Thursday, January 31, 2008

Brainstorming Curriculum

Today I brainstormed curriculum ideas with Anna Roys, who dreams of a new charter school near Anchorage, Alaska. I'll be able to use much of the resulting six page document in my work with other schools as well.

I put a lot of emphasis on the transition from ASCII to Unicode, on the analogy of going from gray scale or "black and white" television to images with more color depth (pg. 5). Sums of successive rows of Pascal's triangle = successive doublings, i.e. 2**N, a tie-in to Unicode's permuting of bits for labeling/mapping purposes (pp. 2-3).

Should a core nonprofit or for-profit provide oversight services to multiple schools, each with a local executive team, plus parent, teacher and student councils (pg. 1)? We didn't reach an answer to this question in Anna's case (it's too early to know).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lunch in Old Town

Dave got me out of my Richmond / Sunnyside orbit to an older section of Portland.

We discussed the ramifications of my coming out as a "Quaker animist" in terms of my practices, of inviting dogs to Wanderers gatherings and/or being openly friendly with a reptile on my webcam.

Given Portland's cosmopolitan culture, these are hardly noticeable eccentricities (like, just read our Willamette Week), but hey, maybe I'm making waves in Peoria or someplace. Alabama? I doubt it.

Anyway, always good having a chat with another krew mate on these matters.

I took along my copy of Ghost in the Shell 2 in hopes of getting scene 10 (Festival) moved to my iPod for personal use.

Dave also yaks about kayaks, took one to Mexico recently.

:: happy birthday dave! ::

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hacker Ethics

To some, "hacker ethics" actually sounds oxymoronic, as they've been raised among bigots or, more likely, have met a lot of unethical types calling themselves "hackers" or, more likely still, have heard of such types, maybe seen them on TV, like on some cop show (and maybe they've tried to imitate what they've seen?).

As so often happens, the fictionalized version trumps reality by default. No wonder so many of our students suffer a crisis in confidence at some point, in trying to make the transition from some televised never-never land of dreams, to an actual career path in the real world. "What do you mean real doctors aren't like on House, M.D.?" -- and don't get me started on Numb3rs.

Why blame the screen writers though? Their job is to write engaging material, not set the bar on how much reality intrudes. Audiences have some collective responsibility for setting the standards. Liberal Vienna was known for its high quality piano parties because of how people could take in the music, not just for how they could pump it out.

Ivory Towerites often assist the entertainment industry in projecting lionized (Olympian) screen versions of themselves -- makes the profession look good (or foolish, as some peers will judge), plus maybe helps down the road with recruiting (or backfires, maybe by playing into the hands of spoof artists and yes men).

Cops do it, and private eyes, so why not mathematicians?And let's not forget lawyers. Everybody likes having "larger than life" more glamorous versions of themselves out there, even if only in pulp fiction.

Anyway, the dumber the audience, the less hard you have to work to get them to suspend their sense of disbelief, i.e. to turn off their reality checking facilities (mainly because they dont' have any worth mentioning). It's so easy to satisfy the gullible with cheap thrills, and yes, that is how some geeks have made I living, I don't deny it.

So if you really think hackers don't have ethics, ask yourself how you came to that conclusion, and especially whether fiction, including science fiction, might have had some role in shaping your views.

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).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Curriculum Notes

My closer readers know I'm into a mix of Pythonic Algebra and Synergetics, in that my polyhedron modules tend to follow the proportions given them by Bucky in terms of a "concentric hierarchy" (of polyhedra: tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, icosahedron, rhombic triacontahedron and like that).

There's also a melding with movie industry jargon in that I make a big deal about "real time" versus "render time."

The former, used in game engines, supplies human speeds of interactivity, whereas render time is superhumanly slow, unless you beef up with amazingly powerful rendering farms, and even then, the pipeline is different.

A real time engine'll use quaternions to keep Alice oriented vis-a-vis her world and your viewpoint. Rendering involves POV-Ray type scene descriptions driving a ray tracer.

Both involve textures, plus rendering chips are pushing more realism to the screen every day, so I'm not saying the current skill mix and industry standards are set in stone or anything.

I just want my students to have a clue. This is ToonTown after all.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Koski on T-Modules

Dave Koski is doing some detailed chronology regarding his explorations of five-fold symmetric polyhedra, starting with his stumbling upon the golden mean, then the rhombic triacontahedron, its stellate and dimpled complements.

Dave writes (#37501, typo fixed):
The rhombic triacontahedron that is dimpled in at 8 locations can have 8 regular rh triac surround it by filling in at the dimples. The space left over can be filled in with more 8 dimpled rh triac. So the 8 dimpled rh triac and regular rh triac compliment each other in filling all space.

The rhombic triacontahedron that is dimpled in only four locations is an all space filler by itself because before there was an 8 dimple and a reg rh triac complementing each other. But with only four dimples, the 8 dimple concept is shared with reg rh triac so they all have four dimples and look the same. And that looks like closest packing to me, since they stack tetragonally. Too lazy to make image, sorry. I would love to give credit to whomever discovered this one. It was shown to me by man named David Noble (I think), out in LA, back in the eighties. I do not think I would have thought of it.
Dave's obsession with golden ratio geometry led him to study Fuller's Synergetics, which is where he and I started to overlap, in LA (me just passing through) and Santa Monica (his domicile at the time). We were both recipients of the Synergetics Explorer Award, presented by Fuller's grandson Jaime at BFI (this was before I became BFI's first web wrangler).

Back in the early 1990s, David, myself, Russ Chu, Robert Orenstein, and Bonnie Goldstein (later DeVarco) were trying to realize Hal Hildebrand's vision of a Smalltalk storage system for all of Bucky's many boxes of papers, collectively referred to as the Chronofile (plus he had a bound volume set by that name). Safe to say, with an 8 MB RAM motherboard (purchased by Russ), and no budget, we were ahead of our time.

Anyway, Koski dissected what Fuller named the T-module, 1/120th of a rhombic triacontahedron, into discrete numbers of smaller T-modules, edges scaled by 1/phi (some say tau or vice versa) i.e. 0.618... (volume scaled by a 3rd power of same) at each smaller size level -- except another shape tends to stand out in this project, what Dave termed a Remainder Tet, also recursively disassembling.

David is chronicling all this on Synergeo these days, complete with uploaded pictures made with vZome by Scott Vorthmann, a nifty free tool for Zome users.

T-mod, classic dissection
in vZome by D. Koski

Friday, January 18, 2008

Lunch on Hawthorne

I had a fine lunch with the Boltons today at Than Thao, followed by some show & tell at my residence -- they'd not met Naga before, are new to this whole YouTube business.

Chuck is a retired emeritus from a golden age at Portland State, his career as a sociologist a product of the post-WII GI Bill-sparked renaissance, North Carolina's Black Mountain a flagship of that era, from whence our own Catlin Gabel gained some of its founding faculty.

Mary is a WILPFaholic like mom (I say that affectionately, akin to Buckaneer) and during lunch was trying to remember where she'd sat next to Dennis Kucinich on Hawthorne that time.

Dawn and their eldest daughter were especially close, from solstice festivals and such.

On our subsequent tour of the Linus Pauling House, she thought maybe this was the place. Could've been. Certainly mom gave her talk here.

They recommended Kite Runner, the movie, which Chuck thought followed the book remarkably closely, unlike so many movies.

Our families go way back. When they first met dad in Portland, they already remembered him from University of Chicago days.

Mom and Mary were active in WILPF even then, protesting in the streets against strontium-90 in the milk etc. (I sometimes joined in my stroller).

Congratulations to Glenn Baker on winning a CINE Golden Eagle for Stand Up: Muslim American Comics Come of Age. Glenn and I were high school buddies in the Philippines, house mates for awhile in Jersey City, have stayed in touch.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wanderers 2008.1.16

Today's discussion was one of those vital, free ranging, all topics fair game affairs.

We were all older Caucasoids (by the usual taxonomy) although at one point I came out as Asian with a rhetorical flourish.

Lots of talk about death, friends who'd passed on, near death, birth (one of us was a practicing midwife of sorts), and the fact that Australia leads the world in efficient flush toilet technology.

The tone was generally upbeat although much discouragement and frustration was expressed, with this or that feature of the world.

I was invited to pitch Python, which I did with some gusto. I was late, as usual on Wednesday mornings, so missed seeing Patrick, another busy bee (and new fan of our snake).

Speaking of vital topics, Tara did this beautiful analogy between a cell (the DNA kind) and an ant hill. She actually knows quite a bit about ants from previous research, so her analogy was as much about ants as about cells -- quite detailed in both directions.

I was impressed.

This cell analogy project is a longstanding part of 8th grade culture at Winterhaven. I'd say Tara has adapted to this culture very successfully.

Had to run off to test the new web cam, on a bad hair day (just got it cut (I'm sure it'll grow on me)). Getting back into Skype.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Political Polling

I find it interesting that "the economy" and "the war" are considered two separate issues, such that voters might be polled on which matters more.

In point of fact, "the war" is what the economy is dying from, as a fixation on military solutions has meant delaying any real focus on the needs of civilians (including discharged veterans), languishing in their toxic trailers, substandard schools, overcrowded hospitals or whatever.

Inept bureaucracies won't be held accountable for the jobs they're not doing, so long as we're terrorized by nebulous terrorists (what they'd prefer remain our focus).

Moreover, many supranationals have colluded to not bid on lucrative development contracts in the Middle East, in order to punish this or that political elite -- a gamble.

Getting beyond "the war" is probably the only way to save the economy at this point.

Let's see if the politicians give us some straight talk about that.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rich Data Structures

Another trend that emerges when you view the Internet as a primary source of raw curriculum materials, is a willingness to build lesson plans around big data sets, as opposed to little, deliberately ridiculous in many cases, sample data sets in hardcopy.

So, for example, a chemistry class might begin with 'import pt' (for Periodic Table), and for the rest of the class, students follow along interactively e.g. would spit back the number of neutrons in gold (we'll get to isotopes later). Entering all this data the first time is tedious, but chances are, someone has done that for you or (and this is important) has provided an API to some back end updatable database.

The ridiculous little examples were sufficient for computer science majors because their topic was "parsing" and the data might as well be nonsense, so long as the challenges were realistic, i.e. there were delimiters, other regular expressions, that might serve as raw material for programmed algorithms. Today we're using XML a lot, or YAML.

However as we move more deeply into this cyberfrontier, professors of other subjects start wanting more topical richness. Their ability to import a Shakespeare play as a namespace, or some other (possibly holy) writ, in the form of a densely populated module of highly organized multimedia, is nothing to sneeze at.

Related thread on comp.lang.python.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rights, Then and Now

Our first successful test of the new MMM projector in its home setting included showing a first segment of Eyes on the Prize, a PBS documentary about the post Civil War civil rights movement in the United States of America.

From watching this film, I learned that Rosa Parks and friends were able to boycott public transit for so long because the families that depended on them would chauffeur them by private car. Basic childcare, daycare, gardening, chaperoning, needed to occur, lest that famous Southern lifestyle fall apart for lack of a supporting cast of extras (this was pre Pixar).

Judging from the front page of today's Oregonian, something similar may be shaping up in Oregon, as Americans without club membership in the USA are soon to be denied their driving privileges.

For many Norte Americanos, this move is effectively shooting themselves in the economy (whatever body part), as those same non-members were the only backbone left, in terms of getting the basics accomplished (mostly construction, maintenance, remodeling in the cities, agriculture i.e. food supply in the rural areas).

So will we see the emergence of privately dispatched bus systems based around unmarked minivans, shuttling non-member former drivers to and fro? Hey, maybe the DMV could do it, or TriMet around Portland.

More chance to listen to headphones, watch podcasts that way.

Anyway, it's quite possible. On the other hand, people might not be that smart, fail to organize, and let the economy go more completely down the tubes.

As an observer of social trends, I'll get back to you on what happens.

Doing my part for the economy, I went over to Sears at Lloyd Center today and purchased a brand new Kenmore, complete with tax credt (ODOE CF-01 for premium efficiency) and service agreement. I also deposited some off-setting earnings through a partnership account.

Tara is back from DreamQuest.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gender Studies (2 of 2)

In a model of competing role models, each recruiting for a subtype within the species, you have the cards you're dealt (nature) vs. the cards you gain during play (nurture) -- not that the fine line between these two is always crystal clear.

In terms of gender, I think the age axis must be conjoined to make sense of the scholarship. What age ranges are we talking? The subject is really "morphology" as children are eager to learn what kind of adult such and such portends, in terms of childhood personality. "What track am I on?" is a perennial question. Gender studies potentially has some answers, if it deigns to fully embrace the time dimension.

However, even with a time dimension, the topography is way incomplete. If the "multiple genders" really are culturally ingrained to a large extent, as many contend, then in the next breath we need to admit of many divergent cultures. So don't be too confidant, just eyeballing someone on the bus next to you, that you have any insight into the role, or even the ethnicity.

To be cosmopolitan means to not be overconfident in such matters. Which doesn't mean you have to find out, either, i.e. don't be boorishly inquisitive just because you're in a shared public space. That might be Jodie Foster you're dealing with (smile).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

PinBall in PDX

I bounced around a lot today, between telecommutes, although Razz only had a couple of errands.

Fun intersecting with Brian the other day.

Fired up Camtasia Studio really for the first time since swapping the Santa Cruz sound card from KTU2 (basement) to KTU3 (office).

I did some like Viiv type actions to compile YouTube fragments for inhouse perusal, by NPYM Quakers, of Quakers on YouTube.

AFSC is in Facebook in various guises.

Now I'm off again, Tara in tow.

Good to see the midwest sex ed segment on CBS News as it dovetails with my own message about YouTubes™ and/or Podcasts™ being relevant when it comes to shaping religious sects.

Hey, wanna work on a railroad in Oregon?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Gender Studies (1 of 2)

In terms of nomenclature, I sometimes prefer "girl / boy" over "woman / man" because the latter makes a statement about an added / missing "wo" whereas the former simply says "genetic distance" (less spin in some dimensions).

In my writings, you'll sometimes see me saying my XX-friend or my XY-friend, instead of girlfriend / boyfriend. That's in part an homage to those beautiful Sigourney Weaver films and that idea of a special planet for "double Y" guys. Cracks me up every time (no offense to my XYY-friends, whom I can't tell from XYs).

In any case, I'm sympathetic to the "multiple genders" school, don't really care how many. Having worked as a school teacher in a Catholic academy for girls of high repute, I can attest that girls, like boys, differentiate into subtypes, which I don't need to rank in order to name.

But then as a theater / TV /movie type thinker in some ways, I tend to more or less abandon "gender" in favor of "role" and get more into stereotypes / archetypes at that point.

In terms of namespaces, in other words, I don't really sound like any kind of gender therapist or whatever, neither do I talk about "chakras" that much (I keep getting the colors mixed up), although I have male / female friends who do talk this way, and I'm able to follow to some degree.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

School Tools

Schools have a lot of resources at their fingertips, if they know where to look.

It's not every math teacher who knows about the Cortona or Flux Player plug-ins, that'll bring virtual worlds to life -- I'm talking VRML and/or X3D here, great tools for studying geometry.

Then there's Peda's stuff, and ZomeTool.

VIP Koski
likes vZome for the virtual versions. Build the 59 stellations of the icosahedron or whatever it is.

The Portland Knowledge Lab still has a StrangeAttractors kit in its collection, worth a fortune given its rarity.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

One Whale of a Wanderer

The story of Keiko has been told many times.

In this version, lots of kids saw Free Willy (a movie) and realized that amidst the Hollywood style gimmickry there had to be a real whale in there somewhere, a Lassie, a Flipper.

Sure enough, our celebrity lived in captivity and so kids of the world, insistent that adults walk their talk, campaigned to have him moved to a state of the art facility in Newport, Oregon, with an ultimate goal of truly freeing Willy (not his real name).

As it turned out, that last chapter was maybe not so successful, in that a cetacean raised in aquariums since childhood isn't going to adapt all that easily to the cold, cruel world outside. On the other hand, it was maybe worth a try.

I like to think of Keiko is an honorary Wanderer, the protagonist of a long, strange trip under the auspices of many adoring fans, many of whom got to see him up close and personal (me included).

Related reading: #1944 wwwanderers eGroup.