Thursday, June 29, 2006

Summer Camp

Related reading:

[1] Recruiting
[2] Dignity Village
[3] Brainstorming on BuckyWorks
[4] Summer Camps
[5] Location Scouting
[6] 1995 Centennial in San Diego
[7] Fly's Eye Dome Raising
[8] Geodesic Treehouse Flash site

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Spaceship Earth 911

Again, a control room needn't be a panic room, and although the medical situation for many is dire, we needn't wallow in hopelessness. Taking command and control remains a live option, even if it's too late to save everyone now entented or wandering roadside, stomach empty, support nonexistent -- around Darfur for example.

So the reality TV backdrop we've got already (so no need to mock it up): a scene of misery and devestation in many parts of the globe, with complementary skillsets and resource inventories likewise scattered about. The plot, in broad outline, is: improving our ability to coordinate as a species, to feed ourselves and develop a healthy body, the body of humanity.

If that sounds like a Christian mission, that's probably not accidental. We wish to heal from sin, where sin is our error-prone nature, our need for divine guidance per whatever governing gyroscopic theology, mythology or science fiction (we have many namespaces besides the Christian ones, also doing good work (we all learn from one another, i.e. our diversity works to our advantage over the long haul)).

In the old days, the Charity Channel was mostly on backwater cable, not considered ready for prime time, because the storyline was more about "fighting for a lost cause" than about "winning the war". Viewers got demoralized when all they saw were needy people to the horizon, with a couple overworked doctors in the foreground.

Where are the logo-identified medevac helicopters and the lunar base like desert domes, complete with Red Cross rehydration clinics and HVAC utility pods?

If we had some props of that caliber, we might start getting some real advertising revenue (a bootstrapping process -- self- amplifying), and a growing cast of star performers, sometimes those same overworked doctors (like that guy Jack in Lost), but now faced with a different set of challenges. Or like Lara Logan, chief foreign correspondent for CBS News, and a recent visitor to Darfur.

And like in Lost, we'd take time out to do flash backs, except now we're filling in with real bio, like we do with soldiers sometimes, if their story is known.

Our military got a foretaste of such action in the last South Asian tsunami, and found many ways to stay relevant, including with ships and helicopters. Effectively safeguarding our desert domes from wandering marauders may require some serious ATV training in Oregon. Other sites may require perimeter checking by biodiesel motorcycle or snowmobile.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Gnu Math on Synergeo

So if you don't know about GNU: GNU is Not Unix was created by hackers who wanted free access to their tools, even as pesky administrators were moving in to own and control.

GNU went for The Hurd, using new theories about kernel design, but Linux, a classic monolithic, beat The Hurd to the punch, for a time almost eclipsing GNU in the free and open source namespace.

GNU is a source of basic programmer tools necessary for kernel and userland development: text editors, parsers, compilers -- a complete workbench. You've probably heard of emacs, extensible in LISP.

What GNU features, above all, is a command line, per Neal Stephenson's classic In the Beginning Was.... So Gnu Math means learning math at a command line, or in a shell (perhaps a more feminine way of saying it).

In the Python shell (Python, like Ruby, being a potential gnu math language), we explore ideas such as Rational Numbers, Numbers Modulo N, Polynomials, Vectors, Polygons, and Polyvertexia (polyhedra). It's a more discrete treatment, given the constraints of IEEE floating point and definitely sized registers. And that's just fine for doing synergetics, which uses discrete math anyway.

You'll have noticed "Polyvertexia" -- from Bucky in Cosmography -- and my Python module (optionally quadray based) is indeed the classic concentric hierarchy ala the two Synergetics volumes, products of the 1970s Renaissance.

The war in Southeast Asia was over, people thought a positive future was just around the corner. Then came the backlash: generations of anti-hippie took over, or seemed ostensibly to be so, and it became verbotten to really think Positive Future anymore (utopia), vs. some unending War on Terror (oblivion), which brings us up to date.

Out of this 1970s scenario also came the object oriented paradigm (OOP), in the form of SmallTalk, which Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki, helped promulgate. Ward later infiltrated the Python community (he was more than welcome), as he, like Alan Kay, understood SmallTalk to be a dead language (perhaps resurrected in Ruby, also the spawn of Perl).

Ward joined PORPIG in recent years (Portland's Python Interest Group), which is how I came to have beers with the guy (I've had some beers with Alan too).

OO usually means using dot notation, a syntax where the object comes first (the thing), followed by action verbs with arguments (what Python calls "callables"), or by the names of attributes.

In SmallTalk, these were both varieties of message, and actually all attributes were private, accessible to outer globals only through setters and getters (as the Java people say). Please correct me if I'm wrong about these details.

So in gnu math (math in the shell, and also a pun on "new math" or SMSG), we import from namespaces, such as RBF's synergetic one, and start playing with its objects, which, in the case of, would be Tetrahedron, Octahedron, RhDodecahedron, Cuboctahedron, Icosahedron and RhTriacontahedron. What did I forget? Oh yeah, Cube. They're all inter-sized the proper way, and when you rescale any instance, their area and volume attributes change accordingly (as 2nd & 3rd powerings of the linear scale factor).

The class definitions themselves are prefrequency, in the sense of non-instanced. They're like blueprints for a house. Any real instance (real house) needs to be constructed, meaning the nitty gritty details relating to persistence in time-size need to be defined (work often neglected by those working only with abstractions).

Python uses __init__ for this work, and in, the above objects by default appear according to our Fuller School tables, such that volumes = {"Tetrahedron":1, "Cube":3, "Octahedron":4} and so on (that's an expandable dictionary).

In order to read the source code for, gnubees must already understand a little about vectors, which I've developed as -- but there's no reason to just use my particular modules for such things. I'm just showcasing the general idea of gnu math and CP4E (computer programming for everybody).

Your job would be to pick a preferred langauge and do your own explorations in this geometry of thinking. Here on Synergeo, and Synergetics-L before it, that's a longstanding tradition (to pick an executable language and go with it), and lots of collaborations have happened as a result notably around the Watermans (Steve Waterman) and Elastic Interval Geometry (Gerald de Jong, Karl Erickson, Alan Ferguson, Kenneth Snelson (off list) and Russell Chu).

"Understanding about vectors" in a gnu math context of course includes writing code for them, probably in an OO language like Python. Mathematics is advertised as "an extensible type system" meaning we use the tools we already have to make new, improved ones, using the principle of synergetic advantage.

On the ground, making inroads with these ideas has been an uphill battle. People tend to hold their hands to their ears and holler "I can't hear you!" if you start up with any brand of Positive Futurism. They're all vested and geared to fight some War on Terror forever, and didn't plan to retool any time soon. The design science revolution was never on their agenda, and their presumption was the hippies were losers.

But times change, and hippies become hackers, and gnu math now percolates out and around cyberspace, through the various philosophical coffee shops and student union screening rooms. More people come to learn about the options now facing humanity. "Utopia or oblivion?" Bucky asked.

The twilight zone world power authorities seem hellbent on oblivion a lot of the time, but I think our design science brands are going to rock some boats for the better for a change. More kids will be "getting it" about our ability to succeed within a longer time horizon than the apocalyptics dare dream about.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Summer Retreat

We have a busy day lined up. McMenamins is celebrating a birthday (free cake), plus we have other cultural events in our queue. Uncle Lightfoot is swinging by in his Aztec. Plus Wanderers is happening (Rick Grote came by, and Dick Pugh).

Although stream beds are public land in Oregon, Dick has been shot at by nervous growers of curious crops, who think public lands belong to them exclusively. Dick had to shoot back. But mostly he relies on his METEOR license plate. "Not a vanity plate" he explains, "but a message to the public about why I might be in the neighborhood" (he is looking for cosmic debris, on which he is a recognized expert).

Over on Math Forum, I did more to sketch a model for how to treat public schooling. By definition, the USA's system trains its own i.e. invests in the training of future office holders, people wishing careers in public service, both civilian and military.

That doesn't mean we ignore the needs and desires of private industry. As a matter of fact, sustainable profit margins depend upon keeping our USA strong enough to foment prosperous civilian lifestyles, both at home and abroad. Weak governments sucker for tempting illusions, such as quick fixes through war.

A future president should have a route through the publicly supported infrastructure to her future desk in the Oval Office.

I also wrote about StrangeAttractors, by Design Science Toys. This was aimed at helping math educators conduct some informed debate about the tangible artifacts we might use to support children and young adults in their quest to attain mastery over the basics. In various mock battles, educators line up for and against these toys, but the toys themselves rarely get upgraded. Each new generation gets the same sorry-assed cubes and rectangular rods to play with. Whoopeedoo.

Monday, June 19, 2006

TCP/IP for Gnubees

In /etc/services on your Ubuntu box, you'll find tcp and udp both paired with standard port-numbers for protocols your kernel understands.
jennifer@edubuntu:~$ sed -n 27,35p
> < /etc/services
> | awk '{print $1 " : " $2}'
ftp-data : 20/tcp
ftp : 21/tcp
fsp : 21/udp
ssh : 22/tcp
ssh : 22/udp
telnet : 23/tcp
smtp : 25/tcp
time : 37/tcp
time : 37/udp
The more application-specific protocols, such as ftp (file transfer : 21), nntp (usenet : 119), smtp (email : 25) and www (web : 80), depend on these tcp and udp protocols to get the job done.

tcp is checked-receipt, meaning the sender is notified of every received packet.

udp doesn't want acknowledgement and is favored by gamers competing on multiuser servers, as tcp is relatively slow.

A tcp sender will helpfully stamp packets with serial numbers, in case the received order is different (and depending on routing, it may well be), plus stamp them with a TTL (time to live) so those failing to make delivery won't then become waywardly redundant and clog our arteries with a lot of negatively synergetic pseudo- information.

tcp packets are return-addressed, and so arrive with all kinds of postmarks. Part of tcp's job is to acknowledge each received packet, via small ACK packets, some of which may likewise fail to return home (no, we don't ACK the ACK packets, although initial hand-shaking is sort of that way).

The packet itself contains payload. An originating service applies a return address then passes the packet on through a next gateway (possibly a NATing router) which applies more labeling information and further forwards the payload, and so on, until the intended addressee is reached (or not, as the case may be). At this point, if at last through the gauntlet, the packet yields its payload, its mission accomplished.

DNS lets us keep the addressing alpha-friendly. For example, by pinging I learned that today a host publicly identified as is answering the call, while meanwhile returns the home page (I find that satisfyingly consistent).

Thanks to DNS, underlying IP numbers may change, even while domain names remain constant. Furthermore, IP numbers are not ultimately tied to specific hardware (identified by MAC address, with ARP providing the ethernet-to-IP coupling). When we retire a host, we needn't retire its IP number.

Some subnets are by definition local, meaning they have no unique meaning on the Internet. 192.168.x.x is one such intranet domain (.x.x marks the subnet). Per RCF 1918:
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has
reserved the following three blocks of the IP address
space for private internets: - (10/8 prefix) - (172.16/12 prefix) - (192.168/16 prefix)
The return address info, needed for acknowledging receipt, traces a sequence of public IP numbers down to some internal gateway, at which point port numbers may become more relevant, as a NATing router knows how to sort those ports to local IP number mail boxes.

Some port number like 1776, for example, might actually refer to port 80 on some box in some local "just us chickens" 192.168 village neighborhood. Such a box might serve HTTP requests without itself having a presence as a numbered host on the Internet (which is good, because we don't need to know about every Tom, Dick or Harry serving web pages, at least not in any way DNS cares about).

Historically speaking, this ability to use port numbers as a part of a return address helped us grow the Internet to a size perhaps unanticipated by some of the original designers of IPv4. They imagined us running far lower on public IP numbers by this time, towards the start of the IPv6 phase-in.

Thanks to NATing routers, we've allowed large numbers of computers to remain blissfully anonymous, out of the global IP namespace, thereby freeing more of a limited resource to focus on what's trully "inter" network traffic, more so than the local "intra" stuff of small businesses and home networks.

Yes, some companies take disproportianately selfish advantage of this public resource, with their data-intensive private intranet VPNs, hogging bandwidth. The more responsible companies pay their own way, and then some, which helps our shared global infrastructure keep pace with increasing user demands.

Recommended reading:

Practical TCP/IP by Niall Mansfield, Addison-Wesley, 2003 ISBN 0-201-75078-3 (e.g. see section 23.4 regarding port translation and one-to-one NATing).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Synergetics NC17

Synergetics does have a naked girl in it, although she goes by very briefly. That's a potential connect point for "gnuroticized mathematics" which might just mean beautiful people musing about polyhedra, beholding them or whatever -- use your imagination.

I bring this up partly because people enjoy groping around in Bucky's personal life, looking for evidence of scandal. According to Prohibition Era aesthetics, any woman having sex out of wed lock (why do you think they called it that?) is no doubt somehow benefitting financially, and so must be a prostitute by definition.

Plus people liked to be nosey (celebrities bought fame in a fish bowl), and often drew wrong conclusions based on the psychological need to project stuff (and anyway why should facts interfere with a rich fantasy life, hey?).

The free loving 60s were in rebellion against that: women should have all the freedoms men had, to avoid getting branded as whores or whatever, just because they had as much fun in bed. It seemed to work for awhile, but then attracted a lot of backlash from many corners. Karma isn't all about sex, anyway, Freudian dogmas notwithstanding.

Bucky lived through several changes in scenery in other words. Ethics around sex keep changing, plus as an early jet setter, he was coming up against alternative codes in other-worldly places. Spaceship Earth is somewhat kinky, I think you'd admit. A kind of love boat on steroids, some might call it.

The best strategy is to be a responsible adult, as wrong moves will likely come back to haunt you (or, if you're 007, get your girlfriend in trouble with bad guys). And on the other hand: your reputation is yours to risk. You, like Bucky, have that same twelve degrees of freedom.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Very few readers would bother to wander at length through the pages of Synergetics, a hard book to read, unless paid to do so.

That's why I've always figured philosophy professors might be among those to pick up the ball and run with it, if anyone. Doctors of philosophy are paid to read the hard stuff (Hegel, Kaufmann, Rorty, Quine, Popper...) and then discuss it knowledgeably.

However, given how specialized academic philosophers have become, what're the chances they'd ever have the patience for such as the following? Slim to none?
326.08 So long as humans progressively employ and develop their syntropic, energetic, metaphysical mind's capability to locally abet cosmic integrity, just so long will that metaphysical capability continue to operate in this particular local Universe's ecologically regenerative, planetary team aboard spaceship Earth. If, however, the entropic, energetically exploiting, antisynergetic, exclusively partisan profit motive -- political or financial -- continues to dominate and rule humans by force of arms, then the Earthian ecology team will become self-disqualifying for further continuance as a potentially effective local sustainer of cosmic-regeneration integrity. This is the net of what has now become metaphysically evidenced regarding the potential significance of humans aboard planet Earth. It is the nature of the contest between brain and mind. Brain is selfishly exclusive; mind is cosmically inclusive. Brain now commands the physical power to overwhelm humanity. But it is also the nature of mind’s design science capability to render all humanity physically successful, thus eliminating human preoccupation with the struggle and thereby freeing all humanity to become metaphysically preoccupied with fulfilling its cosmic-regeneration functioning.
So is this really not philosophy then?

The subtitle of the work is "explorations in the geometry of thinking" (so psychology then?), and section 251.50 provides some official hype: "[t]he integration of geometry and philosophy in a single conceptual system providing a common language and accounting for both the physical and metaphysical."

Sounds like a philosophy to me.

Those who'd worked closely with Bucky over the years knew that he'd been effective, in both hot and cold wars. The guy had a track record, which included working closely with the military. By the late 1970s, he was pointing to Synergetics as a place where he'd distilled a lot of his best thinking.

So a small clique within the intelligence community, anchored by E. J. Applewhite, continued exploring his writings for clues and views, as well as promising policy directions. Ed had been Fuller's chief collaborator on the two volumes, as chronicled in his whimsical Cosmic Fishing. He was an effective recruiter.

This Applewhite-managed "A team" operated outside the established academy for the most part, as a sort of elite counter-culture. Ed enjoyed dropping in on working scientists especially. He had business cards printed up giving "Layman" as his profession. He also helped with the relocation of the Fuller Archive from BFI to Stanford, and with the founding of SNEC, later renamed to The Synergetics Collaborative.

When I eventually joined this clique, having majored in philosophy at Princeton, I didn't cross paths with Applewhite right away, even though I was living in Georgetown in 1984, in a spare room provided by Brenda Brush (then an EEOC employee) and filled with spy novels. I even wondered at first if Ed really existed, until I ran across some article in The Futurist magazine, to which my dad had subscribed.

In one of our first meetings, Ed gifted me with his recently published Synergetics Dictionary, to help me interpret Fuller's unusual language (his vocabulary was deliberately remote -- gobbledygook some called it). That was the time my friend Matt and I were driving my sister's car from Montclair, New Jersey (she'd been in the Philosophy for Children program), to her new digs in Whittier, California. We drove the four volumes cross country.

Later, Ed and his wife June flew out to Portland to hang out for a couple of days (they stayed at the Arlington Club), which visit included a quick visit to Matt's office (he was still in the Portland Building back then). Ed was really into architecture and marveled at Portland's eclectic skyline.

Some years later, in a high-level multi-hour meeting with Jay Baldwin in San Jose at Rick Sonnenfeld's (my roommate in college, then with IBM @ Almaden), I talked about the chasm-spanning bridge I was building between Fuller's writings and Wittgenstein's later philosophy. I had a video camera that day, and got some clips of Jay talking about Tefzel, a barrel of which Rick just happened to have (good prop!).

is a case study in how words derive their spin from usage patterns, language games, more or less deliberately engineered. As a self-discipline and as a grammar (i.e. as a wittgenstein.grammar), synergetics suggests a form of life, a lifestyle, a sense of ethics and aesthetics. There's a moral dimension to Fuller's writings, even if Critical Path claims to be beyond good and evil.


We think we know what "gravity" means, but meanings really depend on the namespace don't they? Using dot notation, we could say that synergetics.gravity is not the same as physics.gravity, even if they partially overlap through Newton.

A philosopher might counter: so why not use "shmavity" then, if your "gravity" isn't the same as mine? But conceding every good word to an alien system isn't necessarily the most promising strategy for making headway in philosophy. Bucky had a greater will to power than that (250.30), as do strong writers more generally.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bomb Guantanamo?

The Pentagon is always hatching potential military operations, like some egg farm in Aliens, and as a Quaker, I'm mostly repulsed by the ugly stupidity of it all.

However, given the president's fond hope that Guantanamo be shut down, and given the enormous resistence he's encountering in the form of foot dragging ("but... but..."), I think this plan to just level the place has some appeal.

We'd get the POWs out of course, and the personnel (if some captain wants to "go down with the ship" I suppose that could be arranged).

The POWs deserve some R & R, no matter how dangerous someone thinks they may be. Any humane code of ethics, even a penal one, would demand it.

Saudis own a lot of off shore islands in North Carolina or someplace. The Brits have property. Why not something cushy for a change, complete with flat screen TV?

They could watch our USAF coordinating with the Cuban Air Force, sending Guantanamo to a richly deserved oblivion.

The only real problem with this plan: Cuba may want to keep Gauntanamo intact for tourism.

It'll be like one of those concentration camp sites in Germany, but better preseved, perhaps with some Disneyesque audio- animatronics, showing how prisoners were abused for some number of years. Like, of course they're dangerous, even if they weren't to begin with.

USAers won't be forbidden to visit Cuba by then (having thrown off their would-be tyrant masters), so there'll be lots of traffic. And we'll finally have the freedom to tell it like it was. The POWs will get their say as well, for the archives and for the viewers in the Visitors Center.

I'm thinking as a compromise we should go ahead and give the green light to the Pentagon's hawks, and bomb at least a little. Then let's preserve the balance for history and forensics, until people get tired of remembering the hell on earth some tried to establish, and our victory over their kind.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Waiting Rooms

The waiting room is another common motif in our pattern language, ostensibly not as exciting as a control room, but potentially just as suspenseful.

Waiting for test results. Waiting to see the vet.

Sarah-the-dog and I did the vet thing yesterday, thanks to Tom Head. She needed three routine shots and a blood draw, to keep her legal and healthy.

The vet felt some bulldog amidst her lineages, along with the pit, plus Sarah's mostly a lucky lab, her full name being Sarah Angel (she has little wing-shaped patches of lighter hair on each shoulder).

Later, I waited with my wife in a cushy chair next to hers, gobbling tootsie rolls by the fist full, mentally pacing. The test results were encouraging this time.

Still later, before our meal at Chang's Mongolian Grill (near Halsey and 122nd), I waited in an immediate care facility with Tara to diagnose the hot tub rash she'd acquired at the beach (it'll go away soon).

She listened to her iPod while I read an old Forbes (oral history of Netscape) and a more current Utne Reader (some scientists thought Tenzin Gyatso shouldn't get the floor at their upcoming neuropsychology meeting).

Today, I'm hoping to stay away from waiting rooms, although "expectant waiting" is actually a built in feature of Quaker faith and practice. So waiting I will be, whether in a special room for it, or just stopped at a red light.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

R & R

photo by me

I'm "camping out" at the beach, complete with hot tub, large kitchen, and wireless (hardly "roughing it").

The Oregon Coast is one of the best in the business (if being a coastline may be considered a business -- it's a big one if so).

Although technically "on vacation" from my Gnu Math projects, I couldn't resist expounding upon the importance of error handling this afternoon. Earlier, it was more about funding.

Our party: Gayle (friend), Kirby (self), Dawn (wife), Carol (mom), Tara (daughter), Brenna (Tara's friend).

Gayle is a geneology buff and, given wireless, was able to research dendritic off-shoots into the past, of our respective ancestral trees.

She traced Dawn's paternal line back four generations to Ireland, through census documents mostly. These records contradicted her dad's claim to some elite Aryan heritage, but then her dad "was a pathological liar" (or perhaps he was referring to a different dendrite).

Mom's paternal line was harder to trace, but Gayle did manage to pull up Thomas Dewey Reilley's (mom's dad's) draft registration from a database in Montana. He was born in 1898 and grew up to become a linotype operator.

Mom was born in 1929 in Chico, California. Her mom's side goes back to Goldens in New Jersey, buried in proximity to Urners it turns out (my dad's paternal line, which traces to Switzerland).

grampa Tom's draft registration, 1918

Monday, June 05, 2006

Coffee with Trevor

We haunted Division yesterday. I told the barista "fully leaded" iced coffee, while she kept asking if I wanted it decafe. I later made small talk about the surrounding artwork (very science fiction, with allusions to trigonometry).

Trevor pointed out later that this girl behind the counter was deaf. He signs for a living, currently for Portland Public. Another point of interest: "deaf" and "decaf" are alot alike and in local dialect (and perhaps elsewhere), the sign for deaf may mean "decafe please" in a coffee shop namespace, with the sign for "hearing" therefore meaning fully leaded (one can't deny the logic of it).

Trevor had a stash of new office supplies, including plastic protectors for his growing Fuller archive: reprints from big name magazines, starting with Fortune back in '46 or so, when his dreams for futuristic housing, post WWII, seemed quite believable to returning GIs. Then came WWIII (the Cold War) and more postponement of the Peace Dividend (WWIV was then enqueued).

I gushed over his collection, saying words like "syllabus" and "university" -- the usual rant. I'm like this guy in a comic book: always the same talk balloons.

Then we wandered over to Powell's on Hawthorne, where comic books were indeed my focus. My daughter has a birthday coming up. I'm so far behind in my reading. What would would Manga Synergetics look like?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Control Rooms

We don't see many intelligent control rooms on TV. The NSA tends to always show the same one, usually with some distracting red light going, like some cop car was embedded in the ceiling.

The Pentagon shows boring maps on butcher paper (the Hollywood war room is passé). CBS shows Google Earth or such like.

But where's the data? Power lines, fuel lines? Like, have those Iranian nuke plants been turned on yet? We get to see lots of scaffolding, plus we have diplomats in a tiff over enrichment (yawn), but are regional hospitals getting a more constant flow of affordable electricity yet? What's the story? If the enrichment is for power plants, then let's see that power. God knows it's needed.

That CBS segment on the CIA's harvesting of open source television broadcasts for its growing DVD archive was fun, but TV is highly redundant with non-information. Telecasters simply repeat what they learn from one another, embellishing a little.

How many independently reliable sources really fed this story? Sometimes only the producer may know, and sometimes even she doesn't. "News from nowhere" they call it -- an occupational phenomenon.

The TV maps show political boundaries, some sense of big cities, other geographic features, and that's about it.

I'd hate to think of anyone really needing to make important decisions in such control rooms. The visuals are so poor. There's barely any read-only instrumentation, let alone flight controls. Talk about flying blind!

So I guess I should take this time out and thank the World Game and its Fuller Projection, for giving early inspiration to my Global Data's corporate mission: to make lots of relevant global data freely accessible. Advertising slogan: It's your Spaceship.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Gnu Math

Of course "gnu math" is an allusion to the "new math" of the 1960s, more formally known as SMSG.

And it's an allusion to the GNU project (Stallman et al), which was about creating a Unix-like coding environment from scratch, such that geeks no longer in a privileged position within the university, could nevertheless retain access to the tools of their trade.

Engineers asserted their independence from the suits at that point: we don't need you to tell us how much we're worth, at the cost of dividing and conquering us and making us pay one another with you always in the middle. No, we'll be one big company or guild, and work for ourselves, coming up with whatever tools we need inhouse. Now go away.

Except the suits came back, having figured out how to sell open source itself as a product and business model (even the original "free" didn't always mean "inexpensive").

However, in the case of Gnu Math, we're mostly talking about how we use a shell or command line in place of a calculator to teach and learn mathematics (although we retain the calculator as a GUI motif in some contexts).

More specifically, we use cross-platform OO languages (& J?) and dot notation to tell the story of "maths as extensible type systems" (see my London Knowledge Lab talk).

Plus mathematics itself has a history of staying open source. Sure, some algorithms stay secret for awhile (RSA for example), but eventually become part of our shared heritage, once we figure out safe uses for them.

The command line provides a lot of power to its users and in the wrong hands may become a weapon in service of dubious if not outright nutty causes (the Nazis were prime consumers of IT for example).

However, in trade off, we have the potential to become vastly more competent and less tentatively bureaucratic in our self-management of human affairs. More die from malignant neglect than directly from weapons these days.

And yes, freedom is still costly sometimes.

Even as we up our skill level and invent new language games, we need to instill new forms of vigilance. Every bona fide practice comes with self-discipline and a peer group. Moral judgments become possible. Better versus worse exists.

Quality work is the surest path to lasting brand loyalty, but many times we take short cuts, because "lasting" isn't the same as "now".

Engineers improvise, don't always have the luxury of dealing in eternal truths, much as we may love our philosophy. It's an object world of trade-offs. We mutter quick prayers for guidance, then choose.

So yes, Gnu Math is also about a commitment to excellence, but with a sense of realism. Many open source projects fail, for one reason or another, and that's OK. We try stuff, abandon stuff, make false starts, and introduce new bugs amidst the old, sometimes begetting negative synergies.

Healing and repairing is as much what we're about as developing the "next big thing." A commitment to excellence involves a willingness to maintain what's old and tested, is not just about rushing ahead with what's new and untried, even if promising.

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