Thursday, January 24, 2013

Towards an Anthropology of Geekdom

Freshman year Princeton found me in the engineering library browsing standards, not really knowing why.  I'd fallen to Earth and now had a world class open stack library within walking distance.  Time to catch up on what's been going on.  I believe it would have been in the course of that reading that I would have first stumbled upon Unicode, along with ISO this and ISO that.  No W3 yet, back then.

In some ways social commentary by the pundits is uninteresting because it hasn't swallowed enough of the facts.  We have social engineers now (e.g. Facebook), much as you folks feared we would, and we actually do have a human languages friendly way of preserving diversity.

Some conservatives just assumed the engineering caste was so partial to Anglos that we would just get on with some conquest.  That's not how it turned out however.  Pirates took in engineering and now so many engineers talk like pirates, use profanity, or at least feel safe in doing so when they wish.  Sailors strut on land, full citizens, despite the landlubbers' having their traditional puppet authorities (Kings and Queens and such).  A more believable form of democracy seems close at hand some days.

I was just realizing I'd been tacitly waiting for universities to get wise and field any number of anthropologists, as that's what management needs (more insights), whether it knows it or not.  Books like Bucciarelli's were pioneering (How the Hippies Saved Physics also).  But the wave didn't come, and I realized what that means:  it's up to us to think more like anthropologists and not wait for the self-professed to get wise.

Learn from the anthropologists what you'll need and apply the skills as they develop.  Don't worry about your "credentials" to think in those terms.  You don't have to pay licensing fees for the thoughts you have, much as we've become amputees in other respects, thanks to "the law" and its rewarding of selfishness past the point of pathology.  The wages of sin.  The sorrows of empire.  Illiberal policies, when it comes to knowledge sharing, leads to a Tower of Babel syndrome pretty quickly.  Almost no one has enough puzzle pieces, even Gollum.

Conference badges are a space where it all comes together, as well as patient-facing medical monitor screens.  If they can't print or display the Chinese or Thai characters that make up your name in its native context, then to what extent have they bothered to master our shared technology?  How lazy, in a more negative sense, are they being?   For sure the competition will eschew advertising such incapacities.  The LCDs in the hotel room (or hospital room) will be in your favorite language (or choose the one you're learning).  Use the remote to change the view.

It's OK to judge at this point, to stop making allowances for yet another generation of journalist that can't write about Unicode intelligibly.  You needn't be a "technical writer" to tackle that subject.  The schools have had the time in principle, it sort of doesn't matter whether they lunged at the opportunity.  It's a computation:  oh, you could have and didn't, lots of time lost, so now we stop waiting.  We refine our level of expectation: "Ah so, it was too hard for them."

What some anthropologists might study is the geek use of the term "laziness".  The usage pattern goes with the grain of many a Chinese philosophy.  The management caste is well aware of how easy it is to fall into a hero mode that's unsustainable and self-overwhelming.  You start accelerating, go into "fixit mode" whereas a big picture generalist will allow that some individuals need to hang back and keep to some level of overview, much as some soap opera or melodrama becomes interesting.  Quakers have their overseers (rotating positions) for this purpose, not just their clerk.

In software, you have the tools to automate drudgery and push the work onto machines.  It's an overwhelming amount of work happening at superhuman speeds, so even a hint of it coming the other way, starting to make you the big "doer" has the whiff of incipient tragedy.  The geek knows that and insists on writing a script to do the work.  "If I end up doing all these things manually, my day will rapidly become hellish" is the familiar diagnosis.  Treatment is indicated.  The prognosis is good if the geek is given the liberty to pursue "laziness" as an end in itself.  Enter the Church of the Subgenius and Bob's gift of "slack".

The role of profanity is starkly clear in Titanic, the movie.  I'm not sure this aspect of the film was accurately captured in the various dubbings, as some movie-going ethnicities may not accept cussing in public.  The Titanic itself has upper and lower deck subcultures.  When the ship starts to sink, the lower deck people have no priority for life boats.  In the near future of this world, a more globalized engineering caste is controlling the search vessel and indulging in lower deck like banter.  One interpretation is the future was less mindful of class.  In a related meme, the King and Queen are invited to eat "hot dogs" with Bill Murray, playing FDR.  The findings of science have been accepted.

The idea that "the blood itself" contained distinguishing chemistry had mostly vanished from medical science.  We were all software running hardware running software.  The concept of "race" was following "class" into intellectual morbidity.  That doesn't mean we had stopped believing in selective breeding or genetic material.  Distinguishing chemistry exists, like finger prints.  Distinguishing memes also make their circuits.  Peers continue to recognize one another by gesture and secret handshake.  The many protocols would only continue to proliferate.  The idea of "no class" and "no race" is in becoming so very very many, Venn diagrams gone wild.  Everyone is different, that's for sure (even twins).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Done It Again


Monday, January 14, 2013

Counting Down...

In saying that nuke weapons are a tool of the few to enslave the many, I am not suggesting that many if any of "the few" are still alive.

The ecosystem of nuclear weapons, armed, targeted, set to go off, is the ticking time bomb bequeathed to us by psychotic ancestors, clinically just through the Depression and newly high off the exhilaration of physics breakthroughs.

Human subject experiments continued both in and out of the internment, detention, and concentration camps, as well as on Pacific islands.  Children inherit.  Radio-toxins last a long time.

Building public consciousness around radiation dangers is a slow process as it's best grounded in comprehension rather than blind fear.  I'm not sure where Common Core is going with those physics standards, but we're hearing there's a distressing lack of CERN type stuff, i.e. the dance of particles.

This would correspond to the low Polyhedron Quotient (PQ) in the prototype Standard Maths.

Neither standard (math or physics) takes many impressive steps in the direction of STEM integration.  Rather, we're seeing more of the usual.

Continuing to link the topic of radio-isotopes to both diet and medicine, the ecosystem, is vital.

Tracing the fallout from Fukushima is an everyday STEM exercise.  We tie the dinner table to the ecosystem to the particles involved, right down to the quarks.  We do this early. We do this often.  No "standards" will get in our way.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wreck It Ralph (movie review)

This Disney / Pixar animation was perfect for my head space at the time.  On Synergeo, we were looking at Geoscopes (what Bucky called them), basically globes, or orbs, upon which whole Earth data may be projected, but also mind maps, networks of a more alien kind, or call them Worlds, or Namespaces as the case may be.  Planet Pauling would be the world according to Pauling, including the molecular aspects of diet he cared about (he knew it was all one ecosystem, inside and out).

Anyway, to the film:  each Namespace / Planet (ala Little Prince) is a computer game or arcade game like at Avalon. When the humans go away, the game characters (the avatars, the coded puppets) continue to have identities, politics, motivations, needs.  This is Disney's World, after all, and the premise of Toy Story etc., going back, way back.

Each game has not only it's "rules" (boring back of the box stuff) but its aesthetics.  There's the girly pink world of sweets, like the pink aisle at the toy store.  There's the more urban world of tenants, tightly packed, caught between forces of decay and destruction, and miracle repair people, who make it so they don't need to move out.

Ralph is the principle of decay (he actively wrecks stuff), the need to demolish and destroy, because things get tired, worn out.  But the characters in the story are blind to the fact that he's as much a principle as they are, and without him, there'd be no game.  Internally, he experiences this blindness as lack of appreciation, as loneliness, motivations just about any audience member can appreciate at some level.

So Ralph decides to not return to his game from Game Central, as he's supposed to, and to hop into another game, in search of a sign of his right to appreciation and respect.

Once we've engaged that premise, that "game hopping" is possible, the script tastefully exploits that.  We don't collide every game with every other.  There's no NFL football, though we do have a "team play" type game, nor do we have much in the way of martial arts, though those types of games are recognized.

Indeed, the Grand Central scenes do a good job of recognizing the genres, but then we settle on just three of them: Aliens (Sigourney Weaver country), Wreck It Ralph's home planet (Fixit world), and Pink Aisle girl-sugary (a raceway).

How fun, because Female gets these two contrasting sources.  It's like a three body problem in Newtonian gravity and the texture goes fractal.  Disney is anything but unsophisticated.  He stays safely hetero in his attractions, but you know he'd as easily not, were it not for an audience he'd like to hold onto.

The nutty King is a character we've met before in Disney films.  The plot has its intricacies, good exercise for new-to-the-movies viewers (and/or new-to-life-itself).

This isn't to say the film has lost all uniformity of look and feel.  Even across Game Worlds, it keeps a steady cosmology, with human world (the players) included.  Games themselves live and die, and a sign saying Out of Order, seen backwards from within the console, is a known Kiss of Death.  Some game figures are already unemployed.

The film plays (just a little) on the longings and nostalgia of older kids in the audience, i.e. adults with their kids, as the Pong era type characters may no longer have a home.  Someday we'll find Kirby under a bridge, no longer employed by Nintendo (he's 20 this year).  Who will take him in?

The Sigourney Weaver as Ripley type character develops a thing for the Fixit guy and vice versa (happily -- so often these things are one way).  Wreck It Ralph is kind of shreky, and there's a sweet Beauty and the Beast aspect to his story (she might be under age).

Again, this is all Disney's world in the final analysis and the script tells a wholesome tale.  Arcade games tend to be less scary or demented compared to the ones you can buy for your home e.g. the ones by Valve.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sim Farm

Tara grew up playing Sims instead of with dolls, though we did have a doll house.  Sims were more fun.  They sometimes wouldn't do things if too tired.  They had wills of their own, a bit.

So does Farm Simulator 2013 take you into the world of GMOs much?

I like the point that wheat with DNA from insects, mice or fish isn't technically "wheat" any more, hence the name "GMO" (genetically modified organism).

Maybe the way around the labeling controversy is to say:  you don't have to say if it's GM, but you certainly can't call it wheat, or rice or whatever.  Not if it has genes from an alien species.

So make up new words and symbols if you have to (marketing will figure it out).  Primary ingredient:  organisms.  "I can't believe it's not wheat bread" might be a slogan.

So what was the followup on that 1999 case where Thai substance control detected transgenic wheat from the Pacific Northwest?

GM papaya saved the day in Hawaii, while making it safer to grow non-GMO breeds alongside.  The gene for the "coat" of the viral attacker is what's transplanted.

Is it that the protective viral coat's protein protects against itself?  Yes, in a sense.  This trick has been used with tobacco and potatoes too.

Speaking of legislation, I think the proposal from around here was to remove the base institutionally from Cuba (a change in jurisdiction) -- similar to proposals for Okinawa in other words, a re-zoning if you will.

Although transgenics get much of the attention, the rise in celiac disease could be due to other changes to the wheat genome brought about by selective breeding, to boost the gluten levels.  From Wikipedia:
Many who have found themselves newly intolerant of gluten or wheat in the 2000s have wondered if genetic alterations of wheat through selective breeding might be the cause. From 2002 to 2005 a variety called "Hard White Wheat" was introduced into the US market, with varieties that were developed in the late 90s through 2004. [50] It is unknown if the introduction of this wheat variety is at the root of the current explosion in gluten/wheat intolerance, but the timing suggests it is an area that scientists should explore.
The US has enough self discipline to eventually phase out colonial holdings, such as imperial bases in other nations, as geopolitics permits.  Either that or it's hardly self directed enough to be considered "a government".  No runaway empire gets a foothold through the Constitution.

Closing bases here doesn't mean others can't be opened there, with more intelligence in the design, and with a clearer sense of mission.  A president has powers to effect change in this manner.
The Cuban government opposes the presence of the naval base, claiming that the lease is invalid under international law as it was not a sovereign nation at the time. The United States argues this point is irrelevant because Cuba apparently ratified the lease post-revolution, and with full sovereignty, when it cashed one rent check in accordance with the disputed treaty.[2]
The immaturity of this relationship is obvious. Is it a "Vegas vendetta" that keeps Congress paralyzed? Eating a cake while continuing to have it, in an uneaten state, sometimes looks like "pursuing happiness".

The US is looking like another sorrowful giant, so weighed down with the trappings of empire as to be rendered immobilized and unrealistic about its prospects in this hampered state.  Someone should write an I Ching for nations.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Wanderers 2013.1.1

Mentioning Glenn Baker had me thinking "semiotics" anyway, and then it came up on the physics teacher list.  Those kinds of segues happen often enough:  an obscure topic connects across adjacent scenes or threads.

Tonight we were looking at "synchronicity" courtesy of Glenn Stockton, who built up suspense around doing an I Ching reading.  If he established nothing else he established his respect for the I Ching, and he reminded us of is own impressive story, which many of us have heard at least parts of, but here recapped in the Pauling House, in the evening, with a largish group on New Year's Day.

Glenn has been throwing the I Ching ever since he learned about it in language school, where he was blitzing through Vietnamese.  The NSA combs through there (the Monterey place) and he ended up a decoder, though there are fancier names for it.

He'd been a small town Montana, St. Helen's and Page, Arizona kid before that, teaching himself the art of capturing small animals, and letting them go, other skills. He stood out among his peers for his high aptitude and for that he was bullied. I've yakked here about Glenn before.

Anyway, it's OK by him to have a 5000 year old "machine" driven by random tosses (as we'd call them) offer him generic advice about whatever.  The notes to this matrix of 8 x 8 slides are magnificently oracular and in the tone of an intimate adviser acquainted with the ways of this world.

Giving it a whirl adds a magical moment to one's day, a fact I think even Martin Gardner might have toasted, why not.  The synchronistic tapestry quivers at 90 degrees to the literal plane, we might say.  Plus as someone may have put it, you don't have to visit any creepy Tarot lady, if you're not in the mood, as it's self administered.

Not that I think having another reader or therapist or auditor or what have you is a terrible fate.  The I Ching may feel too anonymous and not give enough truly personalized advice.

In any case, having Glenn treat us to his escapades in self teaching usually don't fail to entertain and instruct.  He scoots through a lot of chew, to coin an idiom, and leaves one wondering if it really could be true, that it's all one big fat quantum logic machine whatever that means.

The story involved Portuguese Jesuits finding the thing (being introduced to it by their hosts) and some of them going off the deep end in trying to get to the bottom of it.  Such power it seemed to have, as holy hypertext with a randomized spinner.

The logical pattern itself was of interest, what with three rods, either broken (0) or not (1), giving trigrams, then combinations as hexagrams, with changing lines reaching towards a next state, as we're always tumbling, tumbling.

Leibniz was reportedly one of the first to get his hands on a copy (translated) and to marvel at some of the logic, which no doubt corresponded with his own in many respects.  In exactly what way the I Ching might have been influential on his subsequent thinking is one of those big unknowns we might see books about someday, or a Wikipedia page.

There's no reason we couldn't study this game board in math classes more, what say the blogosphere teachers?  Yay?  It's pretty harmless to read ancient wisdom, as deep or deeper than just reading Dear Abbey or the daily Horoscope, or watching General Hospital, plus that's not the whole point.

Part of the point of the exercise is to get into the logic, the groove, and to start thinking more like Glenn does, e.g  "two in and one out" (describing a logic gate, a boolean vertex, or maybe a transistor, a fork in the road, a decision point).

As Portlanders, we embrace our Asian heritage and have no problem scanning the I Ching any more than we should or would viewing a favorite cartoon.  It's not like we only have time for Santa Claus, as Bill Shepard might put it.

Nor am I putting down a reflective self discipline with a mental attitude of humility ("teach me oh wise one").  Neuroscience will come along soon telling us how healthy that is, as if we had to wait for the names of all the proteins involved to get on with the experience of learning (good news:  you needn't wait, but do keep to your studies, it's not either / or).

Speaking of "either / or", Glenn was really down on the Aristotelian "excluded middle", which he characterized as "an axiom" (one of four was it?).  This form of logic had done harm by injecting polarity and opposition where we needed something more like inversion, and an appreciation for complementarity, not "me or you".  That's a rough sketch of some of the content.  Glenn has his own way of getting his message through.

Good seeing Barbara.  Christine asked for more definitions.  One Wanderer copped to using the I Ching only once, but getting good advice for the time, perhaps even critical.

The presentation wrapped up in a series of passings-around of books and art.  Glenn had brought several titles in a box and was eager to let us know about them.  Some were quite new, such as Quadrivium, a recap of that old curriculum design.

Speaking of synchronicity, it was good seeing Nancy Ankorn today, my listening partner through a number of Jungian Society of Portland events.  She connects me into the theater world, that of musicals, which her daughter inhabits, in DC these days.  I think of Ray and Bonnie and their show biz predilections.  Life is a performing art.  Ain't it?