Sunday, March 30, 2008

Troop Rotation

The endless conveyor belt between the burbs and Baghdad, taking enlisted both ways, leaves many Americans wondering when and/or how it will end.

The substance of what gets conveyed is especially critical, in terms of livingry versus killingry, as Bucky would put it. To the extent living standards deteriorate, serving in a militia, however decaled and branded, becomes the only remaining option, the very definition of poverty in much of the world today.

Given both sides in Iraq see an end to the foreign military occupation as a common goal, what divides them is more a push versus persuade strategy. The more militant factions want to push, whereas the more established party prefers to believe that a deescalation of violence, already accomplished, will prompt a voluntary withdrawal in response to political pressures back home (not much sign of that happening, which bolsters the militants' view).

On the civilian front, most of the action is behind the scenes, but with the cooperation of various supranationals, it's becoming easier to bid on reconstructive, post-war projects, not just in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East. Whether the US Army Corps of Engineers gets a piece of the action, in stabilizing that dam for example, remains unclear, at least to this analyst.

Certainly there's nothing stopping a formerly enlisted engineer from returning to the scene in a civilian capacity, as has happened in Vietnam in the aftermath. Civilian energy projects need trained personnel, this hasn't changed. Whether the home office is in Belgium or Birmingham matters less than an understanding of the scene on the ground.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


cuisinart vs. cuisenaire
A cardinal function of numeric, alpha and alphanumeric strings, is to tell one thing from another, meaning "to disambiguate" among them.

This isn't always as easy as it sounds, as very different things may nevertheless share the same or similar names, plus we have those fine distinctions among subtypes, breeds or brands.

The word "dog" doesn't begin to do justice to the many varieties of dog out there.

Consider for example, the box of Cuisenaire rods shown above, named for the Belgian math teacher who first thought them up.

Many old timers remember these toyz from math class, where they were supposed to link length and number, forming a primitive geometric bridge to an algebraic sensibility. Of course in many schools, they just sat on a shelf.

Given an accumulation of post-war detritus, children and grandchildren of baby boomers may be unfamiliar with these colorful manipulables, which go against the grain of modern fashion.

More likely they remember a brand of food processor known as the Cuisinart.

However, here again, the Cuisinart brand needs disambiguation from any specific kitchen appliance sold under that trademark, such as the coffeemaker depicted below.

I purchased one of these gizmos at my local Peet's today, replacing a broken Starbucks Barista.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Underfunded Schools

[ originally posted to Math Forum, two typos fixed, hyperlinks added ]

Yo Haim --

I think the Iraq War is pertinent to some extent as we've got designs for putting some returnees into math teaching roles, including on base in an enlisted capacity i.e. much of what we're doing with computers in the private sector, to teach children, might be adapted to advantage families in the services, which are subject to civilian oversight.

Regarding how reformists sound similar themes over time, I think that's true. Dave discounts minor wrinkles like technology, goes for the rhetoric. I notice in my Chicago talk (link posted) that I employ a familiar trope or two e.g. kids beg me to not send them back to their traditionalist context (which is true), plus I employ standard divide and conquer strategies vs. the states, singling out the smart ones by litmus test (do they teach Euclid's Method for finding the GCD?).

I'm also very typically a salesman (vendor), trash talking calculators because of my HP flatscreens or whatever they are. I'm clearly competing for public dollars, just as you suspect (no shame in being a defense contractor, if it's really defense that you're peddling (vs. some mindless manifest destiny imperialism of the prehistoric knuckle dragging "American century" type (a political embarrassment, worthy of spoof))).

Plus I think schools are underfunded, as we need more video/audio editing equipment and electric ATVs, not just Mindstorms Lego and Cuisenaire bricks. More field trips to Antarctica also on the drawing boards, an opportunity not just for the rich and privileged. Overseas boarding schools also planned, public as in tax sponsored (i.e. you can apply from Peoria, for a year in Uruguay or whatever, with at least half the student body from the school's locale (international school model, but adapted to serve a broader domestic base, give more USAers pre-college overseas experience through a secular model i.e. not in the capacity of missionaries or NGO personnel)).


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wanderers 2008.3.26

Ten of us sat around the big table having our typically meandering conversation about everything: iPhone SDK, the remoteness of southern Oregon, the short attention span of children, three wheeled vehicles, brain function (I think brains are over-hyped).

I often take a rhetorically twisted position on issues of the day, balancing overly sane views with certifiable antitheses.

Regarding short attention spans, yes they're adapted for TV and it's cruel to expect cold turkey kill your television behavior in scholarship; better to go with the flow and teach "television editing" (might just mean sequencing stills together over audio for YouTube, inside an affordable price point for public schools, provided they get sufficient vendor sponsorships (a form of product placement, advertising -- a competitive environment in working models)).

Anyway, lets keep it up with the mathcasts on YouTube and Google Video, in supplement to whatever else is going on.

Many threads broke out around the table for a spell, then converged to one conversation. Jon talked about how sentence fragments might assemble into a semi-coherent dream-like whole, per some passage by William Burroughs. Sleep deprivation might lead to similar results. We had a visiting psychoanalyst this morning, a former student of Anna Freud's; I hope we were fun for her (she said we were).

David Tver: "What thin partitions, sense from thought divide" (Pope, Essay on Mind).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Retreat 2008

:: swag ::
I'm online from the Pauling House, shooting the breeze. Anagrams of Wanderers with the word "nerds" in 'em were on the board last night, but on Sir T's recommendation I consulted an anagrams server to get Errands, We and Darers, New.

Also, Kirby Thomas Urner anagrams to Your Bankers Mirth, which has an apropos grunchy flavor to it.

Patrick and I compared notes on the recently concluded Pycon, where I represented my firm as senior partner.

Lots of talk about ToonTown, its heritage (through art books and websites both), plus a subplot of me trying to upload raw video from my Pycon talk (session #53), through a Java applet running on Ubuntu, supplied by Google.

Some discussion of goofy hollow earth theories, adhered to by some Nazis.

I've strewn swag on the table, including Cuisenaire rods, an XO (green and white), some literature, some geometry toyz. A toy microscope showed up (blue and white), which Bill has been trying to repair.

But the gizmo that takes the cake is Terry's new Apple Xserver with three terabytes of storage. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with it out of the box.

Catching up regarding Eris, Quaoar and Sedna, thanks to Cosmos by Giles Sparrow, a beautiful gigantic tome.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More from Pycon

Listening to Mark Hammond's talk, Snake Charming the Dragon, is helping me assemble a better picture of Python's future role.

Sun's JVM, Novell's Mono, Microsoft's .NET, and Mozilla's Tamarin will serve as the basis for many future applications, not just web browsers, and Python, along with the newer JavaScript, will be a standard language for developers of these applications. Microsoft's Silverlight and Adobe's Flex both fit into this rubric.

Generic GUI development will inherit from browser-based tools, such as CSS, plugins, various XMLs such as XUL.

Regarding OLPC: Uruguay and Peru (Arahay) are among the early adopters, also Birmingham, Alabama. The software development process still has a ways to go. Ivan Krstić is the man on the front lines here, literally risking his neck to get XOs in the field.

Ian has been generous in sharing his talents, having me go through a recording of my talk on his iTouch while penciling in filenames on a time line -- a first step in his video post production process.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Catching Up

A counterpart from New Mexico came through here today, wanting to visit Powell's Books. I whipped up this quick floor altar to celebrate.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


[ copying a snapshot of a shared Google Document, started by Alaska-based Anna, directly to my blog, from a coffee shop in Oregon ]

Test Hello All!

This is a test of this new tool I just learned about. It allows us to collaborate with others on the same file if we set up rights to share. I could see this could be very valuable to our project, especially as we move forward in the refinement of our new school design.

Please respond so we can test this.

Thank You, Anna 8)

Our new website launched at

Kirby adds: Bio Blurb (seems pretty easy to add stuff)

Here's an example Python module that's both a lesson plan (adapted from a New Mexico project) and runnable code.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Accentuate the Positive

Bucky often hearkened back to some popular tune of his day, when explaining his effectiveness (way beyond just moralizing, pronouncing judgments), his craft, involving trim-tabbing and such.

Inventiveness within language, coming up with a deliberately remote vocabulary, was a big part of it for him. While he (sometimes quietly) conceded when the competition had bested him, he at least kept a few words for himself: like spin.

What Bucky meant by "spin" is closer to what is today meant by "spin doctor" i.e. someone who imparts meaning in some sly and precessional way (that's Bucky's meaning of precessional).

Or maybe it just looks sly (crooked, weird) to more straight-ahead types. But for Bucky it was "deliberately non-straight" and in that sense perfectly natural (how nature does business).

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Recent Chemistry

from Synergeo
We've had some buzz on the Bucky lists thanks to UCLA's announcement of another icosahedral microarchitecture, similar to the viral sheath, reminiscent of buckminsterfullerene. However, rather than stir up the Bucky talk again (like there's already that play), these science writers have found safe passage through Epcot and its signature Spaceship Earth:
Yeates and his colleagues have identified the proteins that play the critical role in how the structure folds in the carboxysome, a protein shell that is the best-known and most-studied microcompartment. The shell has a structure like a soccer ball or the large, iconic dome structure at the Walt Disney World's Epcot Center. [source]
So then dharmraj aka John Mac Cosham, active on Synergeo, whipped out the above, using some Canadian software to output a virtual world file, downloaded and rendered in my FluxPlayer plugin in FireFox for this screen shot.

These are the kinds of college level skills we're hoping to foment in some of the college prep charters our various vendors supply, including 4D Solutions.