Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's a Scripting Language?

You'll hear a lot of confusion in people's voices around this question. In part it's because they'll hear a computer language dismissed as irrelevant, in a kind of snobbish tone, with the words "oh, that's just a scripting language". What the hell does that even mean?

Well, let's try to answer that. There's a kind of janitorial work that's rather rarefied and difficult, and not all that sexy, in terms of people lining up around the block to be sysops or sysadmins, and often it's a "rotate through" position like bar tending (which I've done, though without mixing drinks).

Being a good system administrator takes real skill and my mind darts back to Free Geek and that barefoot guy who liked Python because of its ability to work with files in a traditional Unix-style filesystem, as a workhorse for clawing through logs, setting up user accounts, cleaning out detritus -- whatever needed doing. Perl grew up in this same forest, a close associate of the several shells, Bourne's becoming the standard, awk, sed and all of those.

Some of the public's ignorance stems from not tackling batch file programming in DOS, or even if you did, that was nothing like the state of the art POSIX command line they were getting in college. I've not used VMS, did use CMS on an IBM 360/370, understood about the virtual machine concept, not in terms of a code running engine (ala CLR, bytecode VMs), but in terms of each user having the mental image of being in control of a whole computer, with mountable devices, tapes (where tarballs come from). Computers were all about tapes in the old days, with Turing Machines defined as having infinite tape (how blissful).

Anyway, I think it's the janitorial responsibilities that stamped Perl and Python as "working class" and therefore you get that snobbish tone from an inner sanctum, behind higher walls within the Ivory Tower, where you get these more "theoretical" languages (supposedly), tended to by higher priests with higher degrees of inner circleness, or at least that was the marketing of the day (dial back a ways, you'll find it's all there).

Given this is more about ethnicity than engineering, the category "scripting language" has not withstood the test of time very well. The Perl community has advocated embracing the term, and I think that's worth doing. But the lay public still hasn't understood what it means, so embrace it all you like it's still a big mystery. Now with Python embracing it, things make more sense, as Pythons do that (embrace things), as a species. So even if the computer science gets lost, at least there's something concrete to think about here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Redmond's Mirth

:: antidepressant ::

:: happy campers ::

:: tip of the hat, from ubuntu ::

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reinventing the Sacred

:: isepp 2009 @ heathman, portland, or, etc. ::

The bus wasn't coming and I wanted a beer. I kept sneaking in to Oasis, getting in line. However the lady in front of me had the most complicated pizza order ever, obviously the high point of her day.

Step out, come back in. Maybe there's beer down the block, start walking to the next bus stop.

Cell call... the dongle for connecting a Mac to the projector is at the Linus Pauling House. I should drop plans to take the 14 and get Razz, high tail it over to said house and grab the supply, take it downtown.

Later: knowing I'll be turning left in front of the Schnitzer, I try to phone in. I should have tried Glenn, didn't know he was part of Kauffman's entourage, but could have guessed. Find parking (Smart Park, entering on 10th).

Fun getting to go backstage, ushered by Mentor Graphics personnel. Gavin had beat me to it with the dongle, which is just as well, as we were but minutes before show time at this point. Terry thanked me just the same.

Leslie, also a Wanderer, had scored a ticket, later joined us for the reception at the Heathman. I drank quite a bit of red wine, ate asparagus and cheese, listened to the conversation, butting in now and then, took some pictures.

We (me 'n Leslie) started at the head table with Mentor Graphics people, but when Stu showed up after generously answering a lot of questions, we switched to a different one, surrendering our seats to Aldona and Allen Taylor.

At this new table, we talked about burying pets, among other topics. Our table mate, a big fan of Charles Dickens, had twelve acres somewhere. She had used a backhoe and forklift to bury a horse (more than one?). The hole was like 20 feet deep (seems excessive). Leslie had lots of problems trying to bury her cat because of shallow sandstone and other animals.

We got on to this subject in part because of Moon Kitty's recent incineration.

Stuart was relaxed and in good spirits throughout the evening. He'd been talking to Terry a lot and wove in some of those themes. He answered more questions from the podium, talking about a dog he knew (Windsor), other topics.

His talk inspired people to open their thinking to new possibilities. That's maybe harder to do than it sounds.

I drove Aldona home (she's also a Wanderer).

Belated happy birthday to my mother, Carol Urner. She flew from LAX to Chicago to Washington DC yesterday, clearly feeling better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wanderers 2009.4.22

Jim Buxton is projecting pictures from his recent stay, with partner, in an off-grid XRL, solar and wind powered, in California.

I gave a "rolling thunder" (vs. lightning) talk about my GIS in Action talk, blending in a report from Chicago. I talked through the Flickr set then flipped through the PDF of my OpenOffice Presentation.

David Tver got a lot of value out of his early model programmable calculator, studying chaos, ray tracing, likewise from his Commodore 64. In my case, the HP-65 proved influential (RPN with stack).

Bill Sheppard had a stereogram of a nebula he'd printed. He jokes the images were taken 10K light years apart, to give the right parallax.

I was glad to get Warren and Carter Sande's Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners in the mail yesterday, a book for learning Python, also happy to see my name in the acknowledgments.

Thanks Jimmy, for letting me borrow the lawn mower again. I abused it some, but it proved up to the job.

Ubuntu's Jaunty Jackalope
is in the news today.

Friday, April 17, 2009

School Spirit

Schools develop their own internal lore, as evidenced by those sometimes dusty trophy cabinets, posted research, other wall art. These exhibits betoken the life experiences of the scholars within, proud classes gone by.

Since the invention of the intranet, interconnected by the Internet (some of them), more of this lore might assume digital format. Last year's performances, edited, remixed, go into the hall of fame, perhaps retaining raw footage. Editors treat that issue differently. Version control systems (cvs, svn, bzr, hg) make sense. Python.org is in the process of switching.

Teachers are often known by their students i.e. several stars will pop out of the woodwork in various places, like Doug Strain, a student of Linus Pauling's at Cal Tech. We've met some other students of his, of Feynman's also. As more of a Princeton type guy, I'm somewhat the interloper, but we synergize well, in a kind of east meets west operation.

Take the PSF's interest in fostering outreach to educators for example. If your students start sending their work to our coaches, Vern Ceder for example, then we'll become aware of you as well, as their mentor. That might be OK with you, to have your students discovered. Perhaps you would like to brand yourself even more overtly as a teacher of Python. What might that look like? Perhaps we could help steer you to the right stuff, to our figurative Vaults of Parnassus?

As I was posting to Synergeo recently (#51525), we're fortunate in ToonTown, to be able to source high definition video clips suitable for sharing out through exclusive outlets, such as certain classrooms and/or coffee shops. You didn't see it on the Internet first, you saw it because your teacher has excellent access to some engaging material. The teacher is also trained in taking good advantage of said material, helping maximize the value you get from it. That's what real teaching is all about.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grunch Net

Network Solutions finally nudged me enough that I reupped on the domain again, this time until 2013. They were having evident problems in the ISP department per posted technical advisories, so I passed on the offer to switch from Qwest as my back end.

If I drop Qwest, I'd probably be dropping the land line as well (remember land lines?), and the fax (5032311045 -- mostly gets stuff about Cancun and Acapulco). As of now, however, I've even got my DirectTV bundled through Qwest, albiet with slashed HBO, Animal Planet (not by choice), still have National Geographic channel. No Geek Channel, Pentagon Channel nor Al Jazeera, no VOA. But that's standard for Lower48 slumdog neighborhoods such as our 97214. Switching to Comcast wouldn't help matters. At least we have Hulu, Netflix and so on (Youtube etc.).

The Grunch website is a literary project, as was the small book for which it was named, R.B. Fuller's Grunch of Giants. I spell out some radical middle politics plus give it a retro flair (sort of Bob like, John Waters, hints of Mad), consistent with Esozone's "Other Tomorrow" aesthetics, i.e. let's imagine had we not kicked the can down the road on the Bucky stuff for so long, we wouldn't be wallowing in high banking fees and closing costs maybe, might even have better health care.

Of course "it's not too late" is the perennial hope. Under the front page veneer, I've got a lot of basic humanities readings, a lot of it in ruins, given it's ancient, but with a link to my blogs, which have remained quite contemporary in flavor. We're a lot of young engineers (including female, in Japan) and design scientists (Bucky's nomenclature), around Portland, around Chicago... everywhere actually (Vilnius, Gothenberg...), so hold on to your hats and let's fly. Yes, we could use some more help. The work isn't easy.

Speaking of hard work, I've put in some more time on the OS Bridge puzzle of harnessing local talent to pull at least a few of our local NGOs into the 21st century. I'm looking at PPUG as one of those talent pools we might recruit from moving forward, along with art schools, graphic design schools i.e. just because you're good at regular expressions doesn't mean you know how to draw airplane seat pocket materials.

We need talent from many walks of life, not just software engineering. Read the post below for more on the User Group concept? You could probably adapt what we're doing for needed upgrades in your area.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I've been getting my feet wet in PSF world a little, thanks to Ian's new user group concepts. Parents like seeing what junior might be doing at summer camp, maybe take a few lessons, maybe volunteer, and the user group is traditionally open, though we're not that used to hosting kids. They'll need guardians. I forget how it worked with BarCamp where Ki Master George sold me a T-shirt that time, still below drinking age.

Of course I'm thinking ahead to the various coffee shop venues, where people might want to give lightning talks on a small stage, flanked by flatscreens, a kind of proto Pycon, more like karaoke, in terms of facing an audience. Open mic around open source? Why not? Already the status quo in thriving geek subcultures.

Show & Tell is a primitive genre, no reason to suddenly end it (like, there it is in elementary school, so where does it go? YouTube to the rescue in some cases).

My input, as non-board, non-executive voter, was simply to circle what I would call "the turf" (that which PSF protects): the website, conferences, user groups, and of course the purity of the code offerings themselves.

It's possible to hack an MD5 check I think (remembering a CRIME meeting at the zoo, HPD's George Heuston officiating), meaning you'll want some other checks as well (Python passes lots of tests, but how do you know which are the right ones).

Historically, I don't think counterfeit Pythons have been much of a problem, but with the success of any open source scripting language, you might get wannabe web sites with non-standard interpreters. At least the labeling needs to be clear. You always want to know: what's in the bottle. The PSF meeting at Pycon resolved to control the branding, in part to guard against precisely this contingency (case studies were mentioned).

To "protect" is also to nurture and grow, to enable to thrive, so I'm glad Vern Ceder is looking into Steve's idea of moving towards ISEF a little (the science fair motif), in terms of opening the floor to champions still in the schools, without employer compensation, yet who might get to exhibit, even if only in absentia, if only the right sponsors could find them.

Publishers need their poster children much as Nike needs star athletes to market sportswear. In saying "publishers" I'm not discounting colleges and universities, some with their own presses, some without. Having a cast is another way to value-add. Having your decals on a player says something about whom you value as an MVP. Brands use this to differentiate, niche market, B2B as much as B2C.

In floating the idea of a televised user group, I'm not seeking to compete with the many Internet venues. TV is still a distinct distribution medium in many ways, with its own set of protocols (PAL, NTSC). Yes, I'm aware of the direct to DVD option.

The point is, once we're able to edit more freely, we don't have to get it all with one take. On the other hand, presenters may not have the luxury of retakes either, so it's still "reality TV" in that sense (cameras get to visit the circus, but then the show must go on regardless, can't always slow down or repeat just because it's being recorded).

Of course Mickey Mouse Club is a model, even though I never watched it much (was out of the country). Everyone seems to know about it, if older than a certain age. Pee Wee Herman was more demented, frenetic, which might "play better in Baghdad" as they say. George (GW) running through with the reputedly rubber turkey was kind of like that -- made for TV, live action. Also "porno press guy" was pretty demented (this source says he had access to that Valarie Plame memo, for shame).

Anyway, Monty Python is the more logical source to turn to in our case, where much of the comedy comes from in the first place. I've offered a few skits, pitched various mathcasts (4D Studios work). I'd like to contribute more to such efforts, and not just around Python. There's all that "Bucky stuff" we're into, feeding out through commercials and so on. Heard of any good Quaker beers lately?

A more family-friendly EduPycon might also materialize (less strictly business), perhaps in a campus setting (like Pacific University's, or like Reed's -- to pick good local examples). A lot depends on how many faculty adopt Python for their schools. She plays well with others, Python does, like with Java and C++. To bring Python in doesn't mean kicking anyone out, unless disk space is really that much of a problem -- it usually isn't these days.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Service Calls

I'm busy slamming Lie to Me, Tara defending. I'm thinking "there's no reality like this" but she insists this is cool. These people with intrusive abilities to just tell us who is lying... what gives them that right? Police power fascism. Not new on TV. Yawn. I diss NUMB3RS as well, as my loyal readers might know.

Earlier, Tara'd had it with our busted remote, meaning no DirecTV in the downstairs. "Let's repurpose the upstairs remote" I said, patching in, "that way the one you're mailing can be for the TV we use less" (in my bedroom).

The guy ends up reading me like 30 codes for any kind of SONY. But we also had it on Video 3 instead of Line 1 -- and the remote is busted (stupid slidey thing, $15 to replace). Tara was also watching Jeopardy earlier.

Mom's cell was presumably lost, so I initiated the temporary suspension feature, but then she found it (way cool!). Again, more secret codes to reactivate, last four digits of my SSN.

A demented videogame for elementary school kids, complete with headphones, sort of stresses the "service call" skill: be polite and friendly, enjoy the experience, and be focused and detail minded, not spacey and diffused. Technical problems take presence of mind.

The PPUG list is buzzing with high level Django jargon, reminding me Leslie phoned, having heard about the electronic medical record initiative. Saving billions of your tax dollars.

Django (an MVC web framework) might be more for PostgreSQL however, a clinical research application. LMRs (legal medical records) might need a more schemaless environment, lots of pilot studies underway don't ya think? Could be good for Javascript too, CouchDB an attractive Apache project.

The ability to go against large test databases of scrambled information, no real PHI in the mix, is the kind of sandbox (testing environment) needed. We faced this at Free Geek on the MMT contract. I've written about the pseudonymizer in the same vein -- creates reams of "false identities" for simulation and/or identity masking purposes.

At Oasis today, it was all about RFID in the gurneys, playing air traffic control with lots of flatscreens, keeping patients from waiting, bottlenecking. Yes, you'll think of Wall*e maybe, can't be helped. Patient transport in hospitals is often on a bed or wheelchair, controlled by an orderly, other health care worker. Should the bracelet contain RFID as well? We're getting into hospital design and architecture here. As a Python guy, I'm more into the data streams than the data harvesting hardware, always pray for a simple enough API.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Knowing Experimentally

You sometimes run across this expression "knowing experimentally" in Quaker literature, and I latch onto it, thinking in part of Guinea Pig B, Bucky Fuller's sometime vision of himself.

I'm Guinea Pig K then; we each get "a self" to test the world with (a philosophical notion). Maybe it's a "virtual self" in some way, or, in the Buddhist sense, it's co-defined by the world. When our sense of the world changes, so too does our sense of self, and vice versa. Wittgenstein's Tractatus is a lot about this.

What puzzles me is when educators object to our planning around FOSS-based and/or "object oriented mathematics" with complaints that it hasn't been tested sufficiently.

There's a chicken-egg problem here, in that you don't get to skip the experimental part. Strong schools encourage trying new approaches, reward initiative, as only by testing new ideas in the field will we gain in experience.

In any subculture that innovates, you need the equivalent of "test pilots", people who'll "boldy go" (as they say on Star Trek). "Guinea pigs R us" in other words.

I've put a fair amount of stress on my Saturday Academy pilots, which you'll find written up in scattered posts within these blogs. Here were my tests, my results. Others could copy. I shared lots of lore, not just technical stuff. I made my source code freely available.

And so, that's a wrap in a lot of ways, one guy doing what one guy might do.

In terms of a circus, setting up a tag team of "gnu math teachers": it's a fun idea and would likely help galvanize our economy to new heights. The goal is to boost enrollment in STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

This isn't at the expense of other subjects so much as a matter of more successfully converging them. Philosophy used to have some responsibility for achieving a good mix.

Sometimes I think the Quaker schools might be up for more experiments of this nature, starting with leadership in some of the flagship colleges. For all I know, that's what a goodly number are trying already.

In the meantime, the existing math track has a lot of problems i.e. we know experimentally that it's broken. But sometimes staring at something broken is more fascinating than coming up with new solutions.

Fighting fatalism is the name of the game.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Positive Developments

Quinn and Nick
:: quinn & nick, paradox cafe, belmont ::

Johnny Stallings, the pro actor who does Shakespeare in state prisons (and at Catlin Gabel), just radioed his pleasure that the USA president plans to take a stand against nuke weapons on Sunday.

My mom will like that too.

I've been using the "launching party" metaphor, timing some post-Pycon "gnu geometry" advertising to coincide with what North Korea is up to, building upon earlier spoofs. I've enjoyed working this thread, which can get pretty twisted.

Tara won a speech and debate round, pretty good for a noob. She's a quarter-finalist.

My thanks to Dave Fabik for the "I'm Blogging This" T-shirt, very apropos, wore it to the gym this evening (and here I am, blogging about it).

Speaking of the gym, I watched Fox on the little screen on my elliptical thingy, found it hilarious. Some guy was ranting about fasces (rhymes with feces) and finding them on the back of the mercury dime. Hey dunderhead what about in the U.S. senate if you just wanna scare people? And hey, talk about kooky: he had John Bolton on for a guest.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Future of the Image

:: future of the image ::

Whereas Pycon was a boost, I'm still anxious about sluggards in academe needing it handed to 'em on a golden plate, whereas the art colonies have already come through, reproducing the Fuller Syllabus almost verbatim as both museum quality and shovel ready.

So where's the buzz, outside our little OCN / CSN "meme machine" I wonder?

Last night I got an inkling: a recognized art critique played off some French intellectual's futuristic counterpoint, invoking the animist themes familiar in these writings, plus claiming a priority for the graphical over the lexical, while meanwhile cleverly obscuring their distinction.

He knew this was Obama country, so we experienced some shared mirth at the expense of certain neocon bloggists who've only just begun to discover how Shepard Fairey's work plays off of Sino-Soviet socialist realism, by going one better.

Those of us tracking the Obey Giant campaign all these years have no trouble understanding why such art would come in handy, come time to focus on something as real as the USA's presidential contest. Speaking of which, I should have said "gaggle of geese" not "gander of geese" (thx to Haim, erstwhile spar partner, on Math Forum).

Dr. W.J.T Mitchell started as he ended, by invoking popular culture, Jurassic Park and The Matrix in particular (the latter presages the image "going away" leaving nothing but transparent data -- one of two ends in a spectrum, so then we steered in between).

For those from the philosophy department (moi included), there was plenty of thinly veiled Platonism, tinged with Nietszsche's aphorisms (more a "tuning fork" than a "hammer" in this new twilight zone).

I'm grateful to Glenn for getting me out of my cave and onto the Max down through Old Town. We stumbled upon Phyllis Cole, my co-worker at CUE, friend and neighbor in Brooklyn (pre Richmond, where Dawn and I first started this business together). Phyllis is with Metro now. Cool.

We went out to Low Brow Lounge after the talk for a gear shift, noticed other art students doing the same. Glenn and I both have art talks that'd fly with this crowd (Portland's young intelligentsia). I could do one tomorrow if called upon, have a couple others already scheduled through spring.