[Edu-sig] More Autobio and Pythonic Mathematics

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Mon Jun 5 23:07:47 CEST 2006

When visiting the Royal Kingdom (Druk-yul) one time, I was invited to
submit an article to the national paper, Kuensel,
http://www.kuenselonline.com/.  I was a young guy, and so was the
editor, Bhutanese with a degree in journalism from Columbia, his wife
a native Singaporean.

I was originally on a mission to deliver new fonts (Tibetan, from some
Indian shop), only to discover the far-advanced inhouse project to
turn the native Dzongkha (a government language) into a Mac typeface.
So my contribution was not needed on that front.  But I found other
ways to contribute e.g. teaching dBase at the computer center, and
working on a telex billing system for RICB.

In that published newspaper article, I wrote about the need for what
would become part of a more integrated security system, i.e. a
computer deliberately set aside as "first recipient" of any
potentially hostile software.  I called it the Quarantine Computer.
In today's world, it'd have much in common with a DMZ (this was the
early 1980s).

In those days software was freely passed around all over Asia, but
often with nefarious viruses infused, one might almost think
deliberately, by the vindictive proprietors having given up enforcing
their copyrights, but still seeking their revenge against pirates.

Of course nowadays everything is different:  the better software
encourages you to copy it, and having the source code available means
more accountability, not less.

If someone put in an illicit trap door or security hole in the code
people use, we've got a better chance of detecting that fact, and
running an audit, than if all we're given are binaries (relatively

That's the thing about open source:  it's the native impulse of a
security-conscious conservative, paid to be paranoid, to maybe eyeball
source code ahead of time (or at least verify it's accessible), then
to throw it on some throwaway box, easier to reformat than devirus,
before diffusing some new application throughout the corporate

Closed source is inherently less trustworthy, precisely because you're
not supposed to see how it does what it does.

But another way to frustrate this engineering impulse to self-protect,
is to make sure "source code" though accessible, is obscure and not
easily readable (sound familiar?).

Python is resisted in some quarters simply because it's less cryptic,
easier to eyeball, than many of its competitors.  And lets face it,
some have business plans that really do depend on obfuscation, pulling
wool over other peoples' eyes.

To such people, Python might be a threat, simply because so many
people are getting to know Python and will be able to spot any
deliberately and/or carelessly flawed code.

Pythonic mathematics serves two agendas:

(1) keep new generations math-literate, so that they'll have the core
concepts needed to develop a reading knowledge of several technical
disciplines and

(2) preserve and spread this "new kind of literacy" associated with
computer programming and source code -- because of the important
socio-political freedoms which hinge upon remaining vigilant against
opportunistic and/or parasitic feeders upon those innocent of these

We want our students to be more self-sufficient when it comes to
tackling technology.

The status quo curriculum renders too many too helpless around the
power tools of our day, and therefore too at the mercy of so-called

Pythonic Mathematics aims to broadly democratize and empower, not to
put vital analytical tools in just a few hands, however well-meaning
these hands may be.


More information about the Edu-sig mailing list