Thursday, October 28, 2010

Meetinghouse Again

Food Not Bombs came off brilliantly last week. However, this week we're decimated by illness, though with a crew of under ten, that might not be the best word choice. I'm still fighting a bronchial condition, with abdominal pain from so much coughing (more at night). I'll steer clear of the food prep except for sterile procedures. Lindsey is just as under the weather with different symptoms, so is wisely out of the picture.

Satya and Cera came by the Blue House the other evening and spoke at length about Bhutan with my mom. I made a cameo appearance after Pauling House, saying the plane was early, so I had to move quickly. I was in and out the door in about 30 seconds. The MVP in question is the chairman of Python Software foundation, in town for GOSCON.

Speaking of GOSCON, the event was the first ever Ignite for the government (.gov). O'Reilly is OK with the meme transfer, i.e. the spread of the brand from non-governmental services (NGOs etc.). The Ignite format allows for 20 autopaced slides at 15 seconds per, or is it 15 slides at 20 seconds per -- seems that should be up to the presenter?

In any case, the talks were excellent. I sat with two of the same folks I'd shared a table with at Barcamp 4, along with Rami Kassab (a presenter) and someone else from his company. Steve and I were both wearing Holden Web badges. Most the tables were occupied but were by no means packed. Small intimate conferences are a rarity in some circles, especially with so much going on between the developer community and government.

What did I come away with from these talks? Government is today seeing itself as a provisioner of data sets. That's something governments often do well: amassing data, statistics, large pools of information.

Making the presentation layer attractive, or thinking of ways to combine data sets to tell a story, is not something government should have to worry about. The developer community, the app builders, have those skills.

By providing a level playing field of data set libraries, the government fulfills its side of the social contract. Different players will come along and mine that data, sometimes for private gain, sometimes for public service, often as a combination of both (serving the public garners good will and customer loyalty to the brand).

Portland, Oregon has a fairly advance community accustomed to using data sets to create what are called civic apps. This might be iPhone and/or Droid apps. The data might be real time relevant i.e. when is the next bus set to arrive. That's a service anyone with a cell phone might avail of today (I was using it last night in fact, when talking the 14 back from downtown).

The data might be long term chronological and only changing slowly. We could say all of it is geographic at some level, defining geography rather broadly (biochemical processes within the body use energy in a time and place, so are geographic in that sense). Not surprisingly, many of those attending GOSCON have a GIS background.

I introduced Chairman Steve to Selena Dickelman, one of the chief organizers of this event. Amber Case was also present but too surrounded by discussants for me to want to break in. Later, at Kells, we met up with Deb Bryant of OSL, the lead protagonist in that Willamette Week article some weeks back. She and Nate were both primed to talk about public-private partnerships.

Nate had lots to say on the topic of EMRs (electronic medical records). Deb kindly consented to having her picture taken with the PSF totem (Naga, our mascot). Such as I've been around at the edges of GOSCON, I've been serving in the capacity of "snake wrangler", same as at Djangocon some weeks ago.

My request for a discount on school lunches was denied within just 24 hours. I probably shouldn't have reported gift income, nor does the form anywhere ask about expenses. That $500 a month for catastrophic coverage... when it comes to civic apps, I did not really see how this was a well designed one.

Lindsey's solar panel came today, for powering her battery charger and perhaps an XO-1 (experiments needed). How does one live lightly on the earth? She's very conscientious about recycling, including fabric and materials. Her boots, scavenged from a free pile, have lasted about a year with frequent patching. They're close to worn through.

Two of the cross-country bicycle guys from a few weeks back have showed up. Their buddy was hit on the road near Cocquille and had to be life flighted to Emanuel in urgent condition. They hitched back to Portland and are researching their options....

Here's Cera, gotta go.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wanderers 2010.10.20

President Obama is in town today, but it's still too early in the day to expect any new traffic patterns. Carol wanted to attend the meeting but has a full plate.

Our presenter this morning is Dr. Karl Widerquist, Visiting Associate Professor in Philosophy, from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar

This is a talk about academic political philosophers and some of the irresponsible factual claims they've made about "primitive peoples" without bothering to factor in much of the anthropological research.

A lot of their claims (e.g. "everyone is better off with private property" or "individuals appropriate; collectives interfere") tend to be no more than the superstitious projections of their day and age, a kind of post hoc justification for an ideology, minus many reality checks.

Philosophers tend to live deeply in Plato's Cave (a kind of movie theater for the mind's eye).

The myth, traceable to John Locke and contemporaries, starts with an untamed wilderness. Homesteaders and pioneers appear, thereby appropriating it (mixing labor with land).

Inheritance and trade among homesteaders develop, after which the State appears and begins imposing its will, rules, taxes etc. In a pristine state, private property precedes government -- or so goes the (unsubstantiated) theory.

Anthropologists typically classify societies into hunter-gatherer bands, autonomous villages (tribal societies), chiefdoms, early (archaic) states or civilizations.

The philosophers depict these as ancient patterns, with only states or civilizations remaining. However, one might see a campus as a semi-autonomous village (Cal Tech, Reed College). Urban areas have bands, camps or gangs. Proctor & Gamble and Unilever are chiefdoms, as is any company with a CEO, CFO, CIO, CMO etc. (C = chief).

The argument that these are archaic forms relates to what constitutes the "highest" authority, i.e. anarchic bands (with no head person giving commands) didn't have to report to a chief or be patrolled by a police. Colleges pay taxes, engage in commerce (town/gown relations).

In conventional accounts, the nation-state is nowadays considered the highest authority, with the above configurations turned into an evolutionary tale of how the state emerged, a kind of dialectical materialism.

In hunter-gatherer bands, large game is considered a common resource no matter who kills it. In an autonomous village, access to land is flexible and non-exclusionary, with households entitled to their own harvests. Every household does its own farming, including the village administrators.

Only in large chiefdoms, consisting of multiple villages, does one find people with the power to exclude others from resources. Chiefdoms introduce the idea of a chain of command with an owner at "the top".

With the evolution of states comes tyranny and slavery, kingdoms. This pattern emerges around the world. Land tends to be a gift from the central authority, perhaps in exchange for military conquest (land was deeded for deeds).

The modern concept of private property turns out to be a recent development, emerging in Europe rather late in the game (1500s). The idea of private property spreads through colonialism and through establishment by governments. The romantic libertarian notion that private property begins in the earliest primitive societies, the government coming later, is eminently debatable.

Private property as currently understood is through government. Centralized government does not represent the usurpation of pre-existing property rights in primitive societies, but is more the vehicle for the creation of private property rights as an institution, beginning with the rights of monarchs (chiefs).

Property ownership and real estate ownership are distinct concepts. Nomadic or herding societies may not stake ownership of ground by surveying and fencing (like ranchers and farmers), but will recognize ownership of wives, sheep and goats.

Chiefdoms seem a gateway to tyranny, almost universally. The Iroquois seem to be one notable exception.

The talk was not a lot about maritime trading and the subcultures aboard seagoing vessels (pirates etc.). How a given ship is organized is a variable, even where titles of captain, first mate, navigator might have conventional meanings.

During the Q&A, I brought up the Doctrine of Discovery again, which several religious traditions are threading about. There's a need to unravel some of the mysteries behind "property" and own up to a new form of calculus that doesn't bank on the supposedly inherent superiority of one people (religion, ideology) over another.

Jim Buxton brought a generous haul of chanterelle mushrooms again, a quasi-yearly even in October and a day I look forward to. He set them out in a box with bags for us to truck them away in. Given the theme of Karl's talk, I thought this most apropos and highly civilized. Jim Buxton is a great chief.

Back at the Blue House, I advocated donating a portion of my haul to Food Not Bombs tomorrow, perhaps as a garnish or ingredient (not as bulk produce). I'm not a chief chef though.

My vision is lots of Youtube cooking shows as F~B turns into a gourmet occassion, with restaurants, farmers markets and warehouses eager not only to donate ingredients, but their personnel, as what better way to market superior quality product than in these potlatch potlucks in the park.

I need to backpedal though, as if word got out about this underground gourmet "fooding", we'd be inundated with tourists wanting to take but not give. The same phenomenon is evident in the FOSS community, where "giving back" often only happens in exchange for generous self-helpings to the work of the ages.

Our mostly under-the-radar operations, through FOSS covens and Zen dens, keeps our sponsors visible among an inner circle of cognoscenti, earning good will, without the overhead of a lot of over-the-top hype, or push advertising (no Crazy Eddy commercials required -- though around here we think of Tom Peters).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The New Atlantis (movie review)

This obscure DVD, a talking head documentary interspersed with theatrical re-enactments, is Volume One in the Secret Mysteries of America's Beginnings series. The material is not anything that oughta be kept secret, if the goal is to provide a deeper understanding of past and contemporary myth-making. The content is certainly PG enough to share in an American History or Literature class, is not even TV-14.

I agree with the premise of the filmmaker that the ideologies driving the colonization of the so-called New World, by the English in particular, included these so-called occult and/or esoteric brands, the Freemasons and Rosicrucians in particular.

The screenwriters don't want to come across as mindless shills for the Masons, and so frequently cut to disapproving voices tsk tsking about "witchcraft" and "the occult" (as if Christianity didn't have its share of occult teachings).

The disgraceful kidnapping and murder of one Captain Morgan, who supposedly divulged some Masonic secrets, is re-enacted such that one could understand why the ensuing backlash took its toll on membership.

Francis Bacon is the pivotal figure throughout the narrative, cast as the successor to John Dee, a core member of the Rosicrucian school.

Dee was at first a confidant of Queen Mary (daughter of Henry VIII), but he fell out of favor (for not being Catholic enough?) and was later confined, along with Mary's sister Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth 1) for whom he became a mentor as well.

Given the Pope had declared Queen Elizabeth and the Anglicans in contempt, a secret service formed around the new Queen as a protective body, headed up by Sir Francis Walsingham.

One could see where these secret societies would have a role countering the Roman Pope, and later the King of England during the American Revolution. The formation of underground (sometimes literally) secretive societies in the face of persecution and/or prying busy-bodies is an ancient design pattern.

The Boston Tea Party, a protest against the East India Company, was organized by such Masons as Paul Revere. This is perhaps ironic in light of today's "tea party" seemingly wishing to disavow any such "occult" and/or "outlaw pirate" affiliations.

The documentary, being of recent vintage, connects a lot of contemporary dots, including the National Treasure movies (deemed too literal and materialistic), Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, and several other lesser known scholarly works. The Masonic philosopher Manly P. Hall gets a lot of attention.

The script claims John Dee is the model for Marlowe's version of Faust, Rowling's Dumbledore in Harry Potter, and even Ian Flemming's "007" (Dee's occult signature). And yes, there's a whole chapter laying out the Baconite view that Francis Bacon, Dee's protege, was a principal ghost writer behind the Shakespeare plays, not the Stratford-based actor, who provided the cover story (Mark Twain was also a Baconite in this sense).

Speaking of Shake-speare, the story about "spear shakers" Athena and Apollo as core archetypes for Bacon and his cronies -- with a tilt towards Athena -- is perfect PR for Coffee Shops Network, likewise anchored and tilted.

Sir Francis Bacon comes across as passionate about alleviating misery and contributing to collective prosperity through invention in language. He sought to improve English, based on his experience of what the French were up to. As a curriculum writer, he was doing his best to have the inevitable colonization of the New World be a positive experience yielding lasting benefits, even a paradise on Earth if possible (hence the title: New Atlantis).

I was reminded of E.J. Applewhite's Paradise Mislaid, which title suggests we might have gone astray with respect to Bacon's metaphysical program. Applewhite lived a life of the mind and was an admirer of both Bucky Fuller (with whom he collaborated) and J. D. Bernal. Does today's curriculum promote such mental aliveness, or does idiocracy prevail? Utopia or oblivion?

What may annoy some science-minded viewers of this DVD is the murky blend of experimentalism and spiritualism shared not only by these historical figures, but by some of the contemporary talking heads. Perhaps John Dee felt he could contact angelic beings, but today you need to see a shrink if they catch you thinking like that.

I'm not saying I think this is a great documentary that somehow "reveals all" (whatever that might mean -- nothing probably). The analysis of the Woodstock era North American counter-culture of the 1960s is quite superficial.

Linking Britney Spears and Madonna to the occult seems more like naked piggy-backing on popular culture, in an age when the Masonic subculture has reached a low ebb -- which is not to deny an age-old link twixt celebrity / court culture and esoteric science fiction. Indeed, a core point of the movie is people like Ben Franklin would have little choice but to frequent the eating clubs of the spoiled witless (somewhat notorious for hanky panky, especially in the projections of the puritanical), when seeking sympathy for the USA's upcoming forking off (Declaration of Independence).

In remaining tightly focused on a very few secret societies, many other factors, such as slavery and the genocidal "manifest destiny" ideologies, are overlooked or simply absorbed as footnotes to an unquestioned Anglo imperialism (somewhat Reichian to begin with, as if Atlantis were some "superpower").

Watch more documentaries then, lots more. But at least weave some of these threads into your world model as well. Keep the secret societies on your radar, if you want your analyses to remain credible. Also keep in mind there's a fine line between "secret" and "accessible only with study and practice".

Too many people forget that "intellectual property" refers to the capabilities of those who know some craft, have some skills (like computer programmers). Scribbles on paper, a few diagrams, do not in themselves constitute the transmission of the relevant metaphysics.

In other words, don't forget to "know thyself" in your efforts to know the selves of others, and choose your friends wisely.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

PPUG 2010.10.12

Python User Goup

Michelle Rowley is introducing "Thunderdome" -- Pythonistas are coming forward with lightning talks on various modules. At least the name sounds exciting. Abstract Syntax Trees... (ast).

Jim is here, one of my clients. I'm counting 30 men here with Michelle, whom I identified to Jim as our fearless leader.

ast is highly esoteric. It builds a syntax tree from Python expressions. We're looking at a module that parses PHP yet converts it to Python. Next we're learning about dis, also abstruse, from Chris McDonald. dis spits out the assembly language like byte codes for functions 'n stuff.

Earlier today I did some light exercise by climbing Mt. Tabor (that might sound like a big deal, but Mt. Tabor is a local park surrounding a dormant volcano, like a butte). The next exercise was somewhat heavier: I pulled the Food Not Bombs bike trailer from a pickup site

Adam Lowry is lecturing on the operator module, tying it back to dis.

The select module is "used for I/O multiplexing". Yikes.

Regarding our 30:1 male:female ratio, I invited a gender specialist to join me (she was at the Mercy Corps meeting), maybe give me a read just for fun.

One can't learn everything from just the one meeting of course. We could use more anthropologists and documentary movie makers in our midst (what I came to at Djangocon, surrounded by so many "pink ponies").

I'm having a lot of deja vu today, about a lot of things. We're also looking at __main__ and __builtin__.

We adjourned for beers at Bailey's, where I enjoyed Hopworks ESB quite a bit (was on the bus, so didn't mind the extra pint). I was honored the maintainer of python-gmpy was with us.

Python Geek

Friday, October 08, 2010

Casino Math

Casino Math

Tom Siegfried, editor in chief of Science News, kicked off our the 2010-2011 Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture series last night, at Portland's central Broadway venue, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, his name in lights.

Most of Tom's talk was a walk through the rise of statistics, from its inception in the world of gambling (hence my title). Cardano got the ball rolling, with Pascal and Fermat picking up the thread, then de Moivre and Adolphe Quetelet (a lesser known but one of Tom's favorite thinkers).

Quetelet was pioneering the notion of "human physics" i.e. predicting social trends and phenomena using statistical methods. Applications to molecular dynamics, stochastic analysis, was more a derivative of nascent sociological sciences than vice versa, a point often overlooked by those claiming the soft sciences are always trying to imitate the so-called hard sciences.

The arbitrary P=0.05 correlation threshold required to prove "statistical significance" has its own history, which was more spelled out in the printed program than in Tom's talk. Safe to say, a lot of studies misapply statistical reasoning, meaning drugs that shouldn't be out there are, and some that should be are not -- among other consequences. The process of aggregating studies to get a larger sample size and perhaps a more significant outcome is also regularly botched.

In general, people have a poor understanding of probability theory, which demands improbable events, flukes.

Then Tom went off the deep end in a culturally approved way, by discussing a "multi-verse" picture of branching universes. The discourse was especially interesting to those five-to-ten of us in the world who read Synergetics, as Boltzmann gets credit for "eternally regenerative Universe" ideas in Fuller's work, and here it was all about "Boltzmann brains" and their likelihood in alternative universes. I disagree that "infinite time" is an antidote to "never" i.e. I don't agree that what's "infinitely improbable" is somehow bound to occur given infinite time.

Ascribing meaning or sense to "infinitely improbable" occurrences is problematic to begin with i.e. how does one know if one is confronting such an outcome even if it does occur? If a monkey types a work by William Shakespeare (say Macbeth), why would we agree this was "random"? Perhaps the monkey was suddenly possessed by some well-versed ghost? Remote controlled by hidden grad student by means hitherto unsuspected? Who has authority to give the "true account" in this alternative world? In a multi-verse, anything would seem possible, including far-fetched explanations for incredible events. Sounds familiar doesn't it?

The entire exercise seems more like a safety valve, a licensed "letting off steam" in an otherwise pressurized system (alluding to Boltzmann again, and how his thinking is featured in Fuller's philo). Language needs to exercise its grammatical capabilities sometimes. Philosophy is a playground, largely unsupervised these days (so watch out for rusty nails, hidden pitfalls -- most your grownups are on vacation).

After the Heathman dinner of cod with eerily moving parts (some kind of garnish -- very eXistenZ), Tom answered some additional questions. He expressed a "Google is evil" point of view, i.e. here's a company dumping hard-won value added writings into the commons at no cost, undermining publishing as we know it.

No wonder science has become so much the sex slave of moneyed interests with axes to grind. There's almost no way to sustain oneself as an independent, self-respecting, objective private investigator anymore.

Science journalism is likewise under pressure to sensationalize, to hype murky findings, simply to stay in the game. The economics seem unsustainable, which makes the job difficult, sometimes discouraging.

I also entitled this journal entry "Casino Math" because of my Heuristics for Teachers on Wikieducator. Puritanical readers may have a problem with this nomenclature because of strictures against gambling, but it's true to the history of the field, as Tom's talk well illustrated. Universe has casino-like aspects regardless of what games people play, as one of the questioners pointed out, saying "Even if God does not play dice, He seems to have a serious gambling problem" (audience laughter).

I was happy Tara could join us for this event. We took the bus to and fro. She gamely ate the cod, if not the mushrooms, and shared many insightful and intelligent remarks about the talk and proceedings.

The next day, Terry phoned me at American Dream Pizza, where I was waiting (on chauffeur duty). He wanted me to accompany him in treating Tom to an intimate dinner with some PSU students interested in further discussion. Twas my distinct privilege.

We spent the evening at the McMenamins on the Park Blocks, quaffing beers, munching on snacks, and discussing the pros and cons of various philosophical positions, such as determinism versus macroscopic randomness.

Terry drove me home in his brand new Prius after leaving his distinguished guest at The Heathman.

Take Two

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Wanderers 2010.9.28

Dr. Cari Coe of Lewis & Clark College regaled us with stories on Tuesday, regarding land use planning in Vietnam. One of the ministries is hoping to protect remaining forest lands using a national park system. Local residents have land claims stretching back through time, and the national park overlay creates two levels of story.

Is the central government being successful in conserving these resources?

Deforestation is a problem all over Asia (and the world) and forest management really needs to extend to beyond a few protected areas. Creating new forest lands (a kind of terraforming) was not among the topics discussed however. This was about preserving some old ones.

Cari's research was on behalf of the Vietnamese government and some banks, maybe the World Bank among them. She speaks fluent Vietnamese and had a woman traveling companion or "minder" (also a friend) to give more authority to her visitations.

They traveled by motorcycle all around one of the nature preserves, interviewing about 103 families in three provinces. Cari had been to Vietnam before and is a motor bike enthusiast with lots of hands-on savvy when it comes to their maintenance.

The study is somewhat inconclusive as to the long range impact of these plans, but that doesn't mean her findings were not valuable. On the contrary, a detailed snapshot emerged, as nothing replaces field work and actual feedback from the villages.

Writing policy in some centralized bureaucracy gives no clue as to whether these policies are being followed and, if so, how.

Her status as an obvious outsider, a North American, helped interviewees speak more freely, was her impression, since she had no obvious affiliation with up-close participants, party to whatever rivalries or tensions.

Rice paddies and forest lands are deeded to caretakers and beneficiaries on timed leases, according to the latest model.

After 20 years, a parcel of rice land reverts to the government and the lease will need to be renewed or renegotiated. If the land is being used according to plan, it's more likely to remain with the family that works it. These agreements are registered in little booklets.

One goal of the research was to find out which families had booklets, and how they got them if so. In theory, protected park lands should not be deeded out, but given local authorities made the arrangements, forcible land reform i.e. confiscating lands from those with historic ties to the park lands, was not really in the cards.

The system is more like a "land lending library" than a system of titles and deeds on a market, with inheritance (where zoning and land use policies may also apply). Forest lands are lent out for 50 year periods.

The slides included some GIS and I wish I'd asked more about how much GIS is getting used in the ministries. I've been posting about GIS to math and Python discussion lists, most recently regarding Singapore's use of GIS /GPS and its possible applications (along with GST) to long haul trucking along the old trade routes, from Istanbul to the Stans, via Tehran.