Monday, December 28, 2015

Star Wars The Force Awakens: A Review

Give Disney time, and it will own our entire freaking childhood.

Disney is buying up content like crazy. They are clearly afraid that their current portfolio of franchise content will not engage.

I didn't want to see this movie. The only reason I went was because my niece wanted to recreate the family movie outing, and I was not going to ruin that for her. So, right off, the one positive thing I got out of this movie, is that it puts a positive spin and a positive message about family. Yes, it's action, and there are new characters which are retreads of old characters, but it has a good message about the importance of moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas (without which, we humans would have become extinct a long time ago). So, I'll give Disney that, at least they recognize a true value system, even if the conclusion was derived via marketing.

During the holiday, my brother and I did quite a few late night walks around the area. I would note that one house I passed by had lit up Christmas decorations entirely owned by Disney. They owned everything except for Santa and the reindeer.

Disney was all over the Force Awakens. Many have pointed out that JJ Abrams, a fan of Star Wars,  created a fan movie of Star Wars. I would point out it was a heavily market-researched fan movie. It takes no risks, stays solidly within the canon of the franchise, is bereft of characters, filled to the brim with phony archetypes, does a competent job of action and effects, but is clearly just another round of content shot out of the chamber of the Military/Industrial/Entertainment Complex.

The plot was suck, but then JJ Abrams has never met a story yet he couldn't ruin. I've got no problem with reboots and reimagining. Fuck, it goes all the way back to Homer, who rebooted the stories of Mycenaeans. But, when you claim it's all new, and then serve up the same stale shit, I got a problem with that. So, the Force Awakens provided nothing new, and I supposed we have to wait for the next installment to see whether this movie actually sucked or not.

If the next movie involves Abrams insisting that it is not a reboot of the Empire Strikes Back, then we know this movie sucked.

Actually, the Empire Strikes Back is an anomaly, because every other movie in this franchise (provided we ignore New Hope, which was a reboot of Flash Gordon) has sucked a big red rubber dick. Joseph Campbell be damned.

In the meantime, I think I'll go see The Big Short, which was what I wanted to see to begin with.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Teh Stupid Catching Up To Me

Like many of you fellow Americans, I love to blow stuff up. I haven't done it in awhile, save for maybe a year ago making interesting pottery with greenware and firecrackers. Ah, but there was a time when I was in the realm of Hollywood special effects.

On or about 1973 or so, I managed to get my sweaty little hands on a book called The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell. Mysterious explosions were reported throughout Porter County for the next couple of years. The book actually didn't provide me with a whole lot of information I hadn't already obtained through the local library, but it was still useful.

Keep in mind, I'm not bragging, just relating the facts. in retrospect, I was one dumb fucker who should have been maimed or worse.

I set up a lot of exploding targets to shoot at throughout the 70s and 80s, but pretty much had gotten jaded and lost interest by 1985. On a personal safety note, we videotaped the explosion of a gallon can of gas attached to target explosive that captured shrapnel whizzing inches by the camera... and my face, and that experience pretty much put an end to that fascination.

To anyone who approached me about this form of pyrotechnics today, I'd say"Make Sure Me And Mine Aren't Around When You Blow Your Stupid Head Off, You Dumb Fucker".

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

#gungrabbers

Yesterday was the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre. I don't think I want to talk about guns and gun use in America, but rather the PR battle over guns and gun use in America. There is a loose rumor going around the college that perhaps qualified instructors and personnel should be armed. Kind of tells you who is winning the battle. Considering I usually want to shoot someone in the face at least two or three times daily, I think I should perhaps exclude myself from that policy. And I consider myself a reasonably intelligent and steadily mature adult. Maybe I'll get a sword.

A couple of politically incorrect assertions:

1) Your average American is a tard. They can barely operate their own bodies, let alone anything beyond that. They are actually worse than tards. Consider that, H erectus, a million years ago, with an IQ of perhaps 60, an imbecile, domesticated fire. Do you think the average American can do that? Domesticate fire? I don't. Just for shits and giggles, I would like to perform an annual experiment called National Hammer Day, in which every American qualified to vote must go throughout the day equipped with a hammer, just to see how that goes.

2) Your average American is a #guntard, meaning that fewer and fewer Americans know how to use a weapon. (I know #guntard usually means someone who drools over and/or beats off to guns). So, the math would seem to be more guns = more tards with guns, which I would think is not a good thing. Viz: the archetype of Barney Fife, with a bullet in his pocket, and he is Law Enforcement!

3) Your average American is as well informed about everything as they are about guns, gun use, gun abuse, tards with guns, the trend of more tards with guns, and the consequences of same, but special interest groups, hoping to manipulate public perceptions, have made it as hard as possible to get good reliable data on this whole topic. Therefore, we are dazzled with bullshit. We are dazzled with bullshit on practically every subject, so this is not a surprise. As a result, the only reliable data, from statistics, is denied your average American, and he or she is forced to rely upon a steady diet of anecdote.

4) As a result, PR people are having a field day, but we must also remember that your average PR person is also a tard. Often a very-well-paid tard, which makes me question the existence of a loving personal God.

Witness, for example, the popularity of the term #gungrabber. I personally think this is a backfire meme*. The simpleminded idea of #gungrabber is to portray someone who wants to take away your gun. I don't get that impression. I get the impression of gun owners who are portrayed as powerless little infants, babies with candy in their hands. And these mean old gun grabbers just coming up and snatching the gun right out of their soft, weak, pudgy little hands. "Hey! Gimme back my gun you mean old #gungrabber! Why, if I had gun, I'd show you!" Gun owners as scared little bunnies with tiny little paws that can barely hold on to a gun, and they are stressed out, forced to worry about #gungrabbers lurking behind bushes going to snatch their little guns away. What a horrible life!

#Gungrabber implies bullies, and bullies require victims. So, if gun owners, even with the advantage of holding a gun, are 90-lb weaklings worried about getting sand kicked in their face, that kind of defeats the purpose of the carefully crafted image of gun owners as the only responsible, sober, mature adults in America.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Primum non retardabit

I would categorize artists, teachers, health providers, drill instructors, and shamans as healers.

(Why not doctors? Doctors are more like engineers. They look for the closest solution to a problem and apply. Oftentimes that solution is a square peg for a round hole, and they force and mutilate the problem to fit the solution. Mathematicians do that too).

Not that I consider myself a teacher, at least, not as my primary role, but I do wear that hat a lot. And I think teachers, as healers, see a huge gaping wound in the head at the beginning of life called Ignorance, and try to heal it.

My primary role as I see it? The archetype known as Uncle John, which is to keep the kiddies (ages zero to one hundred) safe. Keep them safe, so they can have fun. So they can play. Because if you can't play, you can't learn.

Play involves some strictures, but nothing to actually hobble play. Nothing to retard it. You have to set up edges of the envelop, and then be ready to let the edges be stretched a bit. Play also involves a bit of tailoring to the person. Not everyone is going to appreciate the type or level of play that others thrive on. You can't predict what type of play will make them  thrive, but you can make corrections for when they are hindered. And so, first, do not hinder.

That's a very difficult thing to do. And since I'm not a particularly good diagnostician, in that I am self-centered enough not to recognize when people are not having the kind of fun I consider fun. So I do not think of myself as a nurturing teacher, but rather, an uncle who will only occasionally say no.

And also, usually, show them how they can get hurt, or into trouble, and that is best done by leading by example.

Still, it is very rewarding when, after you've scared them a little to not stray too far outside the playground boundaries, and get them set up, that you can walk away and say: "You know what to do".

Friday, December 4, 2015

Nail, Meet Hammer

What exactly can you pursue - personally and societally - with flint stone technology? How hard can it be pushed, what ramifications explored, what versatility can be exploited, and what robustness can be obtained?

Well, with flint stone tech, you get exceptional cutting edges, some very beautiful hand axes, stone knives, spearheads, micro bladed weapons of war, and that's about it. You can't really do much more with stone. Ah, but combine it with braided grasses, sinews, pliable wood, and you get a bow and arrow, which is a game changer - both personally and societal.

I don't really know how old bow and arrow tech is, but I'd hazard close to maybe 200,000 years old. That probably contradicts what most anthropologists and archaeologists surmise, which is at least 71,000 years old.

Now, would anyone, looking at a hand axe, predict a bow and arrow? Probably somebody, not usually likely.

Move on to the laser. When it first came out, predictions were for burning and cutting, death rays maybe, and that's about it. Nobody figured you could use lasers to cool things down to near absolute zero. What? A hot thing that makes things ultra cold? Nonsense! Nobody figured you could use lasers to make diamonds at room temperature. Nobody figured you could you lasers to perform nonlocal quantum witchcraft. And on and on.

So, now CRISPR. And what really is CRISPR? Well, my simplest explanation CRISPR is flint stone tech. It's a cutting edge. It's a cutting edge with a difference. And we I have not the slightest clue as to where it will go.

Already, some silly proposals have been made as to what to do with it. One silly scientist suggests it will be used to prolong human life. What a useless thing to do. You might as well breed for blond hair and blue eyes, to create psychopathic super soldiers.

Already, limitations have been shown to exist in the technology. A recent Chinese effort to genetically modify human embryos ran into some serious obstacles. But, the tech always improves.

Still, if are worried about homo superior, or some horrible pandemic, relax for a bit. We do know that people are concerned enough about the tech they recently had an ethics symposium. And at this ethics symposium use of CRISPR was given a green light.

Sensible. As far as I know, no technology has ever been suppressed, has never been stopped. Even prohibited tech has been pursued clandestinely, so why not pursue it out in the open? It's going to happen anyway, so the best option is to set up protocols.

Worried? Scared? Good! That is sensible too. But don't worry overmuch. Our doomsdays are not coming from the future. Our doomsdays are already here, jostling and competing to be made manifest.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

All-American Boy

You know, if Sayed Rizwan Farook had been a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, bullet-headed Saxon mother's son (who hadn't lost his temper and shot up San Bernardino) a lot of people who vilify him would praise him as a prepper's wet dream: well-armed, well-armored, well-prepared, and ready to wreak havoc like a good 'ol patriotic red-blooded American boy should be ready to do.

What with that whole well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of the state thing and all.

A good guy with a gun. Ah, well, life in America.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

For Your Consideration

The afternoon of July 1st, 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant sat sweltering in the parlor of a farmhouse outside of Vicksburg, trying to determine when would be an appropriate time to start drinking. Dinner would not be served for a few more hours, and he not did prefer to sober up again for the night. He eyed the bottle on his writing desk, then turned to work on the daily reports. He closed his eyes, ground palms to sockets to concentrate a moment.

A silvery lightning flash penetrated Grant's hands and eyelids, with no corresponding crash of thunder. Grant started in his seat, blinked his eyes to relieve the dazzle of the purple retinal afterglow. This dazzle was no treelike pattern of lightning, but rather more an animal's claw drawn raggedly across the backs of his eyes.

A brief, jagged rip had opened in the space-time continuum, and out from the Shining Void stepped Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless and his retinue.

"Greetings, Mr. President!" said Dr. Loveless cheerfully, "And how goes the Siege of Vicksburg on this... dismally muggy and oppressive day?"

Grant blinked and peered about the parlor before discerning the dwarfish form of Dr. Loveless. Loveless was impeccably attired in a silk morning coat, silk hat, and gold tipped cane. He wore an enormous green cravat that made his pink face look like a grotesque flower. Behind Loveless hulked his assistant, the giant Voltaire. Voltaire clutched a large metal barrel. Next to the giant stood the lovely Antoinette, who held a wicker basket.

"...tolerably well, I should say, sir", Grant hazarded.

"Ah! I admired your aplomb and composure! It is true what they say of your complete sangfroid in unusual situations. My hat is off to you, sir!" Dr. Loveless tipped his hat and placed it upon Grant's desk.

"Allow me to introduce myself! I am Doctor Miguelito Quixote Loveless! These are my companions, Miss Antoinette, and Mr. Voltaire! We are all of us time travelers, having come from your far future!"

"How do you do?" replied Grant. He held up a hand towards Loveless and pointed towards the basket. "Is that for me?" he asked.

The doctor, interrupted in his prepared speech, somewhat disconcerted, nodded. "Actually, yes. A token of our esteem, a gift basket for you, containing- "

"a bottle of Old Crow Bourbon, apples, oranges, some pieces of fried chicken, fresh bread and butter, and a brace of quite excellent Havana cigars".

The crooked smile vanished from Loveless' face. "How did you...?"

"...know the contents? Well, Doctor, this is not the first time you've appeared before me", said Grant.

Loveless's eyebrows shot up, visibly taken aback, literally rocked on his heals.

"May I please, dear? The basket?" Grant asked Antoinette. She looked at Loveless, who pale and stiff, nodded permission. As she placed the basket upon the table, Grant looked up at Voltaire. "Please, sir, put that heavy thing down and be at ease".

Voltaire humped the barrel to the floor with a grunt. Doctor Loveless, his handsome face suddenly becoming pale and stiff with anger, demanded "What do you mean not the first time? We have just now travelled here to this time and place!"

"Come, come sir!" cajoled Grant, "Do you not know the first thing about time travel? By appearing in the past, you have created a time loop. I have, by my count, gone through this encounter perhaps a few hundred times. Fortunately, the loop is recursive, and so is never the way same twice, else I - and the rest of the universe - would be quite insane. But to you, it will always be the first time".

"Impossible! I..." Loveless's voice trailed off as he started to think about this situation.

Grant unfolded  the calico cover of the basket, removed the bottle of Old Crow, uncorked it, plucked out a cigar, held it under his nose and sniffed. "Wonderful " he sighed, "and the fact that I die from throat cancer does not deter me in the least from smoking one. Sir, do you indulge?"

"Loveless paced the floor and shook his head, "Yes, but not now, thank you. I must appraise this new information".

"Well, let tell you what you planned, and what things occurred the first time you visited". Loveless stopped his pacing. "Please do" he replied.

"You and your plucky companions arrived from Hollywood California, circa 1964-".

"Aha! Nonsense!" interjected Loveless. "We arrived from New Haven, Connecticut 1872! I completed the time machine that year!"

"So it would seem to you", countered Grant "As I said, this-" he gestured around him "this is a recursive time loop you've stuck the Universe in. Or rather, if you will, a Do loop, an iterated algorithm where the result of the computation is fed back into the formula and repeated. So, it would seem to you, at the start point, that you arrived from Yale University, where you were a professor of the physical sciences, with the means and resources to assemble the material and device that you call a time machine. And at the same time, constructed the nuclear device which Mr. Voltaire has placed upon the floor. You offered to end the Siege of Vicksburg for me, with, as you said 'an aerial mine with the power of a million kegs of gunpowder'. All you needed from me was my signature. I, foolishly, accepted your offer, thinking the siege would continue for several months. The blast not only wiped out Vicksburg, it irradiated and incapacitated nearly a third of my army. It did end the siege, and the war, once news spread of a horrible weapon possessed by the Union. You then travelled forward in time, produced a land grant with my now Presidential signature transferring much of the state of California into your possession, but in turn, meaning you never took the position at Yale, and thus never created the time machine, which created a paradoxical loop in time."

"This is utter nonsense!" laughed Loveless, " a fabrication!"

"Perhaps, as I said, that was the first iteration". But you obviously need more convincing. You and I have spent a great deal of time as adversaries, Doctor, and I know a great about you. Grant proceeded to tell Loveless his whole life, the family history. How the strange experiments of Herr Doktor Lieblos, Miguelito's father, had inadvertently resulted in his dwarfism. How the Liebloses of Austria had been exiled. How they emigrated to America, how the Viceroy of New Spain granted the family large tracts of the province of Alta California. How the land was stolen by the Republic of California. And on and on until finally Loveless, dark browed and stiff lipped, admitted this all might be true.

"Fine," Loveless acceded. "Now what?"

"Why, you accept President Lincoln's exchange offer for the city of Los Angeles and its surrounds, and then go back to Yale to avoid the paradox".

"Exchange? For what price?"

"We'll give it to you for a song".


Monday, November 23, 2015

This Old Horse


"How was your bronze pour Saturday?" I was asked this morning.

"I had so much fun!" I replied, "It was just one problem after another!" That was not sarcasm. I really did have a lot of fun solving problems.

The reason, of course, that it was so much fun was because I adapted, improvised, overcame.  Not to brag, but I was the horse that knew the way to carry the sleigh. Actually, you know what? I'm gonna brag.

I was a fucking stud Saturday. I was big swinging-dick stallion Saturday. Was? Am!

Horse or jackass? You decide.
First off, we had that big snowstorm, which got us off to a late start. We were forecast to get eight to twelve inches of heart attack snow Friday night and Saturday. I lost maybe ten minutes of sleep worrying about that. Got up to pee at 3am, looked out the window, saw that the snow was not sticking to the roads and said, "Okay no problems".

We were scheduled to start at 9am, and some people didn't make until 11am, but I got us going around 10. I had people calling all morning asking if the bronze pour was still on, and I said yeah get your ass in here!

Pantomime Horse Testicles... I guess
A video crew hired by marketing arm of Continuing Education came in to film us and do interviews. I had them interview my students and me while the first heat was getting up to temperature. I was fed questions, but still was very conscious of trying not to be a dork.

I know some people are very suave and polished in front of a camera, and I do well in public speaking situations, but there is something about cameras and tape recorders that gets me tangled up in my thoughts and all stumbly in presentation. Hopefully, that comes across as charming as opposed to dorky, and I'll find out in a month when they post the video on the Harper website.

So, and then our lance pyrometer (the digital device you stick in the molten metal to gauge the temperature) decided to crap out. I announced to the class that we were going Old Skool and I would pour based upon the color of the metal. (You really can't tell what temperature it is with any degree of accuracy what the metal temperature is, but you want to see yellow-white hot color). What that meant is if I had to squint to look at the metal, it was probably ready. What that meant in actuality was we were going to pour the molds way too hot, and there was a good chance of a lot of gas porosity defects in the pieces.

Gift from a student I found this morning
Lastly, there were a few spills taking crucibles out of one furnace, and the spilled metal caused the base block to float. And thus the crucible kept leaning over and resting on the side of the furnace. The first time I saw it I said what the fuck some dumbass student didn't put the crucible back correctly, and I repositioned it. The next time, and it is leaning over again, I look down at the bottom of the furnace and notice a beautiful sea of quicksilver down there, with the base block and crucible kind of swimming around in it.

Well, this will not do, so when they go to pour that heat, I grab a scoop, go in and scoop out the bottom, slap it up against a wall, go in for another four or five times to get the level of the spilled metal down. My leather welding glove caught fire, and people are jostling me to notice that my hand is on fire, and I'm getting with them saying "I know! I know! Get the fuck away from me!". Finally get that done and heave the flaming glove off my hand before I'm burned.

So, that's taken care of. And then the rest of the day was just the normal broken molds or spilled metal through cracks in molds. We got a 100% survival rate.

In retrospect, I'm kind of amazed at my own somatic behavior when it comes to all this. If a mold cracked, people would freak and stop pouring and I would yell at them to continue, and just jam a scoop of sand up against the leak, and do it without even thinking about it. It's all a reflex action now.

And, as stumbly and dorky as I usually am (despite being pretty athletic all told), and as skittish a group of colts I had working the pour, I was beautiful and flaming dance we did. Seriously, I was fucking graceful. It's just all muscle memory now. It really, thinking about it, is amazing how no thought, zero thought, was involved in my movements and decision making. It just happened, and it was a beautiful thing.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Active Shooter Situation

So, we've a terrorist drill at the college today. I had to take a DHS class in preparation for this, which, as you might expect, was a circle jerk. I got a certificate of completion for that.

I have a little card in my wallet now, that says "Run Hide Fight". It explains what to do in an active shooter situation. "Active shooter" sounds kind of stupid, doesn't it? As opposed to what? Passive shooter? Well, I suppose you can have that, like a sniper in a clock tower. Active being someone in predator mode.

Of course, the drill isn't really real because everyone knows it is going to happen. I have thought about what to do, and since it is all situational, I'm going to do things which I would not have done prior to taking the class, so I suppose it wasn't a complete waste of time.

Like, for example, I've designated our kiln room as sanctuary because it is spacious, and there are two exits, and both doors lock automatically when closed. I'm also going to close and lock the tool cage in the woodshop because that has things that can jimmy doors open. I also plan on grabbing one of those things, a nice big crowbar.

As you can guess, I find the Run and Hide part distasteful, and contrary to my barbarian nature. I suppose, in some type of horseshit macho fantasy scenario that so many psychotic Americans run through, I will be fierce and victorious. And armed. But that's all horseshit, and anyone with a frontal lobe can see that.

Still, I am an animal, and as things go in the animal kingdom, not a small animal. There is something to be said for that.

In my dreams, I am a lot more cowardly than I am in real life. I often wake up ashamed of myself after a confrontation dream or nightmare.

But I have stepped up to the plate in real life. I think most people will. Not any kind of heroic scenario, mind you, but what is a hero anyway? Hero through Latin, front the Greek heros, protector. Well, that says to me, someone that can take care of themselves as well as someone else. Notice I said "can take care of themselves" first.

Self-sacrifice? Fuck that. I can't protect you if I'm out of the picture. Like swimmers that abandon drowners that try to drown them, a certain amount of selfishness is involved in this. Not surprising. It's never cut and dried.

Anyway, the drill is about to start, and I've got people to protect, even if it is just practice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Runt of The Litter"

2015. Cast Bronze. approx. 12" x 18" x 8"




Monday, November 9, 2015

SOFA Chicago 2015

Sculptural Objects and Functional Art. Many said this was a good years. I saw a lot of red dots (indicating sold). People I know there were happy because they were selling.

The unconscious theme this year was creepy baby dolls and baby doll heads, which is to say, Death. For the longest time in the western word, at least prior to the now 100-year-old anomaly, the thing that babies did most of all was to die. You had to make a lot of babies to get just a few to breeding age. Not surprising, then, that, like clowns, babies are associated with Death. I took very few pictures of the baby doll sculptures. Didn't see a need to. And, of course, no pictures of glass, which is the usual same ol' same ol' with SOFA. Not enough wood, ceramics, metal, textiles. Way too much fucking glass.

Thomas R Riley galleries had some nice stuff, including several pieces by my friend Philip Soosloff.

Here is a nice wood sculpture, a collaboration between Graeme Priddle and Melissa Engler called Incubus Triptych:




I forget the gallery, but I liked this piece by Andrew Hayes of book paper folded around and encased by steel.


This wood piece, titled "Rural Route 1" was by Randy Reid.


At first I like this cast glass and found steel piece by Paul J. Nelson, but now I'm not so crazy about it.


Svenja John of Germany made these fun little objects out of polycarbonate foil.



I've always like mosaics. Jun Kaneko had two big heads with mosaics. These heads were about three tall.


They had a lot of flat work this time out. Maybe there wasn't enough sculpture to fill the hall. I liked these two paintings by Bill Sala, entitled "Bindlestiff", and "A Fool And His Money".




Susan Saladino did some fun clay pieces that looked like paper mache.

 This is the only glass I took a picture of. Blown glass Spray paint cans.


I took this picture, which did not turn out so well, as one of the clay students is interested in crystalline glazes. This glaze is called Sea Foam Green. The piece is entitled "Bottle" by Hideaki Miyamura.


Abmeyer + Wood had a lot of good clay. They showed some fun semi-creepy baby doll sculptures by ceramics artist Calvin Ma, entitled "Softie" and "Reaching".



 Patti Warashina is an established ceramics artist. This one, titled "Tied Up in Red Tape", was stashed in the back.

Christopher David White made this ceramic piece, entitled "All Mine". It's hard to see, but the arm ends in a mine shaft entrance.


Can't remember which gallery, but they had a lot of nice delicate wood bowl form pieces.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Weapons Fashion Design

Eldest Bro sent me two links.

The first link was to Philip K Dick's novel The Zap Gun. The book is a mess, probably because Phil wrote in 1967, when there was some really good illicit street drugs out there. The salient point to be taken was that weapons had become fashion items to be plowshared into civilian consumer products. The weapons themselves were basically useless, but looked really cool.

The second link was to a promotional video of Boeing's "new" F-15SE Silent Eagle. Please note the Project Runway music begins at about 57 seconds in. It's all twirking teenage cornhole stuff after that. Lots of nice little Barbie accessory items that you simply must have from then on.



This is not the ornamentation of weaponry, which has gone on for at least 200,000 years. This is not the "making special of" crafting that you can see on everything from hand axes through to jeweled swords and pear-handled guns. Nor is this an offshoot of the toy industry. Toys, of course, actually are useful, in that they used for play, which is a worthwhile learning activity.

No, this is the fetishization of weapons into a utterly useless seasonal statement. This is, if you will, the equivalent of fiat currency in a weapon form of approved personal adornment. This is making a useful item useless, rolling into the mass production and consumption treadmill that capitalism's very existence depends upon.

Other clues: Hummers. As a military vehicle, hummers basically suck. Trucks, on the other hand, are very useful military vehicles. I see hummers all over the road with tiny little people inside. I really want to give civilian hummer drivers the full Hummer experience with a well-place improvised explosive device.

Mp5 lookalike. Hey, a lot of weapons are not so good. Not so well designed. Others, like the AK-47, or the AR-15, are pretty nice.

But the GSG-5 22 LR Tactical MP5 Lookalike? Looks cool, and if the only thing you want to do is shoot squirrels, why this is gun for you. But something more useful? How about the new AK-12?



It's a fashion statement!
Body armor. First of all, body armor is great for protecting the trunk, but do you really want to go through life brain-damaged and missing your genitals? And how many civilians (or Ferguson police) really needs this fucking shit? I mean, outside people that are going to go on shooting sprees

Drones. How about this fun little item? Priora Robotics sold the Army a drone that is outperformed by civilian hobby drones.

Get used to this, folks.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Disruption

I've a piece in the Disruption Exhibition at Grounds for Sculpture. It opened Oct. 24th and runs through March 27, 2016. The piece that got in is the Smokemakers.

Dig me, they used my photo for the Exhibition.

http://www.groundsforsculpture.org/Exhibitions

http://www.groundsforsculpture.org/Events/A-Disruptive-Conversation



(Might want to look at the comments on Facebook, specifically NJ realtor Deena LeeFiore's).

"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!"

I love processed meats. Ham. Ham is great. Chili cheese dogs. Bacon. Actually, I can take or leave bacon. It's OK, but I don't go nuts over it the way some people do. I'm told that even vegans lust for bacon. So maybe there is something wrong with me.

So, am I worried about cancer from eating processed meats? No fuck that.

I've been living on maybe 40% fat intake - and unwittingly developed the metabolism to burn it - for 58 years. You should see pictures of me as an infant, morbidly obese fat little baby being held by adults smoking cigarettes. I mean, a tiger would have loved to eat me back then. A pack of hyenas would have been in fat baby heaven had I been air dropped onto the savanna. But I slimmed down fast and yet still ate every fatty thing known to humankind. Fat? For me? Is not a problem.

I'm gonna grill me some ham and eggs in a ton of butter. Better still, a Denver omelet with onions and green peppers and a little paprika on top, fried up in a ton of butter. Oh man, I'm getting hungry.

No, I'm trying to cut back on the starches and sugars. That's a problem for me. Let me talk a little bit more about pig. Pig gets a bad rap.

You might remember during the drought of 2012 pig farmers were forced to feed their animals gummy bears and stale halloween candy and such, because their regular fodder (not much better) was in short supply? And I had some of that pig, and it was not good. Kind of slimy. Kind of... I don't know, nebulously unhealthy.

I have some friends who had their daughters in 4H, and they would raise all sorts of animals, but they really liked pigs. (Almost invariably two cute pigs, named Lunch and Dinner, so they knew what pigs were about). So, they'd slaughter the pigs and have a pig roast, and store the rest of meat in the freezer. And this was just fantastic pork, and I'll you why. They had a forest on their property, and the pigs would forage in the forest. Acorn-and-walnut-fed pig is something you have to experience.

So, that's not my problem. My problem is I have a sweet tooth you would not believe, and as part of the health kick I am on, I am cutting back on starches and sugars.

Halloween! Son of a bitch! Halloween!

Shit, man, I'm gonna have to postpone healthy living...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Upper Class Twit Crashes Bank, Pinks Science

I've said before that if I need to know what stupid people think, I read the Wall Street Journal editorial page. It's almost as good as Investor's Business Daily at determining what stupid people think.

And generally, if I want to know what incredibly stupid people think, I'll read the comments following the editorial. But on this particular editorial, the comments are actually not all that stupid!

So, the retarded* old custard pot that wrote this ridiculous and risible piece of business fluffing is named Matt Ridley, and he literally is an upper class twit. Matt, by the way, crashed a bank in 2007. Per Wikipedia:
"In September 2007 Northern Rock became the first British bank since 1878 to suffer a run on its finances at the start of the credit crunch. It was forced to apply to the Bank of England for emergency liquidity funding, following problems caused by the financial crisis of 2007–08.[34] The failure of the bank eventually led to the nationalisation of Northern Rock. Ridley went before a parliamentary committee which criticised him for not recognising the risks of the bank's financial strategy and thereby "harming the reputation of the British banking industry."[11] He resigned as chairman in October 2007.[11]"
In order to make his case against government funding of basic science, or perhaps ANY funding of basic science, Matt seems to be mangling the message of Kevin Kelly's technium book, What Technology Wants. Matt seems to make the case that somehow technology has disconnected from human brains, hands, and hearts, and is churning along all on its own making its own stuff.  I suppose I could parody his contention and suggests that we just set up a room for technology where it can reproduce in peace. But the idea (similar I suppose to Dawkin's hopelessly not-even-wrong bullshit meme idea, that the real replicators are ideas and concepts that breed like parasites in our empty animal brains) that technology has taken on a life of its own and really doesn't need us is something that an eight-year-old might buy into, but hopefully a regular adult sees as pretty fucking stupid. But continuing Matt's argument It seems that if technology doesn't need individuals, well then, collectives of individuals are not only unnecessary, but actually an impediment. Standard libertarian horseshit.

I have to assume that some private enterprise libertards needed a little brony swoon, and Matt obliged them.

The fact that Matt directs the narrative through cherry picking and some outright lies doesn't help his argument, but then, the WSJ editorial has never ever worried about reality.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Physicality Update

Not meant as a brag here, but my brother showed my a picture of me up in a tree from about 1987 or so. "Jesus", I said, "I look like Tarzan". Yeah, those days are gone... maybe.

It is now seven weeks and five days on since my nephrectomy. At my four week checkup, the doctors said "Wait six weeks before you start running again, and maybe slowly ramp up to your regular workouts". Well, at the six week checkup, the doctors were delighted at how my wounds had healed (told you I was a werewolf), but there was no way I was ready to do my regular workouts again.

I have to say that that nice big spiral cut honey baked ham slice they'd taken out of my internal lower left quadrant still felt like a ham slice. A friend of mine in the medical field told me "Dude, don't kid yourself about the minimal invasive procedure with the laproscopy, they did major carpentry work inside you. I've seen the procedure and it's pretty brutal". Yeah, and that's how it felt: like they had beat the living shit out of me, just kicked me in the nads over and over.

The doctor himself admitted as much. "We moved a lot of stuff around. You did have a football-sized dead kidney in there. It was occupying half your abdomen".

(You may want to skip this paragraph as it contains intimate personal details). It's true, the swolled up bag of piss did a major constriction on my sigmoid colon and other organs down there. I was pooping out either watery stuff or strings of spaghetti at random pretty much every waking hour of the day towards the end there. And now? Friggin' Burmese pythons coming out of my hind end. Good solid, regular bowel movements. Oh yeah!

A student of mine who is into street fighting martial arts* gave me another clue about what happened. He confirmed that the kick-in-the-nads feeling can happen from a kidney punch or flat heeled kick to the kidney, what with the neural wiring in there. "But don't get the wrong idea, it's not so much the nerves per se as it is the neuromyofascial connections that have been upset."

Right, all the connective tissue, it's been abused and shoved around, and that portion of my extracellular matrix that contains my organs and surrounds my belly took a nasty beating.  More on all this in a minute.

So, I tried working out last week. I did 50% of my normal workout, substituting vigorous turn on an elliptical machine for my running. But I did core workouts no problem. Medicine ball, free weights, pull ups, etc. with no problem and no guts shooting out all over the floor. I was sore - as expected - for three days, but then went back at it, and ramped it up to 90%. Threw in a kettle bell workout, kip rope, and the usual postural stretch routines, and it all felt pretty good. So there's that.

Thing is, I am re-evaluating how I am going to stay in shape in the future, and for awhile flirted with the idea of taking a parkour class. Someone suggested I hold off on that.

But here's the interesting thing. Through the usual serendipitous synchroncity that informs my readings and interactions, I've been exploring various aspects of the Natural Movement exercises. So, someone mentions Feldenkrais, and I say, isn't that funny that's about the third time people have talked about it in as many months. Then, I'm talking to martial arts guy, and he's going on and on about connective tissue, and I'm like, huh, I'm hearing about this too. And then, I get a book from the library by Chris McDougall (author of Born to Run), and about halfway in to this book Natural Born Heroes, and he starts talking about fascia.

So, I'm like, oh, okay, well when enough people tell you don't look so hot, maybe you are sick.

So, I'm researching an organized routine for that. I'm still gonna run, because that's what I do, and still gonna lift weights, because that's also what I do, but now I'm going to work on becoming an animal, because it would nice to be Tarzan again after that year of... nothing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Doomsday Machine

Star Trek fans know the episode of the Doomsday Machine. The USS Enterprise encounters a planet killer. A giant robot that destroys and eats planets. Naturally Kirk figures out a way to destroy it.



So clearly in the Star Wars vs. Star Trek matchup, The Death Star gets eaten for breakfast by the planet killer, no contest.

Wel, a different version, which I proposed here, would involve a giant swarm of vonNeumann self-replicating robot probes that, over time, just turn a planet to dust in the process of making more of themselves.

In fact, I stated that, should astronomers happen to find an old or mature star with a young dust disk of rubble surrounding it, then maybe it is time to be afraid.

Well, they found one. It's mature star that is surrounded by a young disk of rubble. There are all sorts of proposed methods for this to occur naturally, but it could be ET. If ET phones, don't answer.

So, and so close to Halloween. If ET rings the doorbell, turn off all the lights, turn off the music and the TV, and go hide the behind the couch.

Because that strategy will work against vN probes as good as any.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Do Bees Have Wars?

The answer is yes. War predates humans. A lot of things predate humans. Art predates humans. That includes art produced some 500,000 years ago, by Homo erectus.

Is there earlier art? How about bower birds, who have been making art for 50 million years?

How about language? Slavery? Domestication of animals? War? Ants did all that and more 90 million years ago.

I know ants had war, and, unlike humans, who send their young men, ants send their old ladies. But bees have war? I know bees will raid other nests for honey. But bees have wars. Certain kinds of bees. Stingless bees.

Well, why war? The usual explanation is resource scarcity. Bees need honey or pollen, or a good hive, and if the rewards outweigh the costs, why not? I think you have to throw in euscociality as well.

In which  case, I would argue humans are eusocial. We have cooperative brood care, we have overlapping generations within a hive, we have a division of labor. We are a heck of a lot more cooperative and in-group friendly than our nearest relatives, the chimps.

What about termites? They go back a good 200 million years.  Do they have war? They do not. Not war between termites. And why should they? Wood, dung, detritus, all are in plenty abundance. There is no resource scarcity. And yet termites have soldiers. Ah, well, because of ants.

Termites do one better than ants, but still come up even with humans.

Termites have suicide bombers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Castles and Walls Ain't Gonna Cut It

I've yet to see The Martian. I will. I really don't get why Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. Mars is dead as hell. Mars has always been dead as hell.

Also, Mars sucks. If you get anything out of any information the space agencies, it should be this. Mars sucks. The one good thing about Mars, is that the planetary mass provides a shield to half a sky of deadly radiation. We tend to forget that we live inside the atmosphere of the sun, and that shields us a little bit from the even more deadly cosmic radiation that would sleet through our tiny little bodies and french fry all our fun little genes and proteins in caramelized onion.

But still the sun's atmosphere itself is no Swiss picnic. Those solar flares, moving on up to Carrington events and probably beyond, play hob not just with our biological systems, but with all our little robot systems as well!

Good thing Earth has a magnetic field, and it's starting to look like that may be one of the most important requirements for complex life. So, and if you don't have a magnetic field? The next best thing would be dirt. On the Moon, a good two meters of lunar regolith cuts down on 99% of solar and cosmic radiation. Same for Mars. If you want to remain an ape-shaped denizen of Outer Space, you gotta be prepared to become a moleman. Which, guess what, still makes life in space a sucky experience.

That dirt comes in handy down here. Many did not appreciate digging in during the Civil War, or later during World War I, but it sure helped when it came to stopping bombs and artillery shells.

The use of concrete in WWII resulted in some (mainly Nazi) structures so indestructible that they remain in place as uneconomical or even infeasible to tear down.

Even during the Korean War, there was a stalemate that produced an old-fashioned trench warfare segment.
"We hated to dig," recalled A. Robert Abboud, First Marine Division Company commander at Outpost Bunker Hill. "The Chinese were wonderful diggers. They had tunnels they could drive trucks through. We couldn't get to them with our air power because they were underground all the time".
Fast forward to the Vietnam War, and it wasn't just tunnels and warrens that stymied air power, the jungle cover itself was quite sufficient.
"the Jason* scientists calculated that use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail would require at least ten a day, or 3,000 per year. The amount of downed trees would actually increase the cover provided to the enemy. The best alternative would be to seed choke points of the trail with highly radioactive waste, but radioactivity decays, and the window of impassibility would close. Besides, there was no reason the enemy could not forge new trails".
As long as we steer clear of H-bombs (for which dirt is not so effective) it would appear dirt solves a lot of problems when it comes to countering offensive systems, whether human operated air power, or increasingly, autonomous unmanned air power.

Which kind of gets me to the current worry over artificial intelligence, and the coming prospect of autonomous hunter/killer robots. The likes Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates worry that this creates a doomsday scenario.

Oh, ho hum. Competing doomsdays are all around us. And they don't come from the future, they blossom from the past.

It's pretty evident that our own aggregate artificial intelligences have a rather ironic habit of producing incredibly primitive behaviors, despite our best minds strategizing outcomes. Look no further than the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, rarely rising above the invertebrate behavior of fiddler crabs on the beach. So, it doesn't take much intelligence to get extinction going.

But those HKs... don't even have to be that smart. Dragonflies are very effective killing machines. So, we don't even have to get to human level intelligence. And HKs are inevitable, even without the influence of the arms industry, which is considerable.

DARPA is heavily influenced by the Defense Science Board. Where DARPA goes, the Pentagon follows. And the Defense Science Board is is stacked with people who serve on the boards of corporations that manufacture robotic systems for DARPA and the Pentagon. Corporations and organizations like Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Bechtel, Aerospace Corporation, Texas Instruments, IBM, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories, etc. etc. not even counting the small fry.

And all of these guys have a major hardon for autonomous hunter/killer robots. And not just robots. Robot systems. And not just robots systems, but systems of systems. Systems of systems on land, sea, air and outer space, like wheels within wheels within wheels.

Worried about the Chinese building air strip castles in the South China Sea? Worried about those hypersonic anti-ship missiles? Pheh! Too little, too late. So solly, Charlie. The US of A nimbly outmaneuvered and outspent the Chinese some twenty years ago.

Castles? Walls? Sorry guys. That arms race is done. Finito.

Dirt? Maybe if you got enough of it, if you dig down deep enough and clever enough, might help you out, but nowadays, it is no longer the cheap solution it once was.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Biopimparat - or - Dr. Ken's Silver Bullet Liver Pills

The problem with organizations - whether private or public, corporate or government - is that they are filled with people. People fuck up, and as such, organizations are prone to error.

Why, even hot shot organizations filled with the best of the best of the best can fuck up. So that NASAs can crash robot satellites into Mars because one team calculated in centimeters and another in inches. SRI International gave us Uri Geller. DARPA seems to have been snookered by "hearts and minds" sociologists promising to find out what makes, first the Viet Cong in Vietnam, and then, later Sunni insurgents in Iraq, tick.

What makes the Viet Cong tick?

That's a great question. It was asked by Ivy League egghead Robert Macnamara. (A similar, amnesiac's, question was later asked by the wretched Donald Rumsfeld, in the form of "What's with all these IEDs? Don't they realize we stole their country fair and square"!!?).

Actually, if you were working outside of the Defense Department in, say, 1964, that would be an easy question to answer. But, if you were working in the Defense department, and didn't like the easy answer (The Viet Cong tick because Yankee No Go Home), that was a very hard question to answer. It required reams of papers from extensive studies, and millions of dollars, and lots of self-deception, to get to the hard answer. And the hard answer was "This pesky Southeast Asian war will be over in a year. Maybe two. If we can just get the gooks to get with the program".

So, I think I've mentioned before that I have a theory, or rather an entertainment (since theory and theater share the same root word), that, from 1945 onward, the world experienced a prolonged WWIII over a fifty year period. We exploded a little more than half a gigaton in nuclear weapons tests into the atmosphere, dirtying up our air, soil, and water.

And the entertainment is that, as result, all that radiation affecting the brain development of human fetuses, anyone born after, say, 1954, is severely and profoundly retarded. And so, our parents, and older brothers and sisters, have worked feverishly to reverse the genetic damage, and when that was found to be irreversible, to work feverishly to created a Fisher-Price civilization to accommodate all of us retards.

I told this fantasy at a family gathering once, and got a laugh out of everyone except my parents. And they gave me the fish eye, and maybe even looked at each other and thought "What do you know, he's on to us".

But that's not what I want to talk about, save that puts us on the subject of post-apocalyptic armageddonal thinking. So, Biopreparat, and Ken Alibek. Were we snookered by the Soviets?

I think partly. I have no doubt that Soviet Union developed some of the most horrifying and hideous bioweapons during the Cold War. I think Ken Alibek was more or less truthful in describing the program. Oh, sure, I'm sure there was some exaggeration, a little added coloration and flair for the telling.

And why not? Because, you know, money to be made.

But yeah, chimeric superbugs and viruses loaded into cozy little room-tempature capsules, mounted SS-18 Satan missiles, to be dropped along with all the horrors of war on American cities? Sure, why not?

Gotta trust the Russkies not to pull any punches. Honestly, I'd be disappointed otherwise.

But it got me to thinking. Isn't that kind of a overly crude stratagem for chess players? I mean, downright Neolithic? Just straight out brute force in a brute force projection arms race escalation is a waste of a game. Not when the arms race of deceit and fraud is so much more interesting.

Consider: there are many instances of viruses infecting hosts and then doing nothing. They are called stealth viruses, and their DNA package is a called a silent load. So, for example, E coli bacteria can be infected with a virus, and then it just sits there. Then, some type of environmental trigger, for example and application of antibiotics, causes the virus to wake up and replicate. This has actually happened in some human patients where, receiving an antibiotic to clear up a nasty bacterial infection, suddenly come down with an even more serious viral infection. Creepy!

So, and there are instances that we know of now where, through the application of light, epigenetic or genetic changes can be triggered, and this is called optogenetics.

So, it so happens that one of the vaccines used in the anti-polio vaccination programs of the 1950s and '60s used cultures of kidney cells from African green monkeys. These cells, discovered later, contained monkey virus, simian virus 40, SV40, which eluded the quality control programs of the day.

This is a stretch, but let's assume Soviet scientists knew of optogenetics in the late 40s, and that further, they were able to produce a SV40 chimeric virus using, oh, I don't know, a common viral medium of the time like monkey kidney cells. And this SV40 chimera was set up to be activated by light, and let's say it is light produced by a cathode ray tube. And let's say that one consequence of the activation is the rendering of certain proteins within the brain to produce a thought-smothering plaque choking off the neurons.

So, 98 million TV watching Americans over time getting all Alzheimered out, producing a ball and chain drag upon the American economy.

Better buy me some Dr. Ken's broad-spectrum immune booster pills.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tectonic Plates

Hm. I seem to recall I got very productive after the last time I had surgery. I guess they are right that fear of death does a remarkable job of focusing the mind. I got a lot done this week.

I'm working four waxes. Two figures, one bas relief for glass casting, one just a regular machinerette casting. I'll post pics when they are more complete.

I got access to ceramic decal sheets. They are like regular decals that you would put on plastic models. These, though, burn clean with no residue. As it turns out inkjet printer ink holds up nicely to Cone 5 firing. So, I'm making two big plates, and have designs ready for the decals.

Here's one:

Here's the other:


Hokey? Yes. So what?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Lost Wax" Bronze Casting from 3D Printed Piece

Last week, I took a free class at the public library on 3D printing.

COMMUNISM!

The library has a Makerbot Mini, and the class was using software called Tinkercad, by Autodesk. I've played with Google Sketchup as well. Tinkercad is super easy to use and I skipped ahead several lessons during the class to get to the good stuff. Didn't really make anything I wanted to print off. And, in fact, not really sure at this stage what I would use for, except maybe as an offering for my students.

Obviously, the plastic pieces could be Old Skooled into molds for waxes, with the digital file as the master. It's nice to mix old and new, even nicer to get old stuff to do new stuff.

The librarian teacher said the plastic was actually polylactic acid, which is meltable and burnable. I said I do metal casting at Harper College, give me a piece and I'll cast it in metal and you can show it off in future classes.

He gave me a knight chess piece. So, I invested it in a jewelry flask, burned it out and spin cast in bronze. Nothing at all new there. Shapeways does this all the time.

So, I treated it like lost wax with same burnout schedule. Heat to 400F, hold for two hours, heat to 1350F to burn out carbon, hold for 1 hour, cool to 900F and cast. The librarian told me the piece took two hours to print. I probably could have carved it in an hour. Total time from plastic to metal was 1 day (overnight).

Here it is:

Here is a close-up of the piece. Got a nice laminar look to it. You can see the "granularity" or resolution is about .2 mm.

Could have done a better job of spruing so it didn't have defects, but what the hey, it's rapid prototyping. I don't know where this 3D printing stuff will go. Could be a fad. For all we know, they'll get a bioenigneered tank of bacterial slime or coral reef to grow all this Thingiverse stuff just as easily.

But in the meantime, fun!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Infernal Machine

I'm going to give you two maxims, perhaps three. The first is from someone you've never heard of, the second is not strictly a maxim, more of a quote, but can be treated as a 'short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct'. So, then, the first:
"No subsequent amount of steps will fix a fucked-up first step" - Newman's Maxim
and the second?
"Do it right the first time? NOTHING is done right the first time!" - God Almighty
The third one? We may or may not get to that.

The one thing right off the bat we should do is envision the Almighty as an American God. As such, He was a bit of a old-fashioned country gentleman, but also not above being a tinkerer or low mechanick (and so not quite a true gentleman), with a charming touch of slight bumbler mixed in, and perhaps a dash of an humbug as well, along the lines of an old Kansas carny huckster.

The Almighty, of course, didn't look like any of these things. He was quite an imposing figure when he wanted to be. But, puttering around in the workshop of his weathered old shed seated in tall weeds out back of His estate, dressed up in sweaty coveralls, with occasionally some axle grease smeared on his forehead, or perhaps some residue of magic flash powder covering his face, his eyes out starting from a surprised raccoon bandit mask, He looked less the Almighty and more of a, well, a mad scientist, I suppose.

His Host of field angels, slaving happily in the eternal sunshine, rows and rows of verdant and plentiful ambrosia and manna to be picked, often wondered why He spent so much time in the shack out back. His house angels knew better as to the reason why: the Almighty was laboring mightily on getting all of Creation going. He'd had rather a hard time of it, an infinite time in fact, as evidenced by the endless remnants and discards of previous attempts that lay exposed in the unkempt yard around the shack, some overgrown by weeds, others just barely starting to be covered, but all of them never quite the same or up to snuff.

And at the end of each Day, He would retire to His palatial mansion, cleaned up and dressed in sparkling white evening attire, enjoy an ice cold glass of Nectar served by the mistress of His Household (and frequent bedmate), sigh and say "Gonna lick it tomorrow for sure, Lucifer!"
The Almighty and Lucifer in better times.
And yes, they do look like Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent

And sure enough, one day, working on the Infinity Plus Oneth device, which refused to work, He got it. It first sat there all stardust and base metal, gears, flywheels, pistons, screws and levers and inclined planes, all topped by rotary brass-balled governors that sat motionless like a dumbshit.

"Son of a - " He muttered in frustration, wishing He had some deity of His own to use for a curse. Scratching His forehead, He did what He always did at this stage, which was to smack it hard with a spanner. Only this time, it started to go. Not only did it start to go, but it didn't stop.

He shouted with delight, danced a jig, called for all His Hosts to come see, threw open the doors of shack, and lo! Hosannas of praise went up and the resonated throughout the Heavens. And they proclaimed it the Cosmos and it was good.
...or maybe...

Problem was, of course, He had not the slightest idea why it worked, or for that matter why it started to go in the first place. As such, the Almighty was just a little afraid of it, rather the way Frankenstein was not entirely comfortable with his monster.

He allowed Himself the conceit that somehow, via His chimpanzee bash with the spanner, He had provided a Divine Spark but that made the darn thing go, but there was always a small quantity of doubt in the back of His mind about the thing. And so He was always a bit careful around it, both because it was rickety cobbled together patchwork kind of a thing, but also because it seemed to possess a life of its own, and do things He didn't expect. (Worrisome when you consider He was omniscient).

He had had the presence of mind to installed a viewing tube on the thing, so that He could peer inside to view the workings. This was almost invariably a source of horror and delight to Him, and the complications and permutations and combinations of all the little whizzing parts were of endless fascination. He would wax poetically for hours over dinner, and well into the night, about what He saw in the Cosmos.

And then one day Lucifer asked if she could look into the wonder of the Cosmos. The Almighty  wasn't sure that was such a good idea, and said as much. She pleaded and cajoled with such charm and grace that finally He relented. And so, she stepped up to the Cosmos, fixed her lovely eye upon the viewing tube, and exclaimed with delight.

And that's when the machinery made a snatch at her.

In a twinkling, she was gone, whirled in and swept up into the innards of the Cosmos. The Almighty cried in horror and dismay, tried to find the Off switch, but there was none. Quickly, He searched the innards through the view tube for signs of her. Indications were she whole and intact, but strangely made nonlocal throughout the interior of the Cosmos and, so it would seem, permanently entangled within.

Try as He could, He could not extract her from the Cosmos. (Equally worrisome as He was omnipotent).

He closed up the shed, locked the latch, and never went back there again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Get out of my trailer" revisited

In the essay "Get out of my trailer", I imagined a human-cell-sized trailer occupied by a bacterial denizen and assumed that was about right. Turns out my arithmetic was a little bit off. Your average eukaryotic cell is about 15,000 times the volume of your average bacterium.

courtesy http://www.tentrillioncellhuman.com

So, let's say we scale up a bacteria to the size of a human being. Let's make him a six-foot, two hundred pound specimen, which is pretty close to me. My volume, as a cylinder of 72" height with ellipsoidal cross section, is about 3.17 cubic feet. Times 15,000 is 47,550 cubic feet. Let's make a two story building, that's a footprint of 2,377 square feet, which is about your contemporary average house size. (Average US houses in 1973  first census data available - were 1,660 square feet.)

So, we've moved up in the world from a trailer to a well-to-do suburban ranch house.

Get out of my starter castle you bacterial bitch.

And take your dirty Pigpen menagerie cloud with you.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Vital Question: A Book Report

Nick Lane's The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life is not a book. It is an argument. It is an argument the way Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species is an argument. Nick Lane warns us in his forward, and some may not be ready to slog through this book.

Not that the book is that much of a slog, it's actually fairly well written and engaging, and he managed to mostly convince me with his arguments. He does keep the energy calculations to a minimum, but he is going to beat you about the head and shoulders with both data and supposition. So be forewarned.

Nick Bostrom, the Doomsday philosopher, will be pleased with this book. Bostrom really, really hopes that extraterrestrial intelligence (and by backwards inference, extraterrestrial life) is not found in the Universe. More locally, Bostrom hopes that absolutely no life is found on Mars, or Ganymede, or Europa, or Enceladas, or anywhere else in the Solar System. And never was.

If life is not found, then it is probable that the Great Filter which apparently exists to wipe out Life, is in our past. In other words, given the Fermi Paradox, that the universe seems set up to produce our kind of life, and that once it gets going our kind of life probably is set up to produce intelligent life, then we should be up to our armpits in aliens. We are not. "Where are they?" asked Fermi.

"Dead!" says Bostrom, "or even better still, Never Made It As Far As Us!"

So, Nick Lane makes a good case for No Complex Life. And by No Complex Life, he really means, no multicellular life, which in turn means no eukaryotic life, but maybe, probably, our kind Life elsewhere in the universe. Just not complex life.

Lots and lots of planets - once you eliminate the promising but barren earth like extrasolar candidates of which there are probably a shitload - probably have bacteria on them, and that's it. Bacteria, and archaea, forever and ever, amen.

(My own guess, and since we have a sample space of one to go from, is that there are perhaps only 1 out of 1027 worlds like Earth within the particle horizon of the Universe, meaning there is exactly one Earthlike planet that we can observe. That might placate Bostrom, but I doubt it. I know it bums out scifi fans hoping for aliens, but, hey, kids gotta grow up sometime).



Lane has done a very good job of convincing me that Earth life  - cellular life - got it's start in alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of oceans. I used to think life got its start in black smokers, but that is a bit too extreme of an environment.



But alkaline hydrothermal vents, with just the right chemistries, with a similarity between and high Ph cell interior and low Ph sea water, along with iron/sulfur catalysts that are at the heart of practically every nanomechanical respiration mechanism that cells possess, just looks too right not to be true.

All that needs to be done is to set up a working experiment that demonstrates it, rather like Miller's and Urey's lightning-in-a-bottle that created amino acids. (Now,  pretty much a curiosity as evidence suggests early Earth's atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller/Urey experimental mix.

So, consider. Life did not appear in some warm pond. There was no primordial soup. Early Earth (and  early Venus, and early Mars) had an atmosphere of water vapor, CO2, and nitrogen, but very dense. All those artist's conceptions of early Mars' blue oceans are fantasy. Instead, picture what Venus looks like now, blanketed in murk, and that is the early Earth.

Consider: The faint young sun paradox. The sun was 30% as bright as it is now 4 billion years ago. And yet all rock evidence says Earth had water on it. Not a hellish lava Earth, and not a frozen solid Earth, as we would expect. Same with Venus. Same with Mars. But Venus and Mars never developed life. Why not? My guess is, no magnetic field. The early sun was hissing, spitting kitty cat of radiation and solar flares. Without a magnetic field to protect them, the sun stripped Venus and Mars of their atmospheric hydrogen, and they were doomed from the get-go. The sun was also pumping out huge volumes of UV radiation, not to mention all the planets getting pummeled with the leftovers of planetary formation. The only safe place to be is at the bottom of the ocean.

So, that's my argument. Life - as bacteria and archaea - got started down there, and it got started very, very quickly. So, given the cosmic abundances of chemicals that make up our kind of life, given the favorable thermodynamic properties of molecular formation that make our kind of life probable, one would expect a Universe full of (microbial) bugs.

Okay, fair enough. What about complex life? Eukarya? That is the scandal. As Lane argues, it probably happened only once, and it involved an archaean host and a bacterial enosymbiont. The bacterial component turned into what we call mitochondria, and the archean host swelled up into the giant chimeric monster of a cell we call eurkaryotes.

Kudos to Lin Margulis to pushing the argument for this insight of cells merging. But! The evidence suggests it only happened once. All the other stuff inside complex cells, the double-walled nucleus, the endoplasmic reticulum, the Golgi apparatus, the flexible cytoskeleton and flagella are NOT further symbiots absorbed. There is no evidence to suggest this.

Meaning, the origin of the eurkaryotes was a one-time freak accident. Oh, perhaps that's a bit of hyperbole, but not much. Meaning, probably all those buggy bacterial mat planets out there in the Cosmos, stay bacterial mat planets out in the Cosmos. Four billion years on, and they've made zero effort to improve themselves.

As Lane suggests, nothing is more conservative than a bacteria. The weird, monstrous, chimerical patchwork Frankenstein's monster which is us may just be a one-in-a-Cosmos shot.

All the more reason to be nice to other.