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.


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.


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.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Expo Chicago 2015

I went to Expo Chicago Saturday. There wasn't as much to take pictures of as in previous years. There were an inordinate amount of tall, stunning, blonde women, this year. Sorry, no pictures. Since I am neither rich nor famous, I was ignored, along with 99.999% of all the other males there.

Gallery Thomas Schulte of Berlin had some nice work by Allan McCullom. these very nice hand-turned objects were done in ash wood, A continuation of his Shapes Project. I was drawn to them both because of the wood and because they rather have a similarity to some of the shapes I play with, basically metazoan body plans. These shelves here go for a cool $108,000. The whole wall of twelve shelves can be had for $324,000. Allan had these turned on a lathe by craftsmen in Germany.

Cuban art was once again present with Cernuda Art gallery. Here is a painting by Manuel Mendive that I liked. I guess he's going for the whole alternate dimensional mechanical elves experience from the Santeria perspective.

James Turrell had not his normal stuff at Pace Galleries.

Bullethead, 1990
And welcome back, Donald Lipski! He has not exhibited for awhile. He has been doing mostly public commissions. I last saw his work at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2001. He had a piece at Hill Gallery of Birmingham, MI for an upcoming exhibition.

Saw a very fun kinetic piece by Carlos Costa at LOCAL Arte Contempor├íneo (Chile).


Other than that, saw some art, some good, some hideous. I engaged in painful conservation with curators and gallery owners who would have much rather been talking to rich and famous people. Got mistaken for a gay guy and was hit on. Walked around way too much, and suffered for it later. Ended up in going to bed at 9:30 in the pm. Next up SOFA Chicago in November. Still not sure if I'll go to that.

Friday, September 18, 2015

No Shame In Fail

I was going to talk about food, but what with all the bleak news about how us ape-shaped bugs doing our best to make this planet uninhabitable for ape-shaped bugs, it's just too damn depressing.

So, using my best optimax formulae for deck chair rearrangement, which involves a certain amount of denial, I keep plugging away making art and submitting it. Here's the latest, and it's getting submitted to the Corning New Glass Review, which I never get in:

Machinerette Polyptych #1

This won't get in either, but, hey, it's not for lack of trying. This creation and submission would be considered in today's terminology a FAIL. It's a pity that this term, which pretty much applies to everyone and all circumstances, has entered into the snarky descent of the treadmill of pejoration.

There's nothing wrong with fail. In fact, I often tell my students "No shame in fail".

Case in point. Last night I used up my personal studio time to tutor a kid in the Design II class. Design II moves the students from two-dimensional works to three-dimensional, in preparation for the Sculpture. The sculpture professor teaches the class. He has basically had enough of this kid, and so he was handed off to me.

Look, I understand the sculpture professors dismissal of the kid. He's got his favorites, whom I call little poodles, and for whom art is effortless, or nearly so. They are easy to teach and they always follow the rules. He has little patience for the strugglies and problem children.

I get the strugglies. I get the broken toys. I get the problem children. I have no problem with that. The art they make is often awkward, clumsy, misshapen, deformed, disfigured.


Always always far more interesting than the perfectly crafted and perfectly bland art that the poodles make. The rejected kids have a had time following the rules, often because the rules are incomprehensible to them.

So, this kid last night, obviously is within the autistic spectrum and also is tourettic with a profound verbal tic. But he's earnest, hard-working, wants desperately to get it, and is willing to put in whatever time and effort is necessary to get it.

Well, shit, I really had not choice but to see what I could do to help him.

He had been in the Design I class. I had been told by the instructor that he struggled in that class. A lot of the students in there were snickering at him, because he's weird and a retard. That kind of shit makes want to crack some skulls and get in some faces. But the nice story is, a girl in the class, a gorgeous stunning brilliant girl, stepped up to the plate, moved her stuff over to his table, provided him some support and companionship and silenced the snide little poodles.

Good on her!

This poor kid just didn't have the first idea of where to start. Two dimensional composition was hard for him. He can't understand basic spatial composition. He can't read a ruler. He doesn't understand what angles are. And the assignment is to create platonic solids from the cutouts on paper. So, anyway, I spent an hour and a half with him, tried about five different approaches to the problem. I had him ignore the instructions, gave him lots of paper, scissors, masking tape, the occasional timely advice, and said, make the solid as close as can, don't worry if it is exact, and have fun. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

I had to some arithmetic for him, but I made him watch me do the work. I had to show how to work a protractor and compass, but he had to do it. Because we learn by doing. I wasn't going to strictly speaking doing the work for him.

"It's just pentagons and equilateral triangles. Just keep on cutting them and piecing them together", I said. I had him cut out each face and tape it together, and then I had him take it apart and lay it out as a contiguous piece on paper. And then draw it. Then cut that out and fold it, and tape it together. It was nice to see at the end of evening that he made kind of a fucked-up but recognizable icosidodecahedron.

"I think I'm starting to get it" he said.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Orukter Amphibolos

We are still on food. Yes, we wonderful proton-powered collective metazoans needs us some foods!

Speaking of power, I didn't watch the Republican (master)debates last night, but I hear Trump slipped Jeb some skin.

Good thing they didn't fist bump, or their Wonder Tard Powers would have activated. And then what?

So, food. Again. Still. Probably for awhile. Hey, let's talk about Oliver Evans. I think in many respects, Oliver Evans kicked Leonardo DaVinci's ass when it came to inventions. True, Leonardo came with lots of unworkable and impractical inventions, a lot more than Evans, but unlike Leonardo, Evan's rubber always hit the road.

Oliver Evans, along with Richard Trevithick, came up with the high pressure steam engine.  Oliver Evans built the Orukter Amphibolos, the world's first automobile and the world's first amphibious vehicle. When he drove it through Philadelphia's Center Square in 1805, thousands gathered in amazement.

But much important a contribution was Evan's automatic flour mill, developed to fruition around 1789.
"He saw the method by which millers turned wheat into flour and he was disgusted by the crudity, waste, and dirtiness. A mill customarily employed four men and a 'hopper boy' to clean, grind, cool, sift, and pack. One strong man carried three-bushel sacks up ladder-like stairways and dumped the grain into cylindrical 'rolling screen' that freed the grain of its chaff and dirt. A boy raked the cleaned grain into a funnel or hopper leading to the second-floor millstones, driven by waterpower. The warm, moist, ground meal was packed into buckets and hoisted to the third floor. It was spread out on the floor to cool and dry. A third man pushed the dried meal into a vertical chute. Gravity carried it into cylinder covered in bolting cloth. Once sieved, the flour fell into a chest and a fourth man  shoveled it out into barrels. In all this labor, dust was raised, grain was trampled underfoot, and the flour quality was very mixed."*   
"Mixed" was an understatement, the flour typically had manure, insects, offal, trash, and any number of other very undesirable things embedded within it. Aside from the amount eaten by vermin, most of it spoiled before it could make it to market - where it was used anyway.

Evans' ingenious automatic integrated production line used one man, doing the work of, who could process 300 bushels an hour. In addition, the raw gain emerged as smooth flour untouched by human hand, devoid of hopper dust, footmarks or insects. Footmarks, in case you haven't figured it, was anything that became attached from the incredibly filthy mill dirt and mud of the mill yards.

His process was promptly denigrated as "a set of rattle-traps, and also shamelessly ripped off by millers up and down the Eastern seaboard, and it was not until Congress passed an act for the Relief of Oliver Evans, signed into law by President Jefferson in 1808, that he was able to receive partial recompense. As usual, as is such the case of so much of capitalism in America, his inventions were "stolen fair and square". From the monies recovered, he founded the Mars Works west of Pittsburgh, continuing to manufacture steam engines until his death. The steam engine was something for sure. But, more importantly, there is little doubt that Americans, eating flour milled by Evans' mills, were more likely to live to tell the tale, and certainly had an impact in being able to reproduce at "biological maximum", and spread westward ho.

*From They Made America, by Harold Evans with Gail Buckland and David Lefer

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Scale Of Government Is Not Invariant

(Or more generally, organizations are not fractals).

Napoleon is a dickless asshole. Literally.

You may recall in yesterday's essay I called Steve Jobs a dickless asshole. Jobs used this term of disparagement all the time, so it stands to reason that he found it hurtful in the extreme. It follows we as a society should make an attempt that he should forever after be known as a dickless asshole. Nothing really wrong with that, considering how powerful the asshole niche is within the society of us ape-shaped bugs, and for that matter, how it seems to be a near cosmic rule in organizations. I would hazard to guess that if we ever meet space-faring aliens, they have good representative asshole niche - unless they've managed to find a way to be both effective and nice.

Napoleon really is a dickless asshole though. During his autopsy, the doctor removed some souvenirs, and so his dick meandered through that grisly subset of the global commodities market known as reliquaries until settling in New Jersey. Cosmic irony would have dictated that it reside next to a jar filled with Rasputin's cock, but no. I guess.

Anyway, what the fuck am I talking about? I went back and read yesterday's essay, and I had to ask "Kurman? Was there a fucking point to any of that?" I think there was, is, but it's gonna take a while for it all to cohere  - or congeal - into something. I think it has to do with big picture items and long term trends. But honestly, I'm pretty sure that the general anesthesia from two weeks ago scraped a good 10 IQ points of my brain, and maybe permanently. Add that to the other four operations going under, and the ten concussions I've suffered, and I suspect one more trial under the knife, or one more conk on the noggin, and all I'll be able to type is "Meow".

(Oh, and that ape-shaped bug crack? Not really meant as insult, more a realistic observation of our place in the larger universe. And whether "bug" refers to Ecdysozoa or Eubacteria really doesn't matter as both have admirably solved 99.999% of the survival problem and are worthy of emulation).

So I suppose one of the themes from yesterday was about energy, but the stress was not necessarily upon our most recent sources - oil, gas, coal, nuclear - that have allowed the big accelerating anomaly our species has undergone lo these past three centuries, but rather the much more important energy source known as food.

Food, baby, food!

Any long term trend, any big picture item must treat this as the salient of all discussions. True, oil, gas, and coal, have opened up new venues and ventures to our species, but in many respects, all they've really done is added a turbocharged hemi to an already very sleek and stylish automobile - that incredible robust time-tested might-as-well-be-Promethean-nanotechnology we call eukarya in human form (and of course the holobiontic menagerie that surrounds and contains us like that hokey wizarding Force in those hokey Star Wars movies).

And if we are to talk of, to bump it up a category, Life, then we must talk of organization, networks, whether communal or parasitic, swarm or dissipative structure, centralized or distributed, fractal or Pareto dispersed.

(One quick aside about food, and another dickless asshole known as Putin. Jared Diamond's scholarship in Guns, Germs, and Steel may be slipshod, loose, and sloppy, and he may accused of geographic fatalism, but he does have a point about food zones. Longitudinal (east-west) food zones are preferable to latitudinal (north-south) food zones for propagation of staples, but in a world of climate change - assuming that favorable conditions travel to the poles, and this is a coarse assumption - the food zones will not travel with them. Latitudinal food zones (ignoring storm, flood  and drought) are to be preferred. Which means the Ukraine is fucked as a food zone, and Russia as well. Putin is wasting his time. The fact that got he caught with his pants down by failing to move most of Russia's arms-making capacity out of the Ukraine shows him to be a short-sighted fool, rather the strong manly chess master American conservatives so desperately whank off to).

So, political organizations (and, for that matter business organizations, which are based upon centrally planned dictatorships). What we know is basically every form has been tried and found wanting, but some forms are worse than others. Confederations, for example, don't work. In America, they have tried twice, and both have been dismal, utter failures. Anarchy, for that matter, I don't think has even ever been tried, as it is contrary to the very idea of organization and principles of networks of social creatures. Grover Norquist, clueless - and possibly dickless - asshole, mischaracterized Burning Man as a self-organizing anarchic emergent community when it was nothing of the kind. Burning Man was - is -  a highly regulated, highly policed, luxuriously subsidized annual expedition to the South Pole - but without the death and cannibalism and frostbite and gangrene.

So then the question is granularity of control. I for one prefer Big Government because it's so big and monitoring (at least historically) so remote and lax that it was easy to get away with a lot of shit, and still get a lot of free stuff for free from the taxpayer.

(I have to admit, my views of governance are moving away from the Lockean social contract theory, and heading more towards the Serresian layered mutual abuse social parasitism theory, and more on that later maybe).

But let's get back to that idea of layers of categorical filters and control points. The American Founding Fathers, perhaps swinging the pendulum too far the other way after being subjected to the parasitic abuse of the jolly olde British Empire (ignoring their own parasitic land theft and security needs against the dreadful Savage which said empire supplied in return). Even when the United States in Congress Assembled proved to be wholly unworkable, members of the Constitutional Congress were still staining their pants so badly over the return of tyranny that they much preferred the idea of state and, more importantly, local control.

Problem is, local government can be the most stringent dictatorship of all (and as such, is NOT the modern system of government per Foucault's observations on the panopticon). I mean, I much prefer that the government be way the hell over their in Washington DC, with layers and layers and layers of bureaucracy distancing them from me, and all the silly little incestuous CEO-type buttheads stuck in one little easily nuked enclave. True, their are always exceptions to the rule. True, technology is changing so rapidly that the monitoring points are getting closer and closer into my business and privacy, but this is the cost of being a social creature. And besides, monitoring and control technology is part and parcel of the involving arms race of deceit, which I consider a lot more fun than the usual idea of arms race.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Spine of the S Curve

We are told that for every one person living, there are fifteen ghosts floating around. If you start at around 50,000 BCE, that puts the total number of dead people preceding our current 7 billion at around 107 billion or so.

You ever think there will ever be 107 billion people living at some point in the future? I doubt it, and if they are, they'll be infesting the solar system rather than Earth in some Kardashev level 1.4 (some 10 to the 22nd power watts to play with, if my math is right) civilization. And I also doubt you would strictly call them people, or at least, not people in ape form. And maybe not even in a watery carbon substrate.

Funny thing, or not so funny thing is, where do get the cheap energy for all those people? Well, that's the not the problem is it? It's cheap energy density that is the problem, the same way that lake or a river is good for waterwheels, but a narrow channel is much, much better.

Consider how we get by with just coal, oil, and gas. All those little archea and bacteria, laying down near teraton geologic deposits of rock and shale and carbon and all good stuff, their ghostly little selves outnumbering present populations some 20-30 to 1, means there is just a shitload of gas, coal, and oil still available. And that's not really the problem, to get an appropriate energy density to be useful, extraction has to stay below some constraint.

That's really not the problem is it? Food is the problem. Last I checked, food needs soil, air and water, and that's about it. Oh, it need a little bit more than that, but that's still far more worrisome and sophisticated a task than simply drowning in your own shit and floating to the bottom of the sea to be covered up by sediment and turned into more or less pure carbon.  

Because when you think about it, the whole system of food, which is to say the geologic environment, plus bacteria and archea, plus eukarya in the form of plants and animals, all of it based on a universal chemical dance of proton gradient and redox replenishment that makes our current best energy density look like pathetic little weenie sparks (seriously, the electric potential across a 6 nanometer mitochondrial  membrane is like 400 million volts!), and the machinery to do it, makes even our most sophisticated machine look like a cumbersome tinkertoy. And all of it done through a incredibly massive parallelism and natural selection. Why, the whole of human civilization kind of pales in comparison. No wonder the godbotherers have a hard time dropping the silly Intelligent Design argument.

Yeah, okay what's the point? You can talk about the Industrial Revolution, and I sure do agree it's a nontrivial event. But the agricultural revolution, plus the conquest of the New World ("Pangea stitch'd together again), plus good 'ol poison gas Fritz Haber, plus Norman Borlaug, and countless other experimentalists and organizations, gets you all the riches that power all the little self-replicating robots in ape form, that can take oil, gas, coal, even nukes and add only a slight addition to the actual energy budget that we enjoy and allows us to watch all our little TVs and drive our little cars and drink our little drinks and smoke our little smokes, and build our little cyberspaces, and launch our little probes out into outer space. And the really interesting thing is how all this seemingly intelligent shit, writ large as emergent global behaviors, is still not much smarter than the dumbest microbes.
Population growth of dumb things like us

America and the Soviet Union: two crabs on a beach. John Rockefeller and Standard Oil: a phagocytic amoeba. The dickless asshole Steve Jobs and Apple: an anaerobic flagellated protozoan parasite.

Come to think of it, isn't life just parasitizing the Earth? And ain't we all glad Earth is kind to have a magnetic field?

And it pretty much starts, I think, just to throw a date out there, around 1700CE. I pick that date, because (if we are lucky, and I am optimistic, and the period going forward towards, say, 2200CE or so is the spine of the S curve), that's the beginning of the Anthropocene, and everything before then pretty much looks the same. Meaning, if someone like Mark Twain, author of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (and if there is anyone who should be allowed to time travel, it's Twain), were to start in 1700, and we send him back one hundred years at a time, there's not much that is different, noticeable different. But send him forward, and things start to happen!

1800, maybe not so much, certainly improvement in our capacity to slaughter each other, 1900, for sure differences, but still recognizable to him. But 2000? Oh, the houses and streets still the same, and he able to understand most new technology. But 2100? 2200? Oh my!

I am being optimistic. And maybe I'm underestimating Twain.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Walking Cure

People emigrating from Europe to America, I would assume, if they had a choice, would settle in regions most similar to those they left. There were constraints of course: available land, available work, the whims and needs of the bosses. My ancestors, coming in just after the Civil War, were the cheap peoples Europe exported in exchange for cheap food from America.

The area my ancestors settled, Northern Indiana, strikingly resembles the Northern Plains of Germany. More specifically, Northwest Indiana, so I am told, very much resembles the current Federal State of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern, the "Florida of Germany", if you can believe that. My part of Indiana is called The Region, or more colorfully, the Armpit of Indiana due to all the industry.

True, great-great-grand-daddy's country of origin is listed as Prussia (and the joke is when asked of our nationality we say "Prussian-Norwegian, drunk and crazy!"  - or  - "doubly psychotic!"), but we are from Mecklenberg. Lake country. Deep glacial lakes with sandy bottoms, clay-loess sandy soil, thick dark forests, the smell of a large tract of water nearby.

(The lesser coat of arms of Mecklenberg has a bull, but I always thought it a laughing cow with a crown).

(My mother's side of the family - hill people from Norway, and not so fortunate - ended up half in Chicago and half in Minnesota - lots of Hills in Minnesota - and doubtless had they their preference would have ended up in Vancouver or Seattle).

Not so sure dad's side of the family was actually from Mecklenberg originally. When I hitchhiked Europe at the age of 19, I was pretty much topped-up full of stupid. I did managed to notice that I wanted to spend almost all of my time on the island on the island of Zealand, where Copenhagen is. It felt like home. The Danes, despite owning a peninsula, are really an island folk. And I enjoy island life.

I did not visit Mecklenberg when I was there. It was behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Germany, and Amsterdam beckoned as a more choice destination.

I've a cold. Coughing, after surgery, especially abdominal surgery, with strains already placed upon the diaphragm, you would think would be agony. Well, yeah, kinda, but actually no.

The fever and general muscle ache is no fun, and last night was the worst, with me waking up to a soaking wet bed. But today, thunderstorms in the morning, I lay about in fresh sheets and dozed. Finally, I got up and said I have to at least try to walk.

(Eating? Not so much fun. Whatever opiates and other drugs they gave me have left a persistent bitter taste in the lower back corners of my jaw. Sugars are out of the question. Salt acceptable, and sour tastes the least objectionable. But I can tell you, like a dog given bowl of brandy, I have absolutely NO desire for intoxicants of any kind. I wish strenuous physical activity. Out of the question for a few weeks according to medical opinion).

So, I went for a walk after the storms. Sun was out, humidity up there, I went past a new city park being converted back to wetlands. Sweat popping on my brow and UV on the skin felt pretty goddamn good. But best off all were the swampland smells. Hard to describe. Again, a sweetness that the lungs appreciate more the nose, but I also detected smell of hod-hewn clay. That was a smell back of earliest childhood, gardening in the backyard, the faint organics of broken up clay, released from when last the glaciers deposited it in its inorganic mineral matrix.

The walk did me good. Feel pretty good now. I'd say the smells helped as much as the walk.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Turning Corners

I had a nightmare, actually a series of nightmares last night, which suggests that in that strange, discrete-phase, two-steps-forward-one-step back form of recuperation we all seem to go through, I'm coming closer to turning the corner. Which is to say I feel remarkably less subhuman today.

If you think of me as a turn-of-the-last-century dreadnought, and cut open my riveted hull platings to reveal a cross-section of the decks within, you'd have witnessed the black gang of the engine room desperately shoring with timbers and bedding the stave holes and breaches. And a little homunculi captain up on the bridge wing shouting useless orders to the sailors on deck scurrying about.

Still, a much better situation than if things had gone otherwise, with the cold Atlantic waters rushing in to confront superheated boiler chambers and coal-fired furnaces, the whole enterprise going to smithereens and up to the heavens in a massive explosion known to maritime folk as the release of  'the black soul'.

Oh, did I mention I'm reading Dead Wake? Just about done and had enough of that time thank you.

One nightmare I remember was actually looking at the wounds inflicted upon me through some magic glass, the tissues and fissures outlined in striking technicolor 3D. A voice, Satan perhaps, offered up as all the pain could go away and I would be rendered whole again if I liked. I wasn't sure, so a demo was performed on a separate creature, I know not of what fashion.

The interior 3D view of the creature, perhaps a grievously wounded fish or lizard, was all the blues and greens and yellows of copper-oxide shades and hues. An almost invisible conical ray, like a science fiction ray, scanned the creature and it was made whole.

I assented, and watched the science fiction conical ray pass over my abdomen. The pain disappeared, but the tissues depicted in the magic glass, formerly lustrous and glowing with a lovely inner jewel-like light, turned to cheap plastic, as if my body had been polymerized by Herr Doktor Gunther von Hagens. The vitality and internal light of the tissues were gone, replaced by cheap powdered colorants and industrial pigments.

I was no longer life, but simulated life, an ersatz creature. It made me wonder if the universe itself were not similarly created by that voice. And then I woke up. I had sweat the bed.

Well, if the Universe is a simulation, there's a lot of people I have to shoot.

Speaking of simulations, I'm thinking about that quote 'AI' unquote quote 'painting like a grand master' unquote science swoon item from the other day. It's along the lines of the fun Deep Dreaming convolutional neural net playing with image filters from a month ago.

Well, I read that paper so you don't have to.  Not sure it's that impressive, but here, the feed-forward nets combine two feature maps involving image recognition and the texture map of various painter's paintings, combining the filters to produce a grand-master's rendering of a photo. Huh.

Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk? from Gene Kogan on Vimeo.

But this got me back to thinking how swarms and neural nets is pretty much the same thing. And that got me to thinking about Uber. Uber, of course, is the taxi hailing service that you have on your phone. We are told it is a disruptive innovation that improves lifestyle and makes the economy more efficient. Uhm, no.

Uber (and Lyft)  is a rentier app emplaced over our current walkie-talkie radio networks that allows monetary extraction from you, to them, through the very, very old labor practice of pimps and whores.

It is a parasitism. Municipalities, of course, could offer up a free app that allows you the rider and a driver to do the same thing without the need of a middle man scraping your living room walls for saltpeter. A free municipal ride app (and more importantly, swarm route optimizer) is still parasitic in the form of taxation, but still…some of the best and most efficient people moving is done by public transport. Sorry, entrepreneurs and invisible handers.

I got your invisible hand.

The beautiful thing is now we have hyperparasitism. There is an app out that will compare ride sharing prices for you. I love it. What dirty tricks will these creepy organizations play to resolve this?

So, what's the real innovation? Why, radio dispatch, of course!

I can remember taxi call boxes on the street. right up until maybe the mid seventies, which corresponds with the first cell phones. I'm almost positive, that transport optimization software was available then. I could d have been in on that, maybe using swarms. I am such an idiot.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Utopian Purgatory

I've said many times before that any sci-fi dystopian scenario in no way frightens me. What frightens me is prosperity. Not because prosperity can disappear, but because prosperity is an unknown that we as a species are poorly constructed to deal with.

Should prosperity disappear, you are back to dsytopia, which is well known, the squalid, brutish shit-covered past. We've been there. We know how deal with that.

Case in point. My healing progresses as it should. My wounds are itching. Some regularity is returning "down there". I've a major hunger for chicken and waffles, or kimchi, or bibimbap, or pulled-pork BBQ, or veggie pizza, or vanilla malteds. Nope. High fiber stuff and good bacteria for general welfare of the holobiont known as me. I've now to work on lung function and slowly expand the tissues around that big ham slice where that Godzilla of a kidney used to be.

I go for a walk through my old neighborhood this morning. (I walked a mile and a half yesterday). I walk down to the old O'keefe farm. (Now not a farm, a manicured suburbia surrounding the old O'keefe farmhouse, although the pond where I fished for bluegill is still there out back). Even though it is not the idyllic countryside of my youth, I revel in the wild sweet smells of late summer, that spicy sweet smell of weeds and overgrown ditch vegetation. It's hot. It's humid. Id' have whined about it a few weeks ago, but it's real, and out of my control, and I can do nothing but endure it.

I wonder how hot it is? I check my phone to look for Valparaiso weather, and it is more than ready to be helpful. It is suggesting spellings. Google wants to butt in to help. This is not what I want. The robots, the nets of deep learning are stumbling over each other with suggestions, assistances, cute playful coddlings and nudging assurances.


(By the way, it is 86F and 66% humidity). The problem as I see it is we have these clumsy puppies known as Deep Neural Networks, that some cute clever goofballs are trying to reverse engineer from a not-very-well-understood mental model of how our own gestalt beings operate, are just not quite up to snuff. Is a half-assed utopia better than none at all? I don't think so. The most damning words a leader can hear about their administration is "he meant well".

Speaking of Deep Neural Nets, what about the old TV trope of Herman's Head, or the "What Happens During An Orgasm" NASA control room vignette in Woody Allen's spoof of "Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask"?

It's got to be an old theme. Hobbes' Leviathan for starters maybe. The more contemporary Gargantuan Mecha. Is there a term? Ship of a person crewed by homunculi shortened to what?

How old is this theme? Going back to a time when the old sailing vessels crew size equalled or surpassed Dunbar's number? Would that be around 500BC or so? About the same time as the Greek quinquereme?

Ramming Speed!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Nothing Personal, but It's All About Me

This essay may be the closest I come to a real random walk, considering my current cognitive state is below that required to domesticate fire. (Which, given H. erectus controlled fire a million years ago, puts me at about an IQ of 60 right now. I can barely type).

Old people are pretty shameless. At 58, I consider myself old now, ok? I can remember one old girl telling me about her ulcerative colitis in the cafeteria at the college. I said, do you mind? I'm eating lunch. Didn't faze her a bit. So, here is my shamelessness, a picture of my robot-inflicted wounds from surgery.
Have I no public sense of decency? Nope.
It's a lot better than getting cut navel to backbone with a samurai sword across the rib cage. I'm still swollen on the left side and curiously the right side hurts worse.

The thing is they had me walking the eight hours after surgery. I did about a thousand yards before I pooped out. They do it because they are worried about lung function. The nurse who assisted me was about twelve years old and weighed half my body weight. She couldn't have kept me from fainting and falling if there had been a platoon of her.

Friday and Saturday nights was off-and-on bad sleep or fever dreams. I had that recurring sick time nightmare that my brain was a calculator forced to do innumerable arithmetic operations by an evil accountant. Plus, I'm interrupted by staff drawing blood, providing medication, taking temperature and blood pressure, so it wasn't until I got home yesterday that I got a solid fifteen hour nap in. That really helped. I've walked about a mile and half since Friday, and after spending time in the meat locker of the hospital, the 90 degree/100% humidity is just the kind of hothouse conditions this delicate flower needs.

Speaking of delicate flowers, I've changed my mind about Donald Trump. I actually think he is currently doing us all a public favor by godbothering the idiot conservatards. It really doesn't matter that I am personally not a fan of his, that I find many of his views despicable. Personal likes and dislikes should not enter the picture. He's shaking things up, shaping the narrative to expose the ridiculousness of the candidates positions, and making the right people uncomfortable about the wrong things. This is classic showmanship.

The sole fact that Trump has made (anti-rich-people's-tax) Grover Norquist squirt out a little stain from his overly constricted sphincter, the idea that - oh, what a world! what a world! Trump could destroy all of Norquist's beautiful wickedness - provides me a great deal of smug satisfaction.

It's a very fine piece of performance art in the tradition of P.T. Barnum, and I appreciate it. Nothing personal.

Speaking of which, one of the things I noticed about the hospital was a lack of distraction. Oh, sure, there was safe and staid hotel art sprinkled about the floor, but I really, really needed distraction. Art would have helped. Especially bad art, something I could object to.

I'm realizing that artists, writers, and performers (pace Mr. Trump) are incredibly egotistical. How dare I share with you things about me? (Because really, that's art and letters are about: me, Me, ME! Look AT ME!!!)

And yet, it really is nothing personal. Artists and writers are trying to provide a bright and shiny lie that gets you off dead ass center and look around for a change. Enough of the navel gazing. They make you, for just a second, think about something besides you. Doesn't matter what it's about, or whether it is of good taste.

So, the hospital really needs that. A lot.

Well, I'm about pooped writing this up, and back to shameless self-promotion that is my primary mission right now. And also to squeeze out a solid poop and get myself back to some semblance of normal.

Do you want an update on that?

P. S. A solid thank you to everyone who has visited or expressed concern or asked about my well-being. I love you guys.

P.P.S. This was really hard to do, composing this. I hope none of you ever have to go through the circumstances surrounding this essay.