Friday, July 23, 2010

Book of Lore

Over beers with Patrick at our favorite 97214 watering hole, I discussed my Lightning Talk thesis that universities should be eating their own dog food, by which I meant:

Why outsource the core basics of course registration, instructor assignment and compensation, grading and crediting, scholarships, student and instructor evaluations, to off-site vendors?

Answer (from Patrick): universities have better things to do than be coding huge database systems -- when would they find the time to do any teaching?

Patrick had lots of experience at Dartmouth, and saw from the inside how letting in-house personnel write a compiler for a specific language ended up causing a PhD thesis to come out with the wrong results. A competing institution charged academic fraud -- a serious matter.

Sobered by Patrick's story, I've come away thinking that at least any large institution should invest in its organizational memory, such that newcomers have some way to figure out how it got to be that way (whatever way that it is).

I call this a Book of Lore.

Any large organization, say a hospital, or a system of hospitals, should have its Books of Lore, giving a sense of the heritage and history. What decision-makers reached what decisions? What were the debates?

Based on my own experience, Books of Lore are hard to come by because personnel are uber-cautious with their positions and assessments, don't always want to get out in front, especially with an unpopular point of view.

A Book of Lore, to be successful, need not be about fingering villains and/or uncovering scandals. Moral judgments may be left to the various readers. Universities may stand a better chance of telling their own stories simply because the liberal arts encourage that kind of openness.

A Book of Lore is more just a blow-by-blow, and will be all the more credible and informative if actual emails are cited and included. Failures may be admitted, wrong turns acknowleged, along with lessons learned.

Sometimes it'll be a later analyst, with the benefit of hindsight, who suggests what some of the big successes were. To write history, you need that rear view mirror. Books of Lore may have multiple authors.

Developing a Book of Lore is not always an easy task, as large organizations tend to be compartmentalized. There's an assumption of monitored emails, an archive of some kind (which is what biases the conversations to stay safely neutral), but when push comes to shove, it's often hard to establish that anyone is actually charged with doing the data mining.

A full blown Book of Lore may actually be a multi-media production, complete with interviews, executive speeches, excerpts from board meetings.

Again, colleges and universities may have an easier time of it, given the contentious nature of executive performance -- not that universities can't be contentious!

Putting a company's history on-line may help people steer the company, but at what cost in terms of reputation? A good storyteller doens't leave folks afraid to communciate on the record.

The role of "company historian" goes unfilled.

Even universities, known for their history teaching, will lack an organizational memory in this respect.

Patrick and I did end up agreeing that some larger and/or more gung ho colleges and universities might well choose to role their own, and make the core shared, as in open source. Other universities might use the system with customizations. We've seen elements of this picture emerging already.

Each department may have a strong identity, and want to express itself in terms of the tools it most favors. Some departments may enjoy XML, whereas others may want to stick with JSON. Avoiding a "one size fits all" solution is part of the promise of open source.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Python Users Group, July 2010

I met with another Python teacher today after the user group meeting.

He's doing a class for the Art Insitute, whereas I'm teaching for Saturday Academy.

We're both using IDLE on Windows, which DARPA-funded, initially Guido-programmed shell is under fire for being far behind the state of the art these days, and therefore perhaps more of a liability than an asset.

IDLE barely works on some versions of Apple software.

But what would we use in its place that might likewise be included within the standard Python distro?

Another Python guy wanted to talk hyper-geometry, had been watching the math-dimensions videos and was planning a talk in August.

I told him about our recent contest for "most primitive space-filler", with D.M.Y. Sommerville nailing four candidates back in 1923. Fuller had circled one of these four as the Mite, and I've been championing this decision, though the four quads of the Rite also meet Sommerville's criteria. The other two are Mite-fillable. The heart of the Rite may be graphed using Mites, but they won't fill the four quads.

Judging from traffic on the Polylist, there's still a contingent favoring the "characteristic tetrahedron" instead (Mite-fillable). This shape is not one of Sommerville's candidates for the obvious reason that it comes in left and right flavors -- not properly congruent. Hand-waving about symmetry ensues.

On the other hand, Fuller is adamant that the Mite is also "flavored" even though it's outwardly always the same shape. I compiled a list of pointers into Synergetics Dictionary on this topic, admittedly somewhat esoteric.

Aristotle was right, remember the Mite.

What about those troops and ships moving into Central America? Rumors are flying.

Speaking of esoteric, the presentations during the Python meeting were somewhat on the abstruse side, especially the one by Dan Colish on constructing a context free grammar parser. This was pure computer science.

I've not been invited to OSCON this year (proposal not accepted), so I won't be weighing down these blogs with my usual techno-babble. Plenty of others to fill in those gaps. OSCON is somewhat expensive and I don't have sponsors who think I need to be there. However, a number of free events around the edges will give me some opportunities to compare notes with peers.

Friday, July 09, 2010


Excerpt from the Wanderers list...

...Yeah, the Army Corps of Engineers has identified some significant projects in Iraq that'd serve a civilian purpose. There's the case of a weak dam, the possibility of flooding... also, the Iraqi and Iranian grids connect in like 9 places and if those new Iranian nuke plants generate as much juice as they're supposed to... even Turkey and far off Europe could benefit.

I'm surprised the US hasn't stepped up to the plate and volunteered to help with the uranium purification -- what better way to monitor than to be integral. Reciprocal agreements with Iranians, whereby the IAEA would be empowered to inspect US nuclear facilities, any time, would be a huge confidence building measure. Any administration at all serious about peace in the Middle East would be eagerly looking at non-proliferation by this means.

Of course Russia is closer, geographically, and already helps supply India with civilian-grade fissionable materials, so it makes sense that the US is backing Russia's overtures...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Lurking and Posting

I'm lurking on an Elluminate session featuring Calculation Nation (CN), inserting my two cents in the comments box.

Maria Droujkova has brought us together through her Natural Math and Math Future groups.

CN is funded by Verizon, has the official endorsement of the NCTM.

On the Wanderers list and Facebook, I'm featuring this useful article:

We Are All BP Now

Militarizing the Gulf Oil Crisis


I've also linked to that from Synergeo, where I've been on my usual soap box about wanting to add to the network of topics covered in geometry work / study programs.

Others on Synergeo are more into posting about the World Cup, which is somewhat apropos given football features a hexapent.

Koski feels Synergeo has been infiltrated by anti-buckaneers. Certainly we're kind of a mosh pit, with the "dancers" slamming into each other. I don't sense we've attracted any professional provocateurs yet though. Too obscure.

No one sees "spatial geometry" as a threat to their agenda right?

I liked Dick's summer camp metaphor: we're a bit rude and crude, with the counselors saying stuff like "no name calling!", but we don't always pay much heed. We need to express ourselves, and not everyone is a trained diplomat.

I suggested we have more "edgy math", thinking we need to counter this squeaky-clean sanitized corporate look and feel. Mathematics is not the private property of the commercial sector, we should remember. I think Maria might be recording this for her web site... yes, she says she is.

july 4, usa.or.pdx

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Indie Day

Indie Day