Thursday, February 26, 2009

Enhancing Education

Wanderers Barbara, Keith, Allen and I are having a useful discussion about SQL, what is it and why should I care? I also throw RSA into the mix. Here's from our dialog...

Hi Barbara --

SQL has a lot of problems, isn't theoretically pure, and so the "math mafia" (stealing from Haim on math-teach) will typically object that it's "too messy" to mess with in K-12, even with all those hours spent noodling with polynomials or whatever they do in the "dust ages" (allusion to chalk dust).

However, there's the "how things work" spin, and the whole library of stories around keeping track, keeping tabs, around how our own personal records are stored and retrieved.

We're talking about identity management here, a part of "home economics" one might say ("micro-economics"?), something that should be a focus for young teens, involved as they are in creating cyber-personae, not to mention "real ones" as well.

As soon as you talk about "keeping tabs" and "identity", you're immediately into high paranoia areas of life, the idea of people having data about you, maybe violating your privacy in various ways, your habits under scrutiny, that sense of being watched.

This isn't all unjustified wheel spinning, as history reveals:

I don't think we're able to have an intelligent civilization that makes use of power tools like SQL, without directly addressing privacy concerns, records management issues.

Put another way, records management, in the sense of preservation (maintaining accuracy) but also controlling access, is a core function of civilization, and is these days done with computers -- the only way to keep up with the huge volume of transactions we've come to engage in.

So when I advocate SQL as a topic, I'm not just taking a "heads down" hunched-over-the-math-book kind of view. I'm taking a zoomed back "sweep of history" view and asking teachers to spark imaginations, open mental doors and windows, by telling more of the history, of information management basically, but not as something dry.

Assign Cryptonomicon for example, because when it comes to controlling access, cryptography is part of it.

And that leads me to my other recent buzz word "RSA". I'm saying we need to focus on RSA in IB, not just SQL. Have students get how it works. I've got a rather quirky video on the topic, proves "Kirby is out there" but then it's not entirely incoherent:

Every time your browser goes to an https: web site, you get this added security layer that encrypts the communications, coming and going, presumably blocking out any snooper with a packet sniffer, sitting a few tables away.

I think young teens through adults, working to understand about identity, would be well served by schooling which takes our infrastructure seriously, bothers to spell it out, make things clear.

This isn't just about recruiting to the ranks of engineers. It's about creating an informed citizenry that isn't easy prey to scare tactics, i.e. if there are transgressions and abuses in the records keeping (e.g. vote tallying), we should be able to identify these rationally, in a timely fashion, and apply fixes (patches).

People wigging out because they're "being spied on" need stronger concepts, better mental pictures (I'm not saying "they're wrong" I'm saying if it's true, then "fighting back" requires "knowing the score").

As a software engineer, I get frustrated with public policy discussions because they're simply too underinformed.

People live in the past (pre computer).

Future shock isn't about experiencing the future necessarily, it's about catching up to what's so, already the case.

This is not a new line for me. I was preaching the need for database savvy back in like 1985 or thereabouts, getting a foot in the door with various think tanks.

And it's not like I'm expecting overnight change.

What I do expect is a younger generation grappling with these concepts and issues with or without assistance from an older generation (e.g. mine).

Better they should have some support and guidance. We would all benefit.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wanderers 2009.2.25

Micheal Sunanda is a guest this morning, though not our presenter. He's a character, has lots of stories. He slumdogs in a "one frequency dome" near Eugene, parked with a comfortably well off family who tolerates a "weirdo in the back" (they brought the dome in on the a flatbed, lifted it off with a fork lift -- typical family toyz).

Micheal has a telephone and flatscreen computer in this 8 foot "tent". He likes to steer discussions, including by boosting the discomfort level (he talks about smells a lot) -- OK in small doses. As his chauffeur, I'm suggesting he supplement his print media activities with a blog, plan to show him the ropes. Likewise, Jeff is suggesting Kym start a blog.


Micheal and I have done Internet radio together.

Glenn is introducing himself as someone who has lived "off the grid" sometimes, including for a ten year period. Like me, he's interested in "systems theory" (GST). Glenn has a background in cryptography.

Our presenter today is actually Kym Croft Miller, passionate about her writing, a kind and personable woman, someone who knows Buzz, and has been getting more media exposure recently, including on TV.

Her topic is Just Enough, part of the sustainability movement (more below).

She wants our introductions to include a moment or episode when we've been happy e.g. Jeff is happy about the some successful fund raising he's been doing for a friend whose infant needs a heart transplant.

My recent moment of happiness was having mom discharged from the hospital. Kym shared a German nurse's observation that USA hospitals make no sense, as good nutrition and sleep are essential to healing, yet in the Lower 48 it's all about bad food and waking people up every hour.

I'm hoping the new Foodhub service (Ecotrust) will begin to address the nutrition piece at least, by providing more organic bulk produce to large institutional buyers.

Kym described being at an elite private school auction where some teddy bear had just sold for $2.5K -- admittedly for a good cause. She got a strong hit of that "enough is never enough" aesthetic, a focus of Over the Hedge (a cartoon), an experience which sparked (catalyzed) her journey of self discovery.

Does wealth (in the sense of "money") "make you happy"? The faux lip service answer is "no" but the behavior says otherwise. "Affluenza" is the name of the disorder she's addressing (like an eating disorder).

Kym and her lucky guy husband tried a four day experiment in Hawaii, living luxuriously, to discover if it led to real happiness. The first day was the best, then it was down hill from there, back to ambient levels.

The next experiment was to stop buying most stuff for an entire year (Februrary 2003 - 2004). You had to be able to eat it or use it up completely, with the exception of batteries and light bulbs, in order to justify buying it.

In this scenario, the quality of life actually improved. The initial experience of a burden being lifted was quite powerful, buoying. Even the kids bought into it eventually, became more self-reliant around clothes-making and so on.

Servicing old stuff was OK -- accepting stuff from others was also OK (a kind of recycling). Getting stuff repaired is getting to be a lost art (her broken VCR story).

Kym recommends The Story of Stuff as a worthwhile web site.

What's somewhat different about Kym's message is her focus on happiness as a goal, not stultifying self-righteousness. What we've been talked into (living beyond our means, buying for the sake of buying) is not really a source of happiness. So how is motivational psychology so powerful that it gets people to sabotage their own pursuit of happiness in this way?

Wanderers generally agreed that brainwashing through television is what programs people to join the vast zombie army that tramples people to death at a Wal*Mart or whatever. A herd animal mindset takes over, uniform thinking, while the collective IQ takes a dive.

Whatever the causes, this is not a "way of life" worth defending. No one admires CEOs who flaunt "net worth" as a way of advertising their power and influence. That's in poor taste and ugly, gauche, plus we know they're not really creating life support in many cases i.e. there's no real power there, just Vaudevillian showmanship (Enron anyone?).

Here in the Silicon Forest, we're more egalitarian, less into flaunting. Sure I'm a high powered executive (one of many), a mover and a shaker (or Quaker), but it's institutional wealth I care about, not personal wealth so much. Like the Pauling House here (ISEPP's), or Multnomah Meeting. My bizmo fleets won't be my personal property either -- what a hassle that would be, like owning aircraft carriers (blech).

We're actually TV programmers and motivational psychologists around this table, so it's not like we're simply "at the effect" of all this brainwashing. Consider us masters of the communications arts, consummate media campaigners. So how shall we better use our skills? Kym is challenging us to think about that question.

Television has a brighter future I'm thinking, thanks to the Internet. We're becoming less dependent on "stuff pushing" (including drug pushing -- what USA TV is a lot about these days, including psychotropics, antidepressants etc. (ask your doctor)). "Educational TV" will be less of a joke maybe? Headline: ToonTown to teach FOSS (on an LCD near you -- might be a coffee shop?).

Of course I'm hoping a thinking atmosphere in coffee shops, purchasing geared in with charitable giving, will lead to a more participatory lifestyle aimed at creating life support, a different meaning for wealth than "money" which includes happiness as a side benefit. Fuller: work precessionally, as nature does. You'll start by giving profit maybe, but eventually you might donate your real time and energy, skills (once you have some).

Jim Buxton just walked in, another mountain man.

Obviously it comes down to role models. Where are the people who create life support without squandering? An effective recruiter is someone who walks the talk.

I mostly look outside the Lower 48 these days (Kym is from Alaska), given the intense resistance to intelligent programming -- although in Portland I'm finding some high caliber folks. Like CubeSpace is a great place to work (PKL rents space there -- that's Portland Knowledge Lab, formerly @ ActivSpace).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Waking the Poet

The title alludes to Gene Fowler's work, another armed robber who found Bucky from prison, kind of romantic, good if reading is allowed, I'd say laptops should be, could be intranet only, then air gap, not saying its my business.

I was telling this store clerk reading the dictionary today that the imprisoned Malcolm X found that therapeutic as well. Many of us do, like I don't blame David F. for subscribing to the OED, not one bit.

I led Adult First Day today, as a committee of one, focusing on a two part query: (1) how am I nurtured by criss-crossing the Q | ~Q boundary? and (2) what equals from outside Q-dom might I bring to nurture our group? That's cryptic I realize, using Q to mean Quaker, ~ to mean not. Philosophy trained, geek, other failings.

I hadn't planned to speak beyond the intro, but wound up bringing up Glenn Baker taking retired brass on tours of Cuba, as in "let's meet the enemy, now that we're emeritus". They had some fun parties, with Castro included.

Glenn and Applewhite met a few times; Ed kept mentioning he liked the embracing genericness of the name CDI for some reason. "So maybe I could bring someone high ranking from DoD to our meeting" I mused (paraphrase)? Like I'm thinking of Nozizwe that time, and our meeting with the DL in Cape Town.

Dr. Kasman worked in medical ethics in DC, which might explain the drift of my communications (i.e. people we both know). Her Hani was a hit with the kids. Alexia and Tara made it to Ikea today.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Technical Difficulties

It's easy to see how the economy is falling apart.

When Chuck put in a claim to Allstate for storm damage, allowing for the deductible, they go "sure sir, but the only reason your premiums are this low is you've never put in a claim."

That's the standard protection racket: we'll take your money as long as nothing happens to you where we have to protect you for real, and if something actually happens, then we'll want more money still (all that other stuff was just for "peace of mind" in case you ever do need to file -- we hope not though).

When I search on "Gibson" in this blog, using the search slot at the upper left, I don't get back any blog post but this one, and yet using the outside Google search engine, I get another one right away. That means the internal blog searcher is weak and anemic, gives up too easily. Or if that's not what it means, then you tell me? I'll keep running those tests, posting my results. Oh wait, I just tried it again and it worked great this time. Let's see if that lasts. Could be a traffic thing.

Oh yeah, the iTunes podcaster is way behind with the CBS News, ending around February 6 even when I hit refresh. Is it Apple I should blame? The voice and picture aren't synced for Doll House, Tara blames "the dish" (DirectTV).

I have a longer list, but I'm more into "beefs" than "concerns" i.e. I should stick to reporting bugs I might be able to help fix. When you file a beef, there's this implied "and I'm on it", which is what we in the Open Source world like to keep hearing.

Don't just be a whiny end user, be a part of the solution.

Of course reporting bugs (concerns) is a public service sometimes, even if you have no clue how to address them. But if your entire demographic is end users, no coders, then consider this a sinking ship. For every bug you report, make it your practice to fix two? Stay in shape, pull your weight.

Like so what if kernel code is world readable if you can't code in C? And so what if medical supplies are available, if you don't know anything about medicine. And so what if the airplane is yours, yet all you know how to do is crash it? Get lessons, practice, don't expect cheap short cuts will work.

There's maybe this belief that if I pay enough money, then I won't need to study. That's just "stairway to heaven" talk and as any investment banker well knows, there's really no alternative to doing your own homework. Like no one will do it for you, at the end of the day. Kafka wrote as much.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Democracy Engine

DemocracyLab is harnessing some state of the art cloud computing, a Google app engine, to focus initial user groups. I've been lurking behind the scenes, marveling at some of the code (it's an open source project).

The most current edition is for use with Oregon 150’s Project 2059, designed to enable high school students to create a collaborative vision for Oregon’s future.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Be There!

... or be Square

World Views

Old Story

Ad Campaign

Backstage (Bagdad)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents Day

Tara returned from her ski trip today, a Quaker event. Now we're watching Simpsons, Alexia visiting, a day off for her too. Julie is keeping me up to date about mom.

I've been networking with "the professoriate" today, got a wry one from Dr. Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University, about the quirky Math Forum archive, appreciating my pithy synopsis of the constructivist meme (an abbreviated account to be sure).

What really surprised me (pleasantly) was this esoteric Java site, brought to my attention by one of the authors. That's very close to the stuff I serve, albeit in Python and at a lower grade level, along with my Vegetable Group Soup in Flash. Both Cryptonomicon by Stephenson and In Code by Flannery fit into our syllabus around here.

I wrote a long autobiographical piece, taking up bandwidth on math-thinking-l, focusing on my New Mexico connections. That got IEEE guy bandit yakking about his friend Glen the Aikido guy in Santa Cruz, reminding of me of Ron Marson's TOPS.

There's a need for "flight plans" in this airspace, or we'll just waste energy dodging each other. Why not fly in formation? What a concept!

My thanks also to John P. Dougherty, Computer Science, Haverford College, for the kind note. "And we also enjoy using Python in our CS1/CS2 sequence, so far so good".

Dr. Chuck
, good at branding, sent me the latest draft of his O'Reilly book on the Google Appengine. I've learned a lot from studying it, wrote a little demo of this nifty new service called OS Garden. This work goes back to my internationalization work, which I've been pitching to clients as a "next big thing" in some sectors, old hat in others I realize.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Anna Roys was our Wanderers MVP, between Dr. Livio and Dr. Haack. She even summoned the courage to venture onto Don's boat, a symbol of having achieved inner circle hood vis-a-vis Wanderers in some way. She came straight from PDX to our Appreciative Inquiry workshop with Helen Spector.

Her staying at the Kennedy School (McMenamins) was likewise apropos, given the purpose of her visit: to visit her grandson Sammy, and to carry on with charter school work in Matsu District, where she has already successfully started Twindly Bridge, now in its fourth year of operation.

Planning meetings for TECC tend to happen in Palmer, at the Vagabond Blues, whereas more Twindly plots were hatched at the Digital Cup in Wasilla. There's an Office of Innovation in the US Department of Education that's focused on facilities grants, but the Alaska legislature has yet to write the codes for tapping in to those funds, which would cover about 90% of new campus costs.

We drew a lot of diagrams for one another, mapping out various players and their interconnections. I also got into my sphere packing spiel, tying the 1, 12, 42, 92 of the cuboctahedral sequence, to the 1, 3, 4, 6 of my IQ Test, which ties to NCLB the way I look at it. We had our laptops going, so it was easy to tap in to the On-line Dictionary of Integer Sequences and show the virus links (getting the connection between cuboctahedral and icosahedral numbers is more easily explained with the Jitterbug Transformation, but I didn't take the time to go into that piece of it). The charters have websites filling in with more details.

MIT OpenCourseware was also mentioned, plus I had my XO handy, yakked about OLPC. Ms. Roys showed me the Elluminate platform (Java based), which she uses to participate in distance learning classes, in both learning and teaching capacities. That seems like a capable system, and am glad to know about it. Our curriculum won't have to go begging for sponsors for too much longer maybe. Alaska has lots of key players.

Friday, February 13, 2009

OS Bridge Planning

I showed up late to this meeting, as I'm pushing hard on a writing project having to do with the CRRs versus LMRs, clinical research records versus legal medical records. I've been in this business for fifteen years or so, have a lot of information to distill.

What neither Jason nor I realized, was the leadership for this conference is looking at filling a hotel with out-of-towners as a consequence of booking the Oregon Convention Center, on the model of OSCON.

That's a challenging prospect in today's economy as businesses are cutting back on employee enrichment (Bruce was very clear about this), even where this may be a perverse response given networking is often the lifeblood of an industry, conferencing a chief way of keeping shows on the road. Fear is unproductive.

No one needs a lecture from me on an obvious, in-our-face problem. My plan is to continue supporting OS Bridge, would hope that the City gets more involved, as we're actually talking about the economic future of our town.

At some level, "open source" is an engineering response to the challenges facing the scientific community, as it seeks to gain traction in the face of pressures to hunker down and stop sharing.

We're talking about passing on a very high civilization, not an easy job but on the other hand what else is there to do? This is the work, whether compensated or not. Passivity is not an option, especially if you're an engineer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wanderers 2009.2.11

This morning's presentation by Helen Spector is on Appreciative Inquiry.

First we learned about a PBS TV show (available through Netflix) on The Hobart Shakespeareans: 5th graders, many with English as a 2nd language, work with Mark Twain, math concepts, a variety of other content, to produce a Shakespearian play as a project.

The fundamental premise of appreciative inquiry is we get answers to our questions, and we have the choice to focus on what's working.

We did an exercise in appreciative listening with a partner, a guided interview, preferably with someone we didn't already know. Then we introduced our partner focusing on something that surprised and delighted us about that person.

Our energy as a group was raised by this process. Buzz, with history as a radio broadcaster, liked the combination of "relevant reverence" with high bandwidth, "an ideal combination for radio listeners wanting to expand their thinking".

"Appreciative" means "growing in value over time" not "mindless happy talk". Questions focus attention. Energy follows attention. We get more of that to which we give our attention. Ergo, the first question is fateful. Focusing on "what's broken" may not be as productive as focusing on "what's working". Stories matter, contextualize the technical information (one of my themes as well).

We heard a story about Avon, how these techniques helped turn the company culture around, by focusing the group on what generative and respectful relations between men and women would be like, drawing on real experiences that workers could draw upon.

The cycle of Appreciative Inquiry Helen drew on the white board was one of Develop, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and back to Develop. There's a methodology and a stance, the latter having to do with the questions, getting in touch with what works. The literature, a lot of it from Case Western Reserve, refers to this as a 4D or 5D cycle (depending on whether Develop is included).

Develop: the question (e.g. what's working? -- a surprising question will redirect from a dead end). Discover: info about what works. Dream: vision for the future. Design: the social infrastructure to support the dream. Delivery: implementation. Then what do we want to inquire into next? Back to Develop.

Interviewing is a core methodology in this management framework (there's a discovery interview protocol), more important than surveys or polling. "When do I get to say what's not working?" sometimes comes up in this process. Helen: in the wishes.

Anna Roys is with us, having arrived from Alaska (via Seattle) at 6:45 AM. Anna is talking about the wildlife she gets to observe in her neighborhood, a live action version of Animal Planet. Some of these tools might be useful in her work around TECC. I'm seeing applications in my own career as well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I've configured a Virtual Host, 4d.kirby as follows:

ServerName 4d.kirby
DocumentRoot /home/kirby/php_study
AddType application/x-httpd-php .php .html

My thanks to Aimee and her personal journal, A little place of calm for some advice.

I've waded in up to my neck with Apache many times, but there's always "beginner mind" to come home to, along with humility and finding new teachers, including much younger ones. The Internet lets me scour the hinterlands in search of kind souls. And then of course there's O'Reilly's Safari.

Note to self: PHP's copy-on-write is not the same as Python's memory management scheme, as assigning a second name to the same list (array) only delays copying. The moment you update a PHP list through the added name (i.e. variable), a new copy of that array gets created in memory, whereas in Python both names keep pointing to that same list object (everything is an object in Python).

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (movie review)

Portlanders lined up at Cinemagic and filled every seat in the house for this one.

There's what feels like superhuman stress and duress in this story, given the bleakness and impossible odds. The use of flashbacks is effective.

This film teaches compassion, and like a Charles Dickens novel also shows how suffering will twist a human character into something diabolical.

I came away admiring humans more than not, but hating their circumstances. That would seem a productive head space, not too misanthropic.

My morning was productive
, in terms of advancing my "4D meme" -- admittedly esoteric. I'd like my brand of positive futurism to catch on more and that requires connecting the dots.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Celebrating Soho

I was pleased to get this invitation yesterday, was thinking about it just now when buying a cup of Soho blend, mixed with Midtown, at Noah's Bagels this morning, en route to Cleveland High with Tara.

Soho (a neighborhood in lower Manhattan) is where Kenneth keeps a truly amazing studio, packed with memories of past glories, shades of adventures to come.

The last time Tara and I got to visit, he was preparing for a show at Versailles in Paris, showed us a scale version of his Supine Dragon. His Forest Devil is in our Portland Art Museum, plus I snapped this photo of his V-X-II in Chattanooga that time, am the proud owner of his Barrel Tower.

As Kenneth's first web wrangler back in the day, I studied his relationship with Bucky and his Portrait of an Atom, in addition to his tensegrity sculptures.

Thanks to my familiarity with this internationally recognized artist and his work, other noteworthy characters would contact me, including Julian Voss-Andreae (a Wanderer), who was later able to meet with Kenneth, as did Flextegrity's Sam Lanahan, first introduced to me by Fuller scholar par excellence Trevor Blake, thanks to the Tetrascroll connection (LaJean just sent me notice of their new shipping address).

Kenneth and E.J. Applewhite also had a good meetup, I think in part because they both considered me a loyal friend, thereby maybe helping to heal famous the Fuller-Snelson rift we've all read about (Ed was loyal to Bucky, through lots of storms and stresses).

In affording me this opportunity to collaborate on a web site, and in so many other ways, Kenneth has added value and richness to my life. I am forever grateful. The guy is as charming as his wife is adorable.

On a couple occasions, after staying with Kenneth, I would train up the Hudson to the Rhinecliff station to stay with Stuart Quimby and Cary Kittner, the dymanic duo behind the now defunct Design Science Toys, creators of Tensegritoy based on Snelson's work. Cary, a certified genius, was another early innovator in this emerging field, as was Sam.

Stuart, Cary and I worked as a team on StrangeAttractors, which I still sometimes use when showcasing my art to prospective new patrons (I did the ray tracings on the box and for the instruction booklet -- I also wrote the informative booklet that comes with the glow-in-the-dark Space Ball from DaMert, originally developed by Roger Gilbertson, whose "muscle wires" idea is likewise part of the elastic geometry mix).

Gerald de Jong's "elastic interval geometry" (EIG), pioneered with assistance from Karl Erickson, Russell Chu, other first power users of Gerald's Struck (a Java EIG application), was likewise inspired by the tensegrity concept, and helped spawn a whole subculture of new software development attractive to artists and designers.

I just got a note from Gerald yesterday in fact, pointing me to this open source Python project called Nodebox | Evolution, reminiscent of his Darwin @ Home in some ways (maybe check the embedded video at my studio's MySpace page).

I hope I get to New York on business one day soon, where there's lots going on in open source and design science.