An excellent study of human psychology, evolution, modes of thinking. Read this book.

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It is possible to view the human experience, and the evolution of Homo sapiens, and the development over time of human society and culture, from a number of different perspectives, all of which are, of course, wrong. That is what scholars of Homo sapiens do. They produce misleading, biased, or otherwise poor descriptions or explanations pertaining to humans and their history, one after the other, and try to make others believe them. That is really just human story telling (and story telling is clearly an important part of the human experience). This endeavor becomes scholarly when the various story tellers test their stories against each other, and against facts or observations made outside the context of the creation of the story, and thus, over time, produce an increasingly refined, still wrong, but less wrong, version.

The first chapter of The Importance of Small Decisions (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) by by Michael J. O’Brien, R. Alexander Bentley, and William A. Brock, which discusses the evolution of scholarly thought about the origin of agriculture, provides an example of this process of evolution of understanding in the context of the growth of knowledge.

This book is an analysis of the relationship between human choices, human culture, human society, and the context in which those forces generate outcomes that may or may not have been expected. The analysis starts with one of the most important questions asked, and usually ignored, about human history. How is it that humans came up with agriculture so many times, over a short period (of a few thousand years?), more or less all at once, in regions that has zero chance of any kind of interaction? The most significant transformation in human history happened independently at that time, but not before, without any apparent single or simple cause. But there were causes. They had to do with the environment, demographics, and circumstance. They happened to humans much like similar species-species (plant-animal or animal-animal) relationships evolved in hundreds of thousands of cases across life on this life-rich planet. Individual human decisions were involved, culture was causative and transformed, and society changed and constrained, potentiated and proscribed. It was all very complicated. But when it came down to individual human decisions, they mattered in ways that you would never expect or predict because such things are utterly unpredictable.

Continue reading An excellent study of human psychology, evolution, modes of thinking. Read this book.
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Klevorn Present Acomb Present

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That’s Ginny Klevorn, my MN House Rep, and Patty Acomb, from the district to the south but part of my DFL organizing Unit, the Fighting Forty Fourth. Feel free to click through and give them money. Ginny and Patty are part of the Blue Wave which replaced a Republican majority in the Minnesota House with a DFL majority.

Evil Supervillain Omnibus Prime.

If you feel like slogging through it to about 1:54, you can see the former Republican house leader yammering on and on about how bad the Democrats are. This is a man who exemplifies the old expression: Better to remain silent and be thought an idiot, than to speak up and remove all Daudt.

Thanks Representative Ryan Winkler for casting appropriate doubt on what was heard in the chamber!


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Warming Of The Global Ocean: 2018 is the warmest year so far

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There is a story that I hope is not apocryphal, told among anthropologists. It goes like this. A graduate student in Cultural Anthropology went to the field, to a site in the American Southwest, where he intended to document the lifeways of a group of Native Americans living there. On arrival at the field site, he was directed by helpful locals to the home of a very old man who, they said, knew all about the group’s history and culture. This would be a great place to start his research.

Continue reading Warming Of The Global Ocean: 2018 is the warmest year so far
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Blocks is the new HTML

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I just upgraded this site to WordPress 5.01. (I waited out 5.o.) I am now faced with an editor that is not text based and does not give me access to my HTML codes. Instead, it uses this thing called “blocks.”

A block can be an image, like this image I’m putting here right now. That was actually fairly cool, because it allowed me to use dragging to size the “block” (image with caption, in this case) precisely where I wanted it to be. I wonder if I can insert a link in a caption? If so, I’d like to do so in order to point to the kind of post where this sort of on the fly real time WYSIWYG editing would be helpful, here: STEM Holiday Gifts for Kids!

I just finished inserting that graphic of the unhappy Wall Street stockbroker guy (to the right) and if you look at the caption, you’ll see that there is a link in the caption. That was actually difficult to do in the older version of WordPress, so I like that.

I wonder what other kinds of blocks there are? Let’s see.

Headings

There are (see above) headings. Those are blocks.

It is said that a quote can be put in a block. It is a block quote.

There is a plugin that allows you to go back to the old style of editor. I’ll probably install that to see how it works, but this “Gutenberg” editor, as it is called, seems cool. I’m a very text-oriented writer, but this is not bad. We’ll see.

Next task, if I can get it to work: Make comments editable for you, dear readers, a commonly requested feature.


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New New Horizons Kuiper Object Photograph

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NASA’s New Horizons space ship has photographed the farthest thing away shown in an actual photograph where you go up to the thing and take a picture (as opposed to looking far away with a telescope or something).

It is an object in the Kuiper Belt. The first shot is shown below on the left, and then, up close… you can really kinda see something:


Just over 24 hours before its closest approach to Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first images that begin to reveal Ultima’s shape. The original images have a pixel size of 6 miles (10 kilometers), not much smaller than Ultima’s estimated size of 20 miles (30 kilometers), so Ultima is only about 3 pixels across (left panel). However, image-sharpening techniques combining multiple images show that it is elongated, perhaps twice as long as it is wide (right panel). This shape roughly matches the outline of Ultima’s shadow that was seen in observations of the object passing in front of a star made from Argentina in 2017 and Senegal in 2018. (NASA)

In just a handful of hours, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will perform the furthest encounter of an object in our solar system. On Jan. 1 at 12:33 a.m., New Horizons is set to fly by 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, and collect images and scientific data to beam back to Earth. Ultima orbits the Sun from a vast region of icy and rocky bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. Studying this primitive world—which has been around, unaltered, since the beginning of the solar system—will provide us with vital insights into the origins and evolution of our celestial neighborhood.

Latest update HERE.


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Start the year off with these cheap excellent books

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Now a major motion picture, The Giver, was one of a quartet of original books, required reading (in many schools, anyway) and nice pieces of literature. They are on Kindle cheap: The Giver Quartet Omnibus

This first-ever Lois Lowry single-volume collection includes unabridged editions of the Newbery Medal–winning The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. Lois Lowry’s groundbreaking dystopian series comes alive in a single volume. An affordable addition to the shelves of teen fans and collectors alike.

I’ve never read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel, but it has been recommended time and again, and I have a copy of it on my eShelf!

Jonathan Safran Foer emerged as one of the most original writers of his generation with his best-selling debut novel, Everything Is Illuminated. Now, with humor, tenderness, and awe, he confronts the traumas of our recent history. What he discovers is solace in that most human quality, imagination.
Meet Oskar Schell, an inventor, Francophile, tambourine player, Shakespearean actor, jeweler, pacifist, correspondent with Stephen Hawking and Ringo Starr. He is nine years old. And he is on an urgent, secret search through the five boroughs of New York. His mission is to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

An inspired innocent, Oskar is alternately endearing, exasperating, and hilarious as he careens from Central Park to Coney Island to Harlem on his search. Along the way he is always dreaming up inventions to keep those he loves safe from harm. What about a birdseed shirt to let you fly away? What if you could actually hear everyone’s heartbeat? His goal is hopeful, but the past speaks a loud warning in stories of those who’ve lost loved ones before. As Oskar roams New York, he encounters a motley assortment of humanity who are all survivors in their own way. He befriends a 103-year-old war reporter, a tour guide who never leaves the Empire State Building, and lovers enraptured or scorned. Ultimately, Oskar ends his journey where it began, at his father’s grave. But now he is accompanied by the silent stranger who has been renting the spare room of his grandmother’s apartment. They are there to dig up his father’s empty coffin.

A classic, you’ve probably read it, but if not, here is your chance for two bucks: The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (Hainish Cycle Book 5) by Ursula Le Guin.

If you you are going to read one historical novel set in the context of World War II, read Mare Piercey’s Gone to Soldiers. Multiple parallel stories connected to various degrees (or not) about the mundane intersecting with the extraordinary during one of the most trying times our society has ever encountered, written by a feminist author. Ten narrators, ten voices, ten stories, and it may be the only historical war book that is a total take-down of the Bechdel Test. This books should be part of the 20th century literary cannon for modern Americans.


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Violence in the United States Congress

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There is probably a rule, in the chambers of the United States Congress, that you can’t punch a guy. Living rules are clues to the past. Where I live now, there is probably one Middle or High School age kid across 130 homes, but we have a rule: You can’t leave your hockey goals or giant plastic basketball nets out overnight. So all the old people who live on my street have to drag those things into the garage at the end of every day, after their long sessions of pickup ball. Or, more likely, years ago, there were kids everywhere and the “Get off my lawn” contingent took over the local board and made all these rules. So, today, in Congress, you can’t hit a guy.

But in the old days, that wasn’t so uncommon. You have heard about the caning of Charles Sumner. Southern slavery supporter Preston Brooks beat the piss out of Senator Charles Sumner, an anti-slave guy from Massachusetts. They weren’t even in the same chamber. Brooks was in the House, Sumner was in the Senate. Sumner almost didn’t survive the ruthless and violent beating, which came after a long period of bullying and ridicule by a bunch of southern bullies. Witnesses describe a scene in which Brooks was clearly trying to murder Sumner, and seems to have failed only because the cane he was using broke into too many pieces, depriving the assailant of the necessary leverage. Parts of that cane, by the way, were used to make pendants worn by Brook’s allies to celebrate this attempted murder of a Yankee anti-slavery member of Congress.

Here’s the thing. You’ve probably heard that story, or some version of it, because it was a major example of violence in the US Congress. But in truth, there were many other acts of verbal and physical violence carried out among our elected representatives, often in the chambers, during the decades leading up to the civil war. Even a cursory examination of this series of events reveals how fisticuffs, sometimes quite serious, can be a prelude to a bloody fight in which perhaps as many as a million people all told were killed. Indeed, the number of violent events, almost always southerner against northerner, may have been large enough to never allow the two sides, conservative, southern, right wing on one hand vs. progressive, liberal not as southern, on the other, to equalize in their total level of violence against each other. Perhaps there are good people on both sides, but the preponderance of thugs reside on one side only.

Which brings us to this. You hears of the caning of Sumner, but you probably have not read The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War by Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman.

Professor Freeman is one of the hosts of a podcast I consider to be in my top free favorite, Backstory, produced by Virginia Humanities. Joanne is one of the “American History Guys,” along with Ed Ayers (19th century), Brian Balogh (20th Century), Nathan Connolly (Immigration history, Urban history) and emeritus host Peter Onuf (18th century). Freeman writes in her newest book of the first half of the 19th century, but her primary area of interest heretofore is the 18th century, and her prior works have focused, among other things, on Alexander Hamilton: Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic about the nastiness among the founding fathers, and two major collections focused on A.H., The Essential Hamilton: Letters & Other Writings: A Library of America Special Publication and Alexander Hamilton: Writings .

I strongly urge you to have a look at Freeman’s book, in which she brings to light a vast amount of information about utter asshatitude among our elected representatives, based on previously unexplored documents. I also strongly urge you to listen to the podcast. The most recent edition as of this writing is on video games and American History. The previous issue is covers the hosts’ book picks for the year.


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Winner of the Coolest STEM Toy Ever Award, 2018

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The winner, hands down, of the GLB Coolest STEM Toy Ever Award for 2018 is The LEGO BOOST Activity Book by Daniele Benedettelli, and published by No Starch Press. This is the book that makes last year’s coolest STEM toy ever, the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox , come to life in a way that will truly advance a child’s learning and enjoyment of robotics.

In my household, we have certain carefully designed rules. The rules are invariant, but the implementation is collaborative and open. For example, Huxley must always be engaged in some sort of out-of-school and out-of-home learning activity. The most obvious way to do this is a class somewhere (which can, actually, be in school as an ECA). The decision of what that activity should be, however, is his. During part of the summer he typically chooses etiquette class or an art class. During the rest of the year, he takes a STEM class at our local Stem Builders Learning Center. Stem Builders does all sorts of things, like computer coding, cloud computing, robotics, etc. and Huxley mainly engages in engineering and robotics classes. Over the last two years I’ve observed what is taught in intro and mid level robotics, and how it is taught. I’ve also seen how two other programs that teach robotics, both in our school system, work. So I have a good idea of what a good robotics course looks like.

The robotic raw material used in most of these classes is LEGO based, similar to (but not the same as) the material provided with the recently invented and marketed LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox , which is basically a big fancy LEGO kit that is also a robot, and a few other things. The programming learning associated with these classes is absent, however, from that project. LEGO offers some additional computer programming information, but very limited, on its web site. Earlier in the year, I reviewed another No Starch Press book, The LEGO BOOST Idea Book: 95 Simple Robots and Hints for Making More! by Yoshihito Isogawa, which is a great book that allows you to take the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox to the next level with a plethora of projects you can build using only parts that come in that kit. The objective of Isogawa’s book is to provide a diverse array of suggestions for robotic LEGO builds.

But again, the home version of STEM learning that combines the pragmatic goal of learning to build (and thus, in the future, fight, I assume) robots, and the other pragmatic goal of learning to program stuff, is not the goal of that book.

The LEGO BOOST Activity Book does fill this need. It is the book that should have come with the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox. The toolbox does not have a programming manual, and there is nothing that comes with it, or that is available in parallel that I know of from LEGO, that hints at the power and potential of the programming interface.

The LEGO BOOST Activity Book starts out with instructions to build a basic robotic car called “Mario,” that looks enough like a Kart from Mario Kart to suggest a lawsuit. Mario is then used, again and again, in project after project, as the platform to explore dozens of robotic techniques, including diverse approaches to programming, the use of sensors, and various other moving parts.

That sequence, which takes up the majority of the book, looks a lot like a full semester class in robotics, spanning introductory to intermediate and early advanced techniques.

Following that there is a chapter on building BrickPecker, which is a robotic bird that sorts LEGO bricks by color. Unfortunately, it only sorts certain size and shape bricks and it will not rifle through your closet finding all the LEGO bricks and putting them in different containers.

Don’t believe the BrickPecker can be real? It has been captured of film:

After BrickPecker, there is a final chapter on CYBOT, a bipedal robot with the ability to talk, move its arms and fingers (all four of them on two hands), and fire a weapon. Once you’ve got the robot that can do those things, well, it is all over.

There is a massive section within the guts of the book that puts in one place the building techniques and principles needed to make things that do not fall apart easily, that move properly, and so on.

It is hard to believe there is so much stuff in this one book, but there is. One way that happens is the subtle but measurable increase in format for this volume compared to other coding and STEM books by this and other publishers.

This book came to me just in time to fill our holiday vacation. Huxley is going to return to his Stem Builder’s class in advanced mode in two weeks!

Even though the The LEGO BOOST Activity Book uses only bricks that are to be found in the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox , there is a parts list Supp_LegoBoost_PartList in case you’d rather get the parts that way. However, this list does NOT contain the and seemingly unavailable as separate parts motor and brain elements in the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox . This list will probably be of greatest use to identify and then order parts that went down the heating vent or up the vacuum cleaner tube, or if you want to get extra creative and expand on the ideas in The LEGO BOOST Activity Book.

Daniele Benedettelli is known worldwide for his original LEGO robots, including his Rubik’s Cube solvers and his humanoid robots. As a LEGO MINDSTORMS Community Partner (MCP), he helps to test and develop new MINDSTORMS products. He gives educational presentations and workshops on Information and Communications Technology around the world and teaches robotics at the high school level. Benedettelli holds a master’s degree in Robotics and Automation from the University of Siena in Italy.


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Scratch 3.0 is coming

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Scratch is a seminal object oriented programming language that has had a great deal of influence on other languages. It is an entry level system designed for kids and adults new to programming. If you have a kid doing any kind of robotics or STEM programming in elementary school, they are using a programming langauge that derives from Scratch.

It comes out of MIT, and is usually used on their server, using a web interface.

That web interface is closing at 7 AM on January 2nd. Later that afternoon, it will be back up, but with Scratch 3.0!

Here’s a video. Continue reading Scratch 3.0 is coming


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How do I tell what version of everything I’m running (Linux)

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Linux has a kernel, there is a desktop manager, a desktop environment, a distribution, and a whole bunch of other stuff. All these things and other things have version numbers and similar information associated with them. If you are a casual user, you probably don’t know the exact version of any or all of these things you are running at any one moment in time. Then, suddenly, you find out that “Version this-or-that of this thing-or-another is out, have you tried it?” or “The whatchamacalit version of the thingimijob is broken, if you have that upgrade or you will all die!!!” or similar. So then, you want to know what version you are running.

Here are a few ways to find out that information. Continue reading How do I tell what version of everything I’m running (Linux)


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The Pause that Refreshes

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… and refreshes … and refreshes … and refreshes.

I speak, of course, of the non-existent hiatus in global temperature increase vigorously but incorrectly pointed to by deniers of global warming. What happened was this. We had a really warm year, owing to an El Nino, in the late 1990s. Then, things settled down a bit, and due to normal variation of the Earth’s climate system, that year was followed by a series of years in which the global surface temperature continued to increase, but very slowly. Meanwhile, of course, the Earth’s ocean temperature was steadily increasing, no pause or hiatus there. Then, after a few years, the Earth’s surface temperature warmed very rapidly. The period between that El Nino year, and the rapid return of temperatures rising, is where climate science deniers shoehorn their hiatus. Continue reading The Pause that Refreshes


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