Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wanderers 2008.7.30

Wanderers were lucky today. Allen Taylor is a world class speaker, a veteran of the cruise ship circuit, and knows how to make scholarship come alive. I found his discussion of the Vikings highly satisfying, even though I spent a lot of it trying to establish an Internet connection, Patrick assisting, and whispering to Nancy, from Terry's desk in the alcove.

Allen framed the entire talk as if he were trying to myth bust one final question, as to whether the Vikings were exploring in Minnesota (so-called) in pre-Columbian times. The running joke is how some to this day dispute the "yay" answer, given the runes and moorage holes, no reason to have not, other than potentially unfriendly natives (not a new problem).

From the Viking side, the Estonians (today known as) basically asked for better supervision, after trying hillbilly feuding and preferring a skillful style. Three brothers got the ball rolling, on a 700 year dynasty, which USA school kids study too little, hearing only about Rome ad nauseam, as if all we cared about were around the Mediterranean. He told many more stories besides those, plus got into showing a lot about the ships, sometimes crewed by women right to the top, but they didn't wear horns in battle (another myth, popularized by comic strips to this day).

Anyway, it's sad that we inflict the story of poor delusional Columbus on school kids, make them think he "discovered America" in any important way. But once these stories worm their way into a culture, there's not much you can do about 'em, except now and then underline what garbage gets handed out in the guise of "learning" even from universities that should know better. And no, I'm not forgetting about those Chinese in 1421 or whatever (dates subject to change without notice).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Infrastructure Parks

:: lock simulation in Second Life ::

A recent theme of various meetings: "infrastructure parks" for young people, providing them with opportunities to familiarize themselves with dikes, dams, barge channels, locks, cranes for shifting loads between water and rail.

These are more than just toys in some ways, as they're serving as job simulation tools -- a reason to call them toyz instead, as in e-toyz.

Some versions of these facilities are run indoors, mostly for university level students. Others have a more toy-like appearance and are built from more robust, child-safe materials. In between are the science museum simulations, often supervised by young adults, and shared with teens and tweens.

Of course many kids get infrastructure training from software these days, from Trainz for example. These software versions are often easier to implement, especially when modeling such facilities as airports or hospitals.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Success Story: Hadoop + NYT

Our speaker from the New York Times, Derek, is telling us to read the paper on Google's MapReduce, Apache Hadoop being the open source implementation of said Google filesystem (GFS -- what's used to store this blog).

MapReduce is a design pattern for getting large numbers of computers to paw through vast data stores based on a {key : value} "map", returning intermediate pairs sorted by intermediate keys, and feeding these pairs to a "reduce" function designed to output a single {key : value}, which value might be a list -- of all pages containing a particular search term for example.

The NYT started with a pay-as-you-go model for making its historical archives available, then decided to go to free with at least the 1851 - 1922 piece. Some libraries give free access to larger chunks I'm supposing.

A given article is all over the map in storage, mirroring how newspapers scatter content across pages, mixed with ads etc., making this problem an ideal candidate for a mapReduce solution.

excerpt re Bucky, NYT, April 5, 1963, pg. 33
The project: copy source data to Amazon's S3 service, then boot custom Linux Xen images with Hadoop using Amazon's EC2 service, one master with multiple slaves, and kick off the job request.

About 100 computers running simultaneously processed 4.3 TB of TIFF images in about 24 hours for about $240 in computing costs, and $650 for storage. A small mistake meant running it twice (not a big deal, given these low costs and fast turnaround).

Setting up The TimesMachine was a side benefit and spin-off from said project, able to serve full pages of the NY Times, complete with ads etc.

Hadoop uses commodity hardware and software to provide a framework for storing petabytes of data, is implemented in Java, has about 15 committers currently, 3 for Hbase.

HDFS and HBase store the data, with mapReduce used for processing. Facebook is a contributor and user, as is Yahoo, which implements Hadoop internally on multiple 2k clusters.

There's lots of academic interest in this framework, with universities getting into it.

A key characteristic of Hadoop is separating metadata from data, scaling the former (the namenode) vertically, the latter (storage and I/O nodes) horizontally.

We're talking simple sequential files mostly, with an append operation but no random access write operation. This is not a relational database. The design keeps file blocks physically close to the client for reading and writing, automatically takes care of replicating blocks to redundant locations.

Storage units report on their blocks to the namenode, which runs completely in memory, and which takes appropriate action if blocks are over or under replicated. If a server fails, a common enough occurance in large data centers, the surviving blocks get replicated up to quota (like RAID, but across multiple hosts).

RPC is used for interprocess communication. Lots of improvements on the drawing board, being implemented, many having to do with scaling.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Making History

Our cult leader Tim O'Reilly is helping launch OSCON 10 (or The Perl Conference 12), encouraging us to keep chronofiles (logs, journals, personal accounts, autobiographies).

The open source trajectory, as popularized by Eric Raymond in the 1990s, using this quote attributed to Gandhi: first they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us... then we win.

Django, Alfresco, Zimbra, Drupal, memcached... these are topics on the uptick (over 200% growth rate). Python is up a respectable 56%. Tim is good at this kind of reporting.

Big Challenges and Opportunities: cloud computing, programmable web and open mobile. We can't take for granted that our current strategies for keeping software liberal will remain all that relevant in the cloud.

Decentralization, increased participation... these are our values. Hadoop, Eucalyptus, 10gen, Drizzle, Reasonably Smart Platform...

The Web 2.0 API directory shows mashups are data-oriented (bookmarks... GIS), i.e. the component subsystems will be data-oriented in many cases. Programming Collective Intelligence is the recent popular O'Reilly title on this subject. Dopplr...

Many companies today well understand how they depend on their newly won freedoms, want to keep platforms, including mobile platforms, open. Let's keep wrestling with angels (i.e. lets work on what's hard, not rest on our laurels, really make freedom ring).

On the nanotech front, Christine Peterson of the Foresight Nanotech Institute: sensing is proceeding by leaps and bounds, with lots of dystopian possibilities as a consequence.

Christine somewhat blames the open source community for not staying out in front on the voting machine issue, when push came to shove. I'd say some of us tried, but those seeking to sustain the status quo of corrupting elections have friends in high places, an old problem in democracies. In fighting back, transparency is our weapon of choice.

:: Christine at DemocrayLab booth ::
But then not enough surveillance is also a problem, leads to bad data, bad decisions, criminal behavior, such as that cruise missile attack on that Sudanese pharmaceutical plant in 1998 under Clinton (her apropos example). The overly paranoid indulge in sociopathic behaviors -- not a new problem. Better data (better reality checks) provide an antidote in some cases.

So how do we do adequately police against dangerous substances and/or crazy schemes while preserving individual privacy i.e. how do we have freedoms and security at the same time? Does detecting one pot molecule mean emptying the meeting hall for mandatory breath testing? When shall we anonymize data?

Christine thinks our geek community needs to figure this stuff out, as DC isn't doing it intelligently, is ignorantly and misguidedly top-down in its approaches, using inappropriate tool sets. Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were founding geeks, we should get inspiration from them.

Would these talking points help: no secret software for public sensing data; no secret software for public voting data? There's a difference between software and data though. We need some more clarity here.

Overhearing geeks later, I heard both discomfort and relief over the fact that keynoters would take such bulls by the horns (brave of them -- geeks with courage, imagine that).

Tim is interviewing MySQL principals about their acquisition by Sun.

Sun is an old engineering company making some of the same adjustments IBM had to make when embracing Linux (my spin), as now engineers used to writing secret code have that feeling of perfect strangers scanning their source (an uncomfortable feeling sometimes).

Tim is reminding us of our original Unix philosophy (related to Shuttleworth's emphasis on designing for extensibility): get a lot of pieces that work together in potentially unexpected ways (through hacking), each doing one thing well, don't always think you need to reinvent the wheel by writing these large monolithic monsters. Cobble together, then render seamless. The open curriculum movement could probably benefit from this lesson.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Python Project

classic slot machine
Of paradigmatic math learning value, is some simple game engine that embodies a lot of key focal points.

For example, consider an old fashioned slot machine of side-by-side wheels, each speeding up at the stroke of a crank, reaching maximum spin, then slowing to a stop, giving a line-up of pictures.

In software, we might control the speed with a parabola, sine wave or catenary, some curve of varying spin speed through time, satisfying to the viewer (the physics might be somewhat other-worldly given the freedoms software permits).

In the meantime, the possible line-ups, their relative frequencies, serves as a basis for combinatorics. Both smoothly continuous, and discrete, in one simple package. Then you've got the money aspect, ties to computing in business.

Pygame would be a suitable development environment for this open source project. Our school teachers will serve as knowing tour guides, taking us through the source code line by line on some days, discussing the odds in poker on another (we don't just look at slots, on the contrary this is about many language game types).

Whereas slot machines have a somewhat poor reputation, for demanding so little of their students (some would claim there's an art), our evolved games environment suggests many ways to reward learning behaviors, using guided meditations, exercises, puzzles, to develop various competencies (and yes, there's a limit to what screens will teach you).

Yes, that all sounds quite Pavlovian, and so fits with all those card-playing dogs.

What we do in our cube farms is likewise "playing against the house" maybe losing in some dimensions, but in a sense we're part owner and so "paying ourselves" to live and learn from experience.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Annual Session (Part Two)

I set up this tableau in my dorm room, as a sort of tribute to diversity among Friends. We come from all walks of life.

One of the highlights was talking with Leslie over lunch, after my interest group, about Paul Laffoley's art and those designs for a World Trade Center based on Gaudi's work.

She just happened to have an envelope, right there at the table, full of pictures of the Gaudi church in Barcelona, still under construction, which she'd visited recently. She also knew of another James Nayler bio still in the pipeline, will maybe get some more details.

Joe (likewise through Princeton) taught me later, over lunch, how Gaudi used bird bones to help teach himself architecture (Joe is a vet, knows quite a bit about animals).

Talent night included some stellar numbers. Luci and Katie sang a duet again, which I much enjoyed.

Tara joined Junior Friends in a skit about what each was in jail for (hence the tattoos), always something to do with deviating from Quaker practice and/or the "good order of Friends" (GOOF). One "misjudged the sense of the meeting" whereas another had "spoken beyond her light." Tara confessed to "skipping plenary... twice" (hey, opting out of tedious business processes shouldn't land one in jail!).

Joe & Co.
Mom got on stage with the Raging Grannies who led us in some favorite anti-war numbers.

Sarah's Quaker Youth Book Project of QUIP looks promising, reminds me of our local AFSC's United Voices (UV) in some ways. Kathy gave me a little more background. I'm learning so much at this conference.

I picked up a copy of Tribal Journeys 2008: Paddle to Quw'utsun (© 2008 The Intertribal Canoe Society and AFSC). It's too late to register for this year, so these handsome booklets fall in the "remainder" category. Nevertheless, I enjoy reading about the canoe trip route and studying the colorful navigational maps included therein.

Jane and Joe are off to New Orleans next. I wish them a lovely sojourn.

Now it's time to find Larry, per our plan to sneak off site for some Dutch Brothers coffee. Then I'm on tap to help with the children's program.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Annual Session (Part One)

I joined a friendly table marked for Bible Study, sitting with a nurse, a vet, and a student of Chinese. I listened in on what Jesus had to say on the divorce issue, per those up on this topic.

My input was North Americans are mostly not married in the Biblical sense, given how different the culture from anything so Middle Eastern in flavor. On the other hand, many if not most North Americans are rather anxious to project themselves into those Biblical characters, so it hardly matters about the anthropology here, as it's the high caliber of the storytelling that counts.

I also suggested maybe removing Leviticus from the Bible as too steamily pornographic, too triple-X, but I didn't sense much agreement for that. Anyway, no one really plans to monkey with the table of contents at this late a date, so my talk was a tad on the idle side (Wittgenstein: language on vacation).

We also talked about bicycle helmets quite a bit, about whether Oregonians were becoming more lax about using them, more like Floridians in that sense.

Leviticus could maybe be made into a cartoon, like by Ralph Bakshi or someone, probably already has been (like I'm not an authority on things Middle Eastern).

There was a run on the coffee, with OSU staff realizing we're fiends for this drug of choice (Beanites ya know).

Then Sarah and I then sat outside, talking about the good old days, about Dawn, about karma, about our spiritual journeys.

The economist in the golf cart (a designated driver) thought NPYMers were becoming too much like ordinary Americans in wanting to "do business" in a plodding fashion, as if a mere $40K budget were anything worth more than a CEO's sneeze -- yet here we were, making it the business of all adult attenders, complete with auditorium and microphone, blech.

I recounted the oral history I'd learned, which is that NPYM split off from PYM a couple generations ago precisely because the latter had grown too stodgey, was too caked with cruft (i.e. "business").

FGC is more the role model here, in terms of focusing on the spiritual aspects of our Society, although we'd prefer to have our own event, aren't members of FGC.

So maybe we'll manage to take back our (sub)culture? The numbers are against us it seems.

Larry, my Bridge Pedal pal and small airplane pilot, was planning to fly down for this meeting, arriving this morning, but still needed a ride to the airport. I hope he found one, as it's a beautiful day for flying.

Diane gave me $6 found on the floor near where I was sitting, given her by another honest friend. It was probably not mine originally, so I used it in the Quaker book store on behalf of my NPYM Interest Group, purchasing Pendle Hill Pamphlet 395: Walt Whitman's Spiritual Epic by Michael Robertson, with $1 to spare for the Wanderers coffee fund.

This is Tara's first year as an NPYM Teen, having graduated from Tweens already (time flies). Andy and I discussed the nomenclature around these age groupings. He prefers "middle school" versus "high school" as more descriptive, less ambiguous, than than "Central" versus "Junior" Friends (context matters). Andy clerks our Teen Program back in Portland, whereas starting this month I'm more an "adult ed" kind of guy (as in No Adult Left Behind).

mom with FCNL lobbyist and
Friend in Residence Ruth Flower

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Persepolis (movie review)

Although this cartoon pokes fun at the Japanese at one point, for their seeming obsession with Godzilla movies, I sensed more than a little Japanese influence, to positive effect.

In anime, we get this motif of "the sudden outburst," a kind of formalized volatility against a background of uniformity and social conformity. Outbursts form "key frames" in the punctuated equilibrium of character development, and this film is all about character development, in a hellish forge called Iran in some circles.

Authorities like to see their wills reflected in terms of fashion, which pulls them into popular culture in competition with movie stars, rock stars, other role models, many out of reach, yet present in the media, raw material for rebellious counter cultures.

This pattern is not unique to any one capital or metro area i.e. that sense of "subversive influences" is all pervasive, only differs in outward form. That sense of "future shock" (a shocking future) is not confined to Islamic and/or Gringo cultures.

Persepolis is all about keeping hope alive while surrounded by oldsters facing both different and similar challenges. Our Iranian girlfriend must "dismiss as irrelevant" (a Buckyism), i.e. do her own thinking, just to get through her day, and yet her grandmother, uncle, parents, give her useful and very necessary guidance (regarding divorce for example).

She sure could have used some better girlfriends in Vienna though. Going straight from nuns to boys is a huge leap for anyone. Don't jump off a cliff, use the stairs (build yourself slowly, take your time). She survived, but just barely.

Herbert Marcuse argued that private business worlds tend to commodify subversive artifacts, in the form of underground comix for example, instead of banning or burning them outright. Capitalism was subversive of subversion in his book, a source of undermining mindlessness (sounds kinda Zen, come to think of it).

Rather than decry this tendency to "one dimensionalize" (render harmless), one should consider the alternatives. The message I got from this film is spirited female civilians don't necessarily support or admire spattering blood everywhere (it's hard to get out for one thing).

If the fashion-minded authorities and their pop culture nemeses are inwardly consumed by horrific fantasies, and spoiling for opportunities to act them out, then why not flatten them to the screen, as cartoons even, or video games, and order pizza instead?

The Iranian gals really seem more civilized, just wanna have fun, while the guys keep wrecking it with lots of atrocious behavior masked with vapid preachiness.

Persepolis is potentially a step up from Gotham, again thanks in part to Japan's spirited business world, a welcome source of pacifism in the currently shrill and shallow climate.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WRDL: Control Room

click here for the applet

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Individualism & Transcendentalism

another kitchen collage:
banana, four-balls, fridge magnet
One hallmark of American Transcendentalism may be its celebration of the self, including its so-called "earthly" (or "earthy") aspects which some other traditions have tended to demonize, or at least ridicule, in an effort to dominate or control.

Making the self or persona a project, or series of projects (as in "self reinvention"), requires a level of detachment, which is where "transcendence" enters the equations.

Ideally, the alchemical archetype surrounding such work is one of serene equanimity, versus wallowing in paranoia and/or megalomania and/or other obnoxious conditions, each with its attendant signs of imbalance.

Walt Whitman's
Songs of Myself gives a good sense of the aesthetic that helped get the ball rolling here.

Managing one's identity is a responsibility, and a privilege, not a curse, a way to participate in Creation just as surely as having a body is (the two go together).

The association of "subjectivity" with "responsibility" is in contrast to more repressive teachings about cultivating "cold dispassion" towards "untrustworthy emotions" or whatever.

Celebrating the integrity of one's subjective individuality hearkens back to Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript, which exposes the hollowness of hiding out behind some omniscient- sounding "objective voice" and using that voice to tell history, versus accepting personal responsibility for adding a spin.

Accepting responsibility for "creating a self" is an essential move within existentialism and related psychologies, in turn a healing response to the devastation of WWI.

Post-modernism was perhaps more rebellious than brave in its protests against "objectivity" (associated with authoritarian voice overs, especially in documentary film making), whereas more rugged individualists, such as Hunter S. Thompson, embraced a "new journalism" on the understanding that these wildly differing perspectives might co-exist as our collective heritage within our shared democratic context (worth defending!).

Making "identity crafting" a chief responsibility (like a full time job) is akin to the "soul-making" project of James Hillman, a Jungian talking about individuation, or "self actualization" (Maslow). The alchemical experience of Synergy is one of a guiding and/or intuitive hand (God's grace and/or will), such that one's own person becomes a vehicle for surfing atop a broader, more oceanic intelligence, an experience of Inner Light as Quakers are wont to call it.

Minus transcendence, "identity crafting" degenerates into shallow self- absorption, other lower forms of consciousness (or unconsciousness). The Catholics are right to warn us about the high cost of vanity, the prideful taking of personal credit for that which emerged from deeper sources. The ego is not forged by the ego alone, another way of casting the "no self nature" teaching, a dharma perpetually frustrating to Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost. To invert Paul Tillich's pithy meme, it takes courage to not be as well (i.e. to accept the only quasi- or even pseudo- reality of the persona, the mask).

Individuation actually involves increasing one's awareness of otherness, multiplying the variety of viewpoints from which one's self and one's world might be viewed. Fuller quotes Robert Burns on this subject, at the start of his Critical Path: "Oh wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as others see us." Know thyself!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Psy War: Who's Losing?

You get these pundits on Fox or CNN decrying Iran's plans to weaponize fission, not realizing the greater danger, to them, to their careers, is if Iran is telling the truth, is only interested in the civilian possibilities of nuclear power.

In the latter case, suggested as credible by the NSA, you have these hypocrites coming before the world saying "we have a God given right to do this, but we'll kill them if they try it" i.e. almost the essence of an indefensible position. Or does the IAEA have the right to make surprise visits at Hanford? I didn't see that in the papers if so.

Such psychological weakness is damaging to whatever side gives rise to such idiocy, so if Iran is telling the truth, then CNN is actually losing to Al Jazeera in the credibility department. Some pundits might want to polish other skills in that case, as their names will be mud in the industry -- same goes for journalists who can't see both sides (a professional responsibility no?).

Remember those aluminum tubes?

Friday, July 11, 2008

More Curriculum Cartoons

Birth of C60

Atom Self Constructs

Assembling Audrey I...

All of the above are by sculptor, photographer, and computer animator Kenneth Snelson, who gives his atoms a consistent look and feel based on his Portrait of an Atom.

Xrefs: [1][2][3][4]

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Wanderers 2008.7.8

:: duane in action ::
Duane Ray is using us as a kind of focus group to test his mainstream science presentation about the Big Bang (he's a creationist in that sense, not one of the eternally regenerative crowd). Wanderers is good for this, helps people refine their spiels.

In brief: photons are important, yield up the spectra: we and stars share a common set of constituents, quarks & leptons, denizens of a primordial soup (mixed in with the dark stuff), which gave rise to these bigger masses, atoms, planets and stars.

He's being quite animated, giving me ideas for cartoon characters.

"Iodine, uranium... hydrogen, helium...," a separation into layers with heavier stuff towards the center, hard planets, within the first couple billion years, bringing us up to date (between 13 and 14 billion years into it -- 13.7 to be more exact).

Meanwhile the rate of universe expansion is continuing to speed up (we just figured that out, based on supernovae).

Black holes behave like garbage collectors, but evaporate nonetheless (takes awhile), giving us this closer to zero heat death of the universe.

There's no connecting the ending to the beginning in this cosmology -- more of a linear one-off, nothing much to compare it with. Dark matter (23%), dark energy (73%), atoms (4%)...

Editorial interjection: given the standard Big Bang story doesn't explain the dark stuff, it's probably premature to suggest we have a working model or theory here, but that shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm for cosmology, which doesn't depend on always having a coherent explanation for everything -- maybe in a couple of years? Data acquisition proceeds apace.

I just got an email back from Kenneth Snelson, woo hoo (count me a fan).

"subway map"

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Touring Facilities

Today Elise and I joined management for a tour of the hard hat area, casino extension project.

Congratulations to Alexia on finding and adopting Izzy.

Carol and Julie are exploring their heritage at Seattle Center.

We'll probably stop at Math 'n Stuff on the way back to Portland. Apropos of that I published some more discussion of 6174, sparking a series of replies, including from Tim Peters woo hoo.

me at Cama Beach

Thursday, July 03, 2008

EPCOT Makeover?

I think everyone agrees the Kodak Pavilion is like a joke, except for the octet truss superstructure, in showcasing very ho hum ideas about the future, kind of like GM did (North America: home of the dinosaurs, like Jurassic Park on steroids).

So it's not like Americans are interested in creating good family wage jobs right now, given pessimism is so in vogue, but were they wishing to do so, a revamp of Epcot is long overdue. First: set it back to an acronym, EPCOT, like Disney intended. Second: avail of all that NASA type talent, that migrated to The Mouse after Apollo.

North Americans are good at showcasing future alternatives, getting feedback from focus groups, and that includes futuristic lifestyles using such as EcoMotion mobiles, FEDs, other newfangled toyz. Unlike Hollywood, we don't require suspension of disbelief at every turn. We may not have Santa hammered out yet, but we do make real motor cars (electric motors included).

Remember, Control Room had it first (we rock over here).