Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Do You Like To Watch?

One of my many duties as studio technician is occasional clay reclaim. The ceramics students dump their unused clay into garbage barrels, which we cover in water and let soak for a few days. (The leftover clay is sometimes dry or leather hard, and so we get it back to a mushy state, put it in a mixer, add dry powder, and then replenish the bins with the right consistency of bulk clay).

We have found that, like making good cheese or beer, microbes are recruited to produce a slimy biofilm that makes the clay nice and gooshy, very nice for throwing bowls and such. The wet clay has a pleasant sulphurous smell, earthy like Grandma's country cellar. When we mix the clay, we siphon off the excess water. But since that water contains friendly microbes (archaea mainly, I think), we transfer the water from vat to vat to cultivate them. So, I'm doing that, and realizing, hey, here's another aspect of my tedious life I can document!

So, when I'm doing this stuff, I'm on autopilot, like when you paint a room, and your mind wanders. And lately it's been wandering towards the idea of metaprogramming. Programming the programs, but without needing to know how to program the programs, just how to program the metaprograms,

I'm starting to think the entire built world (us, plus Nature, plus all our shit) is nothing more than metaprogramming. Think about it. Even the simple ancient machines, the wheel and axle, the pulley, the wedge, the lever, the screw, and the incline plane, even these simple machines, when combined, automate so many tasks and allow for  further complexity, one built upon the next. Open up a VCR sometime and look at all the ancient machines in there. It's programmed materiality being used for even more programs.

And it's extending to the IoT, the Internet of Things. Well, what is the Internet of Things? Simple. Take an object, slap some sensors on it, hook it up to wifi, and you have a device that will tell you all sorts of things about itself, it's environment, its users and abusers. Couple that with some sound deductive logic, and pretty soon, every one of your secret thoughts and dirty little habits is transmitted throughout the universe. Metaprogramming. The further embodiment within physical materiality of your already embodied minds. Consider that, right now, there are about 1.9 billion objects in the IoT universe, and that, by 2018 there will be 9 billion, which is more objects than is projected for all other devices combined (you know, mobiles, TVs, tablets, laptops, PCs, those goofy wristwatch thingies, etc).

This can be a very good thing (sustainability, efficiency, cooperation and sharing of tools and toys), or a very bad thing (ubiquitous surveillance and universal law enforcement), but the point is this form of metaprogramming itself requires even more metaprogramming, which is what the Federal Trade Commission wants to do starting now, for, at least, the American internet of Things.

What will happen? I'm guessing that, what with jugaads and chindogu, the black market, and the whole developed world leapfrogging past our shoddy 100-year-old infrastrcuture (70 years in Europe and Japan due to a little bombing creative destruction), that I expect big things to happen in the next ten years. Despite the naysayers about stagnation and low-hanging fruit, I don't see the Technium doing anything but accelerating faster and faster - provided, of course, we throw enough brains at it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Tedium in Every Medium

This past Friday, I cast my stuff, with no one around, all by myself, and had a good time.

I got four pieces out. None seem to have any serious casting defects on them. All of them are mechanicules, so I am partially back in the game with those.

Here are some of the original waxes:

And here are the bronzes fresh from casting and most investment removed:

It sometimes takes a long time to get the ceramic investment off. About halfway through chiseling it off, I realized I could document this, and so made a movie. If you get bored, I hit my finger at around 7:19.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Little Asskickers

I am back to making figures. They won't be ready for this semester's bronze pour, which occurs on 11/9. I'm going to use some of the surface techniques and looks of the mechanicule series on these figures. Not really armor the way the mechanical creatures are, but more like upholstered armor? Protective organo-mechanical clothing? You'll see.

I made three two figures (one in progress) and then made silicone rubber molds of them so I could have copies. Here is the face coat applied, and the one is progress with various funny little things.

The silicone face coat is covered with thicker coat, which is a blue color, and then covered with a stiff mothermold made of fiberglass reinforced plaster. I got no pictures of that. So, any way, I got the mold done, and slushcast in wax some copies, and so I don't need the original, and I broke it up into pieces. And then, I decided to have fun with the broken up pieces and made a little video of the little legs, which was a stupid video, but it made me laugh. It gave me an idea. I wonder if women would wear high-heeled shoes if the heels were little legs?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Casting Grey Iron

This past Friday, I cast iron. A former student had a ceramic shell mold he wanted to cast in iron. Could he use one of our foundry furnaces? Yes, he could. All he need do is provide the crucible and the metal. Would we be able to cast at such a high temperature? Yes, we would. Our furnaces can make it up to temperature to cast iron, which, on the high end for pouring, is around 2650F.

My MIFCO B-150 furnace manual even has a chapter on casting iron. So, he shows the week before with a clay/graphite crucible and a couple of old steam radiators. I anneal the crucible in our kiln to red heat, to cure it nice and proper. But I send him away with the radiators to burn the paint off them, which obviously, given the thickness and age, has lead paint in there someplace. I don't want to know how or where he burns it off, it just can't be here. So, environmental no-no number one committed. I then tell him to break up the radiators with a sledge hammer, which he does.

Friday, he arrives with two pickle buckets filled with cast iron pieces. We load the crucible, add in two pounds of graphite, and crank up the furnace. Slowly, over the next two and a half hours, we load pieces into the crucible. The interior of the furnace quickly becomes impossible to look into with the naked eye. Environmental no-no number two: we are going through a huge amount of natural gas to heat up some fifty pounds of iron. Had we done bronze, we would have cast around 150 lbs in the same amount of time.

Problem: I cannot use our pyrometric lance on the molten metal to gauge the temperature. The tip of my lance, made of high temperature ceramic and platinum alloy, will melt and be destroyed if I do so. I am going to have to eyeball it. A difficult task to judge color while wearing cobalt blue welder's glasses.

Well, I let it cook, and check it now and again. Here's the weird thing. It's the color and brightness of the sun in that furnace, well not really, but seems like it. And I notice, with the swirling of the exhaust gases that a molten yellow fluffy egg white meringue is flopping around in there. It looks exactly like that. Wow.

So, my eyeball solution was to take a pencil rod of stainless, stick it down into the crucible, and pull it out. The first time I did it, the merinque (slag) stuck to the rod, and it looked like a red hot Q-tip. I banged the rod on the floor, and the slag broke off. I waited about ten minutes and repeated the procedure, and this time, there was red hot merinque ten inches up on the rod, and just a few yellow-white drops down by the tip of the bare rod. That meant, the rod had not wetted enough to attract molten metal, and the yellow drops were the kind of iron that we wanted.

After placing the pre-heated mold in the pouring box filled with sand, we pulled the crucible out of the furnace. The crucible was yellow-white and sending off a shower of sparks just like a sparkler. The meringue slag quickly cooled to red hot and looked exactly like the top of a key lime pie, but browned. I smashed through the slag to the get to the metal, added a few ounces of flux to make it less plastic (flux is equal parts washing and baking soda). The metal and flux fizzed up rather alarmingly, but only for a moment, and then we poured the metal.

You know, when working with bronze, it's all much cleaner and simpler - heat up, skim, pour. And the metal is gorgeous, but a pretty, kind of precious, kind of gorgeous. The metal is yellow-white to yellow-orange, but there is a nacreous quality to it, an iridescence, like mother-of-pearl. It's easy to get lost in it, and forget what you are doing and just watch the geometric cells form on the surface as the metal convects.

But with molten iron, it is a solid honest no-nonsense pure yellow-white about it. None of this fairy dust and glitter shit that bronze pulls. It says, "We got job to do and you better do it, and quick fucking around!"

So we did. The mold filled up very nicely indeed.

Sorry no pictures of the pour, but once you've seen molten poured, it's all about the same. Not happy with that? Here you go:

We had perhaps a third of a crucible left. which we dumped into the pouring box. The metal displaced the sand, sank down, and (later we found out) welded itself to the sheet metal bottom.
7 lbs of cast iron welded to the floor of the box

We had to cut the iron out of the box

Leftover stuff from the pour and cut from the mold

(It should be noted, having some knowledge of just how much iron loves carbon, that molten iron and steel are like the worst kind of acid when it comes to working on the flesh. I therefore made it very plain from the beginning that if ANYTHING went wrong, we were to RUN AWAY, and not worry about the equipment and facilities. In retrospect, it's a very good thing we came through okay. All in all, a very pleasing first time encounter with quasi-catastrophe. Everything went better than well, considering we knew only a little of what we were doing).

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I'm very ashamed to admit that I, too, have been distracted by the latest bright and shiny bauble our corporate masters have waved in front of us. Panem et circenses. Wait, bread and circuses? Bright and shiny bauble?

More like crystal meth and NASCAR, and this the latest spectacularly grisly car crash.

"This" being, of course, the government shutdown. I am really ashamed at the amount of time I've wasted on this, and the amount of wasted text I expended in exchanging insults with the slack-jawed and the flipper-limbed within the comments sections of various newsfeeds.

No, I am truly red faced and embarrassed at being manipulated so by the corporate overlords of our current crop of professional assholes politicians.

When I think about it, doesn't the Yellow Snake Flag faction, I mean the Tea Party faction, of the GOP kind of remind you of a stupid, vicious leashed dog, as in the bullwhips and snapping and snarling dogs of massa? And don't the corporate feudal overlords, for all their protestations about not having complete control of the dog at the end of their leash, still have a firm hand on that leash?

This all reminds me of when the Russians poisoned Viktor Yushchenko with dioxin. This was an open advertisement, a classic Neolithic tactic of We Can and Will Fuck With YOU! And how was the shutdown any different? The corporate feudal overlords, via their political stooges, arranged for Uncle Sam to get a love tap to the back of the head with a baseball bat, and a promise that, stick around folks, the next show is January! After Uncle Sam has had a chance to let the pain sink in, and had good think about it all.

So, what did I get out all this, this shameful farrago we just went through? I propose one of two bumper sticker slogans. Here's the first:

And the slightly more comprehendible second:
Tell me which you prefer. Me, I like the one that's harder to figure out.

Okay, maybe one more:
The ironic thing coming out of all this is, the flipper-limbed jellyheads that make up today's conservatives are now questioning the Whiteness ideological purity of the GOP. Are you sufficiently zealous, comrade? If not, you need to be purged!

Enough! Another distraction is I'm trying to read through Charles Stross's Neptune's Brood, a space opera about bank fraud. I checked out the book from the library, got off to a very late start on it, am about halfway through, and it was due back at the library yesterday.

Stross, it turns out, like me, was effected by David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years. (I really need to study up on the early city states of Mesopotamia). Charlie took it in a different way from me, but surprisingly, like parallel evolution, we both ended up thinking about the economy as one populated by self-replicating robots.

Stross's robots, like in Blade Runner, are artificial humans, replicants, that more human than human, enhanced but still carbon-based and water-mediated. My robots are more prosaic, the current product of the four-billion-year-old nanotechnology project running on the terrestrial plane. You know. Us. But I did think that, in the future, given the way we are, there's room for improvements into Humans v 2.0. Which is what the Sept. 19, 2113 essay was about, where current humans are in the minority, and the artificial or enhanced versions are not particularly smarter, or at least, not individually smarter, but collectively so (kind of like what happens now).

Story notes. When you got a case of world building that needs a good bit of rationalizing, you can't go far wrong with story notes. When I was writing up the footnotes, the Rufosity! entry got stuck in my head. I think partly I just really like that word.

But I'm pretty sure I'm right that eventually the constabulary/military establishment will be absorbed into the entertainment industries, if they haven't been already. And any enforcement agencies will indeed be hyper-powerful androids in little girl form that can destroy whole cities with a snap of their fingers.

Two reasons for this:
1) Ubiquitous law enforcement is both riotously expensive and overkill (think about this: The US Navy seems to be doing the job of keeping trade lanes - not safe, but - clear and open, and with a force projection of only some 400 ships, versus some 100,000 cargo vessels armed to the teeth), and
2) No ever expects little girls to be hyper-powerful androids that can destroy whole cities with a snap of their fingers. Hmm. okay, maybe -
3) Localized power is easier to control, or at least manipulate. Besides, if you localize and distribute law enforcement entities, it takes time for them to arrive at trouble spots. Contrary to common sense, this is actually a good thing, since trouble spots have a way of sorting themselves out before you need to utterly destroy them, and I doubt you would use the resource of a hyper-powerful android for anything else but utter destruction. And the threat of utter destruction, which worked quite well for the Mongols, who borrowed this particular instrument out of the time-tested Neolithic cultural tool kit.

Speaking of the Neolithic cultural package and rufosity, I'm not quite sure if I've ever mentioned the casual connection that can be found. Europe, which is a hodgepodge of all sorts of peoples and nomads and a mishmash of different cultures and migrations, with Wicker People and Beaker People moving to and fro, what with the always changing conditions in that shitty part of the world, still shows kind of a long-term ongoing colonization by Neolithic farmers. And typically you can throw those farmers into the R1b haplogroup. Here's a map of that haplogroup:

And by coincidence, a map of people possessing the radioactive tag of red hair:

Coincidence? maybe. Some say that red hair gene goes all the way back to Neanderthals. Well, if you'd ever seen pictures of my mother's father's side of the family, all clearly descended from Neanderthals, with their bony brows, prognathous faces and giant snaggly horse teeth, stringy black hair, looking like the trolls, ogres, and frost giants from Norway, you'd know different. So those gingers, yeah, interesting.

Oh, and that, Neolithic cultural package? Groundstone tools, rectangular buildings, pottery, domesticated plants and animals, settled villages,... private property, oh, and, slavery and genocide. Might be wrong about the last three, but don't think so.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Towards A Modern Arcanum

If I ever have a show, I think that's the title I want.

I noticed in the paper that Silk Road has been raided and the proprietor busted. Eh, well, it might all have been a government honeypot, but if not, then the guy, brilliant as we are told, was an idiot, and a seriously compartmentalized retarded idiot to boot. I'm seeing a lot more of this behavior lately. It might be anecdotal, or it might the cumulative effects of radioactive fallout or hormone-mimicking toxic chemicals, but it sure seems like this behavior is reaching endemic proportions. One symptom (or cause) is an embrace of Rothbardian libertarianism or Austrian economic pseudo-philosophy. But, that's not new, many people can do truly awful things if they can rationalize it with a higher calling. So, I guess that justifies all the Breaking Bad behavior. Honestly, can you show me a better example of compartmentalized retardation?

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

Dig this Ross William Ulbricht question on Stack Overflow:
"How can I connect to a Tor hidden service using curl in php?"
Now, when I read that, I'm not ashamed to say I felt a little thrill of fear course through me. Not because of the import of the question, or the knowledge that these computerized innertubie things have hidden agents of every stripe and flavor spying on me, or that I am reliant on something with zero knowledge of how it works. None of that scares me, since I don't know how half of the modern web of technology works, or that privacy is an illusory modern concept, which, through the use of all the cultural and social tools I tacitly accept said loss of illusion, or that I am basically reliant on people I don't even know or would trust if I did. No, what scared me was that I kind of knew what the question was about. But only kind of.

If you have knowledge of something, if you understand it, it ain't scary. On the other end, if you have no knowledge, how can you be scared of it? It's only that partial knowledge, the half-understanding, the... twilight zone... of partial comprehension and recognized clues, that delicious area that writers and storytellers have used for generations, that is scary.

But again, that's not what I want to talk about, but we're getting closer.

I considered, at the suggestion of a colleague, pursuing an MFA. Looking at the various entrance requirements at various institutions of higher learning, all had some form of request for a statement of purpose, usually in the 1000 word range. Basically, they want an fuller explanation and expansion of an artist's statement.

Oh, well, fuck that.

Here's my latest artist statement:
"There really isn't any profound or meaningful thing I am trying to say through my art. Any associations or implications are mostly post hoc justifications. Honestly, I'm just trying to make cool-looking stuff."
A cop out? ...maybe. Actually, though, a 1000 word essay of what it is I'm trying to do would be an interesting exercise, and maybe I'll try it. But before I can do that, I suppose I have to do some introspection as to the purpose and direction of my work. And I think it is working on recreating some permutation of that thrill of fear I mentioned earlier that drives my work. In other words, as I told nephew, who aspires to be an artist, "Work on stuff that makes you uncomfortable". Solid advice for any field, don't you think?

So, what are they working around that requires this stuff?
So, really what am I happily uncomfortable about when I make my stuff? Well, I think it's about people. People creep me out. They creep me out because the exhibit intelligent behaviors, but also beastually stupid ones. People are monsters. That seems to solve why people creep me out, but it's still a mystery. Otherwise I wouldn't be fascinated, would I? And when machines become complex enough to be called life, and develop enough of a personality to become people (and I see no reason why they won't), then cyber beasts and creatures will enter the mystery This whole ugly/pretty smart/stupid paradox is fueling things, and probably has since I was first able to draw. They're monsters. They're people. They're artificial people. They're natural monsters. They're the consequence of epigenesis. They are mysterious, dangerous forces.

They're all the things that make speculative fiction and illustration worthwhile, and the stories and pictures you can tell and draw about them is a modern alchemy, a modern arcanum, and people would be wise to wear appropriate protective gear when working around them, not only with the cyber critters, but the... zookeepers and livestock managers that tend to them... and thus my fascination.

It's all fantasy, but taken from real life. And wouldn't you know, did you really think I'd write 1,000 word essay without getting lost along the way?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The News From Armageddon

I caught the tail-end of A Boy And His Dog a few nights ago. The movie and the novella are set in the year 2024, not that far away now. The movie was made in 1975, takes place after WWIV, which took place almost immediately after WWIII, so I suppose they figured there was enough time for intelligent, telepathic dogs to mutate into existence.

The thing about the movie is, it's not really a movie of later 1980s post-apocalyptic genre, like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome  - a cautionary tale of how the violence just keeps on going after the Big One, which everyone assumed would be the aha! moment in human history to forsake war. Why even civilization uses the same tools as the bestial enemies of same to get their way, so it

Instead, ABAHD is really more a adolescent masturbatory fantasy movie, where teenagers are released of all inhibitions, and can (if they can find them) fuck girls, and break shit, and steal things, and, when villains show up, hunt them down and shoot them like beasts. Survivors help themselves to abandoned cars, and food, empty houses - everything is free for the taking.

Kind of like some of our fantasies about caveman life, and it's interesting how similar in visual style and lifestyle this movie is to One Million Years BC. But the whole hunter/gatherer mystique that we've developed, the Rousseau's bullshit about the Noble Savage and Arcadian splendor is about as real as it would be in, well, post-apocalyptic movies after the dust settles.

This also reminds me a (paraphrased) quote of Neal Stephenson, who said "At some point, every young man feels that, with the proper physical workout regimen and martial training, he could be a badass motherfucker, and maybe the baddest badass motherfucker on the planet. Fortunately, most of us do not find out that... that position has already been filled".

But it's true, and all you have to do is to listen to some these arrogant dough-heads, especially if they happen make reference to any facility with the coward's weapon, that  they actually believe they can be a badass motherfucker.

I figured out a while back that I am no badass motherfucker.

I'm quite soft actually, and that's saying something, considering I'm actually quite fit for someone in my age/lifestyle bracket (soft white older man). Not just by modern standards. Compare my modern gracile Homo domesticus frame and musculature to my n-times-great grandpas and grandmas of, say, 10,000 years ago... Let's face it. They would consider me a wimp, a weakling, a scrawny, underdeveloped, creampuff. Why, they would be werewolves, monsters, vampires in physical performance comparison.

Which makes me wonder how, given that the lifestyle of agriculturalists produces such frail, stunted, weak little people, the powers that ever managed to convince such a proud and commanding people to eat leaves and dirt food.

Oh, yeah, well, a full belly every day, versus starving every few days between meals, I suppose that would do it.

I'm a little hungry. Maybe it's time for a snack cake.