Thursday, September 28, 2017

On The Information

Jack White & Didley Bo
UNDER CONSTRUCTION - The Information by James Gleick starts with Claude Shannon and his 1948 paper, and that will be the centerpiece of the book. But the author quickly slides further back into time - back to when the European colonialists were first in encountering the talking drums of 'Dark Africa'.

[At times there are two trains running with this book. That is, one, the argument that the world changed when some essential elements of what is information were conceived (by Shannon) and, two, a history of culture as communication. My interest here is the former, but notes are included on the latter.]

[It might be worthwhile to cite Glieck's sources - the book is built in part on erudition he gained by research/reading.]

It seems some of the missionaries begin to transcribe the language of the drums they heard. I take it this was a culture without written word. The Europeans, some of them, were quick to make the connection between the talking drums and the telegraph. 

Mixing metaphors, if you will, they forwarded the notion of the Signal - the fact that there was something similar underlying very different elements - the drum and the telegraph. Well, in fact, the connection was known. After all, the armies of Napoleon and others used drums as a muster point for armies. The European battle drum message was simple, like a church bell, indicating ''time to go to church.'' while the African drums had more complex messages. Can extra nuance help ensure the gist is conveyed? Read on.


From the Vaults: Appreciation of Claude Shannon. 

It's about as hard now to imagine the world of the telegraph as it is to imagine the world of the cuneiform. IT was a distant technology even when I was a lad, although there were Western Union offices in most fair-sized towns. One found telegrams in parents' mementos trunks - and they appeared, read by comically droll Western Union delivery men or boys,  in the old movies -  STOP -  the old movies that filled up so much of the time on early TV - STOP - We knew that telegrams were clipped and sparse- their words precious. The sound of the telegram was the staccato dispatch. The sound of telecommunications was electric dits and dahs, 0's and 1's -- it was the variable length Morse (telegraphic) code and then the fixed-length Baudot and Murray (teletype) codes.

I think we're this go away is going is a discussion of the oral word versus the written word and the interpolation of mathematics and words (words representing meaning) (math representing meaning) .. funny but as I edit this (8-7-2017) I am spending my 'vacation day' writing about related topic of semantic technology - which in effect mixes words and numbers. And is in turn related in part to computational linguistics - the branch of linguistics in which the techniques of computer science are applied to the analysis and synthesis of language and speech.


Babbage's machine.
What is it that astonishes children in any given era changes in the details but sails on in the main.  For young harles Babbage it was mechanical marvels. His mother took him as boy to John Merlins mechanical museum in Hanover Square. Not without means, Babbage later purchased some of the pieces, including naked ballet figures, one he dutifully then clothed, at auction. He was a boy that could imagine an Erector Set long before Gilbert. Some of the chapter stories of The Information will be familiar. I had some knowledge of Babbage that is repeated here. His calculating engines set the stage for modern computing (by influencing Hollderith, at least), tho the machine works of his time were too imprecise for his machines to be built. But reprise was useful as some was new and even more was learned but forgotten.

He enumerated the many mechanical pieces from the index, the cog, the axle, the trigger, the hook, the claw, the spring to the ratchet wheel.

Babbage's great success was conceptual: to envision mechanisms that would "throw the power of thought into wheel-work." Like many of his era, Babbage was a polymath, interested in everything; what was different about him was his interest in both mathematics and the state of the art of machine tooling and industry. He wrote ' On the economy of machinery and manufactures'.   His analysis of pin production makes you think of later Time and Motion studies. His pursuit of the dual interests (math and machining) set a great amount of cross breeding into motion.

The meaning of this to The Information's larger story: calculation becomes ever more intrinsic to understanding. In Babbage's words "Calculation becomes continually more necessary at each step of our progress."  Then came Ada.

At the end, alas, what he had created was not an invention, but a curio. We may walk away from our encounter with Norbert Weiner with a similar impression.


p.216 Is where the Shannon part of the story reaches zenith - his theory of information. 

all this stuff is attached for me to a somewhat opaque shroud of time. funnily, when I met up with Shannon in 68 or 69 it was at Racine Public Library I will never leave in an investigation I would never finish, reading about alchemy but looking at the information technology of the day too, I'd guess in an effort to go back to a first principles time when science and humanism were more of a kind. in a mix of Renaissance and mystic middle ages, after reading Wayne McGuire's study of the Velvets, technology and violence.[Just this week, Sept 21, 2017, have been reintroduced to the War in Vietnam via Ken Burns PBS opus, including a discussion for "Hamlet measurement technology" mainframe era sociological statistics on war.']

Shannon noted he was using 'information' as term that was related to the word i everyday use, but which should not be confused with that p.219

At one point p222 inset quote has Shannon to say "the semantical aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem" - I wonder how that plays out in the present era, as a bro-ha-ha about technology generated fake news ensues.

Note.. Amping up signal over long hauls did not help - it created more noise. p223 oddly this is the feedback phenomena that gained most of Winter's attention - Shannon was interested in finding the signal and canceling the noise.

Instead of boosting power (TBC)

- Jack Vaughan

Landscape Traditions of China

Holland Cotter in NYTimes

Quite a scene it is. Cliffs soar skyward; torrents stream down. This is a nature as a theater of big, dwarfing effects. And it’s charged with a weird, creaturely energy. Streams and Mountains Without End.

Hanging scrolls deliver their basic image fast — pow! — then leave you to sort out details. A second form of landscape painting, the hand scroll, operates on a different dynamic. When viewed as intended, slowly unrolled on a tabletop, one section at a time, it’s a cinematic experience, about anticipation, suspense, what’s coming next

In a section called “The Poetic Landscape,” he links nature painting to Chinese literary tradition. Common to both was a goal of making mood — existential atmosphere — primary content. A 14th-century hanging scroll by the Yuan painter Tang Di is based on a couplet by the famed poet Wang Wei (A.D. 699-759). Wang’s poem is telegraphically stark:

I walk to where the water ends
And sit and watch as clouds arise.

nature has a final word. The emperor, doing his emperor thing, is little more than a dot against the river behind him, which rolls on.

Some small poems

Lone bird
It's blues

As summer
Gets hotter - 
The conversation
Is more

And big jets
Of endless commerce
Scarf up what's left
of the sky.


I'm a bygone day
cant go to the hardware
and  keep from crying


skunk in the garden
known for its spray
wakes me at night
and tells me to turn
each fan on exhaust

i saw its other side
skunk rooting
low and prehistoric
tending to the earth
slow moving
like a sloth

i have never
such patience
would like to be so calm and cool

for now i
tend to
the sky.


(After Apollinaire's "Pretty Red Head" )

Pale, fragile
ruddy red haired girl

and dark nomad-eyed
friend girl

in black

they stand close by 
the big box
of silver needs
at the 

held by a magnetism 
i am thinking
mysticism too. 

- Asa Wentoff-Juan Mourning, 2009


Swimming lessons

The farmboys would send
their dogs on me -
as I rode my Schwinn on
the road -
where the cabbage
were humming.
(Pua Sadinia)

I came upon a waterfall
on the beautiful island
Light flowed through the greenery
on a flower like a diamond.

John the Revelator, great advocator
Get's 'em on the battle of Zion
Lord, tellin' the story, risin' in glory
Cried, "Lord, don't you love some I"
Well Moses to Moses, watchin' the flock[13]
Saw the bush where they had to stop[14]
God told Moses, "Pull off your shoes"[15]
Out of the flock, well you I choose[16]


Morn blues

I just remembered | 
that it's election day | 
So I bop on down behind the church | 
n vote for Tito Jackson

From the train I saw | 
radio tower disappear | 
it's top in cloudy mist - 
Next stop Waban  


On leaving my Aunt Gert's burying

Gert's car - a gold Buick -
My dad had her sign over 
On just about her death bed
To me.

It was really small fare
for the care he gave her
on her way out the turnstile.

And - tho not as hip
as her previous SS like Skylark -
it was choice.

almost literally 
only been used to go
to church. There
in Harwichport.

Gert's car - refused to start
on the sunny day that 
I was leaving her burying.

Did my cousin  or me
jump the starter 
with a screwdriver?

I don’t know - but 
t'was a chuckle and a back shiver
as the old gold Buick started
and we held wonderment 
at ghostly electricity

the graveyard 

Feeling Monkish : Rumination

I was reading a Thelonius Monk biography while just hanging in the waiting room at the Music School.

I read a bit about Monk. How, let's call him Leonard Fritters, wrote a bad review on him in a book about Bebop. Said he didn’t play very well, the usual thing.

When Monk saw him next at Rockefeller Cntr - per family lore -  he started to strangle Leonard, and held him over the fencing above the ice rink. Saying : "You are taking food off the table for my family." Wow!

It's like the era of our parents came from  -that which we in effect came out of was an age of Looney Tunes - when the slightest motivation turned into act, and consequences were whatever they were.  Where's Ralph? He walked in front of a train. Darn, pass the biscuits. And after us, whaat? -Jack Vaughan

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Data science and dev ops thoughts


A new profession takes a time to truly develop, if it's animal husbandry, barbering, bridge building or what have you. For software development, the journey is just underway.

The software profession took clear steps forward during the 1960s. Programmers had become essential to U.S. military defense, and, led by IBM, it was entrenched in American industry

The imperative to go to the Moon set a lot of money to circulating, and there was interest and enough of it to fund study of how software teams were successfully formed, and how their results could become reliably reproducible.

If you had the right methodology, your process could  be repeatable, said the expert, just before telling you to that you could throw away yours and use his. that his methodology was the best. Predictable.

There was Yourdon and Booch and Rumbaugh and Popkin and so on.

That is overstated for effect, of course. So is the joke:  Q: What is a methodology? A: It’s a method that went to college.

The great clarion of software engineering was sounded by Frederick Brooks, in a paper that was to become The Mythical Man-Month. Working at IBM, Brooks studied and found some surprising truths about complex software and projects, the most telling being that where he proves that projects actually slow down more when leaders begin adding more people to a project as it gets closer to actual completion. Brooks and others gave a philosophical underpinning for structured analysis.

One of the methodologists, Grady Booch, traces advances in software engineering to the SAGE project, the Cold War computer network. SAGE stood for semi-automatic ground environment, and it ran from the late 1950s to the 1980s. Iit presented a unified image garnered from many radar sites, and was inspiration for one of the satirical props of the "war room" in Kubrick's With the purpose to defend the country from nuclear attack, it cost more than the Manhattan project.
In the SAGE era there was a tremendous amount of software written [ 22:38 ]

I am afraid our leader is not
particularly stable. - Capt. Mandrake
"It was from the SAGE experience we learned there was this software crisis going on. That the cost of building software was increasingly a limiting factor in being able to deliver systems of value," he has said.

Out of defense systems' experience arose Structured Analysis, or Structured Methods. And that was where waterfall methods. "You analyze your requirements, you design everything up front, and then you start building things," as Booch puts it. This approach grew a mind of its own, and eventually ran its course. But it served a purpose or two.

The advent of the software engineer meant there was someone you could put in jail, or at least discharge, if their software killed someone. When there was need for new title for raises at the turn of the centrury, arose then did the software architect (Paging Mr. Art Vanderlay!)]

Now, with the data scientist, we take another step on the winding road to professionalism.  Are they really scientists? Of course not. And what do they need more than anything? Good judgement - of the kind that comes from experience, and humanistic understanding of the context of data.

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