Monday, April 30, 2007

Dish Chatter

So here's a question for you DirecTV jocks, somewhat rhetorical as I don't generally accept comments in my journal (too many iPod ads): should I initiate a trouble ticket regarding the circumstances recounted below?

So Tara clicks on 311 for America's Funniest Home Videos or whatever and gets 'searching for satellite' but no programming, though some other channels work just fine. Go to the other DirecTV box in another room, go to 311 and voila, no problem at all. And now Tara's got it too, like it just comes on. OK, go back to the other box, and now leave 311: and it's killed on Tara's in the living room, we're back to 'searching for satellite'.

Yet the behavior is unpredictable and seemingly not-weather related. Sometimes the main box seems blissfully unslaved from that other one, gets everything with no assistance and/or interference.

Whaddya say? I say it's under warranty, and I'm a new adopter locked in for a year, and I should explore my technical environment, so yes, let's initiate a trouble ticket. Also, my caller id went away, after a few days of service. I'm thinking confusion at Qwest, so I'll get a partner to check in to it during business hours.

Followup (9:15 AM, May 1):

The Qwest tech detected a cross pattern and cut me a fresh F1 to the crossbox near Hawthorne, for which I'm glad, but a deeper problem is caller id and DSL don't play well together. The workaround was to simply connect the handset on my desk to a different jack.

The DirecTV tech traced our problem to a bad connector left over from CATV days.

I was pleased by the professionalism and prompt responsiveness of both service providers.

:: qwest tech ::

Friday, April 27, 2007


I've been something of a Dennis the Menace character of late, knocking out core services in two important (at least to me) buildings: at my house and at Linus Pauling's house.

At my house, I wanted a caller-id enabled telephone on my desk, but replugged it into the second line, daisy chained with the Qwest modem. But there's no DSL on line two, so my LAN went dead. Qwest was on the scene within 48 hours, and did some other troubleshooting as well. My linebacker insurance paid off.

At the Pauling House, when hooking Jennifer to tcp/ip, I also messed with the phone jack, and apparently replugged something back in incorrectly, just like at my house. Barton notified Glenn, who was able to troubleshoot the problem when reminded of the shenanigans at my place, at the center of which I was the common element.

Rest assured I felt suitably sheepish about both errors and thank my lucky stars that Universe had the competence to compensate for them.

But I haven't even gotten to my worst error, which was to ineptly secure Naga's aquarium tank, such that she escaped her abode.

The odds of finding a small, hiding snake in a big house were against me. Yet I found her. But not before experiencing this little rollercoaster: loss of Internet and Naga the same morning.

I've done a lot of postmortems on these errors, have tried to learn a great deal from them. In general I'm on a campaign to reduce entropy in my life, with Dawn, my late wife, a standard bearer and inspiration in this regard. I'm less the poor slob I was when she met me.

I did my first Python for Wanderers class tonight, which I thought went splendidly. The number of total combined computer-related man-hours in that room was impressive, although women still own and control computer science as a discipline, the way I look at it -- again with the Wiccan spin or something close.

Monday, April 23, 2007

More Meetings

I was somewhat busier than usual today, what with the banking, the lunch at Portland Fish House, snapping a photo of Jennifer, diving into gnu math exercises and so forth, followed by a quick walk with Trevor over to Belmont and back, followed by a trip to the pet store to discuss Naga's care and feeding.

Trevor and I talked submarines, including the Japanese ones and the ones my uncle Bill Lightfoot writes about in his excellent Beneath the Surface.

Over lunch, Glenn and I discussed literature by R.D. McGown, which in turn references Bunce on music theory i.e. lots of Wanderer action, a lot of it in the arts of memory tradition.

Returned to mom's cell's voicemail box my congrats on producing a successful Chalmers Johnson event, pre all this R&R in Washington, District of Columbia.

News on TV, local six but on satellite, spaghetti & tomato sauce (I rinse 'em too), some coffee, some staying up late to do laundry and blog.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Business Transaction

Jennifer @ Pauling House
The partnership decided to buy Jennifer, the Ubuntu box, from Derek, complete with keyboard and monitor, for $120. Maybe DWA'll be at least partially reimbursed from the coffee till, but that's neither here nor there.

Although the hardware was maybe priced a tad high -- the software is free -- Jennifer has sentimental value (to Derek too), plus I need a known quantity Linux box for my Python for Wanderers class, which begins next Thursday, in synch with my Pythonic Math class for Saturday Academy on the weekends.

Glenn was at work when I phoned and helped me set it up in the Pauling House. In just minutes we had an IP number and Google on screen, with speakers plugged in and ready to rumble.

Although I'll be projecting from a WinXP laptop a lot of the time, it'll be nice to demonstrate pretty much the same stuff running on this alternative open source platform. Wanderers wishing to familiarize themselves with a contemporary Linux distro will now have that opportunity as well.

recursive mural on Hawthorne

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wanderers 2007.4.17

Last night it was my privilege to present about Python Nation to Wanderer mathematicians and engineers, practicing and retired, some with years of programming experience e.g. both Bill (electronics) and Barry (banking) have an active knowledge of assembly language programming.

Given I usually teach this stuff to middle and high schoolers, I found last evening's venue a valuable opportunity to gear things a little differently. Jon made us coffee. Wine and beer were also available.

Part of my preparation process was to remove pretty much all traces of Python from the Toshiba laptop to start with, and install the 2.5.1 release candidate at the start of the talk. I wanted that "nothing up the sleeves" sense of bare Python.

Then I wrote, saved and imported all my code in real time, while projecting with the Optoma -- except when showing off such canned Standard Library modules as math and cmath.

I've saved the gist of my presentation as at my 4D Solutions/CP4E website.

Class 0 (April 26)
Class 1 (May 3)
Class 2 (May 10)
Class 3 (May 24)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Rebooting Mathematics

Originally posted to Math Forum @ Drexel, hyperlinks added.

Back in the 1980s/90s I was suggesting a "makeover", then as now a popular genre on TV (plastic surgery channel, or just playing dress up). But the downside of such a meme is its "purely cosmetic" spin, inapplicable as that connotation may well be in specialcase.

So the new campaign uses words like "reboot" more often, while keeping "makeover" as a runner up.

Central to the reboot is this new focus on energy. We have Sol (our sun) like 92 million miles distant, as a primary source, and the relative vacuum of space (out past the orbiting junk heap) as our energy source. In between is what Dorion Sagan and others call the "solar gradient", which humanity rides kind of like a beach bum rides a surf board, piggy-backing on this vast tsunami of energy income courtesy of what Pharoh Akhenaten recognized as our biggest physical energy sponsor in these parts, to the tune of many terawatts per capita over an average lifetime.

What we then do is break this energy down into cycles, mainly the shorter swing weather cycles within the longer swing climate cycles, and our ability to tap in to those with "water wheel" technology, meaning these turbine like things (or literal turbines), feeding into the various distribution grids to the offices and homes and such, where the voltage is stepped down to like 220/110 at 50/60 cycles (visit for more info).

The mathematics comes in early, as we attach precise and engineeringly significant numbers to this picture, using spreadsheets, computer simulations or whatever you school curriculum experts have signed up for (as a parent, you may be downloading or purchasing at Fry's -- make sure you push for that homeschooler tax deduction as these supplies needn't be paid for twice). Solar gradient kwhs convert to grid kwhs which in turn convert to calories and kilocalories, joules and kilojoules. This is where we get to the food labels and the whole Super Size Me discussion around malnutrition (over as well as under -- an important component of any serious-minded public spirited self health curriculum, and just as appropriate under the heading of math).

Of course by now the purists are starting to object about all the french fries and milk shakes we're discussing, taking seriously as solar gradient income (hydrocarbons cycle). This sounds more like science class. But your counter, as one of the "gnu math" trained, is to remind parents that "geometry" is really "earth measure" and said earth is an actual planet, ours, Earth or Spaceship Earth as your text may call it.

We're not using K-12 as a platform to promote some psychological "disconnect" from the "real world" ala some of the negative press about Ivory Tower PhD level math (much of it undeserved). That's not a goal. Pursue that brand of necromancy in college or in private scholarship if you like, but don't take it as a sign of weakness that we're anchored in the astronomical and geological data bases, when it comes to getting our most primitive concepts across. We're not about turning our back on Animal Planet. The object oriented paradigm (OOP), intrinsic to our self-executing math notations, is especially vested in animals and animation, per the various geek-architected pipelines already well described in this Math Forum archive.

That being said, don't therefore misassume we don't have proofs. Our grounding in real world open source energy planning type curricula does not mean we're unable to justify and/or prove the logical consistency of our approach, by a lot of the same means used by the competition i.e. by those otherworldly philosopher types, steeped in their continuum metaphysics ala the calculus. Discrete math engineering, at the higher levels, is well typified by such texts as Concrete Mathematics (sometimes used at Stanford) and Donald Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming. We're not apologetic for our more digital spin, think it flies, carries water, plus leads to interesting careers for our grads. Your mileage may vary.

Related Reading:
Brainstorming About an Early 21st Century Technology Curriculum (Shuttleworth Summit)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Night at the Museum (movie review)

Tara and I took this in at The Bagdad (right, no h). We both liked it, maybe for only partially overlapping reasons (e.g. the happy ending).

Like I was pretending to be a movie director, watching the camera angles. "Hmmm, competent" I heard myself thinking: just your basic storytelling, with some of our greatest comedy actors.

Dick Van Dyke turns out to have evil motives, but he's still chim chiminy under it all. And by the way, I do like the way Sally Field does her gig with Boniva.

Count me an admirer of this slightly (ever less a percentage difference, logarithmically speaking) older generation. Gervais: hilarious... Ben, you're great.

And Robin, again the president!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Run for the Arts

Can you spot Tara and Rose?
Note girl on stilts
(click for larger view)

Winterhaven students ran or walked laps for the arts this afternoon, an annual fundraising event throughout Portland Public Schools, over a period of several days.

Meanwhile, parents on the school e-list discussed what to do in the event of rain. "Run anyway" is a strongly expressed ethos around here, since that's what ends up happening so often.

I managed three pictures before losing battery power, then left Tara a can of A&W rootbeer under her dentist-brand water bottle (ironic).

Angi at OnPoint was most kind and efficient when I stopped by to converge the IRAs plus get another read on those interest payments on our mortgage (the IRS wants to know). 2006 was mostly about going in the hole on our 2nd mortgage (aka "equity line") to keep ahead of the cancer, the plan being to eventually pay down this debt with Dawn's life insurance policy (National Life, Montpelier, Vermont).

Later I wrote back to a young woman who lost both parents to cancer when she was still new in this country from Yugoslavia. Now, six years later, she works for AmeriCorps and has friends like family. I salute her "courage to be" as Paul Tillich would put it.

Wanderer Patrick Barton swung by 4D Studios for some wasabi peas, salmon jerky and beer. I showed him my propaganda mill (I was doing some stuff around mom). He's off to Prague next week.

Tonight: dinner at Jane 'n Dave's.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Extremely Remote Living (XRL)

:: desert moon ::
I had lunch with Ron Marson of Multnomah Meeting on Monday, meeting at Nicholas' Restaurant on Grand Avenue. We split a vegetarian meza plate, plus I got Turkish coffee and Ron had fruit juice.

Earlier, I shared some of the same XRL-related information with Trevor at Peet's on Hawthorne.

If Mercy Corps or other disaster relief outfit is going to deploy dwelling machines in extreme circumstances, it makes sense for personnel to train on the same or similar equipment in relatively safe local environments with similar terrain.

Ron specializes in teaching science and mathematics concepts using simple off the shelf supplies. His wife, Peg, does a lot of the art work. He has some background in Ghana, working for the Peace Corps.

I'd like him to present to Wanderers one of these days, about his experiences on the science conference circuit, working with NASA, his education philosophy and its translation into practice.

Trevor's presentation is already tentatively scheduled.

:: crooked river ::

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Knotted Snake

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring Cleaning

I remarked favorably on the junk service guy's shoulder tatoo, calling it a Celtic knotted snake. He cited Neverending Story but also liked it for it's allusive similarity to the "mind of the Buddha" endless knot motif; he'd noticed, walking through our house, a lot of cool Tantric stuff.

Anyway, the two of 'em hauled off $239's worth of stuff by volume, including a wrecked electric lawn mower, destroyed portable A/C unit, and a much-abused double-sized heated waterbed from our basement.

I'd scored this latter when the Braithwaite's, hoping to relocate to Canada, offered it to our family. If I'd had my act more together -- was more of a handyman -- it might've provided a cool place to cop some Z's or otherwise loll. My bad that it never happened.

At first Tara didn't like this placement (below) for this bumper sticker, but I pointed out it is stuck to the bumper, just in a weird place. David Nally suggested we could put a Keep Portland Insane sticker right on the windshield -- smart cookie that David. Hillary made us some dinner tonight.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Competing Curricula

A theme of my writings of late is we need competition in order to remain strong and healthy.

Python competes with other agile languages for mindshare, true, but its best hope of staying in the game will involve developing countering forms of operational intelligence within Python Nation amongst its many subcultures.

We have some of that diversity even now, as evidenced by Plone, a promising sign.

Likewise, in the USA's pre-college public schools I believe we suffer from too much inbred complacency within the dominant math teaching ethnicity (not a genetic thing i.e. propagated by textbooks and memes more than genes).

Mixing it up more, on TV and computer screens especially, will help dislodge some of these dangerously retarding bottlenecks and logjams.

:: mite & two smites by dbk ::

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Drawing from the strength of Dawn's memorial service just completed, which drew us together from so many walks of life, I wish to transform our energy, our fire, into a sense of gratitude.

I am especially grateful to those who've come before us, blazing a way, including developing for themselves and for us these miraculous technologies of cars on freeways, jets in skyways, a growing toolbox of esoterica, some effective, against disease. Because of these things, we were enabled to experience a great healing in the wake of Dawn's life, an act of lovingkindness and a contribution to us all.

Humanity, bending technology to humane uses, has the potential to do well for itself, to alleviate suffering, to work, to enjoy.

I ask that I remain open to Mother Nature as a teacher for me, and as one who assigns me tasks. To serve God is not to turn one's back on the gift of creation, but to manifest a divine will in whose image we have our being.