Monday, June 30, 2008

Get Smart (movie review)

This was a pure nostalgia trip in some ways, back to 1960s motifs and a battle with a mythical Moscow and environs (talk about eye candy!).

The allusions are contemporary though, given the president is so into Goodnight Moon, meaning the vice president "knows our business" as Tenet avers, which is why he gets in on those knock-down drag out meetings with Alan Arkin.

Bill Murray (agent 13) plays a "Man X" type, always available for those clandestine meetings on the Mall, with DC also looking resplendently gorgeous in the limelight.

Although Control is not and never has been the CIA, is one of those sixteen or so other agencies under the DNI (not cast) there's still that trademarked DO versus DI tension (ops versus analysis), with Maxwell hoping to make the grade and join the fun in the field, with agents 23 and 99 (a former couple) serving as role models. His background in "chatter" makes him an asset to the team.

Yes, the plot takes predictable turns, but the point of a movie like this is to follow formulae, to remind us of templates, even archetypes on occasion.

I found myself mildly amused, plus Kim & Jimmy were enormously generous, sharing popcorn, Red Vines, even a mini pizza! Plus Tara gave me some of her pretzel. Lots of calories! Not to worry though: I'm still getting smarter.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Surfing the News


Thursday, June 26, 2008


excerpt from a censored reply
I've been debating with math teachers whether it's OK to describe al-Khwarizmi, the man for whom our word "algorithm" is derived, as "Iraqi" in some of our lesson plans.

Of course the modern state of Iraq didn't exist in the 800s, but on the other hand you'll find people referring to Fibonacci (1170 - 1250) who studied al-Khwarizmi's writings (among others), as "Italian" whereas Italy-the-nation didn't come into being, as the Kingdom of Italy, until sometime in the mid 1800s.

My opponents in this debate prefer saying al-Khwarizmi was "Persian", more closely associated with the modern state of Iran in their minds, regardless of the fact that his career as a mathematician took him to Baghdad, where he joined the House of Wisdom. He may even have been born near Baghdad, the record is somewhat in dispute.

Be that as it may, I think if we look at nation-states like zip code areas, tiling most land masses, then it makes sense to use adjectives like "Iraqi", "Italian", "French" etc. as a convenience, to indicate a specific geographic region, but with the qualifier that we're not necessarily talking about citizenship.

Citizenship isn't about where you live in any case, as people routinely hold citizenship in one country while living in another. Obviously al-Khwarizmi didn't have an Iraqi passport, but then neither did Fibonacci have an Italian passport.

I'd enjoy this debate more if my side weren't being censored by the moderator, but that's life on math-teach (Math Forum, Drexel University, Texas Instruments a sponsor).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Teaching without Preaching

from CBS Evening News, June 24, 2008
The curriculum discussed in the above video looks a lot more like what I got in high school, at the International School in Manila (Class of 1976).

We studied world religions quite religiously, not with an intent to recruit newbies, but so as to better understand and appreciate the world in which we live, an important aspect of education, I think many would presume.

Some of the religions we studied are no longer practiced, or may persist only in exotic niche areas.

A more informed discussion of world religions also serves as an ice breaker when it comes to philosophy, as fluency with philosophical concepts improves our ability to comprehend and communicate certain aspects of mathematics, in part by providing more context, an historical and/or anthropological dimension.

When I got to Princeton (Class of 1980), my philosophical interests took me back into the religion department, where some of the best thinking around Wittgenstein was happening (both departments shared 1879 Hall, since my day much expanded).

Sometimes it's hard to police the border between religion and psychology as well, as disciplines like zen tend to pop up on either side willy-nilly. Keeping the mind flowing and flexible, not logjammed with bogus concepts ("cruft"), is considered an important aspect of many spiritual disciplines.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Day in the Sun

:: from page 2 of 2 ::
Here's a more thoughtful review of Fuller's stellar career, posing the question whether his image might be rehabilitated, after all those "failures" and subsequent dismissal as some kind of crackpot by "peers in mathematics, cartography and other disciplines he had challenged."

I'd pose the reverse of that question: how might we rehabilitate the image of those who've been doing all this irresponsible dismissing of Fuller as "incomprehensible"? I'm not sure that's a priority right now.

The article is bold in daring to use the word "tetrahedron", generally considered too high brow a word for journalistic accounts, even in the Herald Tribune. Maybe we're actually getting somewhere in the numeracy department?

The analysis concludes that Fuller's contributions are likely to find a more appreciative and receptive crew in the 21st century, now that we're starting to catch up with the guy:
At a time when design and artistic practice is increasingly collaborative, open-ended and fluid, Fuller looks a lot less nutty, and more purposeful. So do his emphasis on concept, rather than the finished product, and his capacity to embrace failure as a learning experience and a step toward success. "You only succeed when you stop failing" was a favorite motto. "It is amazing that Bucky gets his day in the sun at the Whitney," said Cameron Sinclair. "Part-genius, part-altruistic-visionary - what's not to admire?"
My thanks to Bob McGown for the bucket below, something he scrounged for its "allusionary value". For me, it connects to that empty canister of Tefzel in my 2005 Wanderers presentation on Bucky Works, J. Baldwin yakking about pillow domes.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Happening (movie review)

A couple of curious young people talked me into this R-for-horror American Gothic, like a bedside novel (not an expensive budget buster, only good if the acting is, and the make up), then text messaged me when it got too scary (they'd hopped to a different venue) but I wasn't consulting my phone, so thanks for letting me know eventually (we caught up later), so yes, I watched it through to the end (a lot like the start, by design).

So is there anything psycho-therapeutic about the genre, let alone this specific film? Not really a fair question, as within the genre we have apples and oranges, just like in any other genre.

This one had some good advice: don't be all macho-ornery around shut-ins, other isolated folk, especially in the Northeast (but I'd say anywhere). They're alone for a reason. The silly young boys just wouldn't listen, or at least one of them didn't.

The main teaching: nature's power includes psychic storms, not just outward stuff. We sound stupid even to ourselves, trying to explain them, otherwise counter them. The science teacher did his level best to think it through though, and we admire him for trying.

The running joke in this film was trying to plug "air holes" in drafty houses, drafty vehicles -- reminiscent of people putting tape on their windows, officially crazy, but what can you do? So entirely hopeless, these counter-measures, because nature is within.

Granny's theory, about one always chasing, seemed somewhat profound, but in other ways she didn't behave like an elder. Blame the bees, blame the flowers. A lot like War of the Worlds in some ways (but not a blockbuster), also reminiscent of a more light hearted art project (a stunt) at Grand Central that time, but more horrifying (duh).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Thought

One usually hears "New Thought" with reference to a series of evolutionary events in the recent history of contemporary religions. The Unity Church network, related but different from Unitarianism, has served as an avatar of this movement.

A related meaning would be a more literal "new way of thinking" brought on by technological change. In his provocatively titled Is Google Making Us Stoopid? Nicholas Carr suggests something obvious: that the Internet is changing the way we think. We think differently. Dr. Vannevar Bush predicted as much in the 1940s (given this is Atlantic Monthly, avoiding all mention of MEMEX is part of the fun (or did I scan too quickly?)).

He calls this a "crazy quilt" and I can see why, but then so much of what we had before was maddeningly slow and plodding, formulaic. Once you've read that paragraph about clocks changing our sense of time a few times, it reduces to an ideogram.

So many paragraphs have appeared before, reworded slightly, but known segues nonetheless. We lose our taste for these displays of learning, as everyone seems to be purveying essentially the same product.

Google lets us sift for the new, to find what really is different. That takes work, and without competent search engines, we probably couldn't do all this work.

So let's enjoy these new freedoms, even as we go back to reading whole books now and then -- once the authors come up with new content worth a "slow reading" treatment.

That we endlessly recycle the same old ideas, hardly ever have new thoughts, is one of the disappointing truths that Google reveals.

I liked the Nietzsche-at-a-typewriter image, very Archy in some ways. How many monkeys would it take, to write a superman comic book, to screw in a light bulb?

Let's remember an important urban legend, a fable if you will: that sometimes designers purposely dumb it down (no kidding), precisely to keep humans' thinking abilities in check.

In building "search" into everyday thinking, adding to AI in this way, Google is helping the hardware to keep up with our very human (non-artificial) capabilities. Go Google!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Iron Man (movie review)

I understand why Stark Industries gets compared to Microsoft, with our Bill Gates type hero developing a conscience (a new heart) and going all soft and philanthropy minded, ready to target his own stuff if necessary. Steve Balmer (played by Jeff Bridges) tries to keep making war machines or, in the case of Microsoft, expensive stuff that breaks a lot.

The analogy breaks down however, as Microsoft has embraced OSS while keeping Windows itself behind a curtain of secrecy. That's just fine with the Linux community, which isn't interested in that code pile anyway, so a kind of detente was declared (see Microsoft 2.0 by Mary Jo Foley for more info). There's no longer any big battle for supremacy on that front.

Personally speaking, I probably won't become an Iron Man devotee as I prefer superheros to have real superpowers, not be Incredible wannabes. Give me a Buffy over a technogeek any day, or combine them (so more like Willow then), although maybe I'd consider batman an exception.

Note that no real Afghanis were harmed in the process of making this film, which was wisely shot entirely inside the USA, pure Hollywood.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Concept Car

Here's one from tomorrow's New York Times about Fuller's concept car, here depicted in front of his concept house (concept family at right).

Many post WWII Americans were ready for a peace dividend and fully expected something futuristic to happen, ala Buck Rogers. The magazines were full of such hype, with fewer capitalists actually taking the necessary risks. At least Fuller walked his talk.

Test driving, like test piloting, may be tricky. The car itself was absolved from blame after that crash, a highly unfortunate accident, but a godsend for business as usual types, who used the tragedy to bury the whole idea. Superficial stylistic "exterior decorating" would substitute for true innovation in so many corporate board rooms.

Keeping Bucky labeled "a failure" because so many of his prototypes only promised, didn't deliver (some delivered), helps keep those rising civilian expectations under control.

No peace dividend for the many, just an endlessly profitable war for the few, is what actually came about. And be warned: you'll be branded a failure if you seek a way out.

It's an inept maneuver, this anti-Bucky boycott but that's the American Look for ya, more about spin and hype than real smarts, more like Enron.

re Dymaxion Study Center exhibit
(June - September, 2008)

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Drive with Glenn to repair shop...

... check out Dave's new Amigo engine ...

... park downtown ...

... in old town ...

... and have lunch.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

PPUG 2008.6.10

I had to jump ship, skipping Wanderers this time, given job-related demands.

I need to get up to speed on various matters Pythonic, specifically Django, walking my own talk in some ways. is one of the largest deployed Django sites on the Internet:
We do roughly 60-90 million page views in an average month, and we have peaked at over 130 million page views [in a month] using Django. We are a very dynamic and user-centric Web site for online gamers, specifically massively multiplayer games, and are one of the largest Web sites globally for World of Warcraft. Our Web site was established in early 2005, and since late 2006 we have been expanding our reach into games beyond World of Warcraft.
More discussions with those brainy bees on Synergeo (lots about Wittgenstein) plus managed to hook up with Stallings, thanks to Consoletti's initiative.

Mom visiting offices in DC, Philadelphia.

Speaking of Wanderers, today I extended with ICANN for another two years, plus offered to relinquish my position as ISEPP technical contact per whois, give someone else a turn (twas fun while it lasted).

Terry's new server at PSU is waiting in the wings. I'm mostly focused on extra-Portland initiatives, connecting Quakers with Wanderers sometimes (Qs with Ws), just like at Pauling House HQS.

We're also taking up TurboGears this evening, wish Barton was here. Hey, maybe there's still time to crash Wanderers...

...I made it in time for Lynne's birthday cake, but missed David's robot vacuum cleaner demo (he bought it at Costco).

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Quaker Economics

When Joe and Teresina Havens moved to Portland, our meeting was quick to embrace them as celebrities in residence.

Teresina was a strong player in Buddhist circles and wanted to share her experience over a series of meetings, with Joe sitting in. Dawn and I were loyal attenders at these gatherings.

Then Joe scrounged up his courage and formed his Quaker Economics circle, his intuition being that Friends had something to offer, as a Society, to this "dismal science" (as many then called it).

Friend Kenneth Boulding had pioneered something called a systems approach, along with some others. A lot of us could see the potential, and the group grew and thrived. We hailed from a variety of backgrounds; some of us were practicing economists.

Both Teresina and Joe have passed on by this time, both dying in style, making strong statements. Their good work lives on in our meetings however, in our memories. I consider both an inspiration and thank them for helping me keep attuned to my own inner leadings.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Identity Management

Relief workers see a stream of people in need, of water, of medical attention. But community services depend on a notion of persistent identity, matching individuals with programs, and tracking progress through those programs.

Ongoing medical care depends on accurate charting, whereas academics work with transcripts and portfolios. Individuals are not just snapshots in time.

To this end, field workers have ways to assist in the establishment of medical records, using Google's CCR-based approach for example, but a strong community doesn't leave identity management only to outsiders.

Record keeping is a vital internal process, whether by word or by mouth, with the extended family a typical repository of vital information on family members. The workplace is another institution for keeping tabs. Some subcultures code personal histories into their uniforms, along with rank and/or serial number.

A strong education system gives students a sense of responsibility for their own identities, what to reveal, what to conceal, which aspects to cultivate, which to retire, all based on reality checking, feedback from one's environment, but of course also based on one's heartfelt desires, intuitions, callings and/or leadings as we Quakers sometimes say.

Speaking of Quakers, we often use journaling and/or web logging to assist with our identity management tasks, going back a few centuries. This practice is in no way limited to just Friends of course, is intrinsic to bookkeeping, to public service.

Autobiography is closely related to journaling, becomes a multimedia enterprise in some cases. Biographies, authorized or not, typically use such logs and/or journals, other self chronicling work, as raw material. Historians and cultural anthropologists study collections of biographies, and so on, helping future societies benefit from sometimes hard won experience.

We all develop habits of mind. Providing students with strong individual identity management skills is part of the work of building democratic societies, wherein semi-autonomous individuals really know what it means to mind their own business, and do so responsibly.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

XRL: Meeting Space

upper level

lower level

These were like back of a napkin type sketches from my meeting for business with Glenn Stockton today. We also walked to the hardware store on Division for a new flapper for my downstairs toilet tank, the one with the big rock in it.

Just to explain a bit, the "L.P." on the meeting room table means "Linus Pauling" as in "like the table we use at Linus Pauling house for Wanderers meetings" except I'm suggesting an elongated hexagon, symmetrical around the short axis (it's not pentagonal, or "coffin shaped"). I just like the Klingon motif.

The reception area forks to an L-shaped art gallery and/or hall of fame, or museum, with flatscreens on the wall, showing customized content. I put a spiral staircase and/or elevator in the far corner (depends on the ADA rating). We'd likely want another "W.C." on the upper floor in a next draft.

Viewing facilities for two different kinds of projection, "2D" and "3D" really add to the flavor and functionality of this mass producible facility. 2D is like the usual Hollywood style format, maybe 16:9, whereas 3D displays are still emergent.

Rear projection may be the best way to go in both cases -- there's an option to sell these parts separately. The design of the facility needn't dictate such choices, just as the same model of car might come with different transmission options (automatic versus manual -- Razz's is manual).

I didn't spend much time sketching the lower floor. There's a dumb waiter from the kitchen up to the meeting room (the Pauling House had that too, although it wasn't operational in our day), plus a larger dining area ("D.A"), a space for a server rack, which serves the gallery, projection and meeting rooms.

This is quite a small facility. Some will complain that the meeting room is windowless. Variants might address this "shortcoming". Sometimes you want a meeting area free of distractions though. The table top itself might include recessed displays, in a space easily darkened.

Glenn asked me about location and I said this was for the Great Slave Lake area, but that's just in the one particular storyboard.

As this unit provides no living quarters, there's the implication we have other free-standing units nearby. I don't get into those details here. There's also a totem pole outside (not shown).

The more spherical projection room (more like a "flight simulator" in providing a more "wrap-around" view) would likely be an omni-triangulated geodesic as seen from outside, or perhaps a hexapent.

The Hunter Art Museum in Chattanooga may have been an unconscious influence here, in terms of suggesting a shape and/or dramatic perch for our meeting facility.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Fun Center

Funtastic runs a pretty tight ship, come through quite often, this one off to Marysville next. In the tradition of "extreme" in amusement parks' evolution, we have two high tech gizmos by the Hawthorne bridge these days, right next to the pirate ships, "rides on steroids" by yesteryear's standards.

Last night was just perfect, in terms of no throngs. Whereas other days on the waterfront we've been mostly Latino, last night we were pretty Russian, especially on the two extremes.

Tara & Rose had decided on the sling shot, a reverse bungie jump in some ways, a carriage sent soaring some hundreds of feet vertically. They also road the more traditional swings, a favorite of Dawn's as well.

I gladly paid for the DVD version of the event, a wireless cam watching the "astronauts." People debating whether to try it get to watch the monitors for awhile, trying to gauge their own level of discomfort against the obvious thrill value. A little peer pressure helps in a pinch.

We missed a Central Friends event as a result of all this (Quaker youth in training), but I figure this counts on some level. No one said practicing nonviolence couldn't be thrilling.