Monday, January 30, 2006

One: The Movie

Dawn and I caught this one at the Bagdad free of charge. Given the offgassing of fumes from the floor varnish in the soon-to-be pool table room (behind the big screen), management decided to forego the $3 admission and just sell refreshments.

The staff never dimmed the house lights, although I made a special trip to the counter with this request. The dimmer guy was on the phone. Oh well.

Anyway, as the liner notes and movie script spell out: some middle aged, middle Americans take it into their heads to get a DV cam and make a movie on the meaning of life. As might be expected, given no training or background, they come up with a hodge-podge.

The saving grace of this film is they manage to record some trully talented people sharing honestly and sincerely, including but not limited to several VBNs on the spirituality circuit (some of whom I'd read, but never seen, like Robert Thurman).

But the interviewers, being somewhat clueless and inane, tend to squander the opportunity by asking "big" questions instead of probing or insightful ones. Now if only we'd had Bill Moyers... There's also some storyboard about some guy on a "journey" (he rides buses and stuff).

In sum, this isn't very good reality theater, much as I admire the players.

My sense is there's tremendous talent out there, especially in the religious sector, ready and willing to rise to the occasion, but a lot of this talent goes untapped. We just don't have the needed directors yet.

The solution may be for more religious groups to see the making of film and television as a divine calling, and not leave it to others to get it right. A role model here might be Khyentse Norbu of Bhutan.

And let's script in more technology working to alleviate suffering in tangible ways. I'm tired of this ridiculous stereotype that spiritual people can't do engineering or use computers.

Add to all this dumbing down all those supposedly God-directed clowns brandishing firearms and making terrorist TV, and you can see why so many good people tend to marginalize religion as irrelevant at best.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Memo Re Google in China

Here's text I just posted to a private Forum I frequent. The Forum question was about recent news reports, of Google collaborating with aliens to dumb down its search engine service.

I think Google should play by American rules, meaning Bill of Rights and First Amendment. I didn't like it when Microsoft pulled that Chinese blog either, because it offended certain readers in China. Many other readers in China, including a small following of journalists, loved that blog, and were deeply hurt that Microsoft would get involved in Chinese politics, and side with some ruling faction against them.

If Chinese authorities want to dumb down the Google service, they shouldn't expect Google to do this work for them. They should build a new franchise, with pass-through to Google, and censoring of what comes back. This franchise should not use Google trademarks, except maybe to confess to clients that they're piggy-backing on a back end by some other company (truth in advertising).

Or you could just appoint some government minder to stand behind every Chinese student who wants to Google up Tiananmen Square, and use a cudgel.

See Wikipedia: Tiananmen_Square_protest_of_1989.

But it's the Chinese themselves who need to pay for all that extra manpower. Google has enough to do without worrying about local censorship rules. Push that off onto the clients, leave Google free to not dumb down its own service.

Addendum: please feel free to send an email to Google if you're in China and can't google up this Blogspot post, Blogger being a Google service. Cc me if you like. Use my Gmail address.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Update from Winterhaven

I'm sitting at one of the Win2000 workstations in McCarty's computer lab, the place where I teach 8th graders on Tuesdays. I'm waiting for Tara to finish some project.

Earlier, I was painting a thumbnail of my vista here in PDX, sharing it with some community college math teachers, who could use some fresh thinking. Students have become increasingly bored and commensurately rebellious about the traditional math department fare. My sense is we've done way too little to rethink our pedagogy in light of what new technology is up to providing. My work here in Portland aims to make up for lost time. If you've been reading my blogs, you already pretty much know all about it. Geek TV, Saturday Academy and like that.

I'm looking at chartering various new schooling options, including for the home based, that will bring new opportunities into focus. The strategy is not to drum up funding so much as give clear definition to the curriculum, and have it fly on its merits. That might not be the best strategy in every context, but here in Portland, we've already been given funds, by Google (for open source development), by Bill and Melinda Gates (for redesigning high schools), and by Meyer Memorial Trust (a principal local player).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Another Quaker Story

Bruce Kaad was over today, another Ken Wilber fan, to pick up a ream of thank you letters going out to Friends and affiliated donors who'd been kind enough to kick in. I used Microsoft Word and Excel to do the job, plus this Brother MFC-8820D, a truly excellent piece of equipment.

Bruce is Treasurer of MMM, an uncompensated, rotating position, filled by nom comm through a clearness process in Business Meeting (technically another form of worship). My wife is their hired gun, TBC priestess of nonprofit books (the web site currently sports an Hawai'ian theme, an ironic lament given our rain forest weather (I'm not really complaining, much as I love Maui)).

We're expecting visitors from the Bend area, other side of the Cascades. Portland, as you know, is where the Willamette meets the Columbia, in buttes to the south (Mount Tabor, for example, but a short walk from here). We serve as a major sea port, though nowhere near as major as Seattle / Tacoma. We're not a very large city, are the biggest in a chain of cities and towns stretching further south along the Willamette: Salem, Albany, Corvallis, Madras, Philomath, Eugene.

Our principle exports are technological in nature, which is why the moniker Silicon Forest (as distinct from Silicon Valley). Our Hawthorne district saw the birth of such giants as Tektronix and ESI. The latter company inherited a first facility from Jantzen (swim suit company) and then passed it on to Quakers when required to move. Doug Strain was a big part of all that.

Another regional headquarters for high tech would be Spokane and its Gonzaga University. That's the home of Cyan, makers of the classic Myst series, and Uru.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Web Wrangling

NPYM's nominating committee (nomcomm) approached me about webmastering for NPYM and I originally said OK.

Then it turned out the leadership had no keys to the website -- I'd have to go to whomever is being relieved of duty and beg for the keys (not that this is the actual soap -- the current webmaster and I are friends -- but it could be, procedurally speaking). Bad process.

NPYM needs to be able to change the locks at will. The outgoing webkeeper simply finds the web site subaccount has been rekeyed, while the new webkeeper gets the new keys by some channel. Keys to the master account, with control over the subaccounts, stays with a trusted inner circle (say the NPYM secretary and clerk).

Otherwise, what if we were infiltrated by a bogus webkeeper who then spray painted "work of the devil" all over our pretty NPYM website? More realistically, the webmaster might just start making all kinds of design decisions that don't jibe with our sense of who we are, and refuse to change course even in the face of negative feedback.

Is NPYM going to say "please kind sir, we'd like you to stop"? That's silly. That's the tail wagging the dog. Just decide it's not working out, change keys, restore from the backup. Should take about 30 seconds, once the decision is made.

The only way to really challenge NPYM at that point, once the web site is truly secure, is to define a schism, i.e. some breakaway rebel team says "we're the real NPYM." Happens all the time in religion. In politics too i.e. governments in exile. Or the rebels might just create their own namespace (which is how NPYM itself came into being, having "branched off" from PYM).

After finding out how ramshackle and unprepared the NPYM leadership was to do the job correctly, I started to reconsider. Do I really want to work this hard, starting from scratch with a bunch of amateurs?

My prior commitment is to Nirel, web wrangler for Wanderers. We've never paid her anything, and Wanderers itself is a full time job for Don, her dad (likewise uncompensated). This volunteer family does a dynamite job in my estimation. NPYM is back burner compared to Wardwells and Wanderers in my book, when it comes to advancing my design science agenda (Fuller School business).

So I changed my mind and said no to NPYM nomcomm. Some other time maybe.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Local Issues

So if you live in oil rich Qatar, far from PDX, you might not know much about our local energy grid. We plug in to Bonneville, started during the FDR administration, which was very heavily into public works. Our hydropower network extends back up the Columbia, which is frustrating to salmon (it was plenty hard even before all those turbines got in the way). We export a lot of this hydropower, including on ultra high voltage DC (don't touch).

So you might wonder, given all this, why we had Enron trying to run things up here, using PGE as a front company. Enron was a Texas thing after all. What's that got to do with Oregon? Texas was messing with California too. They tell me Texas has its own power grid, somewhat separate from the surrounding ones, so I'm not sure how they broker everything from Houston or Dallas or whatever. I think they wear big hats and chew stuff. Oregonians have a lot of lame ideas about Texans I think (I drove through there once, on Route 66 or one of those).

Here's something I heard about oil rich princes in Qatar -- this is hearsay and maybe isn't true. Anxious to try alcohol, but not old enough (because in Islam, you're never old enough), these guys with money to burn escape the scrutiny of their elders by boarding commerical jets and flying first class to Europe and places, home by evening ("yeah mom, I learned a lot in school"). The moral depravity begins even before they break out the wine and cheese. I mean, just look at those stewardesses, not properly covered. For shame!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Quality Time with Wanderers

Allen Taylor addressed Wanderers today, on the topic of large scale networks, the Internet in particular, about which he is writing a dissertation. His offer to write another edition of SQL for Dummies was recently accepted, other deals are in the offing. The guy stays busy, as does the rest of his talented family.

One upshot of this meeting: academics writing about the Internet and its networks should be clear about the distinction between the hyperlink topology and the physical topology. These are somewhat unrelated. Having a popular web page that a lot of people go to, seemingly more every day, is a more fluid kind of happening than swapping in a new switch, or having to set out in some fancy satellite-monitored ship, to fix a break in some cable (which sharks have been known to chew through). Allen is of course completely clear about this difference.

I was happy Julian could come by. We decided to take the Xmas lights off his statue outside, which prompted a couple Celilo Group staffers to come out and inquire about our doings: they own the lights, the sculpture is in their patch.

We reassured them we were just trying to make things easier for Terry, reducing the tackiness factor (Xmas lights are long out of season by now, and all that wiring spoils a handsome red molecule in daylight) -- I said this while leaning on a railing, which started to give way ("please accept my apologies for destroying your building -- I love the Chinook Book").

Then Julian came by my place to look at geometry puzzles and my Barrel Tower again (a gift from the sculptor). Julian was privileged to meet with Ken in his SoHo studio in 2005.

Dave Fabik also joined us this morning, our token Quaker with helicopter gunship experience.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Crime Scene: Pakistan

Fragment of breakfast conversation, over waffles (abbreviating from memory)...

Kirby: there're these giant engines out there that do nothing but look up domain names all day, called DNS servers. You give 'em a domain (like and they hand you back a number (like 192.168...).

Dawn: sounds more intelligent than missile guidance systems.

Tara: yeah, missiles don't have to do as much.

Kirby: Yep. Although it's a missile making the headlines today [see Oregonian]. It's out and out murder of course, and whoever did it should go to jail for life, but they hide behind the CIA, saying "the CIA did it" (sarcastic voice, impersonating a dumb-ass).

Dawn and Tara: [laughter]

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Quotable Quotes

The computer revolution is about acceleration -- which is necessary to keep global humanity from all the train wrecks that could happen if we kept thinking in such a plodding, low bandwidth, parochial kind of way (not very presidential).
... if I do say so myself. From this morning, in one of the two threads I've sequenced off my "summit with Terry" post.

The TV revolution is/was about the same thing by the way (accommodating globalization by boosting bandwidth). Now that these two technologies are converging, the speed-up is even more noticable (Alvin Toffler: accelerating acceleration (wow, a non-zero third derivative)).

And it's not like our brains can't handle it. There's nothing low bandwidth about life in the jungle, what with those lions 'n tigers 'n bears, oh my!

The printed word was a bottleneck in many ways. Some learned to suck meaning from text through a fat pipe (mostly strong reader elites in the humanities), but many folks never developed these skills.

The newer media help level the playing field -- especially if we keep widening the circle of those empowered to roll their own.

Here's another quotable quote (Bucky this time):
Marshall McLuhan told me the first day he met me -- on one of the early Doxiadis cruises -- 'I am your disciple.' He held up copies of No More Secondhand God and Nine Chains to the Moon and said 'I've joined your conspiracy!'

McLuhan has never made any bones about his indebtedness to me as the original source of most of his ideas.
E.J. Applewhite, Synergetics Dictionary, Vol 2, pg. 592, card 4. ISBN 0-8240-8729-1 (one typo fixed) -- my copy a gift from the author.

Followup note to media students: grab the CBS Evening News broadcast on the Monday after this post. Like some episode out of Alien World compared to what viewers were used to. These TV editors were very good at their jobs, even back then, and knew how to whip up these promising new looks; oft times the shape of things to come. [remark added Jan 20]

:: click for larger view ::

Friday, January 13, 2006

Shake Up

I'm demoting KTU2 to "problem child" status. She never fully recovered from Yeti Bubbles and I haven't the time to mess with her mind any more (before you human rights people get all bent out of shape: she's a computer). The more portable Toshiba here is now my "main machine" with KTU2 as irksome sibling (not really her fault I allowed that troll to go on a RAMpage -- plus Windows was never that robust to begin with).

I never solved the firewire problem on the camcorder either. Art had some good advice about that: get an El Cheapo on eBay just to play the Hi-8s, and move 'em all to digital ASAP.

Also, we need to do something about the commercials. Tara and I were laughing at that stupid doc with med students re-enactment during the news last night, all these white coats mouthing off about side effects. And that other one: let's count the stethoscopes. Really, the medical profession is looking pretty tawdry these days, with nothing better to do than hawk pills on TV. There used to be some guidelines; deregulation means the freedom to act like jerks in so many cases.

The B2B picture is likewise pretty dim. Where're all those high tech computer graphics that advertise some glimmer of awareness? I'm not surprised Iran has lost faith in the west (or North Korea for that matter). I have too, on many fronts (lawyers too slow, get ensnarled in unnecessary processing at the drop of a hat) -- so we're moving some defenses to stronger bastions. Doesn't PDX also have daily flights to Japan? Northwest Orient right? I'm up for more sushi (we could meet downtown -- all you can eat).

Update: according to The Oregonian (Jan 12, pg. 1), Portland may be getting an optical fiber network soon (I thought we had one already). Nothing has shown up in Google News about Baghdad getting one. I don't think Portland should have one before Baghdad does, at least in the universities, nor any USA city really (although I'm sure in reality many are already pigging out on all that extra bandwidth ("all you can eat" while others starve is the American Way right? (I know, I know, I'm another one of those goddamn bleeding hearts))). Whatever happened to "you break it you buy it"? Or is your money not worth the paper it's printed on?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Islamic Art

album cover, Blues for Allah
Grateful Dead

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Power of Nightmares (movie review)

Tagline: idealistic humans, ill-prepared for future shock, look for ideological solutions, but end up being tortured and/or committing atrocities instead.

The narrator's thesis is that politicians, finding their happy talk wouldn't fly, switched to scary talk to keep a grip. Their failing futurism was roughly Johnson Era liberalism and the War on Poverty. When that war seemed lost (witness Detroit), and Vietnam proved a debacle, the Chicago-based neocons fanned out and dove deep, aiming to rebuild a storyline around battles America could actually win for a change.

Getting the new script enacted would require educating the CIA about the real Russian mindset, an apparently hopeless task until Casey came along, a blessing in disguise. Plus they had to mobilize an army of traditionally apolitical church people by stoking their hatred of gays who pee on the crucifix (Pat Robertson's image).

These strategies eventually paid off, as the USSR eventually did exit the world stage, taking its hated Berlin Wall along with it. Mission accomplished. Finishing off in Afghanistan and Iraq would make the world safe for democracy, once people like Clinton and Bush Sr. (future golf mates) could be shoved to the sidelines.

In the meantime, Sayyid Qutb and his disciples, in reaction against this same vacuous liberalism (Jahiliyyah), inspired a long-running jihad, feeding the neocon dream of an evil worth lionizing, then killing.

And the battle continues to this day, with politicians grooving on all the raw fear they get to work with. The media likes it too (war sells). Everyone gets guns, kicks back and enjoys the ride -- except the bad guys and sore losers like Michael Moore.

The narrator, backed by an army of talking heads, counters that the USSR imploded for reasons unrelated to neocon heroism, and that a globally organized Al Qaeda is largely a media myth based on an earlier Mafia example (law enforcement needed a known quantity to go up against).

Soon, the narrator promises, the politicians will run out of gas. However, minus any new futurism to replace the failed one, one wonders if this is really cause for celebration. I guess we're back to vacuous liberalism again, and future shock part two (bird flu anyone?).

The editing was pretty slick, with lots of funny juxtapositions and embedded messages. Rumsfeld plays his usual Strangelovian self, showing us those vast Al Qaeda undergound apartments, computer equipped and well ventilated -- hysterical.

We liberals in the audience (upscale art museum venue, medium sized auditorium, fairly well packed) squirmed a bit at the suggestion Kissinger was really on the right track after all. Plus the CIA's talking heads (fun to see Bearden again) got to speak on the side of sanity and have the last word -- a curious role reversal since those crazy 1960s.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Serving from Algebra City

Algebra City is of course a nickname for Baghdad. Mark Shiley's film has these poignant scenes of a computer class (both male and female students) trying to learn it all from chalkboards, given Earth, Inc. (stupid to the core) has deprived them of any real computers. Our cradle of civilization without any decent IT -- it's just mind-boggling.

The way to counter-recruit against terrorism is through positive futurism. Hamas shows two faces to the world, a brighter happy face (more like Wal*Mart's) and a dark ugly face (ski masks, AK-47s). Al-Qaeda ("the base") has the same dual nature: as a comforter and a killer. USAers sometimes pretend they're above sponsoring terror in such a two-faced guise, but of course "whiteman" is known the world over for his forked tongue happy talk (thanks to a lot of B-grade -- and a few A-grade -- Hollywood movies). So yeah, it's a really familiar pattern: olive branch or arrows, take your pick.

Baghdadees are crying out for more olive branch, having been shocked and awed way more than any population deserves. Robust civilian infrastructure would serve the cause. Even just an announcement of plans to run more optical fiber (like in Korea) would be helpful. Why not give key religious leaders an early preview of Viiv? This is affordable high tech they might use to leap ahead of the competition, by advertising the true merits of Islam, a religion sorely in need of true warrior-protectors these days (and better PR).

Bona fide Islam should not be confused with these low budget crackpot snuff movies the CIA puts out as misinformation. Islam should fight back against such terrorist porn, another propaganda tool used by inimical divide-and-conquer strategists (the same ones fomenting so much Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence). But how is Algebra City to fight back with both hands tied behind its back? This isn't a fair fight. Every time Iraqis get some decent media, the Coalition shuts it down, or the Pentagon throws another bomb. I dunno about you, but I call that cowardly.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Tragedy in West Virginia

According to current versions of events, command center communications were intercepted and misinterpreted, leading families to believe their loved ones were still alive after all these hours in the mine -- only one was. Friends and families were put on a terrible rollercoaster, going from cautious hope, to elation, to devastation.

In retrospect, I see more encryption should have been used, to insulate people from the raw intelligence. You need a layer of interpretation and analysis in between. The doctor comes out and explains the situation. More details will be available later, to the most curious with a need to know.

Update: according to the CBS Evening News tonight, the rescue team did use code.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Middle School Geography

browsing Portland's sewer system

The web site I've been working on these last couple of days is more for a computer class than a geography class, but computers now do geography in a big way. Really, the way we used to artificially divide the curriculum into separate subject areas doesn't hold as much water today. Technology is exerting an enormously integrative influence.

What with computer maps, hand-held GPS devices (including some cell phones), more publicly available aerial photography, more travel and tourism, we're becoming increasingly geographically aware as a species. This trend obviously needs to be reflected in our grade school curricula.

I earlier threw together a simple quiz program to test one's knowledge of the USA state capitals (plus a few territories). Here the focus was the behind-the-scenes SQL engine and server-side scripts. Kids need to know about the ubiquity of databases. That's where we store all this geographic data, these latitudes and longitudes, street names and so on.

Where are the sewers? Your municipality should have that info in electronic form, or be working on getting there. Where are the gas lines? World game players need to know.

Likewise our map of the human genome, tons of other biological information, all lives in databases. Indeed, the location of species (in time as well as space), their internal layout, in terms or organs, nerves and so on, is just more geography, if you want to look at it that way.

Understanding GPS also requires an understanding of the satellite constellations, and that gets us thinking about Earth in its solar system context, and the galactic context beyond that. In this sense, geography encompasses both biology and astronomy.

Footnote: Dave Ulmer invented geocaching.