Friday, May 29, 2015

Engineering as a Moral Enterprise

As many have already pointed out (including me), having these ISEPP lectures in a beautiful old church with stained glass windows is definitely a plus, given how Science now rules the roost when it comes to being taken seriously.

However, picking up on STEM, and recounting his early experiences tuning in the E-for-Engineering, Terry manages to nudge out Science in place of Engineering in his insider talk, as the most evolved discourse and practice.

His theme is perfect for Silicon Forest, i.e. "ONAMI country" (nano and micro scale work), where people hope we're up to something positive i.e. not just making more WMDs for the world's bonehead military.

Culturally, engineers have tended to have their own schools and then wait for the project to be specified, not entering the process or stoking the pipeline in the early phases, when the jockeying is deemed "too political".

"When you know what design you want for that bridge, come tell us, but don't expect us to decide for you, if it's to be a bridge for cars or just trains -- that's political."  Actually that's urban planning, so engineering of another kind.  Portland's new Tillikum Bridge is nearing completion:  trains yes, cars no.

However, for engineering to see itself as the pragmatic, moral enterprise that Terry envisions, training for engineers would likely need to change.  More history and philosophy of science, intellectual history in general, would need to be infused, not willy-nilly, but with a punch line:  your conscience, which is likewise your intuition, should be fully informed and engaged.

In that vein, Terry tours recent 20th century chapters, most notably the foray into quantum mechanics, which ends up in complementarity, the concept which allows alternative and even seemingly contradictory world views to co-exist and even bolster one another for the greater good of all.  We see the electron as a wave and develop technology X, as a particle and get technology Y, with X + Y = the smartphone in your pocket.

Synergy among complements, versus everyone getting on the same page politically is the key:  dynamic tension, not oppression of some minority by a tyrannical majority.  He's not pushing a Technocracy agenda per se, as there's no assumption of uniformity in outlook, only a multiplicity of complementary outlooks than still need Science (aka "engineering research") for reality checks.

"The US Constitution is an engineering document, an experiment answer the perennial question 'how shall we live'" says Terry.  The very fabric of self government is an engineering enterprise.

Propitiously, the same church was simultaneously serving as a venue for another venerable NGO in Portland:  Sisters of the Road.  The Journeys! Art Festival expresses optimism and the values of community-building.  One of the speakers was Asian Reporter’s columnist and staff member at Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights, Ronault L.S. “Polo” Catalani, who has also addressed Wanderers (ISEPP's think tank) on matters of conscience and engineering.

Does all this convergence suggest politicians should be touting their credentials in engineering, including software engineering?  Of course it does.  Stay tuned.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Going N8V

If you know I18N ("internationalization") you may see N8V as "native" as in "local to a place".

I've got that going with Casino Math, inheriting from Probability / Statistics but also Ux Design i.e. the aesthetics of game making.

It's one thing to say "it's all footnotes to Bingo" and another to actually craft a quality Ux (user experience).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Xenophobia, Portland Style

thinly veiled boosterism in disguise?  funny anyway...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Disaster Relief

A long running theme in these blogs, you'll find if you go back, is having edge case communities such as R2DToo and Dignity Village, willingly test pilot shelter solutions in a somewhat Darwinian filtering process.

Not every new tent design or lean to is ready for prime time.  But some are.

Glenn got me thinking, as he had an elegant pan deck solution from his Institute for Integral Design.  Just stacking pan deck might be an interim solution, a replacement for corrogated steel, already a staple.

Not pretty necessarily, but able to protect.  Blue tarps aren't that pretty either one could argue.

Dignity Village, which I've dubbed "EPCOT West", is nearer the airport and is where the big Disaster Relief Honchos (MVP women and men) could get a peak.

R2DToo is right downtown, on Bursnide, and could be the site for the new AFSC office, or one of them, if we play our cards right and stay in the relief business.

Glenn is already seeking out John Driscoll, the Architect in earlier posts, to get some professional renderings.  As for having a prototype at R2DToo, that would depend on finding some sponsors.  We shall see.

Relevant acronyms in this namespace:  XLI = "extremely low income"; XRL = "extreme / remote livingry".  You see XRL at base camp in the Himalayas, state of the art.  XLI usually cannot afford XRL, but then who wants to be that remote anyway?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wanderers 2015.5.13

Newar Temple

I'm listening to some well sourced discussion of the earthquakes in the Himalayas.  We've got a speaker who goes there often, did his PhD work there, and is an accomplished Dev Team player, comes to Thirsters.

The police and army came through like gangbusters, on the street within five minutes pulling people out, with sacred sites protected also as a specific goal and task, for rebuilding later, nothing stolen, no souvenirs like in Baghdad.

Government leaders seemed to disappear.  They abandoned ship in some way?  Of course the Internet was down and probably television?  Everyone disappears when the media stops working.  You need trained people on the scene anyway, not just improvs.

The airport was jammed with jets going in and out, huge volume.  Paperwork was a bottleneck as well and only registration was preserved with most customs falling by the wayside.

Tents were pilfered, when still on airport property (not all of them, just a lot).

People need tents so chalk that up to free distribution?  People think "plans" must be followed, because they grew up in environments designed for school children.  That's me having an opinion.

The "most deserving" is always a difficult calculation and people don't always come to the same answers, so you have tug-o-war tensions among families, often characterized as "class struggle" in more superficial analyses.  Not that that's wrong.  At Hogwarts, Slytherin defends itself against the inferior houses, which are class-like in some ways.  Did you say Harry grew a pair of horns?  Hah hah.

We talked about the Newar Temple around the corner, so far spared by the earth's crust shaking, though many say Portland is overdue.

We're looking at a picture of a Gurung in his cape, who plays a role in Gurkha soldiery.  How does the English word "private" translate into many cultures? -- that became a next question.

Dave DiNucci is here, president of Greater Humanists.  We're brainstorming about the house next door, also still standing.

The Gorkha Foundation.  That's the nonprofit this guy supports.  His name is Don.

They work with a hospital, Physicians without Borders and so on.  Tarps, blankets, food, medicine....

Keeping it going over the long haul is the big challenge, after the media goes back to turning a blind eye.

Thinking of Nepal

Monday, May 04, 2015

Open Bastion News

Having relocated here in 2011, Steve Holden is heading back to his native British Isles.  We'll see more of him.  He's load balancing.  That means moving a giant couch down three flights and up two, through twisted topologies.  Like City Museum, St. Louis.  Did it make me smarter?

He grew up sampling Oriental food, lets call it for fun, including Pakistani, any "ani" (Hindustani), in that catch-all.  So Dwaraka has always been a comfort, food from home.  We stuffed ourselves there tonight.

T-minus only a few hours until departure.

I spun up a dyno in Heroku yesterday, with Django both in the cloud and local platform, git going back and forth.  The tutorial walks you through it.  Connect that to this simple model and the API below, and you get the idea (an RFP in the making).

Good job Lew adding that picture of the ESI chapter in meeting house history.  I got to the meetinghouse without taking Claratin first, and paid a high price in terms of sneezing.

:: hanging in Stark Street meeting house, formerly ESI ::

Steve produced quite a few successful conferences.  Djangocons.  Apachecons.  These are not all that easy to pull together and destination hotels appreciate those with a magic touch.   I got to watch over Steve's shoulder on a few of these and learned a lot about that territory.  Steve relied a lot on an Orlando based team for logistics.

I'll be keeping souvenirs from the Open Bastion, which had offices in the same complex and served as summer work for Tara among others.  Steve gave a lot of people interesting rolls, the hallmark of an effective community organizer, geekdom being a community of sorts, if Middle Earth was.  Not always that friendly.

I'm still processing my experiences at the USDLA conference, and my excursion through Earlham.  Future posts will be referring back to those recent times.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Back At Work

I had full queues during the conference and the week prior, yet it felt a lot like a vacation, in the sense of so many experiences per minute, a kind of time dilation.  We got a lot done.  Having MySQL move to INNODB as the default engine is not a bad move, but the ripple effects were boat rocking in our little world.  ENGINE = MYISAM solves the problem.  The DBA track uses INNODB anyway.

My vector today was through Salt Lake City back to PDX.  I dined at Beaches, choosing a Cesar Salad (small) and seafood chowder, both good.  And IPA for a beverage, my standard.

The TSA folks were really professional in St. Louis.  I had a badass knife in my satchel which I thought was maybe OK, given my ethnic craziness, black Stetson hat ("gun club"), Fettuccini Alfredo colored coat.  The TSA pros are thinking WTF and offer I can check the knife instead.  She escorts me out, but first I express regret at tossing the after shave (bought for $1) and they fish that out too.  So polite and well trained.  I checked the knife and came through again, a sweaty mess by this time, so I bought a T-shirt on sale at a concession and voila, good to go.

On board Delta, I finally discovered the WiFi had free stuff and started watching Maze Runner, but my battery ran out before we did much.  Some poor dude got driven off, then Samsung tablet said good night.  Great machine, no complaints.

Hilton was fantastic as well.  Good job St. Louis with that white elephant post Train Age station, Union Station.  Portland has a tiny one, still functional.  Yours was a goliath.  So why not turn it into a destination in its own right, with a DoubleTree by Hilton?  Not a bad idea.  Hard Rock Cafe and everything.  I salute the city planners on this one.  Bold.

Speaking of bold, City Museum is truly pioneering and I stand in awestruck silence, before diving back in.  I made it down the multi-story slide (from 10th floor the 4th?) only once, whereas my co-workers, young and slim, scampered around the circuit at least thrice.  I squeezed through one of the airplanes and went down a couple other slides, including that "Monster" one to the foyer.

Cities want to be proud and it hurts when the world sees one as off course.  Baltimore is hurting.  Her Mayor was on CBS this morning and spoke directly and with heart, in my view.  I respect these great cities and what they're trying to do.  Portland is one of them.

I used TriMet back from the airport, the corollary of Metrolink in St. Louis.  Both are highly professional operations.  That doesn't mean I don't have critical thoughts from time to time.  Being a fan of an institution doesn't mean being a mindless zombie.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Rethinking Equity

I'm in a talk entitled Rethinking Educational Equity in the Digital Age, which will focus on Albion School District, I'll find out where that is.

Someone from DETC (now DEAC) is here, who Debra (our school principal) caught up with a little on Monday at the Awards ceremony (we eventually decided not to continue seeking DETC accreditation in order to free up more resources for our pioneering work, which does not fit any cookie cutter mold).

Another attendee works with tribal schools in the area, meaning the N8TVs, who also connect to overseas universities, being sovereignties in their own right.  We're a small, intimate group.

There's a tendency to dump technology into a school and leave it to the locals to figure out what to do with it.  Laptops and tablets are exciting, but when the mindscape is impoverished, taking advantage of the tools is far from an automatic process.  Intuition supplies the real upgrades, combined with practice, trial & error.  Error is expected and a part of the feedback cycle.

The introductory Youtube was uncited, I wonder if I can find it anyway.

Albion is in Michigan with 55% drawing down less than $33K.  We're talking about Flint and so on.  Much of the car industry died a flailing death around here.  Nearly 1 in 4 of Michigan children lives in an impoverished household.  A proud school district divvied up the schools, moving 9-12 out of Albion, leaving only K-8 to take advantage of the Title I grants as a feeder.  Marshall High is mostly privileged, with kids bussed in.  K-8 inherited the building (with a swimming pool) that used to be Albion High.

ESEA passed in 1965 by the Johnson   Dinner as well as lunch is offered, as many kids would prefer to stay at school versus return home in the evenings.  Families may prefer that too.  They have a Prometheon board, a music lab, underwater robotics, slate tables, drones, video editing and conferencing equipment.

STEM is a focus, with "STEM Geekends" a kind of Saturday Academy.  Parents get involved in this sometimes, joining the kids in playing with all these great toyz.  Many kids who wither in the classroom, thrive when allowed to develop skills.  One of the 8th grade girls, with "issues" being stuck in a chair, became the video conferencing avatar.

Any student who completes grades 6-8 at Albion also has a ticket to Albion College.  That works as an incentive.

"Education is the pathway to opportunity" according to a prevalent ideology, advertised as a gap closer.

Geeks are attracted to work in schools with lots of toys.  Getting some server racks in the school, and allowing multiple operating systems for those eager to dive into C language underpinnings, is what Earlham College offers.  That's prototypical of tomorrow's high school perhaps.  With distance education, it's easier to bootstrap the student body.

Distance Education allows over-achieving kids, frustrated with being held back, to move a lot faster if given the opportunity to do so.  A primary function of classroom based learning is to discourage both ends of the Bell Curve and pander to the middle.  The curricula they need are out there.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Friday, April 24, 2015

Quaker Communications

The bold faced quotes come from:

FRIENDS AND EMAIL: Guidelines, Concerns and Reflections, offered by the Committee on Ministry and Counsel of Claremont Friends Meeting, revised and approved in CFM Meeting for Business on 27 January 2013.

My thoughts are interspersed.  An earlier version of this posting was share via the npym-it-discuss listserv.


Email is a poor medium for corporate discernment.  Lines on a computer screen or down-loaded page cannot convey the full range of communication —facial expression, tone of voice, body language, etc.  Thus emails can easily be misunderstood.

The thing about written communications, of which emails form a subset, as well as books, pamphlets, scrolls, documents of all kinds, is they allow us to interact with people who may have recorded their views long ago and now don't get to have facial expressions or body language.  John Woolman,  George Fox...

Telephone communications privilege the still-living.  Organizations with strong staying power do not dismiss the elders / ancestors so easily i.e. we still read and attend to past writings.

Face-to-face meetings are even rarer and even more of a privilege.  I really appreciated our getting together in Tacoma on April 11, but then that cost huge amounts of time and fuel.  Any lean / efficient organization with a dispersed crew cannot rely on such expensive events occurring often.

My day job is the same way:  our crew is all over the country and we're lucky to see each other but once a year.  I'm at Earlham College at the moment thanks to my company paying my way to-from St. Louis for a conference, which we use as an excuse to also meet as a company.  I came out a week early and rented a car on my own dime so I could drive to Richmond IN to visit my daughter.

My day job involves having Skype open so we can have a scrolling chat window, plus we have voice meetings, like conference calls, every week.  I meet with my super by voice once a week as well.  I can do my work wherever there's WiFi.  We use email a lot, including to / from groups (named CCs).

The telephone is a 1900s invention that revolutionized everything and Friends now take conference calls for granted.  They may be less experienced using written communications, but journaling used to be a primary way for Friends to communicate across time and distance.

I recommend that Friends seriously encourage blogging as what we used to call journaling or keeping a journal.  These were kept with the idea that others would read them.  Friends stay accountable through journaling, a form of written communication.

What I don't appreciate about the one-sided Guidelines is the disadvantages are primarily a result of unskilled use (we don't get better but with practice) with the conclusion that skillful / sensitive conference calls should take priority where corporate discernment is concerned.  This assumes high level phone skills.  The guidelines stack the deck:  experienced phone users trump inexperienced writers.

No individual takes responsibility for this view.  It gets encoded as some Meeting's guidelines and before you know it, those attitudes and biases will have spread to other Meetings, unchallenged and anonymously promulgated.

If more of this debate were done by journaling (in the blogosphere) we would see more clearly who was behind what viewpoint.  Quakerism is not about hiding behind masks of anonymity.

Whenever possible, corporate discernment should be conducted face-to-face, or when that is not possible, by means of sensitively-managed telephone conference calls.

I completely disagree with this conclusion and think the authors of this document spend way too little time discussing how the shortcomings of email, such as misunderstanding the writer's meaning, or not being able to open attachments (phone calls don't have attachments), may be addressed.

If the meaning of someone's communication is unclear, ask for clarification. Get into a dialog.  Others may jump in.  The process is asynchronous and allows for reflection and consideration.  It's also more accountable. 

So in my view listservs are more ethical than conference calls on many levels. 

Those dismissing emails and listservs in favor of conference calls should not be given free rein to dictate these views as somehow already a fait accompli in our Faith & Practice.

Backgound:  M&O clerks in the NPYM region are preparing to have a conference call on this issue which may lead to strictures ("guidelines") that put a damper on listserv use, whereas I think Quakerism is happier with the written word than with ephemeral telephonic vibrations in the ether, not anticipated when Quakerism was forged.