Friday, September 24, 2010

More Philosophy of Education

More banter with RH (from math-teach) -- typos fixed:

> "And the reason is....?"
> In my opinion, arithmetic is essentially the literacy equivalent
> to reading. It has a functional use in everyone's life, like reading.

The ability to read is not just one skill. What if graphs are involved, statistics? The science you might want to tune in, to follow debates about genetically modified foods, requires some mathematical background perhaps.

It's not just what math Obama might need. You also want your Supreme Court and Congress to have a fairly strong grasp of the technical issues.

> Beyond arithmetic, the skills begin to become "nice to have"
> rather than "must have". I generally share the same
> thought with the others that subjects like algebra exercise
> and develop one's reasoning skills, even if there will be
> no practical use later. But this isn't a must have, it is
> a nice to have, unless you have decided that you will
> be an engineer or some other math related career
> and then for you personally, it is a must have.

You've generally been dismissive of "math appreciation" as not the real deal, just like "physics for philosphers" can't really amount to a hill of beans in your book.

Calendars and navigation, architecture, surveying, map making... each one of these topics comes with skills you might learn, surrounded by stories of other civilizations. To fully understand history, one needs to be able to follow the math and science (e.g. the role of cryptography in ww2).

If we dont' consider "math appreciation" as part of mathematics proper, then we should at least allow it to surface under the heading of literature.

Dr. Susan Haack, a contemporary philosopher, is quite explicit about this: in her view, a distopian society we do not want to have, consists of docile non-scientists who can't follow the debates and
leave all the decision-making to the supposedly most qualified, the credentialed experts.

You want informed voters.

You also want people not easily manipulated or hoodwinked.

I say "you" in a general sense, realizing that informed and intelligent voters is maybe *not* what some people want. They'd rather have a lot of docile broom pushers who just smile and nod when told what to do by the ruling class digerati.

> What would be the "nice to have" element of reading?
> Or maybe I should say literature? I would propose that
> creative writing is a "nice to have" but not a "must have".
> Reading and basic writing would be "must haves" in my opinion.

Any educated high schooler should be able to read and write about how the Internet works, yes or no?

Any educated high schooler should have read a lot of civics, know about the history of the world, including recent history.

E.g. books by Edwin Black are appropriate for an American History class, or at least lengthy excerpts, along with related documentaries.

There's a difference between knowing how to read, recognizing the words, and being literate, being given the time, encouragement, guidance and freedom to read widely in many subjects.

Does a society afford people that freedom, people of all ages?

Or does it simply give them rudimentary reading skills and then push them out the door after 6th grade, handing them a mop if they don't prove sufficiently compliant or worthy in the minds of corporate eugenicists?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Dreams in the 'Hood

Global Matrix Studios enjoyed some guests this morning, through an international school connection.

I wasn't especially talkative, more in the role of chauffeur, even though Jerome was doing the driving (he's good at cards I discovered, over coffee later).

I've been sketching a fantasy double deck office, converting the leaky deck above 4dsys (a router station) into a monitoring room, perhaps with a spiral staircase between them. It'd have to be part of some video stream and/or movie production, to make it worth the expense. Maybe Patrick has the connections.

The reality is I need to buy some more plastic from the hardware store.

Then came a quick haircut (someone new) and Food Not Bombs at the meetinghouse (and more wifi). Andy Cross came by and we went over some of what I'd learned at Djangocon (recently completed). I introduced him to the cooks. They bantered in Spanish.

I stayed late to clean up, again having the building to myself. Then the directory people showed up, intending to make phone calls, hearthkeeper among them (I hope I passed muster).

I packed up and returned to the Blue House (so-called -- there's also a Pink House).

Through the wifi, I was tracking the Python community's Diversity list, noting the link to an article by a Seattelite about bioinformatics, about including more of that topic at the high school level. This jibes with my curriculum writing as well.

That could be a focus of Pycon / Tehran I should think, as health care is ramping up in that youthful economy, with many future doctors, nurses, technicians. A Pycon / Chicago focusing on trucking might make sense, although here I'm thinking ESRI might want to get involved, as trucking has everything to do with GIS/GPS.

I was also in touch with Mosaic regarding the Business Intelligence position at PSU, which would relate to our work with Ktraks etc.

My thanks to Dr. Tag for dropping in for a family dinner last night, followed by a quick visit with 97214 geniuses (not at Pauling House this time). I had the PSF python (Naga) along (stuffed animal totem), plus two Django ponies.

I play the role of geek in this 'hood (namespace) and am somewhat expected to do geeky things of this nature. Fortunately, I'm not entirely alone in this regard, meaning I get to clown around with my peers when I'm lucky.

Glenn joined us at the new Chinese place on the corner of 39th and Hawthorne, in the Mason Building (Hawthorne Theater) across from Fred Meyer.

The tour included a look at Flextegrity models, though we didn't get to snap icosahedra together. This was not an actual workshop, more just a tour.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Inception (movie review)

The movie was about dreams and projections, keying off The Matrix theme.

My movie-going companion slept through most of it and was adamant that Hollywood's self-indulgence was precisely what was wrong with this once great culture. How could we bear to be insulted in this way? And at what opportunity cost? Why lavish such attention on fictional fantasies (waking dreams)?

I suppose I'm more in the mood for more serious-minded documentaries, especially about the recent past. More about the U2? Elections in Iraq?

We haven't had many Iraqi talking heads speaking their minds lately on any topic, other than the odd defector or refugee in past chapters, with sound bites used to galvanize and mobilize around somebody's war plans.

Lots of dead zones in the news, deliberate graveyards. Lets go back and talk about what was missed.

Also, getting more tetrahedra going, and not just on MTV, has been a priority in 97214, the zip code of geniuses.

I'd dispatch an away team tonight if I thought it'd improve the quality of our TV programming.

Anyway, back to the movie, of which this is supposedly a review, I enjoyed some of the special effects, especially at the cityscape level. My dad was a city planner and I was taught to appreciate cities for their character.

In the dream world of film, ideas get planted, that much is certainly true. Memes spread. Sometimes one needs to counter 'em.

I was back to the DoubleTree neighborhood, just two blocks away from the venue for Djangocon, reminiscing already.

This initiative to prototype various brands and types of voting machine (electronic and mechanical) in high school settings, complete with tabulating back ends, along with lessons about security flaws, scams, the sordid history of voting, sounds like it'll result in some dynamite civics.

Talking about dirty tricks, or just plain tricks, is not verboten, at least not among young adults needing to figure out what they're getting into with this democracy business. Lots more documentaries then. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

DjangoCon Day Three

The panel this morning was entirely on the topic of integrating NoSQL into Django. The term NoSQL seems to be one of those "universally despised but we'll say it anyway" kind of memes.

Given how our ponies are snuggly-friendly with relational database technology, there's a sense of outreach as well as girding for a possible future, in which NoSQL takes off a lot more than it has. Buzz words in this namespace today include: HBase, MongoDB, Riak, Voldemort, Neo4J, Cassandra, Hypertable, HyperGraphDB, Memcached, Tokyo Cabinet, Redis, CouchDB.

Alex Gaynor, soon to turn 20, spent a Google summer of code wrestling with the task of fitting Django's ORM API to a MongoDB back end. Some on the panel questioned the advisability of fitting a schemaless database into such a schema-based framework, but then Django is somewhat characterized by this API. What else would it mean, to add support for a NoSQL back end, if not keeping the API streamlined and powerful.

It's not a given that every back end key-value or document store is a good fit. In the case of MongoDB, there's enough of a one-to-one mapping to make the bridge or database adapter. Google's BigTable is likewise "close enough" to a SQL engine (though it isn't one) to support a somewhat Django-like API within it's Appengine framework.

One has other ways of using such NoSQL utilities as redis inside Django. Django is just Python after all, so if its a matter of simply importing another module and using it, you may do so directly, through whatever API Python natively provides. Use this alongside ORM connections to SQL engines. It's not either or (like, use the zodb module why not?). How is redis different from just using a memory cache like memecache? The API does a lot more.

On the whole, the panel was reassuring the PostgreSQL would always be enough of an "out of the box" solution to throw at so many of life's many challenges. Don't let the "rip tide of lies" (i.e. all the empty hype) around NoSQL pull you off balance. The Django community is experimenting, outside of core-dev.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Imaginary Landscapes

Malcolm Tredinnick is a master of GeoDjango, which talks the language of maps. He demonstrated an imaginary landscape he'd devised. The PNG provides texture, but the underlying TIFF, some 19 MB of data, provides the real details.

OpenLayers serves as a clearinghouse, knows where to go for what data to populate the different layers. Show all restaurants of a given type in a given zip code area.

PostGIS supports data selection based on bounding boxes, so when you zoom in or pan, it sends back the right objects.

You'll want to cache tiles, especially the background ones that don't change. Several open source projects do this, and support Python bindings.

Mapnik is another piece of the puzzle, a strong source of Earthling data.

Malcolm emphasized the importance of using a whole planet, even if your region is but a small island. The geometry engines all assume a latitude-longitude context.

Given my Geometry + Geography paradigm, I'm of course interested to what extent internal anatomy might be considered a GIS problem. Bodies are not planets, but they are geospatial.

What file formats accommodate both planets and livers? When one zooms in, on a city street, it's worthwhile to show infrastructure, such as under-street pipes, optical fibers.

One zooms in on a body the same way, showing what's inside. Indeed bodies walk on sidewalks.

Geography is all inclusive of special case "scenes" whereas geometry is generic (about shape in general -- what we call "pre-frequency" in Synergetics). Does x3D (VRML) support GIS?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Seeking Diversity

One of the threads on math-teach is back to racial profiling, sorting everyone into a few groups. This gets to seem like a mindless bureaucratic activity sometimes, so one looks for the check box for "mindless bureaucrat" on the forms, as that seems the most prevalent species.

What I learned from watching international conference organizing, is that some countries do not permit their governments to inquire about their "race" or even "ethnicity". There's no broad agreement that central government tabulators have a right to such data, especially in light of how many of these questions are based in corrupt science in the first place.

The concept of race did not survive modern genetics intact, and ethnicity is all about memes in any case, not genes. So much about Social Darwinism is bogus, and yet continues to haunt public debates, sometimes just beneath the surface, sometimes overtly.

The concept of "breed" (as in breeds of dog, horse) is a social institution and invention. Yes, it's possible to breed traits in and out. However no simple fractions or "racial substance" will be found, in either "mixed" or "pure" form. No "racial substance" was never found in any DNA, and yet the concept persists as a meme virus, as "something in the blood".

In any case, schools will (and do) practice a kind of alchemy, when it comes to seeking diversity. A public will want to second guess, might be looking for statistics. Demographics about ethnic makeup, social class (the kinds of statistics people were discussing on math-teach) remain in demand. What if the school doesn't keep them, doesn't know.

Perhaps the tally is on "first or native language". You wouldn't know how many "Asians" were in this tally. You might be able to piece this bit of information together to your own satisfaction from other records, but the school would not readily support this API and/or way of pigeon-holing people.

If it's a school into which one hopes to gain admittance, then you're hoping various traits you may have will not count against you. You think about your odds.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Roving Buses Again

Perhaps one of those slides in Dr. Beebe's Afghanistan talk got me thinking of literal BizMos again, those business mobiles that go to state fairs and such places, helping orient visitors to their various options. When showing up at a school, they're more likely to be representing universities, networks of school systems. Teachers get recruited too, not just students.

Another option is to use the bus as a testing center. These might be engaging games at various workstations, and the games are what's being judged, not the students. The students are guest players comprising a focus group and giving feedback. Why is this worthy of school time? Because the games are didactic in nature, reinforce school subjects. That's why teacher feedback is especially valuable.

I've filed these ideas at the Math Forum, a file cabinet where I've stuffed a lot of my best ideas. I'm into using the Internet filing system to share useful ideas, appreciate others doing that.

The Math Forum versions have a somewhat different spin, as I bring in the Coffee Shops Network idea of having the games fund worthy causes of the player's choosing, a way of disbursing profits made from the game.

Players may record their patterns of disbursement, which becomes a portfolio, a chronicle of their heroics. Of such stuff one's identity and reputation is comprised, so these games may be said to build character.