Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where's the Beef?

Reposted from Synergeo...

Now, before I scare up this little essay, I need to get something off my chest: has anyone else checked out [the Yahoo! group] synergetics? Like there had to be one right? Only one post so far, although this one almost fits next to it (allusion to "on steroids"). Funny bumper sticker: " steroids on steroids" (reminds me of a long-ago joke on Dave Letterman about the sitting veep).

Some probably found it weird that Bucky did so much work to unify coinage (money) with head of livestock in Critical Path, as if that couldn't be good economics -- "some brand of myth-making ethnography" was the popular (correct) verdict.

I say "correct" because if you look into popular culture, that very identification is just below the surface, as in "bang for the buck" (what's a "buck"?) Bears versus Bulls (so much in the news these days -- Bears winning). Yes, other animals get into it too. Not saying it's always exclusively Minoan, Phoenician or whatever it was.

Did anyone else take Economics 101? "As people start to make more money, they substitute this good for that," we're told. "And [drum roll] they start to eat more beef " (more money = more beef, one of those axiomatic white man equations).

It was like a mantra. Kind of like Hollywood was to cigarettes (all the stars used 'em, including slim women) so were middle-o-the-road all-American economics teachers to fast food America. Wow, like we're livin' high now, woo hoo. Let's all go to the bowling alley and eat burgers (our "way of life").

In keeping with this Anglo bias (beefeaters ya know), we're starting to see more grossology of the flavor: how many pounds of hamburger does it take to fuel 300,000 long divisions? Like we count how many joules or calories it takes for some average 8th grader to divide 17 into 4558943, get a remainder, and multiply that by the number of 8th graders doing that and some similar problems in the course of a given school year.

That being calories, gets us talking transfats and proteins, other nutrients, plus makes a concrete link twixt "beef consumed" and "bang for the buck" (in terms of long divisions).

This may sound like busy work, but of course the analog to the busy kid in her chair, is some laptop computer (picture an XO), doing similar arithmetical problems. Now we're talking battery life, throughput, issues of chip design -- the kind of YouTubes they're watching, thinking ahead to a career in some hub, not necessarily this one (Portland one of several -- Singapore another).

I've run this by math-thinking-l and places. Many profs are on board with what we're doing. We're getting back to what Bucky termed "operational mathematics", which I write about in Synergetica Journal Vol 1, No 1, and republished on the web. Computerization of these key ideas, in the form of interlinked lesson plans, is by now a reality. Once you add in the old "energy slave" meme (a recasting of "horsepower"), you've got a decent bridge to many engineering namespaces, including robotics (a Python API is one thing, but if firing a given method takes thousands of energy-slave hours, you should know that ahead of time).