Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pentagon Policies

A nuclear superpower, the Pentagon, still occupying what turned out to be an essentially unarmed country (no WMDs as suggested), continues whining about neighboring Iran supplying weapons to the Iraqis.

Do we suppose Washington, DC could stop Texas from supplying guns to Canada, were the Russians to invade our neighbor to the north?

Nationalism being what it is, the Iraqis will keep fighting the occupation for as long as it takes, that much is obvious. Tehran has limited ability to stop the flood of weapons, given how easy these are to procure in a world market already flooded with ammo-for-profit.

The American people, mostly hostage to all this miscalculated belligerence, and not getting the low gas prices they'd hoped for when the war was being sold to them, are now being threatened with a massive conflagration by these inept military commanders, trained to suppose there's a military solution to every problem.

One hopes the Pentagon is not completely in charge of foreign policy, as obviously we have some very unimaginative thinkers in that building -- sad for the USA to have to put up with this crew.

One hopes the war colleges are turning out a more sophisticated crop of military leaders, one that doesn't get itself stuck in future quagmires of this kind.

The president tried to wrap it up with that "mission accomplished" extravaganza, an obligatory show of macho (isn't that what politicians do, strut on stage?) after a relatively short blitz. Saddam and his cronies were captured long ago. These were the graceful exit points, ignored by those at the wheel.

So what's the mission today? No one seems to know. The Pentagon has no fresh ideas.

Will the election make a difference? Some tyrants are hoping to have their next war going already, so they can keep calling the shots. Democracy and the will of the people take a back seat when there's a war on, a fact many Pentagon planners instinctively know.

Maybe the upcoming Olympics will get people in a better mood? Athletes in general are a more competent bunch, not resorting to violence at the drop of a hat, yet still very competitive and patriotic, far more of a showcase for what civilization is all about.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Calculus Mountain

Those of you who've heard me inveigh against Calculus Mountain, such as in the YouTube above, will maybe think I'm anti-calculus or think it shouldn't be taught.

This is not the case.

For one thing, teaching calculus was my bread and butter out of Princeton, my first job with a BA in philosophy (Rorty my thesis advisor, Kaufmann one of my referrals to Erhard's philo, which I studied on the side, in tandem with Wittgenstein's with Victor Preller et al, some grad work at St. Peter's in Jersey City, making the transition to a Dominican run school).

But also, I'm in agreement with many in the Physics First and First Person Physics movements, that calculus, having grown up in the context of Newtonian mechanics, has a natural context within physics, so we should use that in K-12, with "pure calculus" (minus any physics application) left for some later time, for those college majors electing such degree paths.

We currently waste way too much time on calculus in high school, in some faddish, almost occult desire to equate this subset of math concepts with the whole shebang. Strong candidate alternatives are already in field testing, with promising results. The USA is not monolithic and there will be no "one size fits all" replacement, so don't expect big headlines regarding some big switchover. That occurred years ago, as a part of the rise of digital over analog technologies more generally.

Remember, the steam engine reached its pinnacle in sophistication long after the writing on the wall had already appeared, spelling diesel (now it spells a lot of other things). Calculus as currently configured is already well past its pull date, but still hangs in there, bless its little heart.

And again, I'm not for a purge.

I'm for physics getting a better toehold, chemistry too, both united in biology, and have no problem with relaying Newtonian mechanics in a somewhat classical form, abetted with VPython, YouTubes and so on (plus maybe real visits to roller coaster parks, if we do our FPP curriculum).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

SA: ClassNotes 2008.4.26

The parking went more smoothly, plus the weather was good, got Ubuntu Dell and better speakers in harness no problem, with CodeGuardian queued. However, without support from the home team, I'd've been leaning on staff too hard, having left my logins chart on my desk or someplace.

We worked pretty hard today, through viztoyz and povtoyz, which take the real time versus render time approaches respectively. The former uses VPython, the latter POV-Ray. The point of showing a movie like CodeGuardian is how such a small team now has these powerful tools, but you also need to really sit at the feet of great directors, to pick up on small touches like camera jitter, a way to help viewers join the action.

My Fibonacci generator, designed for phi convergence (which worked eventually), got off on the wrong foot, as 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8... yields my sequence 1/0, 1/1, 2/1, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5... So I got bitten by two gotchas: divide by zero and default integer division (this is Python 2.5). Fortunately, easy fixes were at hand.

I was able to show my I Ching source code in a font that renders the characters readably, back to explaining the ASCII to Unicode migration, also part of this 2.x to 3.x transition.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I hadn't properly tuned in the fact that Texas, not Arizona, is the state engaged in the shameful and cowardly attack on an American community, however unusual and perhaps distasteful to others its anthropological structure (I'm not saying I'd join in this lifestyle, but this isn't about me).

Currently, it's looking like the call instigating the raid might have been a hoax, but never mind, families are being destroyed, government DNA testing enforced, all in the name of "preventing child abuse" -- laughable, and sad. Let's see which presidential candidates have the courage to weigh in. Or how about the incumbent, given which state we're talking about.

The arrogance of the so-called dominant culture is stunning in this scenario. I hope we don't see the USA out there trumpeting "human rights" again any time soon, the hypocrisy would just be unbearable.

This Borg-like and brutish hand of forced enculturation was used against pueblo and others in the same region (Native Americans, old timers). Several enlightenments have come and gone, but we still have these antediluvians among us. Texas has always been very "throw back," these still-thriving authentic old-style Mormons a case in point (score one for religious freedom).

Such cultural diversity was part of what made North America charming, until the police state came in, with their know-it-all psychologists, and ruined it for everyone. Who invited these people to our party anyway, not me.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

SA: ClassNotes 2008.4.19

Three levels of complexity: data structures, functions, classes.

For data structures, we focussed on strings firstly, then lists. We'll get to dictionaries (hash tables) next time.

For functions I started bridging to sphere packing already, with triangular numbers (def triangle(n): return n*(n+1)/2), plus your basic parabola (def f(x): return x * x).

For classes I start with my Biotum (one template, many selves), with eat and poop methods, using a stomach list as a queue.

We spent a rather long time at the POV-Ray site, looking at that office scene in particular (this was in part owing to having no logins at first, staff scurrying to secure them).

Whereas a Dutch master might've known to put in those Venetian blind reflections or whatever, in ray tracing we just combine geometry and optics and let the computer figure the consequences, meaning the artist is as excited as anyone to see what comes out the other end, maybe after a long night of rendering (if doing animation especially -- many frames).

We also imported "star" (meaning everything) from visual (from visual import *) and ginned up a gray ball -- kinda boring but good foreshadowing for what's coming, plus shows how core Python plus the Standard Library plus 3rd Party stuff (including mine) makes for a generously endowed math learning environment.

We're using IDLE on Windows in a university computer lab -- and yes, I clued them about the Monty Python connection (e.g. Eric Idle).

Small class, about six, the way we like it in Saturday Academy -- means lots of individualized attention.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reposting from Newsgroups

I'm watching the crackdown on Mormonism (old style) with interest as this has repercussions in diplomatic circles where the common accusation is North Americans moralize excessively outside their purview, but hey Utah is within DC's jurisdiction, as is Arizona and so on, so yes, an internal affair (China hasn't said much, officially, trying to set an example of holding one's tongue -- but then many tribal nations have officially seceded already, so it gets messy... basically a loose federation is all we've had to begin with, kinda fragile).

Anyway, abuse of a minor by a predatory adult is definitely in need of a community response and the idea behind the police action was apparent lax enforcement in the face of an all too common domestic relations situation (not saying this sect was a major urban area, just that polygamy is an orthogonal crime i.e. isn't synonymous with child abuse in many cultures any intelligence community deals with daily, given the varied anthropological patterns humans have cultivated over the centuries and millennia, a real zoo I can tell you).

Anyway, I think it's unfortunate in terms of timing that this became a full scale cultural battle against a well established North American lifestyle for some people, rather than a domestic relations case involving just a few bad apples, as now we're taking attention off human rights problems the USA had sought to capitalize on elsewhere, in order to regain some traction as a champion (vs. a hypocritical imperialist, a prevalent view today).

Also, there seemed some real advances against prejudice against Mormonism in the recent presidential campaign. We knew this had always been a tension, so why make it a public spectacle now of all times? Wasn't there a smarter way to handle this? Maybe there'll be less of a hero attitude in future interventions of this kind?

Hard to know, not my department. I bet the FBI is abuzz with water cooler chatter about it all, given echoes of Waco (so far this is way way less ugly, but still ugly enough).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

There Will Be Blood (movie review)

This contemporary award winner (Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor, also best cinematography) surprised me with its bold sound track, and long opening with no dialog, which reminded me of Lost, right down to the shaft and old dynamite: welcome to another hell of sorts.

Once the dialog begins, it's still about the music of it all, the power of communication. Some of the loudest drumming signals the onset of deafness, a pivotal scene as now the boy is beyond the reach of that fatherly, mellifluous, soothing, and controlling voice, in his own world for the first time.

Unheeded warnings, danger signs, people in grotesque aspects: all very disturbingly psychotic, with the only religion in the picture even more so.

The game between Daniel and Eli becomes one of mutual humiliation, each poking holes in the other's story and self image, letting the sense bleed away.

They're mirror images in many ways, challenging one another's integrity and authenticity as competing patriarchs, both full of misanthropy and self-loathing. The specter of false brotherhood haunts the subplot as well, which likewise ends badly.

I understand why this picture is celebrated, although it leaves me mumbling prayers for greater happiness among sentient beings, we humans included. The ancient Greeks would understand.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Embedded Controls

Those of you on board for the ride since Web 1.0 will remember those CGI scripts, or Common Gateway Interface gizmos. The user would have to hit reload, or the Javascript would trigger it, and a new page would appear, some matrix reloaded.

Flash forward and Microsoft comes out with this ActiveX control that allows developers back door access to the browser's experience. Without making any obvious click noises, or otherwise distracting the user, the browser could update a server regarding user-triggered events, key strokes and so on. Of course such tools could be used to nefarious ends, and to this day we have controversies surrounding browser security and so on.

Nevertheless, other browsers quickly rallied around the XMLhttpResponse object (hence Web 2.0), which does what it says it does. The client stuffs XML up the pipe, or just asks for new data, with XML coming back, to be deployed within the DOM somewhere, thereby giving the user an updated view, minus any need to reload or click or do other than emulate a control panel.

For example, in throwing the I Ching, an HTML button or embedded timer loop might trigger a fetch, sending nothing except this "need a new throw" signal. The server comes back with some appropriate yadda yadda, which transcribes to the screen, pulling Chinese characters from whatever font library supporting the unicode codespace (or some other addressing scheme -- the purpose of the DOCTYPE declaration).

Those of you who already know all of the above often use the word AJAX, focusing on the asynchronous nature of the Javascripted events (plus the AX might remind us of humble ActiveX beginnings). Servers have lots on their minds and can't be guaranteed to have instantaneous response times (tcp/ip itself doesn't guarantee it), so what happens on the client side, versus the server side, is only loosely coupled. The response object signals when it's ready, has some new content.

I recommend doing some more searching if wanting more details on this subject, as it has been written up in depth by many competent AJAX developers and technical writers. I'm just supplying some overview, value added for those readers enjoying my spin on stuff.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

PPUG 2008.4.8

We're getting briefed on IPython, an old fashioned looking high contrast CRT style front end to the Python interpreter.

There're some gotchas plus the pager screwed up a few times, but I get the feeling our Intel guy is pretty happy with it, having done a really thorough evaluation.

I'm no IPython guru, so it's news to me, all these automagical functions.

About fourteen of us? Hi Dylan... Jason.

Not planning to stay long tonight -- too much on my plate (PPUG = Portland Python Users Group, check us out at the Wiki).

Jason wrote his own shell, based on "batteries included," to help with presentations. It includes the concept of "slides," canned content appended to the shell's source, which feeds the shell at runtime. I interrupted with some vocal praise at this point, then went back to blogging.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Meeting Math

This YouTube [since removed] of Kraftwerk was experienced live by Trevor, in Seattle. The music was so loud his clothes rattled, definitely ear plug territory:

This second video is little branding gig for the Y2K World's Fair in Hannover, Germany:

Trevor and I were in the Multnomah Meetinghouse today, returning a medical supply, plus I'd come through earlier for adult education, missing M4W this time.

This is the same building we met in back in the early 1960s, soon after ESI transferred the property to AFSC and sponsors.

I connect Britney's Piece of Me to Kraftwerk because of the computery riff / refrain towards the end (2:06 - 2:24) -- "very electronique" as they say. Trevor pointed out the moire pattern allusions (0:16, 1:42 - 2:05 etc.).

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Experiments in Democracy

We met in a private home not far from Reed College, a retired professor, software engineers, and Mark, our fearless leader, to brainstorm about designing networking infrastructure that might help people deliberate about specific policy proposals, in light of their values, positions on issues.

The goal is not to just duplicate what the pollsters provide, but to give individuals useful tools for connecting the dots in various ways. Popular board games suggest where we might start. We know what Monopoly looks like. How would Democracy look?

My standard example in these meetings is to suggest two icons, say a teepee and a fish. I'm supportive of local NavAm casinos in part because of profits they put into restoring salmon habitats, which makes for a healthier environment overall (plus I like eating salmon). So these icons are now linked in my own world view, a memespace or namespace.

How do others wire up their icons I wonder? This democracy lab would help us study intellectual currents, provide us with summary views. Of course the Web already does this, plus the private sector spends big bucks on polls and surveys. A goal here would be to make such information more available to the general public, not just to paying customers.

Trust and transparency would be key to the success of such a system, but in and of themselves would not be enough. Robust designs will be essential. To that end, we'll need to grow our team, ideally testing some competing prototypes before settling on best of breed (and even then, the improvements will be ongoing).