Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Boot Camp Continues


I'm somewhat under the gun in my boot camp experience, dashing through a couple Roger Penrose videos, reporting to mathfuture, dashing out to buy a Python-meets-biology book, and so on.

In the midst of all that, I was privileged to drop in on Wanderers, where Steve Mastin was holding forth on zircon, a mineral comprised of the element zirconium, an odd-man-out element with a cation that doesn't crystallize well with the others.

Among these would be Uranium and Thorium, which contribute a lot to zircon's properties, up to making Zirconology, in part about studying chronology.

Zircon's several ways to decay give ways of dating the mineral, a side-benefit of a long-running polonium-related controversy, again with Biblical connotations (see below).

Given earlier civilizations did not use our Periodic Table or understanding of atomic physics, their jargons don't follow ours that closely, and in the case of zircon that's especially true, as in manifests in a wide variety of colors, from vermilion to blue.

In theory it's colorless but in the wild a colorless zircon is a rare find, though some of the colored ones turn colorless with heat treatment, rather commonly applied.  Just how a given specimen of zircon will respond to heat treatment is something of a gamble.

Blue is highly prized, though honey-colored is more its trademark.  Dick Pugh brought an example, as did Steve but I only had time to take a look at Mr. Pugh's, then was on my errands.

A passage in the Torah about some battle vest, or breast plate, and the twelve stones thereon, probably overlaps our modern definitions. We'd expect to find a specimen of zircon thereon, along with beryl, emerald and some others.

Don't expect me to name all twelve, though if you dig you might find something more like a complete listing in the slides.  Steve does a lot of homework to create these talks.

I left around the same time as Jon Bunce, off to Powell's for said biology book.  Boot camp continues, with a five mile hike, including steep inclines, bruised ankles be damned.

The impromptu meetup with Dr. DiNucci at Common Ground was apropos, as concurrency concepts,  taught through cooking in groups (as with Food Not Bombs) is topical within my code school network.  Aside from a Horse Brass half order of Fish 'n Chips, I'm mostly subsisting on Soylent today (version 1.5).

The documentary on Puerto Rico looks interesting (rented from Movie Madness).  We don't see many code schools there yet.

Back at my workspace, I made sure VPython is still working.  Given the dependency on wxPython, I need to use Python 2.7, and a "Framework" 2.7 at that (to provide access to the main display).  So far so good.  Things are coming together.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Preparing for Bootcamp

Given I work in the code school industry, videos like this get my attention. Would be bootcampers should take a look at the different "stacks" the schools offer. Not every path to becoming a full stack web developer is the same. Do you want JavaScript top to bottom? Check the MEAN stack. Were you hoping for Python? We have those stacks too.

Your code school may well be associated with some "accelerator program", that's par for the course. Code schools often affiliate with startup incubators.  That makes sense.  Finding students of the latest tools is not always easy.  That's where code schools come in, especially those willing to stay nimble and encourage experimentation with the newer tools.

Experimenting with newer tools does not require abandoning tried and trusted curricula.  The devil is in the details.  Blending old and new requires alchemy.  Attracting creative students helps further the process along, as mentors tend to answer to their students most of all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


John Searle points out that although Wittgenstein has become increasingly influential in the humanities, in anthropology for example, he wrote extensively about the philosophy of mathematics.

"All math is ethno-math" is one of my slogans.  Mathematics is anthropological.  The universities keep these departments separate, true, but that's an ethnic thing.

I go back to Wittgenstein's remarks on the foundations of mathematics and fit in some different language games showing how indeed there's room to break the hold of "squaring" and "cubing" as words for 2nd and 3rd powering respectively.

We're combating the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. We might call that counter-intelligence i.e using language games to extricate ourselves from other language games.  Sometimes we apply "counter-spin".

Using triangles and tetrahedrons to model 2nd and 3rd powering respectively is a break with the past, and was pioneered by R. Buckminster Fuller in his Synergetics, but philosophers have failed to grapple with his ideas much in the ensuing half century.

RBF has not yet been accepted into the canon of thinkers it's OK to write about, as an academic philosopher, although I've seen evidence in Nature this state of affairs might be changing.

The high level of neglect of this cultural heritage is an anthropological phenomenon, some of it explicable as backlash against Fuller's own pointed critiques of over-specialization, which left many an over-specialist feeling on the defensive and resentful.

Once we get to a unit-volume simplex (tetrahedron) we have a "concentric hierarchy of polyhedrons" with more whole number volumes than our culture is accustomed to sharing with its young.

How the concentric hierarchy merges with a sphere packing abstraction opens a lot of doors in the imagination.  One learns about the octet truss and its complementary tetrahedrons and octahedrons of relative volume 1:4, with twice as many of the former as the latter.

These important concepts integrate more densely and more smoothly than when cubes and right angles so dominate the picture.

E.J. Applewhite, one of Fuller's chief collaborators, once told me he loved the Wittgensteinian bridge I was building to the Bucky stuff.  He was CIA though, not an academic per se.  Again, we're talking anthropology here.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pycon Cuba


We're seeing a spike in the PSF Cuba working group postings thanks to President Obama's impending visit to Havana.

I've been keeping Thirsters up to date, somewhat a redundant exercise given the python-cuba listserv archive is public anyway.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wanderers 2016.3.16


The listserv announced an Open Forum for today which is the default mode we go into, if we're not scheduled to receive a presentation.

I brought along David Prideaux's No Big Bang, a self published work, just acquired last night from the author, for show and tell purposes.  We had another retired Tri-Met guy here this morning.

Glenn Stockton gave a presentation on some of his more recent research.

He's found some "gears" in Plummer's Cosmic Mind book, on loan from me, that relate to his addressing scheme for the concentric hexapents.

I brought up Cantor's writings on addressing N-spaces, if discrete.

Very dense Turtle trails will give a 1D+ approximation of a 2D surface, much as a Labyrinth fills a circle with its sequential trail.

Given storage units in an XYZ pattern, where Z = floor and XY = row/column, one may also number them sequentially, perhaps in a hexadecimal sequence, or pick any contiguous segment of Unicode codepoints.

Euclidean geometry is all about labeling points e.g. A, B, C... one doesn't need (x,y,z) tuples especially since said points may be in motion (yet their identity remains intact).

A hexadecimal 1D addressing scheme mapping to XYZ cells (storage units, voxels) is typical in computer science.  Video RAM is sequential yet what we're watching is a movie.

Dredging up Cantor's writings on these topics is not mindlessly mouse-click easy right?

I came across his stuff at Powell's.  Such thinking was in the wind during his time, feeding into the "fractal frenzy" that was to follow (Julia, Mandelbrot et al), then Chaos Mathematics (still going strong).

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Security of Things


Wally Rhines is no mere bystander, and well beyond the engaged journalist, when it comes to understanding the risks to our security presented by this Internet of Things.

As the CEO of Mentor Graphics, Wally is at the helm of one of the few companies the makes the tools that make tools that make the chips those Things contain.  Chips as in "micro-miniaturized circuit boards" designed to perform reliably and in a trustworthy manner.

What one industry sees as an embarrassing vulnerability, another will see as an exploitable hack.

The black hats challenge the white hats to do their jobs correctly, by breaking into their stuff in ways that should and could be prevented.   The black hats are making a point:  you need to stay on top of your game.

When only white hats abound, some will need to don black just to keep the skill sets up to snuff, the reflexes fresh, much as a human body will do when training to remember past insults.  Memories get built.

Anti-virus software tends to be a huge database of signature byte strings.

Wally started his talk pointing out that humans owned an ever smaller percentage of IP numbers in that most of them belong not on "whois" people but "whatis" things (one could say).

You don't need to register as a "who" to be a toaster or refrigerator in somebody's household.  IPv6 gives us plenty of addresses to spread Things around.

How are chips signed?  Do we want them signed?  What would the signature mean?

We're only beginning to answer these questions.  CEOs yak about these topics a lot.  Wally is on the road quite a bit, sharing these and other, more technical, slides.


The overall schema is an inverted pyramid in that the most widespread exploits involve various forms of social engineering, trickery around phishing and phoning in with false identities, milling about in smoking areas and befriending employees.

These kinds of security breaches may get wide publicity but affect fewer individuals than mega-downloads of supposedly confidential info.  Sometimes social engineering leads to deeper exploits.

In one experiment, USB sticks were scattered in the parking lot, apparently dropped by mistake.  How many finders-keepers types would insert these sticks in their own machines?  Depressingly many.

Get yourself a quarantined box you're prepared to let fry, if you're wanting to do hobby forensics.  Sure, random memory sticks might have interesting content but that doesn't mean accepting candy from strangers is suddenly a good idea.

Mass downloading exploits, as have been successfully conducted against Anthem Healthcare and the IRS (I've got files with both, so I'm a victim), may rely on security holes in the infrastructure itself, at the base of which are these all-important chips, signed and unsigned.

What if the chip itself is doing surveillance tasks supposedly for customer maintenance and satisfaction but with the side effect of providing a side door into private circuits?  What if the chip itself is hackable?  These kinds of vulnerability may be the hardest to find and yet affect the most people in the long run.

How might a customer verify that a purchased chip does just what the documentation says it does, and no more?

For example the Apple iPhone is currently vulnerable at least in principle but the Apple CEO is working overtime to close that gap.

Pretty soon, what the FBI is asking for will not be engineeringly feasible, whereas today one could enslave people to force the opening.

A safe is meant to be safe and many designs for software safes are in principle, mathematically, uncrackable, unless of course one gets very lucky with some wild guess, less likely than winning the lottery three times in a row.

Once the paper is out of the safe there's no guarantee it's still valuable.  Securities are more vulnerable to shifting markets that crackable safes.

I took a ceremonial US Bank check from Dawn Wicca and Associates to commemorate Dawn's years as a bookkeeper for ISEPP, during a golden age.  She died on St. Patrick's Day on 2007, and I'm thinking about her quite a bit.

Some of the donation was actually paying for a signed copy of Terry's new book, which I'm taking to Quaker Men's Group as worship-reading (also known as slow reading).


I was allowed to bring a guess and offered seats at the Heathman Dinner to a couple people, neither of whom could make it that night (Patrick joined me for the talk itself).  I had a great time anyway.

Glenn has been working on his "elevator speech" for Global Matrix and tried it out on Wally, who's eye was drawn to the NSA crypto-analyst line towards the end.

Clearly Glenn was familiar with white and black hat territory.

Glenn on Camera

I think I'd already left the scene by then, somewhat ironically sporting the black Stetson that Glenn gave me.  I'd actually gone back to the car for it during Q&A, because I'd forgotten my bank check also.  I moved the car closer to the venue.

Q&A was still going on when I got back.  Wally was generous with his time.  He appreciates these golden opportunities to engage the general public.

I'm more of a social engineering hacker than a hardware guy I'd say, and I'm more the kind to leave bread crumbs, make it a treasure hunt, like with geo-caching, perhaps with product placement worked in.

Sure, there are times I'd like to have been a fly on a wall, but I understand about authorized access and tend to steer clear of areas restricted against my kind.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

A Tale of Two Movies


My intent in going to Movie Madness this time was to find something on the Platonic Year.  Glenn is into timeline visualizations, cartoons if you will, that illuminate the meanings behind some of our astro-myths, such as the perennial see-saw between Orion and Draco if I have that right.

Anyway, the star to the north best pegging the Earth's axis is not always Polaris, not everyone knows that.  The planet wobbles, like a top (precession).  Then there's the rotation about the galaxy to consider, another cycle.

I went straight to the Special Interest section, seeking an armload of video goodies, only to not find what I was looking for.  I should take Glenn with me next time.  Having walked all that way, I didn't want to leave empty handed, and so Covert Affairs (season one) and Jabberwocky jumped out at me on the way out.

I'd been reading about Terry Gilliam's life at Powell's recently, snapping pix from his scrapbook, newly published.  Jabberwocky was a puzzle piece in that regard, his next project after Monty Python and the Holy Grail and set in the same period.

A main theme is "framing" in the sense of painting, a canvas, with a frame.  Artists Hieronymus Bosch and Dutch Masters inspired the filmmakers to stage reminiscent tableaus, adding the same comedy device used in Python:  contemporary people projected into an alien past.

"Framing" in another sense drives the plot.  Quoting the tagline:  "A young peasant, with no interest in adventure or fortune, is mistaken as the kingdom's only hope when a horrible monster threatens the countryside."  The young peasant is framed by fate, caught up in events in a bigger story.

Covert Affairs is similar to Jabberwocky in wanting to capture the iconic frames of spydom's Langley, an institution that tries to stay low profile, like some Bureau of Public Roads, so that the public imagination remains unshackled (unfettered) by too much that's banal and mundane.  The lighting and atmospherics make for some classy shots, of BMW derrieres, of HP computers running Windows (or was that Ubuntu, as in Chappie?).  Think:  a cleaned up Archer.

The screenwriters got a tour of Langley, thanks to the PR department, once the pro-CIA nature of the project became obvious.  The whole point is to glamorize with a cosmopolitan brush.  What institution doesn't want such treatment, from some of the world's best cosmeticians?  Every evil queen likes her lying mirror, until the day it says Snow White looks better, or has a purer heart.

The script writers know that avid viewers would catch any laptop or cell phone leaving or entering the building and police against making such basic errors (no GPS devices allowed).   Where these people get their guns once outside the parking lot is unclear.  Mostly they don't need guns because few go into the field.  They certainly don't get badges.

The ones who do get to romp through the countryside are mostly rogue or ex or whatever.  Few Langley-ites really get to see Colombo (Sri Lanka) up close, unless on vacation (no gun required in that case).  Best to get your travel years in before joining the Agency.

One of my pet peeves is how we use television to replace reality with fantasy across the board, and then expect adulthood to just magically happen.  Seeing the workplace through screen-writer eyes is often confusing to job seekers, especially twenty-somethings who grew up on TV and now have only fantasies to go on.

How could one possibly be a real cop if one's main influences were TV shows, like Hawaii Five-O?  Or a doctor?  Or a lawyer?  Or a soldier?

By the time LA and its film industry is finished with it, it's not really a documentary is it?  One has great sets, entire offices inside the studio, and more money to build them with than the makers of Jabberwocky ever dreamed of having.  Or is it that Toronto, where this play is staged, is so much more affordable?

The LA dream machine is like a Jabberwocky in consuming all that's real in its path, and turning out beautifully packaged framed substitutes.  The world becomes more toy-like and Barbified.  That being said, I may rent Season Two.