Sunday, April 30, 2006

Transamerica (movie review)

The sleight of hand in this film is to get the attention on the dad for being the most mixed up figure. But actually, all of the key characters are wildly off center, in a kind of high wire act, like some Cirque du Soleil on steroids.

For example, consider Carrie Preston's character Sydney: what a totally unusual person.

I wasn't just fixating on the dad in other words, the son either. The whole twisted circus was worth watching.

That psychiatrist lady was like some low key circus master, whispering "welcome to my world."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

More First Person Physics

"PGE Ball Park, my angle"
(photo by K. Urner)

For those of you new to this thread: I was recruited to serve as webmaster on an NSF grant seeking team, headed up by Dr. Bob Fuller, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, now emeritus. We were already on grant number one, but seeking to scale up, by addressing the needs of 2nd tier students, meaning all those choosing not to become physics majors (which is most of them).

Dr. Paul Urone, that year to spearhead the AAPT convention in Sacramento, was also present for our summit, held in Lincoln itself (cool Buckyball at the airport). His text books tend to typify the First Person approach; very appropriate for medical students (lots of focus on anatomy).

Every teacher at the APPT convention got a CD about studies in human motion (sort of like Bodies, but moving). We used sensors to generate XYZ trajectories for the various body parts (body part = data column in Excel), which we subsequently converted to movies (my movies used Python and POV-Ray, with source code included on the CD). Similar technology was used in Lord of the Rings to develop the character Gollum.

Rolling forward, I was at the PGE Baseball Park yesterday, with thousands of public school kids (my Tara included), bussed in for the occasion from all over town. We started with a lecture on Isaac Newton's three laws: inertia, force, and push back.

Volunteers came down from the "me me me" screaming audience, and demonstrated these three laws in action. For example, a baseball, not aimed at the dog (but coming close), didn't go on forever in a straight line trajectory. Why? That's right: Gravity.

Or we might credit Precession if in a synergetics namespace (or that'd be more for when we're not in some a "falling in" or "gravity well" situation, which we obviously were at PGE Ball Park).

I was on chaperone duty, and crammed my bulk into section 114, row R, tiny seat 11.

Between stellar plays (Bees versus Beavers), I continued devouring my airplane reading, purchased at Victoria Station on a night of wandering about London. By the end of the day, I'd finished the novel, attaining another personal goal (my garden, however, is still wild -- I've scheduled a consult for this afternoon).

I'll be showing some of those human motion movies in my Saturday Academy class, along with Warriors of the Net, a big hit at Winterhaven.

Update: the front yard's much better thanks to elvynchyx. Our family membership renewal to the Chinese Garden arrived in today's mail.

studies in human motion CD

:: proposal web site ::

Sunday, April 23, 2006


photos by Kirby Urner

Friday, April 21, 2006

Banished from a Yahoo! Group (tsk)


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bruce denner wrote:

>>>> According to Ludwig Wittgenstein: "The limits of
>>>> my language mean the limits of my world."

As I read Tractatus, Wittgenstein's view (at least at the time) necessitates the empirical hypothesis testing of his quote above.


This is correct. For the above to be meaningful in any way, and not just an empty tautology, a figment of logic, it would have to mean something empirically. But it doesn't. Nor does the rest of the Tractatus. Hence the joke, sort of, that it's a lot of glorious nonsense.

Later, in the PI, the boundary between sense and nonsense is not so sharp, given the last vestiges of logical positivism have been purged from LW's style. The joke (of an unsayable) has now been reduced to more like a gagging sound.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Our Wild Garden

"a day for new prayer flags"
(photo by K. Urner)

Mom @ Laughing Horse Books

"a student of history"
(photo by son)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Practicum BizMoticum

photo by K. Urner, Knott's Berry Farm

So one of my first conversation openers at the summit was to talk about bizmos, especially to Guido, who recently joined Google.

Guido pointed me to Brewster Kahle as worthy of emulation in this regard. Brewster took the concept of bookmobile to the next level: print on demand and let the patron keep the asset, as there's more where that came from.

Of course this approach means specializing in copylefted works and/or works with copyrights expired. That's a huge domain, to which many live authors even now readily contribute.

The TeacherMobile concept is also uncomfortably akin to another template straight out of American folklore: that of the snake oil salesman, purveyor of panaceas, maker of outlandish claims for the healing properties of mostly-alcohol.

On the other hand, I can't deny it: the Wild West wandering medicine show image is a colorful one, and resonates with the root meaning of geek, as in circus performer of some species.

On today's agenda (in addition to buying some prayer flags): watch the DVD Kim gave me: Squeakers "a documentary film celebrating a new way of teaching math and science to young children using computers, with computer pioneer Dr. Alan Kay" (from the cover).

Monday, April 17, 2006

Natural Science

early bird special

problem solver deluxe

photos & captions by Kirby Urner

Vigil Sign

from 24/7 vigil adjacent Big Ben
photo by K. Urner
(click for larger view)

Night Shot 2

Big Ben with traffic signal
photo by K. Urner

Monday, April 10, 2006

Night Shot

Bagdad theater with traffic sign
photo by K. Urner

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ambient Video for Airports

I'm listening to Ambient Music for Airports by Brian Eno on iTunes.

The hypertoons on my Toshiba form a complementary ambient video, the way I think of them (I get to flip up my screen and watch 'em in the transit lounge). Just a lot of languidly unfolding geometry, one track dissolving to the next, or through segues that mightn't be dissolves, but key frames. Some frames are "grand central stations" in fact: many scenarios start or end there, like train tracks at a terminal, or like at airport hubs.

I wrote my hypertoons program in Python using the VPython add-on. VPython drives a simple animated graphics window. I repurposed what I'd aimed at POV-Ray, a still life ray tracer, a stash of polyhedra, generated from Pythonic Vector and Polyhedron classes. Each poly is a list of face-tuples, with vertex labels keyed to the vectors library or dictionary. For example, face ('A','B','C') would access {'A':Vector((0,0,0)), 'B':Vector((1,1,0)), 'C':Vector((2,0,0))} and like that, where parentheses denote a tuple and curly braces a dictionary (primitive data types in Python).

I've implemented an through several versions (rbf = r buckminster fuller). In this module, the volumes have been relativized to the tetrahedron in a particular way, by concentric nesting (an ancient passion of geometers through the ages). The rhombic dodecahedron (6) gets more air time than in the more purely Platonic environments. Kepler made studies of this shape, as well as of the more pentagonally informed geometries, per Koski, per Penrose.

Related reading:
Hypertoons in Python by K. Urner, July 25, 2005 (10 page PDF)
Urner talk @ London Knowledge Lab (Math Forum thread)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Roller Coaster Diaries

I flipped through a large format book at Gonzo's today (he's my wife's acupuncturist and herbalist -- part of the integrative medical team that supports her): a kind of Tantric catalog of compassionate beings, including Tara, for whom our daughter is named.

The pictures are by a Nepalese artist. Robert Thurman wrote an afterword.

I found the book comforting, even in the midst of all this suffering, all this feeling sorry amidst sorrowful beings. I'm glad to be here though, amidst my companions, amidst these incredibles. Thank you all for being in my life. Like, howdy strangers.

Joe and Larry sent me kind notes, in response to my email to the Quaker mens' retreat list this morning. And Vanessa, on another Quaker list, offered to help us get cheaper pain meds from Venezuela. Canada is closer.

We'll see Dawn's oncologist on Thursday. We need to know more about this roller coaster we're on. I'm scheduled to leave for London the following Tuesday, back Easter Sunday.

Judging from Wanderers postings, Jim Buxton had a wonderful time in Libya, viewing the full eclipse.

I've been meaning to catch up on Caitlin's blog (Terry Bristol's daughter). And mom's website is looking really good these days (she's become a true webmaster).

Sarah is barking, wants me to let her in.


Dawn really wants me to go to London, even if her time with us may be shorter than we were hoping, even hours ago. She got to talk to her pulmonologist, 24 hours after talking to a release nurse. I understand the need for pacing I suppose. I hate not knowing stuff sometimes. We're thinking Mom will come stay here at her PDX workstation while I'm at the Summit, then return to Whittier a few days after I return on Sunday.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Once There Was...

I had the distinct privilege last night of being one of the chosen few to see Johnny Stallings in action, in a play of his own devising.

A loner with a penchant for books develops a local reputation for being the wise old hermit. A younger man, well played by Rollin Carlson, beset with the usual questions about reality and finding one's way in life, seeks him out, hoping to gain some wisdom.

Dialogue ensues, plus mundane eating, drinking, shaving, sleeping, reading -- and watching projected videos, which may be accepted as metaphoric for the inner life of either character (the hermit reads Harlequin type romances for kicks, along with the more intellectual books, which is the only time we venture into R-rated material).

The venue was intimate, with three rows of chairs (stepped, visibility not a problem), maybe 12-15 across in each row, and pretty much full for this penultimate Friday night performance (tonight is the last gig of this run).

The set consisted of four principal stations: an outdoor bench, back to the audience; the eating and drinking table; the hermit's sleeping space; and a cooking and shaving spot. The small theater restroom was actually used as such in one scene, while the back of the garage door (not designed to open these days) completed this intimate model of Plato's Cave.

The piece is clearly autobiographical in some respects (the hermit makes an income as an actor part time, sometimes playing all parts in King Lear) which is why it was such a joy to see Stallings himself act his character (some of his stories are likewise nested and/or recursive).

The script involves any number of outlandish stories, with the loner breaking the ice and the visitor-guest gradually catching on, getting more comfortable, helping himself to the food (while offering to be useful).

The loner is clearly amused by this visit, but isn't attached to it going longer. He does work hard at supplying useful teachings, doesn't shirk his duty as the older and wiser gent. The storytelling provided a useful framework for getting to know his customer -- I'd say the loner made very efficient use of his time, even while claiming to be "doing nothing" for a living.

It's not clear from the ending if the visitor ever leaves (in one of the embedded stories, the acolyte never does), but one presumes he probably does after awhile.

Oregon Live review, by Richard Wattenberg, March 13, 2006.