Saturday, August 30, 2008

Conspirators of Pleasure (movie review)

This is one of those avant-garde Czechoslovakian classics you won't get to see unless you live near one of those hard to find video places, or have superb dial-up access of the type hardly anyone has (yet). It's right up there with The Holy Mountain on the weird scale.

It won't really spoil it to say the animation is sparse, mostly live action, with each of the characters in a solipsistic pursuit of pleasure, but in ways that actually depend on, leverage, one another's complicity, i.e. they're all in this together, and it looks like hard work.

For example, one of the guys is in love with this news anchor, and the timing of their affair is apropos each of them, apparently broadcast for the world to see (in her case), but each is quasi-alone.

She's got this foot fetish involving fish fed with bread balls, which have been pre-filled with dreams by the delivery woman, who knows the guy with the chicken fixation, umbrella wings sewn in the scary lady's apartment across the hall and so on (I'm leaving out some of the key puzzle pieces, so as not to spoil it for you).

The viewer / voyeur does not stay unimplicated, i.e. if you enjoy movies like this, you'll probably fit right in, as in "welcome to Czeckoslovakia!".

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Re: Managing Emotions in the Math Classroom
Posted: Aug 27, 2008 10:36 AM

> Mathphobia is a matter of feelings. Has anyone talked
> with their math students in the classroom about their
> feelings for math and continued the discussions with
> lessons or exercises that help the students be
> realistic in their emotional response to math?

Re: Mathphobia

I agree feelings come into it, but there's also an intellectual component behind the repulsion I think we should take seriously. Lots of psychology going on, in that here's an inter-generational setting with some wisdom of the ages being transmitted, and it's kind of dull and not beautiful, how could that be? Why is geometry especially so godawful bereft of gorgeous visuals etc? Why are we so far away from the arts? Where's the stuff about music, which if you've looked into it at all, is highly mathematical, all about ratios, not talking about Mozart Effect or listening to Bach to get smart, talking about restoring some integrity to the culture, instead of feeding it out as ground beef, fast food.

Unless other teachers in other classrooms make a special point of some "phobia" then I think dwelling on this in math is merely digging a deeper hole, like how Condi put it -- gotta stop digging. Math teachers just make it worse by making student resistance into some form of mental condition. They should be looking at the content of their discipline with an eye towards radical reform i.e. the last thing on earth Haim wants us to really talk about.


PS: so what's your trick for embedding little emoticons that show up via the web interface to this archive? I've never seen that done before on this particular list (sort of makes my point no? -- a math list with no pix should be an oxymoron of sorts).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Escaping Light Pollution

Our city-bound math and/or geography students might well register skepticism as to the relevance of studying Celestia or Stellarium, both open source projects, as what's the likelihood of ever seeing the stars? In a big city, you don't see them, nor is the school system offering to bus you to anywhere that you might.

Portland Public is a little different in having a week-long Outdoor School for elementary school kids, although there's no assurance these few nights away from the city will include a stellar vista, given how clouded over this region gets, at all times of the year.

Escaping the city limits remains more a family responsibility i.e. the classroom-bound teacher assumes students will get to see real stars at some point, and not just on the concave inner surface of the OMSI planetarium.

Heading out the Gorge during summer break, checking out Multnomah Falls, the fish hatcheries and dams, Sam Hill's Maryhill and Stonehenge, Crown Point, remain popular ventures, but then one needs to stay out late enough to see the Milky Way, perhaps from a stern-wheeler in the Columbia.

The elite academies I'm envisioning would provide plenty of stargazing opportunities, because situated sufficiently far from Greater Portland to make that feasible. I call them "elite" because of the opportunities they offer, thanks to their innovative design, committed staff, and students motivated to share generously with peers.

Portland's open source philosophy both informs and sustains our curriculum on many levels, such that surrounding communities benefit, and participate in keeping a given school localized and steeped in regional lore, much of it tracing back to times before Lewis & Clark or the Oregon Trail, into the dim reaches of geological time. Affiliations with tribal councils and interpretive museums will suggest plenty of work-study and skill building scenarios, sometimes involving canoes.

The Dalles area is a candidate location, as are high desert locations closer to Bend. Making a resort ranch work economically, by turning it into a part time school or training center (or "boot camp" if you will), is not just my idea. Those horses need some interesting work, trails to follow and such (means crews, people wanting to tend horses).

Those public charters and/or private academies wishing to federate might share data in common. My latest set of schemas for serving up Polyhedra include a Vectors table with points of interest A-Z. Rhombic dodecahedra anyone?

Learning the SQL needed to create, populate, and selectively withdraw from such data banks would be a mostly indoors activity, although consulting said info through web services would routinely occur in the field, sometimes through special hand-held devices, connected by wifi back to the basement rack space.

Spatial geometry and vectors lead us to field work in many disciplines, including civilian rocketry, as we map our terrain, take inventory of flora and fauna, monitor atmospheric conditions and so on. Students gain a first person appreciation for the real physical forces involved, don't just squeak by with white board abstractions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sustainability Guy

Jeffry Goebel regaled us with three stories in chronological sequence, from his impressive consulting career:
  • turning a dying resort ranch in Hawaii into a profitable enterprise, solving labor disputes;
  • working with the Confederated Tribes of Colville on implementing a shared holistic goal;
  • improving crop yields by 78% in a part of Mali, West Africa, without using expensive chemical fertilizers, also helping end a pattern of violent conflict
The theme in each case was sustainability. Jeff has a strong sense of energy-based economics, understands agriculture as packaging energy, getting market conversion to cover production costs and then some.

He came prepared with hand-outs and 3x5 cards, as he had some questions for us, wanted answers in writing.

One question he asked was what we thought about his presentation and what we learned from it. Wanderers were both admiring and somewhat frustrated in not having a bigger window, more insights into his techniques.

I could see right away he's good at taking fear out of the equations. He makes it easy for people to identify and unify around a holistic goal, then work as a team, overcoming self-limiting beliefs in many cases.

Keith asked if he used the same vocabulary with each group (good question). No, like the tribal groups translated their goal-making process into their own favorite symbols. Recovering lost heritage was at the core of their plan, as culture itself is what they strove to sustain.

Like many management theorists and practitioners I've met, Jeff has his mix of metaphysical diagrams, a logical structure, ways of mirroring collaborative processes. I was reminded of some of the eXtreme Programming (XP) and Alternatives to Violence (AVP) trainings I've attended.

You might think one could just bottle and sell the theory part, and more scenarios would become sustainable as a result, as tools for effective collaboration spread outward.

However a lot of the results stem from experience and integrity, less easily bottled, the courage to teach 1000 head of cattle to respond to a whistle, surrounded by skeptical cowboys wondering what a guy in shorts, claiming to be from Dallas of all places, could ever teach them.

Another question was closer to Art Kohn's "what shall I do?" I hope we were helpful.

Good seeing Lynne again, and Milt.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Friendly Technologies

Quakers have been mulling over some of these new networking tools and asking themselves how these might open new opportunities for our spiritual practice.

The Unitarians have been thinking about this too, my thanks to a Friend for passing along this link:

A sermon preached by Galen Guengerich
All Souls Unitarian Church
New York City June 1, 2008
The distinction between traditional blogs and Twitter — between answering the question “What are you thinking?” as opposed to “What are you doing?”—has a theological dimension as well. In traditional terms, religion has usually been understood as a set of beliefs or a body of doctrine, which believers are called upon to accept as true. These beliefs are typically described in an inspired scripture and compiled into an authoritative creed. The liberal tradition in theology, initiated by Frederich Schleiermacher in the late 18th century and clarified by William James in his lectures on religion at the dawn of the 20th century, insists that religion is not mainly a set of beliefs. Rather, religion is first and foremost a way of life.

If this is true, and I believe it is, then the ultimate religious question is not “What are you thinking?” but rather “What are you doing?” If you want to know what we think is important, look at how we spend our time. If you want to know what we value, look at how we spend our money. If you want to know what we believe, look at how we live.
I recognize some of Galen's themes in Karen Armstrong's writing, when she talks about the importance of practice over simply believing stuff. I would add though, that blogs don't have to be about one's opinions, may also be a chronicle of one's doings or whatever. But he's right that bloggers tend to be opinionated, use their blogs to register these opinions (in my case, that means lots of movie reviews for example).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reviewing a Review

[ originally Message #42826 in Synergeo, dated yesterday, typos fixed, links added ]

So I'm looking back at an American Scientist, Vol 76 #1, Jan / Feb 1988, where this guy Branko Grünbaum, University of Washington, excoriates (disses) Amy Edmondson's A Fuller Explanation.

First, he doesn't like that she uses his "multi-digit designations of chapter and verse", a cheap shot at his and Applewhite's bothering to provide a convenient referencing system, common in philosophy since Wittgenstein's Tractatus and before.

But mainly he regurgitates the conventional chatter that Fuller, although "an original... inventor" (token butt kissing) is devoting the later part of his life to "pretentious pop philosophy devoid of any basis or merit". Ahhh, a verdict so soon...

So of course he can't abide Amy's attempt to use the currency of his inner circle, the Birkhäuser name, the academic claptrap of his smug professoriate. He takes the publisher to task, and the editor. Tsk.

The logical fallacy here is begging the question -- of whether Fuller was doing legitimate philosophy with this particular anti-Bucky team rushing to premature judgment, quickly closing the door on further study in academia once he was safely dead and gone.

That plan hasn't worked out though, as Fuller had some real and lasting contributions to make (duh). In retrospect, one might conclude Amy stretched too heroically to make a bridge to a dying culture, but one can't blame her for at least giving it a college try. I admire her gumption.

Grünbaum is right about the triakis icosahedron though, better surface to volume ratio than icosa, because closer to spherical. And yes, we keep doing everything we were doing around spheres, just note that we're happy enough with the physical ones, don't need the "perfect" abstractions really i.e. "approximate" is more our style (copying nature's perfection, not imaginary perfection -- JB and I debated this for quite awhile I recall (the meaning of "perfection", not required we all agree)).


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Mathcasting

colliding A & B modules

prepare to be surprised

Note: it's not all that clear what A & B modules are from these videos, but they're sorta fun nonetheless. Remember, practically no one was talking about A & B modules back then. -- Kirby

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back to Basics

I was relieved to hear Danica McKellar, one of our TV-literate "gnu generation" of mathematician, inveighing against the misuse of prosthetic calculating devices in the early grades. The equivalent in computer world is jumping right to a drag and drop development environment without knowing anything about what's happening under the hood, be that SQL, HTML or Visual Basic.

Know-nothing grads of such "house of cards" curricula then get jobs as "programmers" with most employers none the wiser -- until real change happens. Without mastery of the basics, one becomes overly dependent on out-sourced IQ.

This idea of "the future" as some place where people just sit back and push buttons, leaving "real thinking" to nebulous others (high priests?), was all premised on the bankrupt Artificial Intelligence program (remember HAL?). In actual fact, we need thinkers, not robots, and not helpless dweebs who can't multiply their way out of a paper bag.

Of course knowing the times tables eventually becomes second nature, just more reflexes at the end of the day. But the point is you've learned to train your own body and mind (good precedent!), like an athlete does, through hard work and perseverance. Indeed, mental arithmetic could be taught as a subcategory of physical education, a twitch game, using interesting streaming media for feedback -- there's a lot of that already.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Dark Knight (movie review)

I finally got around to seeing this, the Winterhaven list (I'm still lingering) somewhat taken aback by the violence, probably remembering the Batman of our youth, the quasi-sitcom on TV ("They may be drinkers, Robin, but they're still human beings"). A slogan for this version: "this Joker isn't joking".

So a lot of our gangster land stereotypes like "Chicago crime boss" inherit from Prohibition Era in the USA, a kind of Taliban period of Puritanical Sharia, which didn't work. Also, consenting adults couldn't date with an eye towards having sex, without one or the other (or both) being considered "up to something" of a criminal nature. Go read your psycho-history if you don't believe me.

In this more updated Gotham, it's not quite clear what the ferry boat people are really up to, sin wise. They're supposed to fail some Joker test of depravity, but don't let me spoil it for you. What we do know is batman is sinning. He lusts for that girl (who wouldn't?) and he's indulging in like superhero spy powers, worse than the NSA when it comes to listening in. The guy has clearly gone over to the dark side. We explore that in the subplot.

Anyway, my point being, it'd be difficult to recast this for Amsterdam or some of those Asian cities, which just don't share the same history. Remember that batman is an expat in some ways, and so probably confused by his role, which is why he needs that British imperial type (whom I like) to keep reminding him who he is.

I'm relieved Morgan Freeman is reporting doing well after that car crash and treatment in the Elvis Presley Hospital. I like him too.

By the way, my Google gmail is going crazy with the spam this morning. Where's the Joker when you need him?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Physics Chatter

This abridged version is from the same Physics eGroup I discussed Entropy with awhile back, added some hyperlinks...

Re Rhode Island, maybe send some people to Portland, Oregon for a lesson in bicycle management and integration, as we have both an activist cycling community and high marks from urban planners on how it's done (though European cities like Gothenberg are still way ahead in some ways).

That being said, the newbie problem is real, saw some 50 year old guy, obviously inexperienced, making really stupid maneuvers, tempted to say something but was in a moving motor vehicle.

Probably my lifestyle is more prototypical of what energy savings might mean, in that my office is equipped with VPN type equipment, even coffee shops (some within walking distance) are fair game for secure access to work sites, though I tend to draw the line in only working with people I'm sure to meet in the flesh from time to time, though I've bent that rule on occasion (especially in open source work, you don't have the luxury).

It's a bizarre aspect of the current lifestyle that we slosh this huge stream of metal back and forth between empty-at-night offices (good plumbing, suitable for condos in many cases [1]), and empty-during-the-day perfectly good homes (with both parents working that's been the trend, hence that Discovery Channel show about suburban thieving).

Cities that get the telecommuting thing down are likely destined to prosper, and no, I'm not saying every job is amenable to such a pattern, nor do telecommuters only work from home (certainly I don't e.g. I teach Python programming in university classrooms for example, for, have a projector, access to YouTube etc.).[2]

Kirby Urner

[1] this inane sloshing of metal, otherwise known as commuting, is an externalized cost most businesses don't make up for in anything they do i.e. the net cost to society would be less if we paid cube farmers to stay home and learn enough to get a more skilled job (merely "using a computer" doesn't count as "skilled" in this day and age, all is relative). Also, in saying suitable for condos, I'm not saying this is a new mortgage game, more like college dorms in most cases, i.e. your company supplies room and meal tickets, for the time you're visiting Tokyo or whatever, few strings, more like timeshare in Orlando (fewer strings though).

[2] For those curious about math education reform in the computer age, I recommend my Chicago Talk on ShowMeDo, overlaps with what many in physics are doing, including in First Person Physics (an approach I helped innovate, more in my journals).

-----Original Message-----
From: Education about physics-related social topics
Sent: Thursday, August 07, 2008 11:51 AM
Subject: Re: quick fix energy solutions

I had to laugh a little when I read this. I don't know how other areas are doing, but in Rhode Island the major commuting bus service, RIPTA, just closed many routes because of the increased cost of fuel. One would think that this would be the ideal time to expand routes.

We also have a problem with all the newbies riding bicycles. The bike paths along the sides of existing streets require cyclists to stop at intersections to allow cars to make right hand turns. The cyclists refuse to do this - many have been quoted as saying that there are no stop signs at each intersection on the main streets so they are not obligated to stop. There is a proposal before our city council to erect 4 way or all way stop signs at every intersection involving streets having a bike path. That should really help traffic flow and reduce fuel consumption - not!



Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wanderers 2008.8.5

Keith is building up to explaining his Lofstrom Launch Loop (not a space elevator), a science fiction idea that could drive some interesting techie toons.

He's doing a good job of discussing the work involved in achieving orbit with traditional rockets, like that vertical stretch of a space shuttle's venture is but a preamble, after which she turns 90 degrees and continues accelerating like crazy to reach orbital speed... Instructive slides.

Those ill-fated fuel tanks with O-rings wouldn't have needed O-rings if they hadn't been built in sections in order to fit through Rocky Mountain train tunnels, given where Congress insisted on building them. Didn't know that before.

He calls our Spaceship Earth "the first space colony" which seems a good way of looking at it, although "colony" implies we're really aliens in disguise. We do a good job of fooling ourselves in that case.

Rocket science is pretty difficult by the way, as fuel makes things heavy, requiring more fuel, which gets spent, lightening the load. So how much do you need?

Keith speculates Earth may lose its Moon at some point, given how angular momentum keeps transferring to it, rotation here slowing. Dick Pugh is in the audience, corroborating some of the astronomy. David Feinstein is asking good questions.

The launch loop uses magnetic induction to push solid iron at high enough speeds (about 14 km / sec) to dynamically support a giant monorail that soars 80 km out into space, follows the curvature of the earth, and comes back in, with turnarounds of 15 km radius (hence "loop").

Payloads get strapped on maglev sleds at West Station, at the end of a 10% deflection, with different models for freight or people. These small truck sized sleds, likely rocket equipped to fine tune the orbit, accelerate with up to 3 gees of force along the monorail, achieving orbital velocities. They do this by loosely coupling with the monorail's induction field in some way, lots of experiments still needed.

The return rail runs parallel, lasers pointing between them, tracking distances with high precision. This feedback, along with information from other sensors, goes to the controlling electronics required to keep the loop stable (various differential equations apply).

That's a whopping 130,000 tons of force needing to be deflected around each of the underwater turnarounds.

The sheathed acceleration track is quite small in diameter (mere centimeters), is strapped to floats in the ocean along the equator.

Keith says we've had suitable materials since the 1970s (e.g. Xylon for anchor straps), although the choices are even better today.

People might experiment with this to get more satellites doing low power cellular, plus there are sports opportunities. He's got some numbers for the bean counters to crunch on. Screenwriters?

Monday, August 04, 2008

A Quaker Rant

Something I posted to a Quaker list recently, hyperlinks embedded...

At Multnomah Monthly Meeting during last semester's program, capped with a field trip to a doctors without borders type outfit (helps anyone, doesn't matter about religion), we have some very tech-savvy young boys, and what they like to talk about is the Internet.

In particular, they're interested in how the public school they attend prevents access to YouTube, which is already sanitized of obscene material per community standards, and besides, there's no guarantee that a library is entirely "purged" and/or "censored" w/r to every allusion or pop culture icon.

A public high school should at the very least keep pace with the movie rating system, in terms of allowing age-related access, as that's one of our freedoms in a free society, to browse our own heritage. No underground comix allowed even in the library, and yet you're old enough to be recruited? Protest to your school board, consider a boycott.

"By federal law (10 U.S.C., 505), the minimum age for enlistment in the United States Military is 17 (with parental consent)..."

A touchstone of the civil liberties movement should be to decry this dumbing down, a return to the days of banned books, with entire domains blocked without reason, other than for the convenience of those faculty who believe controlling the media is their state mandated prerogative (by whose authority again?) i.e. surrender important rights as Americans, ye who enter these gates. Not a good lesson, right off the bat.

Quakers have usually championed underdogs in the face of unethical oppression and in this case the underdog is our own youth subculture, struggling to make a way for itself.

I think we owe it to our youth to not sit idly by as their civil liberties erode.

At least there should be lots of debate, to give them some reassurance we're at least paying attention, are aware of the issue ("we adults" that is, supposedly in charge, at least to some degree).

Kirby Urner
Bridge City Friends
Portland, Oregon

Re: our most excellent adventure (field trip to Medical Teams International): (takes awhile to load Splashcast album, please be patient)