Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hunter Art Museum, Chattanooga

"building as sculpture"

V-X-II by Kenneth Snelson, 1973-74

"looks like wood"
bronze by Deborah Butterfield

photos by Kirby Urner, late March, 2006

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Math Wars (continued)

From some airport departure louge, via wifi:

I continue to post to the Math Forum, albeit in a somewhat redundant way, trying to get more Fuller School memes accepted into the surrounding culture -- an uphill battle per usual (I'm very used to this terrain).

Like here (link) Wayne Bishop pooh poohs the idea that there's anything novel within the scope of K12 geometry, since his day in a one room school house some decades back. I again (for the maybe 200th time?) share what's new (link). And again, silence. Laziness? Complacency?

Whatever the logjam, USA civilian culture appears so not ready for this stuff. I'm hoping the computer science folks in Baghdad (aka Algebra City) will find a more receptive audience in the Pentagon, given all the close collaboration that's going on, in a more difficult military context.

Updating from a position near Fort Campbell (March 25):

I'll probe a bit more (link). Wayne replies: this Fuller School geometry (concentric hierarchy) is "absolutely, unequivocally" irrelevant to the general student population (link). His reply brings into sharp, crystal clear relief, my differences with his Mathematically Correct organization and its ideological fellow travelers.

Related reading:
Boosting Bandwidth
Revisiting Geometry (May 26, 2006)
Pentagon Math (June 22, 2006)
Geometry Text (March 28, 2010)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wittgenstein for Dummies

Wittgenstein was born into money, was living a glam life as a courtly genius, then gave it all up to go to Oxford. He left the ordinary world of muggles and their ways to join up with Slytherin, headed by Bertrand Russell.

His Tractatus Logico Philosophicus (known as TLP by insiders) was his young knight in shining armour debut (the women back in Vienna swooned), then he exited stage right and wasn't heard from in awhile (before all this, he'd been a handsome POW in WWI, but that's another story).

Then he returned (surprise!), this time to teach his Philosophical Investigations, his mysterious PI -- a dark art, with LW a hooded figure, all Jedi-like and Darth Vadery, with a penchant for light sabers (er fire pokers).

Note regarding "fire pokers":

That's an allusion to a storybook wherein Wittgenstein acts in a menacing way, seems to be contemplating a dual use for this ordinarily civilian implement, and against polite company.

Popperians (followers of Karl Popper) read this like a ghost story to scare themselves silly. They whisper about that boogey man LW to their children, who lie in bed shivering, listening for footsteps.

Note: I posted an earlier draft of the above to edu-sig, then to wittgenstein-dialognet @ Yahoo! My posts to the latter group appear to be queuing indefinitely, ever since I rejoined.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

St. Patrick's Day & Wanderers Retreat

jon bunce
(photo by K. Urner)

We've started our Spring Retreat @ Pauling House, on St. Patrick's day. Jon is about to play some guitar. Jim is just days away from heading for Libya, to catch the eclipse.

Brian, our Yorkshire American (with bushy eyebrows like Jon's), also grabbed the guitar and sang some excellent tunes. He and I sound like we're Darwinian and anti-Darwinian respectively in a certain thread @ -- and yet we're both quite happy with Darwin the guy, with his performance, his contribution to science. The Galapagos came up again and again in our conversation, with Steve eventually offering a cheap group rate, in case we just wanted to up and go there (tempting, very tempting).

I used this opportunity to project some of my favorite video segments: the Yes Men's presentation on the WTO's new leisure suit; the Festival segment from Ghost in the Shell 2, and Warriors of the Net.

We also watched a Google Video about Sangay Park in Ecuador -- Steve's wife Laura is from Ecuador and I wanted to show off the "has everything" potential of this stash. failed to cough up any Flip Wilson comedy tracks for Steve however.

David Feinstein dropped by on Saturday. He talked about teasing more data out of hemolyzed bovine plasma, by first dropping the convolution assumption around two constituents, adding wiggle room, then substituting a weighted average of two 10,000 randomized trial basis vector sets, with around 450 random numbers per basis. His goal was to approximate actual test results without nailing the algorithm to just those particular values (the deep alchemy: derive usable generalities from specificity).

David's remarkable talent: to make this all clear.

Also on Saturday, I left the retreat to attend a memorial service for Jo Fowler. The family reserved the huge auditorium in Lake Oswego High School and yet the venue was almost not big enough. This woman, whom I'd never met in life (her husband a coworker), was definitely worth knowing. She brought joy and life into the hearts of many, children and adults alike.

Back @ Pauling House: Allen G. Taylor swung by, talked about ocean currents in Drake's Passage, SQL for Dummies and such.

In reply to Allen's helpful prompting, I tried to explain, briefly, my Qv2 (Quakers, version 2): war metaphors OK (e.g. Nayler's "Lamb's War"), but with our weapons turned (and tuned) to a more inward vista. I pointed to the Quakeress on the cover of one of the art books in my collection; she's just killed some bug-eyed monster (a demon or devil -- the Slayer meme).

We're talking science fantasy here (obviously) -- another name for old time religion (but with a lot more science).

Glenn and I have continued brainstorming around geometry cartoons, which would include explorations of his Global Matrix concepts.

Don requested Peter Ward's performance, about how we're in a carbon dioxide window, dependent on plate tectonics, on a planet that's likely rare, if not unique, in its level of sophistication. I'm buying; we're good. That doesn't mean we'll be here forever. On the contrary, the gist of Peter's talk was: we're mortal, get over it.

As a grand finale, Terry showed up again, on Sunday afternoon, to project a DVD: Roger Penrose addressing an audience at Western Oregon University, about his voyage of discovery in the world of the aperiodic pentagon. Two shapes, appropriately coded, are sufficient to aperiodically tile an infinite desert, such that any two regions, no matter how large, may be made to coincide, and yet the desert itself remains unique, an individual.

In the background, I've been continuing threads on the Math Forum (Drexel) and edu-sig (Python community). I also booked my plane ticket to London, for the Mark Shuttleworth Foundation's education summit in April.

Dawn and Tara have been persuing their own respective social life trajectories, including watching more early Buffy on rented DVDs.


The furniture has been set back, the dishes washed, flowers planted (on the far side of our future Cafe Philosophique), personal effects removed, except a few of mine, such as the laptop I'm now using, on battery, sitting at the board room table with leg repaired, to better than standard, by Barry and company.

This was a good retreat. My fond greetings to Shomar (woof), who got as far as the parking lot.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Early Buffy

Having raced through FireFly (I missed a few), we've turned back to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Disc 1. The stars are just beginning to feel their way, "over-acting" one might say, but the audience needs this too. There's no short-cutting past the awkward first steps, much of the time. There's this period of "tuning in" (lots of feedback cycles).

Hitting the ground running is usually only an option if you've done it before. A lot of this Buffy stuff was original spin, even if the material was Old Europe and well worn. California girl as vampire slayer, what a concept (!) -- way too good to just leave alone, that's for sure. Behind these earnest early performances is a sense of commitment, of wanting to get it right, to get past a pilot phase, when so many shows get yanked (TV can be pretty Darwinian).

And a lot is fully functional right out of the gate in this series (the start of what was to become a seven year run): we're already dealing quite effectively with teen issues, around popularity, the dynamics of study (everyone runs to dear Willow, our future witch), attraction and repulsion, "raging hormones," various mother-daughter scenarios.

Charisma Carpenter is brilliant at portraying the "mean girl" type in her character Cordellia (see also: Mean Girls). She helps anchor the rest of the cast, as her performance is highly polished and credible.

I originally dove in at the start of 3rd season when I first encountered Buffy in my late 40s, so going back to this early stuff is an eye opener. By the time I come in, it's pretty much over with Angel already. She's ready for Riley and then Spike, who, like Cordellia, really adds to our depth perception (having boyfriends be vampires, with an interlude in the military, was a nice arc).

As a storyboard artist of sorts, I appreciate how on-camera talent needs time to grow into a moving picture. When filming the Ken Kesey novel (highly adapted), the actors got time in a ward of their own, and opportunities to hobnob with patients and staff (all this in a real mental hospital, in Salem, Oregon).

If the story is gripping and well crafted, artists find it within themselves to take ownership of a role. This is what happened in the Buffy series -- an inspiration to aspiring writers like me.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Men's Retreat

So I just got back from central coastal Oregon, somewhere between Roseburg and Coos Bay, where there's this camp. Quakers renting, just for the weekend, men. Annual event. Missed it last year.

Didn't have a bizmo this time, but Dave's car was quite fun (flip-up headlights).

We focused on some writings by James Nayler quite a bit. I'll have more results to share latter. Suffice to say now that I used a lot of the time doodling some Qv2 commercials (Quakers version 2).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Biosculpture (take two)

Heart of Steel (intentionally rusted)
by Julian Voss-Andreae
(click for "take one")

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Note to Cell Mates

my new Motorola V325 on Verizon wireless

Owing to my activist life-style (alternating with more sedentary times, like in front of a screen), another cell phone bit it: my Samsung (replacing an LG I'd bought on eBay, to replace my previously beheaded LG (that happened on Amtrak, Coast Starlight in fact (beautiful train ride))).

Once again, the head got separated (not entirely my doing). So this time I'm going with a Motorola, having sampled Samsung and LG.

I was sorely tempted by the many display models, each supporting an assortment of bells and whistles. Some delayed windfall profit was burning a hole in my pocket, residuals from the big Hood River Cabin Sellathon (wherein I never played a real estate agent -- I served as webmaster and event coordinator that time).

But given my track record, investing in an expensive, delicate, all-purpose phone/PDA, would likely be a setup for disaster. I'd bash it against some airplane fusilage the next day, trying to squeeze into a passenger seat (some of those F-whatevers don't leave much room). What, no insurance? I'm sorry Mr. Urner but you've just destroyed our latest six million dollar phone. Nah (slap slap) gotta snap out of it.

But I didn't go "el cheapo" either, even though I had to pay full retail this time. My first choice, vendor recommended, was actually a bargain basement Nokia, but I was just glazing on the name. We EuroPythonista types, or loco PyConistos, know there's a series of Nokia out there that supports our favorite bindings: write your own little telecomm applets, with the provided GUI, in native Python code. But that wasn't what they had on sale for only $59.99 with a 2 year plan. No way Jose. I don't think the USA Verizon version even lets you buy such equipment, at least not through these storefronts.

They're too scared about snakes over here (South Park style 8th grader to teacher: "can we have Python on our school server teacher?"; teacher [heart pounding, thinking panicy]: "omygod, omygod, what are they asking, little hackers at this age? Should I call homeland security?"). We're not what you'd call real "computer literate" out here (mostly cuz of that stupid TV they all watch so much; it doesn't teach 'em much of anything that's useful -- unless you're expecting a starship to swing by).

Anyway, I'm still going through the activation process, like on Google Video. So if you call and you just reach a friendly Verizon recording, please try again later, and my apologies for the inconvenience.

Latest news (early March 9 AM):

Verizon is having technical difficulties in the Portland region. New phone activations are not going through. They're working on it, no time estimate. There's nothing about my account in particular that needs fixing. I've been without cell for going on 36 hours now -- since the Samsung died -- about 15 since purchasing this new Motorola.

In the middle of all this, Network Solutions called, wondering if I'd like to buy any variations on the theme, such as maybe or or whatever (so-called "extensions"). I declined the offer. She asked if there was anything else she could do for me today. I offered she could try activating my Verizon cell phone.

A joke, but hey, worth a try.

Wow, 10 AM and still no dice. Vendors confirm this is one of the biggest area outages they've seen -- usually we've got a resolution within like five hours. Verizon thinks this is probably bigger than Verizon, regionally speaking at least.

I've done a Python class in the meantime, and am now on to helping with "Sir Roger logistics" (Sir Roger Penrose is our ISEPP speaker this evening, plus Winterhaven is doing its annual Math Alive! -- a student poster session).

None of this is made any easier by not having a working civilian cell phone, I can assure you. But I'm good at my job. Anyway, Google Talk is working great.

OK, 2:40ish PM and your activist is activated (please deploy wisely etc.). Remember, nothing from the Samsung was salvageable, so I've lost all photos and electronic records. Tough cookies. Thems the breaks. Don't feel shocked if I don't call you right away.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Big Oil

(photo by K. Urner, Woodburn, Oregon)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Why We Fight (movie review)

This film could easily work as a double feature with The Power of Nightmares. The two films complement one another, plus feature some of the same talking heads.

The storyline is uncomplicated: president Eisenhower left office warning the USA might become a LAWCAP puppet (using Bucky's terminology) and lo and behold, that's precisely what happened.

"We" fight because the war machine has a "life" of its own. There's nothing especially American or democratic about it. It wants to spread "freedom and democracy" but, being a heartless / soulless mechanism, isn't really qualified to do so.

We've been scraping by with a phony USA for awhile now. Resurrecting a bona fide USA remains an uphill battle. Lots of heroic Americans have been fighting to bring it back.

I'm reminded of The Matrix: most people settle for the illusion, don't even suspect they've been duped, soldiers included -- although some more knowingly serve as quislings.

I'm glad this film is playing in Baghdad (so far clandestinely i.e. not yet on mainstream TV, although that's coming).

I'm glad the Iraqis are learning that the American people still fight (including with movies such as this one) to preserve a brave heritage, even though they too are a conquered people in many ways, living in an occupied land.