Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Love Barney Frank

We recently lost an intelligent gay in Mexico, Carlos Monsiváis. He made me smile many times when I read his witty pieces in the Mexican media.

I am watching Barney Frank in C-Span, he is great.

We need more Barney Franks!

Obama is Winning

Finally the President has started to show results. Today the Chamber of Representatives passed his Financial  Reform Bill. Also he is reasserting his authority over the military in Afghanistan. Principals in that country know who is boss now.

Dodd-Frank Reform for Consumer Protection.

"One of the last motions Friday was to name the bill after the two chairmen, Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who had shepherded the legislation through the House over the past year. At 5:07 a.m., they agreed unanimously that it would be known as the Dodd-Frank bill, and the sound of applause echoed down the empty hallways."

Pay Day

I got paid today!

It is not much but I am not unemployed, and I am needed.

Recently I talked to my cousin in Mexico City, he inspired me.

Today is the deadline also to assign grades. Here they are:

Ma. del Carmen Albarrán Onofre 10
Christopher Hernández Román 10
Edith Tomás Sánchez 9
Edson Baltazar 7
Eduardo Aburto Astudillo 9
Elizabeth Solís 9
Petra Salmerón Merino 9
Hidelia González Díaz 7
Hilda Areli Acevedo Gallardo 8
Jazmín Lavin Castañeda N/P
Jesús Salvador Organista Jaimes N/P
Lidia de Jesús Cortes 10
Sabino Pacheco Gutiérrez N/P
Sahid Bernabé Catalán. 10
Salvador Soto Cerros 10
Sergio Maggi 10
Verónica Chávez Muñoz  9
Víctor Castro Chino 10
Jonathan Molina 7
N/P means fail, the scale is from 0 to 10. The American grade system corresponds more or less to this table:

10 A
9   B
8   C
7   D
6  D-
Anything below is F.

To pass students had to keep a blog, and produce a pdf document using [;\LaTeX;]. Videos and PowerPoint presentations were also required. We had a debate, and several presentations.

The students learned new skills, I am satisfied.

The achievement level of students in Guerrero is very low in mathematics, I believe the group of people I work with is motivated to solve this hard problem. While I am here I will help also.

My cousin is unassuming and smart, he is a little older than me, and we are neighbors in Mexico City. I know other family members that are wealthier, but unfortunately more full of themselves. At the end we all go out the same way we came, with nothing; all that remains is whatever impression we left in the souls of those that knew us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stock Market

The Dow was down 220.75 points and went down below 10,000. Network theory applied to social networks had  good results to report today. Now I put these pieces of Information together in this note.

When there are many nodes and links it becomes harder and harder to choose networks satisfying criteria. The advance was in cracking this "subgraph matching" step.

Reading about the Stock Market downturn today I couldn't follow all the reasons given for this sad result. This has more to do with me not being a stock expert, than with social network theory. Nevertheless I understand this much.

Nowadays 3M an American company, has more profits in Asia and Latin America than in the States. The Stock Market has long been a World Game, just like the World Cup now being coveted in South Africa. Therefore investors, or rather stock brokers, are trying to put more things together than ever before in human history. They have tools for sure, but they still function with the basic biology of a hunter gatherer turned agriculturalist, and now city dweller, whatever that means.

Just to make this note even more interesting, now I bring up the latest opinion piece by Paul Krugman: The Third Depression.

Prof. Krugman has been criticizing the recent responses by governments around the world to the economic situation. In this last piece he sadly points out the failure of the recent summit in Toronto to agree on the economic measures he considers necessary, like improving the job market, and not curtailing social spending.

Concluding, this stock market crash may be a bad omen.

End of Term

Here in Chilpancingo we are evaluating students now. If you read Spanish you can go to the class webpage.

The students that turned in their work passed, not all with the highest grades though. I judged their ability to use new tools to express what they already know, how to write in Spanish. I can see if they are able to write in book format using [;\LaTeX;] a pdf document. I checked also that they can keep a blog. These are two skills they did not have, or just a little. I also graded them on how well they express themselves. I did not led a writing class though, I decided to teach them new tools, and grade also what they supposedly  already knew.

I used the opportunity to invite them to a life of self learning, to learn how to learn.

Tomorrow all of them will have their grade.

Are they happy with me?

I have only received good student evaluations, mostly they didn't grade me.

When is a student able to acknowledge that the effort forced on them was good? I think when they become teenagers,  therefore before that age they should be kept interested in knowledge rather than allow them to build negative feelings towards knowledge.

In any case one should not be suffering while learning.

In Texas they are having a ruckus on higher education funding. You can read Stanley Fish take on it here. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

What is the Big Idea, Anyway?

In the previous note I write that Information is not what I thought it was.

Here is a clarification.

Maybe there is Information in the Universe, and the Laws of Nature, are the Laws of Information. My point is that before we get there, we have to understand how is it that we think?

I had this gut feeling for a long time, but could not pin point it, until I read the work of the two senior creators, Humberto Maturana, and Terrence Sejnowski. I am lucky enough to know Terry personally. Maturana lives in Chile ( too bad they lost today to Brazil 3-0 in the World Cup in South Africa), and I do not have the privilege to have met him.

My uneasiness came from the two meanings of Information. Claude Shannon was specifically asked about human communication since he worked for Bell Labs. Ludwig Bolzmann was not concerned about a dropped call in a cell phone! Those are the two meanings of Information: Human, and the rest.

Of course it is a long tradition of physics to posit that the Universe is one, and what applies to an apple, applies to the moon. Nevertheless we are talking about two distinct aspects of reality. In, and out, reality. Rather, the way the real object in our head constructs meaning. That meaning did not exist until human beings appeared on the face of the Earth. An electron does not need meaning to move around, and its magnetic moment is the result of a relationship of each electron and everything around it.

The new idea is: Each neuron interacts with other neurons and produces a system in dynamic equilibrium. Those neurons interact with the eyes and other sensing systems, and produces another hierarchy in dynamic equilibrium; and so on and so forth until we have a mind intertwined with the world outside. That part outside, for Homo sapiens, is much more integrated this way with the matter inside our cranium, than is the case with other primates.

There is never an Information already given that shapes our brain, like the burning of a DVD, it is an organic construction of reality, or rather of meaning of the interactions with what is outside the cranium.

The meaning allows humans to act for survival; taking into account these multiple layers of interacting systems.

What Sejnowski et al. have been doing is studying the anatomy of the nervous system with new instruments, and checking them through neural network models inspired by those measurements.

We do construct the actual connections that make our In-formation about the world outside. We do this with the help of our family and social group that guide us in this human made universe we call culture.

Two Countries One Reality

This weekend I moved south a few thousand miles from O'Hare International Airport to Benito Juárez International Airport. I am back at my desk in Chilpancingo, after reading some books I have in Chicago, and experiencing the general feeling of the Midwest. I have the following to write.

In Mexico City yesterday I talked to a cousin for sometime, and saw sad Mexicans in the streets after losing against Argentina in South Africa. Through Democracy Now! I see an Asian mother talking about her Canadian son now serving in Kandahar.

With all these experiences I was inspired to write this.

Two sets of ideas affected me very much this month in Warrenville. Maturana and Varela's idea of autopoiesis, and Ted Sejnowski and Steve Quartz's book: Liars Lovers and Heroes. The idea here is Cultural Biology.

Here is my report of all this.

The main difference between Homo sapiens and all other forms of life we are aware of, is the integration of the environment, and the brain.

I can add that even though I didn't read this from these gentlemen's work, I consider the Internet as a big step in that process of externalization of the brain.

Actually the thought is older, Pierre Teihlard de Chardin thought of the noosphere. A kind of sphere of knowledge inside the sphere of life or biosphere.

The way I conceive the ideas is the following.

Geometry is three dimensional, with time geometrical also, to include the observed constancy of light speed. These mathematics are marks in our brains. If there are mirrors "outside" with similar geometrical structures, we do not know; I definitely do not know.

My thinking along these lines started with Paul Dirac's electron equation. I finally understood that matrices and linear differential operators in four dimensions, put together like Dirac did, give a value of the magnetic moment of an electron, with a precision such that if the distance from LA to NYC were to be known with the same accuracy then the error would be less than the width of a human hair!, as Dick Feynman put it so well.

The late Prof. Wigner wrote about the "Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences."

The fit we observe is extraordinary, so much so, that some thinkers have said that mathematics has an existence outside of the human mind. Not me, I always resisted that thought as religious; I much prefer the ideas I write in this note; yes ideas have an existence outside of our cranium, but in the way I write here.

Ideas are in our head, that little amount of organic material filling our cranium. The new idea I finally understood, is what Maturana and Varela first, and then Sejnowski and Quartz stated later. From birth we and our adult caregivers connect ourselves to the world outside. I am almost 61 years old now, and I finally understood what Information is. It took me this long, because it is not easy, and you my reader, better prepare yourself to think anew many things you thought you knew.

I will use metaphors, because as Lakoff, I believe in the metaphorical construction of ideas. Inside the brain cortex there are marks, both chemical and physical. Just like sugar tastes good and we take it through our mouths, so some chemicals called neurotransmitters, taste good to brain cells and they take them. These marks need time to build up, when we are born: no marks, when we learn: marks. At 61 I have a history inside my brain, there are many more marks than what I started to think about Information.

These "ideas" or marks, so to say, escape the brain. I then have a notebook, a flash memory, a cloud; where some of my ideas are stored. Even more, I take external marks and make them fit with my own internal network of marks, I synchronize my internal and my external marks. I hope you don't take this as metaphysical, but the aura psychics talk about, for me, is the set of light, sound, and other signals, that I can detect just like a radio, and tune into them. The external world becomes an extension of my brain, and by the same token, my brain becomes an extension of the world out there.

Enter the Internet: what I am writing here is not only in my brain, rapidly goes to Google, to the servers they set up for Blogger, and now I have a more powerful mind. My mind is connected to the mind at large. This mind at large is not some unknown field of force, it is made of optical fibers, and hard drives on the cloud. Real material objects, with real marks on them; that is what my brain is, in the time of the new Internet.

Homo sapiens builds culture, and culture shapes Homo sapiens, this is Cultural Biology, as I understand it.

Now let's move to the Tree of Knowledge.

Traditionally neuroscientists and philosophers have taken two extreme positions, either whatever we think is what is: solipsism, or we have mirrors in our brain and they reflect the world out there.

Neither view is right. We have to take a middle ground, that at times seems unstable. We do make social reality, but it is not arbitrary.

For a circle the ratio of circumference to diameter has gone from six to a real number we will never be able to know with all its digits.

There is no pie ([;\pi;]) in the sky.

By the same token there is no Information out there that our brains just connects to, and then know. There is no Information out there.

What we have is a pretty good fit, between some cultural constructs like Mathematics, and what our instruments measure with more or less precise procedures. We call this fit science. I wonder if Prof. Wigner would have been satisfied with it. I hope I could have gotten him at least a little bit interested.

Art Manuel

This unassuming Indian Leader is protesting right now in Toronto. One billion dollars have been spent to control the likes of Manuel.

Some years ago I would have been unimpressed by dreamers like Mr. Manuel.

Not anymore.

I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, the world is in bad shape, and I am more and more attentive to what the indigenous people all over the world are saying. They are the canary in the mine.

I will pay attention, something wicked this way comes.

You can see Manuel today in Democracy Now!.

Chrome v. the World

I am installing 2.6.28-19 generic Linux image and Chrome 5.0.375.86 r49890.

You can read about Safari losing market share to Chrome here.

This browser is Google's Trojan Horse for the mobile realm. I see Google moving according to plan.





Ballad for Chapo Guzmán

I am back in Guerrero Mexico. I was surprised to hear the young man driving the van here in Chilpancingo, playing a ballad about Chapo Guzmán.

When I stepped out  I told him he should be careful with that man, he is the devil I said.

Sad.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flash in Chrome

You can read about Flash in Chrome here.

I am using a Dell SmartStep computer with XUbuntu 8.04 LTS. I just watched Democracy Now! in Flash. Chrome automatically sets up Flash now.

Is this a war?

First Steve Jobs says that they do not have the resources to pursue all technologies, so Flash is out: then iPad and iPhone take over the mobile ecosystem, and Chrome, the Google Trojan Horse for their battle against Microsoft and Apple comes with Flash out of the box.

Yes this is war.

Cinco de Mayo?

Today Roger Cohen writes in the NYT.

The French debacle in South Africa has brought great sorrow to the French soul.

It was difficult not to remember when in 1862 the best European troops of Napoleon were defeated in Mexico by General Ignacio Zaragoza, and the Mexican Indians from Zacopoaxtla. More than a hundred years later the story repeats itself. After Mexico defeated their proud French team 2-0, there was a riot inside the locker room. One player insulted the coach so badly that he had to go home to Paris, before the games were over.

Mexico is not a small enemy, if they give us a level field, we can fight.

Too bad Nicolas Sarkozy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Icarus Syndrome

I saw today Robert Beinart new book, which title I use for this note. He points out to the inability of the public American debate on the US foreign policy, to think of this country just as any other country. Very few people not from this country, will accept the right to invade another country to solve international problems. Maybe Russian kids during their superpower stage, thought this way.

Beinart invites us to see which objectives are possible, and which ones have to be discarded. It is not possible to fight in Iraq and at the same time in Afghanistan; nevertheless this question is not posed in public in the US.

Do we have enough money to rebuild Detroit and Kabul, at the same time?

Brock McIntosh

This young man, more courageous than I, reached the same conclusion I did. US soccer participation proves that US soldiers are not better in soccer, only better at killing. He does not want to be good at killing people. You can see him today in Democracy Now!.

I reached the same conclusion, once young people realize that being American  does not give them a blank check to kill citizens of other countries, their commitment to join the Army diminishes.

Soccer and war are related. It is better to fight it off in a civilized way without having to kill each other.

Once Americans see themselves as any other person on earth, they will feel less justified in joining an imperialist war.

Maybe that is why the media does not support American kids to compete in soccer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal Gone Petraeus in

Report from Warrenville

As I write this piece I see through my window, Mexican kids walking by from a soccer game in the grammar school field where my son got his elementary education. This country is changing. Both the US and Mexico qualified for the next stage in the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. The kids here love it. Both their teams are making it at the world stage level.

These kids are both, Mexican and American.

Through Democracy Now! I can see also how the issues are seen through different eyes: the US Social Forum .

Another world is possible!

I Like this Skinny Black Boy

Go Obama, go!

This guy finally found his mojo.

First war on BP, next out of Afghanistan.

I love you man.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Future According to Ward

In his book "The Flooded Earth" paleontologist Peter Ward gives a grim picture. If he is right we should forget the world as we know it. We are not in Kansas Anymore!

Every year sea level is higher, and he doesn't see that trend stopping.

Of course we could always have a big rock coming our way, and then all bets are off. But that is not reassuring either.

From now on, I will assume that I have to get into an adaptive mode. The World Has Changed.

Mexico over South Africa and France

Cinco de Mayo all over again. The French couldn't stop the Mexicans. Uruguay and Mexico pass in South Africa.

Diego Armando Maradona and Peter Ward

Roger Cohen writes today in the NYT about Maradona. Professor Ward just released a book: "The Flooded Earth". Besides my coming across with them the same day, I see another similarity. Both address attention to something the American public doesn't seem concerned about. Bad news.

Peter Ward starts the book with a description of Miami gone to the bad side. The mafia that runs the town gets disconnected from the US government sometime during next century because the sea claimed it. Several feet of sea water flood Miami. Maradona is another story; Roger Cohen points out how this original genius may lead his team to the soccer World Cup, now disputed in South Africa: problem is, he doesn't look like the sadistic coaches Americans are used to, that prepare their children to be cannon fodder in imperialistic wars.

Americans do not like bad news.

Neither event has happened, Argentina is not the the World Cup Champion yet, and Miami is still dry.

I am sorry to bring bad news to my American readers: I believe the World is about to change.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Raymond Louis Wilder

This American thinker looked into the Foundations of Mathematics before Lakoff and Núñez. You can read about him in Wikipedia.

I just bought his book Introduction to the Foundations of Mathematics through Amazon.com

I registered for their Amazon PayPhrase.

They suggested one phrase, I accepted, and then registered a PIN number.

I hope I remember this phrase. It has playwright in it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unsettled

I have not written on this blog since I left Mexico. I am in Warrenville; there are several reasons. My daughter has a new eePC from AsusTeK, we bought it at CompUSA; it was less than $500 and it does more than most computers we've bought for more money. It is the Seashell, it is white and nice.

I am new here, in this netbook environment, not yet acclimated. Besides, I am trying to find my place for the last stage of my life. I am not settled in Mexico.

Today I read Jim Lovelock's book: The Vanishing Face of Gaia. Also I heard President Obama call for War against irresponsible humans that are destroying the Earth.


I am unsettled; even if he doesn't mean what he says, I know that we have to treat this as if it is a war. This is more a war than the war on terror, or the war on drugs. Those are fake wars. The war on BP, is a real war.


I hope we come out of this one also, as we did with so many real wars of the past, like the war on fascism.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Macondo Well

From the Telegraph we read:

"Despite BP's continued failure to plug the leaking Macondo well, Mr Hayward and colleagues will divert their attentions from the operation to address shareholders this week."

That was the name of One Hundred Years of Solitude town where the Buendía dynasty lived.

Strange coincidence.

Entrepeneurs

Prof. Reich from Berkely writes an interesting article in the NYT today.

Some people my age are finding themselves out of the big American companies payrolls. They keep working for their old companies as lesser paid "enterpreneurs."

I am considering the enterpreneurial path myself, but unlike those he mentions, I am thinking at trying my hand at something I never did.

I worked for a small startup, maybe that gave me some connections and expertise to fulfill my dreams.

Why Mexican-Americans Make a big Deal of 5 de Mayo?

In a previous note I wrote that the answer to the question above might be that that date was convenient for colleges. Today when I was reading student papers, another idea came to mind. The battle against France was in 1862, the war with the US was in 1846, maybe the Mexicans in the US didn't really feel they were Americans in 1862, and obviously they cheered their brothers and sisters down south when the French were defeated.

In any case, here in Mexico we put more stock on what happened one hundred, and two hundred years ago. The second was Independence, and the first Revolution.

Scientific Research

Science and art sometimes draw eccentrics. Creative persons share similar characteristics. I have been around scientists for over forty years. When I teach I search for students that may qualify. I have known successful scientsts whom do not satisfy the test of my gut feelings; so I know I am not fool proof.

My colleagues, in general, have not been very creative. Maybe I haven't been in the right places.

I was near Richard Feynman for a few hours when he came to Mexico, and to Santa Barbara, he does qualify for a creative person in my book.

I am no Dick Feynman, but I am not about to give up.

Shrimping

Amy Goodman talked today with an upset fisherman in DN!.

The name of this note is how this man defines his life. Shrimping.

What Teachers Work For?

We are winding down our class. Today I received compliments from a good student.

I guess that is why we work on this. The appreciation of other's is valuable. I want to believe that I helped her to be a better person.

Efficiency

I am grading papers. The homework and final project were precise, so many pages for this part, and so on. I was expecting that the students were going to take those as suggestions, around this number of pages; but I found a few that did exactly what I asked for, no more no less.

I guess students have to optimize their time, several people make demands on them, and they need to satisfy them all.

My students then are efficient.

I wonder though, if they could be good scholars, or artists, where demands sometimes are blurred. One has to have the boss in one's head.

How many of them will become autonomous professionals?

I wonder.

Silvio Rodríguez

From the NYC Daily News

"We are a neighboring country; even if we have been pulling our hair out for 50 years we are neighbors, geographically we are condemned to that," he said. "We have to get along well, sooner or later."

Well said Silvio.

Mexico and the US, are in exactly the same position.
We Mexicans are not going anywhere, let's be friends.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Billy Nungesser and Greta Berlin

I did not know about these two people before today. I found out about them reading the news on the Gulf of Mexico and the Gaza Strip. They are not celebrities, they strike me as regular folks that have strong opinions, Ms. Berlin about the luck of the Palestinians, and Mr. Nungesser about his oiled parish in Louisiana, after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Fifteen minutes of fame said Andy Warhol many years ago.

Will this be the time of the underdog?

I hope so; big wigs are overrated.

The Power of Video

"Still, he said, he found himself thinking that his Internet start-up needed policies in place to handle live videos of conflicts in the future. “After the events unfolded,” he said, “I spent most of my Monday wondering if we had helped terrorists or a great humanitarian cause.”"

This is from the NYT.

What is the difference between a terrorist and a humanitarian?

Deaf Math Teacher

Reading one of the papers I found out about a deaf math teacher.

What an image, students shouting and the teacher oblivious of the feedback.

I guess it makes the teacher's life a little easier, but the students suffer the consequences, eventually they stop asking.

How many teachers, without being deaf, act like this?

Within a constructivist mindframe, this is not a way to learn.

On the other hand if everybody makes an effort and students learn sign language, maybe there is a way.

Deaf Math Teacher

Nineteen or Ten?

I ask in the poll this week: How many dead in the Gaza blockade?

Today is Tuesday and we don't know yet. How can that be? Is somebody in charge in Israel? I've seen today reports of ten dead, and nineteen dead; that is a factor of two error. These are real people, they either breathe or not. How hard can it be to find out?

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