Monday, August 14, 2006

Scripting a Road Show

As my wife edges into retirement, I continue nurturing the Bizmo idea. We plan to visit an RV seller this week, at least to window shop. For me, it's not just "recreational" (which is why it's a Biz-Mobile, recruiting new talent for our Silicon Forest and related ecosystems).

This idea for a road show first appeared on the Wanderers list, and on a list for community college teachers (community colleges are prime targets for this stuff).

Follow-up reading: But what about pre-calculus? (Math Forum posting); Re: The 3 R's revisited (ditto).

Gnu Math on the Road

Talking Points:

  1. GNU's not Unix: history of operating systems based on history of computing, tracing to Leibniz, through The Turk (beat Napoleon in chess), Ada & Babbage, Turing, von Neumann. Plus the idea of recursion (the acronym invokes itself).

  2. GNU vs. Linux: Linux was built on the premise of GNU. Stallman is the philosopher, Torvalds the engineer (per Revolution OS -- sometimes I screen excerpts). Both Unix and Linux (cite POSIX) were built around the premise of the Internet. Explain TCP/IP.[1]

  3. Linux vs. Windows: This is starting to get boring as the number of OSes is potentially endless, and we still haven't gotten to Apple's, though OS X is POSIX under the hood (and a lot FreeBSD, also not yet mentioned, but still quite important, to Windows too). We really need to be getting on with the story though. For homework: In the beginning was the command line by Neal Stephenson.
Now, on to the mathematics:

First Principle: It's not just about numbers. Cardinality involves labeling or pairing, then using the symbols in a system of accounting that mirrors what's going on in the field. Goats and sheep figure prominently in the cartoons. Note that we needn't order the goats (Ordinality; use of greater than, less than) in order to prove we have the same number of tokens as goats, i.e. none are missing (or some are (or maybe we have extra tokens?)).

Second principle: symmetry is important yet often broken. So we start getting "mirrors" right away: left versus right, positive versus negative, and yet the mirror image world isn't indistinguishably so. Asymmetries exist. Good example: ++ = +, but -- = + as well. Physics tells us our universe exists because of various symmetries that were broken. We might throw in a Through the Looking Glass motif, or even talk about Narnia.

Then we get into a little group theory using Vegetables in place of numbers. Vegetable Soup has a neutral element, inverses, closure, associativity and, in this case, also commutativity.

We disclose, after awhile, that our vegetable soup is built on the totatives of some modulus, and so need to quickly review concepts of prime vs. composite, relatively prime, totative, and totient. None of these are hard to present or get.

Then we do it in Python (lots of handwaving) while alluding to RSA. OK if it goes over their heads in this middle part (the throwaway segment of any lecture). This was just previewing anyway. We've got oodles of Python in moodles.

And that's about it. Students get back to their daily routine and the gnu math teacher is off down the road, on to the next assignment (control room dispatcher model).

Mostly, we just show a lot of cartoons and movie excerpts (as students are getting settled, during the talk). The promise of sticking with it (the recruiter's pitch), is that you'll be developing mission-critical computer skills, especially vis-a-vis this discipline of mathcasting, as clearly the people from our studios (our faculty) are deeply involved in the making of this stuff, not just in its superficial showcasing.

Some of the cartoons may be hypertoons (my invention), which I discuss in more detail elsewhere, e.g. @ myspace/4dstudios (see 4D Studios history blog).


[1] If there's time, I like to show Warriors of the Net, a cartoon about TCP/IP. But there isn't always time. Gnu math teachers with multi-day gigs tend to follow behind the recruiters, to those schools choosing an alliance and subscribing to a program. Recruiters haven't the luxury to dive into content as deeply (or at least not as slowly).