Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Designing Engineers

:: random bizmo ::
This post's title alludes to a book by Dr. Louis Bucciarelli, an MIT-based organizational anthropologist with a strong engineering bent.

His focus in Designing Engineers is the often messy and confusing processes whereby collaborators self-organize (with or without expert management assistance) to galvanize the be-do-have projects completion cycle (a GST concept).

What new designs might interest us, given our "killingry is for morons" platform?

Here's a list of some intriguing collateral, with special thanks to Trevor, an expert cyber-sleuth: Earthships 101; Mobile Urban Architecture; Mathematics in Movies; Soccer Ball Houses; PhD thesis by Yunn Chii Wong; Geometric Sculptures by George Hart; Shellhouse; and last but not least, OpenMRS (thanks Gunner).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dirty Tricks

So the political campaigns are heating up again, meaning it's time for low level wannabes, amateurs, hacks, to imagine what a grand master like Karl Rove would do, or someone equally sinister, to spin webs of deceit, play games with smoke and mirrors or whatever.

In practice, most such schemes backfire or at best produce no intelligible result. Just focusing on real leadership skills tends to win every time in the long run, though it never hurts to have a good defense against cheap negative campaigners.

Spies inform on enemy camps (like at Project VOTE! in the 1980s -- we had infiltrators), those unflattering candidate photos appear from nowhere, rumors circulate, the vaguer the better sometimes.

Now, with the Internet, we have many more creative outlets for these games, including social networking software and YouTube.

The latter has proved itself relevant in just in the last few debates, whereas Howard Dean proved the relevance of social networking to netting political donations in the last presidential race.

As I mentioned to Wanderers, my flight plan is to stay above the fray as much as possible, working with my usual esoterica, plus a few issues I most care about (I'm an incumbent in my own office, is how I look at it). Plus I'm starting some new teaching jobs, getting ready for Pycon, maybe EuroPython (in Vilnius again).

Speaking of social networking software, I didn't know about vampires on Facebook until bitten, then followed Jerritt's example and joined a group called "fuck off... I don't want to be a pirate / vampire / werewolf / zombie." But then I resigned almost immediately, because I felt uncomfortable with the word "fuck" on my austere business page.

from FaceBook

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Civil Rights

Saturday was inwardly stormier than Friday, though I discovered a peaceful bus scene on my bike loop through North Portland.

Sometimes bats hit obstacles (splat!) despite echolocation. Omnitriangulating takes time, whereas that "left behind" feeling may be somewhat immediate, requiring a kind of compassionate attention that some tortuously rational process may not provide.

And so one prays for healing insights (sometimes mythical in nature), trusting one's little ego/cogito to catch up eventually (self reflection is critical).

On a more extroverted note, I've been working with Wayne Yarnall on ADA issues, in concert with this new movie that's coming out. He'd make a good Wanderer, but our Linus Pauling House headquarters is not wheel chair accessible.

I think those candidates and incumbents with the guts to champion the rights of the disabled will consequently benefit so many wounded war vets, so often marginalized once sacrificed (an old, sad story).

Non-war-related disabilities needn't take a back seat though, nor am I arguing against the right to refuse service, just on what basis and why?

Are we seeing some positive developments in Darfur of late? Too early to know? Of course I'm still tracking OLPC, although I'm way behind in my readings. Google News alerts remain helpful. My thanks to Ken Brown for staying in touch on this project.

Are any candidates interested in our new global literacy campaigns? I call mine P4E but no one else has to. The composition, editing, and publishing, of sound, pictures, words and video, so frequently involves a computer these days. Passing on a culture means passing on its skills. Geeks R Us, in so many dimensions. Accessibility issues likewise apply.

The role of technology in education: it's not just about whether or not to use calculators -- a very dumbed down way to frame the debate in my view (ever hear of programming real computers), yet ongoing for over 30 years by this time (frustrating), with the digital divide growing ever so much wider in the interim (doesn't mean we can't bridge it, using open source techniques).

Tara went to both birthday and Halloween parties today. I too went to a 50th birthday party for Art Kohn (a wanderer), with lots of people I didn't know, leading to random encounters. I wore my Bodies T-shirt. Two trains passing in the night near OMSI delayed my getting home, but only by a few minutes.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Fine Friday

I'm sipping a DragonFly Chai milkshake, prepared by barrista Megan, Tara doing hot chocolate, a regular hangout, good for doing homework, wifi-enabled.

Earlier today: more executive toys purchased, imported coffee procured (Celebes, for celebrations). Tara and I visited a neighborhood bike shop to add a rack & removable receptacle (velcro bonds). Some telecommuting to work (a VPN type setup). Some preparing for classes (also work related).

My Uncle Bill, the maritime scholar, appeared out of the blue and invited me to lunch at the Bagdad. Then we had coffee at Starbucks and I took him to Missing Link. Plus he went to Presents of Mind to buy gifts, then met up with mom before re-vectoring his Aztec back north to Seattle, to visit with other family. I'm hoping we'll get him lined up for a Wanderers presentation some day soon. Like Allen Taylor, Bill has experience doing a cruise ship gig.

Maureen dropped by, also out of the blue, with news of the death of Admiral William Crowe, the spouse of her cousin, bringing me some bio, which I was grateful to get. Thank you Maureen. My condolences to the family.

Mom got to speak to school kids today, in one of Portland's more opulent schools, in the sense of owning good recording equipment. I talked to a teacher and know they plan to share eventually, maybe streaming media, which I wish Wanderers could do more with as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Here's another one that never made it to math-teach, though twas sent. Note that Texas Instruments is a sponsor of the Math Forum.

Math Club Debate
Posted: Oct 12, 2007 11:38 PM

Some high schools have math clubs, or used to. One topic of possible interest is the old TI versus HP battle of the titans, largely forgotten now. We're in the 1970s, and some kids are carrying around what's known in the trade as RPN calculators. No nested parentheses, order of operations handled using a stack model, similar to how many computer languages work (e.g. forth). OK, so like Wff 'n Proof.

What happens is HP gets beaten back by the nesters, and TI has had USA schools eating out of its hand ever since. Or that's what vengeful HP engineers might think. Actually, it's not an either/or situation. RPN is wherever you want it to be, on computers. Just download the relevant stuff and you're set.

Be that as it may, it's still fun to go back and debate, as if it mattered.


(click RPN link for more history).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wanderers 2007.10.24

I showed up quite late to this morning's gathering, not atypically, as I have other duties on Wednesday mornings -- which is why we also meet Tuesday evenings i.e. plenty of Wanderers in the same boat, in terms of not being a "morning person" or "night person" or whatever.

Our presenter, Mark Frischmuth, showcased some open source concepts packaged as DemocracyLab, a work in progress. The coding team has yet to assemble, but it's good to think the general public will soon be getting better access to such networking tools, long a staple in the private sector.

We had some heated discussion about why the pundits targeted Iraq for rape and plunder in the wake of 911 (Rumsfeld: more interesting targets).

Of course the answer is Hans Blix and his crew had determined the nation was relatively defenseless, an easy target for shock and awe. Catharsis, in other words, an expression of infantile rage, plus a lingering vendetta from Gulf War Episode 1. History is chock-a-block with such stories, dime a dozen.

But I don't really blame GWB and his crew, as my read is a lot of irresponsible people desperately wanted to be whipped into a war frenzy and no politician in his or her right mind could stand in the way of that stampede and keep a hold on high office at the same time. Standing up to spoiled brat North Americans is more like what other countries are for.

Plus most decent North Americans were consistently dead set against the war all along, and apologized profusely to the world for letting the idiocrats seize power. Plus our media have wised up a lot in the interim, so the situation isn't looking nearly so bleak, except of course there's global warming, starvation, disasters -- all addressable challenges if you're not too busy fighting meaningless shooting wars (save those for the Gameboy how 'bout?).

Showed off my new cell phone, drank lots of coffee. Good seeing Nancy again, and Jim.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Seasons Greetings

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some History

So here's a case of me feeling grateful, to Terry and ISEPP, for letting me lurk in on lectures all of these years, Heathman dinners. My blogs are full of this fare.

But I think it's time we pony up and buy bona fide season tickets, instead of perking along with the bookkeeping client. Dawn was a bookkeeper and that's just not what I am, so DWA has had to morph quite a bit, though is still going strong.

All of which is a long way of saying: don't expect a write-up of the Oliver Sacks lecture this evening. I'm not planning to hog a seat, out of deference to season ticket holders. I'll be getting mine soon.

On the agenda for today: drop PKL pillow for repairs, dentist, other stuff.

Outcomes: PKL pillow fixed, went to wrong dentist so rescheduled, front bicycle wheel repaired, three pumpkins gutted but not carved, newfangled version of Glenn's global matrix promoted for use within DWA, seeking Brian's permission for boot jingle.

Neither Tabor nor gym (worked out at home).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pycon Chicago

I've put a footprint at the conference web site, which includes branding by Django. Some parts of the family might funnel through Chicago enroute to Pennsylvania in interesting ways (we're planning a reunion).

My last PyCon was under Steve Holden's tenure. My wife came along, and we much enjoyed our stay in Falls Church. Dawn spent much of her time in the NavAm museum on the Washington DC mall, while I geeked out, blabbering about hypertoons or whatever (some kind of lightning talk). I missed seeing Arthur.

Speaking of Arthur: we always argued on edu-sig, apparently on opposite sides of so many issues, but really the big guy just wanted to have some serious hard fun. Nothing namby pamby about Arthur, a financial whiz, self taught in Python and projective geometry both, author of Pygeo.

Arthur and I first met for drinks near what used to be the Pan Am building that time. He once offered me shelter, as a part of our multi-dimensional chess game. Our best and last meeting was with David Lansky and his two very intelligent boys, in Manhatten that time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Social Hour

Refreshed from yesterday's lengthy bike loop out to Troutdale airport, I showed up at meeting rarin' to go. Spoken ministry was a pleasure (kept my own trap shut), and I ended up giving more than my usual to the contributions box as a result.

Thank you, Janet, for agreeing to fix Dawn's dragon pillow (she made them for Dawn's new office, later Portland Knowledge Lab). Hi Laten, if you see this sometime.

Per conversations with MMM's CP coordinator Kathy Hyzy (Lithuanian name?) , we're likely to move our attendance back to Stark Street more religiously, given Tara's new found friendships at the WQM level.

This is the meeting house I grew up in, post Chicago, pre Rome. I like the @ home feel, compared to Portland French, which is nevertheless a good fit for us, at least in the interim, and in this early chapter of being a Monthly Meeting (Bridge City only recently became one).

Larry, one of my bike mates yesterday, wondered if I still had copies of Idiocracy to share, which I do (a whole stack). It's a spoof on illiberal culture, wherein anything considered "smart" is considered "pompous and faggy" (anyway, go see the movie, don't let me spoil it for ya). Shades of Jim Gaffigan.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Banter @ Bridgeport

I was catching up with an old pal this evening, when I ran into a fellow Wanderer, killing time waiting for a nearby event to get going.

She joined us at our booth for some sophisticated conversation about Jungians versus Freudians, whether either still had career potential ("do they still make new ones?" I heard myself asking).

I used to carry around books by "Frood" as a kid (didn't know how to pronounce it -- still don't read German).

That was toward the end of my day.

At the very outset, Derek swung by, in search of Fry's ads. We both exulted at the low cost of Flash memory. "The laptops we're handing out in Darfur and such are all Flash, no hard drive" was my cheery news -- except we don't really have any really big shipments to Darfur yet, owing to whatever (I don't claim to know all the details, rely on journalists to fill me in).

Later, I was contacted by some cool NGO in Colorado or someplace about hooking in more with World Game. I always cite the map in such cases (this wasn't my first conversation along these lines, although I've sensed a real up tick in quality over the years (yes, some of these next gen types have really been doing their homework)).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wanderers 2007.10.11

Twas a day for snagging a small bag of cantharelius cibarius @ Pauling House, thanks to mountain man Buxton, a generous Wanderer. Those'll be cooking soon, as fresh forest produce should be eaten while still fresh, no?

That'll probably be my last visit to Island Café this season (small hangout on Tomahawk Island, closes for winter). The weather turned out to be perfect, complete with a fan club of seagulls, including a special "one" (Jonathan Livingston I presume).

Out there on the boat, some of us came up with a funny term of opprobrium, for pretending to mock a wayward Wanderer. We'll enjoin 'em from "straying" too much (too far or whatever). And some will (have, are) I'm sure, me included.

Given the meeting was open agenda, meaning "unprogrammed" in Friendly parlance, lots of random topics got batted about. I kept interjecting about Unicode and / or "coding in Klingon," a meme we of Python Nation share with the neighboring Republic of Perl, to signify challenges associated with writing source outside Latin-1 and / or the ASCII character sets.

Python 3.0, as well as Perl 6, are making significant strides in this direction, which is relevant to my work for hospital systems. I want "display name" as a standard field, so that patients have the benefit of seeing their own names properly symbolized on display monitors and such -- feels more like home that way.

Dave Fabik is wandering off to Mexico, in some jeep with a friend, kayak roof mounted. I phoned him from Meliptus yesterday.

Motorola camera cell phone snap shot
of the chanterelle mushrooms in a pan
captured on an Olympus Stylus 720 SW,
emailed to gmail via Verizon and stored
to KTU3 for editing in Adobe
and posting to Google blogspot

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More GeekSpeak

I just got off the cell with Alexia, meandering across campus, developing her skills as an accountant (she's following in her mom's footsteps in that regard). But our conversation eventually turned to the bigger pattern, of companies needing robust databases and lots of front end eye candy.

Banded report writers, like in Access, FoxPro, Paradox and others, plus these drag and drop query designers, help end users stay in a productive relationship with their core concerns.

However, once a given database reaches a certain threshold maturity, in terms of numbers of users, its criticality to the enterprise, you generally want a more austere industrial scale engine.

Traditionally, those'd be relational, meaning tabular (rows and columns, like a spreadsheet). However, as Python's flagship ZODB makes obvious, your Model needn't go the relational route, like if networked object storage works better. Many European companies are ahead of the curve in this respect, but then it's not either/or.

OK, that's the "lecturer's version" of what I started babbling to Alexia about. I've also cc-d her some recent emails to Phyllis Shelton, Dawn's principal bookkeeping collaborator in the last couple of years.

Our DWA is still very much a small, nimble business, an "agile" as some say these days (which is what Python is too).

Alexia also mentioned something she'd heard on the radio about using fullerene (Fn) to boost solar panel technology. I mentioned my friend Ed's focus on its chemical naming.

Monday, October 08, 2007

More MVC Talk

Per a recent blog post, the multi-user application, typified by the game server (e.g. Quake's by id Software), has given our Models new levels of complexity to handle.

Traditionally, a Model just reflected some target knowledge domain (say an ecosystem) and didn't care about the (one?) user, interacting through a Controller. The visualizations weren't about users and their subjective selections, but about some objective 3rd party vista, typically seen from some god's eye viewpoint.

Today, the state of each user must often be modeled in quite a bit of detail, in Second Life for example, where avatars need attention right down to clothing selection, even facial expression.

Visualizations are likewise customized per user, with none having special god-like powers relative to any other (a seemingly omniscient "bird's eye view" is perhaps just an ordinary bird's in your typical computer game / simulation).

The convergence of observers within a shared matrix or model seems to be the ascendant design pattern of late, thanks especially to advances in network and grid computing.

CS departments would do well to focus student attention on "cave paintings" of our enhanced MVC paradigm to help them prepare for their future careers, as authors of new Controllers or whatever. I've found Python to be appropriately expressive in this context.

Of course in my own case I'm thinking ahead to tomorrow's bizmo fleet control centers, cyber- centers helping busy utility vehicles intelligently coordinate disaster relief or whatever, like Lara Logan uses in Baghdad.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Stalker (movie review)

I'm risking writing about a movie I've not seen in decades, believe I saw only once, and which made quite an impression.

With the benefit of hindsight, I'd compare it with Blair Witch, but not because they're "the same" or anything.

I like empty industrial wastelands, a chief attraction in Jersey City (many a late night meander, train hunting and such (nothing too dangerous)). The stalker's work in the Zone helped capture that for me.

OK, now I should go order the sucker on Netflix, returning Princess Bride, which I checked out because Cousin Mary was really up on her Andre the Giant lore, which I also study, especially through the art work of creative genius Shepard Fairey.

Monday, October 01, 2007

At the Dealership

Once at the Ecomotion dealership, I gravitated to the electric ATVs, babbling about Project Earthala and how we'll need ten of 'em.

Of course I hadn't thought it all through. Recharging from what power source again?

Yes, I'm a little shocked at how immature Earthala still is, my high tech XRL showcase, somewhere in the Oregon high desert.

You'd think, with all the storyboarding and ToonTown nearby...

But then I remember: North America inherited the dregs of Europe to start with, kind of like New Zealand and Australia did. Dump all the basket cases on indigenous peoples, make 'em their problem (a pretty cruel policy).

The USA was right from the onset swarming with maladapted religious crazies and the like, not geniuses most of 'em, like those Nation Builders like Franklin (none left like that I don't think -- an extinct species).

So I cut 'em some slack (and pray the Russians aren't likewise this stupid).