Thursday, August 29, 2013

Code for America Projects?

I have two new areas for Code for America to consider, or maybe not new as I've not been privy to C4A's meetings.

My only real contact was with their CTO at the last OSCON, at the chairman's party (we were saying good bye to Edd Dumbhill in that role, a team effort, with Simon St. Laurent rotating in).
(1)  get enough volunteer parents who speak Laotian, Vietnamese, Russian or whatever, all the languages of ESL kids, and help them learn Python.  In teaching ESL with Python, we're focusing on a technical subject, requiring technical English, yet there's room to better their skills typing in their native languages.  There's a lot to work out and I'm not saying only Python should get to play.
(2) get enough traveling troupes together to help make the Internet come alive, as a culture and play space, for institutionalized or incarcerated individuals who might benefit.  This is a huge job and working with nursing homes is probably easier than working with prisons.  You want a population that's well briefed enough to stay safe enough to have the experience be rewarding.  Like when learning to scuba dive or roller blade, both potentially dangerous.  The Internet is not necessarily physically dangerous but it could do damage to your bank account.
Neither of these may seem sexy enough, but the anthropologists tell us that closing the grandparent / grandkid loop is one of the great secrets of a healthy culture.  There's no reason grandpa shouldn't continue to poke around in C or C# with those fifty years his junior.  Nor should a teen shy away from having some grandmas in the queue wanting questions answered about HTML.

I'm not saying anyone has to go to anyone else's house to make this happen, though I do have the CareWheels model ever at my fingertips.  That was Ron Braithwaite's program, a collaborative effort, to have non-invasive people monitoring services that kept older and frailer people safely in their homes for longer.  In that model, dispatching would be notified if Mildred needed a home visit.  My work with Clackamas County helped me envision the dispatching side of the business.

Imagine going to school and having a parent-engineer (doesn't have to be your parent) speaking Vietnamese while also teaching you English, with "learning Python" a conversation piece.

You don't feel "held back" as learning Python is learning a STEM-relevant skill, plus you're addressing the topics of internationalization, world languages, Unicode, head on.   Here's a safe spac to yak about culture and what it's like when they encounter one another.

The engineer might be there as an aide, along with two or three more aides, all of whom speak different languages.  They help students at their terminals, giving them suggestions.  They go back and forth between English and whatever else.

The main thing we're all watching might just be cartoons.

There's a way to rewind and pause.

But then you can watch them again at home (on Youtube?).  Each one comes in multiple languages but in ESL there's an emphasis on learning English (of course).  Keep going back and forth, learning Python and Unicode in between.  That's an ESL course many EFLers could benefit from.  Sign me up.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Chernobyl and Fukushima

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Planning Committees

AFSC and YM Regions
North American Regions, American Friends Service Committee

As one of the NPYM reps with the AFSC corporation, I'm on the lookout for opportunities to integrate the AFSC's machinations within a Quaker context, which isn't the same thing as seeking exclusive control.  AFSC is a shared enterprise, an alliance builder.

My latest memos focused on the Doctrine of Discovery, whereby in some imaginations, vast lands became the property of some King or Queen or President or one of those, even as the people who lived there were informed of their new "undocumented" status.

The Doctrine of Discovery was part and parcel with the migrant worker policy of exporting excess populations to "bases" in the colonies, aka the New World (New Atlantis -- many visions were projected, many of them focused on the element gold (Au), not that the silver (Ag) people would be without their say).

Given these "bases" were that far away there was little to stop them from banding together and declaring their independence from the King, little beyond their own inability to get along.

You likely recognize this old story, which has actually been repeated many times, with different names and faces.

The Wabanaki of the Maine area sent delegates to our last AFSC corporation meeting in March.  They were interested in talking about the Carlisle Industrial School, which Quakers had a hand in, and in this Doctrine of Discovery, recently repudiated by the Episcopalians, and a focus of the Parliament of World Religions.

Our internal documents spin on a shared web server we call Star Cafe, which sounds somewhat Hitchhiker's Guide to my ears.  The 18 page overall National Plan is there, mostly about demonstrating the efficacy of non-violent development over wonton destruction, in terms of raising living standards.  You'd think that'd be a no-brainer but remember this is only 2013.  The regional plans, more detailed, get a bit more in to the nitty gritty (but not a lot).

Given the recent redrawing of the AFSC North American regions, there's a sense that our current drafts have a ways to go, but that's usual for living documents.  There's always inertia, things that already have momentum and can't be expected to just turn on a dime.

Whether the Doctrine of Discovery is mentioned explicitly or not in current draft language, I feel in a position to say it's topical among Friends, and a current focus of some intra-NPYM communications.

We'll talk more about it all when the Area Support Committee next meets.

For further reading:

click pix for more context

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Testing Diets

Doug Strain volunteered as a guinea pig during human subjects trials for the military.  He preferred to be in a freezing box car, eating various gruels, than being ordered by others to open fire or whatever.

The military study ascertained that a high protein diet was necessary to counter extreme cold, an unhappy outcome in the judgement of various bean counters, who were hoping cheap lard, maybe wax, would be the ticket.

Speaking of diet, schools that have switched to healthier fare have sometimes noticed dramatic improvements in student mood and attentiveness.

I'm sure there's some truth in the view that just sending the message one cares enough to improve the cafeteria offerings (add a salad bar) begets reciprocation, but there's even more truth in the view that a healthier diet helps stabilize and improve mood.

Food Not Bombs sometimes tests that theory by providing "green gruel" (as if we're back in that box car with Doug), somewhat like Popeye's spinach, to front liners into today's psycho-battles.

Do the tent people brighten up as they get more fresh Willamette Valley produce, rescued from a composting room when still in prime condition?  If they do in schools, why not in tent cities?

I've been a consultant for the Oregon Food Bank and respect the personnel and professionalism I encountered.

I also have no special ax to grind against Fritos or the Frito-Lay division of Pepsi, but lets face it, if you bring home a box of Mac 'n Cheese to be followed by Doritos then Fritos, you're not very high on the food pyramid.  It's not what the health-conscious executives eat in any of these companies, except for occasional snacks at company venues.

Replacing healthy meals with snacks only is what that Supersize Me guy tried, and look how he almost died.  I don't think the McDonald's Corporation would recommend doing the experiment he did.  Just because one opens a roller coaster park doesn't mean one encourages addicts to ride them 24/7.  Your company doesn't need fiends and ghouls to channel decent profits back to stakeholders.

Lindsey, one of the FNB cooks, was hard at it again today, throwing together a fresh fiesta salad with another pot of lightly cooked vegetables, generously spiced.  I had a bowl of the latter, having just treated mom and myself to Burgerville, complete with milk shakes and Walla Walla onion rings.

I could feel the "two cultures" contending for my body.  At Burgerville, I ordered from a car.  Lindsey takes her food downtown by bicycle.

She lives in the world like the world is a gym.  I need a special place called a "gym" or I'll turn to jello.

Speaking of which, it's time for a Guinness!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Leveraging Python

Some people come to Python because they heard you could get a website up and running in not that many steps, if you downloaded and installed something called Django.  There's more to it than that of course.  You need a public-facing web server with something in DNS (a name, a URL).

Should I say "an URL" and pronounce it "Earl"?  Some people do, whereas others say "You R eL".  I'm aware of the pun on Uri, not far from CERN, where http was invented.  URLs were originally URIs, Universal Resource Indexes.

Uncle Bill, 88, swung through today, enjoying public transportation, looping from Seattle.  He'd been to the "big Powell's" downtown, where a PSU professor just happened to be haunting the stacks, and directed him to well respected tomes on (a) the life and times of Mohammed and (b) the early spread of Islam -- topics of interest to many readers, and especially those steeped in history, like my uncle.  I recalled a book called The Arabists from Free Press.  I found the letter Adam Bellow sent me, son of Saul, when he sent me that book.  He was with Free Press then.  I dug it out of the garage, thanks to synchronicity, and gave it to Bill.

At "little Powell's" (across from The Bagdad), Bill and I looked at books on HTML and Python.  I was sketching some history of how / where I work and wanted to point to the publisher's logo.  I also had a copy of Make:, the "danger issues", all about making "sugar rockets" and a tesla coil 'n stuff.  The founder of that had discovered this math teaching school and corralled it for Sebastopol.  The Python book was Learning Python, but mostly we talked about HTML (Head First series) which I traced back for him to Boeing.  Boeing is familiar to Seattlites like Bill.  SGML came from there, from which were derived other ML flavors, such as XML and XHTML.

We crossed back over to The Bagdad and Steve Holden joined us, on his way for ice cream down the street at Ben & Jerry's.  Bill and I had just had breakfast at Cup 'n Saucer.

What's probably easiest to grok is "substitution" i.e. the Madlibs kind of thing, otherwise known as "fill in the blanks".  You start with the whole story then punch some holes it it, make those variables, which gives you a realm of possibilities.  If we're filling in with (x,y,z) coordinates, and the story is about objects such as cylinders and spheres, then we get colorful renderings in Pov-ray.  I worked for a toy company doing that for awhile, making realistic images of StrangeAttractors, which was actually manufactured in a last bid to put a great geometry toy in the hands of both children and adults.  Another plastic rod and ball-bearing affair, with detachable magnetic tips, cone-shaped.  The dimensions were those used in ZomeTool.  They came color-coded.

Doing the math requires rotation matrices.  You can do quaternions too, as "math machines" or "math objects" to make polyhedrons turn.  This was where Stickworks came in, my 3rd party library.  I'm still hearing the admonitions at OSCON to put licenses on all my code.  Apache's would work.  I just haven't gotten around to it.  I'm not even on github.  That's a social faux pas in geek world these days.  Gotta be on github.

My lightning talk at the Pycon EduSummit took us through an hypothetical fifth course in our series out of Sebastopol (actually the servers are in Illinois).  Cellular automata ala Wolfrom.  Not unlike the PSU systems curriculum in some ways.  Doing next, next, next... in the sense of exercising a Python generator, is a really good idea.  I have a whole farm, a kind of midwest place, built as a place for Tractors (instead of turtles).  We get into it.