Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Back at the Zoo

I descended a flight of stairs to discover an austere table, board member names in plastic shields, LCDs on tripods on either side, heralding the event: a Saturday Academy fundraiser, a time to be generous towards tomorrow's Oregon's daughters and sons. I sat at a round table (21), flanked by staff, with the Alien Landscapes instructor, and an OPBer. A mother and baby were also present.

Joyce Creswell set the tone, by invoking SA's 23 year long history -- coming upon a quarter century here. In these parts, 23 still counts as old, because our Silicon Forest is young, even though some of our oral traditions trace back to eye-witnesses to Mt. Mazama's decapitation (now she's named Crater Lake, and she's a deep one). My wife was here when Mt. St. Helens blew.

Illustrious captains of industry followed. Our area is endowed with talent, let's pass that on.

This is the same room I'd come to for a few CRIME meetings hosted by George Heuston of HPD, back closer to the time I was teaching at West Precinct with Jerritt (Mr. Linuxfund.org back then). We'd only need the rearmost partition, and mostly did projector presentations about patterns of IP use (many applications register, bittorrent especially), or abstruse lectures about cryptography.

Sam is chauffeuring for his sis (my wife), is also a pro poet.

We celebrated mom's 77th at Sweet Tomato last night, one of Tara's favorites. For her birthday, mom let me buy her any Laughing Horse book of her choice, and she chose Hitler Youth from Scholastic, about what it was like growing up in the shadow of Nazism. The resulting picture is comically surreal.

I also procured (and installed) those prayer flags (Guru Rinpoche was one of those incredibles I learned about on visits to Bhutan), plus watched that Squeakers DVD (thanks Kim), my two blog-announced goals for that day; plus I got a lot of other work done as well.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Shuttleworth Summit (day two)

Checking edu-sig this morning, from the hotel lobby (Guido is in the chair next to me); André is proposing rur-ple as an alternative to Logo while Ian blogged about his PyLogo.

We had a fantastic dinner at E&O last night. Gunner turns out to be a bigger country music fan than I'd realized.

Today's planning looked at timeline, tools, and content.

A first pass: develop in a fish bowl, in showcase settings, with others invited to adopt and adapt (within three years?). Second pass: package the "final product" for wider dissemination (within five?).

On the tools front, a key question is whether we're tying this project to any major specific software development effort.

Loosely coupled tools, with a bottom-up, open source curriculum writing process, will leave the question of tools somewhat open-ended. The lesson plans will specify the software needed, with multiple paths possible.

Will we eventually have some sort of Python-based hypercard-like browser plug-in, facilitating easy publishing by students and incorporating what's already worked well in Squeak? If yes, then so much the better. Peers i.e. teachers (including the more advanced students) will write lessons around it.

The content will translate a mind map of the whole ten year topics network to a repository of lesson plans, with lessons sortable by how technology intensive they need to be. The content will mostly assume some minimal level of infrastructure: a computer lab with or without the Internet for example. At the topical level, this curriculum should tie to the national standards, to facilitate widespread adoption.

We blitzed through a few five minute lightning talks, featuring South Africa's performance stats in TIMMS, primitive Logo in Javascript, Squeak, a book on Squeak, the Scheme approach to designing programs, a 2D dynamic geometry project not unlike PyGeo in 3D, and me on Python, doing a very abbreviated version of what I showed the London Knowledge Lab on Wednesday.

Robyn encourged me to look at what a contemporary Logo looks like. The slickest stuff is neither free nor cross-platform, even if it runs in a web browser.

Momentum seems to be building for a stronger graphics engine, either 2D or 3D, with Python bindings, that'll run interactively from within a browser. The Squeak folks may be willing to contribute to this effort. Guido feels we'll need to recruit new talent for this, as the Python community is currently pretty maxed out on projects. Should such an engine be developed, turtle stuff would be incorporated therein.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Shuttleworth Summit (day one)

Our plan is to write the next generation curriculum for the Shuttleworth Foundation's vision, and a process for doing so. Nineteen of us are sitting around the table, one is taking the official notes (mine are not official). The essentials have been provided: coffee and tea, wireless.

Mark
: How do students develop communications and analytical skills and how might technology catalyze the aquisition of these skills?

Problem: mathematics is increasingly failing to hook kids' attention, with new math teachers ever harder to recruit. Yet technology is invading the education sector, plus students are spontaneously attracted to technology. How can we capitalize on both trends? How might we continue to deliver analytical capacity in this climate of declining interest in traditional mathematics learning and teaching?

There's no time to retrain the teachers, so the model should implement a peer-based system, wherein students are expected to mentor other students.

Mark's current vision is to start kids with Logo, then maybe move on to Squeak, then Python. That's a rough first take. We have the Scheme community represented at the table as well.

My comment: if there's a lot of broadband in this picture, access to technologically literate teachers shouldn't be the bottleneck. We can project video clips at will, including of talking heads, and about any topic. So it's not like there won't be a variety of adult role models presented. Even live interviews are possible. Guido: assuming the presence of broadband or a projector may not be realistic. Mark: pervasively only in the long term. May we at least assume an ability to play DVDs, and to burn them? Yes.

Other comments: we're talking about acquiring identity, not just skills, which relates to language and a cultural context. What is my role in the community, what are my community's values? The concept of "literacy" covers this, in that becoming literate involves creating one's life story. And this doesn't just happen in schools, especially given the Internet.

Let's focus on the analytical component, the mathematics. Computers enable kinds of mathematics that's difficult to do in other ways. And let's enlarge the analytic to embrace the sciences, which adds the modeling dimension, makes the math stories be about reality. Purely analytical capability may be perverse and/or shallow if not grounded.

Alan Kay pointed out that a curriculum needs to include powerful ideas, not just turn students loose, expecting them to reinvent the calculus. Developing problem solving skills must include exposure to powerful cultural inventions. Cultural memory is important.

Alan sure talks about the 1960s a lot. Guido expressed some frustration with that.

My suggestion: set up test beds, modeling existing and expected conditions, and develop curriculum segments in the field (the test driven development model). Implement a prototype branded curriculum in a pure form and let others copy what works. I'm hoping to avoid this pitfall: something imposed top-down on unwilling participants results in backlash and sabotage, or simply a diluted or distorted version, giving ammo to the curriculum's enemies and making outcomes hard to measure.

Alan thinks being able to script without having to type is super important, plus he wants a media rich experience, not just a turtle. He also advocates the one wireless laptop per child model, meaning you get to take them home. His emphasis is consistently constructing a "world" for children, some customized multimedia GUI ala Squeak, although he thinks this could just as well be done in Python. Alan is a big hypercard fan and is aware of the PythonCard project.

I'm especially skeptical on this last point. Let's focus on a distro perhaps (like edubuntu) but not over-integrate the environment to make something more seamless then necessary. Leave the environment heterogenous, more like the real world. I'm also finding that IM (instant messaging) motivates somewhat older kids to improve their typing skills.

I sense a tension between inspiring teachers versus bypassing them. Probably what we're doing is pioneering an open source culture devoted to curriculum development (not just software development) which includes and inspires some teachers, but leaves others feeling bypassed -- a typical outcome, not really a problem.

What Alan and I most agree on is the need for Wikipedia type content to mix with an interactive component. He showed me his recent Javascript implementation of Logo. I'm reminded of our ability to create interactive "labs" in the J language. Python needs a more developed interactive teaching module: show some stuff, give students a command line, show more stuff, and so on.

Lunch activity: demo of LAMS by its author, James Dalziel. Good use of chat rooms to facilitate peer to peer communications.

The breakout sessions were on the following topics: landscape 2010 (what will the ecology be like?); implementation of innovation (how will these new memes spread?); the role of the teacher in this new technology-based curriculum.

The landscape group expects at least a computer lab in most schools. We can't assume students will have access to a computer at home.

The implementation group is faced with a somewhat monolithic set of scored national tests, and debated what balance of collaborative vs. subversive tactics would work best. Recruiting teachers would involve empowering them as peer contributors to a lessons repository.

The teacher's role group assumed universities would help with teacher trainings and managing the courseware repositories. Shall we hold on to the notion that teachers must "know more" than their students, in order to be effective?

Coffee break. Warding off jet lag.

A branded distro, like edubuntu, with built-in links to further resources (LAMS workflows, moodles...), would give users access to a shared open source culture of curriculum development, not just software development. As a peer, I'd be patched into an ecology, a network, as I am now, but with more people self-consciously contributing. The ecology will feature many competing brands, not one monolithic sequence. Some curricula will be more tailored to specific national, regional and/or company standards.

Friday, April 07, 2006

V for Vendetta (movie review)

This film draws inspiration from Orwell, plus from all too familiar fascist "reality TV" fashions. Oppressive government is a nightmare and leads to dark paranoias, often leading to mass uprisings. This sequence gets played out over and over again, never exactly repeating. Like 1984, Vendetta goes ahead and simply maps to some future distopia, vaguely (or not so vaguely) extrapolating troubling trends in our own time.

It's also Beauty and the Beast, a genre I've not specialized in, although King Kong was an eye-opener. V is certainly a monster, and for 20 years has occupied himself plotting a delicious revenge against his torturers. Then he meets the girl, and the whole grotesque fantasy becomes surprisingly back burner.

But he goes through with it anyway; it's all he knows, what he's scripted to do. Then he hands the baton off to a next generation (to which this girl belongs). There's love between this girl and another girl too, under the masked one's auspices -- very complicated, yet touching and real (I couldn't believe those idiot parents disowning this most beautiful daughter, plus passing on getting another one).

Dawn and I saw it together. She said "a little more gratuitous violence than I like" and I got it. I took the whole thing as a sick and twisted fantasy piece, a simulator (OK, a wardrobe). And the product of a feverishly fertile UKer imagination -- they really know how to make 'em, those IngSoc types. Actually, we're talking Wachowski brothers, of The Matrix fame. Definitely a bold contribution to the literature.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Today's Networking

Today I'm busy working with Erica at Associated Oregon Industries (AOI) on improving their database program (inherited Visual FoxPro code which I've mostly rewritten by now).

I phoned Multnomah County to reschedule jury duty once again, this time for mid January 2007.

Dawn is having many high level discussions with her care team. She's the kind of patient many doctors like having: she takes it straight, unvarnished, yet with sensitivity and grace. Her professional care givers, in both eastern and western traditions, are among her biggest fans.

I'm planning to take Tara to AAA after school; we need to get her passport reactivated per family overseas travel plans. I really want to show them Italy, Rome especially (many favorite boyhood haunts). We've ordered a copy of her birth certificate on-line, after not finding our earlier copy. I'll also pick up a map of London, and maybe of the southwestern USA (Dawn's hoping for a bizmo trip).

I swung by the Linus Pauling House on Terry's invitation to meet with our ISEPP guest, Dr. Ulanowicz, and maybe listen in on some fun conversation. Apparently Wanderers had invited him to lunch some place (I found evidence of a meeting in progress). Given time constraints, I elected to scrawl a "Kirby was here" on the board; I'll hope to catch his lecture tomorrow evening.

Dawn ordered, and I picked up from the vet, a new bag of Moon Kitty's special cat food.

Arthur Seigel and I have another interesting thread going on edu-sig, which again explores the nature of my commitments and investments as a Fuller Schooler.

Hugh Watkins, the Copenhagen-based fellow student of Wittgenstein's philo, excerpted some recent Kirbiania about Wittgenstein in his blog (link).

Nick Consoletti is staying in my basement again. He wants me to write a recommendation for the Design Science Lab, which I currently know only a little about and am not involved with. I have no problem recommending Nick though.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Wittgenstein Again

I wrote a more comic book version of this, but let's try to be more serious. The work for which Ludwig Wittgenstein (LW) first became well known, as the miracle-spawn of Bertrand Russell, was the pretentiously titled Tractatus Logico Philosophicus (TLP). Except this wasn't so silly-sounding for that day, as Latin still connoted authority, as did the flat hats and gowns, all the gothic surroundings of a dark ages cathedral. So the TLP fit right in, as more organ music.

Over time, however, LW became disillusioned with his tone in the TLP. Yes, it was a lot of clever, glorified nonsense, which hooked the reader mainly on its aesthetic merits, but it was also too grandiose in retrospect, too full of the author's own vanity, perhaps for having mastered the logical crypticisms indulged in by the school masters of his day, and since superseded by electronified gate logic.

So the next generation philo (published posthumously as the PI) would be pretty much devoid of these crypticisms, even if the transition to patent nonsense was still a goal (same joke, just better told).

In calling both works "a joke" I'm not attempting to deride or dismiss them in any way, which is why I think the link to Japanese style Buddhism tends to work, in that the Zen koan is likewise a relic or spin-off from trying to say the unsayable i.e. trying to point to the inside of Plato's Cave (as if it were just another concept, with convex and concave features).

In Fuller's philo, we're connected by this Void to his ongoing definings within an eternally aconceptual nonsimultaneous and only partially-overlapping scenarios Universe (or call it a centers network, with local spacetime coordinates in the eye of the beholder).

You don't get to take the world's snap shot and have it remain faithful to the original for long, not even with a beautiful logic. We have to keep working at it, ever refining and polishing our communications to better fit them within the backdrop of our present day (or private sky).