Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blockchain Voting

I was bringing up blockchain voting in a Quaker forum, as an example of a promising technology. Farm house Friends still put more faith in old fashioned paper balloting with visible counting, and in a one room school house, this can work.  Perhaps paper ballot counting scales much further, without limit, for the sake of discussion.

Blockchain has excited people for different reasons. What a financial playing field requires is a set of rules that are self-enforcing, in the sense that cheating should be next to impossible, even in theory. With strong encryption, such schemes became feasible.  Gambling casinos are a first good example, as they depend on the mathematics of probability to stay profitable, not on sleight of hand, even if stage performing magicians are among the attractions.

The example most cited up to now is Bitcoin, which came with clever terminology and a self funding model of a self booting currency.  "Bit miners" around the world would learn of the different transactions at different times, more how Facebook works. Not every Friend sees updates to your profile at the same time, but after awhile, everyone knows about them.

The question then becomes, which sequence of events, which chronology, is real?  Instead of making the players prove their case, each one hiring an army of lawyers (good for middle men), a contest is held (about every ten minutes), of a brute force nature, meaning if your computer is capable of monster computations, you win the contest often enough to make transaction-tracking worth your while.

If your bitcoin miner computer wins the contest, it's paid some bitcoin, and its version of events (of transactions, their sequence) gets added to the globally shared blockchain, the one true narrative account. The point of doing it this way is precisely to rely on some shake of the dice that no one controls. Agreement gets created. Trust builds that the transactions are secure.

Micro-payments between individual parties becomes possible, without the usual and more expensive amount of overhead. Sending remittances home, from family members working abroad, is one of the most used applications of this technology.  The currency converts into bitcoin at the source, and out into perhaps some other currency at the intended destination.

How does all this apply to voting though?  That's an excellent question.  Lots of talented social engineers have been exploring the ramifications of blockchain technology on electronic voting.

Before Measure 97 went down to defeat, on the State of Oregon ballot (November, 2016), I was having fantasies of showcase facilities where rotating groups of students, with faculty (more advanced students) could come to learn about the new tech.

However I hadn't thought through who goes where exactly. The mostly unused Sunnyside Methodist Church (or "ghost church") had given me some ideas. I was thinking in terms of teacher training, having watched over my dad's shoulder (he was an education system planner) and having some sense of the workflow.

In other words, say you're at Cleveland High School and learning about how polling and voting works, or doesn't. The school has some voting machines and equipment for counting ballots, with the school routinely bringing questions to a vote. "Who believes in UFOs?"  Yes, that's a poorly designed question, however if the goal is to work out with equipment, the point of the question may not be the point of the exercise.

We go through a lot of effort to authenticate here and there.  To our banks.  To our medical service providers.  One would think a citizen of a nation is by definition entitled to specific on-line services, including the right to vote in various elections by means of a smartphone application.  The fact that the USG gives us no means to authenticate as citizens to perform our civic duties, is evidence that USA OS is still more on paper than a socially engineered reality. Lets hope better days are ahead.

Some readers may have been inwardly objecting, from the top, that Quaker practice is not about voting, so why would blockchain voting be pertinent in a Quaker forum in the first place.  To clarify, I'm accepting that Quakerism does not define the public sphere and that my civic duties as a voter do not fall outside the scope of my duties in general.

Monday, January 16, 2017

War Studies


That famous folk song that goes "ain't gonna study war no more" seems clearly in the back of the mind of our writer, Friend Wolf Mendl, as he opens with a defense: "Why would a Quaker, a subclass of Pacifist, study and/or play war games?"  Obviously, in order to end it (outward war), in favor of world game instead, he says in translation to 2017-speak.

Lets remember George Fox was looked up to as a leader of the type you'd want to follow in battle. England found it frustrating that some of its bravest had a strong penchant for non-violence, but as the pamphlet points out, that's more the Chinese way, of Sun Tzu. Overt force is just gross, compared to the subtle thrusts of his martial art.

Friend Mendl, then quotes Clausewitz (more often cited than read) in saying the political has to guide the military is a truism, as "the political" is simply what thoughts go through our minds as we set about with our planning. What's the ideological glue that coheres this massive attempt at cooperation? What follows is almost robotic, and gets faster and more precise with practice, which is what drilling is all about.  Martial artists are always looping through their moves in various hypertoon scenarios.

We get to Kissinger and ample citations to a dogma that military might makes for influence on the world stage. That truism, combined with a lot of zero sum game misassumptions endemic to English speakers, but not only English speakers, has led us to the threshold of mutually assured destruction, a cliffhanger for sure.

Back to my point about George Fox as cut from cloth similar to that of a military leader, I think Quakers around Oliver Cromwell's time, on through William Penn, got some appreciation from the war rooms for at least having done some homework. They didn't walk in and immediately start kneeling or handing out pamphlets or other inappropriate behaviors (pouring lamb's blood on everything). They speak knowingly of the chessboard (if not a go board) and have constructive things to say.

This Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#247) contributes in that tradition. Having come out several decades ago, there's no hint of our curriculum changes in the lower grades around geometry, bringing the context of world game to American literature, as E. J. Applewhite predicted and helped make happen. I'm not saying every public or private school shares anything about all of the focal points my own students all know about. Not in early 2017.  However the garden had been planted, the memes released, much earlier in the 1900s. Osmosis takes time. At least Quakers were doing their homework.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wanderers 2017.1.10

Honored Guest

Our honored guest at Wanderers last night is an extremely intelligent and diplomatically skilled dude. I've met a few of these Afghani-Americans with a foot firmly planted in both worlds, that of the US, and that of contemporary Afghanistan.

Dr. Monammad Khan Kharoti is a medical doctor, a surgeon, with a strong understanding of the cultures he's dealing with.  His focus, since well before 9-11, has been providing schooling for Afghans, for girls as much as for boys.  The Taliban have never objected to that agenda.  The facilities are internally gender-segregated and religious texts are not eschewed, as has been the Western standard until quite recently.

Khoroti sees two scourges in Afghanistan: illiteracy (which leads to incapacitating ignorance) and the misfortune to have been associated with Osama bin Laden, which turned the US from friendly to definitely hostile.

Offering free tours of the US to small groups of Taliban, through the State Department, just to learn about the differences first hand, would go much further towards establishing a peace than misguided attempts at military takeover.  Ideologies spread by osmosis, not bullets, which only harden the hearts of those shot at.

We reminisced about the good old days when the world was less in turmoil.  I took a commercial bus for ordinary folks from Peshawar to Kabul that time, through the Khyber pass, with my mom and dad. We had no reason to be fearful in the 1970s.  From Kabul we flew to Tashkent on Aeroflot, then on to Moscow and St. Petersberg, then Helsinki no problemo.

Those were the golden years maybe? Any way back to that?  The trucking industry needs the routes from Istanbul to Kabul to work without obstruction.  Kabul isn't far from Islamabad after that.

Kharoti is well respected by the Taliban.  He's clearly acting in the best interests of the people he serves. His integrity goes unquestioned.

Monday, January 09, 2017

More About Martians

presentation at NIST

I've been on a CC or two with Istvan as I recall, as I was in communication with Ed Applewhite about the time he wrote The Naming of Buckminsterfullerene for Chemical Intelligencer, which Dr. Hargittai edited.

I'm still taking this one in, about the Martians of Science, Istvan's name for his fellow Hungarians advising the Manhattan Project.

Me on Facebook:
I remember when Edward Teller spoke at Princeton. Students hissed a lot. They do that at Princeton, like a viper pit or something, could be unsettling. They did the same thing with James Schlesinger as I recall, another GST guy. No hissing at Isaac Asimov's packed talk as I recall, nor at Nader's (an alum).

Certainly economists compete with one another to become stars in their own field, but the discipline as a whole still…

Given my interest in Martian Math, with input from Applewhite, it makes sense that I'd be doing this homework.

Speaking of NIST, I've enjoyed a recent exchange with Friend David Chandler on the awaited results of a next study (not by NIST, a peer review thing). NIST has findings of consequence for future building designers, given WTC7's structural failure from fires.  I'm following from a distance.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Andy Warhol Exhibit

I've been speculating on Facebook that a combination of "cosplay" (costume play), rebellion against arbitrary dress codes ("no head covering") and the emergence of more fairy-tale job titles ("security princess") is going to make the business world quite a bit less boring, in terms of people making fashion statements.

Not that the "business world" even today is a monolith.  In high tech we dress down whereas those "motivated by money" tend to "dress for success".

My own outfit has drifted towards Urban Cowboy with Magnetic Mittens. I've got a P-coat and a Stetson (a little discolored from the weather), and these nifty mittens that fold back to give me fingers, more precise than gloves especially when it comes to smartphones.

I don't have to take my mittens on and off as I ride the bus, at risk of losing them.  Out come the fingers and the smartphone.  I get on with my work.

The hat stays home a lot.  I have a Python logo sweater, gray or black, as an intermediate layer, given we're averaging around water's freezing point, with frequent thawing and melting.  Snow rarely piles up here for very long.

I was heading towards the bus stop the other day, going to see the Andy Warhol exhibit before it leaves town, and letting ten quarters jingle in one of the magnetic mittens, my bus fare.

In a moment of absent-mindedness, I brought out the fingers, I think to wave at someone, and the ten quarters went flying, meaning I was on my hands and knees on the sidewalk picking them up.

When I got to the bus, I was short one quarter but then found a disk in the lining of the mitten I was mistaking for the tenth quarter.  I told the bus driver a just needed a minute to get it out.

But of course the disk was actually the mitten magnet. I must have lost one of the original ten.

Fortunately, my associate had an extra quarter and I explained to the bus driver how I'd made a mistake.  Kinda funny.

Now you might think I shouldn't be bothering a busy city bus driver with meaningless drivel about how what I thought was a quarter was actually a mitten magnet.

I will respond in my own defense that the bus was following another of the same number and was therefore approximately empty.

Just two of us and the driver sailed over the Hawthorne bridge (figuratively speaking) and into town.

The next thing that happened was the PDX Crow Choir (not paid, not human) did their 5 PM raucous caucusing.  The sky and trees were host to great numbers of crows.

In Italian cities it's maybe pigeons and Portland certainly has those, and a few seagulls.  But this time of year the crows own the south Park Blocks, where the Portland Art Museum is.

Again on Facebook, I was showing off my knowledge of arcane English and referring to this large gathering as a "murder" of crows, as that's the technical word for a collection of crows, much as we have a "flock" of sheep, a "herd" of cattle, and a "grunch" of giants.

At lunch today at Dick's Kitchen on Belmont (with pictures of Dicks, such a Tracey and Nixon) my eating partner agreed that "alchemist" sounds less cynical than "spin doctor" for a business card, not that I have either card.

Job titles are getting weirder, that's for sure, and not just in the Capital of Weird (sorry Austin).  Both jobs involve PЯ (PR + propaganda) which is also storytelling.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


some USers remain skeptical...

The Obama White House did not need to wait until the requested analysis was completed, before showing it means business when it comes to punishing perpetrators.

Like when we first heard reports from Syria, of chemical weapons being used: the White House knew immediately who was behind the attack, and barreled ahead big time, UN investigation be damned.

What Russian spies helped uncover, about the Democratic Party, apparently proved so heinous and repulsive, that the public recoiled en masse and joined the Trump train to drain the swamp.

So the question now is whether the Russians did us a favor.  That remains to be seen.  USers have at least learned an important lesson:  we're a Banana Republic like everyone else, not immune from foreign meddling.

This historic revelation, that Russia forever changed the course of American history, using tricks well known to Nigerian bankers, is going to have repercussions around the world.

Some surveys suggest USers themselves remain skeptical of the seventeen intelligence agency consensus, the same "intelligence community" that made both Colin Powell and George Tenet, and eventually the US president, seem so like idiots on the world stage.

I understand why the president-elect is reluctant to sign his name to this narrative.  Anyone hoping to "make America great again" would think twice about surrendering to this tail of defeat.  Russia is more of a world power than we realized maybe.

Given what we now know about the DNC, might that be a good thing?  Time will tell. Obama himself, judging from a last press conference, seems to think a new grass roots movement will help rebuild its image, in the wake of the latest rout.

Trump has been saying all along the Obama administration was being outplayed by Putin.  He's been hankering for a fresh start, without the baggage of so many botched opportunities.  With the US losing momentum with its "regime change" agenda, this might be a time to figure out a new strategy?

Me? I voted for Hillary because I supported the plan with Iran to create thousands of new American jobs in transportation.  The Iran Deal is good for American workers.

As we learned from Susan Lindauer (a CIA asset in the lead-up to 9-11), Iraq was prepared to buy millions of Made in the USA automobiles before Colin Powell messed up and persuaded us to attack the wrong country. The weapons testers were not happy with that Iraqi offer and railroaded us into war without telling us about it.

Lets not keep making the same mistake in thinking DC really has our best interests at heart.  If that were true, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

More Core

Three cheers for MIT Scratch, a great learning environment for young coders.

This project provides a quick recap of some of our core concepts.

Remember, the canonical Martian tetrahedron has edges of a full diameter, whereas the Earthling cube has edges = radius, so only half the length.  Even so, the cube holds more concrete.

Most of this core content should be review by now, if you're in middle or high school.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

New Conspiracy Theories

As we all know, the network of shopping mall and department store Santas is primarily an intelligence gathering tool of the retailers, who pay top dollar to find out what's hot and what's not in the minds of children each year.  Is Minecraft still mentioned as often?  With what frequency does a kid somewhere on a Santa say "Lego" (Ogel wants to know).

Not mentioned are the more specialized Santas, able to predict US foreign policy months in advance, simply by resonating with the parents, through their kids.  The tallies get fed to machine learning algorithms back in the homeland, code named Ogel, and out pops some highly refined anticipatory policy analysis.  As you might imagine, these more sensitive Santas sometimes make enough to live on the entire rest of the year!

The next new wrinkle, already under development at MIT, will be the AI Santas, marketed as OK for adults to sit on and confess to (picture Eliza on steroids).  An electronic brain the size of Watson's will dispense therapeutic advice while meanwhile telling Big Pharma where to hit a goldmine this year.  Is it uppers or downers that most adults crave?  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Ask your doctor!

On a related topic, count me a skeptic when it comes to Winnie-the-Pooh's secret identity as a KGB agent. That he would secretly blackmail Christopher Robin while keeping up the "silly bear" act as a front, seems beyond ridiculous.  The notion that Christopher had deep insecurities around gender that could be exploited by Pooh to turn him against the GCHQ (let alone MI6) is the projection of American FBI investigators, still mostly male, and as usual unable to see passed their own homophobia (their pet "issue" since Hoover).

However, if requests for "Pooh Bears" sees some unexplained resurgence, i.e. even in the absence of a new Disney film, I'm prepared to look again at the evidence.  Even if it turned out to be true (stranger things have happened) this intel would be on the stale side in any case, Christopher having long ago reached an age when he could overpower Pooh in any inevitable fight to the death.  Even Piglet (supposedly Pooh's handler) would have had a hard time intervening, once Robin decided to exact his revenge.

Coming full circle, and while we're naming names, I expect the Santas Network has already been tasked with keeping a lookout for any resurgence of interest in Eeyore.  Pooh may have supplied the muscle, but Eeyore was rumored to be the real brains of the operation, and second to none when it came to sapping morale.

The life insurance industry pays a premium for tracking such indicators, even if Langley is more interested in Barbies (that's their prerogative), or if the UK, the more mature culture, cares more about lamp posts and wardrobes.  There's no accounting for taste sometimes.

I checked Snopes before sharing these rumors on Facebook, just to let my friends know that I'm aware of the False News aspects to this story.  Like I said, I'm a skeptic myself.  However, some of you out there may know more than I do, and when it comes to fighting to defend freedom, better safe than sorry, right?

Checking for False News

Monday, December 19, 2016

Blue House Tour

Lets focus on the office spaces in this one.  I'm not showing the Raspberry Pi 3 workstation in the basement because it's accessed through the local network.  No one needs to go down there to see its screen, which I may just unplug and use elsewhere.  Or not.  It's usable as a temporary office as is.

The Winter Office might sound like it's for winter use, and that would make sense, but I'm thinking it more as the cold office that has links to the outside world.  It's under the upper deck we restored.

Winter Altar

Because the Winter Office may run at freezing temperatures, I keep it behind a closed door, running a space heater to heat the Downstairs Office (there's a whole-house furnace but in this day and age I consider running that an unnecessary luxury).

A fish tank right outside has only a small heating device, so I abet that with warmer ambient air, though on a fluctuating schedule.

Downstairs Office + Fish Tank

Finally, the Upstairs Office: also with a cold blooded creature, the pet snake.  This is where I do a lot of my work.

I'm able to sleep there on a futon if I need to, turning my bedroom into more of a guestroom if that's desirable.  I've had a few guests, from Brazil and Indonesia.  The upstairs has its own restroom.

Snake Habitat

Under the guest room (the Downstairs Office also doubles as a guest room), I have a large workspace equipped to share media.  People come over to watch DVDs sometimes.

When the temperature is suitable, I may quit my office and work there instead.

When others come over to work on projects, a question is whether they need a computer.  In that case, the Winter Office might be a best bet, as it has a guest account already set up.

Mostly I'm just supplying fast Wifi, including 5G in the Upstairs and Winter Offices.  We share a smaller bandwidth channel elsewhere.  People bring their own devices (BYOD), like at a coffee shop.

Gotta Have Coffee

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Back on that Python Train

Pythonic Vista

By "Python Train" I mean the succession of versions, fine to come in from the top i.e. no reason to go back and learn older ones, unless you inherit responsibility for older code.  I've got quite a bit of 2.x on the web, at Oregon Curriculum Network.

However 3.6 is out, final release candidate, with the first official non-candidate set for release on the 23rd.  I've learned about formatting strings from Chris, CTO at PDX Code Guild.

But only recently, in coming late to various debates, did I get a longer run-down of new features, which inevitably include many other less new ones I'd been overlooking.

Since I'm in the teaching biz and like any professional have to keep doing homework, working on updating skills with latest new wrinkles, I'm taking advantage of snow days, with power, to bone up and stay with it.

There's a sense of being on a moving train here.  Time to move along.  Inertia.

We always do a Hanukkah party this time of year, though we're Quakers and all that. Great traditions. good times, great peeps. My family is all spread out.  White Christmas in Portland (actually not yet, this is in the lead up to), snow and ice both.

Of course I'm thinking of Lindsey's "...get on that train" lyrics (and melody).  She later moved it to Spanish.  I caught a version for Youtube some years ago.  Merry Christmas Lindsey wherever you are. I hope we cross paths sometime in 2017.

For those of you squinting at the code above (click picture for original, bigger), yes, all "clerks" (what I'm calling them) named "sentinel" or "nigel" or whatever, will file to the same key.

Before you throw up your hands and yell "bug!" or "security risk!" or whatever, remember a use case where we have freeway cams all along the highway.  All cams file to "see it!" and all users of "last_seen" have it in them already, no need to "subscribe" (you did that by naming the clerk as the others did).

The version below assumes we need to keep each value stored with its specific instance, including across types (instances serve as unique keys regardless of type).  What you need from your clerk type varies with use case; Python gives you the "hooks" (the places to fill in the script).  For consenting adults (one of the tag lines).  Batteries included.  Fits your brain.

The takeaway is one does need a clear head, to keep track of what "self" means when several classes have instanced the clerk as a class-level name.

The clerk has a window orthogonal to the type structure, or "the committees" one might say, is privy to what goes on across instances.  Must it keep all those instances straight?  Or is the goal to share information?  Or both?  The language is more about allowing than dictating your designs.

So just remember to document clearly and tell a compelling story to future maintainers, or they'll end up rewriting it just to keep track of what's going on.  Don't just assume the code "will speak for itself" — to you it might, but remember the other people in the room.

Clerk Objects