Friday, July 31, 2009

Tech Talk

I was defending the view on the Wittgenstein list that Microsoft needs to cut loose from Visual Basic, which is holding it back, keeping it less competitive than it should be.

That MSFT has started committing to Linux is a good sign, goes with the rise of Codeplex, other FOSS commitments, the Iron (Fe) languages in particular. Fe and Hg (Mercurial), I like the sound of it.

What happened was the VB lineage sort of dead ended in VB.NET, which, as one of the other posters put it, is just C# without the semi-colons. I think that's a good thing, as C# is in the C lineage, as is Java. You're not wasting your time learning it.

However, after FoxPro, what did Microsoft have for a high level language, given VB is dead? C and Java are system languages, not agiles. Sun is working on Jython whereas PSF has CPython, both worthy projects (CPython is really the standard by which the other Pythons are gauged).

The importance of web frameworks and MVC, the consequent need for a DB API on the server, and for the ability to ship Javascript templating with the HttpResponse, are what's driving the market in a lot of ways.

GUI development has shifted to HTML/CSS and Javascript libraries (e.g. JQuery). The back end is handled by feeding multiple threads and/or multiple processes, across many servers.

However, we still need thick clients or hybrids like Java applets. Delphi is another good thick client development language, but isn't Microsoft's. Perl, Scheme, Ruby... all of these get used.

If you're on a Windows platform, I recommend cygwin. Windows started moving towards POSIX with NT, but still has a ways to go in following Apple. Wrapping a flavor of what used to be called Unix is what OS X is all about.

There's nothing to prevent Redmond from following suit with a .NET version, cross-leveraged with Mono. That's pretty much what's happening anyway, informally, with people running Qt, GTK, wx, Tk, all their other favorite thick client widget kits, atop both Ubuntu and Windows.

Apple is more in its own world, busy with iPod (a whole religion unto itself), but actually it's in the same GNU / POSIX boat as well. So we're almost there, in terms of getting almost everyone under a big FOSS tent, proprietary around the edges, lots of booths with secret sauces.

Like I'm not saying we're losing diversity, just that you won't necessarily care as much which operating system you're using. The market will still divide into Coke and Pepsi lovers, but in both cases it's dark colored with bubbles, tastes sweet, with Apple as Royal Crown.

Note I've said nothing about Google's Chrome here, more out of ignorance and out of wanting to keep MSFT my focus. Let's see what they do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beating the Heat

At Work

Those of you following PNW weather (means you probably live here; PNW = Pacific Northwest), know we're experiencing some record highs. Like tonight will supposedly be the hottest on record, in failing to fall below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. What makes Portland bearable in summer are the really cool evenings, so these ultra dog days have a way of sapping our will to live.

For my part, I finally got that haircut, from a new establishment on Hawthorne recommended by Glenn. I'd let it puff out, getting into wolverine territory (in my own mind anyway), a somewhat idiotic doo for triple digit heat (note that I'm not using Celcius here). Real dogs shed, or their owners give 'em buzz cuts. Being my own owner in this case, I thought it was time.

Another strategy was to swap in Pauling House in place of Cubespace, as a co-working zone. Of course this is less than ideal, as it takes keys to get in, but I'm a sucker for air conditioning... and coworkers.

Dr. DiNucci was already there when I arrived. We gabbed about "passing the torch" issues, much on my mind. He's had experience running groups, had dharmas to share. Not long after he left, our president Terry Bristol showed up, eager to test the new little external hard drive he'd ordered. He's working with Jeff on some projects, filled me in on some grand schemes.

In addition to his "booze 'n schmooze" programming (a kind of Wanderers writ large), Terry is developing some ideas around conferences, all with a focus of building Portland's reputation as a City that Works (civic pride runs high around ISEPP, as we know we've got talented people, and that's really what one needs).

Fred Meyer, on the other hand (see below), works pretty well for public coworking. Show up with your laptops and start making those plans, cast your "away teams", spin off your committees. If you're used to hanging out around Quakers, you've already got 350 years worth of templates and processes (no, not "Robert's rules"), so might as well use 'em.

So what was I coworking on, between conversations? I'm focusing on the Wittrs group a lot, connecting dots for the Wittgenstein people, also on math-teach, a standard stop on my beat. The Free Skool meeting I'd planned to attend had to go on the back burner. I met with Trevor instead, about some new finds, another talent. He told me about a new Bucky book, some anthology with stories culled from the archive. He liked the posting about the nuts and bolts of the archive itself, but found the rest of low caliber, his own scholarship far better. Based on his review, I'll likely shelve reading it for awhile, maybe wait for an airplane trip. One thing he did like learning: the name of he who'd invented "Dymaxion" for Bucky, a detail he'd long wondered after.

I've also been in this Jungian meditation about egos, what goes on when they have an encounter. An ego is like an API to much deeper complexes (saying "complex" with no hint of "dysfunctional" -- some are just what the doctor ordered). Artists tend to be more aware of this and are able to amp up the bandwidth, intuit APIs like Spock does on Star Trek. He always seems to know what buttons to press, even when the instruction book is in Klingon (the universal translator is never explained, but that alone would explain the high living standards on that show, humans mostly at peace among themselves, just fighting for their lives against Martians, or whatever ETs).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Shopping Again

Taking It In

Derek phoned to alert me to a new phenomenon in our neighborhood (no, not those UFOs in the parking lot): an outdoor patio for Peet's customers, on the roof of Fred Meyer.

My take was: lets turn the rest of this deck into an Asian garden of sorts, something that'd work in winter as well.

Just a fantasy, as Hawthorne hasn't gone car-less yet, though it's tempting to make it so, more like Venice.

Scraping 'em off the roof of Freddies, like so many cockroaches, might be feasible though, encourage more Euro-style shopping, a little here, a little there, on foot or by bicycle (Burley is an Oregon company (considering Python? that JRun OK for ya?)).

That's how neighbors use the place, with string bags and pull carts, none of this SUV-centric "freight train" approach, as if the nearest next watering hole were 400 miles distant. This isn't Wyoming after all.

However I do understand we're getting more out-of-towners these days, wanting to stock up on souvenirs 'n stuff. Recommendation: leave the rig at your motel, use Tri-Met, sample the Portland lifestyle for real. We've got a fareless square 'n everything.

We've got no aquarium quite like Chattanooga's (nobody does), but our art museum is top notch, has a Snelson, plus PDX (the airport) has those equus-looking things, plus there's OMSI and Oregon Zoo, a deep Max tunnel.

Check us out! Bring the kids!

Friday, July 24, 2009

More Lobbying

The Benson
:: usb building ::

I ended up spending a wonderful afternoon with a retired government employee, also an old friend, from a political family from Montana, from whence Tara recently returned, soon to be on to a next adventure.

I was field testing some of my lobbying lines (so on the clock), such as "all public schools are charter schools" (in the sense of "having a charter"), another way to break down this perception that just because you're newer and different, you're an alien interloper.

Well yes, that you may be, but you have a right to a place in the sun nevertheless. This land is your land. People under 40 have a right to start their own public schools, learning from boomer mistakes, imagine that.

We went to Jakes for the happy hour, had real crawfish, exotic to both of us.

I was being the "ebullient vacuum cleaner salesman", one of my characters, and yukking it up about Ali G. This was more than a coincidence as I first found out about Ali G. at Jakes, thanks to Wardwells.

If there's an opportunity to brag about knowing Nirel and her family, I'm known to take it, plus Borat was my first MySpace friend (after that first default guy everybody gets).

My next move was to discover at Living Room Theaters that U2 in 3D was not the Pixar 3D movie Up (duh). I'd gotten those two confused somehow and maybe they canceled out, as I ended up back in my control room, hacking on stuff (my usual pass time).

I loved having some fun in the sun though.

I love bragging about my friends, which maybe gets me in hot water with girl friends especially, as I'll brag to them about each other, but not because we're in some kind of playoff or love tournament (that'd be too stupid, we're a team).

My girl and boy friends (XXs and XYs) are all winners in my book, even if I'm not around to brag about 'em. And don't get me started on my relatives, such characters!

Monday, July 20, 2009

HP: Half Blood Prince (movie review)

We piled into the car for this one, the girls going for a 2nd time, mom and I first timers for this one, though HP veterans of sorts, plus I recall reading at least one of the books maybe.

I parked my Razz @ Lloyd Center outside, from where Robin got stolen.

We're deep into teenhood at this point (and in the thick of a plot that's hard to follow if you haven't been) all concerned about drugs and the opposite sex, personality trajectories.

On Sean's Wittgenstein list, I call it "a namespace" as in "Next up: Harry Potter (gonna pile in the car with the family and revisit that namespace). Tara and I both Slytherin."

We're also into role modeling inter-generational relations. Like Dumbledore gets to pry into Harry's sex life (not much to see), wink about that Jamaican muggle in the opening scene (hey, I liked her too, thought this movie might really be going places (poor Potter, just has to go with the flow, hoping for strokes of good fortune, something more than a dismal diet of death eaters (wow, luck in a bottle! (but that might've been a placebo?)))).

There's more talk of "the loo" (even wizards have to go), including a fight scene in one amidst urinals (a place to compare wanding skills). Adults let their hair down more, booze it up without apology, confess to infirmities, though Dumbledumb is still very clever and brave, wants Harry to know this.

For the most part there's plenty of respect in both directions, across generational lines.

Notably absent are wholesome same-sex infatuations, though males do sit in bed together, grab at one another. A lot of the time they just fight and break things, more like British soccer fans. The XXs are all predictably fixating on and/or competing for XYs, include no one like Willow, ironically more of a real witch, but then that's Sunnydale for ya, lightyears ahead of ol' Hogwarts in some ways, as Giles could tell ya.

Of course you could read something namby pamby into those suppressed memories of Tom Riddle, potentially ruinous. He seems into especially dark research with his "you're not like the other profs" pick up line. We shouldn't fixate on him except in small doses as he's guaranteed to make ya grow up twisted, like that unhappily married Malfoy character.

Back to the Wittgenstein list, and fading out with a plug for my own readings and writings (a kind of syllabus):
So, I'm just back from the latest Harry Potter, which is all about an inner circle shamanic elite that gets to do drugs, with adult supervision, even sometimes slips them to others (dangerous) -- lots of poisons in play.

For more serious connected literature, check Walking with Nobby, chronicling conversations with Norman O. Brown, one of my favorite thinkers who cites both Wittgenstein and Bucky Fuller in quite a few places. That's a good intersection for me too, one I used [sic] around Pycon this year, per this blog post for example:

(and don't forget the 57 minutes of me lecturing, plus another 6 or so if you track down the stash of talks on Blip TV -- gives a sense of what my tribe is like).

I came to NOB's Love's Body through Ernest Becker's Denial of Death (which Woody Allen plugs in Annie Hall). I think this literature is a good entre to Wittgenstein, as it's all about "meaning and bandwidth" which connects to "waxing and waning" of one's logical world, in an ethical dimension. "The wages of sin is narrowing meaning" might be a way to summarize Nobby's view (though he was distancing himself more from Christian imagery towards the end there).
Mom found it hard to understand much of the dialog, even with the hearing aid, given the thick accents all round. Also, I was reminded why it's good being part of an audience sharing a theater: you get all those titters, chuckles and guffaws i.e. it's not a made-for-TV "ghost audience" in some idiot box.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

2nd Life, 2nd World

I was yakking with a smart cookie professor the other day, global studies type, about the origins of "3rd world", originally Nehru's idea for "non-aligned" i.e. "not playing stupid cold war games" (hot even stupider) so more neutral, like the Swiss.

So Switzerland is, technically speaking, 3rd world. But that sounds wrong cuzza all the bastardization that went on, in the hands of economists mostly, as they needed to red line various slum zones in the Global U, talk about where our student body is especially under-served.

So "3rd world" came to mean something else i.e. "developing", fostering the bogus idea of being "developed already" like at the end of some road. I'm glad I don't think that way, it'd make me real stupid. I thank Princeton U for some smart Woody Woo types, who helped keep me on my toes.  My dad was also a smart cookie.

In the middle of all this, you had "2nd world" (like if you have a 1st, e.g the US, and a 3rd, e.g. India, then you've gotta have a 2nd one, right? e.g. the USSR) but all that started crumbling with the withering of those states sharing a workingman's Marxism, to where hardly anyone talks about "2nd world" any more.

Vilnius is clearly 1st whereas Tashkent is more iffy, being in the Stans, ergo more like Florida i.e. undeveloped, with pockets of colonists from the colder North e.g. Michigan and the UK e.g. Orlando (lotsa timeshare), so 3rd.

I think an elegant solution is to repurpose "2nd world" to go with "2nd life" (as in "avatars") i.e. make it mean "Cyberia", our spanking new cyberspatial world. That keeps our "from Russia with love" overtones, plus jibes with a lot of our chachkas (= swag), our aesthetic motifs.

"World domination" means mastery over server farms, i.e. keeping our data, our blogosphere, or photostreams, backed up and secure, another way of "saving the world" (ala Google Earth and like that).

This all makes a lot of sense eh? I'll run it by my Esozone peers for inclusion / injection into our Portland-sourced viral marketing campaigns.

Python Nation is 2nd world, as is Uru.

See Red?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Planning Meetings

Glad to get a cell call from Alaska, even if the bubble was weak, Anna explaining why I'm not included in recently completed TECC specs, mainly cuz half of my posts are but a mouse click away from something R-rated (more average for gen/X and after, but we're grays after all, still working hard to hunker down and play professional, in grand boomer style).

Thanks to Chris Brooks for sending the next meeting agenda, looks fine to me.

Lindsey has exotic senior management experience I'm envious of, tempting to send her to work under Sara Ford @ Codeplex to pick up the latest in XP DNA, then maybe throw her at Providence, but I'm not her handler, just one more on a growing list of local fans (OK, so I admit to having not met many Southern Baptist types in my day (even liberals need mind expansion therapy on occasion, especially if wanting to survive in Portland)).

I'm doing the rounds on Tink with 360compass this evening, although that's not a meeting for business really, just going down a checklist before Larry flies himself off to the Big Sky State (Montana) to meet up with family.

Welcome to Abigail, joining Pacific University, happy to get your call after your long drive across the continent. ISEPP fellow G. Stockton and I were out strategizing when you phoned, eating wild berries (Dr. A. Taylor, also an ISEPP fellow, met with me in Oregon City last week, before my meeting with Dr. T. Khuri, all meetings productive).

Looking forward to Keiko's new art show. CSN is sitting pretty for now, doesn't need any help with marketing. Patrick and I are both focused on motherboard failures (Diane's went kablooey too).

On the PSF front, here's an unofficial breakout of members by passport authority. Pycons in India, Philippines and Argentina were recently mentioned (no reason they can't happen in parallel). Vern Ceder is making progress with Chairman Steve's idea for a poster session (I take no credit for that one).

Argentina 1
Australia 5
Brazil 1
Canada 8
Denmark 1
France 1
Germany 8
Iceland 1
Israel 1
Netherlands 4
New Zealand 1
Korea 1
Sweden 5
Switzerland 1
UK 3
USA 70

[source: PSF Members list, adapted for local use]

And last but not least, my thanks to Gregor in Vienna for cutting out some of the fat in my "algorithm for Ada" (Bernoulli numbers) the other day. Edu-sig is a veritable gold mine by this time, if Pythonic math is your thing (and for other reasons as well).

Monday, July 13, 2009

More on Digital Math

My little essay below leaves out the whole "math is an outdoor sport" business. What will that mean in practice? Math teachers talk about "drilling" and "arrays" but unless this is a military academy or dance class, that won't involve much physical movement, of anything but hands and eyes.

Leaving so much physical coordination work to "PE teachers" and then cutting the budget for PE, means we have a Wall-e type population after just a couple generations. Factory-style, industrial age, mass education proved devastating to the average physique. With all this talk of energy transformations in Supermarket Math (solar energy to biomass especially), goes a consistent walk (as in "walking one's talk").

I've got my eye on that National Guard property across from Dignity Village as a possible staging area, though that's not set in stone. Once students have geo-caching skills, we might provide some safe areas, set aside particular park areas for practice. Don't imagine escorting 30 or more kids every time, the traditional "yellow bus" experience. Girl scouts provide a better model.

The Japanese Language Circle happening across the room is prototypical: about 10-12 people, inter-generational, in a coffee shop. Other students, not a part of this group, sit around using wifi.

Given food and beverages are permitted here, hunger pangs needn't detract from concentration, a common enough problem in USA classrooms, where an oppressed and malnourished majority has few opportunities to retrain without loss of "campus services" (= too few sysadmins with real skills -- a vicious circle).

Let's face it, if you haven't taken a fresh look at spatial geometry and computer stuff lately, you're likely not re-employable in cutting edge LCD advertising. You'll need GIS skills for government work.

Given the analog math track barely supports any of this stuff, most colleges have become institutions for remedial learning, are still way behind on "the bucky stuff" (and Linus Pauling) even after all these years, resulting in a reverse brain drain of sorts, as students vote with their feet.

:: re sage ::

Friday, July 10, 2009

DM Hallmarks

Globe & Map

In addition to using pairs a lot, in both teacher and student mode, you're likely to encounter some version of version control along the way, though maybe not in math class at first. Instead, we're looking at chess games through the ages, realizing they all start from the same position if following strict rules (there's some weeding already, if the board is rotated 90 degrees).

In version control, you're "following all the games" but of course not really. A goal is to have all transitions be legal moves, i.e. you don't graft one "tree" to another where the move makes no sense. That's to distinguish "legal" from "motivated" or "sensible" i.e. a legal chess move may be to "just get it over with" (a formality), although for that, there's always just knocking over the King (an actual move, for those unfamiliar, and always legal during one's turn, even as a first move -- talking about your own King, not the other guy's).

Given my Python heritage, I'm drawn to Mercurial, but a cygwin session might have nothing to do with source code in the traditional sense. I might be writing a storyboard and want to see different endings.

A bevy of curriculum designers (a faculty) might pass this around, a growing blob of pithy goodness, lots of embedded forks, alternative doodles, oodles of moodles. Do these internal schisms matter to us? Quakers call it "potluck" and just keep passing it around among interested parties. Liberal arts thinking has a "live and let live" philosophy as one of its hallmarks, in need of defending from those who'd rather dumb it down more.

Each teacher "trims the tree" under pressure to localize i.e. to keep it real to the needs of students, coworkers, peers. You'll likely wanna be "a winner" in the eyes of your crew, as a part of your team. Some parts of the tree won't pertain then, e.g. if the lesson plan calls for geo-caching in the high desert, but you're more in a rain forest these days. Teachers have always had editing and synthesis responsibilities, so we're mainly talking about using new tools for grappling with some age old challenges.

Chess is a DM hallmark I'd say. You've got the notion of "rules" i.e. of "grammar", a connection you'll find in Wittgenstein a lot, his Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics definitely a part of our teacher training syllabus.

A hallmark of the AM track is using calculators, or "baby rattles" as we sometimes call them (to go with "tree killer" textbooks).

Note: DM = digital math; AM = analog math (draws from the "discrete" versus "real analysis" distinctions of the 1900s, also from music distribution media e.g. analog was more like vinyl, spool tape, versus a saved / playable binary file (broadcasting and telephony underwent similar transformations, in the wake of the success of the Internet and QM (quantum mechanics))).

:: from planet fabulon ::

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Screen Tests

:: reviewing OSCON 2005 ::

Likely it's similar in Hollywood: people gather in small groups to watch little known pilots, not ready for prime time in many cases, but take note of this or that actor, screenwriter, director. You're looking for talent, even in failed projects.

I've been frustrated with the math teachers a lot, because they deliberately confine themselves to talking about baby math, i.e. arithmetic, all that abacus stuff (place value), the stuff in Number by Midhat Gazale.

So where do fractals fit in? Will they ever answer that question?

Not likely, as the authors of trade books, who try to answer such questions for the intelligent reader (e.g. Glenn is going through a new one on the four color map theorem), are not the same ones writing textbooks according to well worn formulae, the so called "Standards for Pabulum" used in The Matrix (i.e. in this mindless machine we call... well, The Matrix is as good a name as any (no one is Neo though)).

I believe my case is well made: the gulag professoriate had no intention of taking our "hacker math" seriously, especially the lumpy bits, had a "three wise monkeys" policy of not responding to challenges (similar to the know-nothing approach to Al Qaeda, never deigning to crack a book cover, one of Mark Scheuer's pet peeves).

How do you make progress in debates when the other side refuses to prepare? You need to find other partners, i.e. one needs to move on.

Our response
was therefore justified: to build our own ranking system, in many ways stealing from already operative models, and starting wheels turning to revamp the degree system. More pair teaching and more double majoring, including at the PhD level, would be among our proposals, Donald Knuth a role model.

Portland's newest roller coaster, i.e. a digital math track option through high school, looks ready to take riders. I'm not saying we have all the kinks worked out yet, but we're not talking about a literal roller coaster either, although that OMSI simulator might someday play a role.

Speaking of OMSI, I haven't given up on showcasing futuristic American livingry from that property, per the Monsanto house demo of long ago. "EPCOT West" is taking the strain in the meantime, where we take tourists to see the current state of our American Dream (our "outdoor Ikea").

I know it's weaponry Americans seem hell bent on showing, anywhere and everywhere, no matter how inappropriate (kinda like Afghanis in that way, Wild West and "old cowboy").

There's a maturation phase that goes with any culture. Sometimes the boy scouts get control from the girl scouts. Portlandia doesn't usually lean that way though, so we're understandably staying with the businesses we know, such as shoes, surgery and advertising.

Speaking of surgeons, I was happy to hear from Dr. Furnary recently, one of my coding buddies back in Heart Institute days. We were cutting edge, no pun intended.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Laila's Birthday (movie review)

This turned into a family event, which I was happy about, and both Tara and Carol expressed some satisfaction in getting to join in, meet some new people. Our venue: NW Film Center, Whitsell Auditorium, Higgins beforehand, for appetizers (and no beer for me).

Although a bunch of us in the audience were from Ramallah or had visited, the sprawling backdrop was hardly recognizable and indeed the movie does nothing to defend the geography, lets it spill over into the imagination, might as well be favelas around Rio. I coulda sworn the opening vista included an ocean, but that was before he even woke up (loud noise) so this might've been in his dream.

Existentially, it's a high hassle environment with lots of crazy characters. Our protagonist is a man of dignity and fair play who adores his family. He represents Everyman, not uncommonly brave, nor slow, just a kindly gentleman who would prefer if people didn't smoke in his cab.

The scene in the Justice Ministry is truly Kafkaesque and beautifully executed.

My worry was his righteous indignation would get in the way of his having a workable solution, and that he'd spin out of control, which he does, but only for a short period.

Instead, he demonstrates what Stuart Kauffman calls "exaptations" i.e. the ability to repurpose. His resourcefulness keeps him from being a tragic victim. We empathize without seeing him as a hopeless case, although one of his peer drivers is pretty sure the story has unraveled (and indeed, things were looking somewhat bleak at that point).

Our family man was fortunate to have this home life to return to, whereas our protagonist Wendy has a lonelier row to hoe as that movie ends. She too is resourceful. Sometimes it's more the hand you're dealt than how skilled a player i.e. let us not judge too harshly, if we must judge at all.

Tara is admitted free to the Art Museum until age 18, is looking forward to the tattoos exhibit, as am I, though I don't qualify for any discounts (yet). We also wanna make the M.C. Escher exhibit, which Tag was exulting about.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Public Debate

Replying to Truthout article Iraq Vote Could Oust US Troops Early (02 July 2009) by Maya Schenwar (typos fixed):
Keep in mind that as currently structured, it's not a violation of the terms to have US troops in combat gear, ready for action, in major (or minor) metropolitan areas, provided they're dutifully under the command of a senior Iraqi military officer and under strict orders to comply with Iraqi chain of command rules of engagement. Of course there's political pressure to not need any US combat forces, merely pointing out the fact that you can't assume, just because you see US troops patrolling in an Iraqi town, that a violation has occurred. You'll need to do more investigative journalism -- as it might be a violation, just have to dig.
Replying to Truthout article Kill the Indian. Save the Man. (02 July 2009) by Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola: