk of the NPYM IT Committee (Oct 1, 2015 to Sept 30, 2017)


(B) DWA (the bookkeeping partnership I worked with) was a trusted third party of the kind Ethereum aims to replace, as no longer necessary.

Ethereum contracts are self-policing one might say.  However the trusted third parties of my generation would do well to wrap their minds around these new consensual systems and sign off, warn against, make claims of various types and so on.  Elders get looked to for such feedback, at least in the Quaker experience.

Dawn Wicca was the professional bookkeeper, the DW in DWA, passing the torch to her apprentice (not me), whereas I was an applications developer (mostly xBase / FoxPro) and curriculum designer (lots of Python).  Nonetheless, a lot of Dawn's bookkeeping savvy rubbed off by osmosis, informing my understanding of business, the socially responsible ones especially (DWA worked for idealistic nonprofits by and large).

Good to hear from Judy Smith as I was heading towards code school, stuck at a freight train crossing.  I hope to get over to Terrebonne, Oregon one of these days, in a code school bizmo maybe, provided Oregon State has a fleet ready, or were those to be 100% private sector?

Think of crypto-currency / crypto-law as ACID-compliance on steroids?  The move to distributed databases, distributed version control, led to this concept of an immutable growing code base, signature verified using hash functions to protect against bit flipping.

These crytographer-actuaries have a lot of euphemisms for people dying and losing access to private keys that way.  Instead it's always Bob losing his private key (wallet), not an instance of Bob not taking it with him.  We could say this euphemism is justifiable as whatever the circumstances, Bob is no longer able to use his wallet.  We hope he's made arrangements for this eventuality.

Wishes Upon Death is considered Oversight business in a Monthly Meeting.  I served on that committee numerous times and always encouraged polling Friends regarding how to manage cyber-credentials.  Do you wish us to retire your Facebook account?  What sort of web presence does a Friend wish to maintain?  In many cases these wishes are handled by family, however a Meeting is generally set up to serve in place of family members when appropriate.

Monday, May 09, 2016



I'm continuing my theme of immersion in the Heartland, somewhat like the Holy Land in that both are branded regions.  Likely many Heartlands exist, certainly many Fatherlands and Motherlands.

We joked about the swarm of mothers descending upon Galo's for Mother's Day, May 8.  Galo's is a well-managed Italian restaurant near where Highway 40 intersects I-70 in Richmond, Indiana, very close to the Ohio border.

Coming back across Illinois, I tuned in more NPR, having come the other way on mostly Country and Christian Radio, with oldie Rock & Roll on that Decatur FM station.

We're about to move some works in progress, upholstery projects, from a Mazda to a studio.  Another piece came back from the studio to the apartment where I'm staying.

I have a lot of interesting photos to upload in my camera.  I don't have enough space on the hard drive, nor spare storage devices, and might as well wait for the higher bandwidth.  Optical fiber.

Pictures will include a visit to Hastings, a center for popular culture propagation, and Best Buy, where I updated myself regarding some of the latest consumer electronicsSome Bob Evans.  Many shots of the state of the art at Earlham CollegeThe graduation ceremonyGalo's.

In Springfield
:: in Springfield, IL ::

Sunday, May 01, 2016

May First, 2016

I started my day by having coffee, showering, and meandering over to Multnomah Monthly Meeting.  I purchased a drawing by a guy in front of New Seasons, camped out on the sidewalk.  Carl Abbott, a Meeting Elder, agreed it could be seen as a horse.

Trevor was turning fifty today, and had arranged for a special event at Mother Foucault's, a bookstore specializing in esoteric tomes.  He has been collaborating with a small press in Baltimore, and another local artist, to bring out another edition of a forgotten early 1900s comic strip:  The Outbursts of Everett True.

Before Trevor's talk, I caught up with Jim Heuer, a stellar programmer and one of the principals with Evos SmartTools.  Jim has featured in this blog before, as a teacher of "truckology".

He knows a lot about the LTL ("less than truckload") shipping business especially, wherein companies make bids on shipper loads, and shippers choose whom to go with.  Optimizing is a difficult problem and humans still play a role, but computers make the job easier.

Jim's software smooths the whole process of working in the LTL business by turning it into a rule-based "computer game", meaning a set of processes and workflows based in computing.

By "game" I don't meant to imply anything simulated or unreal.  We're talking about real tonnage, and paying customers who use these tools every day.  Having a coherent Ux makes the work seem more game-like.  Computers have introduced gamification to the workplace.

We met at Costello's, the travelers' cafe on East Broadway.  I'd been watching a bunch of Youtubes recently, aimed at those involved in startups.  Earlier, I'd lurked in on the Stanford course about not screwing up your startup.

Is pouring old (and valuable) wine into a new startup model (bottle) a recognized way to go?  Could a new company form around Evos and take it to scale?  I wondered aloud if PSU's Business Accelerator might have any advice along these lines.

Jim is a brilliant programmer, and shares my Visual FoxPro heritage.  He uses Microsoft components to serve the web, in cahoots with Apache, but has moved a lot of the business logic over to Python, with which he communicates via Windows COM objects.  That's a diverse and inclusive skill set.  Hacking on Jim's code could be mind-expanding for a whole team. 

A lot of his data resides in the FoxPro DBF format (inherited from dBase), but with CodeBase exposing this format directly to Python.  Now that Jim has discovered MongoDB, he sees that may be his best path forward, for speed reasons in particular.

I like talking shop with Jim because we've used a lot of the same tools, but then he's a transportation engineer and knows a ton about the trucking business, which I do not, though I've been learning.

Trevor has been studying Egoism for quite awhile by now.  That school of thought was founded by Max Stirner and later picked up in the early 1900s by a colorful cast in Chicago and their Hobo College.  One of the faculty was named Sirfesser Willkesbarre.

The publisher, Underworld Amusements from Baltimore, was present for this unveiling, as was one of the artists who helped retouch and restore the Everett True comics.  I got all three collaborators to sign my copy.

Patrick helped lead the BSA troop at the beach and is back in town.  He came over to inspect the odd pooling of water in a mysterious place, far from any obvious source of water.  I called it ectoplasm as a joke.  We actually managed to find the cause, a pin-sized hole in a water jug.