Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is Bret Stephens Stupid?

Or does he assume everyone else is as stupid? That's one of the hallmarks of a stupid person, you know.

Whenever I need to know what stupid people are supposed to be thinking, I read the editorials at the Wall Street Journal. And then, if I want to know what incredibly stupid people are thinking, I'll read the comments from the readers of the WSJ. If these people are a representative cross-section of the business executive population, it's a wonder we don't have a stock crash every other day.

It's really quite sad how, with Murdoch buying that paper, it has just turned into the worst shitrag on the market. Take the following opinion from Bret Stephens on the Great Global Warming Fizzle. According to the WSJ, Bret Stephens received his education at the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics. Really, I didn't know they offered a degree in fluffing.

And the op/ed piece Stephens wrote is unquestionably a professional level fluff job. The question is who is he fluffing? Is this just a feel good piece for the readers? Something to take their minds off how much they suck, compared to the general population? I don't know. It sure as hell isn't supposed to be factual or persuasive or of any useful purpose in terms of a worthwhile dialog.

So I have to assume this is just Bret Stephens' print version of a holiday blowjob to his readers.

Slurp. Slurp. Says Stephens:
"Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen. As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term "climate change" when thermometers don't oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other "deniers." And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit".
So, what I'm guessing is he is none too popular with the evangelical portion of the conservative tribe. You know, the Tea Party types who want us all to buy into the notion that America is a Christian nation first and foremost? To call these people "spectacularly unattractive", for starters, is an interesting form of fellatio. But is that it? Is that his only descriptive for climatologists  and those who heed their data? That's hardly a convincing argument. Not to mention that listed among those poor deluded religious types are hard-nosed realists like the US Armed Forces and insurance companies. But their opinion doesn't matter to Stephens. He keeps blathering away like the oily little shill he is:

"Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the climate apocalypse. Namely, the financial apocalypse. The U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and the EU have all but confirmed they won't be signing on to a new Kyoto. The Chinese and Indians won't make a move unless the West does. The notion that rich (or formerly rich) countries are going to ship $100 billion every year to the Micronesias of the world is risible, especially after they've spent it all on Greece".
So, I guess because the tycoons to whom Stephens services have taken a big old shit and fallen over, and have wasted all of the working people's hard-earned monies on a scam, climate change is now no longer a problem. Exemplary reasoning there Slurpy! Smarmy Fuckface continues:

"Cap and trade is a dead letter in the U.S. Even Europe is having second thoughts about carbon-reduction targets that are decimating the continent's heavy industries and cost an estimated $67 billion a year. "Green" technologies have all proved expensive, environmentally hazardous and wildly unpopular duds."
  Cap and trade is dead. Who killed that again? Who was not going to make a money on that? And, uh, why is Europe accelerating the second phase of their carbon trade system, if it is wrecking their economy? And why is it that the world economies are now putting more monies into renewable energy than fossil fuel in new power generation? Could it be that Stephens is ignoring facts, pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate? Or is he just yawning that jaw bone as far open as he can to accept cock? Well, he's paid, well for his services, so...

Wait a minute, now, what about all those hacked climategate emails? What's the word on their impact. Oh, right, still doesn''t change the fundamental science. Still doesn't change the consensus.

And who hacked them anyway? Who's in trouble for hacking into lately? Hmm?

And despite the climate "skeptics" shrill denouncements, the evidence against them keeps piling up. Why, even a Koch-funded scientist who was supposed to debunk global wamring says it's all real.

Oops. Sorry, Stephens. Maybe you should just stick to opining about bombing Iran.

Addition: Latest NOAA report suggests we lost the battle of Arctic recovery back in 2006.

Sorry, Bret, you silly little cocksucker, but Greenland is getting green - or will be in your pampered little lifetime:

Again with the Red Eye!

Last time it happened, back in April 2010, I chalked it up to abrasive grit in the eye. This time out, I didn't notice it until someone told me I had blood in my eye. I thought they meant I was angry. No they meant blood in my eye. Now it itches. Might be pink eye this time. So, probably pink eye the last time as well.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Reagan Divergences


How We Initiated a Global Thermonuclear Armageddon Without Really Trying.

Once more, I find myself in the Best of All Possible Worlds (BOAPW) in the year 2050CE. Which means I'm 450 million light years from Earth, seated in an incredibly ergonomic buttock-caressing barstool at the bar in Sam's Pub. I'm drinking a spectacular super lager with just the right amount of hops. Not enough to be overpowering, but enough to give the beer a bite.

It's a beautiful day here in Spiral City. I know this because all the bars here are not darkened caves but open to the sky, with windows and skylights everywhere. I can see just the most achingly beautiful set of puffy clouds right above me, and the horizon holds a darkness of promise - a warm, gentle, delightful rain later this afternoon.

A quick check of the Mr. Mark's Melodies app via my nonlocally connected aqueous assistant assures me that (per the musical incantations Mark derived from his father Hugh Everett III's nearly-lost Basement Equations*), there is not a Divergence in sight for the next week. I'm worry free through next Monday. What could be better? In the BOAPW? Um, nothing.

I often am amazed at how we pulled it off. Humanity, that is. How we not only managed to survive, but became worthy of survival. How a Hobbsian race - feral, brutish, and nasty - through a miraculous serendipity, became a fairly decent and respectable species - gentle, wise, tolerant, generous, and most importantly to sparse and fragile alien life, neighborly. Still more amazing is how we spread throughout the cosmos in a mere twenty years to occupy a cubic hundred thousand billion light year volume of spacetime. A volume which, despite our teeming trillions, is still imbued with a population density barely that of a wisp of smoke. Even more amazing is how the Older Races (vast forces eons older than us) tolerate our existence, and well, honestly, even when we reach their plateau, do not view us as a threat.

Could things get any better? Again, in the BOAPW? Quite simply, no.

This past week, being the universally recognized period of thanksgiving, is just a touch ironic given the anniversaries of a huge horde of Divergences that occur.  And a disturbing majority of them are Reagan Divergences.

True, the nuclear arms race peaked in 1986, but its the years 1981 through 1985 that have more nuclear wars than the rest of the 20th century put together. Amazing. The peak of these Divergences is, not surprisingly, November 24th, 1985. You'd think it might be March 24th, 1983, the day after Reagan made his "Star Wars" speech. But no, with the Reagan administration's dismissal reinterpretation of the ABM Treaty in late October 1985, the Soviets conclude that the US is gearing up to start a nuclear war. The expected value of the contingent shit hitting the counterfactual fan jumps alarmingly several dozen times on November 24th. 

Reagan with Dr. Merkwürdigliebe
The whole harrowing slew of disasters finally tapered off soon after, when Foreign Minister Anatoly Dobrynin informed President Reagan of the Soviet Doomsday Machine (officially known as System Perimeter, and unofficially as Dead Hand). The formerly belligerent Reagan, after realizing that all of his rhetoric and actions had been interpreted as an intention on the part of the United States to start a nuclear war, settled the fuck down.

Fortunately for all of us, the old asshole did settle the fuck down, and it also helped that Gorbachev stepped onto the stage. Few recognize the value of this man, but that's the reason there's a statue to him down in the central park of Spiral City.

The Good Earth, courtesy
And in 2050CE, I don't think you can find much that is named after Reagan anymore. Not even the National Airport in Washington DC, back on good old Earth.

* Did I not explain all this? Mark Everett, son of Hugh Everett III, found a pile of papers crammed with mathematical formulae in the basement of the family home. Mark, like most of humanity, not being instinctively statistically inclined, called three of his father's friends to see if they wanted the stuff. Fortunately for all us, the four of them were able, through an interpretation of tones and rhythms, to convert Hugh's maths into musical incantations. Those incantations opened up time, space, the forces of nature, and the universe to humanity. Proper applications of such showed us all possible contingencies to every possible situation. This allowed us to avoid the majority of catastrophes which would befall humanity for a million years up and down the arrow of Time. Catastrophes which, through avoidance, become unfortunate alternate timelines now known as Divergences. They also pointed us toward the associational coherence which, now called the Convergence, possessed us all into a one-and-only-one wonderful Now known as BOAPW.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Tale of the Captain Nemo and the Leafblower


It's the "What Can We Do With Oxygen?" Show!

For your holiday cheer. Back home in Indiana last weekend, a friend of mine had some dead wood littering his yard. We cut it up to burn it in his chimnea (which, because of the way it looks, like a steam powered diving helmet, I call it Captain Nemo).

After about fifteen seconds into the process of cutting and chopping up these small limbs of pretty much rotted wood, I was completely exhausted. I reminded myself of someone I knew in my youth, who was (possibly still is) the second most laziest person on the planet. This person's classic line, when we went for a hike in Turkey Run State Park, was: "Let's not going anywhere uphill."

I am told by eldest brother that I should not feel so badly about being feeble, and that, being in our mid-50s, by frontiersman's standards of life expectancy, we would be under the ground for some time now. Still, these past 10,000 years have made wusses of us all, have they not? In more robust times, I'd have just snapped all those limbs by hand, without the use of tools.

(Also, isn't it funny how there are places like Titan and Neptune with literally trillions of years worth of natural gas to burn through, but it would take the next technological energy source to get to them? Ironic.)

The other irony I would note is that, we worry so much about fossil carbon resources, and yet, as this video shows, we care very little for our fossil oxygen resource. The only time one cares about breathing, is when he cannot draw breath.

Enough talk, on with the show. Next week, firecrackers and liquid nitrogen!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


When I was about twelve or thirteen years of age, I found a book at the public library titled "Spacetime Physics", by Edwin F. Taylor, and John Wheeler. Despite having only just mastered decimals, fractions, and ratios, I was able to follow this book on Einstein's Special Relativity.

It wasn't that I was a precocious young sprout. Rather that the text of this book was just so damn clear and accessible that even a 6th grader could follow it.

Well, after reading through the book a few times,  I realized I could compute just how much fuel the starship Enterprise needed to zoom around in space.

Well, actually, no. I didn't know about the square root of minus one yet. I also had no solid figures on what the equivalent to specific impulse a warp plasma  using a dilithium conversion of matter/antimatter explosion was.

Relativistic Kinetic Energy
So, instead, I decided, since I knew what specific impulse was from my geek eldest brother, I decided to find out just how much fuel it would take for 190,000 tons of the Enterprise to go from zero to almost the speed of light (.99c) using its impulse drive. I just found the (theoretical) numbers in other books at the library, applied No. 2 pencil to yellow tab paper, plugged in the numbers into the equation for relativistic momentum, and voila!

Imagine my disappointment, when my figures indicated a fuel tank full of liquid hydrogen approximately ten times the volume of the USS Enterprise.

Well, my sixth grade calculations were off just a bit. Really more like a fuel tank a thousand times the volume of the Enterprise. Nevertheless, I was quite disillusioned with the show.

(I think that was also the year I figured a loving personal God was also probably not in the offings as well. At least, no God worth worshiping. But that was done strictly via good old fashioned logic and scholasticism. So, two birds with one stone, basically).

But the graph for relativistic momentum provided me with a new epistemological metaphor for science and technology and truth. See? The closer you get to absolute truth, the harder it gets to get there. That particular mental model stuck with me well through high school, until I got to college.

No, I did not become a postmodern relativist butthead, thank you. I just realized that:

1) There may be no such thing as absolute truth
2) If such a thing exists, the path to it may be not so straightforward and direct
3) There's always going backwards, backtracking, dead ends, blind alleys, and wild goose chases
4) Even if you manage to struggle to the top of one mountain, there's a whole new, much bigger range on the horizon.

Now what do I think about stuff like this?

I think... I think I need a nap.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Worm and the Thing

- or - Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk For Free?

I'll just call them Victor (as in Frankenstein). Pardon the nationality mashup, since we don't know who they are, but have a pretty good idea that they are a they and that they are either Russian or Ukrainian (I'm betting Russian).

I call them Victor because they created a monster. It's theirs and they pwn it. They created more than just a monster, though. They created a whole new business model, and it is the wave of the future. And it is brilliant, because they borrowed from the best, the strategy of evolution itself.

In 1938 John Campbell wrote a science fiction novella called "Who Goes There?" Later it was adapted into two movies. The first movie by Howard Hawks, "The Thing From Another World", was considered a science fiction horror movie classic. The second movie, John Carpenter's "The Thing", conforms more to the original story. In Hawks' version, the monster is your standard humanoid monster, ala Frankenstein's monster. In Carpenter's version, it is much more alien, more like the Blob - all consuming, but with that imposter twist - and the accompanying paranoia as to whom to trust.

I've read Campbell's novella, and it scared the hell out me. I'll tell you why. One of the more delicious fears one can have is not fear of death, but fear of lack of control. The alien creature doesn't just consume you. It imitates you. It enslaves you. It mutilates your mind and will, and binds you to service it. The other factor is just the right amount of information. In a horror flick, or in a story, you need just enough information to know that something is a threat, perhaps even an existential threat, but not so much information that you are familiar with the threat. This has always been a problem in movies. How much of the monster do you show? Not enough, and it is all just boring. Too much, and the monster is just another character.

There is a defining scene in Campbell's story when the humans realize that even the tiniest piece of monster can take over an organism. And when one character realizes that their cows have not been monitored against "infection", and that they have all been drinking the milk.
"Mac, how long have the... cows been... not cows?"
 It's a great creepy moment, when he realizes, in a fit of revulsion, hysteria, and self-loathing, that he may be a Thing and not even know it.

So it is with Victor's monster. What is Victor's monster? Well, you may have heard of it. It's called the Conficker Worm. It's a computer worm that was unleashed (as far as we know) back in 2008 or so.

Well, hold on. What's a worm? The term can be traced back to John Brunner's amazingly prescient 1975 science fiction novel "The Shockwave Rider". Brunner envisioned a future world connected by a global "data-net". The data-net, in turn, is controlled by a malevolent corporate-state entity. The protagonist of the story, a hacker named Nick Haflinger, creates a computer program he calls a "tapeworm", which infiltrates the net, takes control over computers, issues orders to replicate itself in still more computers, and, ultimately subverts the data-net, and releases all the nasty crony-capitalist secret files to the public.

Brunner chose to call the program a tapeworm because the viral code consisted of a string of segments that could each reproduce itself onto another computer - another "node" in the net.

The Conficker worm does pretty much that, but without the good intentions. Once this worm infiltrated a computer (yours, perhaps) it would look for others, and continue replicating as far as it could. All of these computers would then link themselves into a "botnet". A botnet is capable of good and bad things. The good witch versions of botnets could also be called "clouds", and they are capable of tremendous data-processing feats that allow complex problems to be solved, or vast amounts of data to be shared and stored. The bad witch version of botnets can be used to launch Denial of Service attacks against websites, or unleash a storm of spam, phish for identity theft, rattle cyberlocks for open doors to steal funds, or flood networks with all sorts of scareware and fraudulent bullshit. If you have enough computers and infiltrated the right systems, you could even, conceivably, disrupt a nation's electronic grid, or banks, or telephones, air traffic, financial markets, health-care systems, or even take down the entire Internet itself.

You could do all those awful things, that is, if you are thinking like a small-time hoodlum, a small-minded one-time blackmailer, a hooligan, a vandal, a stupid barbarian. But then again, for someone smart enough to code something that stymies even the hackers that created the Internet, why would you do that? There is so much more money to be had, power to be accrued, if your botnet is big and stable and lasts for a long, long time.

And there's the brilliant business model. Rather than raise havoc, or rent out access to the botnet to two-bit spammers and scammers, crooks, thieves, and blackmailing fraudsters, you could do a number of other neat things with it. Think of Victor as "ковбой", cowboy, or better still, a cattle baron, his botnet his dairy herd, and the Internet as the Great Plains filled with grass, free for the browsing.

Well, wait, wait, wait a minute, how big of a botnet are we talking about? Well, at one point, it's estimated that Conficker enslaved around 9 million computers, creating quite possibly something approaching the biggest platform on the planet. Oh, companies came up with anti-viral software to purge it, and institutions and businesses have wiped it off of their systems, but actually, it's still around. It's estimated by this guy to average at six and a half million PCs, marshaling a formidable eighteen million CPUs, and capable of generating 28 trillion bytes per second of bandwidth.

That's quite a cloud. The next biggest cloud is Google, with a measly 8% of capacity and processing power. Conficker is not a worm. Not anymore. Conficker is a Thing. A very, very big Thing, and this Thing is never, ever going to go away.

If you wanted to get rid of this Thing, what could you do? Well, create a bigger Thing to smush it, I guess. That's about it. And some people would like to do that, because they feel that this Thing out there represents a threat to freedom of information, and free access, and all that other technocrat-utopian  crystal rainbows and marshmallow unicorns stuff that we all wish would happen.

But it won't happen. That Thing out there? It's not going away. And it's doing stuff. It's processing stuff. It's active. We don't what it's doing, but it's doing something.

Should you be scared? Nah.

If you spent all your time worrying about every existential threat that could befall you, why, you'd be paralyzed into inaction. This is just another annoyance. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just the way the future is. All I know is, unlike the movie "The Thing", this monster chose the respectable route. It lives net door, and, like the Munsters, might not be a good neighbor, but really hasn't done anything to call the cops out.

Victor may let us all know one of these days what kind of Thing he pwns. But I don't think he wants to wreck anything, not while he's making a good living off of it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Space Opera Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Alien Sings

Not sure why, but lately, people in Russia have been actively searching for this blog's URL. Not sure what that all that is about, but to my curious Russian friends, I say "Привет!"

I'd say more, but my college Russian is really rusty, and about all I remember now is obscenities and, you know, phrases like: "The pencil is on the table" or "Your sister is very hot".

(Although I am told that my spoken Russian is impressively native-sounding. A big shout-out to my former professors at Indiana University for stressing correct pronunciation).

In the previous essay, in my response to observation on intelligence being the absence of stupidity, Barry queries: "Isn't dark the absence of light?"

A ZPE Formula
Well, you know, Barry, that all was just metaphor, not to mention anthropomorphic metaphor, but, no. No. There is no such thing as dark. If one examines what the emptiest empty is, one finds out that this state is called the Zero Point Energy state.

This can be empirically demonstrated through the Casimir effect. And in fact, a much more dramatic experiment has recently been conducted where light was created out of a vacuum. Sadly, harvesting the Zero Point Energy violates Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle, but this has not stopped bad science fiction scriptwriters or crank inventors from utilizing it.

But you know when it comes to bad science fiction, space opera is up there. I'm not ashamed to admit that I can't enough of that. And I've often considered a realistic space opera story. You know, one that obeys the laws of physics, or at least recognize the established physical limits?

Some say it can't be done. They claim such a story would be boring.

Take the speed of light limit. (Yes, I know, they claim to have broken the light barrier, but I suspect some unknown characteristic about neutrinos that is much more interesting). It eliminates the whole Horatio Hornblower in Space treatment favored by the likes of Star Trek. Difficult to keep the plot moving when it (optimistically) takes decades or centuries to move a scene or episode from one interstellar location to the next. It either calls for a new cast every episode (generation ships), or an immortal - and incredibly patient and persistent - cast of characters.

Is that it? Is that about the only road block to space opera? Well, yeah, within the context of a TV series or a Hollywood movie, yes.

Are there other limits to worry about? Well, perhaps, although it is hard to see how it would affect a story line. Some could put a damper on technological progress for us and any aliens that are out there.

That emptiest empty, that puts the kibosh on free energy.

Coldest cold? Absolute zero. You can only suck so much energy out of something. Again you run into Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle with that, but it still allows you to do cool things with Bose-Einstein condensates, and perform all sorts of optical tricks, possibly for computing (and also living into the bleakness of cold, thin soup era of the universe after the end of the all-too-brief Stellar Age). But effects on space opera? None, I think.

Densest dense? Well, neutron star dense, as far as we know, and applications effected might be for data storage. Although again QM suggests no information is lost in a black hole. In which case the ultimate servers and nodes for the Cosmic Internet are those supermassive black holes at the heart of quasars.

Smallest small? I don't know. Plan on shrinking anything? That plot device really verges more on fantasy, and anyway is of limited dramatic potential. It does put a limit on just fast data can be processed, or how closely something can be scanned. The old teleporter may not need the granular resolution of the Planck length, but that's your strict limit. (And if it turns successful matter transmission requires a scan length/time less than the smallest small, then no beaming down to planets).

Here's one that actually may be important: the hottest hot. Theoretically (depending on who you talk to), you can go all the up to 10 to the 30th degrees kelvin. That's... that's pretty hot. Although practically, you are limited to about 4 billion degrees C before you start to see virtual particle/antiparticle pair creation kick in. This again, if you are needing to transmit something over a small volume or bandwidth, like information or teleported objects, can get into trouble. (If for example, to incorporate all the information, you need a 14 petawatt laser beam confined to .001 millimeter aperture to beam your crew to the surface of a planet, then it, ooh, it gets messy and ugly).

Astrofood by Waldemar von Kozak
On an unrelated note, in keeping with the theme, a British company named Shackelton Energy plans on setting up Moon mines by 2020.  I assume they will want to use robots more extensively than they plan on doing. The idea is to mine the Moon's estimated billions of tons of buried water ice at the poles to manufacture rocket fuel. Presumably, it would be better to wait on that, and consider perhaps that the future may find a wiser use for these one-time resources? No?

Oh well, perhaps by 2020 most people will be too fat to be ferried to the Moon. Americans, at least.

Hah! Stupid, fat, lazy, dumb, stupid, fat Americans! You're fat!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

S = k ln W

Herr B's gravestone in Vienna, Austria
The title of this essay is the Boltzmann equation. It is carved upon his gravestone in the same cemetery where Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and the Strauss family are also buried.  The form of the equation inscribed on his tomb was actually first written by Max Planck, but that's fine as the original equation written in 1872 by Herr B contains partial derivatives which are hard to carve in stone.

The terms such that where S is the entropy of a system, it can be described by the Boltzmann Constant k (1.38067 joules per degree kelvin) multiplied by natural logarithm of W, which is the number of states accessible to that system.

In plain English, the entropy of a system is determined by the number of ways that the system's components can be arranged. If we are dealing with a gas, it is the number of ways the gas particles can float around, interact, and collide with each other. It's a very, very, very, very large number of ways, so to get the numbers into a manageable form (read small numbers small enough for tiny brains to handle), you take the logarithm of it. This equation links entropy to probability. And, in a roundabout fashion I have no time to explicate, it also has something to do with thermodynamics, and the so-called 2nd Law.

Yeah, and so what? Well, this equation, along with Boltzmann's contribution of a statistical approach to the kinetic theory of gases, and still more, supplies the very broad shoulders that allow Max Planck et al to stand upon. It pointed the way for the development of Quantum Mechanics - by far the most successful set of theories ever developed.

And there's more. Once the American electrical engineer, Claude Shannon, grabbed ahold of Boltzmann's concepts, and developed his own version of Herr B's H-function and the term entropy, then the whole field of information theory opened up. (Although it should be noted that Mr. Shannon's claim that information theoretic entropy is the same as statistical entropy is in dispute in some circles).

Finally we get to the weird stuff. When Shannon investigated the informational aspects of communications,  he found that a message transmitted with optimal efficiency over a channel of limited bandwidth looks exactly like random noise. Not surprising when you think about it. A message with the largest choice of arrangements will have the highest probability of not being degraded in all arrangements. So, the more random, the more likely to get through (whatever it is, noise, interference, etc.)

Not to be confused with...
Black-body power curve
When applied to a message broadcast over the electromagnetic spectrum (i.e. using an EM transmission medium) the most information-efficient format is indistinguishable from noise or 'static' (or, if you prefer, it will resemble black-body radiation).  

Okay. And um, so...? So, uh, what do we know is all static? Shit on the TV? How about quasars? OR the cosmic microwave background? Could it be we are getting messages beamed to us all the time, and we are just too stupid to figure it out?

(Oh, as far as my contention that intelligence as such does not exist? That stupidity is a real universal force. And that, just as 'cold' is the absence of heat, so  'intelligence' is the absence of stupid, well, I do really need to go on? Like Shannon entropy, there are very few ways to do the smart thing, but a very, very, very, very large number of ways to fuck things up. QED).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What if they held a Singularity, and nobody came?

Brain Injury Map: I think I took a hit to the Phonics
It's apocryphal and no doubt bullshit, but I once heard that you lose 10 IQ points every time you suffer a concussion.

Which means I am one knock on the head away from being a chipmunk. I'll be looking to squirrels and birds for advice after the next one.

This essay may actually come close to being a random walk. Not because I've suffered a concussion and can't think properly, but because I've four or five topics I want to cover and can't decide. I 'll just split this up into a number of essays. I guess that would the logical thing to do, but...

I got a big old knot right behind my left ear from slipping and falling on ice and planting my head right onto a metal stair rail.

It fucking hurt.

I mean, the kind of hurt where all you can do is just sit there and make that the spittle inhale sound and and a "AHH!" exhale, and let the entire universe revolve around that hot spot of pain. The kind of hurt where you've got to wait at least a minute before the profanity starts up. The kind of hurt where if someone asks you if you are OK, you tell them the truth. "No, I'm not OK, you stupid asshole!"

I'm guessing that big old bump is right above the superior temporal sulcus. Judging from the brain injury map, I really don't need to have this area damaged again, and I'll tell you why.

When I was in the 4th grade, I had really a bad fever. And when I came out of it and got back to school, the teacher noticed I was talking louder than normal. They brought in the hearing test guy, Mr. Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter determined that I had a hearing loss, specifically in the upper registers, from nerve damage. The damage made it difficult to understand conversation, especially with background noise. Later, after realizing I could not understand song lyrics on the radio, I suspected the nerve damage had been more than just loss of the ability to hear higher frequencies, but that I had difficulty recognizing word sounds. In other words, the damaged area wasn't the nerves in the ear, but in the brain. I've often wondered what an fMRI would reveal? A dead zone?

In any case, this, plus an ability to think only with pictures, makes me suspect that language is overrated.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

Recently, Paul Allen thinks that Ray Kurzweil is dead wrong about the Singularity. Ray Kurzweil, in turn, thinks that Paul Allen does not have the first clue, and that the Singularity is still on schedule to occur on or about 2045.

Personally, Kurzweil's personal quest for uploading suggests to me that he does not get laid often enough. Not that I think he's hopelessly wretched, but rather he lives too much up inside his head. Ray is so concerned about the mind is brain metaphor that he forgets that the mind is the body, not just the brain.

Here's the deal. For the past few months, I've changed my workouts to include a lot more core exercises. You know, working on the trunk, the abs, obliques, back and buttocks. And I must say, my core is vastly improved. So much so, that I am quite the fucking machine. Working on all those muscles down in that area have really got me in shape for that kind of activity.

Hmm, not really sure if I'm getting this across properly.

Now, that there's some fancy fucking
Let's take one back extension exercise, designed to improve the lower back, which basically sets you up to fuck a Swiss ball. Not only fucking, but, with your hands behind your head, some professional porn Olympics fancy fucking. That type of activity, where you are doing much more than just the mechanical motion, but paying close attention to the form, the experience of the form, the experience of the motion, the experience of the combination of pain and pleasure, effort, and exertion, that type of activity is what Life is all about. How Life should be lived. Aware and active. Not that Zen Buddha detached bullshit. But a whole body and mind involved experience - wallowing like a pig in mud in the world, the flesh, and all the iterated reflections thereof and thereupon.

If Kurzweil thinks he can just do a physical scan of his brain, his connectome, his chemical orchestration, and leave it that, why, I suspect he ends up a head in a jar. In other words, he is more than just his brain, he is brain  plus body, plus experiences, plus memory, plus life. And quite frankly, I suspect if you want to be able to handle experiences as esoteric and fulfilling in an uploaded computer state, you should at least completely replicate that wonderful whole body experience of fucking.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

The one assumption I've noticed about the Vingean or Kurzweillian Singularity is that they require superintelligent computers to be created for it all to go down.

I question that assumption. It strikes me as unnecessary. My current working definition of the Singularity is, quite simply: "All bets are off". In other words, you cannot predict the after from the before.

Example: Life. Before life occurred on planet Earth, you had inorganic chemical processes occurring. True, they could be complicated. True, they may or may not have had feedback loops. But the thing is, there was probably (can't say for sure, wasn't there) did not have metabolism, or balanced disequilibria, or replication, or reproduction, or any of those things that we characterize as Life. and then afterwards, however the hell it happened, you have, wow, all that amazing shit, that organic chemistry we call Life. Before, dead as hell and boring. Afterwards, trending from the before, why, not a clue, not a hint.

Didn't. See. That. Coming. No. Sir. Ree.

Ah, question. Any intelligent design involved in that? I'm betting no.

So, why the need for hyperintelligence now for the next big thing?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Working Untitle

I eventually come up with titles for all my artworks. I don't like "Untitled". To me, it suggests you really don't give a shit about what you made. Maybe that's why I rarely give a shit for pieces titled "Untitled".

In any case, more raw footage of the... whatever this is going to be. I have fifteen of the little hairy sperm bacteria done, with five more that need repairs and finishing. The metal froze out before filling the forms, and so I have to fashion little hairs and tails for the guys, weld them on, and then grind them to be seamless with the rest of the piece. The barrel-shaped bacteria I am done with. And I like the way they are arranged. So, approximately 30% of the whole project is done. the other 70% is presentation. that's going to take awhile to figure out.

I punched in my signature on all of the pieces. This is what it looks like, a reverse "JK", courtesy of good old "Proudly made in the USA" American quality control and assurance. The punch set I got had the letter J backwards. Makes me look forwards to synthetic biology and nanotech. I wonder what they'll fuck up with that?

In any, case, long day for me. I finished burning out all of the ceramic shells for the molten metal pour tomorrow, Saturday the 12th. The students around really hot stuff element of the class is, for me, nto that big of a deal. I herd them pretty well. The really nerve-wracking day of the semester will be the Monday evening class when they start cutting and grinding metal. Sparks will fly right into an eye. I will be constantly yelling at people to wear their safety gear.

I realized just now that the whole class would be a lot easier and faster if I just did all the work for them. But then, it's not life enriching, is it?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Design Freeze

Briefly, because I have worked a 12 hour day and want to go home and take a shower. Get the smell of sweat and copper off me.

But I feel need to share what the manic/depressive cycle of art making has currently churned out. And it is a manic/depressive cycle for me. Two very dry years, and now, all of a sudden, I've no time at all to anything but make art. And it doesn't help that my regular job is getting in the way.

A number of years ago, we at the college were fortunate enough to have a fellow named Dan Lane who made art here. He used to teach at the Art Institute of Chicago, doing illustration and design. He was retired when I met him, making all sorts of interesting shadow boxes and things out of, well, pretty much anything that came to hand.

Dan was my hero.

Eighty-eight years old at the very end, and still cranking out art, and the art he was making was just... kicking ... my ass.

When his wife died, I figured, well, that's it. Dan has got a few months in him, and like all old birds that lose their mate, he'll fall off the cliff. That seems to be the way it is with men. They just fall off the cliff.

Women linger. They lose their husbands, and they just keep going. So Dan was a surprise. He managed a good two years past his wife's death.

Of course, eventually he slowed down, and then he started to stop eating. I tried to make him eat. I'd bring soup and bread from the school cafeteria, which makes really good soup and chili.  I'd always make sure there was lots of butter for the bread. And after a while, he wouldn't eat it. He was ready to die, and I was trying to make him live. He got mad at me about that. So, after awhile, I realized how selfish I was, and I succumbed to his wishes.

Other people tried to keep him alive, but then he died.

Anyway, I remember a story he told me about a student he had at SAIC who he said was just brilliant. The kid was a natural, a visual genius, and could just crank out the most spectacular designs, and there was a bright future ahead for him. And then the kid froze. He got so tangled up and fussy that eventually he couldn't even produce a design. He would just stare at blank paper. And that was the end of the kid's art career. He was afraid to produce anything that wasn't perfect.

Now, reason I mention this is I think that is what I've been going through the past two years. Part of the problem at least. The dry spell has been a case design freeze. Failure to launch. So, now, having at least recognized this particular problem (and who knows what the next kink in the knot will be), I am trying to crank out as much shit as I can, and not worry to much about whether it's good or not, or been done before, or is original, or what have. Because if it is any of those things, why, I can just recycle the metal and start over.

So, I've been casting metal like crazy all week, to get my stuff out of the way (in anticipation of the class molten metal pour this coming Saturday), and trying to grind, sand, and patina bronze pieces. I still have about thirty pieces to go, and how to present them and all that stuff.

But anyway, here is the raw footage of some of the stuff, presented without further comment.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Catalog this one under "Ee-yeww"

I've spent all day burning out wax from the student pieces for bronze class. The class starts in fifteen minutes, and I've gotten through the last batch, which looked like this in the kiln:

We have metal tray filled with water underneath the kiln to reclaim wax, this is what was in the tray:

Yeah, eww. That is all the red extruded tube wax. I think I will hold on to it, and maybe wear it under my shirt to show off.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We are the 99%...

... if by 99% you mean percentage of species now extinct, and you add the qualifier 'eventually'.

There are days when I think, "You know what? We're fucked. We are just circling the drain". This is one of those days, and not for any particular circumstance or feeling or mood, but more on just a specific influx of information.

Now, does this mean I give up? No way. I think that whatever hope that died years ago with the realization that we have probably trashed the planet past the point where it will support us in the manner we (we being Americans, of course) are accustomed to, that hope has been replaced with a stubborn cussedness. I just heave a big old sigh and just wait to see how bad bad can get.

And when I say "trashed the planet", this is not to say we've trashed the planet. Far from it. Planet's a mean old monster, shake us off like a bad case of fleas (as George Carlin once said). Or, more if you prefer your Will Durant: "Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice".

And when I say "trashed the planet", this is not to say we as a species are threatened with extinction. Far from it. We are an opportunistic omnivorous generalist species. Things will have to get really, really bad to wipe us all out.

When I say "trashed the planet", this is to say that we have just completely fucking trashed our rental apartment, punched holes in walls, allowed bathtubs to overflow, strewn empties in corners, smeared feces in rugs, pissed on the couch during naps, set carpets ablaze, and, in short, and we won't receiving any of our deposit back.

So what put me into such a wonderful mood? For starters, it might be this quote, from Richard Ellis, author of Hive Mind:
People believe in their hearts that a piece of raw fish is worth $600 a plate. And one of the main reasons it's worth $600 is because you can afford it and I can't, but they can. That makes it very special, and it makes the people who eat it special. Any kind of luxury goods largely come from that sort of statement: I can afford it, and you can't. I'll drive a Maserati, even if I can't drive it faster than 65 miles per hour in most of the United States. I can afford a $280,000 car, and you're stuck with a Dodge Neon. I can fly a private jet, drive a Maserati, do anything I bloody well please, including having a $600 piece of fish. And you can't. And this is the brutal truth: bluefin, which beyond their intrinsic value as living creatures happen to be one of the universe's more majestic species, a Platonic ideal of oceanic speed and grace, aren't being extinguished by greed. They're being sacrificed to our vanity, pretension, and ostentation - most pathetic of  our vices.
Ellis is talking about the bluefin tuna, overfished to the brink of extinction. Given that it is a much prized delicacy, the sensible thing to do would be to quit fucking fishing it and give the population a chance to recover, but instead its rarity puts into even greater demand.

We are told (although there is some debate going on) that Comet Chicxulub wiped out the dinosaurs. Comet Chicxulub is estimated to have had the explosive power of a hundred trillion tons of TNT.

There are larger impact craters. The Sudbury crater in Canada is twice as big, and impact that created the Vredefort Crater in South Africa - the largest verified impact crater - is estimated to have been ten times Chicxulub.

Sudbury and Vredefort both occurred some two billion years ago, back when nothing much was happening here anyway. It was "just" microbes back then, and nothing much happened to them.

(Actually, more and more evidence is being compiled that these impact events really didn't do much in the way of hurting the planet. One wonders exactly how much of an effect the rather pathetic mere gigatons of the world's combined nuclear arsenals would have. And the answer is, we'd get our hair mussed, but the hysterics of all life wiped out is a bit much).

So what do you need to get a really good extinction event going? Well, not counting the disappearance of Ice Age megafauna to hunter/gatherers (and to be fair, you can't rule out climate change as a factor), you have to go with agriculturalists. The last ten thousand years have seen an increasingly rapid extinction rate that is unparalleled in the fossil record. Yes, even the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the Mother of all Extinction Events is getting a run for it's money.

And it's all due to, global nuclear war? Supervolcanoes? Hyper greenhouse event from giant burps of methane ice? Comet strike? Nope, little old us. With our land clearing, our pets, our vermin, our diseases, our pests. 

Is it too late? There are days when I think, nope, we got maybe a decent chance. Maybe, if we can pull our heads out of asses, we can turn things around.

BUT, they are very specific heads pulled out of very specific asses that are needed, and this may require massive surgical intervention.

Then there are days, like today, when I think, nope, the turning point was August 14th, 1975. That was the perigee of our existence, and everything after that is a let down.

I could be wrong. Check back with me tomorrow. Because there is that stupid intense little gamma ray burst of cheerfulness stubbornly wedged in the center of my soul, even on days like this.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

From Wax to Bronze

Wax  pieces rigged up on a tree
Dipped in a ceramic slurry, and covered in fused silica stucco sand. 

 Second dip and sand coating, and three or four more to go.

 Inside the burnout kiln.
 Closeup of the burned out ceramic shells in kiln.

Ceramic shells in the pouring box

Me and student aide Vicki removing crucible from furnace with tongs (bronze temp is 2058F, and note nonchalant handling of crucible with one hand)

Placing the crucible in the pouring yoke

Set up to pour with the yoke

Pouring into the first shell

Pouring into the second shell

Closeup of pour

I never get tired of looking at molten metal

Success. All three pieces poured without mishap. Soon we will find out went wrong...

Nothing wrong here, but it is the first thing I ask. You know, not, let's see if there is a pony in there.

Ah, here's something wrong. The sperm tails froze out early. Note to self, add blind vents to tails on next waxes.

Again with the freeze out on tails, and the pili as well

You get the idea. There are 10,000 hideous things that can happen inside a mold.

Cut off the tree, sandblasted, and note the heat tear (the jagged crack) at the base of the sperm tail. This will have to be gouged out and welded.