Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wanderers 2010.4.27

Completely packed house tonight, with some of the rare birds. I'm ensconced in my blogging area, ready to poke my head in, take notes. Something about psychokenisis (am I spelling that correctly?). We have an out of town expert. Already the coat hanger is buckling under the weight, given our double the usual number.

Earlier today: a good meeting with Dr. B. Fuller, University of Nebraska emeritus, busy with his grandchildren, studying Alexander Calder with one of them. We met at Lyrik, formerly Fine Grind. I took these cool pictures of Bob signing the book he edited, writings by one of his mentors, Robert Karplus.

Allen Taylor and I read each other's blogs.

I spent the last few hours dumping FoxPro data through a converter program I found on the Internet, but needed to patch. It uses AFIELDS to get data about table columns, and does a fairly good job of creating a MySQL table, then populating it with data.

I'm doing the dumping on the Win7 host, then gmailing to myself on a Sun Virtualbox guesting Ubuntu (I should use a shared folder but haven't figured that out yet). There I populate the ktraks database in the MySQL installation, point to it from in Django project /home/projects/ktraks/. I'm using virtualenv...

These were all just demo fragments, as I'm hoping to gel a proposal. The actual project would need more than one solo coder/developer. In fact, I'm already one of a dynamic duo, or trio if you count the author of the framework (based in Tampa).

Actually, there's a vast army behind every project in IT world, it's just that we don't always know in advance for what purposes our tools will be used. Consider TCP/IP. Some use it to provide medical care while others use it to spread damaging misinformation calculated to inspire fear.

Tele-kenesis, not psycho-kinesis. Applause. I should get a picture.


She speaks in Russian and this young guy follows in English, line by line. She's talking about levels of consciousness. This gets me thinking of those Jungian talks again.

Jon Bunce bailed early. Apparently our guest requested no wine drinking in her presence. Probably a good idea to keep us sobered up. We weren't allowed to eat our cake either, nor interrupt much. Seemed pretty telekinetic to me, in that respect -- knocked 'em off balance.

Given I'm sequestered in the blogging area, I'm able to sip on the sly. Is that why the disk didn't turn? Later some said that it did, so I'm confused about whether this was an experiment. We got together and hit off each other, an exercise in re-vectoring with the "tele" part not that easy to see, though we have our models (great circle railroad tracks through points of inter-tangency etc.).

I'm missing most of the content I must confess, staying occupied talking to my on-line critic and posting to Math Forum some more.

Good seeing Rhett Savage again.

I'll put some more polish on this tomorrow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thinking About Bud

The Bud I mean is Dawn's step dad, father to Gail. I had the great privilege of meeting the dear man on a couple of occasions. He worked for Eastern Airlines, in operations, for many years.

His gentle manner really helped restore Dawn and Sam to happier lives in Satellite Beach, Florida, after some blisteringly bleak years in Warren, Ohio and such places.

Bud married their mom and was looking forward to a cheery retirement, when she died suddenly, of complications from a standard PTCA or other angiogram (I met Dawn afterwards).

My heartfelt respect for this hero of many adventures I have not told of here. His memorial service is tomorrow.

Sam phoned me from Florida as I was getting off my delayed United flight from Denver, left me voicemail. I immediately texted Alexia, Dawn's first of two daughters, as I road public transport back to my home.

Mom and I talked by phone tonight. She is with Julie my sister.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Immersive Python

We blitzed through a lot of Python in three days. I knew STScI was deeply into NumPy but didn't really get it about Pyfits until I got here. FITS is a file format used by astronomers around the world.

These files contain a lot of the imagery from Hubble, which dumps data to New Mexico, from whence it bounces off another satellite to the Goddard Space Center, thence it feeds into STScI here in Baltimore for archiving and analysis.

Various data processing pipelines then take the data through transformations to enhance the information and accommodate for idiosyncrasies, anomalies, other factors. The delicate instruments are in perpetual need of fine tuning and recalibration.

Clients will often get both the raw data heading into the pipeline, as well as the processed results coming out the far end.

The Hubble is always repointing this way and that as it circles Earth every 96 minutes. It uses gyroscopes to do this, not retro rockets. Astronomers compete for precious time on this always busy, tightly scheduled space telescope.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cramming and Cleaning

I've been looking at "cramming and cleaning" as two of my principal activities of late.

I've got a teaching gig coming up, so feel a need to cram.

The other challenge is digging out from under a pile of stuff in a respectful manner. I didn't throw away my old notebooks (yet), and other media are gradually aggregating: books to the "time capsule," photographs to a room upstairs. I'm under orders from a sponsor not to rent a dumpster (bad for PR to take the easy way out).

Speaking of sponsors, my thanks to one of them for a cell phone upgrade. The previous one was providing "half duplex" some of the time (they could hear me, but I couldn't hear them). This next one, an LG, used and still in good shape, is more both robust and includes the full keyboard I've come to expect from the Samsung.

Given I lug a laptop or netbook, I'm still not in the market for a busy "apps phone" with all the bling. Per my CSN writings, I tend to aim for bigger rather than smaller LCDs. Hypertoons on an iPhone might look cool though.

On the nationalism thread (one of the subjects under study in this campus household), I've been wondering about getting certain classes of student ID approved for trans-boarder traffic.

Some people, classified as refugees, have fallen through the cracks of the nation state system, find gaining citizenship (documentation) an almost impossible barrier. A "reboot city" consisting of high turnover housing and skills training courses (like a college) might provide its graduates with student ID acceptable in at least some other locales.

Along these lines, I once made the suggestion on the PSF list, that Python Nation (a 2nd world) issue passports. These would be souvenir / gift shop items that one might get stamped at a Pycon or EuroPython or other venue. The idea of actually using such a document to get through customs would actually be more prototypical of the "virtual nations" idea. Yes, I see "identity politics" at work here; we're looking for ways to add freedoms, to improve the average global university experience.

[ With all these gigabytes available, we should aim to start a thorough and helpful medical record for any new life, regardless of ethnicity or economic circumstances. This would be an opportunity some might refuse, out of distrust or in obedience to some religious precept. Better to refuse an opportunity than to not have it in the first place though. Electronic medical records in some schemaless document management system (e.g Tokyo Cabinet) might make the most sense.]

As long as one's persistent veridical identity provides some kind of audit trail as borders get crossed, a lot of bureaucratic requirements will be satisfied.

A person with a valid passport and internationally certified student / faculty ID might use either. The Facebook-like chronology (perhaps of border crossings and nothing more), would show if both were linked to the same identity. Scanning the ID retrieves the record within the custom agent's browser. Iconic flags and decals would decorate the average tourist record.

Refugees with accepted documentation, yet still with no citizenship within any UN-recognized sovereignty, might nevertheless get opportunities to visit various campuses in the course of their work / study scenarios. If Harvard had a satellite campus in Uganda, maybe Harvard students could go there using Harvard ID, just as Ugandans enrolling in Harvard through this satellite might thereby gain the credentials to visit Cambridge through a special gate at the airport.

A doctors without borders HQS in Siberia might offer valuable training opportunities, complete with airstrip. You might not need a passport to go there through Russian airspace, by agreement with authorities. Similar facilities and/or transit centers might dot the globe elsewhere.

Your chronofile might still show you'd been there and elsewhere. The average quality of the information on tap would actually be less sketchy than it is today.

We currently live in a dark time when the so-called "undocumented" (more Global U students) are provided with little to no practical recourse in the face of the same unrelenting pressures to move about the globe as those bringing the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, others to destinations in the Middle East and so on. People are not trees, are not rooted so much as routed by God's will (if you'll accept a religious moniker in this context -- how many pilgrims think of their leadings).

Speaking of Doctors Without Borders, my congratulations to Vino Vixens on Powell for hosting a fundraiser for this group the other night.

Lindsey Walker and Amy Bleu
:: musicians at work ::

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Wanderers 2010.4.7

We learned about broadband under "lawyer-capitalism" (as our mentor and Medal of Freedom winner calls it). President Eisenhower called it the "military-industrial complex" and thought it might destroy the USA we had known.

The USA has some of the slowest Internet at the highest rates anywhere, thanks to the FCC, Supreme Court etc.

Other less backward parts of the world are creating their next generation of telecommunications with fiber instead of copper, leaving the USA in the dust.

The private companies controlling the cable franchises have not kept pace, have been turning the Internet into a one-way service for delivering movies to idiot boxes while clamping down hard on competing users and service providers.

Google has been planning a few fiber-based test beds featuring a two-way gigabit service that would be open platform, shared with local companies kicked off the cable delivery system by the FCC.

The FCC lost its jurisdictional mandate yesterday in some dimension. However, I had another meeting to attend so was unable to chronicle more details.

Our speaker works for the City of Portland, which has been resisting this dying form of capitalism, hoping to open up the infrastructure to more players. The concentration of media in a fewer hands goes against the grain of the Oregonian psyche.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Workshop News

Randy, lets call her, at first found the CubeIt! "creepy" because of the magnets, but then took to exploring it with gusto, while taking in my explanation of its 24 Mites as minimum space-fillers. Another guy, lets call him Kyle, was likewise comprehending.

It's not that this stuff is particularly hard; it's just not shared very widely, not even on Math World (a situation we have recently addressed).

All talk of irregular polytopes aside, this educational tool from the Huntar Company is simply fun to play with.

The octahedral Flextegrity model triggered some discussion of a landmine detector / destroyer. One of our number, a company president and sponsor, had worked on a prototype at a national lab in his spare time some years ago, basing his design on a clever kids' toy.

A rotating weight caused the scaled up version to flip from face to face unpredictably, generating a random walk across a field, possibly detonating a charge along the way.

These devices would be inexpensive / dispensable and could be put to work in large numbers. But would they find them all? Landmines are another legacy technology today's world despises.

The motorcycle engineer also shared a few thoughts with our group, though I had some trouble with his accent, wish I were better with languages. Speaking of which, here some Japanese kanji I've been getting recently:

polyhedra 多面体
tetrahedron 正四面体
decahedron 10面体
dodecahedron 正十二面体
rhombic dodecahedron 菱形十二面体

many 多
surface 面
body 体
regular 正
twelve (ten, two) 十二
four 四
diamond shape 菱形

A reporter from Baghdad shared horrific stories. People blame the political process, but such levels of violence are hardly political, or a process. The electrical grid is still in a shambles, city services are greatly impaired, despair is running high.

The Colin Powell "you break it you buy it" policy cannot be enacted from a purely military standpoint. The Coalition will probably need something more like a Marshall Plan (ERP), making use of those bases as staging areas. Some of the same logistics used in Haiti might apply, including emergency evacuations to better medical facilities (the "mega hospitals").

Scholarships for future health care workers will be needed across the board just to deal with America's aging boomers, many of whom currently seek quality care overseas. Anyone now in the military who qualifies, and wants to follow in the footsteps of Air Force hero Charlie Clements, should get a boost.

The know-how to build and repair civilian infrastructure is in danger of being lost, in America too. Per a voice from Denver, both Hewlett-Packard and TRW CEOs were suggesting decades ago that out-of-control military spending is economically and ecologically ruinous. Civil society is under attack, and quasi-defenseless around the world.

The Python component is still under development and probably needs more Numpy. Dick and I were discussing the nuances in Cyberia. The functional programmers object to polyhedra changing "in place" and returning None, akin to going some_list = ['a', 'b', 'c']; some_list.sort( ). They hate stuff like that. I expect the Scheme camp will continue to compete. Congrats to MF for getting that award by the way. I sure could use some big prizes (jealous).

Not all of this Radical Math occurred on the Pauling Campus. 97214 offers other facilities, though we hardly compete with Reed College when it comes to computer labs. The Java workshop the other night (related to work in genetics) was on the Pauling Campus, as was my Python workshop. Today though, I didn't once set foot in that board room.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Suggesting a Change

I proposed augmenting a page at MathWorld yesterday, using the contribution form.

This morning, Dave Koski phoned to let me know I'd misused the term "orthoscheme" in my initial submission. The text below is from today's newly revised version.

I posted the text of both submissions to Synergeo, as echoed back to me from the MathWorld web server.

The page I am talking about is the one on Space-Filling Polyhedra.
Existing text:

"A space-filling polyhedron, sometimes called a a plesiohedron (Grünbaum and Shephard 1980), is a polyhedron which can be used to generate a tessellation of space. Although even Aristotle himself proclaimed in his work On the Heavens that the tetrahedron fills space, it in fact does not."

Proposed addition:

However an irregular tri-rectangular tetrahedron, named the Mite by R. Buckminster Fuller (for "minimum tetrahedron"), does fill space by itself, with no need of left and right handed complements.


The space-filling polyhedra page curiously avoids any mention of space-filling tetrahedra, simpler than hexahedra.

Fuller's contribution is more nuanced than just offering nomenclature (Mite). In Fig 950.12 he cites pg. 71 of 'Regular Polytopes' to complement Coxeter's treatment of this shape with original modular dissections thereof.

Two additional space-filling tetrahedra may be assembled from Mites.

Presumably Michael Goldberg's treatment enumerates space-filling tetrahedra, suggesting another sentence in the 2nd to last paragraph summarizing his findings?

Coxeter, D. \titleisbn{Regular Polytopes.}{0486614808} New York, New York: Dover Publications, p.~71, 1973.\par

Fuller, R. B. \titleisbn{Synergetics: explorations in the geometry of thinking.}{0020653204} New York, New York: Macmillan, Fig.~950.12, 1975.\par

Inchbald, Guy. ''The "cells" of the Archimedean honeycomb duals'' 1996. \url{}.\par

You'll find I was ranting a little recently (not for the first time) about the fact that so few mathematicians include any mention of Fuller's Mite, or minimum tetrahedron, in their catalogs of space-fillers.

I continue registering my more generic consternation on Synergeo this afternoon, in the context of discussing nuclear disarmament with other contributors. I write in terms of a "global university" as that's what Spaceship Earth has shaped up to become. Fuller's "final exam time" metaphor, for this time in history, is consistent with this imagery. I also point back to this journal entry from math-teach @ Math Forum, where I explicitly tie my concerns to those of the current administration.