[Edu-sig] more promo

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Sat Feb 21 02:11:21 CET 2009

On Thu, Feb 19, 2009 at 6:49 PM, kirby urner <kirby.urner at gmail.com> wrote:
> I've done a good job of explaining my program (P4E) on math-thinking-l
> recently, underused bandwidth, a convenient nexus, lots of good
> feedback.  I'm reminding college minded professors that we don't have
> "computer science" in most schools, yet there's a hunger to learn
> skills.

The marketing decision to spin P4E off of CP4E traces to a post
Vilnius thread here on edu-sig.  You'll see the O'Reilly program
confuses the two (middle picture, click for larger view):


...but I'm not too worried about it.  We could say CP4E ended with
DARPA's figuring IDLE would dominate the world (which it kind of still
does, unless you switch to Wingware 101 or just stick with Vim -- not
saying I'm hard core)...

...or we could say CP4E was itself a continuation of the APL dream, in
turn dreamed by Leibniz and Ada i.e. "someday we'll have these
machines running logic, i.e. we'll have "logic engines", or "math
engines", and we'll teach about them in school."

These days have of course arrived, and we're doing it.

Dr. Vannevar Bush another hero, anticipated Google in 1945.

Good lore for the kiddies (actually, a lot of them know it, it's the
adults who don't -- I think because screenwriters have tight deadlines
and know time to really learn about geekdom, that film called
'Hackers' with Angelina really stupid, no disrespect to the great


> What I gathered from our meeting in London that time is students just
> boycott if it's not about learning computer skills i.e. you can't do
> "math for math's sake" (whatever that means).  So that's why I'm
> calling it math.  That's my only toe hold, in today's stripped down
> scene.

Here's another take, same subject, not necessarily the same kids:

"These students are truly hell bent on getting skills with technology.
If you're not offering access to computers, it's just not going to fly.
No one will show up."


"if you're not teaching SQL or LAMP, they just won't come to class.
Anything that's just "chalk 'n talk" is considered "an elective".  Of
course I exaggerate, am talking mostly about "the barrios".  In
elite zip codes with old money, you still have the old slave ships,
kids forced to "learn math" that has nothing whatever to do with
TCP/IP or URL parsing, no regular expressions, no RSA, no nuthin.
That might be OK for gringos..."

... more laughing about gringos.

> Naturally, there's tremendous inertia, so it's falling to charters and
> various elite academies (like Saturday Academy), to serve as early
> adopters.  Home schooling, or "self schooling" often plays a role.
> Kids learn after hours.

YouTube etc.   Not news.

> My intent is to meet the early bird deadline for Pycon, like 48 hours
> or less, no secret this'll be a stretch given I'm splitting
> reimbursement, won't cover me, but that's my problem.  Mom in hospital
> down in LA, with my sis (better by the day) etc.

Yeah, so I'm registered, even signed up for my own group, messing up
the paperwork.  I need to get that reimbursement for working with
Dr. Chuck as well (O'Reilly).  Tickler file, note to self.


As some of you know, I had a very rough Pycon in 2004, meaning I didn't
get to go, the late Arthur Siegal one of the first I got in touch with.
Sudden illness in the family, had to bail, even though scheduled to
give a talk and already at GWU for a Bucky Fuller Symposium (me on
a panel with Applewhite et al -- had to bail on dinner with him too, a
major disappointment for both of us, though we'd met many times
before, stayed in touch by phone until he died the following February).

Pycon 2005 was great though, got to bring Dawn, stay with friends:

Missed the ones in Texas, had a blast last year in 2008 (also Chicago).

> If there's any real opposition to the futurism I peddle, I haven't met
> it yet.  There's inertia, doing the same things today we did
> yesterday, but that's different from "opposition".  So from a
> marketing point of view, I'm feeling upbeat.  Thinking people tip
> their hats.  I'm a highly respected geek in this town.

Like a just dug out an article about me in The Oregonian, our major
daily, from the late 1980s, talking about all the same stuff minus
the FOSS piece.

Fuller anticipated a "design science revolution" back then, lasting
about 10 years.  That was the FOSS piece, i.e. "networks and
networking" in the Grunchie book (very esoteric I realize, not
expecting many readers).

I listed grunch.net as my  "personal site" (a manuscript), whereas
4dsolutions.net is my little Silicon Forest thing, where I'm a king
in my castle (lots of peer review though... an open source castle
(pioneer in open source is my tagline, member of POSSE in good
standing I think).

I worry about that though, focus group time, is this good marketing?


I should walk my talk, was just blogging about how we're not afraid
of our Wild West heritage, like to play up the cowgirl thing.  So why
am I complaining.


Maybe we just need a new cowboy?  I'm not a cowboy by the way,
more from Old Town (Northwest Regional China Council a former
client).  Still Wild West though (we've had Chinese for longer than
we've had gringos, unless Kenewick was a gringo -- some want to
claim that).

> But does anyone get it about FOSS?  This OS Bridge thing needs to be
> big, but a lot of Portlanders don't remember being called "an open
> source capital" by Christian Science Monitor in 1985.  Understanding
> about FOSS takes a fairly high level of literacy (ongoing).  Is that
> torch getting passed?


Passing the torch means sharing the lore.  Is it appropriate to
talk about recent history in high schools anymore?  I think there's
not much consensus on what to say, so people escape into
fighting the Scopes Trial, pretend it's Darwin-Marx versus Jesus
or something.  Just makes USAers appear more and more
ridiculous with each passing day.  Canadians still respected.


> In my view, coming from OSCON, the FOSS revolution has succeeded, but
> now there's this "so now what?" and it seems like there's a lot of
> waiting for answers.  Students are anxious for stories,
> understandably.

Screenwriters could be doing more.  'Hackers' is not a good movie,
as I've said.  They're not getting "geekdom" right.  Making movies
geeks like (e.g. 'Serenity') is not the same thing as making a movie
about geeks.  'Revolution OS' was cool, but it's dated.

Those who get to see OSCON get what the center ring is like.
Damian, Larry, Allison, Nat, Holden, Mark... R0ml but that doesn't
percolate outward that far, unless you're hovering over YouTube,
watching a lot of O'Reilly TV.  Not everyone is.  Kids aren't getting
the real culture.  NUMB3RS isn't even in the ballpark.

> But our media (a primary source) is rather short on technical content,
> unless it's about money (economics).  Everything else is fiction
> (cops, lawyers, doctors... all invented for TV).  Even when I had
> ChoicePlus (no longer), there was precious little "geek TV" e.g.
> nothing about Python.

Right.  I agree with myself.  Same rant as above.

> Of course I know what you're thinking:  YouTube, Vimeo, ShowMeDo.
> Yeah, very true.  But that still leaves us locked out of the schools,
> in some "underground university" (like the sound of that -- reminds of
> Morlocks, very H.G. Wells).

It's really an ancient pattern.  Kid hunkers down over boring school
work.  Circus comes to town.  Wow, to be a clown... wants to join.
Mom says no.  Back to school.  But someday...

But when the Circus comes to town, how many kids get to go?
We're neither that kid friendly nor family friendly at most of these

This is *not* a criticism as I think we're just talking about new
opportunities, other niches to fill.  Pycon and EuroPython are
just fine the way they are.  But what else might we do.  BarCamp
is probably part of the answer.

I like to think our little Wanderers group is also a good template,
other towns could adopt it.

And of course there's Saturday Academy, all about bringing high school
aged students into the 21st century, into 2009, most high schools
stuck in the 1980s if not earlier (still think dinking with calculators
is what math is about).

> I've been explaining to my engineer friends how SQL isn't just about
> theory, Venn diagrams etc., it's about telling technical stories about
> how the world works, what's behind Fandango (ticket sales), the ATM
> machine on the corner.  School has traditionally had this storytelling
> function where you give some insights into infrastructure.  Then
> there's the amazing history:  Hollerith, "keeping tabs", punch cards,
> IBM...  it goes on.

People still afraid to tell this story at an adult level....

> One of our number is Allen Taylor, author of 'SQL for Dummies', so
> safe to say I have a sympathetic audience.  He was in my Python for
> Wanderers also.
> What's missing, when you drop out the technical stuff, is a coherent
> story about how stuff works, including some of the most awesome
> stories of humans working together, collaborating, working in teams
> (GNU, Linux...).


> As geeks, we have the same needs and rights as any subculture to tell
> our stories, share our lore.  Ada, Hopper... and let's not forget The
> Turk. :)  More recently:  GNU, Linux, Mozilla, XO... (or meme pool,
> needs protecting through retelling).

The Turk beat Napolean at chess.  The bravest drawf who ever lived maybe.
Think of the stress.

> Anyway, these are the kinds of thoughts, beyond trying to sell my
> biggest client on moving beyond MUMPS (or at least doing something on
> the side).
> DemocracyLab is out with a new app engine, haven't had time to work with it yet.

Still haven't....  It uses that Java emulator thing, where you write
it in Java, get it
back in Javascript.  Is that how it works?  Lemme go Google:


Yeah, so there's Python on the back (app engine) with Java helping out
with the GUI (templates, views).

So there's a foothold for ya.  If your school doesn't have the IT, but
has Internet, consider codeveloping for GAE using Subversion (or one
of those, Launchpad?).  Have the web site be about math, have it link
to YouTubes you make about math.  'Who Is Fourier?'  Notice they
answer in terms of Fourier transformations, not just bio.

I've enjoyed coding sine and cosine for VPython.  It takes very little
code to write a generic plotter that lets you actually rotate the

Once might consider that quirky, to have a "two dimensional object"
(like a sine wave) actually take on spatial attributes, but in my
curriculum that makes perfect sense.

We're highly suspicious of graphs you can't rotate, if you wanna know
the truth, no disrespect to Tufte.

It's just, why do positive numbers always go to "the right"?  If your
camera gets around the other side, the *very same graph* is pointing
left for the positives.  That's not so radical, but you'd be amazed
how no one thinks that way, which means their right brain is atrophied
(figuratively speaking, nothing on X-Ray... MRI maybe).

Understanding handedness is too important to be left to college
chemistry or wherever they teach it today.

> Speaking of app engines, I guess I already mentioned doing technical
> review for Dr. Chuck, working for O'Reilly.  I get a name credit, plus
> I mentioned his title in my source code:  osgarden.appspot.com
> More soon,
> Kirby

Yeah, that was fun.  Dr. Chuck doesn't mention GWT.  He works to get
across Python, complains he's an old FORTRAN programmer if you push OO
too hard.  I'm getting the impression a lot of CS profs are still PTSD
from the "paradigm shift" to OO, which I think we've agreed was
overhyped by marketing whizzes who didn't really have a clue.  I guess
I have to blame the Visual Basic subculture in some ways, as VB was
just objects, no classes, more like JavaScript in that way.  Yet the
VB camp has always been very loud in terms of marketing.  Just a


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