Thursday, October 27, 2016

New Public Schools

Old School Toys

Here in the US (a namespace) the attack against the whole idea of "charter schools" has reached a fever pitch, and the fights are along battle lines I scarcely recognize.

Years have transpired since I helped a Portland charter get off the ground, one LEP High, on East Burnside.  More recently, I've expressed my interest in the Nexus Academy model in the State of Michigan.

A recent editorial said the charters had failed in their promise to raise the test scores of poor kids.  Was that their goal then?  Was that the conversation? 

I thought the purpose of all public education, charter and non, was to save US Americans from their own brutish ignorance, their natural state.  As babies we don't know a lot.  We need an education to use a phone, engage in business activity.

Private schools share the same mission.

When did we agree on standardized tests?  Which tests?  What if they're stupid?

This bold miss-assumption that we as a nation ever agreed to anyone's standardization plan is really jumping the gun a bit I'd say.

Sure we'd like to eliminate poverty, but to really do that, we'd need to be at least twice as smart about how we spend our money, and three times as smart about what money is in the first place.

How many public schools teach anything about bitcoin I wonder, or the idea of cyber-currencies more generally?  Or about encryption?  What standardized tests ask about those topics?  None you say?  My point exactly.

In any case, civilization requires torch-passing to be ongoing, a truism, which doesn't mean it's not true.

Lets imagine a future world wherein rich spoiled US Americans are even dumber than dumb, nothing like the world of now.

Could charter schools spring up all about teaching empathy and compassion?  Could we raise their EQ just a little?  Could any public school of any type take that on?  What if some group thinks it worth a try?

What's fair about denying future generations the experience that comes with creating a new school from scratch?  Another public one, like the others.  Why should that right be denied?

Is creating new public schools that are not charter schools ever done any more? Or are all the non-charter public schools that we'll ever have, right now with us today?

Branded Boxes

Suppose a small city had ten golden keys, surrounding counties a few more, and it was up to school boards to award these to eligible grantees.  You could hold a key for thirty years, then it went back in the pool.  You'd have your school.

Schools are not the same thing as school buildings.  Any skyscraper in downtown Portland could host a school, and many do.  Code schools in some cases.  A university system might have the ten keys for code school endeavors.  Some code schools could be public, labeled either magnet or vocational.

The thirty year timeout interval was arbitrary, used to introduce an idea:  that schools could be made mortal right out of the box, and that their mortality is a good thing, a feature to be welcomed.  What a concept, right?

A broadcasting license doesn't last forever either.  Some licenses need to be renewed.  If we posit a relatively stable population for our model City and want to give people in every generation the opportunity to create schools, then a time-out for existing schools makes sense.

As a popular teacher in school X, not taking new students four years out, a high school winding down, I might be in on the planning of the next one.  The "blank canvas" feel, the innovative talents unleashed, are welcomed.

We're not mourning for the fading of twilight schools. Having had a good run, we welcome change. We learn from every generation's mistakes, or certainly hope to.  Honesty about what those mistakes were is part of the process, nothing to do with shame or blame.

Besides, a given school might standardize on something "retro", allowing thematic echoes of prior times.  Academia in the West tends to echo Greek and Roman patterns, and that's just the beginning.  In a city like Portland, West meets East.

In other words, there's plenty of thematic continuity irrespective of specific institutions, as well as opportunities to experiment with new and positively synergetic blends.

In this possible future, new public schools are simply that, neither "charter" nor "alternative" just of more recent vintage, like a car more recently off the assembly line.

"We don't make those anymore."  What a relief in some cases, right?  With more hard won experience, we have a right to expect some improvement.

Mr. Ed?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Science Fiction Future

We will need writers who can remember freedom. We need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity, and the practice of an art.  So says Ursala Le Guin, another WILPF member (like my mom).

Speaking of science fiction, the Martian Math I'm using, not unlike Tolkien's Elvyn in living internally to some "middle earth" (a virtual nation we might say), features this artifact that looks like a caltrop, if anyone knows what that is, not a jack in other words.  A jack is a six-spoked affair whereas a caltrop has only four spokes.

If you've taken linear algebra you know the 90 degree turn is into a whole other dimension, a twilight zone almost, given its 100% linear independence from the first ray in the picture.

The real estate from 0.01 degrees to 179.99 degrees is all brought into being by this Dim 2 (second dimension) but pointing 180 degrees opposite is back to Dim 1.  The clock hands lie flat, so back to one line, not a triangle anymore.

Just taking the negative of a basis vector, is not to get a new basis vector, or dimension, as we're to see only three infinite lines through a shared center, with travel in both directions a property of any line or road.

The caltrop is nonetheless fewer spokes, four is less than six, incontrovertibly.  In making all four "positive" with these labels: (1,0,0,0) (0,1,0,0) (0,0,1,0) and (0,0,0,1), we're creating canonical linear combinations, road maps of zero or forward motion along these four directions, to any point in space.

The six-spoked XYZ artifact offers the same advantages:  a unique address per every point, a distance formula, ways of computing angles.  Going back and forth between XYZ and Quadrays is what many an Earthian diplomat learns in grade school, in preparing to work with the Martians on projects.  Their unit volume is not a cube.

The XYZ vendors claim they're touting most economical warez, in that three basis vectors, mutually orthogonal, are enough for their scheme to pan out.  Yes, negative signs are needed, to show basis vector mirroring, and eight octants get created.  That does not mean we should kowtow to the Martians.  They could learn from us Earthlings.

As you can see, there's a lot going on in this science fiction, with factions right from the get go.  Having the two coordinate systems in the picture is the first step towards at least having some interesting debates and conversations, during which terminological questions are clarified, definitions more clearly cast.

However some teachers protest that linear algebra students have enough on their plates.  Martian Math may sound like fun in theory, but adulthood is calling.  We don't have time for gratuitous brain teasers.  Who ever heard of a unit volume that wasn't cube-shaped, anyway?

For my part, I think all six XYZ vectors should get equal pay for equal work and therefore -(1,0,0) i.e. (-1,0,0) is just as much a basis vector as its oppositely pointing counterpart.  That's not the official definition of course.  That's where philosophy comes in, to provide that subjunctive layer of "could have been otherwise" -- even in mathematics.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ship Comes In

VEs from India

Zebra VEs

Saturday, October 22, 2016


I've been revisiting the literature assembled in the wake of Russian mystics Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, having purchased in soft cover four of the published six volumes by Maurice Nicoll, which are psychological commentaries on the thinking thereof.  A book sale at the meetinghouse.

Some may dispute this label "mystics" correctly applies, as if to them, why not to Bucky Fuller, who likewise meditated on the machine-like qualities of human existence.  When it comes to machine learning by means of neural nets, no AI can hold a candle to what one brain can do, let alone many working in tandem, in parallel.

The illusion of real intelligence (RI) here is almost complete (smile).

I read on Medium that it's OK for me not to decode AI anymore, likewise CIA which some say should be AIC (Artificial Intelligence Central).  No wait, I'm wrong.  Here's the very short list of technology acronyms I don’t need to define: API, AJAX, BIOS, CPU, CSS, HTML, HTTPS, LAN, RAM, REST, USB, WWW, XML. For everything else, I should spell it out.

AI = "Artificial Intelligence" in that case.

Anyway, Bucky worked closely with Ed Applewhite, a career CIA guy, retired by the time we met, who gave us the four volume Synergetics Dictionary, and in there, we maybe find a distancing from the "mystical" as what to spend time on: 
I consider all the time spent on speculation regarding the inherently unanswerable as inherently profitless and a squandering of the opportunity to answer those questions which are inherently answerable by man.
I supposed he's taking "mystic" as somewhat akin to "obfuscator" and he preferred to be clear, about what little he knew about.  He also said "I spend every waking moment in a world of absolute mystery."

Lets agree the word "mystic" ("mystics" plural) is malleable as to its meaning and precisely to whom it applies.

My mom, Carol Urner, has tended to embrace the term as suggestive of what drives her, which many an orthodox Christian would simply call "the voice of God" (or "the Will").

However in Huxley's Perennial Philosophy, studied by many Quakers I know, the mystics frequently come off as outside the jurisdiction of any orthodoxy, as their role in their own time is to challenge some established status quo.  St. Francis of Assisi would count in that category.

No one commanded we establish a strict taxonomy in any case. I will point out, that after Fuller self-published 4D Timelock, a book on solutions for sheltering people, he had a short list of people he felt should have access to it right away, and P.D. Ouspensky was on that list.

Fuller was effusive in his admiration for Einstein and referred to peaceful uses of nuclear power (such as in the sun) in Nine Chains to the Moon.

So was Einstein a mystic? He's a source of quotes such as this one:
The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is good as dead.
Wittgenstein  might question whether the mystical must really be an emotion or sensation (let alone a brain process).  Was Wittgenstein a mystic?  Obviously, we could go on and on with such queries.

Maurice is what some might call a Jungian in his outlook, a link to Gnosticism and Gnostic, which rhymes with Mysticism and myth-making.

The machine and the mechanical, and its relationship to life, is the stuff of myth as well, a source of stories.  Psychology and philosophy meet here somewhere.  We have just the one Universe after all.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Measure 97 Again

Foes of Measure 97 have cleverly portrayed it as a "tax on sales" but not a sales tax. Everyone knows Oregonians are happy to get by without a regressive sales tax.

Property taxes stay relatively high. I just got my bill today in fact, over $4K on a non-commercially zoned lot, with a house over a hundred years old on it, plus garage. Walnut tree. Rhododendron.

People like me pay for schools, not the out-of-state big guys, who just wanna make a killing.

What business can't model itself as gaining revenue from "sales" of some kind. Health care, cable TV... all end user consumer services.  It's a tax on revenue, on the bottom line, and yes, that relates to one's gross.

Therefore to be anti "tax on sales" is to be anti tax on business, period.

"We don't want to pay taxes and as big businesses you can't make us" is the attitude.  "Let us gross whatever we can and make the little guy shoulder all payments."  They do the same thing around wars.

What's a poor little US state gonna do, with the Feds run by greedy Wall Street, or LAWCAP or whatever?  Squeezing a small state is no problemo for them, given the USG has already caved.

So yeah, those hoping to improve the state's schools and other services may be disappointed come November. The outcome of the propaganda war is far from predetermined.

Maybe Oregon could run some tourist attracting passenger trains with adjoining communities in the outback?

We don't have train tracks to Breitenbush, a hot tub paradise, which is private, but you get the idea.

Institutions of higher education might get in on the campus planning. Go by train, stop off here and there to get an education.

Don't let the naysayers who won't pay their fair share advertise Project Earthala as their idea.

We have  more intelligent sponsors to boast of than Comcast.  Some of our partners behind the scenes don't mind feeding the public/private partnerships these foes of Oregon might consider inconvenient. Pleasing Obnoxico is not our priority.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

CompSci + NeuroSci

Retired Mascot

[ originally an email to Nathaniel Bobbitt, Oct 15, 2016 ]

I wonder how annoying it'll be to neuro-science types to hear me teaching compsci and saying such things as "the browser's brain is full of JavaScript whereas the server is thinking in Python."

Of course web browsers don't have "brains" and many philosophically-minded would take issue with servers doing any real "thinking" let alone in Python.

I'm not worried about it though. Language is nothing if not malleable and I'm purposeful in having students empathize with their machines as if these latter were sentient beings.


Not to encourage superstition but to bring an already richly associational matrix of key terms, a well developed namespace, into a relatively alien territory (that of machine learning -- and they need to be taught, by us).

Knowledge has always expanded thusly, i.e. empathy has always played a big role, at least for some people.

The Python language actually uses the word 'self' although it's not a keyword, more a placeholder with a conventional spelling, ditto "God" (not in Python) and like that -- kind of like how "Zero" doesn't really have to be "0" but we do need that placeholder.

When I define a type of thing, such as Airport:

class Airport:
    def __init__(self, three_letter_code):  # birth!
        self.code = three_letter_code
    def __repr__(self):
        return "Airport('{}')".format(self.code)

Interactively then: 

In [148]: portland_or = Airport("PDX")
In [149]: portland_or
Out[149]: Airport('PDX')

I then spawn many "selves" of same, e.g.

portland_or = Airport("PDX")
newark_nj = Airport("EWR")

and so on, elaborating into a full program.

A standard practice in compsci, when passing the "object oriented" torch, is to talk about "is a" and "has a" relationships e.g. a car "is a" motorized vehicle, and "has" seats for people (maybe the driverless ones don't).

I've long encouraged a parallel "am a" and "have a" grammar, such that the programmer thinks "I am an Airport, now what do I have?" "I have concourses, and luggage carousels". "OK so now I'm a concourse, what do I have?" and so on.

Changing the subject for a sec, a question I was gonna ask you at Atlas (or Bagdad or...) has to do with "autistic spectrum" -- how people talk, yes? But doesn't a "spectrum" connote basically two directions: left vs right, up vs down, in vs out (any of those)?

Probably some author has already suggested a multi-axis (i.e. higher dimensional -- more than one) "phase space" for placing autistic profiles in a taxonomic or diagnostic matrix. "Beware of spectra when phase spaces are better" might be the moral here -- degrees of freedom and all that.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Science Fiction

Cascadia Masthead
by Zapato Produtions Intradimensional

In this telling, the US is more interested in emulating the EU than the other way around.

Each of the USA states would like to develop its own foreign policy in large degree, with the understanding that other states in the federation have automatic special standing, and share the same currency.

Once within the federation, US citizens are free to move about as usual, without harassment by border patrols.  N8V sovereignties are more likely to prosecute trespassers, especially polluters and treaty violators.

US states and territories probably don't send ambassadors to all the others.  Texas and California might, given their size.  Puerto Rico will likely exchange ambassadors with Cuba.

Oregon still proxies through DC quite a bit, not bothering with ambassadors to non-US states in every instance.  DC still has important switch boarding functions, as does the UN.

Cascadian states have a natural alliance with western Canada some other states may not enjoy.

DC still spins its wheels and attracts tourists.  The notion of "federal laws" still exists.

However, Oregonians already enjoy freedoms considered criminal by the so-called Feds, whereas for their part, the Feds engage in prurient and criminal adventures overseas most Oregonians are eager to disavow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Another Honorary Wanderer?

Remote camera photo of OR7 captured on May 3, 2014, in eastern Jackson County on USFS land. 
Courtesy of USFWS

In addition to proposing Keiko as an honorary Wanderer, I'm thinking about this wolf. The ape authorities are thinking about killing him.  We allow animals to join us in death, as well as in life.

We've had numerous dogs in our midst (some now dead), welcome at the table. Yes, mostly we're comprised of [not naked] apes, par for the course in our zip code.

My reference to Ecuador in the above tweet has to do with that country encoding some rights for non-humans into law, one of the first groups of sapiens to do so.

Yes, it's true, some apes pride themselves on being "sapiens" and have invented a whole taxonomy to celebrate their supposedly exceptional superiority.

Never mind they murder one another in droves and are the laughing stock of the galaxy -- just kidding, the galaxy has more important things to think about.

However if we're allowed to call North Americans "Indians" (even in 2016!) as in "Indian reservation" then I think the "Planet of the Apes" moniker applies just as well, as a colloquialism.

"Welcome to the planet of the apes!" I'd say to the ET tourists.  The "sapien" stuff is just their vanity talking.

I'm referring to all the branches of hominid species, most of them already killed off by now. The sapiens were apparently the most vicious.

Call them "mankind" if you like, or "humans". That's the more formal term (not "vicious monkey" or simia vitiosus in Latin).

When in Rome...

Thursday, October 06, 2016

A Tipping Point

Patrick did a good job pulling together new Python teaching materials.  These are for a class he's running, completely separately from mine, though also on-line in real time.  His company wants to hand out something thick, made of paper.  Mine doesn't go there, presently.

We're both tracking the hurricane in Florida, among many catastrophes in the making.  The human-made catastrophes are even more lethal sometimes.  The wreckage around the Mediterranean, on into Mesopotamia, or "Arabia" as a former US senator from Oregon calls it, is so much worse.

I saw on Twitter about that giant Putin flag hanging off a bridge in New York City.  So how sympathetic was Kerry towards Russia keeping a base in the Mediterranean, regardless of what nations we see?

I haven't seen any nations in a long time, on the maps I'm using, but that's because I was trained in the World Game, a specialized form of modeling only a few got to study.  We look at geography, geology, ecosystems, but not the political layer as much, though we have that overlay.

NATO has a bazillion bases all over the place, we've all seen those maps, so begrudging Russia having a few outside its nominal borders, whether or not that includes Crimea, should not be that controversial.

Surely the US isn't so psychologically insecure that it can't abide even a single Russian base anywhere outside Russia.  Organizing inter-visitation might be the next confidence building measure.

I don't think "bases" in the obsolete sense are needed at all, but the infrastructure is useful, for disaster relief and human relocation.

Calling for the complete evacuation of Aleppo, as I've been doing, sounds more realistic when one has bases for the refugees to flee to.  They'd've been out long ago, like Floridians from their east coast.

However I'm just another Tweeter, these days without even a gym membership, so my views hardly register, whereas Kerry gets to set the tone.

I know a lot of people say it's about pipelines, gold, other treasure.  We all have our ways of sounding worldly, knowing.

So-called "rich people" (often among the most ignorant) like to ape one another, competing to sound "more insider".

Social media have amplified and expanded that workflow, to where now pretty much everyone gets to sound like a rich ape.  That's a shift, even a tipping point.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Go By Train


Uncle Bill, the mining engineer turned naval historian, in his 90s now, is heading this way by Amtrak for a lunch at Ringler's or other brew pub near Union Station, before heading home two hours later.

This will be his fourth such visit with me, however he's come down independently to visit with other relatives.  He used to drive his Aztec but voluntarily quit driving after a passing mini-stroke (TIA).

Carol had hoped to join us this time, but decided getting her INR checkup (like Hillary gets) with her favorite checker would be tough to reschedule.  So I'll get her there early and she can while away the time reading her recently-acquired book by Hendrik W. van der Merwe, regarding his work to end Apartheid in South Africa, a story more USers could learn from.

South African Friends were more than a little miffed when the US-based AFSC showed up in force and presumed to advise them on how to best deal with ending Apartheid and self governance in its aftermath, given the RSA was actually overcoming racist thinking, whereas USers were still singing "we shall overcome" in some future tense.

That's a song for young people in my book.  If you haven't overcome by 58, it ain't gonna happen, is my attitude, whatever "overcoming" means to one.  YMMV.

RSA means Republic of South Africa in the above paragraph, not Rivest-Shamir-Adleman, a public key crypto system similar to Diffie-Hellman.

I recommend the movie Chappie to better appreciate the difference Ubuntu makes.  AFSC still uses Windows.  If you don't use the bash shell, you're not a real activist, is my rule of thumb (Carol an exception).

USers like to be bossy, believing themselves enlightened or ahead of the curve. Didn't Michael Moore help lay that notion to rest in his latest movie, which mom and I both want to see (I've seen the previews)? 

USers are among the more backward, culturally, adding them all up and dividing, to get an average. They have "diversity issues" in the sense of insufficient schooling in dealing with it intelligently.  Remember the people who came here were those with the most trouble fitting in (like the Quakers).

I'm teaching class tonight, really more like hosting a talk radio show, with me doing most the talking.  My listeners text message, and see each others texts.  I work their questions into my discourse.  I'm doing a highly technical talk on Python, the computer language, which I get to teach in forty hours.

Last night I was at the code school again, "the guild" as we call it, catching up with my peers and ignoring DC politics.  Oregonians live on the Pacific Rim and tend to not always share East Coast perspectives.  I brought along my XO-1 for show and tell.

Carol has a speaking engagement elsewhere tonight, which I won't make.  She's in demand as a speaker, and this year she took it on the road, riding shot gun with Ellen Thomas in rented vans, from LA to Seattle, and from Boston to Cape Code and Boston.  Most 87-year-olds wouldn't have the stamina.

Then she joined me for her granddaughter's graduation, in Richmond, Indiana, flying to Dayton from Reagan International, before packing her stuff to base herself here.  Like the Pope, she has winter and summer residences.

XO-1 at Code School 
Charles Cossé with OLPC XO