Thursday, February 28, 2008

Myth Busting

One popular myth people recite is "I do no programming" meaning of course that "writing in a computer language" is not a part of their job description and/or lifestyle, nevermind if they'd like it to be.

On the other hand, we Quakers speak of programmed versus unprogrammed Friends, referring to some differences going back some hundreds of years.

Likewise, when you walk into a theater, you may be handed something called a Programme (perhaps spelled in that funny way).

Apparently there's some meaning for "programming" that "writing computer language" doesn't quite cover.

This, then, is a mental exercise to try on for size: go around saying to yourself "I am a programmer" and see if you get that to mean something.

If you write software, OK, you're done. But maybe not so fast? Play with other meanings.

If you've never touched a computer, maybe you'll have a more interesting time of it.

Remember, in the television industy, programming refers not only to content, but to the sequence of that content, vis-a-vis the sequences used by other content providers (so-called "channels").

The Internet is not a mirror image of the early days of commercial television in the US, when three major network affiliations were prevalent: ABC, CBS, NBC. Don't be too facile with the analogies.

However, that being said, think of your ordinary day as a "scenario" and how you plan ahead of time, to some degree (yes, exceptions happen).

In that sense at least, you might be a "programmer" (no?) i.e. someone who imposes at least some degree of order on both the content and sequence of events. Welcome to the club in that case.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Quaker Geometry

[ quirky: making XYZ vs. Quadrays seem like a bone of contention among religious denominations, a different angle for sure! -- KTU ]

So most Anglicans, if pressed for how many directions in space, will think back to schooling and some chatter about three dimensional. "If by directions you mean dimensions, then space has three" the proud Anglo might say.

The graphic behind this is the six-sided die or hexahedron aka "qyoob."

Alternatively, take three BBQ skewers and intersect them in a mutually perpendicular arrangement, binding at mid-points with leather thong or whatever. Stabilizing the tips with fishing line might be good, in which case you'll get an octahedron of sorts.

In Quakerdom, some of us learn from Lakota about the four directions, typically designed for planar applications (the Lakota being a plains people), but with a corresponding four sided, four tipped arrowhead, or tetrahedron in Greek.

To morph the four-square into an arrowhead-tetrahedron, skew it and crease along the short diagonal, then fold the tips to within unit-edge distance (Richard Hawkins and I implemented this transformation in ClockTet awhile back).

You can see why the "4 directions of space" answer might be appealing: a minimal four vectors splay outward from a common origin, dividing space into four identical quadrants. The Anglican cubists introduce three more negative vectors starting with their positive three, creating an 8-fold partition for their so-called Cartesian coordinate system.

Using quadray coordinates, or Chakovians, as they're sometimes called, we address all the same points with only positives along each arm, starting from (0,0,0,0) at the origin, thereby saving the negatives for some inside-out dual or mirror space.

Of course nothing prevents us from inter-converting 3D XYZ coordinates with their 4D IVM counterparts, nor are Quakers raised without the usual XYZ savvy. These language games are not mutually exclusive obviously. Like, the calculus cookie doesn't now suddenly crumble, any more than it already did.

Anyway, we teach multiple meanings of 4D in some of our schools, gleaning from such excellent books as The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art by Linda Dalrymple Henderson (ISBN 0691101426).

Like Coxeter's adding a fourth axis, turning a cube into a tesseract, was not the same move as Einstein's when adding a fourth "time dimension" (see Regular Polytopes page 119). Our Quaker 4D, inherited from American Transcendentalism and medicine wheel shamanism, is a move by yet different rules again. That's why Anglos call it "maths" (plural form), because of all this diversity lurking just beneath the surface.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bleepography

Bleepography is that branch of ethnography in which we study one culture's ability to and/or criteria for censoring or otherwise denying self expression to another.

I'm not saying such dominance is always bad.

For example, older adults do tend to direct (control) youthful behavior, and there's often a protective, survival instinct at work, on behalf of the youth.

Protective parenting is not an "anything goes" standard in most ethnicities, at least not those in at-all challenging circumstances (which'd be most of 'em).

What's especially difficult is sudden translation, through immigration, to new sets of circumstances.

Such transplants may leave families way overprotective in some dimensions, insufficiently defensive in others, setting up intergenerational tensions as a next generation adapts in ways not always so available, or even comprehensible, to the one previous.

Anyway, just to take an example of an investigation in bleepography, I was recently watching some Katt Williams, a standup comic, in performances recorded to DVR.

Lo and behold, somewhere along the way, some dominant culture control freak had managed to go crazy with the bleeping. In some passages, almost every third word was occluded by this highly obnoxious audio blocking technique (the counterpart to "blacking out" in print media).

I was so grateful to not have to put up with this kind of dumbing down for long, thanks to easily rented copies not subject to the same rules of censorship.

If freedom means anything, it means the freedom to not have one's tastes dictated by some anonymous bleeper, some privileged adult in some other space and time, with the power to enforce whatever screwball ethnic standards.

Another story I heard recently: a teacher reprimanded by school authorities for assigning Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 in English class -- not an approved reading. Plus note many public schools are blocking YouTube, denying access even to teachers wishing to project during class.

Leaving home, going to school, represents a big downward step to a lower level of information access in so many cases, given the Internet. School becomes a sanitized playpen, a sandbox, prefiguring future corporate big brother cube farms (not all of which are equally illiberal, praise Allah).

In the old days, parents kept junior home for fear of exposing her or him to too many alien notions. These days, maybe it's because junior has done nothing to deserve prison, at so young and tender an age.

Curiosity deserves to be rewarded, not treated as a threat by insecure powers that be. Cultures that can't deal with curious humans are among those least likely to succeed over the long haul.

History is chock-o-block with anomalous cultures to which, happily, my family has never been overly subjected. I give the USA's secularism a lot of credit for this, as religions, left to their own devices, tend to lapse into bitter warfare, try to shut each other down willy nilly.

Secularism
means keeping the public ways open to the public, not siding with any one faction in some effort to take over and put down, and not depending on enlightened ecumenists for what should be one of our government's built-in defensive functions, per founding designs.

Anyway, let's hope it stays this way -- InshaAllah as we say in Liberal Islamic (note CamelCase).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wine & Cheese

:: destroyed heritage, courtesy of FHL ::
Buckaneers in the vicinity might be pleased to attend.

I've got a retreat scheduled that weekend or else might fire up the company jet and attend myself (just kidding, way too busy):
What: Heritage Lecture: Bucky's Life And Work: Lessons From A Loss
When: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 6 PM
Where: The Old Governor's Mansion, 502 North Boulevard, Baton Rouge, LA
Who: Michael Desmond, Ph.D., architectural historian with the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Architecture
Cost: Free to Foundation for Historical Louisiana (FHL) members and $10 for non-members

Michael Desmond will share his insights on R. Buckminster Fuller and the recently demolished Union Tank Car Dome in Baton Rouge. This one hour presentation, will be filled with the bright spots of Bucky's life and ideas, including an introduction to the specifics of geodesic geometry as it applies to the Baton Rouge dome. We will also look at other such structures in existence. As the now lost Union Tank Car dome was among the worlds largest and most elegant, the lecture will invite a lively discussion of this remarkable structure and the people that made it possible.

Enjoy wines and cheeses compliments of Calanadros Select Cellars at this event!

Call 387-2464 or go to www.fhl.org for more information on FHL preservation activities.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wanderers in Eugene

I'm thinking Portland's version of Wanderers has evolved to a self-sustainable state, such that a copyable template might serve in other cities up and down the Willamette Valley, perhaps some of them to one day enjoy faster passenger rail service (still calling it Amtrak?).

What this might look like in practice, is a bunch of people sitting around a table (indoors or outdoors) at that McMenamins on High Street, another eGroup, website, snacks & beverages fund.

I've sent some ideas for branding, mug and T-shirt type stuff (clever slogans mostly).

I'll probably be specializing in these out-of-PDX operations, on the assumption that our top management here has it all handled.

Tacoma another focus.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Philosophy 101

Old timers among us may still remember when Nietzsche, a Prussian (then stateless) philosopher, was blamed for helping the Nazis fashion their idiotic Aryan superman idea (not at all what Nietzsche had in mind, that much we now know), a fantasy designed to whip up war hysteria and feed a sense of manifest destiny.

My Princeton education helped fill me in on what really happened. One of Nietzsche's best translators, Walter Kaufmann, my teacher at Princeton, made a career out of fighting the Nazis, plus check out this quote from Nietzsche's own Twilight of the Idols:
One pays heavily for coming to power: power makes stupid. The Germans -- once they were called the people of thinkers: do they think at all today? The Germans are now bored with the spirit, the Germans now mistrust the spirit; politics swallows up all serious concern for really spiritual matters. Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles -- I fear that was the end of German philosophy. [1]
Very prescient (we're talking like 1888). Lots of parallels to our own time.

Kaufmann was adamant that we ought not waste time reading Heidegger, given he'd sold out when it counted. You should judge a philosophy by the character of the philosopher, was his message.

Since WWII, from such histories as War Against the Weak, we've learned a lot about where Hitler did get much of his conceptual ammo: from North American eugenicists, many of them establishment types. [2]

The best we can say of 20th century philosophy is we're still here in the 21st, and becoming more viable. That's not really high praise though -- closer to "minimum acceptable." Academics are still pretty spineless, even today, especially those so-called philosophers (we've not had many of Kaufmann's caliber -- too much inbreeding I suppose (in a memetic sense, not talking genetics)).

Anyway, I'm glad we're overcoming at last (long overdue).

[1] Walter Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche, Penguin Books reprint, 1977, page 506.

[2] very lame to go after the Bush family on this however, as Kitty Kelly makes clear after checking into it more thoroughly

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wanderers 2008.2.13

Roger Paget took up some interesting themes this morning. His genealogical journey has taught him a lot, about this country, about the state of the art (many new tools, swift improvements).

So how shall we balance historians prying, wanting a complete picture, against the requirement for secrecy? In the case of ancestors, it's not that hard: the skeletons in the closet come out only long after the fact, and only with concerted digging -- they wait for the right historian.

But the security-minded often want access to stuff in the present, don't want to wait for some decent amount of time to fly by (the security-minded might not live that long either, eh?).

On the other hand, a lot of what marketing and medical researchers want is reliable anonymous data. They actually don't care to know who, don't need to know who, in order to do their jobs. Some police work is quite different obviously (not all of it though).

The technique of using pseudonyms to mask case histories, thereby providing doctors with true stories, yet fake identities, is an ethical one, and important to medicine.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Golden Compass (movie review)

I liked the blend of Victorian aesthetics, ala Pirates of the Caribbean, with semi-believable high tech. We should be doing more with dirigibles. Neal Stephenson explores this meme complex as well, in Diamond Age, though with more emphasis on nanotech, ala Michael Chrichton's Prey.

All that concern about undermining dust and witches, separating kids from their animals, seemed like that old timers' religion to me, nasty and diabolical. I'm happy to keep ridiculing and/or demonizing the Inquisition for at least another century or two, why not, right up there with Nazis. Nicole plays a smooth villain, tries to pull a Darth Vader on Lyra (pretty name, Dakota).

I recognized the good guy cowboy (Sam Elliot) from Ghost Rider. He really gets around, that character. Plus I enjoyed seeing the new Bond (Daniel Craig) recruiting spy kids already (quick work for a new guy).

I found polar bear culture kinda dorky -- that "vying for the throne" meme gets tiresome, no matter how deep the voice (like, what a booby prize to fight over). But admirers of the book version tell me not to judge the book by the movie. Plus I maybe felt they were poking fun at Klingons, which gets me a little testy.

The pairings with animals (familiars) is fun, though Dakota reports the use of stuffed dead ones. Children have the more powerful counterparts, shape shifters, whereas adults have become set in their ways, settled into one character. Such sidekicks would help with diplomacy I'd think, as it'd be easier to "read the signs" as it were, figure out what's really going on, yet this civilization seems just as war torn and bumbling -- go figure.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Beer Note

I'll cop to sipping a beer yesterday, I believe my first since Vilnius, where I took some vows (which I didn't exactly break, but one could see a slippery slope here). Hey, the bottle had Frank Zappa on it, whose music I'll write some more about below.

Yes, I think Valley Girl is somewhat mean spirited, but then note he recruited a real pro VG speaker (his 14 year old, Moon), to give it some punch, which is what makes it art more than infantile dissing. He's part of a conspiracy to help kids keep from turning out empty-headed, always distressing when it happens, especially to one's self. In other words, one sister to another, read a few books (like Idiocracy in that way).

On the car trip to/from LA, Tara and I mostly didn't overlap on Zappa. We blared through the car speakers, using that Belkin gizmo, so mutual agreement was important, and turns out there was plenty we could both enjoy, like that Hate Me guy, and Sheryl Crow. She finds some of my Laurie Anderson stuff somewhat terrifying, but not unlistenable. I've got two from Britney she's OK with, if not my raving about (don't get me started).

Anyway, it was pretty good beer, I forget the brand, will maybe ask Stacy if she knows. Heading out for Lipton ice tea next, because "good for your karma" according to the beneficiary (and she's right). Then it's time to stalk the lonely Tinkerbell (I left her for fixin', but that was awhile back).

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mathematics in Nature

The Ivory Tower was in many ways designed as an escape from a harsh, cruel "real world" and "academic subjects" tend to be conducive to those wishing a life of quiet study, a purely monastic existence.

Of course marine biology, geology, other empirical sciences, tend to push our bell curve further away from such an indoors extremum, but the fact remains we're culturally inclined to insert a firewall between bookish types and athletic types, creating a nerds versus jocks kind of taxonomy (also a tyranny).

In contrast to these ethnic cliches, our integrative learning approach asks that we cut across these diabolical conventions. Finding mathematics in nature is not something to just read about. And especially now that we have fractals, it's easy enough to set a Cartesian-like canvas of XY cells in front of some scenery, and call that a complex plane, then iterate Mandelbrot style to achieve some coast of some island (like in Lost or wherever, maybe Uru).

The lab sciences have always been something of a bridge between the indoors and outdoors lifestyles. Heartening in this regard is this "math lab" meme, already out there, meaning we don't need to invent it from scratch (yay). Also under "maths" (in Britain a plural), come game-like simulations, which may be self-referential (cellular automata for example), but might just as well be about something (an ant colony say). Nowadays we run simulations as programmed executables, such that a well-equipped math lab includes workbenches (workstations) for programming.

Putting all this together, one can see why competence in driving one of our electric ATVs just goes with the territory. If you can't drive one of those, you'll have a harder time meeting the requirements of our math curriculum. And if you can't point to the current location of Saturn (might be under your feet?), then how can you claim to know your spherical coordinates properly? Sure, maybe those other math teachers let you get away with just being a nerd, but we don't think that way out here. We're extremely remote remember (but joining us is still a possibility, if you do your math homework).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Integrative Learning

svg graphic (converted), public domain
"Integrative learning" may be all the buzz, but what does it mean in practice?

Physics teachers may like an energy-based approach, which might involve draining rechargeable batteries, then using a money model "in the same breath" i.e. battery = bank account with pennies like electrons, flowing in circuits.

The velocity of money then relates directly to "power" i.e. the rate at which energy is spent (E/t). Food energy, exchanged for money, recharges the body's "batteries" and so on. That food in turn goes back to photosynthetic processes, driven by solar fusion. So here we have physics, economics, chemistry and astronomy all getting integrative treatment.

The goal is to find analogies that work, versus those that mislead.

XML is another integrative concept, in that we're given a Document Object Model (DOM) and ways to control it (model-view-controller).

Thanks to advances in browser technology, the SVG standard (an XML) has also come a long way (see picture above). So whereas language class used to just feature Roman numbered outlines, maybe a few network-like diagrams (so-called "concept maps"), today we have full-fledged XHTML, MathML and semantic webs to play with.

The tools have improved. The challenge is to encourage schools to take advantage of them, and to bring students up to speed on their use. Multi-track editors are but the tip of the iceberg.

The purpose of a backbone curriculum is to guide teachers in designing their own lesson plans, not necessarily to directly provide front-line materials. Good schools give teachers time to brainstorm, to research, to collaborate with their peers.

Teachers best know their own students, will adapt curriculum segments to meet local needs. If they're then willing to contribute these lesson plans back to a searchable repository (some database, or the Web itself) so much the better.

This process occurs globally already, so it's not really a matter of "making it happen" so much as managing and leveraging it, better optimizing teachers' time and effectiveness, per some Principle of Least Action.

Strong analogies promote integrative learning and good coverage, opening doors into many disciplines.

Students will then choose to specialize, following their natural inclinations, but not because they've been coerced into pigeon holes and/or ruthlessly "tracked" too early in their careers. Their ability to adapt, to switch tracks, will have been amplified, thanks to our integrative approach.

Nobody wants to be railroaded into a blind alley or dead end. Integrative learning decreases the likelihood of that happening, to teachers as well.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Story Problems

[ originally posted to math-teach @ Math Forum, two typos fixed, hyperlinks added ]

So the spectrum I'm addressing here is from meaningless to meaningful, with the former kind of story problem focusing on underlying abstractions, the latter having "real world" dimensions.

Wayne has championed the former, and indeed many of like mind ridicule anything deliberately reality based as "rain forest math" i.e. a transparent attempt to politicize, whereas aloof/removed abstraction is supposedly closer to apolitical vs. just head-in-sand Ivory Tower (i.e. "leave me alone, I just wanna do math problems, don't care what they're about").

The "physics first" movement, also "first person physics" represent a happier compromise, in that our story problems are "themed" around the concepts of energy and power. Given algorithms may be ranked for efficiency, all that's required is to understand that mathematics itself, the physical process of doing it, is energy-consuming. An inefficient algorithm is like an energy-hog SUV (oops, political -- no apology).

So in our computer math sequence, developing among various charters, other risk-taking academies not in the thraldom of some textbook (by definition out of date -- more on that some other time), we look at human productivity and algorithm efficiency "in the same breath" as it were, meaning we have that metrological component so despised by the "purists" (i.e. we actually care about empirical measures).

But rather than just wallow in joules and calories, we also have the concept of O-notation and the curves (graphs) those imply. Average 15 year olds understand what it means to "work inefficiently". That we might use mathematics to improve productivity, cut down on wastefulness, is a key point of this curriculum.

Apropos of that, we don't waste the opportunity to make our story problems meaningful, as the goal is to stay appropriately interdisciplinary and in sync with other subjects. This idea of "go it alone math" that doesn't care about physics or biology or history or whatever is in itself inefficient, typical of slower, more wasteful thought processes which we'd like not to perpetuate in our eager, thoughtful young.

To some extent, you can judge a math curriculum by its story problems. Steer clear of the willfully meaningless is my advice. Life's too short for such idleness.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

First Day

Today was my first M4W in the newly remodeled "mother ship," followed by social hour.

Great seeing Eve Menger again (like me, a Quaker and a Wanderer), and Aimée, and to reconnect with members of the Brown family (our families go back to mom & dad's University of Washington days, well before I entered the picture).

I handed over a DVD of Quakers on YouTube for accessioning into the library, plus another for the archives.

Tara and I also shopped at Costco, the first time I'd been back since before Willamette Quarterly.

Victoria phoned from Canada, reconnecting, not retired yet. She hopes to check in with mom sometime next week.

We caught the thrilling conclusion of the SuperBowl. Go Giants.