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Occupying Portland

Spewed from the brain of tom on

I’ve been having a hell of a time trying to figure out my stance on the eviction of Occupy Portland, less than 9 hours from now. Writing this out helped.

Yes, Occupations have an asshole problem[1]. Yes, Occupy is about more than tents, and there may be better places to occupy than a kettled-in park – homes in foreclosure (as in Occupy Atlanta), boiler rooms squeezing tenants by denying heat (as in Occupy Wall Street), empty storefronts in the hollowed-out downtown, and parks in neighborhoods city-wide in need of more direct democracy and horizontal organizing (pain in the ass that it is). Yes, Portland has sent in social outreach to the vulnerable homeless, addicted, and mentally troubled campers, and yes, that shows understanding that problems in camp are symptoms of society, not of Occupy. Even though I disagree with Mayor Sam Adams (and really don’t want his job right now), Portland’s local government has been dealing with Occupy in a way that is non-insane, which is a refreshing difference from the reactions to Occupy Cal and Occupy Oakland.

However, while refusing to leave quietly is inconvenient, and annoying, and irritating as hell, and while refusing to leave quietly may provide opportunities for jerks in black (be it black bloc operators too dumb to understand game theory, riot cops who swing batons when they’re nervous, or one dressing as the other) to do something aggressive and stupid in front of a whole lot of video cameras with potentially global audiences… what else can we do? Corporate personhood has brought us an environmental strategy of “What’s 5 or 10 degrees Celsius surface temperature increase among inhuman single-dimensional decision makers?”, while our elected decision makers underfund social services to pay for robots to kill teenagers protesting overseas[2]. It’s like the bit where a Nazi officer notices he’s wearing a skull on his cap, and it occurs to him that they might be the bad guys[3]. It would be funny, if it weren’t for the killer robots and dead teenagers.

We are fighting invisible monsters; sorry for the inconvenience.

I’m going to head down, enjoy the Occu-fest potluck and music[4], bring a couple of cameras with full batteries, have a bicycle with me in case of swarming[5], and see what happens. I figure the best way to keep things peaceful in a leaderless movement is to bring a lot of people who want to be peaceful down to the leaderless movement. Join in, say hi. If things become too tense, you can leave at anytime. Be merry and bear witness: this isn’t a war, it’s a rescue mission.

[1] http://www.spockosbrain.com/2011/11/04/occupys-asshole-problem-flashbacks-from-an-old-hippie/
[1.5] EDITED TO ADD: Please read “Who? Are? The 99 Percent”, for a critical view on the idea of an ‘asshole problem.’
[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/15553761
[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEle_DLDg9Y
[4] http://occupyportland.org/2011/11/11/open-invitation-occu-fest/
[5] http://bikeportland.org/2011/11/11/bicycle-swarm-planned-to-protect-occupy-encampment-from-police-61878

the new timeline of suck

Spewed from the brain of tom on

I believe that in the first year of this project, I have committed most creative sins Merlin refers to in this talk, with the happy exception of activities worth promotion to the rank of Salami Commander. The result: tens of thousands of words, which are totally not a book.

I tried a few more things that didn’t work during my internet fast, before discovering that writing longhand is awesome. There’s time to think. I can’t back up to reorganize. I can’t get distracted by research notes. I have to just sit there, sucking at writing, and in doing so, getting better very slowly.

I’ll be sucking at writing in this fashion until October 31, at which point I’ll set that draft aside to marinate. From November 1 to the solstice, I’ll be pounding out 50,000 words of unrelated drivel (and won’t you join me?), and getting the interactive site to work like I want. (If you’re Ruby-on-Rails-inclined, here’s the zeroth draft on github.) After the holiday break, we’ll start making the book better: I want to have the site’s tires getting kicked starting January 6th, and the first missions starting a week later. I’m fully anticipating being humbled by my software naivete, but the basic idea is to give you one or more ways to read and annotate as I edit and add supporting material.

That’s the state of things. In short, make it, then make it better. I’m still vulnerable to clicktrance (so… many… tvtropes…) so I’m trying to be online minimally, but I will shout for help on twitter if needed, or maybe hold some stalker office hours. See you in the world.


net work / in me shed

Spewed from the brain of tom on

I went to the island, spent time with people I like, and watched bats and satellites and stars, stars, stars, which are countable only in the strictest technical sense. Then, in the middle of the night, I swallowed several high-degree polynomials, washed them down with tequila and a squeeze of Zorn’s Lemma, and dreamed.

In my dream I saw a spider the size of a dinner plate. I watched it doing its spider business: weaving, waiting, trapping and wrapping, devouring the silk of damaged sections and rebuilding, navigating its home-that-is-a-weapon, fearless of becoming trapped within its designs. Of what I saw beyond this, I cannot speak.

* * *

I’ve returned to my more ordinary home-with-laundry-and-dishes, located at the corner of Consensus and Reality, and re-engineered Punk Mathematics. I’ve simplified its structure, leaving investigations of Weird Economics and Datamancy for future projects. I’m also declaring a six-week internet and news moratorium. This will save time I would otherwise spend screaming, “This story has a number in it and so is vital to the cause! Bring me index cards and drugs!”

Before I conceal myself in the dark, securing a dragline and working my spinnerets, I give you a mission, should you choose to accept it. Go out onto the web or into the world and bring back your punk mathematical findings. Since people seem to understand the original video pretty well, I bet you already have an idea of what your own punk mathematics might be. Personally, I think a lot about:

  • Mathematical schooling, unschooling, and true things you don’t believe;
  • The hard numbers of poverty and collapsonomics;
  • Whether measurement leads to mechanization;
  • Algorithms for synergizing and monetizing human extinction;
  • Symmetry and yrtemmyS;
  • Games of coercion, games of freedom;
  • Networks of control and trust;
  • Systems and The System

Save your findings to Delicious, Flickr, or Pinboard.in and tag them “mathpunx”, or post them to Twitter with the hashtag “#mathpunx”. (If you use another social site, let me know in the comments.) Depending on how intelligent the archive drones* become, we’ll end up with a Chapter N that is somewhere between “Old Spice Math Guy” bits and “NLP Visualization Datamancy Hax0r”.

Good hunting. I’ll be in me shed.

* – Technical note: The stupid drone feeds results into Google Reader. The less stupid drone, when built, will end up in this currently blank Github repository. I’m writing it in my Newbie Ruby and coding help is always appreciated.

for all men x, x is not an island

Spewed from the brain of tom on

Nevertheless, I’m heading to an island this weekend, that Nature might provide some workaday transcendance. Rudy Rucker, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul:

…[E]xpressing a desire to have a spiritual life might activate, let us say, certain brain centers that release endorphins, which in turn affect the threshold levels of one’s neurons. And these changes nudge the brain activities to a new strange attractor. A deterministic chaotic bifurcation occurs.

Wish me luck.

rubber teardrop + nibbled to death by ducks

Spewed from the brain of Tom on

My goal for the week was a video update, catching you guys up to speed on Phase II of the master plan. Instead it’s been a week of chaste surge protectors (don’t ask) and video clips going inexplicably green. Hideous, night-vision green.

While I troubleshoot this development (I’d pun off ‘development’ but it’s video not film), check out the Rubber Teardrop Kickstarter. It’s the latest project of Keith Schreiner (music and production for later Math for Primates episodes) and David Pennington a.k.a. @deviousgoldfish, the director/editor/awesomifier of the Punk Mathematics video. They’ve been updating heavily and changing up rewards as time goes on. Time will go on for Rubber Teardrop for another 68 hours.


Spewed from the brain of tom on

I’m testing out the Foresight Engine, which is likely to contribute some DNA to the Punk Mathematics game. It’s going on right now, for the next 24 hours.

How it works: There’s a scenario (in this case, the development of a “smart grid”, which is basically an energy infrastructure that has modern information technology alongside for clever tricks, load balancing, etc.) As players, we’re generating lots and lots of ideas by playing “cards” of various types. There are different types of cards representing different modes of thought, and you get points for having people build on your cards.

Soooo, this means the proper game-theoretic collusion trick is to start building on each others’ cards. You can search for a username in the dashboard–I’m mathpunk, and jannamark, Sigafoos, and thoughtgram are also playing on Team Mathpunx. Come play, and if you are on twitter, let us know your game username via the #mathpunx tag.

Update: Players I know are in our emergent team. Remember, you get points for provoking responses, so you can help each other out by playing off each others’ cards (legitimately, of course).







streams of information

Spewed from the brain of tom on

The book’s going well. But any update I write would be, at this point, really boring. “He sits. He picks up an index card. He enters it in the most likely place in the mega mindmap. He makes a checkmark. He picks up an index card.” So, please enjoy this ramble from my thank-god-i’m-not-forced-to-take-another-sick-day-but-boy-am-i-not-well-yet brain.

I get asked a lot why the PM Kickstarter really kicked off, and I give the credit to my awesome twitter followers, for spreading the word. Over two years of trying to have a stream worth following — and, of course, getting some love from the Eye of BoingBoing — I had 2,000 followers. There was no shortcut; I just tried to understand how twitter worked, to use the social norms deftly, to connect people who had not been connected, and to post things that were useful, or if not useful at least interesting, and if not interesting at least funny.

Anyway, over time I’ve ended up with a follow list that’s too big to keep up with. Some people experience twitter like TV — they read whoever is on right then — and that works, except I’m noticing I’m missing way too much from people I actually relate to and interact with.

Sooo, while my brain is still recovering and slimy with viral toxins, I’m culling my twitter stream. I don’t want to lose the information I get from the people I have so far failed to unfollow, but I want to firewall it. Ergo, here are a couple of lists I’m making, that I thought you might like:

[Edited: For some reason the links to these lists keep changing. Go to my lists page to find them, it's more stable. -T.]

arte-e-scienza – In my head, I use the term “arte e scienza” to talk about art and science without fretting about which is which. I get the phrase from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, which is a pretty ambitious title but it is one of my favorite self-help-style books of all time, and it really taught me to observe. There’s some mainstream science journalism, some conceptual data artists, and people whose work I just plain admire.

translocal-power – It was self-defense against a huge stream of information about the Egyptian youth revolution in Tahrir Square that really convinced me I needed to finally make the big cull. This list is journalists I’ve failed to unfollow, thinkers about cyberrevolution, politicians, media twitterati, activists, crowdsourcers, people who amuse me while ranting about the state of the world… Politics and economics are getting really intriguingly warped by network effects.


sullen and bathrobey

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I enjoy working from home. My front windows accumulate lovely mathy dry-erase diagrams. Snacks are close. Pants are optional. But, after complaints from Management that my pages were coming in ‘sullen and bathrobey’, I allowed it might be worth trying a dedicated work environment.

So, I’ve started working from NedSpace Downtown, a coworking spot in downtown Portland.  I’m not going to say Management was right, but I will admit that I save some time not stopping to explain game theory to the cat. And I guess pants aren’t so bad.

Now, if you’re reading this you’ll have noticed that I’ve got a new website, punkmathematics.com. This is where I’ll be updating the project, and thanks to the ecommerce efforts of lovely and talented webmeister Jeremy Duke of Tekbot.Networks, you’ll be able to buy cool swag.  We’ve just ordered some sweet t-shirts with the ‘Math Anarchy’ logo on the front and a URL on the back. The men’s shirts are already designed; women’s shirts will follow shortly.

Punk Mathematics T-Shirts!

Order now!


When March comes around, this will also be the home of Punk Mathematics Online. I’m happy to announce that I’ll be working with Natron Baxter Applied Gaming to make PM into a properly 21st-century interactive transmedia hullabaloo. Here, the  Baxters discuss Gameful, their new collaborative game design platform (and Kickstarter success!) and the promises and perils of the gamification fad. I also save links on games and play here. (Some links are saved with the help of robots, so there will be  occasional false positives and negatives for all of your serendipity needs.)

Next week: Opening the phones!


Thanks to @natronbaxter, @seriosity, @useablelearning, and @NicoleLazzaro for populating my games-and-play links. The technically minded might also want links on game theory and quantum games.

long live punkmathematics.com!

Spewed from the brain of Tom on

punkmathematics.com went live today!  If you’re reading this post, you’ve found it!  Here are a few things you should know…

-Pre-orders of the book are available on the Merch! page.

-We support shipping to all 50 United States as well as UK and Ireland.  We’re working on adding more shipping options.  Tell us where you live and we’ll add it to our profile.  (Shipping is based on USPS Priority Mail).

-We’ll track the progress of the book on the Updates page

-We’ll be adding items to the store as quickly as we can.  We’ll have buttons and stickers and probably T-shirts as well.  Post other stuff you want in the comments and we’ll look into it!

Also, how cool is this?

-Punk Mathematics was featured on WIRED magazine’s GEEKDAD Blog.

-It was also recently featured in The Portland Mercury Online.

-Tom’s interview on technoccult, a must-read

-Tom on boingboing

-Another article about the book at coilhouse

-A long thread on ycombinator’s HACKER NEWS

If you see more coverage of Tom online, post the link in the comments and we’ll add it to the list.  If the article has a comments feature, link to punkmathematics.com and we’ll send you a free button!

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