Thursday, May 30, 2013

And now I turn myself into a freaking factory

But don't worry about burnout. Impossible. The more I make the more refreshed I become. Here's today's output of four forms (would have been more, but I went out to lunch):

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Made It!

Well, I missed it when the last backer put me over the top last night. It was only when I got home and saw some congratulatory emails on my mobile that I knew we had done it.

We. that's the operative word. So, applause. Not for me, but for my backers. I applaud you all.

Were my generosity a large furry mammal, it would be a wooly mammoth.
Were my generosity a loud noise, it would be Krakatoa. Or maybe a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building.
Were my generosity a landfill, it would be Puente Hills, CA - 500 feet deep with a third of LA County's trash.
Were my generosity a lump of ice, it would be the Ross Ice Shelf.
Were my generosity a comet strike, the dinosaurs would be dead  as hell.

And see? They are! And that's how big my thanks to you is!

Okay, well maybe not that big. But still pretty darn large!

So, just so you know, I haven't been sitting on my laurels. I'm working on still more funny little bronze forms, because I figure not everyone at the hundred dollar level might want the one bronze creature I've concocted. And since I've until August, I figure I can introduce a little variety.

Here's one that was in wax, now in bronze, and more in the pipeline:

...and... I've been working on some custom drawer pulls and cabinet handles (separate from the kickstarter venture, and not available at the moment) . These are a (hopeful) commission for fans of the snaky reptile handle. I'm trying to get a local cabinet maker interested in buying limited edition custom made hardware from me:

So, once again, THANKS to all my backers and I will commence to cranking out rewards and ordering the glass for many cool-as-shit things.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Note: I've been down in SW Florida the past weekend for a long weekend, a trip that has been in the planning for about six months. I got the requisite sun- and alcohol- poisoning out of the way fairly early, and was doing pretty well down there in laid back parrot-head land, until I ran afowl of the lawn chair. Keep in mind, I regularly will heft and toss fifty pound bags of ceramic powders and clay up onto shelves with the ease of a basketball free throw, no problem. But, dehydration, alcohol, and a less than mindful thought process combined to antagonize an old back injury when I lifted up a five pound lawn chair and I suddenly could not stand up straight. The remainder of the night was pain so intense I was nauseous. Fortunately, some Vicodin and muscle relaxants took care of all that, but I've been down for the count lo these past few days. As a result, I'm behind on my Kickstarter begging duties, and so you get the following:   

Being raised as an American, being fed the standard ethos of rugged individualism, stand-on-your-own-two-feetism, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps-ism, it is difficult for me to ask for help. Asking for help, asking for assistance, is, at different levels, considered shameful, even sinful, here in this country.

This is an irony that ignores reality, considering that it is impossible for any one of us individuals, at any point in history, to not be thoroughly dependent upon other individuals for our very existence. Why, even Robinson Crusoe had a prior dependence upon people before struggling on his own on a desert island.

So, I really should get over these primitive instincts. Pride being, of course, the primary primitive atavism at work here. I thought I made good progress in tamping down my pride and cultivating a healthy humility by setting up a Kickstarter project and asking for help. And of course, the beautiful thing about this is that humility in turn can be transformed into pride in my fellow human beings. The paradox is that humility, in making me small and humble, makes me, in turn, enlarged through the generosity of others. To see such a largeness of spirit and open-armed generosity is deeply affecting, and makes me feel great in turn. And the one small price I have to pay for it, really, is some small amount of alchemy, some craft and effort and shaping of things, to provide my backers with a little piece of (hopefully) magical piece of the material universe. True, it may seem like a trade bead or a trinket to others, but it contains as much benevolence and obliging congeniality as I can suffuse into it.

To those who have helped me, much obliged.

And so now I'm asking for just a little bit more help, and a chance for all you strangers out there to embiggen yourselves a bit more.

This is the final week of the (ah-ha-ha, now I know how public TV feels) pledge drive for my project. I'm very close, currently 72% funded, for the project. All I need is a few more contributors, and then, it shall be my turn to be generous. And, believe me, I will not disappoint.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Arithmetic of Interstellar Travel

I've a new Kickstart update with a video:

I apologize for the crudeness of the video. I really am considering digging up Steve Jobs and throttling him. Imovie files are not compatible with Kicstarter. So, I had to convert to quicktime, and then it was too big. So I had to cut scenes, and narrate on the fly, and the result is, well, probably not even a middle school level film production. But you'll get the idea.

Other things. John Quiggin pokes fun at interstellar travel with some easy calculations. I'd make comments questioning some of his assumptions there, but then, what would be the point? I'll do it here instead.

"I'm going to assume (generously, I think) that the minimum size for a successful colony is 10 000. The only experience we have is the Apollo program, which transported 12 astronauts to the Moon (a distance of 1 light second) at a cost of $100 billion or so (current values). So, assuming linear scaling (again, very generously, given the need to accelerate to near lightspeed), that's a cost of around $100 trillion per light-second for 10 000 people. 1200 light-years is around 30 billion light-seconds, so the total cost comes out roughly equal to the value of current world GDP accumulated over the life of the universe."
So, what's wrong with the assumptions? Well, first off, Quiggin uses the Apollo program. No offense to America's space program, but come on, that was a stunt.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not disparaging the effort. It was the most spectacular and magnificent stunt ever, defining our species as the only known species to travel to another world, but still, finally just a stunt. And by that I mean, pretty much guaranteed to be a one-time deal, with a vast gamble that the odds could be beaten, with lots of corners cut (but leave that to the real experts, the Soviets), and a certain amount of acceptable risk on the part of the world's greatest stuntmen ever and their organization. But, a colonizing effort? Hardly.

What would be a better baseline comparison? I'm thinking totaling up the entire web-of-technology system cost of what it takes for one car in 2013 to drive from New York City to Los Angeles. So, right off the bat, the cost of the car, the cost of gas, cost of the trip (food, water, lodging) is the tiniest portion of this total cost. Got the idea? We should probably also include cost of the interstate system, cost of the infrastructure to gas up the gas stations, supply food to the hotels and restaurants, electricity, fresh water, factories that built the car, refineries that makes the gas, riggers that pump the oil, etc. etc. etc.

Well, fuck man, isn't that the cost of Western civilization going back to some arbitrary point? Or world civilization going back to at least the origins of agriculture?

Yup. But, you know, amortized.

So, is Quiggin's total cost too low? By a huge margin!

Let's take a different tack. How about the United States colonizing the Moon with 10,000 by 1978? What do you think? 24 men launched to the Moon, so the Apollo costs by a factor of 416, the do the Quiggin arithmetic?


Monday, May 13, 2013

The Dying Earth

Sad news. A friend of mine at the college has cancer. Stage 4 in both lungs, and it's spread to the brain. They give him, if everything works out, three years. I don't see that happening. I've just heard the news, and I've yet to talk to him. I have no idea what to say. When people hear that someone has cancer, it's like you've told them he or she is received a death sentence. They are already dead. I can't do that. Call me foolish, but I refuse to give up on people.

My weekend boss, the sculptor, took a bad fall last week. He was visiting, in a strange house, and got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. There were two doors, one going to the bathroom, and the other to the basement. He got the wrong door and took a header down the stairs. I've heard limited information on his condition, but his wife said he is in for a "long recovery" which suggests some major head injury. I've made my best wishes known and offered any help.

Iain M. Banks has cancer. I read his novel The Algebraist some years back and enjoyed it (not everyone did), but had not been exposed to the Culture. It is a pity that, having just discovered these wonderful books, the source may not be with us much longer. Of Banks I will say that it is hard to find such vibrant prose, occasionally touched with poesy, that contain so many "fucks" in it.

On the not so sad news front, Jack Vance is still alive. Wow. Ninety-six years old. For those of you who do not him, Jack Vance is considered the Grandmaster of Fantasy and Science Fiction. His prose is elegantly constructed and intricately contrived, without being overly complicated or forced. Reading his books in my teens expanded my vocabulary. To this day, the tone and mood of his Dying Earth stories still haunt me.

In one story, a character named Cugel the Clever is internally afflicted with an alien creature named Firx by Iucounu The Laughing Magician. Firx is some type of parasitic life form from a world orbiting the star Achernar. I've my own vision of what this creature looked like, and here it is:

Ah, but of course, bigger. I've kept busy making more critters.

Honestly, I don't think I'd like to be internally afflicted by any of these things, but their small, so it would take a lot of them to be noticeable.

I suppose I should do an update on kickstarter. Currently, I'm at 40% of funding with 18 days to go. My student aide posted a notice on reddit, to which I inquired "Isn't that where all the assholes are?"

"Yes, but it's exposure".

"Ick. I don't want that kind of crowd." Too late, and so what. A nonevent anyway.

So, I'm trying to get together a "making of" video to post as an update to kickstarter. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mogadishu on the Mississippii

I'm a big fan of Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, strife, and discord. I've come to think that what we call Greek tragedies, the Greeks found funny as hell - kind of like how Hieronymus Bosch's fascinatingly macabre and horrendous paintings were the Dilbert cartoons of his age. You know, like Oedipus at Colonus, how he kills his dad, fucks his mom, and puts his eyes out. Got to be funny as hell to them back in that barbaric age, not so funny now. Something lost through time, I suspect, but the irony implicit in the chorus' repetition that "not to be born is best" is still extant.

And so you got Eris, whom I would describe as the arbiter of unintended consequences, the modern-day version of chaos, strife, and discord.

Take two instances. The first is the gun printer's website (which gets enough buzz as it is, so I'll not mention it here) and the please-arrest-me-so-I-can-set-a-legal-precedent in-your-face stance they take. (Ironically also reinforcing-statist-controls-by-affirming-through-legal-means-that-the-government-insures-your-rights by winning any legal precedent). Their big deal is Thingaverse prohibits gunprinting. On the other hand, their website is part of the Freedumb movement and is liberty incarnate (their version, the only real version), and will thus accept any and all designs without prejudice.


Fine. Take advantage of this offer. Flood their site, in kind of a denial-of-service spime attack, with every cute-sie knick-knack, tschotske, bric-a-brac, fandangle, curio, thingamajig, curio, precious moment, hello kitty design artifact that you can think of. Better still, let some hijacked computers think of it. They say they will deny nothing. Take it over the top. See how they like freedumb.

Secondly, the Misery Missouri state legislature has passed a bill to counteract federal gun laws. They've sent the bill to the governor to sign into law. I say go for it! I especially like this part:

"The Kansas legislation would prohibit federal regulation of guns that are manufactured and remain in the state. It would also criminalize the enforcement of federal gun-control laws"
Missouri, don't let Kansas show you up! I'm pretty sure federal gun-control laws include the prohibitions on automatic weaponry and military munitions like flamethrowers, rocket-propelled grenades, things like that. So, I say, entrepreneurs, set up shop in Missouri and start cranking those domestic machine guns and RPGs, and by all means, make them freely available to all. No restrictions.  I really, seriously want to see the big round O on the legislators faces when motorcycle gangs with AK-47s get the insurgency going full on. With any luck, maybe a few of the windows in their gated communities might shot out. Maybe one of their babies' heads struck with a stray armor-piercing round from a mile away. Maybe their stretch limo gets hit with a proudly-locally-made M40 grenade.

One can at least hope.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Semi-Random Walk

I toccurs to me that I've never actually done a random walk essay. I wonder if is even possible to do one, as the mathematician Gregory Chaitin once pointed out, randomness is defined by what it is not, and if a pattern is found, it ain't random. So, how about semi-random, or pseudorandom topics?

It's a rare thing for me to be home watching prime time TV, but I felt I needed a little break from my 7-days-a-week-12-hours-a-day work schedule, and so I went home and ran, and then had a decent dinner for a change, and then watched TV. The run, by the way, took place in gorgeous weather, and so everyone was out running. This made me realize I have reached the "morning-staff-sergeant" stage of my running career. (Not quite sure how it played out in the movie, but one of the opening scenes in the movie Battle Los Angeles shows Marine staff sergeant Aaron Eckhart running along the beach, trying to stay in shape, and has six of his men easily pass him by, each shouting "Morning, Staff Sergeant!").

In any case, I watched PBS and they had a new show with Peter Sagal called Constitution USA. Peter Sagal is the host of a radio show that wants to be funny called "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me".  In keeping with breezy, cheerful, lightweight personality of the host, this is a fluff piece. Only softball questions have been lobbed so far. It's the first hour of a four hour series, and so perhaps something more hard hitting and insightful will be presented, but it just looks like cheerleading for the good 'ol USA, so, pass. I'll not find out if it gets any better.

Speaking of insightful, I read a fairly lucid opinion piece about Bitcoin over at Wired magazine by hacker-entrepreneur Dan Kaminsky that is worth reading. I say fairly lucid because I don't agree entirely with his opinions. I do agree that bitcoin is like gold, but Dan mistakes gold for money. Bitcoin, like gold, is a commodity, but it's not currency. "But bitcoin is a medium of transfer", you object, "so it must be money". Well, dearie, shells, beads, and wampum are also media of transfer, but that doesn't make them money. That makes them, like gold, and bitcoin, commodities. The valuation of commodities is in the amount of TOIL, labor and energy, both physical and mental, human ingenuity that goes into producing things and making them available. TOIL is money. Money is toil, or the promise of future toil. Period.

I also disagree that bitcoin is better than gold. Dan says that gold doesn't have a teleporter like bitcoin. And by teleport, he means "we can just poke in a few coordinates and poof, off it goes, with the ease of posting to some forum somewhere". Well, call me ignorant, I fail to see the difference between this and electronic transfer, which you can certainly do with gold, unless Dan thinks they actually move the stuff around for those massive transactions. Or that gold futures, or any commodity future, is stuff that will be moved around.

Surprising that, because Dan understands that all currency is fiat currency. As he says, "Fighting over what’s “fiat” and what’s “real” is silly. It’s all fiat. Gold isn’t conscious; all value is belief". There you go. Belief in what? Well, each other, faith in the productive capacities and continued appetites of our fellow self-replicating robots. Another word for faith or belief is Debt, which is, dearies, paradoxically far more solid than gold. Gold is the merest zephyr in a vacuum compared to Debt (so long as you don't overleverage). If you don't get that, I doubt you've made it out of Piaget's Concrete Operational Stage of Cognitive Development. Which pretty much makes you an Ayn Rand fan. 

Speaking of utopian world views awaiting the long slide towards universal disparagement and self-parody, the Singularity is back, both here, and here. The Singularity, or as Ken Macleod once called it "The Rapture for Nerds", is one of those things that I've talked about before. I do view the irrational optimism expressed towards it with a jaundiced eye, the same way I view medical nanorobots in my bloodstream - I can't see how it can turn out well, or at least without avoiding a few microstrokes and some gangrene of the extremities. My views evolve on it: yea or nay, if or when, and if it happens intentional or accidental. But I always maintain that I am right that if it does occur, ALL BETS ARE OFF! But, um, just aping neural nets and hoping something comes out of it seems to have some promise.

Rather than continue, here's my comment from another discussion:

First off, my bet is, if (IF) it does come, it won't be won't be what you expect. The one theme ever since Vinge introduced the term is All Bets Are Off. In other words, us talking about it, trending and projecting, is just indelicate public wanking. My second bet is, it doesn't come, or rather, it comes in a series of increasingly frequent Narrow Catastrophes, such as when dumb AIs caused the Flash Crash. Third bet is, it's overrated, just like all visions of the future. Fourth bet, it's already here. Fifth bet, which is more of a quibble, the only self-replicating intelligent robots I see are us, and that gets us back to the third bet. Sixth bet, which really is a quibble, is that we've been through at least five singularities. 1) The Big Bang, 2) Organic Life on Earth, 3) RNA world to DNA world and the rise of the bacterial consortia, 4) the Eukaryotic Revolution, and 6) Multicellular Life. The fact that massively plenitudinous parallelism took at least 13.7 billion years to get us here makes me think the Big S is not around the corner. Smart as we are, we are not as smart as we fucking think we are.

Lastly, just so you know I have an overzealous enthusiasm of my own (RE: the practical applications of the ultracold and perhaps the use of Bose-Einstein condensates for something really fucking cool), someone has come up with the atom chip on a stick. Portable! Neat!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The NRA Wants You to LIKE Eating That Doo-doo Sandwich!

Wayne LaPierre, or as I've been calling him, Million Dollar Whore, is worried that universal background checks would result in national gun registry that in turn would ease confiscation of your firearms by the government. Mr. LaPierre is not stupid, but he's betting that your average American  - waving that gun in the air like a glorified chimp with a tree branch - is stupid. I say that because of the line of shit he and his have been handing out during the NRA convention down in Houston.
Separated at birth?

Why do I say it is a line of shit? Because, dearies, a national gun registry already exists.

It's called your customer history, and the massive amount of data contained within the Retail Industrial Complex has the goods on all you red-blooded American consumers. Worst of all, you volunteered it all, dumbasses. And what information RIC doesn't have, can be easily teased out and extrapolated from all the Big Data the commercial establishments of private enterprise have gleaned from you.

Honestly, when you think of the medieval standards, pre-industrial conceptions, that went into setting  up the Federal government, how knowingly inefficient it is even without the encumbering bureaucracy piled high on top of the organization, should you really worry all that much about tyranny?

Forget the argument about how you with your semi-automatic hunting rifle are slightly out-gunned by your government (of, by, and for the people) with its tanks, and warplanes, and nukes, and who knows what else. Gun? Bombs? How quaint! How refreshingly 18th century? If the government wants to, your assets can be frozen, credit history destroyed, police records created or tampered with, unsavory stories made up about you, and really that's a government that is not particularly all that well organized, and so relies quite on private enterprise (when private enterprise knows everything about you already, and all a particular governmental agency need do is pay them for, or officially request, information)?

Because, let's face it, dearies, you have been thoroughly milked, udders tugged dry, of every bit of personal information you possess by the credit agencies, banks, retail establishments, you name it.

"Ah, well, wait!" you say. "Gun shows!" True, most weapons obtained by criminals are purchased at gun shows, and most weapons there are paid for with cash or barter. But think on that. Would these be the gun shows that are regular and recurrent events, promoted, well-advertised, with the same licensed retail and unlicensed vendors appearing there almost every single time? Would these be the gun shows where you buy not only guns, but all the useless ancillary merchandise that orbits the purchase of firearms? Would this be the gun shows where dealers encourage you to get on their mailing lists for future bargains and super-buys? So OF COURSE they all know all about your guns, and your ammo, and everything else about you, you stupid idiots!

Geez, maybe Wayne LaPierre is onto something here. It would explain a lot!

Friday, May 3, 2013

This is starting to turn into a space soap space opera

"Phobogians" says the kraken seated across the table.

"Sounds Armenian", I reply.

Ever since the (officially labelled and acknowledged by NATO), Teuthid Intervention in Stopping the Texan Mechanicule Infestation Designed to Turn All of Us Alterrans into Mind-Controlled Zombies, when the kraken had trashed Sam's Pub, I been banished to the newly constructed Alien Quarantine section of the bar. This section - filled with cheap, shoddy, mostly secondhand and easily replaceable furnishings - was housed in 4 inch thick bulletproof plexiglass, and had a pass-thru security door for delivering drinks from the bar.

As Sam, owner of Sam's Pub, put it to me: "You want to drink here? Then you're staying in there with all your giant fucking furry goddamn octopus monsters and that giant fucking robot of yours!"

"He's.. he's not mine" I protested weakly. He was referring to Edward Hopper, the twelve-foot-tall anthropomorphic living machine representative of The Empire of Texas, who, after above mentioned incident, had made himself scarce, no doubt licking his wounds.

"You're all gonna fucking stay in there away from my regulars, where they can be safe and that's that!"

A kraken had already drawn a cartoon penis-shaped doodle into the impenetrable plexiglass while we were talking.  This is what comes from one billion years crafting and honing a sense of humor.

And so it is with the Kraken, hard to take anything they say seriously, seeing as it might just be a whimsy wrapped in a jest hidden inside a prank. Still, the one across from me, sipping on an ale through a krazy loopy straw and idly scratching sawdust into the air with its talons, seemed serious enough.

The kraken eyed me, mulling my comment, then said, "Probably close enough".

"Okay, I sigh, "I give. Who are the Phobogians?"

"Not whom, but what. The Phobogians was the legal entity in charge of Refreshments for the Illustrious Jubilation, and they were, in fact located, in Permian Gondwana proximate to what has since been named Armenia, so, again, probably close enough".

"Alright, wait. The Permian? 250 million years ago Permian?"



"Gorgon shit. That's what they would have said. Actually they didn't speak. They were olfactory mediated telepaths, so it would have been... spiral/spiral/penis-doodle".

"...Okay. Who is they?" I asked, trying sarcastically mimic the archness of the word.
"Hey, how ya doin'?

"The first sapient species on your planet, if you don't count the Vaster-Than-Empires-And-More-Slow global bacterial mat. Bipedal. Basically kangaroo rat-dogs. Closest relation in the fossil record would be Theriognathus microps. Killed themselves off in the late Changsingian Age of the latest Permian".

"That would be the Permian Extinction?"

"Just so".

"The Great Dying?"

"I was told yours was a touch faster than most ape brains. Perhaps I was misinformed".

"Ha. ha. They were sapient? Like us? Had technology? Successful eusocial species? Where are the fossils? And how do you know about them? You said you hadn't visited Earth until a few million years ago".

"You, a trained peranoscopist, should know better than to ask that last question".

Well, he had me there. A proper viewing of anything through a peranoscope is a proper viewing of everything, regardless of where or when it is/was. Still, I'm having a problem with that kraken sense of humor. It may be pulling my leg, and I'm stifling the cringe of anticipation when that runny snot cloud that is their substitute for laughter hits me in the face once the kraken figures I've fallen for its tall tale. But I'm getting nothing but earnestness and solemnity from the thing. It waggles the end of a tentacular limb for another beer.

"Eusocial. Technologically advanced, but not in the way you think. They were manipulators of life. Other creatures were their tools. Individually, not very bright, but in sufficient numbers, quite formidable intellects. And they numbered in the tens of billions. Witness their control of plate tectonics. The Siberian Traps? Magma upwellings? Mantel hotspots? Their idea."

"Wait. Fossils. You said there tens of billions-"

"I need to explain the fossil record? Can I help it if you people are poor diggers?"

I shrugged, and forged ahead. "So, what is this about the Illustrious Jubilation?"

"You'll be wanting to get that beer that's up for me".

I went to the bar and got his ale, turned and looked very closely at his posture, the glint of the eyes, the disposition of the limbs, the timing and writhing of the vagina dentata lips. This was one sincere kraken. All signs said he was being honest with me.

"The kangaroo rat-dogs were artists on a planetary scale. They little else to do, having satisfied all of their material wants and needs. The Bogosians had been contracted to supply refreshments for the big celebration marking the completion of their  most ambitious art form to date - the volcano choreography known to you as the Siberian Traps. Ice was required for drinks. Gigatons of it. As you may or may not know, the only ice available was methane hydrates, buried off the coasts of Gondwana. Methane ice, by the way, the kangaroo rat-dogs found delicious in a way you couldn't appreciate. So, I don't know something went pear-shaped, and all of the ice got loose. Next thing you know, hazy green skies, purple bacteria pumping hydrogen sulfide, carbon cycle shut down, Strangelove oceans, runaway greenhouse. Get the picture?"

"Yeah I get, a delivery problem. Always comes down logistics".

The kraken raised his glass in recognition.

"So, one last question. Weren't they our indirect mammalian ancestors? How come we aren't.. olfactory mediated telepaths?"

"Quite simple. You haven't the nose hairs for it!"

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mayday! Mayday!

It's a traditional European holiday, the International Worker's Day, and also an emergency procedure word. And I will use any and all arbitrary associations of this day to shamelessly plug the launching of my Kickstarter project: Mechanicules.

Here's the URL:

I encourage you to check it out, and should you like what you see, consider making a contribution. If not, pass along the word to complete strangers. If this project fails, it'll be easier to disappoint complete strangers than friends, family, and acquaintances...