Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year. It's the oceans, stupid.

Here's my joke:

What's the difference between 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013?
I don't know.

I'm ready for things to change. That may not be what I want. As the Chinese curse points out "May you live in interesting times" is not for the better, but it does make for a difference, and I want things to be different. Or at least not to suck so blandly. I may get my wish.

Someone asked me what I thought things would be like twenty-five years from now. I mentioned what Charlie Stross said about speculative fiction writing, that short- and long-term stories are easy to do, but mid-long-term stories are the toughest. Easy to trend a few years into the future. Easy to make shit up about the far future. But human-life-span (or twice- or thrice-) type of futures, almost invariably wrong.

Example: Using trending in 1888, write about twenty-five years in the future. Now do the same from 1889. Two completely divergent worlds. Linear trending does not predict WWI, which happens in 1914. So... chaos theory may be your only hope. You might be able to predict the entendue of all possible orbits of a clearly feedback dependent, nonlinear societal future, and that's about it.

(In my use of the word, I roughly borrow from optics, where entendue is the spread out area of light from a point source at any given time. In my usage, it is any future cross section of all paths of recursive iterations of a nonlinear equation, and thus, the sum-over-histories extent of most possibilities. In other words, just how bad - or good - things can get).

So, right now, the movie Soylent Green is looking pretty damn accurate. Worst case we don't have a movie for, as it involves WWIII and the reset button. Maybe even we avoid that, seeing as the ripest point on our history for WWIII was probably August 11, 1984, when Reagan "outlawed Russia forever".  Oh sure, those of that remember that "joke" think of it as a face-palm moment for American diplomacy, but honestly, it's a good thing some few Soviets had a sense of humor.

But anyway, 2038, my bet is we are still around and it ain't as bad as Soylent Green (which is scheduled for 2022, and 23 years after Marty McFly arrives from 1985 Let's review some facts in case you think me suffering from optimism bias.

Soylent Green predicted 7 billion people in 2022, with 40 million in NYC alone. Those numbers are a little off. We are at 7 billion now, with 2 billion more expected by mid-21st-century. Right now, 80% are at poverty level. It's true that some billion or so have been lifted out of poverty since the 1980s, but that just means an even bigger human maw to feed.

Half of the world's forests have been consumed, most since 1950. 90% of all large wild fish have disappeared from the world's oceans - all from industrial fishing. Dead zones from agricultural run off are spreading at an unprecedented rate. "Garbage patches" of floating and sinking plastics are on the uptake in size and numbers. The oceans are rapidly acidifying, and soon will be fit for naught but the most primitive life forms - jellyfish and microbes. It is estimated that humanity now diverts and consumes one quarter of the energy of Earth's biosphere. We are beyond a force of nature.

Despite concerns about resource depletion, energy is still plentiful. We will run out of fossil oxygen long before we run out of fossil fuels. Some 70 precent of the oxygen we breath is provided by underwater life. Blue green algae provide 20% of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and other planktonic species, see grasses, mangroves, kelps, and other algae provide oxygen and carbon sequestration.

All are in decline.

Let's not even talk about the the loss of glaciers and the warming of the higher latitudes. Some people say "viva la global warming" (I myself have said it on balmy winter days). But the more likely scenario is called the Big Squeeze, when the desert move north, and the newly defrosted swamps and storms move south, creating a latitudinal squeeze of farmable lands, and an increase in bugs, pests, vermin, and diseases.

To use a neologism, humanity seems hellbent on venusiforming planet Earth, turning into a dead world, or at least one that we have to hide from in order to survive.

Okay, so have I got a sane idea of what's happening? Think I'm off the mark?

Pretty bleak. And yet, I am optimistic. Fully half the coral reefs are in good shape. Ten percent of large predator fish are out there still swimming. Conservation efforts are underway in the most critical core systems, such as Indonesia, South China, and the Philippine Seas to avoid overfishing and restore habitat. (Keep in mind, this in an area of the world that support one fourth of all humans). Large marine parks are proposed throughout the world's oceans. Efforts are underway to reduce agricultural pollution.

And I give us twenty-five years to get our shit together. After that, well I won't be around hopefully, and will just send out a ghostly curse to a doomed humanity.

But we still got a chance. And maybe it's I got off my ass and help do something instead of bitching about it.

That's a hell of a New Year's resolution. Maybe I should just lose some weight.

Happy New Year, dear reader!    

Friday, December 20, 2013

Steel Drivin' Man

I am done with the semester here at the college. Now that we are on winter break, it is time for Johnny to disappear into sculpture land. I got a lot of shit to do. But before I go...

I've got a glass casting in the kiln. I've got shadow boxes to make for the ongoing mechanicule series. And I'm starting on the figurative logical extension of the mechnicule series, which ties back to the other figurative works, and so I'm world-building as well. I'm hesitant to show the waxes as the whole thing isn't done, and waxes are difficult to photograph, but here's a preview:

The narrative, here, going back to the mechanicules, is that those milliscopic little guys were ubiquitous logistical support for even larger robots (actually the REAL mechanicules are turning out to be proteins, and if I could start over I'd switch to biology because clearly molecular life manipulation is the ultimate in the toy department). The narrative is, once robots and machine reach the complexity of us biological fragiles, it's stands to reason they get even more temperamental than machines are now. So, in my scenario, you got a lazy old cow of a robot being tended to by a human.

And the human is kind of dressed up in a combination protective armor / upholstered somatic mimicry suit. The humans wear soothing tentacle gloves, a haptic interface to not freak out the robot. Think of the human as kind of like a beekeeper and you get the idea. There will be two humans tending to this mechanical bee/cow. One is a pusher and the other the puller. This is the pusher:

He will be cast solid. His hat will be cast separately and welded on later (thus the hole in the hat). Here's the pusher's pointy head the hat will be welded to:

The lazy cow will be cast in three pieces and welded together.  I'm working on the puller, or will be when I'm done typing this.

SUNDAY UPDATE: I'm done with the puller. Here is the completed scenario:
"The Stockmen"

The puller will be tugging on the lazy bee/cow's tentacle, and this tentacle and figure cast together and will be welded onto lazy bee/cow after casting:

The plan is to do three action dioramas using the figures and big robots. You'll see in January when I'm done. Other things.

Charlie Stross wants #bitcoin to die in a fire. Can't really blame him for the sentiment. The one thing I would note is that bitcoin has been latched onto by libertarians. If you read the original paper, bitcoin was supposed to be about a peer-to-peer online currency that didn't require the reputation of an issuing institution to justify trust in it. Yeah, well, that went out the window with the bitcoin wallet, didn't it?

Here's the deal as I see it. It's a commodity. It's going through a series of pumps and dumps. It's flawed. Better designs will appear. The point that is lost on libertarians is bitcoin is not anonymous, and does require an institution to justify trust in it. Also, what libertarians don't get is that free markets are neither efficient nor rational. But, free markets are more robust to corruption and deceit than, say, central planning. In fact, deceit, or as some libertarians like to call it, force and fraud, is the salient feature of capitalism. Screw your neighbor, and caveat emptor are the fundamental credos of business. So, bitcoin as a commodity, or some future version of it, will have a place in the market, seeing as more bad guys than good hold wallets. But it would be nice if a fire broke out just to rattle some ideological cages. Or at least to see what the spam- and malware bots, who now constitute the majority of Internet denizens, do with it. Onward!

A colleague of mine shocked me with the statement that she doesn't want the Dream Act to go forward, because the immigrant workers aren't legal and deserve no protection under the law. Rather than point out that regular Americans constantly flaunt the law, i noted that I would prefer these migrant workers over most Americans. After all, they displayed commendable risk-taking behaviors. They have giant, giant balls compared to, say, hedge fund billionaires, who have never in their life risked life and livelihood with such a gamble. I want these courageous kinds of people in America. And finally...

If I don't get around to posting before the New Year, I'd just to like to thank everyone who reads my shit, and comments. I enjoy the comments and more often than not they provide a great source for more essays. So I thank all of you for that. And on that note...

UBJ mentioned John Henry in relation to robots and art and humans and technology and displacement and obsolescence and the P versus NP problem. Or at least those are my associations with this whole subject that started with 3D printing. You may have different themes and issues to explore.

I would point out that Art is an NP-hard problem, I think, and so less-than-optimal robot approximations exist to solve it, but, not surprisingly, that's what humans do too. Actually, that's what the universe does as well, as far as I can tell.

But I digress.

John Henry was put in a contest with a steam powered machine competitor.

John Henry won.

And then he died. Well, he still won, right? Man versus machine. But no, put in context, man versus other men with machines. Far as I know, no machine yet has a brain that can utilize other machines, and even when that machine with a brain shows up, it will still have its origin point with man.

Point being, as I've said before: people still make the best robots.

Oh, right, and... Santa! The REAL Santa.
That's not Santa! That's Santa!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

See what happens when you use "anus" and "vagina" in the same sentence?

I've never seen Duck Dynasty. I really don't need to, being from Indiana, as I've seen enough self-righteous rednecks and arrogant hillbillies and dumb shit-for-brains rubes and yokels to last my entire life. But I hear there is something of a prancy little kerfuffle Phil Robertson got himself into by exercising his right to open his word hole and let some of his stupid out.

So, A&E  General Electric decides to kick Phil off the show.

And now, the Fox hypocrites like stupid Sarah Palin are trying to fool Americans that this is a 1st amendment issue. That Phil Robertson is being discriminated against because of his religious convictions.

Utter horseshit, and I'm embarrassed for America that Sarah & Co. thinks we are all dumb enough to buy her dumb, stupid, shit-for-brains crappy argument. (And I'm not going to waste time and effort coming up with inventive and colorful insults for Stupid Sarah).

See, this is clearly a private property issue. General Electric, which owns a majority share in Gurney Productions, which produces Duck Dynasty, and owns A&E broadcasting company, has decided that Phil Robertson should not be on their show. Let's stress that. THEIR - GE's - show, as they own the intellectual property, pay for all production costs, the actor's (yes, friends, the Robertsons are actors walking their way through contrived and staged situations) salaries, own all distribution rights, etc. etc.

Remember folks, these are not Mountain men, these are 21st century poodles playing at Mountain man
GE's show. Okay? Last I checked, conservatives, people in America can do almost whatever they want with their own property. If you don't like it, commies, move to Russia (which, irony seems to be sharing conservative's value systems a lot more than America does).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I avoided writing anything on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre mainly because I anticipated another media circus surrounding the anniversary.

I've written before about guns and gun safety. I don't think I need to repeat myself. I would like to point out that there are other countries out there that have almost as many guns per capita as the US of A, but manage not to kill their babies with them.

The 2nd amendment is under no danger of disappearing. Americans who own guns should - despite all of their public pant-shitting and whining - not worry that their guns will be confiscated. Guns are here to stay. Which means idiots with guns are here to stay. (And really, this whole "assault on our freedoms" horseshit is just a lament that white people don't get to do whatever they want anymore).

Yeah, I know the statistics that more people drown in pools than die from firearms. That only suggests to me that people who are completely irresponsible with something as relatively benign as a swimming pool probably are not going to do well with a firearm. Or so I can hope.

I do hope that firearm deaths go up. I do hope more children shoot themselves with loaded and unsecured firearms left casually about the house. I do hope that hunting accidents go up; that homeowners mistake their loved ones for intruders, that more ricochets take out eyes; and pierce skulls, and maim limbs from nonchalant target shooters plinking at the wrong kind of targets. Because, as far as I can see, the threshold of twenty children being slaughtered - children that most people would agree are at the cutest stage of life - apparently isn't enough for gun safety to be taken seriously by Americans.

So, I'll just close this with a story. Honestly at this stage, I can't tell you if this is the way events went down. But it's the way I remember it. My role in it all of it might sound like bragging, but I wasn't purposely trying to do what I did. I was just reacting to the situation. I asked my brother about the incident, and he remembers it the way I do, so, I'll just tell the story.

About thirty years ago, a bunch of us went out to target shooting, which we did regularly. We used a friend's relative's land to go shooting in. The property is situated in what is called the Valparaiso moraine, a line south of Lake Michigan where a glacier had bulldozed Canada into a set of rolling hills and deep valleys. The property had deep cut creeks running through the accumulated clay and sand, thickly grown over with oak, elm and maple. The steep clay banks made for perfect backdrops to shoot into.

This being Indiana, practically every creek bed had abandoned hillbilly trash in it: old trucks, cars, washing machines, sofas, cupboards, stoves, you name it. Plenty of targets to shoot at.

So, we are out for a pleasant afternoon of shooting, when, to the east we hear shots, and then then the sound of buckshot flying through the leaves above our heads. Bird hunters.

We shout out that there's people over this way. But we are all relatively safe, seeing as they are shooting up into the trees and we are down in a creek bed. Unfortunately, our friend's brother is with us, and he is not only a hothead, but an idiot.

I should tell you, this guy has always had a short fuse, was always kind of weaselly shrimp with a chip on his shoulder, had just recently been discharged from the Army, which did it's best to fuck his head up even more than what it was. (This is not to disparage the Army. I merely note that their methods seem to exaggerate qualities already inherent in their charges, and in this case they exaggerated the guy into a full-blown asshole).

Now, you can rightly say that WE were the idiots for letting him go shooting with us. And, sigh, you'd be justified in that statement.

In any case, the hothead goes charging off east with shotgun in hand. The rest of us look stupidly at each for a moment, and then all at the same time realize that this motherfucker is going to confront the birdhunters. "Oh, shit" we all say, and go charging off after the hothead. One of us, not me, had the presence of mind to order us to leave our weapons behind. Which we did.

So, we run, and after not too far a distance, I come over a ridge to find two hunters standing terrified as this fuckhead - our fuckhead - has his shotgun pointed at them screaming incoherent shit about private property. With my appearance over the ridge, one of the hunters starts to bring up his rifle in reaction.

I throw up my hands, and shout "Whoa! Whoa!" Fuckhead is still screaming at these guys, and without thinking about it, I get my unarmed body in between the fuckhead and the hunters with my hands still up. I guess it was not very smart to do that, but I saw an instant wave of relief from the hunter's when I interposed myself. Still, not fucking smart at all, and way beyond faith that the idiot doesn't send a shotgun blast into my back.

It was this point that the fuckhead's brother and the rest of crew show up, and someone, not me, says "Get that shotgun out of that fucker's hands, will you?"

So, crisis averted. The brother and I apologize profusely, which doesn't help because now the hunters are angry at the harrowing encounter they've just been through. They want to bitch and berate us, and I say "Don't make things worse. Just turn around and go". And you're welcome.

That's the way I remember it. Like I say, I was not thinking, and things could have just have easily gone much, much worse as they did.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Previously on Random Walks....

Zina Saunders commented:

"Scary to consider the advent of laser printing. Have you ever tried it? Your quandary reminds me a bit of my own when it became clear, about 10 or 15 years ago, that everything was going digital in illustration. It terrified me, infuriated me, I resisted mightily (mainly because I couldn't imagine being able to work digitally, plus the digital work I was aware of was, frankly, pretty awful). But I hunkered down and tried to learn how to do it, and now I love the freedom and possibilities it opened up for me.

Not saying your situation and what you face is similar, just rambling..."

Not rambling at all, and worth exploring, involving an increasingly expansive scope. My first exposure to 3D printing was around the late '90s, I think, back when it was still called rapid prototyping. A guy had one of the first printers, and printed off a plastic cupboard knob, which looked like a cheap plastic knob and took all day to print. At the time, I said, "that is completely retarded". Such is the case with anything new, right? WTF? What's the point. We already have stuff that does that. More of a pain in the ass than a time saver. &c. &c...

Flash forward a dozen or so years, and after reading news stories like the titanium jaw bone that was laser sintered to replace a woman's jaw lost to a bone infection, I says "Ah, Okay. So that's what it's all for. I'm the retarded one". Of course, I wasn't completely stupid about it. I could see the utility of it. I had considered getting a 3D printer a few years back, but I couldn't see spending a minimum of $25, 000 to make stuff that I could make for much, much less. I understand it will be the future for a lot of things, and when the price comes down a LOT more, I'll probably buy one.

I have contributed to a kickstarter project for the much more important front end of the 3D printer process: a cheap 3D scanner that let's you convert pictures into digital files of 3D objects (they are already out there, but I liked the one I helped to fund). 

Yes, so, youbethca! The freedom and opportunities now exist, not only for making manifest images in your mind into real objects, but - so, so much more - sampling of 3D objects in assembling digital bricolage. I mean the possibilities of what can be done give me a major metaphysical hard-on.

True, this all has been out there for a long time, and I still look to the early dadaists for some of the best examples. Point being, what I'm doing by making molds of objects and churning out wax casts to be combined and joined into critters is exactly what you are talking about. A whole new world, a new universe opened up for exploration. Square that - or cube it - with access to all the digital files that have been sampled so far.

So, now I will confess. I have a Whig's view of historiography (Whig as in Adam Smith, Hume, and Burke). I know that this is now a pejorative. It automatically puts me in the category of hopelessly naive, believing that things will continue to progress and get better. It's not a political philosophy, but a religious conviction. It suffers from the conservative's logical fallacy of trending - that things will continue as they are. I admit this failing. I know it is foolish, and yet I'll continue to believe it until circumstances adjust my behavior in another direction.

As such, I have to assume that today's 3D printer is like yesterday's Gutenberg printing press. Which is to say: 1) we are still working through the consequences and impact of that printing press some 600 years later, and 2) we have to realize just how risibly primitive today's 3D printers are. 

"Using an XY plotter and tube that poots out stinky plastic?" WTF? Savages!" will be the comment some fifty years from now. I suspect. Maybe even, "Wow, they used lasers to sinter stuff? AH-ha-ha, why not stone hammers? Sheesh!"

Ah, which gets me to the other part of the fun. I am a big huge fan of nostalgia industries. If, like me, you have a Whig's view of the future, then you know that nostalgia industries is always going to experience big growth. It's always going to boom. (My definition of nostalgia industry is any human activity or artifact, that is supplanted by something more modern. Example: LPs).

So, I do consider the nostalgia industries a guaranteed growth regime for all time to come because 1) there's always someone who picks it up as a hobby, 2) nothing we humans have ever done goes away.


1) is obvious, given that we are clever and curious monkeys and each of us has our individual quirks. So, let's look at 2). There is the obvious example of the LP boom, vinyl records are being made again, and styluses, and people like analog sound, but you also can find buggy whip manufacturers, and even, yes, stone knapping kit manufactures (in case you want to make a stone hand axe). The fact of the matter is, no matter how sophisticated and digital we become, we can't live entirely in our heads. We like, and need, things that can be handled, and that are part of the word, part of the natural world, that are simple, homely, and... real.

You can use ArtRage on your iPad to paint me a picture, and your digital tool kit is much larger and more versatile to work with. And you can take that digital image, and use a 3D print bot to make an oil painting from it. And I'd be blown away by it. But I'm still gonna LOVE one done by hand (or a wood cut, or a pen and ink drawing). Some things are just too good to let them go away!

So, even if I get myself a 3D metal caster or whatever it will be, I'll still be doing it the Old Skool way, the seven-thousand-year-old tried and true way as well. Or maybe mix and match the techniques in a analog/digital sampling. Fun!

(P.S. Hey artists! LACMA has started up the old Art and Technology program! Get your shit together and submit a proposal! I'm going to!)

Friday, December 13, 2013


I did an Old Skool rapid prototype earlier this week. A pendant that was made from wax and invested in a flask Tuesday, burned out overnight Tuesday night, and spin cast Wednesday afternoon. Sandblasted to remove the investment and bead blasted to a satin finish ten minutes later. Total time start to finish: 24 hours.

A laser-sintered 3D printed pendant would have been what? Two hours, plus, I don't know, an hour to create the digital image file for the printing? (sigh) I guess that's the future. How much would that cost? I mean, amortizing the computer and printer. More than my Old Skool method, so at least that's safe for a few years. Anyway, I showed it to one of the students, who said it was a combination sperm, octopus, peanut, and diving helmet.

A chimera? Works for me.

Oh, and I finally finished this guy, and I call him "Blinky". Can't really classify him as a mechanicule, so I'll throw him into the chimera bin as well.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Good Deeds

I'm feeling cheerful this morning, and I have to attribute my mood to my (very minor) good deed.

Let me backtrack a bit. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, at one point we had twenty people, five dogs, and three cats in my brother's house. My niece commented - after about the seventh time the dogs went running through the room - about how many animals were in the house.

After a moment, I replied "I count twenty-eight animals".

She gave me a weird look.

"What? We're not animals?" I asked. Of course we are animals.

Mark Twain once said "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to". My response to Mark is "Actually, Man is the only animal that can choke on its own vomit. Or needs to".

Well, no seriously, Man is the only animal that looks for a difference between himself and other animals.

I would have liked to have said that Man is the only animal that commits altruistic acts, but that's not true. Lots of other animals do that as well. But I would like to think that we do it a little more often, if only to each other, but sometimes to other animals, and these acts are what elevate us just a little bit above other animals. But then we blow all those points with all sorts of acts of cruelty.

In any case, I try to do one good deed a day if can. Even if its just a little thing. Now, I don't all the courteous things we do in polite society as a good deed. It has to be something that inconveniences me in some way. That is, after all the defining quality of altruism: sacrifice.

(I know Ayn Rand consider altruism a secular sin, but she was just creepy, so eff her).

Anyway, I get ready for work, and my next door neighbor is standing next to his car. Not that this matters, but my next door neighbor is named Aaron, and his car is a giant gold Lincoln Continental. The car is so big and pimped out that it looks like it should have a nuclear reactor under the hood, and perhaps it does.

Well, Aaron cannot get his driver's side back door to close and lock. We examine the mechanism. I figure because of the cold, it's frozen somehow, so I spray it down with WD-40. No luck. After about five minutes of this, I give up. I don't what's wrong with it. Aaron is quite frustrated, and as a result cannot think at all.

"What am I gonna do? I can't drive it with the door swinging open".

After staring at the door for a minute, I notice the seat belt.

"Hey, let's loop the seatbelt through the inside door handle. That will keep it closed for you to get it to a garage for them to look at it".

He stares at me for two seconds, and says "That's very clever!"

We do so, and he is on his way.

So, am I cheerful because I helped him out, or I got to solve a problem, or I got a compliment?

I guess all three.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Healthcare" and "Industry" are mutually exclusive

Thanks to the cowards in Congress, an attempt was made to undermine the ACA by reinstating some of the cancelled policies. BCBS of IL sent me a letter saying that I could have my old insurance policy back.


Why would I want that old shitty policy that I have to pay three times as much for for less coverage? I already got a new policy through the healthcare.gov marketplace. They called me up to confirm. They sent me a letter with the new policy info and the number and everything. I was waiting for the new cards. That's what I want. I want that new policy.

So, the letter saying I could have my old shitty policy back mentioned that information was forthcoming. That new information arrived. It was a premium notice for the old shitty policy.

Well, fuck that. I don't want that shitty old policy. I had it, and didn't want to keep it.

So, now, courtesy of the cowards in Congress, I have additional hoops to jump through in order to cancel my shitty old policy, and get my new policy going.

If I let it, it would make me angry.

How angry?

Angry enough to want to do bodily harm to certain members of Congress. Nothing major. Nothing that would cause them any lasting harm. Just maybe a knee to the groin, and a finger poke in the eye. Enough so that they could experience my frustration.

At the very least, a good swift kick in the ass would be in order.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Attack Surface concluded

First off, I'd like to apologize for the low quality essays I've been pumping out lately. Being busy with other things isn't an excuse. It's true I am busy with other things, but I usually at least re-read the first draft (hardly ever get beyond a first draft), and so the essay does have my fully attention when I craft it.

Going back and reading them, I'm embarrassed. Not only is the prose not very coherent, there are those annoying angry digressions and rants that, quite frankly, I thought were cute. And that cutesy bit of foul-mouthed prancing around adds nothing to the narrative - similar to the annoying digressions and diversions in a Quentin Tarantino film.

I use that reference because I saw Django Unchained over weekend, as it finally made it onto the shelves of my local socialist book depository.

What did I think? Eh. It was occasionally entertaining. My problem with Tarantino is he engages me, and then loses me. Since he just makes movies, I can ignore the cutesy little prancing digressions he throws in, knowing that eventually he will get back to the actual narration of the movie. But these digressions add nothing to the plot, or explain or enhance the characters, or alter the mood in any way. It's just Tarantino wanking off, and I'm beyond annoyed with it, and so just let my attention skim past it to the next good bit.

So, there was a controversy when this movie came out, right? The movie was branded racist because a white director made use of the n-word entirely too much. Well, maybe he should have used the c-word. In fact, I think want to see the word "bully" replaced with the c-word. "Bully" just doesn't have any impact. However, if instead of saying "You big bully!" you said "You cunt!" that would produce the desired psychological effect, and really be more to the point.

In any case, Tarantino suggested, in the opening minutes, that his movie was an homage to spaghetti westerns, what with the opening music, quick and annoying camera panning and angles, and the brief cameo of the original Django, but it was soon apparent that was the extent of the homage.

If it was a homage to any movie, I would have picked the original Michael Wilson and Rod Serling scripted "Planet of the Apes". No, think about it. Here Django is playing the part of Charlton Heston's Taylor, an alien stranded on a planet infested with brutish, stupid, violent creatures. They object to his very existence, and, even when he proves to be superior to the apes, they still treat him as less than ape. Sound familiar? The difference, of course, is that Tarantino wanted to be cute, so there is a lot of gratuitous violence and broad, clumsy characterizations. But you get the idea.

Speaking of the Planet of the Apes, I would note two news items. The first one observes that language may predate humans. No surprise to me. Very sophisticated tools, and so by inference the use of language to instruct in the making of such tools, existed prior to H. sap. Jared Diamond has often been cited language as the reason for the The Great Leap Forward some 40,000 years ago, when apparently human culture really took off.

As I've noted before, Diamond (like most popularizers) is mostly full of shit, and language is overrated. Meaning 1) the evidence is incomplete, lots of the artifacts probably existed long before the hypothesized "Great Leap", you just got to dig better, and 2) language in and of itself is easily acquired and used by some pretty stupid people, so I think something else much more sophisticated was going on to explain the Great Leap, if it did indeed occur.

The second new item sheds a bit more light on the Denisovans, who, it would seem, have entered the picture as part of the many hominids that existed prior to, and probably contemporaneous with, H. sap. It's starting to look like, with all the different hominids around, that some 200-400,000 years ago, it was a lot like Middle Earth, with ogres and trolls and elves and hobbits and dwarves running around. Which, of course, begs the question "Are we Mordor?"

And speaking of Mordor (and going by just the movies mind you, since I never the read books) doesn't it seem rather silly for Sauron to fashion these rings of power, in turn controlled by the One Ring, hand them out to the various races of Middle Earth, who basically can't wait to greedily and lustfully slip them on their fingers, and thus become enthralled and enslaved by the will of Sauron... and then, after crafting together a very clever and subtle and devilish plan of enslaving the whole world with basically zero effort, Sauron goes all neolithic, wastes enormous amounts of blood and treasure, builds up and maintains vast armies to engage in primitive genocide, rapine, slaughter, and pillage to achieve ends in the most expensive manner possible?

Does this strike anyone else as fucking stupid? It reminds of the behaviors we got from the likes of Hitler and Hirohito. Actually taking physical land and killing off opposing tribes is so... Stone Age, man! Why not try gunboat diplomacy, virtual empire, political and cultural dominance, hegemony? Works as well or better and with decidedly less effort since, if you craft it seductively, people want to be enslaved by you!  

Look at social media!

And so, here we are back at attack surfaces. The big problem, as I said before, with attack surfaces is that your own resources are turned against you. And, of course, since you make these resources available for a reason, this is why they are vulnerable. As such, according to game theory, your best bet is a dynamic defense. With software, or all other kinds of ware (since, inevitably, All is Information, and Information is Physical), it's a tossup between security and usability. One can, after all, shift an attack surface, make it a moving target (as Life does, as the smarter humans do).

But, the problem there is you want your resources to be usable (and without all that change and revamping and documenting and updating). Not only that, but if you shift your surface, you may suppress old attacks, but you inevitably invite new attacks. What to do?

Well, modularity and redundancy come to mind. Modularity gives you the advantage of resource stability, with only minor tweaks and changes to some components. Redundancy is also a nice feature, as, if you find one resource stria or lamina compromised, you swap over and continue on.

(Examples of the former: combination locks, antigens, etc. ) (Examples of the latter: The HoChi Minh trail).

Well, you can see where this is going right? It begs the question is there an optimal moving target defense strategy? Short answer? No. And forget about game theory for the answer.

Longer answer? Yes, but annoyingly, it requires cooperation with the attacker.

See above.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Attack Surface continued

This is going to be all over the place, so, sorry in advance.

I've said this before, but... Over time, hardware breaks down, but software gets better.

Having worked on both, I can testify that hardware needs a lot more fixing and monitoring than software. Software, yes, you are on the lookout for the inevitable bugs, which, over time, will do a Dragon King event on you. But hardware, working on all that teaches you (faster) that the world is dynamic in a way that supporting software will not teach you in a timely manner.

And so, it is not surprising that software folks would use the term "attack surface", kind of implying a static defense, like a Maginot line or the Great Wall of China, that once you identify all of the chinks in the armor, you are good to go forever. And it suggests a old fashioned way of thinking about things, a neolithic or medieval or pre-modern attitude towards how things work. Which is surprising and kind of counter-intutive, but I think it applies.

Want a good example? Let me start by defining pre-modern as anything prior to 1848. Why that date? Because I consider 1848 the beginning of the modern age, and not just because of the failed revolutions in Europe, with the concomitant underground percolation of liberalism and nationalism (and it's inadvertent export to the USA), but rather the founding of the first modern scientific institutions (primarily with the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Vienna). It is also a post-industrial-revolution date, but also pre-contemporary-corporate-structure date.

Under this definition, the United States Constitution is a pre-modern document. Wait! You might say, the document has amendments, thus making it a, not a static, but a dynamic document.

True. True. But keep in mind that I'm thinking of the Constitution, and all of the rather unwritten laws of governance that occur within and between the three branches, as software. And the machine code of all of these instruments of government, Lockean though they be in intent, are all decidedly Hobbesian in practice, and thus, pre-modern. And as such, I would propose that the practice of governance based upon this software (which teatards revere as holy scripture) is woefully inadequate for modern times.

Primarily in that it does nothing to enhance or support individual freedoms (and note that I did not use the term liberty, and thus, distinguish the difference between omissions and commissions). Now, is this the fault of the original software, or the current hacks that are used based upon the original software (and isn't it sad, don't you think, that one of the primo badass big dick daddio hackers of this code is the chinless reptile Mitch McConnell?)

Consider that, according to various institutions such as stateoftheworldliberty.org, countries such as those following the Nordic welfare model, or countries that were once Soviet satellites, or even traditional monarchies (like, respectively, Finland, Latvia, United Kingdom), have more practical individual freedoms than those that are enjoyed in the US. I would submit that this is so due to these nations updating and rewriting their constitutions. Keeping their software up to snuff, if you will.

Regardless, the point of this that one should (if not occasionally change the nation's genome) at least be open to a little manipulation of gene expressions, which even the lowliest bacteria can accomplish.

Getting me back to attack surfaces. I don't believe in attack surfaces. I believe in attack laminae, which would be the dynamic striations, the active and changing portions of this so-called surface. As such the entry points more appropriately include a time component.

Back to the cell surface analogy. Some toxins are multi-part molecules. One molecule may force a pore in the membrane open, a foot in the door if you will, while another part gains entry to muck up the works. Alternately, since protein channels are slippery critters, one molecule may keep the first from being dislodged, and then allow ion exchange to do the rest (this is employed in some forms of snake venom). But here is the thing. Not all protein channels are vulnerable all the time. There is a window of opportunity when they may be violated. Similar things can happen at many levels of cell membrane biology, and thus the idea of striae or laminae.

Where was I going? Okay, consider the defeat of both the French and Americans in Vietnam. Here you had a situation where a materially more powerful enemy is overcome by political superiority, through the mobilization and organization of the mass of people in a total and protracted engagement. The idea being that, it is possible to achieve a change of war venue and determine its outcome away from the battlefield.  This is more than just a test of wills and commitment, this is a combination of resilient innovation coupled to massively parallel inundation of any all perceived or real entry points.

This isn't your medieval/neolithic physical occupation of land and people's, this is perceived power projection, virtual empire, perceiving the protocols beneath the surface events, and hacking the situation to your advantage. Or to it in a different light:


Fuck that!


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Attack Surface

I'm sure this phrase, or a variant of it, has been around for some time, but I only recently heard it. Maybe three or four times in the span of as many weeks.

According to the internet, an attack surface is a software term of entry points to a program or system that either a program or black-hat hacker can utilize. The earliest citation I can find for the phrase goes back to 2004. I'm sure it has been used before this, but the concept of attack surface is about four billion years old and dates back to the development of the cell and its membrane. Think of all the methods of exploitation used by life: either through brute force penetration by viral bacteriophages, or entry through a protein channel, or corruption or dissolution of a transmembrane protein, or disassembly of the cell wall itself. Each in turn has some software equivalent - or soon will.

Perhaps a better way to think of an attack surface is not from the defender's point of view (one has to assume some vulnerability always exists), but rather the amount of effort required for each attack method. In which case, we have something more akin to an aggression vector, or an aggression tensor, where the amount of work done is taken into account in attacking entry points.

Which gets me to bitcoin. Everyone and his uncle seems to be obsessing over the value of this, what with all the frothing going on right now. But bitcoin isn't really what this is about is it? It's the bitcoin wallet that is important.

You know, at first, I was a little annoyed by all the bitcoin mining, because I knew that eventually the egalitarian nature of the enterprise would become subject to the Pareto distribution - those who aggregated first, or who had resources and capital first, would win out over the little guys. As I understand it, a bitcoin is "mined" by the number of hashes (a computer operation) it takes to solve a cryptographic algorithm, the number of which increases with value (the difficulty increases as the value increases). If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that the value has increased exponentially lately, and thus the computing power required to mine coins has increased commensurately.

People have pointed out the insane amount of energy, hardware, and specialization that has taken place in the effort to mine bitcoins. Yes, it's a waste, but once I thought about it for awhile, I said, eh, so what? I mean, how much energy, hardware, and specialization has been spent on video games, or bad movies, or professional sports?

It's not like all that computing power could have been used to crack any number of intractable problems, or used as Monte Carlo simulations for controlled fusion, or cancer research, or studies of the brain, or reducing poverty, hunger, disease and want... or any of the thousands of much more worthwhile scientific endeavors that exist, because, you know, Freedumb!

And I don't care that economists and banker and financial types are wasting their time and wringing their hands over bitcoin. It's just another commodity, ultimately nothing more than a different form of physical information, frozen CO2 and human ingenuity, a result of the combustion of fossil fuel and fossil oxygen, and you would be hardpressed to make it any more than that without human symbolism and meaning. (And how many commodities - other than food - are really truly important for human existence)?

Yeah, but Freedumb! the hackers and libertarians and other impractical types cry. The biggest problem, they say, is that the governments will attempt to control this and any other form of crypto currency. Eh, and so what? Is that really the problem?

No, the problem of the attack surface of bitcoin, which Satoshi Nakamoto* himself pointed out on the very first page of the technical  paper he wrote about bitcoin, is:
"The system is secure as long as honest nodes collectively control more CPU power than any cooperating group of attacker nodes".
There you go.  If enough corrupt wallets are out there, bitcoin will never be an instrument of freedumb!.

Time for a redesign? And a little bit of tweaking, maybe?

Remember folks, NOTHING is ever done right the first time.

* "Who is Satochi Nakamoto?" might be the new "Who is John Galt?" which, honestly, was congenitally stupid from the get-go.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Doing the Tourist Thing

Did the holiday thing back in Indiana, and part of the deal was a tour of Chicago. My younger niece and family were in from Kansas City, and they had (she had, obviously, being from here) never been to Chicago. So, Friday we all went up to see the sights.

On the drive up, I was informed by my great-niece (my elder niece's daughter) that twerking was how babies were made. Women just kept on twerking until the baby popped out. I mentioned to my elder niece that perhaps it was time for The Talk. She informed me they had had The Talk, but that my great-niece just liked her version better. Okay fine. What happens when boys twerk, or do I want to know?

I don't.

So, the big deal was my younger niece's stepson (what do I call him, as they're not married but having a baby, so what's the status? I'll just call him the kid) had never been to the Sears Willis Tower. So, that was on the itinerary after we had done the Millennium Park/Mag Mile/ Chicago style pizza thing.

Which we did, and it was a huge amount of fun, but by the time we get down to the Sears Willis Tower, it's getting on close to sunset.

I should preface this story with the fact that the night before I had suggested we get advance tickets for the Sears Willis Tower skydeck. You can gain access to the skydeck for $18, or get the deluxe express dealio for $40. My brother calculating ten people @ $40 per put the kibosh on that idea.

So, when we get to the Sears Willis Tower, at near sunset, we are told it is a two and one half hour wait to get access to the skydeck. Fine, we say, give us tickets for the express. No problem, they say, that will be $89 per person. What? It's $40 online! Yes, advance tickets online are $40. Not when you show up.

Well, eff all that. So, the drive back, the kid is not going to let us forget that we went all the way to Chicago and he did not get to go to the top of the Sears Willis Tower.  And my niece informed me that he would remind them of this circumstance all the fucking way back to Kansas City, and then some.

So.... Saturday morning, early, my brother, niece's boyfriend/partner/almost-a-husband, and the kid drive up to the Sear Willis Tower, have a lot money extracted by getting pictures taken, souvenirs bought, etc. Kid is happy, my brother is the hero.

Of course, I know altruism is only a partial motivation. As the kid would not let it drop, shit rolls downhill and his daughter would never let it drop. These familial dysfunction things must be nipped in the bud.

There you go. I have nothing personal to report from all that. I'm thankful for being completely clueless about what goes on in my family. That's my Thanksgiving thankful thing.

Oh, wait. I did cast two glass pieces at the college over the holiday. I'm submitting them to Bullseye's Emerge show.

Here's some pics: