Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) — Volume 9 Number 1, Feb. 2011
Alan B. Scrivener — www.well.com/~abs — mailto:email@example.com
In this issue:
"Abort, retry, fail?"
— DOS critical error message
Welcome to my new subscribers, and to my old subscribers I apologize for the
13-month delay since the last e-Zine issue — and a cliff-hanger too.
Thank you for your patience.
Now I am rebooting this 'zine, with a new focus. Since I began it in 2002
this has been mainly an outlet for me, both intellectual and emotional.
My subscriber list has hovered around 150-200 persons, and my income from
the Amazon Affiliates program has been a few dollars a year.
My new new focus is on being more reader-friendly, doing more for YOU
instead of ME. Towards this goal the coming issues will be:
- more frequent — at least every other month; possibly monthly
- shorter — if I do future long-form articles, I will serialize them
- more pertinent to cybernetics — although arguably
everything is related to cybernetics, I'm pretty sure most of you
didn't sign up for essays about everything
- more magazine-like — with articles, reviews and features in a tasty mix
- HTML only — I am no longer producing a text version to email out;
the emails will just point to a web-based HTML version like this one
- no longer hidden — I used to try to hide the archives from Google
by putting them in a hard-to-find place; it didn't work anyway, and now I've
moved them to a well-linked location
One of my goals is to make this 'zine more popular. If you like it,
please tell people.
I'm trying to keep track of my reading these days, something I used to do
decades ago on 3x5 cards. Here is a partial list of books I've read in
the last two years, in approximate reverse chronological order:
"Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture" (novel, 1991)
by Douglas Coupland [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/031205436X/hip-20 )
"The Gum Thief" (novel, 2007) by Douglas Coupland
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1596911069/hip-20 )
"Zero History" (novel, 2010) by William Gibson
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0399156828/hip-20 )
"Spook Country" (novel, 2007) by William Gibson [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0399154302/hip-20 )
"Pattern Recognition" (novel, 2005) by William Gibson [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0425198685/hip-20 )
"To Quench a Thirst: A Brief History of Water in the San Diego Region"
(2003) by Kenneth Mervis
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B001836PJ8/hip-20 )
"Hotel Design: Planning and Development" (2001) by Rutes et al [unfinished]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0750646071/hip-20 )
"The Wave Maker: The Story of Theme Park Pioneer George Millay and the
Creation of Seaworld, Magic Mountain and Wet 'n Wild" (2004) by Tim O'Brien
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1893951081/hip-20 )
"Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm" (1996) by Mark Cotta Vaz
and Patricia Rose Duignan
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345381521/hip-20 )
"Penrose Tiles to Trapdoor Ciphers" (1988) by Martin Gardner
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/071671986X/hip-20 )
"Magic — Top Secret" (autobiography, 1949) by Jasper Maskelyne
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0007J5PGS/hip-20 )
"Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age" (2004) by Duncan J. Watts [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393325423/hip-20 )
"The California Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright" (1988) by David Gebhard
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0811814955/hip-20 )
"Michael Graves: Compact Design Portfolio" (2002) by Julie V. Iovine
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0811832511/hip-20 )
"Irving Gill, 1870 - 1936" (1958) by the Los Angeles County Museum
and the Art Center in La Jolla — text by Esther McCoy
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1586854461/hip-20 )
"Irving Gill and the Architecture of Reform: A Study in Modernist
Architectural Culture" (2000) by Thomas S. Hines
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580930166/hip-20 )
* "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies" (1971) by Reyner Banham [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0520260155/hip-20 )
"One Day the Hodja" (parables, 1959) by Muammer Bakir
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000XPXIZQ/hip-20 )
"Breakfast At Tiffany's" (novella, 1958) by Truman Capote
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067960085X/hip-20 )
"Mojave" (short story, 1975) by Truman Capote
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/140009691X/hip-20 )
"A Christmas Memory" (short story, 1956) by Truman Capote
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067960085X/hip-20 )
"Stand On Zanzibar" (sci-fi novel, 1967) by John Brunner [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B001TNYRC4/hip-20 )
* "Jennifer Government" (sci-fi novel, 2003) by Max Barry
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400030927/hip-20 )
"The Exile Kiss" (sci-fi novel, 1991) by George Alec Effinger
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/076531360X/hip-20 )
"Symmetry and the Monster: One of the Greatest Quests of Mathematics" (2006)
by Mark Ronan
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0192807234/hip-20 )
* "Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water"
(1986, revised 1994) by Marc Reisner
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140178244/hip-20 )
"Drilling Through Time: 75 Years With California's Division of Oil and Gas"
(1990) by William Rintoul
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/096271240X/hip-20 )
"Agua Caliente Hot Springs: Two Mid-Century Views of a Unique Desert Oasis"
(2008) by Frederick Colbert & Marshal South [reprints from "The Desert"
magazine 1951 & 1947, annotated by Bill Worden]
( I think you can only get this at the Agua Caliente General Store
"Borrego Beginnings: Early Days in the Borrego Valley 1910 - 1960" (2001)
by Phil Brigandi
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0910805105/hip-20 )
"The Murder of Bob Crane" (1994) by Robert Graysmith
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0425189023/hip-20 )
"Freeways" (1966) by Lawrence Halpin
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0278923518/hip-20 )
"Budayeen Nights" (sci-fi short stories, 2003) by George Alec Effinger
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1930846568/hip-20 )
* "Save the Cat! The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need" (2005) by Blake Snyder
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1932907009/hip-20 )
"Unlimited Wealth: The Theory and Practice of Economic Alchemy" (1991) by Paul Zane Pilzer
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0517582112/hip-20 )
* "Thinking In Systems: A Primer" (2008) by Donella H. Meadows
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1603580557/hip-20 )
"Live! From Death Valley: Dispatches from America's Low Point" (2005)
by John Soennichsen
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1570614482/hip-20 )
"Moonshot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon" (1994)
by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree, and Howard Benedict
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1570361673/hip-20 )
"The Winning of Barbara Worth" (novel, 1911) by Harold Bell Wright [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B002LXPFEU/hip-20 )
"Caryatids" (sci-fi novel, 2009) by Bruce Sterling
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345460626/hip-20 )
"Inherent Vice" (novel, 2009) by Thomas Pynchon
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0143117564/hip-20 )
"Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" (1971) by Shunryu Suzuki
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1590302672/hip-20 )
"The Witching Hour (Lives of the Mayfair Witches)" (novel, 1990) by Anne Rice
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345384466/hip-20 )
"The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir" (2001) by Foster Hirsch
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0306817721/hip-20 )
"The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman To Master" (2000) by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/020161622X/hip-20 )
"Software Tools" (1976) by Brian W. Kernighan and P. J. Plauger [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/020103669X/hip-20 )
"The Elements of Programming Style" Second Edition (1978) by Brian W.
Kernighan and P. J. Plauger [re-read]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0070342075/hip-20 )
"The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Financial Turbulence" (2004)
by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465043577/hip-20 )
* "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" (2007)
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb [no relation to the hit movie]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/081297381X/hip-20 )
These are some books I am currently reading (meaning I have them on a
shelf with a bookmark in them):
"A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" (1987) by Barbara Ward Tuchman
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345349571/hip-20 )
"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" (epic poem, 1350/1970)
translated by Burton Raffel
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0451531191/hip-20 )
"The Sevenfold Journey: Reclaiming Mind, Body & Spirit Through the Chakras"
(1993) by Anodea Judith and Selene Vega
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0895945746/hip-20 )
"Cybernetics of Cybernetics" (1974) edited by Heinz von Foerster
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0964704412/hip-20 )
"Counterculture and Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network,
and the Rise of Digital Utopianism" (2006) by Fred Turner
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226817423/hip-20 )
"Magistger Ludi: The Glass Bead Game" (novel, 1943) by Hermann Hesse
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312278497/hip-20 )
"New Rules for Classic Games" (1992) by R. Wayne Schmittberger
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0471536210/hip-20 )
"Practical Casino Math" (2005) by Robert C. Hannum and Anthony N. Cabot
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0942828534/hip-20 )
As a rule, if I manage to finish a book I probably think it's OK.
If I re-read it I think it's more than OK. Those marked with an
asterisk I found to be exemplary. I may review some of the above
at a future time. Here's one now...
Book Review: "Thinking In Systems: A Primer" (2008)
by Donella H. Meadows
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, and no simpler."
— attributed to Albert Einsten
If you bothered to plow through the above list, you may have noticed that there
are a number of post-cyberpunk novels, books on architecture, computer
programming guides, and history books. Only one book that I completed is
explicitly about cybernetics and systems theory: Donella "Dana" Meadows' last
book, published seven years after her death. Well, I'm here to tell you
that it is the best introductory book on systems theory I've ever read,
eclipsing my previous top three:
- Ross Ashby's "Introduction to Cybernetics" (1966)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B001TC7UVA/hip-20 )
- Gerlad Weinberg's "An Introduction to General Systems Thinking" (1975),
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0932633498/hip-20 )
- John Gall's "General Systemantics: An Essay On How Systems Work, and
Especially How They Fail, Together With the Very First Annotated Compendium
of Basic Systems Axioms: A Handbook and Ready Reference for Scientists,
Engineers, Laboratory Workers, Administrators, Public Officials, Systems
Analysts, etc., etc., etc., and the General Public" (1975).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0006CJKZ8/hip-20 )
Dana worked for years as a protege of systems modeling pioneer Jay Forrester
at M.I.T., and was a co-author of the famous "Limits To Growth" (1972)
world model, which predicted a global collapse that never happened.
(Unfortunately, most observers seemed to have learned the wrong lesson from
this: "World modeling is a waste of time," instead of the correct conclusion:
"The specific assumptions of this model contained errors.")
Forrester pioneered the use of computer models with multiple feedback loops
to simulate the behaviors of complex systems. The "Limits To Growth"
world model was created using the DYNAMO (DYNAmic MOdeling) simulation language
which he and his students designed, originally for analyzing problems such as
inventory management in industrial dynamics.
His "Principles of Systems — Second Preliminary Edition" (1968)
uses the vocabulary of Ordinary Differential Equations (ODEs) and data flow
diagrams showing interlinked "rates" and "integrators" to describe the types
of systems modeled by DYNAMO. This works, but can only be understood by a
limited audience of those who understand the math.
a system described by Forrester in "Principles of Systems"
Expensive mathematicians were required to set up the problem, and then
expensive computers were used to plot system behaviors.
sample behavior of an inventory system described by Forrester in "Industrial Dynamics" (1961)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1883823366/hip-20 )
The genius of Meadow's book is this: after spending most of a lifetime
explaining this stuff, she figured out how to boil to down to metaphors
of faucets and bathtubs, which most everyone is familiar with.
Meadows' faucet and bathtub analogy for flow diagrams
Her example of inventory oscillations caused by poor decisions and time
delays takes a classic textbook case of industrial engineering described
by Forrester and makes it easy for just about anyone to understand.
a more complex system described by Meadows
And now, fifty years after Forrester's pioneer work, we have cheaper
computers to run the simulations as well.
behavior of system described by Meadows
These models can now be easily represented using a spreadsheet program
like Microsoft Excel, or Google's spreadsheet in Google Docs. I will give
some examples in a future issue of C3M.
(I suppose there's a pun here somewhere about forests and meadows, but I
can't find it.)
2010 In Cybernetics Roundup
To recognize the best oral presentation and paper at the
2010 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics
[in Istanbul, Turkey]: Hesuan Hu, Mengchu Zhou and Zhiwu Li,
"Deadlock Resolution Method for Automated Manufacturing Systems
Modeled with Petri Nets"
I'm sure I missed some things, but my radar picked up three interesting
developments in 2010.
- Weka 3: Data Mining Software in Java
Recently I was pondering something I read in the excellent book "The
Predictors: How a Band of Maverick Physicists Used Chaos Theory to Trade
Their Way to a Fortune on Wall Street" (2000) by Thomas Bass,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805057579/hip-20 )
which described about how a mathematician took a machine learning program
and analyzed college football stats and came up with this formula for
winning sports bets: if team A has previously been beaten by team B on
their home turf, and are now playing an away game against the same team,
and the point spread is three or more points against them, bet on them.
(I'd love to try this someday, though it requires tracking the teams,
being patient, access to a sports betting facility, and some capital.)
I mentioned to my friend Steve Price that I'd love to crank some other
data through a variety of machine learning programs. He said, "Have you
seen Weka 3?" Turns out there's a convenient, open-source, Java-based tool
for doing just that, which came out of New Zealand.
( www.cs.waikato.ac.nz/ml/weka )
- Web3D Shakeout
For it seems like decades the annual SIGGRAPH conference on computer graphics
( siggraph.org )
has held an event called "the Web3D Roundup" to deal with the vast quantities
of vendors selling tools for doing interactive 3D graphics in web browsers.
One hilarious aspect of the event was that the organizers handed out
ping pong ball guns and silly string to the audience, and anyone caught
speaking in marketing platitudes would be pelted. But the serious problem
was that there were TOO MANY of these solutions, they were all proprietary
and required plug-ins to downloaded by the users, and none achieved the
"critical mass" to become a de facto standard (besides Flash, with its
moving target of capabilities), and so progress languished. Well, the
well-networked academic community that dogs this conference finally
stepped in, and have produced what they claim is an open, plugin-free
approach called WebGL. The ultimate plan is to get it built right into
the browser, but for the interim you can get experimental versions of
browsers to test.
Now maybe we can get some awesome web-based data visualization going.
( www.khronos.org/webgl/wiki/Main_Page )
( spidergl.org )
- Geoff Alexander and Cine16 — The Academic Film Archive of
North America (AFANA)
Back in 1996, driving around Silicon Valley one night while running
a fever, I heard a guy on a PBS radio station talking about his hobby of
collecting 16mm educational films and showing them for free in San Jose.
( www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/10.31.96/cine16-9644.html )
I called up the station and we talked about some of my favorite old physics
films like "Frames of Reference" and "Magnetic Laboratory" among others.
(Back then it was legal to talk on a cell phone while driving.) He gave
out his email address but I didn't write it down.
Later I began to think I'd dreamed the whole thing, but finally I remembered
the email address and managed to get in touch again. I only made it to
one of his events, at which I saw an excellent filmed dramatization of
"The Long Christmas Dinner: A Play in One Act" (1960) by Thornton Wilder.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000YQP3DO/hip-20 )
But I've been on his mailing list ever since, and followed the evolution
of his non-profit, Academic Film Archive of North America (AFANA) aka Cine16.
( www.afana.org )
Geoff showed his movies for free mainly because of the Byzantine licensing
conditions that prohibited commercial use. He knew these things would fall
out of copyright someday but he feared they would be lost by then, so he was
doing double duty as a preservationist and a promoter.
Well, he's finally managed to find a way to upload them and share them over
the internet. And two of my faves, "Magnetic Laboratory" and "Frames of
Reference" can now be seen by all.
( www.archive.org/details/academic_films )
In his latest email he says:
"Consider sponsoring a film for digitization and uploading yourself.
We've successfully digitized and uploaded 92 films for free viewing
on the Internet Archive, thanks to your donations. Because we have
no paid employees, and thanks to History San Jose's housing of our
archive, virtually every dollar of your donations goes to cataloguing,
preserving and uploading films for the enjoyment and appreciation of
everyone. If you typically make donations to non-profits why not
consider sponsoring a film for uploading? You can do it for as little
as $110, you can write it off on your taxes, you'll get your own DVD,
and you can pick a film that you love. Visit www.afana.org/saveafilm.htm
for all the details."
What of the wonderful things we're seeing today is that so many people,
inspired by these classics (I presume), are creating new, wonderful
educational videos and posting them on the internet. It's a Golden Age!
( arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/02/ars-announces-the-science-video-contest-winners.ars )
Fact-Checking Predictions for 2010
It turns out the year 2010 has been the target of several sets of predictions
made in previous years. Let's take a look at three of them and fact-check
them with the 20-20 vision of hindsight.
- "2010: Odyssey Two" (sci-fi novel, 1982) by Arthur C. Clarke
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345413970/hip-20 )
and the movie "2010: The Year We Make Contact" (1984)
directed by Peter Hyams, based on it
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00004VVN8/hip-20 )
Prediction: Cold War still going strong in 2010, after some minor
detente in 2001.
Actual: Soviet Union has been missing since 1991.
Prediction: The Walt Disney Company finally built E.P.C.O.T.
— the city, not the theme park — in Orlando.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimental_Prototype_Community_of_Tomorrow_(concept) )
Actual: The closest we got was the planned town of Celebration, 1996.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebration_Fl )
Prediction: Aliens turn Jupiter into a new star.
Actual: Not so much.
- "Stand on Zanzibar" (sci-fi novel, 1967) by John Brunner
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B001TNYRC4/hip-20 )
Prediction: World population reaches 7 billion by May 2010
(with 2 square feet per person, enough for the world's population
to "stand on Zanzibar" at 640 sq. mi.).
Actual: World population 6.8 billion by May 2010 — pretty
darned close (we could all stand in the 620 sq. mi. Mount Rwenzori
National Park in Uganda).
Prediction: U.S. population reaches 400 million by May 2010.
Actual: U.S. population 308 million by May 2010 (missed by a mile).
Prediction: Worldwide, 64 people a day go berserk and kill everone
they can (what Brunner called "muckers" after "running amok"), so many
that the news only reports stats, except in unusual cases.
Actual: The rate seems to be about one a week, and the events are
still reported individually (we sometimes call it "going postal").
Prediction: In the U.S. and most Western nations, cigarettes are
illegal and marijuana is legal.
Actual: Not yet, but we're getting there.
Prediction: Psychedelics drugs are tolerated, especially designer
drugs too new to be illegal; pharmacutical companies covertly make them
and the government turns a blind eye.
Actual: Not that I can see.
Prediction: In the U.S. and most Western nations, eugenics
legislation allows the government to decide who can have children
and how many.
Actual: No freaking way would this get any political traction.
Prediction: Puerto Rico and "Isola" (the Philippines) are states
51 and 52 in the U.S.
Prediction: Fidel Castro is dead.
Actual: Amazingly not.
Prediction: A new medium called "zock" combines spacey visuals
with rock and roll audio.
Actual: MTV used to play stuff like this before they switched
over to reality shows.
Prediction: Pop music has had complex "polyrhythms" since the 1970s.
Actual: Utterly wrong; pop has kept its foxtrot beat for decades.
Frank Zappa released one tune on the pastiche album "Lumpy Gravy" in
an odd time signature (7/4?) which can be heard at time 2:10 through 3:40
( www.youtube.com/watch?v=apTPXPBMBXk )
and Mason William's comedy piece "The Last Great Waltz" about a
2-legged man & 3-legged woman has its last verse in 5/4 time, but
outside of "modern classical" music that nobody listens to, that's about it.
Prediction: Holographic TV.
Actual: Not exactly, but glasses-free 3D is here. Almost
nobody's buying it yet.
Prediction: "Mr. & Mrs. Everywhere" are TV characters that
look like YOU.
Actual: Not today, but you CAN design your own avatar on
your home game console.
Prediction: The affluent have mobile phones but phone booths remain.
Actual: Almost everyone has a mobile phone and phone booths are
Prediction: Sub-orbital air travel.
Actual: Not yet, but Virgin Galactic is working on it.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_galactic )
Prediction: Seat-back screens in planes.
Prediction: Mid-Atlantic Mining Project (MAMP)
Prediction: Books are starting to go out of fashion.
Actual: Yes; e-books are starting to out-sell them on Amazon.
Prediction: Expensive data-link encyclopedia available, but no
internet and no personal computers.
Actual: Way off.
Prediction: A huge computer designed by other computers achieves
consciousness, which is initially mistaken for a bug.
Actual: Not even close.
Prediction: Permanent moon base.
Actual: No, alas.
Prediction: It was a popular misconception that the 21st century
began on 1/1/2000, which newscasters tried in vain to correct.
Actual: Public misconception: yes. Newscaster correction: no.
Prediction: Many westerners eschew marriage for short-term
living arrangements ("bivving") with the females ("shiggies")
almost always being the ones who move out when it's over.
Actual: Not so formalized; many people "shack up", but marriage
remains popular. (Brunner completely failed to anticipate AIDS.)
All in all a fairly impressive record for a 43-year look-ahead.
- "A Mac Davis Special: Christmas 2010" (TV special, 1978)
The same year as the wretched "Star Wars Holiday Special" (which definitely
took the "Christ" out of "Christmas") was this little-noticed, low-budget
science fiction drama set in the year 2010, which predicted that Christmas
would be illegal by then, replaced by a secular "Commerce Day." Obviously
we're not there now, but it was quite thought provoking, and recent trends
in the "war on Christmas" are not encouraging.
( www.imdb.com/title/tt1795545 )
Note: If you email me regarding this 'zine, I may quote you in it!
I happened upon your page at http://www.well.com/~abs/curriculum.html today.
. . .
I came across it in a search for material to pursue the field of systems
theory, and consequently (as I understand) cybernetics.
Your page offered a great deal of material and literature which I anticipate
tackling. I have recently begun Mr. Ashby's "Introduction to Cybernetics"
which I discovered shortly before your page. If you don't mind, I will offer
a brief account of myself and then my general question.
I am a student of Political Science, I hope to one day graduate but have
unfortunately become one of those 6-year undergrad statistics. Blame that
on whomever you will. However, unlike most of my fellow Political Science
students that I encounter, my interests are much broader than this particular
field. In fact, I have become rather disappointed in the field at large and
have seen the degree program as little more than intellectual exercise /
stimulation, offering little in the way of substantive material. That is to
say that Political Science hardly qualifies as a science due to its inherent
lack of coherence. My search for coherence in this field has been more
interesting than the study of Political Science itself. I have personally
taken it upon myself to learn as much about Physics, Biology, Chemistry,
Mathematics etc., as I can in order to supplement and complement my formal
studies. Through these endeavors, I have finally arrived at Systems Theory
and Cybernetics. For such a fascinating field, I have become confounded as
to why it is not more academically readily available. The very concept of
Systems Theory, though perhaps I naively place too much value on it, seems
to be the logical key to unlocking many questions in all scientific fields
— including solidifying fields which have long attempted to be scientific
(read: Social Sciences).
As someone with a very meager background in mathematics, and anything that
can formally be referred to as scientific, is there a best course of study
that you have found that one may undergo to learn this field? At current I
feel as though learning the field will happen more by accident than by formal
structure, which I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with that.
I suppose to condense my question sufficiently I would ask: What measures
would you suggest a new student take to best understand this field and
apply it to other, perhaps less scientific, fields of study?
I appreciate you even reading this jolted email and would equally appreciate
any wisdom, insight, or pure facts you have to offer.
Dear Mr. R.,
. . .
If you want to learn about the application of rigor to political science, I
would recommend the following:
* "Arms and Insecurity: A Mathematical Study of the Causes and Origins of War" (1953) by L. F. Richardson
* "Conflict and Defense: A General Theory" (1962) by Kenneth Boulding
* "Six Degrees — The Science of a Connected Age" (2003) by Duncan Watts
* the article on "Shapley-Shubik Power Index" at Wikipedia
None of this requires math beyond what you can do on a calculator — or
I recommend building mathematical models in spreadsheets. Make each line
a time step. Define each line in terms of the one above. (Current line
is time T; line above is T - 1.)
Example: for a clock:
C(T) = C(T - 1) + tick_size
P(T) = P(T - 1) * growth_rate_per_tick
. . .
Best of everything,
Peripheral Intelligence Agent
Though y'all might like to know that even though I haven't written a C3M
in over year, I did write some other stuff:
- "Ron Cearns and the Society of Friends of Hobbits (S.O.F.O.H.)"
~ OR ~
"On the Prehistory of Comic-Con in the Grossmont High School Tolkien Club
and Some Other Related Notes"
( www.well.com/user/abs/SOFOH/sofoh.html )
- "Something For Everyone at SIGGRAPH 2010!"
( san-diego.siggraph.org/articles/SG2010/SG2010_Something.html )
- "Something For Everyone at SIGGRAPH 2010 — Part 2: Aftermath of a Successful SIGGRAPH"
( san-diego.siggraph.org/articles/SG2010/SG2010_Aftermath.html )
In upcoming months I plan articles on:
- The 3D Solid Geometry of Bucky Fuller
Buckminster Fuller was the second person, after Stewart Brand, to get
me excited about systems. His "do it yourself" methodology, not unlike
Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman's, had him double-check
everything he was taught, and lead him to make breakthroughs in geometry,
engineering, design science and what we now call Geographic Information
Systems (GIS). The most fundamental and revolutionary of these were his
contributions to 3D solid geometry, which should have re-written the
textbooks. (Blame our inflexible educational system for this omission.)
I love this sharing this stuff — I find that kids and math-phobic
adults especially respond to learning about the Platonic solids through
the use of miniature marshmallows and toothpicks.
- Lessons Learned from Teaching Calculus and Systems Theory to a 16-year-old
In C3M vol. 6 num. 1, "Everything Has To Go Somewhere ~ OR ~ Eigenvectors and You,"
( http://www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/archive/c3m_0601.html )
I bragged that I could teach the mathematics of systems theory, and the
underlying calculus, to secondary school students if I didn't have to
cover limits or deal with proofs. Well, last summer my then 16-year-old
daughter, who was just finishing her junior year of high school and had
no summer school plans, called my bluff, and asked me to teach the material
to her. So I did. It went very well, and I kept careful notes on what I
covered, so I plan to share it all with you.
- Mathematics for Computer Graphics
I serve on the executive committee of the San Diego professional chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH.
( san-diego.siggraph.org )
We are required to produce four local events each year, measured from July
to July, and by June 2010 we were down one event, so I threw together a
talk on "The Mathematics of 3D Computer Graphics: A Tutorial" thinking that
nobody would show up for such a dull topic, but at least we'd meet our quota.
( san-diego.siggraph.org/events/MCG/MCG.html )
The event announcement said:
The Mathematics of 3D Computer Graphics: A Tutorial
Human Interface Prototypes
based on content from his upcoming book "Garage Visualization"
Alan Scrivener first learned the matrix math for 3D graphics from the
University of California in 1974, before the famous "hidden line"
problem was solved.
His most recent use of the math was in 2010, visualizing public health
data for Mindtel Corp.
No advanced math knowledge is expected; the presentation will be visual
and introductory, and Alan will leave you thinking "Is that all there
is to matrix math?"
Join us as we dig into the Xs, Ys and Zs of 3D using cheap or free tools.
Much to my surprise it was one of our better-attended events. I promised to
follow up by posting some of of the source code I used in my presentation,
and to date I haven't gotten around to it. My plan is to get double-use
out of this material by writing up the talk and posting the source here,
cross linked from the San Diego SIGGRAPH web site.
Note that the matrix math used in computer graphics is extremely similar to
the matrix math used in linear systems theory.
- Tracking Down Supercomputer Software
Directory of Application Software for Cray Research Computers 1992
I was cleaning out my garage, and found an old directory of application
software from Cray Research, Eagne, MN in 1992. The company
made multi-million-dollar supercomputers, and this directory listed
programs to do scientific computing of difficult, compute-intensive
problems: finite element analysis, turbulence simulations and similar
tasks mostly using the mathematics of Partial Differential Equations
(PDEs) and doing approximate numerical integrations to deal with the
complexity of chaos. Cray was very good at getting "exclusives" so
that you had to buy their hardware to be able to buy the software.
Another company that did this well was Silicon Graphics Inc., later
renamed SGI. Well, SGI bought Cray, mostly to get their software
catalog, and later imploded, and the fragments were bought by a
Rackable, a company that puts servers in 19" racks and resells them.
Oh the shame.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_Graphics )
But what happened to all the software? I'd like to do some detective work
and find out if any of these programs made it onto PCs, or even iPhones.
- Simulating an Inventory System With a Spreadsheet
A few years back I spent a period of almost three years working for
ResMed, a medical equipment manufacturer, traveling around North America
installing inventory software at medical equipment dispensaries and
training the staff to use it. At that same time ResMed had its own
inventory issues, since all the equipment was manufactured in Australia
and came to the U.S. on slow boats. Time delays like these add to to the
possibility that an inventory system will have unwanted oscillations.
One way to address the problem is to simulate the inventory system, and
look at how various policies — on when to re-order, and how much,
depending on demand — influence the system's behavior.
Since I am very often asked for real-world examples of the use of cybernetics
in business, I thought I would produce an article on how to use a spreadsheet
program to simulate an inventory system.
Feel free to express a preference, or make a request.
"If It's Just a Virtual Actor, Then Why Am I Feeling
Real Emotions?" (Part Two)
(If you haven't read part one, see the archives, listed at the end.)
THE SCREAMS OF THE DYING MEMES
A meme is a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices,
which can be transmitted from one mind to another through speech,
gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. ... Supporters of the
concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they
self-replicate and respond to selective pressures. The British scientist
Richard Dawkins introduced the word "meme" in The Selfish Gene (1976)
as a basis for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the
spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in
the book included melodies, catch-phrases, beliefs (notably religious
beliefs), clothing fashion, and the technology of building arches.
— Wikipedia entry on "meme"
Pulitzer prize winner Annie Dillard wrote a book about the writing process
called "The Writing Life" (1990),
in which she describes writer's block as an essential tool in the writer's
toolkit. She says it's a sign that something is wrong with the structure,
and must be fixed before writing can resume.
Well, I had writer's block on this project for a year and a day, and finally
realized that my problem was I had a set of old rough drafts from 13 and
17 years ago which I needed to refer to before proceeding. I've been
trying to write this story for a long time. In 1994 I sat down with my
friend Will A. and had a conversation about my plans, which I recorded on
a dictaphone and my lovely wife transcribed, all 41 pages. At one time I
wanted to turn this into an article for WIRED. Later I was working on
an article for a European tech magazine called "Wave" or "Pulse" or
something, I forget — until I found out they weren't paying
anything. And now here I am writing it for free after all.
As I frequently tell my loved ones, the hardest thing for me about
writing is the screams of the dying memes. "No, don't edit us out!"
they shriek to me. (I had a whole diversion about Obler's Paradox
in astronomy in my discussion of "Limits to Growth" in an earlier
article which I edited out, and here it is trying to sneak back in.)
Well, it's time to clear the obstruction and process this material out
the door. Put on your workboots!
FIELD REPORT OF A PERIPHERAL INTELLIGENCE AGENT
"Mobility is the key to increased intelligence."
— Timothy Leary, 1979
"The Intelligence Agents"
I finally tracked down something I've been looking for for a long time:
Stewart Brand's proposal for a "Peripheral Intelligence Agency" (PIA).
This was an essay that greatly influenced the course of my life.
It turns out it's in his Destination-Crisis Paper for the POINT Board
of Directors Submitted December 3, 1971
which is reprinted on page 128
of "The Seven Laws of Money" by Michael Phillips (1974).
The POINT foundation was created to give away the profits from the
"Last Whole Earth Catalog" (which became a New York Times best-seller),
hopefully in a way that accomplishes good things.
In the proposal he says:
The only real fault I would find with most of the heroes is that they are
overworked. Partly this is their own doing; partly it's due to the
shortage of heroes. (Heroism is in scary repute these days because
some who stood charismatically tall have been shot down. I believe
they asked for it, some of them. They came to rely too completely
on audience and visibility, until the vainglory showed and drew a
bullet. If you sell your soul to the crowd, by and by they'll collect.)
It seems to me that the best solution to dead heroes and over-worked
heroes is not no heroes but more heroes. Spread the load. Spread the
consciousness and responsibility. (And, as they told us infantrymen,
don't bunch up all the time, you're too tempting a target.)
The genesis and employment of heroes might be feasible. Damn near
everyone, in this society anyhow, wants purpose, plot, and at least
the possibility of audience. People will go along with almost
anything that provides these for them, and eventually scuttle any
scheme that denies them their own personal dramatic story.
(I notice I'm going along with Robert Ardrey's proposition that the
three main human drives are for identity, stimulation, and security
— in that order. The desire to live a story comes under identity.)
Dick Raymond favors fostering effective new traditions. In the hero
department we have had for years the tradition of the hero from the
ranks, the Establishment darling. This was the unlikely but plucky
lad or unlikely but crafty old guy who rose to the occasion when
circumstances and a desperate nation said "You! Handle it!" And
we've had the tradition of the rebel hero who stood firm through the
crowd's insults and bosses' deceits to finally BEAT city hall, and
then quietly left the victory celebration to catch a ride on the
evening freight. And sundry others.
Among the storied heroes I can't recall one who studied up and
carefully selected his crisis. Yet most of our real-life heroes do
To blurt out the "agency" scheme early on here, I wonder if we can
nurture a demanding tradition for the subtle heroes.
Imagine, please, that POINT sets in motion a, hm, Peripheral Intelligence
Agency (PIA), which employs Free Agents at, say, $10,000/year with a $5,000
working budget. The Agents are hired for their resourcefulness at doing
maximum good with minimum expenditure. That's minimum expenditure not
only of money but of external influence generally — of personal pain, of
entangling obligations, of extraneous meddling, of all the baggage that
commonly clutters and defers good-doing.
The Agents select their own missions and carry them out their own way.
Besides gainful employment and a modest budget, PIA offers only evaluation
and information. Evaluation, through the full-time Board of Review in the
form of comment and satirically pompous awards. Information, about potential
missions, nuances of Agent technique, and whatever else proves useful.
What Agents owe the PIA is: to do elegant good (not suave or polished good,
but spare good, f***ing austere good), and to report on everything they
attempt. Clearly the most significant managerial matter for PIA is deciding
who shall be Agents. The hiring process might be sophisticated by putting
prospective Agents through a one-month-$1000 trial period. Some persons with
independent income may wish to be Agents-without-salary, and they should be
For my entire adult life I have thought of myself as a Peripheral
Intelligence Agent (without salary), and this 'zine includes some
of my field reports.
As I look back on thirty years of this pro bono
activity, I think
one of my best moves was to introduce Steve Tice, a computer graphics
entrepreneur who founded Simgraphics Engineering Corp.,
and Dave Warner, a PhD/MD candidate at Loma Linda University.
It was some time in 1989 or 1990; none of us can remember for sure. It was
a social occasion (I considered them both friends first and professional
associates second), but we don't recall if it was a party, perhaps a Halloween
party, or an annual event called "the Electro-Bash" that involved smashing
defective electronics for cathartic release. In any event, it was at a duplex
in South Pasadena owned by Tice and Ben Thompson (along with some other
silent partners), where they both lived for a while before the downstairs was
converted to the Simgraphics offices. A bunch of us were upstairs
socializing while Steve was downstairs giving Dave a demo of a new
Virtual Reality peripheral called the Data Glove.
Both of them told me this was a pivotal event. Warner later had a team at
Loma Linda that got a grant to use the device to record hand tremors from
Parkinson's Disease as part of trials of medication for the disease — the
first use of the glove as a medical instrument instead of as a volitional
input device. It also lead to other applications of Virtual Reality (VR)
in medicine, a niche field later celebrated by the conference "Medicine
Meets Virtual Reality" which began in 1994.
More on this later.
OPEN HOUSE AT THE ADVENTURER'S CLUB
"Come In a Stranger, Leave a Little Stranger"
— banner in front of the Adventurers Club
Picture it: May, 1990. I'm in Orlando for a chaos convention ("The SIAM
Conference on Dynamical Systems"), paying my own way and taking vacation time.
Dave Warner and his mentor at Loma Linda University, Dr. Douglas Will, are
also there. I've already cajoled them into riding the "Body Wars" ride at
Disney's EPCOT theme park, a simulated "fantastic voyage" through the human
body that I'm convinced presages a future interactive ride through your
based on medical scans.
The other "must-see" item on my list is the Adventurers Club at Disney's
nightclub complex, Pleasure Island. Dave goes with me, and in addition to
the Adventurer's Club we tour all of the clubs in the complex: the '60's
surf-rock theme one, the pretentious disco one, the country western one,
and the '80s punk rock theme one: The Cage, which lasted from 1989 to 1992.
(There seems to be no photographic record of it on the web.) That seems
to be Dave's favorite, and I like it a lot, too. It has ducts, like in the
movie "Brazil" (1985),
in a big tangle, with little TV screens on the ends, and I believe that the
first time we walk in the Nina Hagen video "New York New York" is playing,
displayed on them all.
But soon I peel off to return to the AC, while Dave stays to dance in the Cage.
As I mentioned last time, my friend Bob B. told me to check out the club
because of its talking masks on the walls, similar to a prank I'd told
him once I wanted to play on guests to my home Tiki Room.
aviator Hathaway Brown gives a tour of the mask room
But I soon came to realize that the club is nearly impossible to explain.
The whole bit with the talking masks is more like "bait," in that it offers
something concrete that can be described to pique people's interests.
You enter the ornate, Edwardian building on the second floor, oblivious
to the inscriptions, banners, warnings and a crashed airplane outside.
You are in the Zebra Mezzanine of a 1930s club for world-traveling
adventurers. All around you the walls are covered with bizarre — but
compulsively documented — artifacts from the members' travels.
You can see down into the Main Salon, where a statue of Zeus casting a
fishing rod dominates the room.
There is literally too much to see. Will called it "information overload."
The activity below draws you in. You round the railing of the mezzanine
to reach the grand staircase, and descend into the maelstrom. Why are
all these people watching you? Is it a trap? Some panic and flee.
Others are oblivious and sit down and order a drink, thinking it's just
another themed bar, like the Cotton Co-op bar at the Dixie Landings
resort nearby, themed like an antebellum mercantile hall.
But no. This is a strange place, a new form of entertainment, an alternate
universe. If you are observant, you many notice that the bartenders all
have nametags that say "Nash," or that, slowly, the elephant-foot bar stools
change height over time, unnerving the drunks sitting on them. Daffy 1930s
characters emerge from hidden doors and have amusing yet puzzling interactions
with each other, and you, and masks on the walls. Now and then guests are
herded into the library to see shows, but the real show — in my humble
opinion — is the ebb and flow of characters and guests involved in a
great mosaic of interactive theater
I'm hooked. Dave and Dr. Will fly back to SoCal a few days later, but I
return every night. I see all the shows, serenaded by the ghost of the
organist, "Fingers," killed when the organ fell from the loft and impacted
the stage in the library. I am startled to find the parts — of the
maid, the butler, the curator, the club president, the exaggerating fisherman,
the dashing aviator (whose crashed plane we saw outside), the Amazon-like
female explorer, the dorky visiting adventurer from Sandusky, Ohio —
being played by different actors each night. I had become attached to
seeing one woman play the sexy maid, but now she's the frumpy club president.
I get over it. It's a rite of passage for new adventurers.
Sometimes they do schtick
. Every night a banner informs us that
"tonight" is open house and a new membership drive, which is why all
these tourists are swarming around in a "private" club. Up jump the
president and the aviator to induct all these people into the club.
AVIATOR: Raise your right hand and repeat after me. *Cough.*
AVIATOR: Stop that!
AUDIENCE: Stop that!
...and so on. It happens every time.
Sometimes they do improv.
CURATOR: Where are you from, madame?
GUEST: Atlantic City.
CURATOR: I'm sorry?
GUEST: Atlantic City, it's in New Jersey.
CURATOR: Oh, I heard you; I'm just sorry.
Over time, being in this environment changes
me. I become friendlier,
and wittier. I get over my normal shyness in bars.
I realize this place is great for business travelers. It's about
camradarie, "hail fellow well met," and not a "meet market" like most
every other bar I've been in.
At one point I take a copy of the day's newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel,
and cut eye holes in the Os.
Orlando Sentinel from Saturday May 12, 1990 with eye-holes
Then I sit in an easy chair in the corner and spy on people through the holes.
The bartenders notice and are quite amused. I have gotten into the spirit
of the place.
(I've kept the newspaper for 21 years in my Disney memorabilia.)
I want to return and bring my wife, my friends, my co-workers, anyone who
will listen to me extoll the wonders of this Brave New World.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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Copyright 2011 by Alan B. Scrivener
Last update: 11-Feb-2011