Sunday, August 27, 2006


Chalmers, Göteborg
site of Europython '05 and Nanotubes '05

HP4E is a play on CP4E, Guido's DARPA-funded Computer Programming for Everybody initiative (with work, we could perhaps tie these back to HCE in Finnegans Wake, but that's for some other thread). HP = HexaPent in this namespace.

It's not really work to popularize the soccerball, already high on the recognition scale. Movies like The Cup well-document its cross-cultural appeal. But once we divide the field into soccerballs (a family) and buckyballs (another family), the game gets more technical. Here are the rules:
  • Soccerball: looking over the fence from a pentagon, every neighboring lot is hexagonal; looking over the fence from a hexagon, faces alternate between pentagonal and hexagonal.
  • Buckyball: all hexagons plus 12 pentagons, such that three lots (i.e. three fenced-in areas) come together at every fence post (i.e. vertex).
I got this taxonomy from Dieter Kotschick's article, The Topology and Combinatorics of Soccer Balls, in American Scientist, Volume 94 (pg. 350) -- except I'm making "soccerball" into one word, to go with "buckyball". Dieter credits a German high school math contest for the soccerball definition, although it added a rule that the facets be regular polygons (now a topologist, Dieter doesn't need to follow that one).

The buckyball stipulation (three edges must meet at each vertex) is lifted from carbon chemistry, and is characteristic of the fullerenes, i.e. the spherical hexapent carbon cages, first discovered in the 1980s and posthumously named (Fuller died on July 1, 1983).

Appropriately, three scientists shared the Nobel Prize for buckminsterfullerene's discovery: Kroto, Smalley and Curl Junior. C60, the fullerene with 60 carbon atoms, is topologically the same as the soccerball, i.e. the two above-defined sets intersect on this already-famous member. Kotschick says this is the only element common to the two sets (i.e. is their intersection).

But carbon-based chicken wire needn't be spherical. Consider the nanotubes, capped and uncapped ("buckytubes" some call 'em). Such nanotechnology is a hotly topical area for scientific research these days. When I went to Chalmers @ Gothenburg, Sweden for EuroPython in 2005, the nanotubes conference seemed to dwarf ours in size. Our populations mingled. Lots of scientists use Python, if they do any programming.

Here in Portland, we're gearing up to work on global matrix displays, meaning hexapent fly's eyes colored with global data. Whether or not these unfold into a Fuller Projection depends on the application e.g. it's protected from spoilage by war gamers preoccupied with political border disputes. The hand-held units might just show one hexagon at a time e.g. the one you're in now. Glenn also talks about logic gates and quantum computing a lot, but more with his PSU colleagues than with the Wanderers (two sets, partially overlapping).

My focus these days is the open source community and a "gnu math" curriculum, meaning in part that I want to keep the public up to date and informed about all this interesting scientific research.

Even positive developments meet with resistence, if people don't feel a democratic process has been followed, with lots of debates and town hall meetings. "Imposing from above" is not a popular style of government, and when it comes to HP4E (or CP4E for that matter), I'd like to avoid repeating some past mistakes (we learned a lot from the New Math debacle).

That being said, there're always hold-outs unwilling for change to happen, even if those changes mean higher living standards for a majority of folks. They like the advantages the status quo gives them, and believe in some foreordained right to command more than their fair share (perhaps on the basis of some religion?).

I'm not really interested in pandering to this crowd either.

The democratic process is not synonymous with the tyranny of some minority. If they don't like our global matrix hexapents or Fly's Eye dwelling machines, they shouldn't be forced to use 'em. But nor should the rest of us be denied our preferred brands of mathematics and/or science fiction on television.

Europython conferees wandering
through a nanotubes poster session

Chalmers, 2005

photos by K. Urner