Friday, November 30, 2012

Deep Time = Deep Morality

I want to spend more time on this theme, and on the related 100,000 Year Project, but end of the semester activities are getting in the way. Children need their projects finished, and many lack both the skills to make them and the intellect for planning and execution. There is a fair amount of plaintive desperation at this time of year, which actually can be both irritating and cute simultaneously.

So, Old Uncle John must help with the soapbox derby mechanics of the situation. Still, I've also managed to finish my bronze Mechanicules, and have others already in the wax stage. Below are the finished bronzes.

If you have to ask... they use the Android OS, duh!

I am going to submit a project to Kickstarter involving these things, but after viewing other projects there, I have drastically altered my plans. I can see that a great deal of effort needs to go into presenting the project. Presentation is 90% of the deal, so I will be taking my time thinking about this. It promises to be a great deal of fun/huge pain in the ass.

I would like to note my amusement at the current doomsday scenario over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Armageddon 2.0. I don't know, maybe read the link first before I present my amused observation, to wit:

The people worst affected by all but one of the dystopian catastrophes presented live in the developed world. Flu pandemic, cybersabotage, climate change. The hardest hit will be all the soft, sleek pampered little pussycats in the first world. If you've lived your life up to your neck in shit, you got no problems - minimally affected by these disasters.

Climate change? Even that, my suspicion is the higher latitudes heat more, not so much the low latitudes. Drought is a big problem, but if you infrastructure challenged already (and not living close to shore), sea level rise is hardly a biggie. Ah, but places like the US of A will no doubt be hit the hardest.

Some will find this amusing. Others not so.

Oh, yeah, Apple has lost the marketing war for three-fourths of humanity the developing world. Is this a surprise to anyone?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The 100,000 Year Project

DD has proposed a grand vision which I support. He hasn't given it a name, but I will:

The 100,000 Year Project.

The goal? Human survival for starters? Not that we deserve it. Part of the goal is to somehow ennoble our species enough that we do deserve to survive. Not fucking up the planet more than we have might be a start.

I know. I know. George Carlin is right.

The planet doesn't need to be saved. The Earth wanted plastic. And maybe now we are done.

If you like your cake without sprinkles, take the sprinkles off, and you still have plenty of cake and frosting. Those sprinkles are multicellular life. All the animals and plants including us. We should save ourselves first. Learn to behave like adults, like, well, not like the We Are Wall Street asshole, who, honestly, makes the idea of a project for developing a vaster-than-empires-and-more-slow hypercomputer that can upload a human mind, and then torture the uploaded mind in a surrealistic virtual Hell, kind of like the splatter genre of Superjail, sounds like not such a bad waste of taxpayer monies.

In any case, we are, as a species, approaching or already at a force of nature. We move as much earth as a quarter of all the Earth's rivers. We use more than 30% of the fresh water resources. As just one example, we have deforested 16% of the Amazon basin in a mere 30 years. As fire ants go, we're doing pretty good at disturbing habitats. If we want to survive as a species, we need to work on our domestic habits.

Problem: I don't know about you, but too often, I get absorbed into my life and start to think the whole fucking universe revolves around me, when, in fact, even the the briefest check outside my tiny little head would reveal that there's a hardly even a trace of a virtual particle to my existence. And that's not even counting the wasted time. Me? I can't go much more than twenty minutes without getting distracted by something. When you work it out, that twenty minute granularity comes out to just a little over 1% OF A DAY. Twenty minutes out of 100,000 years is .0000000380518 percent. 

That doesn't even mean anything to me. I don't think there is even a term for 100,000 years. Centumillenium? In any case, what I'm saying here is, if someone gonna get this project going, it will have to be someone with a lot of patience - in other words, someone female. 

(Have we had any female saviors? And no need to sacrifice them. No. Maybe we should try it out, because, The White Goddess notwithstanding, I don't think we've ever had a female centric culture outside the immortal obsession for pussy. I'm not saying we should have a female run culture, because we all know they are even more vicious than men. I'm saying maybe we try out a less pastoral horses and bronze swords basis for civilization).

But wait a minute. There are cave paintings that span at least 50,000 years, with handprints five thousand years apart. You telling me we can't start a tradition that our ancestors kept going for half the project length?

Another problem: Religion. Look, it's not religion per se that is the problem. That's one of my beefs with that bonehead Richard Dawkins. It's not religion. It's the ideological abuse that's the problem. Religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for shitty behaviors of people against each other. If we can figure out some system of fidelity, some way that the message and the goal can avoid mission creep, we might stand a chance at coming up with a strong and robust, self-correcting philosophy, or a heuristic, or an aesthetic, that can last 100,000 years.

In that area? Um. I got nothing. Save the Barbarian Aesthetic. Regardless of whether you Believe or not, you can still hold things sacred. You don't need to believe in God. But you do need to get back to the Indo-European root of belief: leubh-, which is loving, caring, and desiring all at once. And coveting. And holding things sacred.

Stil another problem: Lifestyle changes. I suspect, in order to get everyone over the hump, some people will live less lavishly, others much , much more so, and probably, at the start a little Hobbesian persuasion will be in order. But if it means a free Harvard or Stanford or technical education via tablets to all of the world's youth, unlocking the potential of all those brains, I don't see how that can be a bad thing.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Deep Logistics

Logistics deals with the procurement, maintenance, and transportation of materials, facilities, and personnel (or their telepresented talents and skills). Although traditionally a military activity, logistics is the now way of the future. College degrees are now offered in logistics. Even in the digital age, where designs and information are piped via wires and airwaves, materials are still used. If materials are used, materials will need to be moved from places of plenty to places of scarcity. My suspicion is, since I agree with Landauer's Principle that Information is Physical, even if we ever become some type of Star Trek pure energy beings, logistics will still be with us. After all, even the consciousness of a pure energy being will need to be housed in pure energy, a kugelblitz of some kind, or more likely, a zusammenbindenkugelblitz.

In any case, what with the developed world's obsession with modularity resulting in commodification being turned into a value-added process resulting in plug'nplay factories for the developed world, logistics will be with us for basically forever. Couple this with the notion of a consumption cycle equivalent to the hydrological cycle, and you can see how the movement of materials, facilities, and personnel (or their telepresented talents and skills) is the way of the future.

Logistics, obviously, is ancient, known to go back to the title of "logistickas" for military officers in the Greek and Roman empires, but an activity far older, as old as for however long men have mimicked ants. Only recently has the empirical art taken on some aspects of science, back to perhaps the 19th century methods of time and motion studies, forward to when models using linear equations were domesticated, now advanced to virtual worlds of contingency planning on supercomputers, used by both industry and government, and manifested in such processes as just-in-time manufacturing.

These attempts to produce hyper-efficient - yet exceedingly brittle - networks of instrumentalities I would neologize as "shallow logisitics". And in today's plutonomy, our current flavor of capitalism based upon the Anglo-American metastasizing tumor method of capitalization, where the economic goals are as short-sighted as the end of a fat plutocrat's short dick, shallow works quite well - until things go boom (which apparently happens every five to seven years and you should just fucking get used to it).

Actually, I think we've moved into fire-ant capitalism - evidenced, for example, by Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine, or Chrystia Freeland's book on Plutocrats - of moving beyond mere creative destruction into the realm of deeply disturbed environmental rapine and slaughter.

So, it is time to use those supposedly well-developed frontal lobes, and start looking a bit further ahead. It's time to develop Deep Logistics. Deep logistics is really no different from the shallow kind, the same methods and processes are used, but instead it is more of an attitude. A Deep Time attitude. Deep Logistics is the adoption of adult self-restraint, the pursuit of the "long-term greed" that characterized the behavior at Goldman Sachs from, say, 1969 through 1976, under Gus Levy.

Fact is, we are rapidly becoming a welfare planet. By this I mean, the Anthropocene is here, has been here at least since the extinction of the megafauna some 40-50,000 years go, certainly since the advent of pastoral and agricultural practices some 12-15,000 years, most definitely from the accelerating mass extinction events with the arrival of industrial manufacturing and agriculture. Like it or not, because of our meddling, any pristine unpeopled area of Earth no longer exists, and in fact, any so-called "natural" area, such as Yellowstone, is even more artificial and carefully managed than the Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl. (I happen to agree with Paul Wapner in his book Living Through the End of Nature, in which he comes to essentially the same conclusion - like it or not, as the apex predator in the natural world, mankind is now kind of stuck with the world as it is, and the best we can hope for is to at least arrive at a state of minimal impact).

People seem to think that, when it comes to economics, an either-or fallacy exits of either Capitalism or Communism, either anarcho-marketing illogic and inefficiencies or the static and dead crystallization of  central planning. I'm pretty sure there are at least 33 flavors of either system, and quite a bit of blending as well (indeed, few people seem to realized just how much central planning is involved in capitalism, and how much competition can occur in a communal environment). But the historical sticking point in either system has been the frontier mentality espoused by the main players - Russia and the United States. Both were presented with a bizarre and anomalous condition, resulting in abnormal and aberrant psychotic mass behaviors, of free land and labor, or exceedingly cheap land and labor. As such, like the little fire ant graced the present of a depopulated landscape, both systems entered the lowest-common-denominator regime of easy rewards, microscopic attention spans, juvenile behavior, and that curious criminality known as the tyranny of the infant.

The problem is not the behaviors per se. After all, biological life is exploitative, punishment averse and reward seeking. The problem is the time span. If we can somehow modify our behaviors before circumstances dictate our responses, we stand a small chance of not just surviving, but surviving in a livable environment. And the only sliver lining in what seems to be the inevitable crash is the delight in knowing that the Wall Street plutocrats and their minions (their delusional self-image not withstanding) will be the most ill-equipped to live in a dystopian Road Warrior future - first to whine, first to be smacked in the mouth and told to shut the fuck up, first to starve, first to be eaten, first to be made into lampshades. I say this with great confidence when, considering they can barely handle holding their bladder when they "don't get up to take a pee while holding a position", they are at a severe disadvantage to people in Guiyu, the People's Republic of China, who willing to expose their children to widespread lead poisoning in order to recycle circuit boards for the gold they contain. Or to Mexican line workers in chicken flensing factories in the Southeast- where they have vending machines filled with painkillers. Or even, a blue-collar working girl I know who had her fingers pinched off, sewn back on, and returned to work the next day. Quite simply, you pussified, short-sighted Wall Street trader asshole, you're name in China, or Indonesia, or Africa, or Brazil, or roughneck North America is "Breakfast". The only way to change things is to start including the welfare of other people in your seriously fucked-up solipsist's nightmare of a world. Because, so far, there's no reason for them to think charitably about you.

(I'm not really sure how this ended up being a diatribe against some silly little puffed up cocksucking Wall Street rooster boy dickshit, but this is a random walk, so...)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Equal But Opposite

There is a man at the college that is the size of a one-year-old baby. He rides on a scooter, but still needs assistance. I know he is a man who is the size of baby, because he needs a shave - probably purposefully so.

This type of shit, along with Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome, makes me think that those who believe in loving, personal God have their work cut out for them. They will say that this, all this, all this cruelty in the world is part of God's Divine Plan. That somehow, gifting people with abnormalities, or granting people indignities such as hemorrhoids, or zits, or any of the hundreds of other bodily indignities we spiritual beings trapped in the physical  must endure, God insures that his inscrutable machinations shall all eventually come to pass.

And, given that the Almighty is all-knowing, and not just knowing what has, is, and shall come to pass, but all the plenitudinous multiplicities of never was, cannot be, and shall not, it makes the planning a tad even more ridiculous looking to us limited humans. Even more so if you consider that the whole point of the plan, at least as the tale was told to me, is to triumph over evil. Evil - still another divine creation.

At least, if you go with the Judeo-Christian interpretation of reality, that seems to be the plan. That makes the whole point of existence all the more silly, for Lucifer, Satan, Mephistopheles, being the loving creation of an all-knowing and all-powerful deity is just a puppet playing out a pre-programmed role. Not even worthy of a Greek tragedy, then, just a sad little corner masturbation of a yarn. Which makes, well, me at least, wish that the contest was a bit more on a level playing field. Something more in the philosophy of Manes of Persia, the prophet who envisioned Manicheanism, a vision where the world is a fusion of equal but opposite forces of good and evil.

Perhaps, with the proper rationalizations, this more dramatic, or less melodramatic, vision of existence can be folded into Christianity like chocolate chips into cookie dough.

After all, the popular myth goes that Lucifer was the first and best of the angelic host, beloved of God until the rebellion. Various accounts exist as to why Lucifer rebelled, was cast out of heaven and took the name of Satan, but my guess would be that the best way to turn a son against a father is for the father to abandon him. That is the major cause of more than one unruly son's bad behavior: a theme that can be summarized with the question of: Where's Dad?

Perhaps Lucifer, abused by neglect, started to hang with the wrong crowd. He started getting involved in scrapes with the law, hanging out with unsavory characters, engaging in underage drinking, selling bags of weed and speed and acid, and sampling the product. Hanging out in punker clubs and vandalizing local retail establishments. Spending a few years in juvenile correctional facilities, coming out angrier and stronger, and, what with the street fighting and skateboarding, and lifting weights and doing pushups, becoming buff and hard and tough and ready - ready to take on the world.

And so he goes out, and finds the Old Man, and confronts him. And the Old Man, he may be only slightly older than Lucifer, but he's old enough. And here's this tough, young punk, lightning-fast and wiry, and beatifically nimble-footed, up against a guy who's a lot bigger, but also a lot slower, and paunchy and elephant stumpy on his feet. But the Old Man, he's got the old man strength, all those fast twitch muscle fibers gone by the wayside, but replaced with inexorably horrific, glacially powerful slow-twitch muscles. And the Old Man, he may not have the stamina, but he's got the endurance. He's inured to agony from so many chronic aches and the pain of everyday aging. Doesn't matter if the kid lands claw hammer blows to the belly, it's like pummeling hard clay. And forget about face punches, smacking that jaw, why, the kid might as well be hitting be the blade of a bulldozer. So that's not gonna do it. His one option is to wear the Old Man down by getting him to move, getting him to dance, and so he keeps just in range, just within the circle of punishment, but dodge, and feint, and meet those sledgehammer blows so that they glance and slide off the hard edges of his body, using the soft motions to turn the hard forces into wasted energy.

But the Old Man, he's seen all this before, and then some. He knows the both the kid's moves and more important the moves kid doesn't have. Even so, it's a prolonged and bloody fight, and after a while He realizes He relishes the thumping He's receiving. He takes pleasure in the pain of a particularly amped up kick or strike. He feels a paternal pride that he couldn't feel any other way. It's a maker's pride in this magnificent creature that wishes to destroy Him, seasoned with a delicious primal fear. This beautiful, wild thing that is battering Him, trying to break Him. It may be the most touching moment of Creation He's ever experienced. But like all things, it has to end, and so He summons an All-powerful, a sacrilegiously Unholy, blow and knocks the kid senseless, bright sweat and black blood and perfect teeth spattering and showering all over the good earth. Down, down into smoking hole of fire and brimstone.

And God says to himself "It is good".

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Succeed Texas

Originally, I planned this as a treatment for a movie comedy, kind of a madcap misadventure involving the peaceful secession from the Union of the state of Texas.

I see it as a vehicle for Bill Murray, or Brad Pitt, or Matthew Mcconaughey, and lots of cameos from all those country music and Hollywood stars, and perhaps formulated loosely on a chase movie like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. And basically it would be about how Texas secedes, and how every dumb shit "Go Galt" asshole in our unfortunately fractalized hillbilly demographic of a nation are all finally concentrated into one solid reptile house of a country.

(And, in case you are wondering or haven't figured it out, the 'succeed' part of the title is used because most of the rednecks that have a flipper-limbed Thalidomide baby of a brain squirming around in their barely calcareous skulls are either too fucking stupid, or too fucking lazy (or both), to know how to spell or properly use the word 'secede').

And I actually would sell it as a gentle comedy (the danger of a satire about Texas being that it is too easy to remake Idiocracy), only mildly poking fun at the people of Texas, because, honestly, they'all can't help it.

But all the others out there in the United States who have petitioned for peaceful secession, all the spoiled brats and crybabies and infants in adult bodies, who, well, in the Age of Information, their ignorance is a choice they should have to live with. And they should be poked fun at as much as good taste will allow.

So, the plot would go something along the lines of:

- enough Texans and other Americans ask to secede that President Obama finally throws up his hands and says "You know what? Go for it! It will be interesting to see which philosophy of governing will prevail. We give you and the rest of nation exactly one year to prepare. We will even be generous enough to sell you all Federal land, facilities, and infrastructure for 75 cents on the dollar. With one important proviso! Those who choose to secede can never, ever return to the Union, not as individual citizens or as a collective state."

- a mad scramble begins on whether to go or stay for the denizens of Texas, on the part of corporations and individuals, and an equally mad, and even more frantic scramble on the part of all those "Go Galt" retarded types that exist outside the state of Texas to get safely within the borders before the year is out

- Texans, the smart, responsible ones at least, start to get a tad worried when they start to see the horde of individuals only lazily crafted by the Almighty, for all the world starting to look like a mash-up of the Beverly Hillbillies meets the Road Warrior, but with the morbid obesity added, and radiation damage and chronic wasting of frontal lobes

- meanwhile the United States of America embarks upon the greatest construction project ever, building the Wall (a border fence that makes the battlements of Mordor look like a hastily-built rubble hedgerow) that will isolate Texas from the rest of the continent forever. (The unemployment rate drops to .5%).

- the movie climaxes with the end date of, what? December 18th, 2014. Stone Cold Steve Austin's birthday. Sure, why not? (Empresario Stephen F. Austin, who had a very low opinion of the types of immigrants arriving in the Texas of his day, would appreciate the irony). The closing and sealing of the last gate in the Wall of Mordor surrounding Texas. One lonely and inconsolable arrival, dragging a rebel flag in the dirt, blows his head off when he arrives a minute too late. And then a Marine helicopter dumps quite a few befuddled Senators and Representatives behind the Wall, ala The Marching Morons.

- the movie ends with the usual summaries before the credits. The United States goes on to marry Canada, sires a healthy crop of baby colonies on the Moon and Mars. Texas, after some struggle, finds its niche importing big-titted blondes to the Middle East. Mexico, with the influx of spectacular talent from El Norte, becomes successful, and finally gets that siesta it deserves. Or something like that.

Although come to think of it, I'm not sure you can make a two hour movie out of this. maybe a Simpson's episode. There's only so many inbreeding and stupid redneck jokes you can use.

And then again, the more I think of it, the more I think, this is actually a brilliant fucking idea! Why not let Texas secede? Seems to me it would produce a lot of jobs! Let's make the creative destruction of capitalism work for the consumer for a change!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


photo courtesy of the American Petroleum Institute
My class had their bronze pour this past Saturday, which means I sweated off a good ten pounds in between 9am and 3pm. I don't think my heart rate got below 100 the entire time. It's not exactly back-breaking work,  but I felt it the next day. It's not the effort. It's the recovery.

There was one incident of note. I insist upon everyone wear safety glasses, and we wear these mesh screen helmet visors as well. But it is more of a "Do what I say, not what I do" type of safety regulation. Oftentimes, the glare of the furnace will obscure my vision through sweat-smeared glasses, and so I sometimes take them off.

Well, while I was knocking off the dipper after skimming slag off the molten metal, a marble-sized piece of molten slag decides to jump up, ricochet off the inside of my visor, and go into my right eye.

Fortunately, it bounced back out, but it burned my eye. In this case, steam was my friend (as in the water on the surface of my eye turned to steam and did a little Leidenfrost effect on the slag bolt). Later investigation found two pea- and pinhead-sized first-degree burns to the upper and lower eyelids, and a little portion of eyelash burned down to the root. But the sclera of my eye was only superficially burned. I mean, I knew it was burned as it started to hurt whenever I re-exposed it to heat, loading up the furnace. So, I just shut that eye when I got near heat.

Only one student saw it happen, and wouldn't you know it, she's a nurse. She insisted I go to the emergency room, and I told her I was fine. I wasn't but, I wasn't about to spend five hundred dollars for them to tell me they'd want to keep me under observation. And as it turned out, it only hurt for a few days, and no weird crusty exudate or pus come out of my eye, so I guess I'm okay.

But for some reason, it reminded me of a time back in the early 70s driving with the old man through Gary and East Chicago where my eyes felt the same way - stinging. And I had to put my t-shirt over my mouth and nose to try and cut the outside stink down. I overheard my dad later talking to a friend about how he "had to break wind in the car to improve upon the smell". That was all before the Clean Air Act, back when the refineries and steel mills generously put your daily mineral requirements out into the atmosphere for consumption.

Some drive through that area now, and consider it the armpit of Indiana. Not hardly. Not nearly like what it was.

I'm sure other people and places feel the same way. I've never been to Port Arthur, TX, but my understanding is the refinery complex there makes NW Indiana's look like a small time hillbilly still.

Port Arthur, I've heard, is a shithole, and like all shitholes, it is what it is because it is strategically placed to be a shithole. Why, just up the road, in Beaumont, is Spindletop.

Some 150 million years ago, a shallow portion of Jurassic sea alternately flooded and dried out, building up a seriously thick microbial scuzz, and creating a salt pan of considerable depth. Fast forward through geologic time, with sediment lithifying on top, the scuzz compresses and cooks into oil, the salt starts to float upward through the rock, forming a dome. The salt dome, lighter than the surrounding rock, squeezes up like soft turd, paradoxically breaking the harder rock above it, and all that scuzz-oil leaks upward through the cracks. In the meantime, minerals leaching down from the surface have formed a limestone and gypsum cap above the dome, riddled with caves and caverns that the oil pools up in. Drill down some thousand feet, in just the right spot (plus or minus less than some fifty feet) and you get yourself the famous Lucas Gusher No. 1.
Spindletop Now

My understanding is, for a hundred bucks, you can get a replica of that gusher turned on. They use water now to simulate the gusher, but still, that should give you a good idea that that's a lot of oil under a lot of pressure (150 feet in the air, at 100,000 barrels per day), and it is pretty much all floating around in the atmosphere now, combined with oxygen.

What's the point of this? Well, look up at that first picture. That's Boiler Avenue, circa 1903. Within a year of the Lucas Gusher, 100 different oil companies fought for space on Spindletop to put down some 200 oil wells. Land speculation was insane.

Production was 17,500,000 barrels of oil in 1902. By early 1904, production was down 10,000 barrels a day Not that there wasn't more oil there. By 1985, some 185,000,000 barrels had been sucked out of the whole area. But the point was, with oil cheaper than water, far cheaper than coal, and ready to burn in ships and locomotives, there was no incentive to rationally plan for the future, and modify the speculations and extractions.

Sound familiar? The fracked-up Marcellus range of natural gas was originally estimated to be able to supply US natural gas consumption for the next one hundred years. Current estimates are now at a little more than a decade.

Current estimates say US oil production will exceed Saudi Arabia by 2020. The United States will be the Number One producer of oil, just like back in 1901. Supposedly this means the United States will be energy independent by 2035.

Given our past behaviors, would anyone care to put some serious money on that?

Friday, November 9, 2012

S. Invictus

Before I start up, I was just want to say I told you so. I called the Karl Rove meltdown. It may not have played out quite the way I thought, but, I, like many, many others, was completely confident that he had jumped the shark.

In fact, I can't help but be a little appalled at how the Republican leadership sampled their own drugs. Romney looked completely gut-punched on election night. Paul Ryan's toothless ugly old dead-eyed gump face could not have been more contorted in disbelief.

If this is the standard reaction these two leaders have to reality, this paradoxically rigid and brittle deflation of their inelastic gas bag egos, then it's a very good thing indeed for the country that they are not in a position to fuck things up further.

The fact that the entire campaign was utterly gob-smacked at their defeat suggests that perhaps two new circles should be added to the current swarm of so-called conservative's D-K Venn diagram.

 How about "Dangerously stupid", or perhaps within that circle "That fable about spinning straw into gold? You knew that was a fable, right? And the joke? That was straw from the stable floor, which is, like, 90%manure! You didn't you get that either? Jesus!"

So, aside from the rather amusing bleatings about how "my country died tonight/the traitor moochers have taken over", which provides me with no end of amusement, now the the Republican's and their handler's narrative is to figure out how to get the Women/Black/Latino/etc. block to vote for them.

Here's a clue, assholes. Two clues.

1) Try not to be so fucking smarmy and sarcastic when you talk about these people you are trying to court.     - and -
2) If all you can think about is how to revive your party so you can get back into power, then, shit, maybe your version of the country should die!

And good riddance! Me, I'd like to move into the 22nd century now, if you don't mind, because tha'ts where all the real problems are, not the most powerful empire in history worrying about whether God wants babies to be murdered in the womb, or how men managed to ride those dinosaurs. Okay?

Speaking of the 22nd century, Charles C. Mann has an essay wondering if we as a species will get there. For those of you who don't know Charles C. Mann, he wrote the books "1491", and "1493".

The essay is in Orion magazine, entitled "State of the Species".

Basically, what with climate change, the current mass extinction, the population trend towards 10 billion by 2050, and resource depletion, there's every indication that humanity, as a successful invasive species, will wipe itself out. There are portions of the essay I disagree with, mainly the optimistic ones. He points out that humans, being behaviorally plastic, can change their collective behavior. We've done it in the past. So maybe we can do it in the future to save ourselves. The ghost of Lynn Margulis laughs at this. Probably.

Mann points to the end of slavery, the feminist movement (more broadly universal suffrage), and Pinker's shaky theory on the decrease of violence.

I'm not going to argue against the fact that these behavioral changes occurred. I do feel that Mann is too ready to accept simplistic versions of the circumstances (and in the case of Pinker, bad scholarship). I would have hoped for a more cynically optimistic examination of the origin, causes, and circumstances enveloping these changes. In the case of slavery, the industrial age, and the rise of power sources beyond wind, wave, and muscle, simply made slavery economically unfeasible. Not to mention slaves behaving badly. There can be no doubt there was a noble effort behind abolition, but the fact remains that the slavery remained in effect long after it was declared gone. In the case of African-Americans, you must move at least a century beyond the supposed end. And for little brown illegals from south of the border? Why, serfdom continues to this day in America.

Or consider the suppression of women. Improved standard of living, control over reproduction, improved technological labor-saving advances, diminished the traditional role of woman as breeder and domestic slave. I certainly do not discount the awesome efforts of women to change their condition, but I also feel that circumstances had a lot to do with this trend.

Pinker's theory? Ah, fuck it. I don't see it. Perhaps individual instances of violence have decreased, but you can't convince me that the bloodiest past five centuries in the history of civilization are somehow better than ancient Egypt, or the wholse-sale slaughter found in the Old Testament. But let's say it's true, that we individually are behaving better. Again, isn't this circumstantial, in that, being packed more closely together than ever before we display a tolerance not found in chimps?

Okay, I'm picking nits now, probably, and in any case my continued criticisms are keeping me from one thing that struck me the fullest. E.O.Wilson's story of the fire ant. Here's the relevant quote:
"In the 1930s, Solenopsis invicta was transported to the United States, probably in ship ballast, which often consists of haphazardly loaded soil and gravel. As a teenaged bug enthusiast, Edward O. Wilson, the famed biologist, spotted the first colonies in the port of Mobile, Alabama. He saw some very happy fire ants. From the ant’s point of view, it had been dumped into an empty, recently flooded expanse. S. invicta took off, never looking back.
The initial incursion watched by Wilson was likely just a few thousand individuals—a number small enough to suggest that random, bottleneck-style genetic change played a role in the species’ subsequent history in this country. In their Argentine birthplace, fire-ant colonies constantly fight each other, reducing their numbers and creating space for other types of ant. In the United States, by contrast, the species forms cooperative supercolonies, linked clusters of nests that can spread for hundreds of miles. Systematically exploiting the landscape, these supercolonies monopolize every useful resource, wiping out other ant species along the way—models of zeal and rapacity. Transformed by chance and opportunity, new-model S. invictus needed just a few decades to conquer most of the southern United States.
Homo sapiens did something similar in the wake of Toba. For hundreds of thousands of years, our species had been restricted to East Africa (and, possibly, a similar area in the south). Now, abruptly, new-model Homo sapiens were racing across the continents like so many imported fire ants. The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing."
Now, what struck me was not the comparison of H. Sapiens to S. Invictus, but rather how our current model of capitalism looks a lot like the fire ant.

Perhaps the original open source formation of capitalism, Capitalism v 1.0, found back in the Netherlands and jolly olde England, through its own tendency to disrupt itself with self-inflicted crises and disturb both its own formation and its environs through creative destruction, has become increasingly successful and virulent. An invading species all on its own, doubling down on its own bad behavior, until now - State Sanctioned Crony Capitalism v 8.9 - we have something that truly can destroy the planet on the next business cycle.

Something to think about. My suspicion is, aside from some revisions in behavioral ethics, a return to neighborliness and stewardship, and a mature, adult responsibility towards not just the shareholders, but the community at large, we may need to seriously rethink the concept of ownership.

And I honestly can't see any useful ideas coming from the Right. Not with them only able to see out to the end of their short dicks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"We're just at the beginning"

I'm willing to double down on my bet that, by 2032, there will be millions of tons of BECs out there. And all that ultracold matter will be used for some really pant-shittingly amazing stuff.

Are you ready for some technological rabbits to be pulled out of the ass of humanity? Because I am, and this is one area where it is going to happen. The future is cold. Ultra-cold.

Take this article, where they are using a BEC as superfluid ring, spun by a laser to use as a SQUID. This is atomtronics, and it is going to be some heavy shit.

You are going to see forms of matter never seen before. You are going to see manipulations of matter never before seen. And the applications? I can't even begin to guess.

I can't stress this enough. This is going to be some major shit.

Monday, November 5, 2012


My German is a bit rusty, not having used it in some forty years. Did I say a bit rusty? My German is more like a corroded stony inclusion within a yeasty banded iron formation about to be subducted into the Earth's mantle, to be recycled in a magma stew for the next hundred million years. Perhaps by then, I might have a better pronunciation. Last time I tried with a native speaker, he said I sounded like I was from Australia, and don't ask me how.

In any case, I'm looking for a word. I'll get to the concept in a second, but I figure, this word that I am looking for might best be found in the German. The word has many of the contextual similarities to the word gestalt, but not quite.

Gestalt, by the way, means "form" or "shape", and is used to refer to the concept of 'wholeness'. I rather like this definition: "a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical or psychological phenomena so integrated with properties not derivable by summation of it parts". In different words, the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts".

A diamond has a hardness, clarity, and color that cannot be found in a collection of carbon atoms, ither individually or in a group. A certain configuration reveals the diamond. In quantum mechanics, it is found that it takes a collection of around 150 atoms to exhibit qualities of a bulk object. And so on.

The concept I'm thinking of has the idea of group wholeness within, but applied back down from the group to the individual components. 

A little while ago, I was reading about the history of gunpowder. Now, for the longest time, warfare was a very personal affair. You had to get right up in an opponent's face and engage in hand-to-hand combat. Why, even with advent of gunpowder and firearms, it was until recently, say, some 150 years, that combat was still a very personal affair.

When Colonel William Prescott issued the order "Don't fire until you see the white of their eyes"prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill, it was not an encouragement to exhibit steadfast bravado, but rather a practical instruction. Meaning, the muskets back then were notoriously inaccurate, and one truly needed to be that close to have any effect.  

There are accounts of soldiers serving in ranked files pressed shoulder to shoulder. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, as such a close grouping assures a higher probability that someone should be killed or wounded by even a wildly stray projectile. And yet, there is testimony that this close physical contact, this comforting assurance of the presence and contact of your neighbor to either side, bolstered the courage of an individual. It provided fortitude to soldiers who would rightly cower and turn to retreat when facing an opponent all alone, or in a disconnected and motley group. I wonder if much the same happens with cells of the body? 

This portion of the concept, in unity is strength, in a binding and twining of fibers, a stronger rope is formed, is part of what I'm looking for. Applied to social individuals, we would call it community.

But the other part of the concept, the idea that the whole provides strength to the components, that the whole transfers its emergent properties back down to the parts, I don't think a term exists for it. It is why I chose the term zusammenbindend, the binding together, the interconnecting, the bundling, the braiding, and kugel, which is an orb, or a world, producing a high tenacity, self-containned, self-reinforcing, powerful ball-lighting of a thing, or a process, or an ecology - something like the kernmantle of cordage terminology, but with extra spicy infinite loop of magical goodness.

I wonder if it would be perpetual motion? Or love?

Easy enough to imagine with social creatures, but applied to materials, or to processes, this word I want would result in some type of positive feedback loop, where the components provide an emergent quality to the whole, which in turn transfers back to the components, which amplifies again and again into a... what?

A zusammenbindenkugel?

Well, it will have to do for now, until I can come up with a more dynamic term. All I know is, my Latin and Greek are nonexistent, but perhaps the French may have a word for it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


I'd like to take credit for the term "mechanicules", but earliest known credit, I suppose, goes to Michael Kandel, the English translator of Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad.

I now have nine mechanicules (originally called 'mechanical bacteria", but the problem is a mechanicule can range from milli- to micrometer size, and, although bacteria also inhabit that size range, they are typically quite small, on average about two microns) ready for casting. The waxes have been rigged, and, as you can see here, already been dipped once in ceramic slurry for the first surface coat.
Rigging is kind of a science. A surprisingly Neolithic science. You have to be aware of how not only how the molten metal will flow in, and how the metal will cool down, but also how the wax will melt out, and how the sprue and runners and vents should be positioned to effectively introduce metal and remove air, and also what surfaces can't be adequately cold worked later on, and which arrangement of what will lead to the minimum amount of defects (and note I said minimum, not absence). I'm sure, in the Star Trek future, you'll just dial up the form you want and it will pop out of the replicator, but until then, it's all proven 7,000-year-old technology.

You might remember this one, prior to rigging it looked like this.
It had to be cut up because there woul dhave been problems with the non-uniform thickness of the piece. The long thin tendrils attached to the kind of anal-bead spheres would have created a casting defect known as a shrinkage defect. (And, one of my fellow instructors, Charlie, made the anal bead/buttplug analogy. My response to that, given the size of the piece, was "You're a braver man than I am, Charlie").

Here's the last one in the series, a rather Geiger-esque penile chestburster type of critter:

It's funny how rigging up a sculptural piece can produce a whole new sculptural piece. Here is what it will look like after casting and reassembly:
I actually kind of imagine this critter to be able to grasp and hold a human hair (approx 100 micrometers in thickness) in one of its little claws, which means that, "life-size" this particular mechanicule would be about 2 millimeters stem to stern. I've seen really teeny tiny ants about that large.

What would it do? I don't know, maybe a couple trillion of them crawling over your scalp, with a little SQUID magnetometer and voltmeters packed inside of, might be able to read your brain. Or keep your hair cut. Or both. Or something.

My personal mythology about all this is that the mechanicules are all part of the techniome, or microtechiome, or microtechnobiome (if you go with the idea that they are classified as a biological phenotype, which I guess they are). But I prefer microtechniome, in that it keeps the confusion to a minimum, and the maximum amount of fairly clueless and non-tech-savvy people I've sampled seem to get it.

And the idea can be found in the Empire of Texas arc of  the Convergence tales, in a visitation from the incredibly dangerous mechanical being, Edward Hopper, to my adopted home planet of Alterra, when he brought his very large array of little support servo environment of tiny little robots that infests his super advanced technological body. (Which, BTW, if you haven't figured it out, was neutralized by a Teuthid Plague that infested every human and made them immune to Texan Technological Zombification. And if all of the prior isn't a sign that I'm in the middle stages of schizophrenia, I really don't know what I else I can do for you).

In any case, because Kohler refused my proposal to pursue further investigations into the Texan techniome, I believe I'll give up the usual bullshit art submission con games, and write up some kind of  proposal to Kickstarter to make more of this shit in glass, bronze, and aluminum.

I be working on that presently.