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While I have many interests and ideas… the most of enduring is my own obsession over the nature of reality and specific spacetime. It’s probably been my guiding light since my much younger self around 14-16 started reading/toying with chaos theory, popular cosmology books and starting in roads into deeper than algebra mathematics. At the same time the theater bug struck in earnest as I struggled with a long involvement with Christianity and the bible. You put it all together and all of these things seemed to be asking questions about origins and the flow of time and cause and effect.
 
I have a bit of a revisionist/simplified story around why I went to University of Chicago… but a lot of my most basic thinking at the time was still about how to fully engage my obsession… it was very clear that was probably the only place I could go and chase this obsession in a world class physics and math department that just so happened to co-exist with amazing theater and improv comedy. (These things are related deeply, I swear, on some incredibly fundamental level.)
 
Somehow I managed to survive, barely, getting a theoretical (not applied) math degree (it’s still a mystery as to how I survived complex analysis) while performing in, directing or writing something like 40 theater shows… and then I went out into the real world no closer to understanding anything at all about the true nature of my obsession, spacetime.
 
Futzing about with first real world jobs but mostly sneaking off to Borders as often as I could I basically read almost every professional computer book I could as well as picked up A New Kind of Science, by Wolfram. In a mish-mash of messing around with programming/multi media side projects, shortlived w2 jobs and reading as much as I could… I finally devised a ridiculous plan. I would one day work under Stephen Wolfram and actually come to know his vision and math driving A New Kind of Science. All 10 billion pages of NKS seemed to overflow with consistent, mind blowing Yes This Could Actually Be The Basis of Reality stuff that somehow was bizarrely consistent with the bevy of other art, theater, religious, literary thoughts I’d come across on the matter.
 
So this plan… well first I knew that it wouldn’t be good enough to have “read” NKS, i would actually need to know how to use Mathematica and understand the theoretical and applied logic behind its operations. Being a resourceful young man with no shame I managed to convince my software provisioning team at the w2 job I had at the time to purchase me a license for Mathematica (those are expensive for non students!) because it was critical for the development of Online Advertising Recommendation Algorithms. Well, whatever, it worked and I was off and running learning and trying things out and mostly making a mess of my computers.
 
The plan needed to evolve as I wasn’t getting anywhere. in 2008 or so someone pointed me to the New Kind of Science summer school that Wolfram Research put on. Well, shoot! There ya go… I doubted whether I had any business in spending three weeks in Bernie Sanders country (VT!) hanging out with some of the smartest people I’d ever met doing theoretical physics and computer science… but having no shame… I wrote up a typo filled statement of my intentions and applied. I wrote a lengthy run on sentence piece about how I thought the approach of NKS could finally bridge the broken disciplines of cognitive psychology and economics and radical behaviorism (I said it somewhat differently… and live blogged my approach… shameless… https://socialmode.com/2008/03/21/anatomy-of-a-decision-in-life-applying-to-nks-summer-school/). Beyond the silly basis of my plan my wife and I also had two young kids and I didn’t really have a job job, just consulting gigs… so spending 3 weeks working on insanely theoretical/no-connection to my real life was even more ridiculous. but obsessions are obsessions…
 
Shorting the story here Wolfram invited me to the NKS school that summer where I decided to pursue a project on Turing Machines (https://socialmode.com/2008/08/07/nks-summer-school-summary/) that was pretty great to work on. I greatly improved my understanding of Mathematica, the beauty of turing and his machines, the lambda calculus as well as further confirmed I was as far away from understanding spacetime as ever. Beyond my project I had several deep interactions with SW and various members of his team. These all gave me better and better glimpses into this stuff… the other students also had a mix of unbelievably interesting perspectives in philosophy, neuroscience, medicine, architecture and so much more. I was under no delusion that I understood much of anything… much like my math degree in college… but I always bet on osmosis and you don’t know what you know and what you don’t know…. meaning, sometimes you know things but only by using it and applying it in different ways…
 
Ok, so having properly stoked the obsession I became more deeply enamored with things which led to more discussions with SW and ultimately to engaging their team in launching Wolfram|Alpha, which i had see while at the summer school and knew that I wanted to somehow be involved with it. Outside of NKS and my various reality seeking obsessions my own “professional” career had continued down the “search engine” path from SEO junk, to building various search engines/crawlers, playing with query semantics and indexing ideas, etc. etc. by this time I’d worked on several web scale search engine/recommendation engine/geo gis systems and everything in between. So doing Wolfram|Alpha was an obvious next step pro wise and obsession wise.
 
Well, beyond the fun times in trying to explain WA to the world and trying to figure out various business models my little spacetime obsession became an obsession with language (programming and otherwise) and probably what some would consider semiotics and other analysis of symbols. There was just something in NKS, math, mathematica, computers, turing machines, radical behaviorism, theater, religion, art, LIFE that scream SYMBOLICS… study of SYMBOLICS… oh and on and on and on.
 
I carried all of these obsessions from various bill paying gigs to the next… which was really just a front for me to continue buying computers and books at an alarming clip while not completely ruining my young children’s futures.
 
This sort of brings us back around to RIGHT NOW with this wonderful blog post from SW and my own current Art and Philosophy situation. His post still strikes me as On The Right Path. And it’s still not the full story… it’s even more fundamental than Space as a Network and it’s Just a Network and some simple rules… and the only way I’ve come to be able to work out the details is well, not to work out the details… but do as SW is doing… searching the space of possibilities… I’m just doing it through art, as my hunch (which is likely just a confusion of my obsession) is that an artistic exploration is Computational Equivalent to writing a bunch of symbolic programs AND may, in fact, be more efficient due to the nature of how humans (awesome multi faceted pattern recognizers) process data and the world that data represents. See here for some exposition and poke around the art… http://www.worksonbecoming.com/symbol-and-relation/
 
Look, perhaps this is all unknowable (likely) and perhaps I’m just a kooky guy who spent too much time with his nose in a book. What I learned though is that… this little obsession spun me off in a million directions gaining lots of little skills that all allowed me to navigate the weird business world, the slightly unnerving computer programmer culture, improved my literacy, help start a school, employ and raise up lots of ambitious upstart people and perhaps have made a couple of hundred million dollars here and there for folks, and now has me making art, mostly poorly conceived but done at a pace that fills me up.
 
perhaps that’s what spacetime is really about. using it in fulfilling ways.
 
perhaps everything is connected.

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As learners, Skinner said, “we are automatically reinforced when we successfully control the physical world (ibid:75).” Teaching implies the identification of desired outcomes and precise planning of strategies for facilitating “the arrangement of contingencies of reinforcement which expedite learning (Skinner,1959:15).” The educator prepares the students for situations not yet risen by bringing discriminant operants under the control of stimuli expected to occur in those situations. The child is forewarned and forearmed with powerful tools for controlling nature, the very exercise of which provides reinforcement. Because of this, the natural payoffs inherent in the subject matter are the teacher’s chief allies (Hutcheon,1996:413). Skinner maintained that educators who recommend external means of motivating learning have got it all wrong, noting that “the sheer control of nature itself is reinforcing (Skinner, 1959:102).” As he reminded us, “The motives in education are the motives of all human behavior … We appeal to that drive to control the environment that makes a baby continue to crumple a noisy paper and the scientist to continue to press forward with his predictive analysis of nature (Skinner, 1948:124).”

from a very nice paper on Piaget and Skinner.

All living things learn in response to their environments.   And living things are part of the environment.  All living things relate to their environments, even when in the same environments as other living things, uniquely.   All living things have enough genetic difference, even when in the same species and born in the same “family”, to have unique responses (developmental and learning) to the world around them.

This is a very simple set up and yet has enough power to cover the bulk of how we all learn.     When thinking about what approaches to educating children are more or less effective I evaluate how seriously an approach considers these basic principles.  Every environment is a learning environment – it’s a matter of figuring out, and this is complicated, what is learnable in that environment.   Each person, even a young child, is a complex mix of genetics, epigenetics and environmental history.   Some environments build on this concept and others resist it.

So what is an ideal environment?   What is the best “classroom” for a child to learn?

First, it’s important to figure out what it is we want a child to learn.   And, of course, this is no easy question.   Broadly the goal of any “education” (in the formal school sense) is to provide strategies for survival (and thriving).*   Effective strategies for survival is by no means a fixed target.   As long as the world changes so will the strategies that best ensure survival.  So in some sense what we want a child to learn isn’t one particular strategy but a way to derive strategies in response to a changing environment.   We could call that critical thinking, synthesis, and problem solving.   In short, we want children to learn how to learn – to be more aware of the world around them, to be able to process information efficiently and effectively and to manipulate the environment as needed.

Is anything else needed to be taught?   No, not strictly.  There’s no need to preach a particular curriculum as fundamental.  Yes for certain paths in life and in our culture knowing a particular skill or piece of information could be beneficial.   If mathematicians make more money than other professions and making more money provides better means for survival then it is likely a child taught mathematics should survive and thrive.   That is, as long as the child finds mathematics interesting and so forth enough to actually pursue it and develop enough skill.   Even in that example one can get to the point of survival without assuming a priori that there’s intrinsic, universal value to mathematics.   Everything worth knowing is in relation to the person knowing it and their relation to their changing environment.   The essential learning necessary for a person s being able to evaluate quickly enough to matter whether a strategy is effective or not.  The strategies themselves should be viewed as experiments – behavior-response experiences to see what is worth doing and knowing.

Based on this the ideal environment is not a singular environment.  it’s not a classroom, it’s not a gym, it’s not lecture hall, it’s not a playroom.   The ideal environmentare different for everyone.   Some children do very well in a traditional classroom, others do not.  Some prefer being alone, others in nature  and so on and on.   Just as discussed in the what is worth learning, environment staging should be viewed as an experiment – contexts to see what reinforces successful strategies for survival.

Combine strategy testing and environment building and exploration and you get the whole equation of education.   For certain children maintaining a steady environment that induces effective exploration of strategies might be best.   For other children varying environments may be the key to the building up of strategies.

The goal of education can be refined from above as: increase the repertoire of behavior** in order to identify and execute strategies to survive and thrive. 

This probably sounds horribly inefficient.  Is possible to educate a family, village, country, and world of children on a completely individual basis?   Yes!  That’s exactly what happens anyway.   It is LESS efficient to make the assumption that this isn’t what is actually happening and so to be unaware how everyone responds differently.   To use the same textbooks, same computer programs, same schedule for everyone makes an assumption that it’s “optimal enough” for any given child.   Who knows what potentially incredible strategies are going unexplored.

The world has now developed a sufficiently robust set of tools to uniquely educate, without compromise, every child.   Tablets and laptops can be obtained for less than $100, be connected to a free wifi at libraries and other community zones, and provided access to millions of free books, free websites, free Ivy League virtual classrooms.  Obviously, there is more to it than a computer and the Internet.   More and more networks of volunteer organizations, sports, after school programs, book clubs, excited artists, professional musicians are available for almost anyone (in the US) to join/connect with/create.   With the social network inter-connectivity of the world with more than a billion people connected, likely by less than 6 degrees of separation, identifying communities to join, people to talk to, and new environments to join has become much more possible.

I’m not suggesting that everything is perfect and that education has been solved!  Quite the contrary.  The space of possibilities is now MUCH greater than it ever has been.   It’s not even more vital to explore this space of educational possibilities in search of better and better strategies.   There’s no right or wrong way to go about this.   There’s more or less effective strategies for you and your children.  And there’s an infinite number of strategies possible and we all have finite energy/resources/means.

I suppose if I had to conclude or provide some closure on my point here it’s that the ideal education is really whatever works for you.  And what “works” is a complicated mix of means and goals and values.   There are so many options available and yet to be created and that seems to me to be a great thing. Ideal really.

*It’s relatively straight forward to assume that’s the goal of almost any education, formal or not.  Though would could say in certain situations we are trying to teach someone to suffer and die, such as in the case of prison

**repertoire of behavior doesn’t imply a broad set of behaviors, it could be the case that become a master in a particular skill set becomes a necessary strategy.  That is, experts often demonstrate a very wide and deep set of strategies/abilities within a given discipline.

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If you haven’t read Cory Doctorow’s Makers you should.

A couple years after reading it I’m reminded of it daily.   The march of technology, culture, business, education towards a future in which large organizations simply can’t withstand the tide of individual creators creating on a small scale and networking upwards.

creative destruction, as it were, little tiny piece by piece.   all on the backs and hands of people who probably wont make a fortune on these creations.  They will get by enough.

I don’t know if it turns out that everyone gets what they need and this is the new economy capable of supporting 300+ million people.  It is the new culture.  and maybe we’ll do with less. or we’re have a larger and larger income gap.

artisans, craftmakers, app developers, youtube stars, self employed…

then again, we need infrastructure.  roads, info networks, cellular towers.  can a world of makers fully exist on top of a large commercial infrastructure?  the network is the thing and the network is still owned by huge, controlled, controlling organizations.  The pipes and search engines and the social networks, owned by perhaps 10-15 organizations.

Perhaps the rise of 3d printing will make it so that eventually makers can print the necessary network at a scale that removes the requirement of these big infrastructures.

Not sure.

hard to sort out.

i’m too busy making.

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By Ron Williams – citizen, contributor and patriot – 8-22-10

[Ron Williams is a retired attorney living in The Woodlands, TX and a welcome guest contributor to Social Mode]

There can be no question but that there are serious issues surrounding illegal immigration into the United States.  The most pressing concern revolves around illegal immigration from Mexico.  It is interesting to note however that most people, and most particularly right-wing Republican Tea Party, are reluctant to recognize that the real issue is that illegal immigration from Mexico, which means primarily Mexicans, which causes an uncertain relationship with American citizens with Hispanic heritage.  It should not create a problem to talk about an immigration problem involving Mexicans.  After all that is the border we share where most of the illegal immigrants are entering the United States.  It is sort of like talking about a race problem in the United States and not admitting that the primary group impacted by this issue is African-Americans.

It is thus, a double whammy to watch Republicans dance around the issue of Mexican illegal immigration, when that is the very issue with which they are concerned.  The first “whammy” involves a hypocritical failure to acknowledge that the primary target of their ire is directed at Mexicans.  The second “whammy”, which I will address in a moment, is the right wing Republican constant claim of their defense of the quote “original” constitution and the claim that liberals want to change it.

Returning to the topic of illegal immigration, it is not illegal immigration from Canada that the right wing is concerned about.  It is illegal immigration from Mexico. Arizona, for example, recently passed legislation allowing its police to stop anyone they believe is an illegal immigrant.  Once stopped, that person must provide evidence that they are a legal immigrant or a US citizen.  Arizona Republicans insist that this legislation is not deemed to target Hispanics.  But just who can we imagine the police are going to be stopping, blue-eyed blondes who look like they have snuck in the country from Denmark?  No, Hispanics.

It is hypocrisy of the right wing to assert otherwise.

Thus, I believe it is not hard to make the assertion that it is because the illegal immigrants are Mexicans that the issue has gained so much prominence.  I believe that the issue of race or “racism” is at the heart of the illegal immigration controversy today.  If we had Canadian citizens flooding into this country in numbers comparable to the current influx from Mexico, I really do not believe that there would be the same cries for fence building and citizenship-checking laws being made by the conservative right wing.

In fact, it is my position that the majority of Republicans know no bounds to their hypocrisy.  Many of the Tea Party group are now pushing for an amendment to the 14th Amendment so that babies born presumably to illegal Mexican immigrants will no longer be granted automatic United States citizenship.  As being proposed, the revised 14th Amendment would provide that in order to be deemed a US citizen; you must prove that you were born of parents who were US citizens.  I don’t know about you, but I might have a hard time proving that my mother was a US citizen because I might have a hard time proving that her mother was a US citizen and so forth.  How about how you?

In fact, what sort of documentation would you have to provide in order to prove that your parents were legal citizens at the time of your birth, or even their birth?  Again, I note that this was not a problem when immigrants entered the country from England, Italy, Ireland, or even Cuba.  It’s still not a problem for anyone sneaking in from Canada.  It’s those pesky Mexicans who are creating the problem.  But the Tea Party members are too hypocritical to say the truth.  And it is also a very short step to say that racism is the driving force behind the conservative right wing Tea Parties move.  They want to prevent those Mexicans from gaining US citizenship.  The fewer Mexican heritage voters created the better.

This is even more disappointing when we have to constantly listen to Tea Party members talk about their belief in the Inviolate Constitution and their speaking with utter dismay about how liberals constantly want to reinterpret the Constitution.  The right wing does not want to “reinterpret” the original document.  They just want to change the Constitution’s actual written the language to fit whatever they believe ought to be the current end result.  Again, this is the height of hypocrisy.  For example, we can see very clearly that the “conservative” judges appointed by Republicans to the Supreme Court have been busy reinterpreting long-held legal principles in a new way to fit their Conservative views.  One would have to call these judges “activists” despite Republican claims that they are just interpreting the Constitution in its “original” understanding.  Republicans now have the nerve to claim that the two President Obama appointments to the current Supreme Court are activist judges.  Hypocrisy in Its finest form.

I have a suggestion for my Right Wing Republican Tea Party counterparts.  If we are going to open up the Constitution and revisit the 14th Amendment, let me suggest that we take another look at the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution regarding the right of the people to bear arms.  There have been some questions as to whether this amendment applied to the state militia i.e. the National Guard, or to an individual’s right to keep a handgun or even an AK-47.  If you are going to start to change the Constitution to address current issues, let’s address the question of whether we should allow individuals to own all sorts of weapons.  After all, when the 2nd Amendment was drafted we didn’t have machine guns or 15-round hand guns or 50 caliber sniper weapons.  When the Constitution was written and the amendments added, we didn’t have the large-scale drug problems or the gang wars associated with guns.

Maybe it’s time we revisit the 2nd Amendment to address these gun issues.  Somehow I bet the strict construction right wing Republicans will not be so open to revisiting the 2nd Amendment with the idea of having individual gun use restricted.  But, why not?  If they believe it’s time to revisit one of the amendments, why not start to think about taking a look at revisiting some of the others.  What about the 1st Amendment and right to free speech?  See the problem?  I’m sure that those of you reading this can think of one or two of the other amendments you believe it might make sense to revisit today.

I, for one, do not believe it is necessary to revisit any of the amendments to the Constitution.  The Constitution is broad.  It welcomes new interpretations that encompass new issues.  What is so wise about the way so drafters wrote the Constitution and its amendments is that its guiding principles provide a roadmap for addressing modern problems.  What I recommend is that my right wing Republican Tea Party friends take a deep breath and give careful consideration to what they’re really asking when they began to recommend re-writing the Constitution and its original 14 Amendments.  I really believe we would be on any dangerous course should we begin to start rewriting this important and very wise document.  We can undo the very nature of this country.  And that would be a very sad thing to do.

Finally, we must come to the conclusion that the Tea Party conservatives in fact have little use for the “real” Constitution.  They will quote its virtues to you when it suits their needs, but it will push to change its very language wind that would suit their purpose.  I believe it is the height of hypocrisy.  No more than that, I believe it shows their immorality.  And such immorality is dangerous.  Therefore, we must fight against the Tea Party conservatives because if they were to have their way, the very fabric of this country will be destroyed.  And that is not something I would like to see happen.

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Historically, the search for a way to describe the mechanics of what is going on out there in the world and how it impacts what is going on with organisms [sometimes referenced as “the mind”, personality, cognition, consciousness, intuition, etc.] is that the fields of psychology have always used metaphors, similes, and analogies, in part, because most of the areas morphed out of philosophy, religion and literature.

Clearly for Descartes, mechanisms [particularly clocks and hydraulics] were big at the time and from there it wasn’t a stretch to embrace the naturalistic model, then the disease model, then the computer analogies, all the while not letting go of the metaphors, analogies, and similes that preceded it.

Yes, don’t forget the impact of the 70’s drug culture on 40+ years of speculation on consciousness, the inner self, higher self, etc.

The outcome of much of the theory and speculation was increased awareness at the cost of precision.  All three influences are with us today as embedded vernacular, imagery, and rationales’ applied to the understanding of organisms.  We still embrace the vernacular and the idioms of Freud as if they were true, valid or valuable.  At another level, these approaches are embraced and morph as needed because there is little to replace them that the populace could cling to considering Western Judo-Christian history, laws, and sometimes even a bully Western philosophical interpretation of all matters. The terms, concepts, etc., work because they explain behavior to many that are clueless and communication-less without such pop-snarkness, having otherwise to depend on greater superstition, folklore and ‘commonsense’ explanations than they currently do.  Said more succinctly, while the theory of mind may keep us from looking at the causes of behavior, it has some value, more than other Freudian alternatives or those endless literature dumps proposed by philosophy, theology and sociology.

As metaphors are wont to do, they work to make intangibly complex relationships more tangible, understandable, usable and communicable.  Science has not had a history of doing that well either so the result is there is little pragmatic value change in understanding what the heck is going on out there and ‘in’ there if science doesn’t make cases well enough.

The lay vocabulary we end up using is residue that provides consistent, sometimes vivid equivalents for concepts until the understanding of relationships and patterns can get sorted out.   A MAJOR problem comes from the reification of those terms like mind, need, motivation, personality, evil, addiction, intuition, etc., such that they are never scientifically challenged or shown to be what they are; a trail of metaphysical left-overs from philosophy, theoretical speculations and dependence on analogies, similes, and metaphors.

Unfortunately, the metaphor has become reified to the extreme by the world’s citizens and, through the conditioning we all used to get an education, became the reality of what it was a ‘place holder’ for. We’ve all seen it over and over: what had been an incomplete story-like example became the “thing” studied, described, interacted with before suddenly becoming raison d’être.

There is no bridge between pragmatism and articulated science.  If one can’t use what science provides people – even academia – will embellish what they have and use it it as they have for centuries.   Traditions allow us to avoid the constant assessment tasks that are needed.You know the old saw,

insanity is doing the same things over and over and expected the results to be different’ (-Einstein or W. Deming; take your pick) 

By embracing those states that come to keep us comfortable and un-questioning, only those events we subjectively or theatrically sense as catastrophic will generate uncomfortable questions that when answered will make a difference.

Thus, for you to entertain changing your sense of how anything works, business, families, social networks, corporations, football teams, etc. (you get the idea) you’ll need to get fired, get shunned, get de-friended, get passed over, lose the Super Bowl, and many other things equivalent to a kick in the ass.  When that happens, most of us change our perspective a wee bit after we get up… others just continue to blame or claim the world is evil, unkind, gone mad, filled with greed before setting out to get restitution, get even or get a lawyer.

How’s that last option working?

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Discussion and idea swapping and socializing is and should be so much more than just liking something. The like function is going to just create more noise. It’s no where near as useful as a bookmark or hyperlinks.

Alas like so many innovations on the social web it’s just more naive data collection. Digging, checking in, liking, stumbling, retweeting…. Ugh.

Tagging, linking, and commenting at least encourage some creative effort.

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Hi all,

Rather than write generally about online communities I figured I’d blog from the inside about one community building effort in particular, Weplay.  A couple of posts ago I talked about my experience and belief that real world structures for the best basis for a successful online community.   We’re putting that theory to the test in a real way on Weplay.

Very soon Weplayers will see much more neighborhood information and features. We all play, practice, shop, study, eat… ya know, LIVE, in the real world.  We believe Weplay should fit as naturally into your offline life as much as possible.   Soon you’ll be able to see what’s happening in your neighborhood, city, county, state and region like never before.  Get the latest news on who’s playing each other (and everything else that’s fit to print!), get the latest scores, find directions to those soccer fields you’ve never heard of, see who else hit a homerun on the local baseball diamond, ask and answer questions of people right in your own backyard.

Of course we’ll make it EASY and FUN to contribute to the Weplay neighborhood experience. We’ve been quietly working on an iPhone application (and figuring out Android, Blackberry!).   We’re being very careful to make sure it’s easy and fast to snap a picture or video and get it up to your group or profile page.  We know when you guys are in the dugout, in the stands, on the team mini van speed is of the essence!  Oh yeah, we also want to make it easy for moms and dads to share pics and keep up to date on where and when to be!

In addition to using a mobile device to update profiles and contribute to the local experiences, we’re opening up the platform for Weplayers to contribute news, venue information, ask and answer questions, tag content and so on.

Read the rest of the post on Weplay >

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