Friday, November 30, 2007

Looking Ahead

I don't know if I'm ready for a Bizmo in Winter chapter, but the thought of driving south to LA appeals, much as Tara is pining for a snowed in Xmas (an infrequent occurrence in our rain forest economy).

Given my big five oh in calendar year 2008, I've already made plans to pace myself, such as by signing a contract that'll have me teaching that day. Lots of class prep is good exercise for me, and staying in shape is good for morale when crossing one of those gridiron milestones.

You might suppose my calendar was thick with data points, and that may well be, but how much do I see of my calendar? They used to tell us in est that we'd die if we saw Werner's calendar (something of a truism, as one can't be two people at once). But I know what they meant: sign up for great adventures and you'll get them, just not the ones you signed up for necessarily.

Portland is quite the little destination (people compare it to Austin a lot), so I shouldn't always reflexively think of me going places, to meet some of the wonderful people I've met, would like to meet with again (plus new people). We've got McMenamins, other hotels.

Speaking of hotels, one of the coolest we stayed in was the Horton Grand in downtown San Diego. That was for the Fuller Centennial and my network had gifted us with the presidential suite or one of those, very over the top posh by our Middle Earth standards. Tara was just learning to walk.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Generation Rx

Given most health plans have strong stipulations around expensive psychiatric services, getting the right dose of the right stuff, under strong supervision, is a high privilege, one very few might afford (the CEO's kid maybe -- great benefits in that package).

The workarounds have these big downsides: share with an authorized user, making her or him an accomplice, or become a doctor yourself, for a big chunk of change (in exchange for some really rewarding moments).

I'm sure you'll dream up some other options (move to a country with different laws?).

The best answer to this epidemic would be to drastically lower stress levels among tweens and teens, by making more of their dreams come true, for a better planet, for more promising tomorrows. As Teilhard de Chardin put it: belief in a positive future is the key to any religion's long term effectiveness (so make that just any ideology).

A secondary answer would be to decriminalize some practices currently met with probation / incarceration, while at the same time upping the bar on who gets to dispense (legally, but on highly regulated terms).

Somewhere between rehab for serious cases, and that open minefield of "anything goes" there might be some serious-minded institution willing to pass along some constructive habits for safe and legal drug use. Sounds like something those Scandinavians might try.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Road Trip

One of my best experiences ever was joining dad on a biz trip to check out future school sites, the schools themselves being already on the drawing boards back in Thimphu. We set out in a Toyota Hilux, with a pro driver and another VIP from dad's office in the Ministry of Social Services.

We took our time (several days) wending our way through Wangdi Phodrang, Tongsa, Bumthang (Swiss Guest House), Mongar, all the way to Tashigang and Samdrup Jonkhar (sounds very Lord of the Rings I realize).

Then all the way back, by the same high mountain roads, spectacular in their heart pounding no guard rail glory (bidirectional, but only wide enough for one, with lots of blind corners (so drivers use the horn a lot (and pray a lot))).

I met some wild personages on this trip, including this Canadian WUSC volunteer in Village Nowhere (I forget which dzongkhag), unfathomably gorgeous in both mind and body, but not out of place in this thunder dragon abode (Druk Yul). I later returned with my future wife Dawn and daughter Alexia, to enjoy more blessings and good fortune.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Explaining Group Theory

In idiocracies of yore, a simple substitution code might seem unbreakable, so we start with those as "cryptography," simply mapping A to Q, J to Z or whatever (don't forget the space character).

That kind of mapping is called a "permutation" in the literature, and you can "multiply" permutations (string them together, as in A to Q to M) providing us with a golden opportunity to discuss operator overloading in some computer language that permits same (Python's __mul__ for example).

A subclass of permutation is a polytope rotating (however-many dimensional), where you make sure the permitted ops keep the polytope self-identical in some clearly defined way. It's easy to start with the axes of a tetrahedron, octahedron, cube and so on, tracing out their corresponding spherical great circle maps. These become LCD triangles in some nomenclatures, including our own buckaneer (as per our Python modules etc.).

Internal to group theory is this concept of "orbit" wherein, if you go long enough, you come back to where you started, like a classic electric train around a Christmas Tree (Norman Rockwell type department store imagery, likewise the genesis of Santa Claus), or per the movie Polar Express.

In RSA, we send your plaintext a little way around the track, per some public N as the modulus. Then N's owner, our recipient, uses a secret number d to bring the train back around to the station, where the message pops out, very readable. RSA only works because mathematicians have figured no efficient means to deduce d from N, so N can afford to be public (hence the term "public key cryptography").

RSA a h.s. topic? (April 2008)

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Day After

Thanksgiving was a milestone this year, in many dimensions. Our family gathering shifted to Mary's place for this joyful occasion. We had a series of toasts, including one for dear Dawn.

Howard told the story of finding himself upside down in his truck in Nowhere, Alaska, ending with a clean bill of health and discharge from the hospital -- a freezing sunrise in Fairbanks, a cold wait for the train (the life flight in between had translated him some 150 miles).

The pies we brought, made by Tara, Ruth and Elise, were from freshly picked pumpkin and eggs from the farm.

I showed up in my Costco leather jacket with a sheepskin lining and my beaver felt hat with the horse hair braid, Chicago style band, my name on the inside, a good match for Steven's way cool leather one. Mine is by Paul Kaufman, the Portland hatter, was made for me years ago, although reshaped more recently.

Later last evening, Les and I joined a small desserts party hosted by technomad and electronics wizard Steven Roberts, a denizen of our neighboring Republic of Perl. There I had the good fortune to listen to Sky's intelligent interview of the vivacious Roz Savage.

I showed off my own higher learning by correctly attributing the verb "galumphing" (Steven used it) to Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky.

Les and I exchanged meaningful glances when Roz said "gobsmacked" (I so enjoy that British language, so not often heard in these distant parts).

I've decided to add some Google Analytics to my picture, starting today with my Grain of Sand. Depending on my boredom level, expect to see mention of some of this data in future postings.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Business News

The blogosphere seems in general agreement with my analysis that the days of Open Source versus Microsoft are over. Quoting myself:
How many know that IBM is a major contributor to the Linux kernel, or that Microsoft now sports a lot of Open Source DNA? If you still think it's scruffy hackers vs. Microsoft, think again.
Blogger Bruce Byfield agrees, thinks it's time for those die-hard Microsoft bashers to grow up and stop whining, given their war has been won. In his follow-up for Datamation he writes: "juvenile gestures like talking about 'Micro$oft' and 'Windoze' only hurt the cause." Jeff was taking that same line at Free Geek's Collab three years ago (like, let's start acting like grownups shall we?).

Serdar Yegulalp, writing for Information Week, strikes a more cynical tone, pointing out that Microsoft wants a support monopoly over its own closed source products. Is that a problem? IBM works the same way.

Open and closed source come in layers, down to the hardware, up to the global net. Plus what's open is effectively closed if you can't read or comprehend the source to begin with.

What people sometimes forget is it takes training and practice to write and/or fix complicated software. Making something "open" makes it easier to learn, true, but doesn't get you off the hook from still needing to do lots of homework. Having all the instruction manuals on how to do triple bypass surgery doesn't really get you there either.

Speaking of source code, I completed my after school Intro to Python at LEP High today. Our focus this afternoon was, wherein fox and bunny objects randomly move around on a grid, with foxes eating any bunny that lands on the same square. I recommend teachers use it as scaffolding.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Air America

Sometimes I tune in Air America KPOJ on Razz's radio, when I don't have teens playing iPods through my Belkin cassette solution. This morning Thom Hartmann was interviewing a Willamette Week guy about how school choice might have backfired, leading to more, not less, school segregation in Portland.

After listening to the banter for awhile, I was very tempted to phone in as a troll and blast through the bull with some highly spun reverse racism: if you want a better school, get those bratty, spoiled, disrespectful, lazy white kids out. Don't give me that white liberal crap in which whites are somehow God's gift, and if you don't have enough of 'em, well your school must be some kind of worthless hell hole. On the contrary... You get the picture.

I'm reminded of Ed Applewhite's cocktail party ice breaker post 911: yeah, we should increase security at airports, but let black people just walk on through, as they're just too kind and gentle to ever think of pulling off a stunt like that. Of course that sounded racist (and it was), but at least it wasn't the usual liberal poopka. Refreshing.

I make similar remarks at parties I suppose, talking about how it's not really my job to care what USAers think about anything. I've got serious work to attend to, after all. Why waste time on an idiocracy that thinks it's God's gift? I feel sorry for politicians who have to pander to that crowd. I don't. They're turkeys.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bio Blurb

Kirby Urner fell in love with Iverson's APL (A Programming Language) while majoring in Philosophy at Princeton University.

He subsequently became a high school math teacher, then a contributing editor for computer literacy text books at McGraw-Hill. His programming career was mostly in the not-for-profit sector, including as a volunteer in Bhutan.

Today he works in the health care sector, and as a curriculum writer and teacher, including for Saturday Academy, one of Portland, Oregon's flagship alternative schools.

Kirby's philosophy background led him to explore the writings of American Transcendentalist R. Buckminster Fuller, which have influenced his curriculum writing. Python and Guido's CP4E have also been major influences.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sunset on the Columbia

by K. Urner, Olympus 720 SW, from Meliptus, Nov 7, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Blind Spots

I was mentally surveying my little neighborhood the other night, thinking of store fronts, other establishments, in which I'd never set foot, despite having lived here (Richmond / Sunnyside) for over a decade.

This barbershop named bishops, for example -- looks like a fun place, and I actually take visitors to look through the window, because of certain artwork on the east wall -- but I've never gotten a haircut there.

"For no good reason" I feel like saying.

At least I finally got around to The Space Room right around Halloween, for a couple of drinks with my friend Patrick (still no beer since Lithuania though -- I've shed a few pounds). That's kind of a retro '50s place, back when the future seemed more like The Jetsons.

Speaking of retro futurism, I often think back to Kenneth Snelson's excellent collection, which he shared with me in his studio during one of my visits. Old magazine covers and like that. By 2000, we'd all be wearing jet packs or riding trains powered by Tesla coils. And there's this book I recall from the Princeton Book Store: Wasn't the Future Wonderful?

I should go buy that now (self indulgent?).

This new electric car dealership on Sandy has a similar retro flavor (by design), with the added benefit of being less speculative and hypothetical. I still don't see many on the streets of Portland yet. But I do see them.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Starvation = Torture

Partisan politicians are lining up pro / con the new AG nominee, asking him to take strong positions on stuff he's clueless about (not fair during war time says GWB in his radio speech).

Sure waterboarding is torture, but so is slow death by starvation, a result of political policies, not nature or God, unless you want to blame our retarded and selfish human nature on external causes (always an old standby).

Over a decade ago, we were hearing how "lack of political will" was the only reason people were still dying of hunger. Katrina sort of dramatized the situation: "let 'em die, not our problem" was a prevailing attitude among some of the higher ups -- still their attitude today.

And yet we're supposed to vote for these people? A joke right?

Another excerpt from Quaker-P (Sun Nov 4 17:04:58 PST 2007):

Death by starvation is also slow and tortuous, by all accounts.

I'm eager for a deeper investigation into those policies in which liberals might be complicit. Studies I've read suggest there's plenty of food and then some (just look at the average waist line in this country for confirmation).

Focusing on the president's AG nominee seems a way to deflect debate, to keep USAers from looking more deeply at their role in keeping the world a hell hole for a lot of perfectly innocent people -- then they profess to not understand why they're so reviled around the world.

If any politicians feel like showing some real leadership, they'll focus on alleviating starvation and preventable disease.

In the meantime, the rest of the world moves on to the next level, organizing around this cesspool of intellectual squalor and depravity.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Gym Meditation

Tara and I just got back from 24 Hour Fitness, by way of Movie Madness, returning X-Files (season 1), whereas Angel (season 2) was still checked out.

What I noticed about the flatscreens at the gym tonight is most of them featured rather scantily clad folk, or not clad at all, but fig leaved with clever angle and blur techniques (a mainstream Playboy channel).

The rest of the screens were showing football.

What was far from obvious is that we were in a world at war, and that these were the losers.

Could Plato's Cave be any darker?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Laurie Todd

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Best of Friends (museum exhibit)

Opening November 3, 2007

Best of Friends: Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi

The Henry Ford Museum
Dearborn, Michigan

Organized by The Noguchi Museum, Best of Friends, looks closely at the vital friendship and collaboration between Buckminster Fuller, an icon of modern creative and scientific thought, and Isamu Noguchi, one of the twentieth century's most acclaimed sculptors and designers. The exhibition includes models, sculpture, drawings, photographs and film footage, revealing the two men's ongoing discourse and shared ideas, as well as the context in which they worked.

Best of Friends at The Noguchi Museum, 2006.
Photograph: Nicholas Knight