Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wanderers 2007.1.31

I actually missed most of Bill Sheppard's Wanderers presentation, as Tara and I were accompanying Dawn to the hospital for another scan.

Here's from #1298 in our eGroup:

Bio from Bill:
Born: Yes. Sometime in the last century.
Relatively normal K-12 schooling.
Correspondence course in electronics during senior year of high school.
US navy for 4 years as electronics technician.
BSEE U of Denver, last century.
Worked for a few companies.
Clinical engineer at OHSU.
A year and a half with Project Hope in Grenada (after our glorious invasion).
Was registered professional engineer, State of Oregon.
Nothing else notable.

I've been an admirer of Bill's minimalist factals and stereographic polyhedra, all generated from custom assembler on an old dot matrix printer, written at so low a level Windows can't handle it (but comes close -- might be an issue with video RAM), so he boots into DOS.

Then he has this instrument called Not-a-Theramin, with a very simple circuit wired to two sensors. Gordon Hoffman was by and admired the elegance of Bill's circuit's design, thought he could use it in future Saturday Academy classes.

I'll check with Bill to find out if he'd like to open source these resources and add links here accordingly.

Later, Glenn showed us some of the fine handicrafts he's done, including a handmade letter opener with a tropical wood sheath, an antler handle, and a stingray's stinger for a blade.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


So it's a First Day, Sunday in layspeak, and I'm keeping it holy by goofing off, as our Lord said we should, not working, at least one day a week (the "virtual Sunday" concept -- keeps supermarkets open 24/7/365).

So that was to mean letting Tara install Sims 2 on KTU3, so I could test Camtasia Studio against Sim University. Ah, but Disc 2 has gone missing. In scrounging for it, I found Quake 4.

Given my Quakers Play Quake bumper sticker, I should install that, and show how I suck at playing it (but I do play it, from time to time, mostly just against myself, losing often).

Some of my detractors decry the fact of avowed pacifists indulging in stylized violence of any kind, but the whole point of pacifism is to style how we might wage war nonviolently (they say that's a contradiction, I say it's the Lamb's War (Jihad)).

Nope, Quake 4 is short one disc as well. Some other time then.

I still like Jevetta Steele's rendition of Bagdad Café, from the original soundtrack, the best of all the renditions I've heard.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Python for Math Teachers

[erratum on this 3rd clip, classes and subclasses: parentheses "()" -- not curly braces "{}" -- trigger the Dog constructor __init__, as well as the __call__ method on our callable dog objects]

My blurb in the Math Forum pointing to these shorts. Where to go from here? How about Working with Stickworks? Or maybe read more about __rib__ syntax.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Presidential Races

OK, I'm glad Hillary Clinton is in the running, as that'll give us a chance to refocus on the bombing of Belgrade.

Starting a hot war in the Balkans seemed the height of reckless stupidity to me, but I'm not sure the national security team of that era takes any responsibility for letting that situation get so out of hand.

I ate at lunch at Toney Bento's today, in honor of the Kosovar Relief Effort (Mercy Corps et al, likewise on the front line in Beirut).

With deepest thanks... Mercy Corps

Almost as reckless as another hot war in the Middle East, but I'm not sure George Bush could've stopped it, given Unconscious America, so best to put a bright face on it then. Either way, it's a referendum on war, and political dabblers therein.

And besides, I've already announced my bias against anyone with 109th Congress experience, so I'm not expecting any overtures. I'm glad to see Richardson entering the fray. Governors seem more even keeled to me. Congress has been quite "special" of late (Church Lady allusion).

I noticed the surface of Surface has this geek chic looking guy with some mutant tetrahedrons, a sign of the times. Prepare for another invasion of Beautiful People™.

issue 63

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Three Pictures of Dawn

leaving the pagoda, with tara

third window from the right

enjoying some tea

photos from today
by K. Urner
Olympus Stylus 720

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fitzcarraldo (movie review)

A fun way to watch this movie, if of a Buddhist slant, other reincarnation religion, is to see our dashing Fitzgerald as Aguirre reincarnated.

True to karmic form, he's learned a thing or two in the afterlife. For example, he's now much better with women (which isn't saying a whole lot, given where we were in Part One).

Herzog provides this outrageous director's commentary, providing this back story about how the movie had to restart when Jason Robards and/or Jack Nicholson fell ill and/or thought life was too short, and Mick Jagger (Herqueque?), though willing to forego many pleasures, had gigs to get back to.

So it was back to Klaus Kinski, always Werner's top choice, but too inclined to freak out in the Peruvian Jungle (witness Aguirre).

That scene with Fitzgerald going absolutely bats in the belfry, wanting his opera house, rivals the best of Jim Carrey, with or without a mask. And he gets one in the mix, dreams do come true, which is the happy ending... and that this movie got made, yay.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Snow Day!

:: Portlanders enjoy the snow ::
So the day after MLK day (well celebrated in these parts), Portland gets it in the face. At least Tara's in heaven (she loves Portland snows). PPS closed reluctantly, boasting "snow routes" until almost 8 AM.

Last week, we flinched (schools closed), but just got a light dusting. Parents whined, deprived of day care. Last night we put on a brave face, girding for a "dreary commute," but got this winter wonderland instead.

The rest of the country is also making up for lost time, in this Weird Winter of '06-'07.

:: Franklin High School,
Portland, Oregon ::

Monday, January 15, 2007

Intelligence Failure

I noticed on 60 Minutes last night that the president continues to feel a failure of American intelligence is what led USAers to attack Iraq, thinking to pre-empt any use of WMDs against the USA homeland.

I would think he'd be reassured to know that American intelligence was tracking the UN's progress and coming to the same conclusion as the Blix team and Scott Ritter: there were no noteworthy, ongoing WMD programs in Iraq, just some plans and intentions -- much like you'll find in any military organization.

On the other hand, various constituencies in charge of the machinery of government, had no interest in the public discovering that Iraq was defenseless. This information was apparently concealed from the military as well.

So yes, there was a failure, but only in the sense that the machinery of government had fallen into less intelligent hands. That's why Negroponte was brought in, to help address that situation (mission accomplished).

Today, I don't think we'd be that stupid, although a high level of vigilance is always required, to keep our intelligence community smoothly running on rails, not jumping the tracks.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy New Year!

:: some belated bubbly ::
The above PKL static JPEG alludes to a recent thread on Synergeo, wherein one John Brawley of Tverse has been drawing our attention to this "dunce cap" model. Notice how the cap's triangles rise a little more steeply than their square underpinnings.

The bubbles are of course an added special effect, from JASC PaintShop in this case. I've tried to capture the gist of our Synergeo discussions, in this mathcast archived at Math Forum, and from the quasi-mythical Iraqi province of Bordûm.

Replying to a poll on KOIN News at Six: I like Beervana (a play on Nirvana) even better than Beertown (or "BeerTown" in geek), but accept both/either as alternate monikers for our Rose and/or Bridge City.

Now we just need a Portland-made beer named Samsara (in Klingon?).

Dawn is doing DreamQuest tonight, at Trinity Cathedral, just like old times. She went with Carolyn dressed to the nines in an Owl Cape, handmade by Phyllis of TBC.

Bumper sticker I saw today, on some Oregonian's car:

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (movie review)

My long term readers know I don't always review movies in chronological sequence (what a silly order to go by for anything, right?), so here I'm meditating on a 1972 classic, filmed in the wilds of the Peruvian Jungle starting not far from the ancient Incan capital of Machu Picchu.

I've watched this a few times before, but not recently, and never with the interview with Werner Herzog, the German and English speaking director (maybe Incan as well?). I fell asleep listening to him, and not because I was bored, but because I'd just come from a lecture on sleep disorders at Wanderers by a Shakespeare quoting practicing psychiatrist (packed house), and I came home of two minds: to watch this movie; and to sleep, perchance to dream.

So Aguirre is this mental case who is out to conquer the region, knowing it's been done in Mexico, that the history books are full of such games of pirate treachery. He's too sly to nakedly seize power, but crowns an underling, who shows backbone, bless his heart, but eats too much. Then we have the two XXs (another XX appears later, and fails, like her husband, to hear the Word of God): the delicate princess in the sedan chair, somewhat reminiscent of Kate in Lost, in terms of situation and regal bearing, if not outward behavior, and Aguirre's daughter, gorgeously solitary in her suffering under this tyrant father, who only wants to do it for her. Very compact and psychological. Plus Mother Nature is all around.

During the sleep disorder lecture, which was about the normal sleep cycle, in contrast to all the pathologies, I was tap tapping on my laptop about this number 6174. If you take any four digit number, zeros OK, but never all four the same, and flip it to maximum and minimum permutations, i.e. 6741 and 1467 (always inverses in that way), and subtract, and keep doing it, eventually you'll end up in this "kernel" (6174). I give more details about all this in the Math Forum.

An interesting feature of this Jungle search party is how little people talk, and when they do, it's not to resolve anything, except when it's in writing and made part of the official record. Mostly they just gaze into their own souls and/or play the flute. Even the horse seems more interior, a ghost horse, than exterior.

I salute Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski (a magnificent Aguirre), for inspiring the confidance and level of participation they got from such a marvelous and intelligent cast. And speaking of movie directors, I caught the NPR interview by Terry Gross of Richard Linklater. Towards the end, Linklater is basically razzing kids who want to grow up and make movies ("the chances of that happening..."), which I imagine grated on Terry's nerves a bit (anyway, did mine), but going back I heard a caring teacher, really spurring young listeners to rise to the occasion and live their dreams.

Don't just be a spectator in this game of life, and always remember: Mother Nature is watching.

My thanks to Mike Hagmeier for reminding me about Aguirre (Fitzcarraldo reenqueued), and to Trevor Blake for steering me to the 6174 discussion, over coffee at Peet's.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Funny Story

Ever preparing to fight the last civil war, the American generals girded themselves. Katrina hit first, which didn't count, because she's Mother Nature, and Mother Nature always wins.

Back on the ground, what happened next surprised people: the West Coast declared war on the East Coast, and the latter capitulated immediately, sparing us any unsightly bloodshed.

And once again, the USA generals were caught unprepared.

The moral of this tale: war is always surprising.

Local Activism

Winterhaven parents are up in arms because the School Board plans to close it down, separating the program from the building, and then moving the program to a strategic location far away from its current one, thereby disrupting many lives, for the sake of the children.

Their idea is that if the program is such a good thing (which all claim that it is), then it deserves to be in a bigger facility, so more kids might join. The idea that the school's relatively small size might have something to do with its success, doesn't bubble up as relevant, even though that's what the students are claiming (who listens to them?).

Nor can they think in terms of spreading a successful program, rather than closing it down to reopen it elsewhere, as that would mean two Winterhavens, which'd confuse everybody. Rather, they must perform a heart transplant, and save one community by killing another.

Something you have to understand about School Board people: they're volunteers with busy lives, surrounded by paid staffers with hidden agendas. There's a lot of wheeling and dealing that goes on. I doubt parents know even the half of it.

Some Winterhaven parents were rather vocal this year, objecting when the military came around with its annual bus 'em to brainwashing "science" briefings ("wow, look at that cool jet fighter"). Most schools just get in line because they're "too poor" to offer such "science" on their own, but Winterhaven, proud of its science, was less compliant.

Could there be an element of retribution in this School Board maneuver i.e. let's show activist parents what happens when they question authority a little too loudly? I'll ask my connections in Salem if they think there's a link.

Follow-up: likely no link, but there're plenty of other reasons to want to kill Winterhaven. On the other hand, parents have gotten wise to the fact that the democratic machinery of government gives them an upper hand. There's a meeting this evening. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Nutty Gemstone

Here's the first in a three paragraph essay I posted to Math Forum yesterday:
I bank on kids having an innate desire to test the waters, since even comfortable niches keep sliding out of reach over the horizon going backwards. By which I mean: the push to grow up is relentless and not under any child's conscious control. They outgrow clothes, teddy bears, monster chess, lullaby lyrics and so on, in quick succession. Were it not for Sims and Sims 2, most teenagers would be too adult-minded to play with dolls anymore, but with 2nd Life, it's adults going back to doll play that's happening (so yes, there is play in adulthood).
In case you're wondering, no, I'm not piloting any 2nd Life avatar. However, I did spend hours in ActiveWorlds (AW) closer to that time when Bonnie and I attended the same party in Santa Cruz, hosting Gerald of Java World, of Fluidiom later, other luminaries.

Bonnie had already done, or was soon to complete [editor: review timeline], an AW High, with a library and art gallery linking into neighboring spaces.

In the educational branch (AWE), we built on the science fiction assumption that ActiveWorlds used an IVM (octet truss) for referencing constructs, and built a university, to which we invited people for seminars, a Fuller School dollhouse (cute) or SimVille, a little Buckydom.

:: heron ::
(photo by R. Sonnenfeld, NMT)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Indexing Copyrighted Works

I watched a panel discussion on satellite last night, well into 2007, regarding Google's intent to search engine the pre Internet database of print media.

Publishers feel it's their right to capitalize on copyrights they might own, perhaps owing to deals with authors, while meanwhile librarians exult in the new ways their great libraries might serve as front ends to whatever electronic stash Google in the long run manages to amass, including by data mining in Princeton's Firestone and Fine Hall libraries.

I think the trick is to see it both ways, and to recognize that authors aka authorities deserve compensation, one way or another, but exactly how they get it is what keeps changing.

Publishers too perform value added, not just through distribution, but by banking on stables of authors, assuming some risk. Universities, also publishing ventures (as academic presses) likewise assume such risks, in providing tenured and other tracks to their human resources.

Strong business models help stabilize this picture, giving authors more time to focus on exercising their best skill set, meaning less worrying about where the next publishing deal is coming from.

In the old days, Google's intended function, which is to "bring to mind" the books you might wanna look at, based on some keyword scans, was best served by living scholars. Indeed, living scholars are still Google's chief competition in that we're each proprietary search engines, able to connect things up pretty neatly, especially in some chosen field or discipline.

When it comes to quality linking and match making within a tight field, you really can't beat a real human.

Google, on the other hand, is in response to the exponential curves we've been seeing in print for quite some time now, curves made yet steeper by the Internet itself.

The need for machine indexing, ala Vannevar Bush's MEMEX, ala CERN's need for hypertext (to cohere particle physics), has never been greater, in the sense that individual human beings, capacious and intelligent though they are, don't have mastery over that scale of a database, minus these new power tools.

Google, like a multi-story crane, bulldozer, supertanker, is a result of coordination and group effort, by individual humans, to make a superhuman difference. Nor is Google the only such player, but is well representative of our need for media indexing on a gigantic scale.

And let's remember that as authors, not just as readers, we crave these new levels of access, akin to higher security clearances in the spy novels and TV shows. "So what secrets top these top secrets I'm getting?" is the perennial question.

A lot of the new stuff worth reading, watching, listening to, will have availed itself of such higher levels of access as the new indexing technologies provide, we may lip smackingly anticipate. We'll understand our history better, our selves better, is the promise of what might be characterized as a philosophical enterprise (building a new meta level).

We really need that element of brute force, those harnessed teams of big dino gigahertz and terabyte computers, to plough through such a vast acreage of electronified materials, and Google has primitive muscle of that nature (e.g. in The Dalles, Oregon), and not only Google. Several panelists expressed their belief that the USA itself would have more potential. But why see it as either/or?

Peter Suber's Open Access News (blog)