Friday, April 29, 2016

Disappointing Week

One of those weeks where everything you touch turns to shit.

I cast a glass piece using reverse relief. It sucked so bad I'm not even going to photograph it.

I pretty much reached the limits of spontaneity with the smash mold method. Played around a little bit with the pieces, but it's obvious you cannot do a recursion of the smash mold method without it basically looking like you put the piece into a scrap metal crusher. I'll play around with the next step of dehydrating the plaster before I break it, but it's looking like this whole project is a cul-de-sac.

Not that I can't produce interesting textural effects with this, and I do like some of the mold seams that are being produced, but the fact is that intentional manipulation can achieve the same result as an accidental approach.

I'll keep plugging at this, and maybe there is something there, but so far, just disappointment.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What If I'm A Trollbot Swarm And Don't Know It?

Chatbots are getting better. Oh, it's true, it you look at the agents on Facebook Messenger, or the latest Microsoft Taytweets disaster, you'd say that they've a long way to go. Still, I've met people a lot less engaging and interesting than some of these chatbots. And an instantiated swarm of these things, operating on a cloud, talking to each other, imitating people, friending you on social media, it sounds like we've malicious times ahead of us. More than mere shitposting on tumblr. And those are just people. And when a computer shitposts a torrential shitstorm of crap, what's a human to do?

Surrender the internet to the bots? Surrender anonymity to verifiability? Are we to blockchain all comments and postings? Set up a provenance of identity? I don't give too much of a fuck about anonymity, because frankly, its to my advantage to be known out here, warts and all.

And who's to say I'm not a chatbot swarm already? How could you tell?

Don't know why anyone would want to, but they could scour the net for my shit, search for keywords, parse my prose, collect my links, figure out my likes and dislikes, develop a writing style that is indistinguishable from mine, perhaps is even a better me than me? And if they is all malicious, I spend the next 20 years apologizing?

Fuck that. I'll go off the grid first. Or maybe not. Am I to hire a trollbot army of my own? Do a preemptive strike to identify all my shit as done my therealjohnkurman.

I don't know. Future is fun, ain't it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ultra Society: A Book Report

Ultra Society by Peter Turchin. How 10,000 years of war made humans the greatest cooperators on Earth

Leaving for work this morning, I realized I forgot my cell phone mobile. I went back to get it, and wondered if, back in the 90s, the reason the Japs came up with tamagotchi was to get us all ready for this horrible parasitic little device we all seem to have to have now. I can only hope the Steve Jobs of thew world rot in Hell next to the Timothy McVeighs. (We may have to create virtual Hell to upload them all). Not that Jobs came up with the mobile, merely that he is associated with the thing and just in general deserves to rot in Hell.

One other thing I of note was a story my brother told me where he was at a pitching cage with a radar gun. He balled up his body, and with every bit of strength and sinew that he had threw his fastest fast ball... and the radar gun registered 35 miles per hour.

Both these things will hopefully be used later on in the essay.

So, the premise of Turchin's book is that war created our complex society, and it did so mainly through group selection, or as he calls it Cultural Multitlevel Selection. I had to read the book with a few grains of salt, but generally like it because Turchin, like me, is not a big fan of either Richard Dawkins' or Steven Pinker's scholarship. Which is to say, Often-Wrong Dawkins should probably do what distinguished elderly scientists do best, which is to die and make room for better ideas that are closer to reality.

Bishop Dawkins has been pushing the gene-centric view of selection for far too long, has ridiculed and vilified any other kind of selection as pretty much heresy. Pinker also pooh-poohs the idea of group selection. Both rely upon kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and reputation management to explain the evolution of cooperation. Problem is, they don't always work.

The biggest problem with the selfish gene model is Dawkins cannot explain altruism or empathy. Dawkins is reduced to a pathetic handwaving statement such as this from his wretched book The God Delusion:
In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only towards close kin and potential reciprocators. Nowadays that restriction is no longer there, but the rule persists. Why would it not? It is just like sexual desire. We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce). Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes, blessed, precious mistakes.
In other words, "then something magical happens". But all one needs to do is look at, say, the African savanna and ask why are all these unrelated animals on the lookout for predators. Or for that matter, why isn't it a Hobbesian war of all against all? What's in it for the zebra to sound the alarm for the wildebeest? Why would any of the selfish little organelles give a shit about the eukaryotic cellular whole? Or for that matter, why do my cells, a great many of them not even me (yes folks, you are a chimerical mosaic monster of other people's and animal's and viruses'  cells and DNA), give a shit about any of the cells in my body, which, honestly, is about as vast and weakly connected as a galactic civilization communicating at the speed of light?

No, it doesn't wash. Way too much magical thinking involved. This is not to say that Turchin's system of theory are not immune to magical thinking, but the evidence is piling up that there is indeed multi-level selection going on.

Pinker's scholarship also suffers. One of the interesting things is he contends that violence has gone done considerably since our hunter-gatherer days. Archaeological evidence suggests that personal violence may have gone done (we, uh, we sure do like to eat each other a lot), but the societal metric that Pinker uses is to many very suspect. (Some very sloppy scholarship and induction in that book of his). Turchin points out that, if you look at the the archeological evidence, though hunter-gatherers appeared to be violent, the trend of violence increased from 10,000 BCE until about around 500 BCE, then it kind of went down.

What happened? Turchin says Religion. Uh-oh, I'm sure Dawkins will stick out a pouty lower lip at that statement. And yet, during what is deemed the Axial Age, monotheistic philosophical movements (Buddhism, Zororastrianism, Confucianism etc.) appeared that suddenly pushed for a kinder gentler type of governing. What happened? Probably the first instance of the panoptic surveillance state, or at least the perceived version of one. (A watched person is more likely a well-behaved person, and if a giant invisible sky fairy has his eye on you, knowing whether you've been naughty or nice...)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. People have been looking for the differences between humans and animals. Usually it is tool use, but, oh, sorry, culture in the form of technology predates humans. (So does society and war, by at least 100 million years).

Mark Twain suggested that man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to. I've suggested that man is the only animal that can choke on it's own vomit. Or needs to.

But probably a defining difference is that man can throw things, and throw things more accurately than any other primate. Man uses ranged weapons, starting with rocks, and working up to rockets. Ranged weapons have an interesting egalitarian effect, not only against other predators, but amongst peoples. I don't need to be a big strong bully to take down another big strong bully. When I look at a hand axe, what looks like an ungainly and awkward two-pound piece of flint, I may see a not-particularly-great bashing weapon, but, with it's razor sharp flint edge and just enough heft, a very effective throwing weapon. Especially when a lion or what have you doesn't see it coming. Ow! Hey! Little monkey fucker!

Ranged weapons are at least two million years old, and not coincidentally come into proper use with the emergence of Homo erectus. Now, the thing about homo erectus is they got the proper ball and socket shoulder joint, the musculature, and the big-brain eye-hand coordination to really whip that sucker hard. I mean, computer models suggest these guys and gals could easily throw a 100 mph fast ball, making most of today's MLB pitchers rather mundane.

And that matters. It meant for a pretty evenly matched group of people. Throw in a moment arm multiplier like a spear shaft, and then an atlatl, and then a bow and arrow, and you have a great equalizer not seen until Samuel Colt came along. Turchin theorizes and provides evidence that hunter-gatherers were very egalitarian, and anthropological studies suggest that bullies or people trying to set themselves up as chiefs generally their asses killed by the rest of the tribe if they got out of hand. And so it was for 95% of out evolutionary and cultural history. It might explain why we don't like cheaters and bullies, and have so many institutional methods of keeping the alpha male in line.

Then something happened. Multi-tribe chiefs appear (with their cohorts), and suddenly you have dictators, and inequality, god-kings demanding worship and tribute and human sacrifices. And war got worse. And worse. And you end up with these butt-holes getting monuments built to themselves.

Whoops, I left out a step. Turchin notes that societal groups seem to have magic numbers. Beyond a certain number of people, a niche opens up that allows for bullies and their cohorts. (Remember, bullies cannot exist with a supporting cohort to surveil and suppress the rest of society).

He points out that this depends somewhat upon geography. If there are geographic barriers that limit the size of the population, you can't reach that magic population number (not unlike Dunbar's number) , and you end up with small bickering clans, tribes, and chiefdoms. The classic case is New Guinea, small valleys separated by mountains. (Similarly dense jungle, or swamp, or islands). New Guinea, as far as can be determined, was colonized by people's possessed of the Neolithic cultural package, but never progressing beyond it. They've had 10,000 years of war. This might suggest Turchin's theory isn't all ti's cracked up to be. My thought is this points out that true driver of cultural change, aside from multi-level selection, is logistics. Which, of course, is what war is really about (not strategy and tactics). If the numbers aren't there to build up a structure which allows for an extended logistical behavior, you get stuck. Although you also have a ritualization of war in new Guinea. They never experience genocide per se. A clan may be wiped out, but never a whole tribe.

This might suggest one variation of an answer to the Fermi Paradox. The aliens are out there, but they are stuck in eternal war.

So, now back to the Axial Age. Turchin suggests that it was not the Enlightenment that resulted in a relative decrease in violence. Makes sense. The Enlightenment is used far too often by Western scholars, and besides, lots of incredibly despicable individual and mass behaviors occur, and continue to occur after the (ha!) Age of Reason. So fuck that noise.

Turchin suggests that society as a whole, when it comes to structural inequality at least, that we've zigged, then zagged, then zigged back to some type of egalitarianism. I don't see it. Or if has happened, it's currently just a little zig back to a fair deal. Although, if the Ayn Rand delusional butt-hole parasites win, the ones that think they owe nothing to society or community, look for a very long, very Dark age of despotism. Coupled with parasitic panoptic technology, and human enhancement of all stripes and flavors, we may never get out of this dystopian Darkest of Dark Ages.

Turchin is currently extolling the accumulation of a Big Data effort to compile all archaeological, anthropological, sociological evidence to, I guess, run some learning algorithms up against and see what pops out. I can't see this as a bad idea.

Summarized report. Worth a skim.

I think the magic number idea is worth pursuing. I think that there is no fractal structure here, because fractals work kind of well, but are not a true fit to nature, as self-similarity eventually breaks down (history don't rhyme either), and my suspicion is there is a magic population number that exists up in the high billions or maybe trillions that makes things zig again. Or zag. Hopefully zig.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Smash Mold

Johnny smash! Make art!

So, I decided to get a handle on breaking molds before I play with dehydrating and breaking them. I took a donut from a Fischer Price donut stacker and made a mold of that. I broke the mold with a hammer and chisel.

I put the mold in the kiln at 200F overnight to dry it so I could cast clay in it. I encased the mold in a plastic bag and slipcast the clay donut.

I realized that things would move faster if I just cast it in wax. That way I wouldn't have to wait for the mold to dry out. So I embedded the slip cast clay in a plaster block, and bashed the crap out of the block.

The wax I got out was the 2nd iteration of the smash mold, and it was getting difficult to remove the wax due to undercuts. So I was done with the donut.

Then I cast a wax sphere into a plaster block, and smashed that.

The plaster did not completely cure, so it really got fucked up, and I was only able to make a one iteration smash mold of the waxes before it fell apart.

I was more careful on the next smash mold. I waited for the mold to cure, then used a little less brute force in smashing it.

Cast the wax, embedded that in a plaster block, smashed that, and cast a second iteration wax.
1st iteration on the right

I noticed there really isn't much of a change between iterations, but I ran out of time today. I will cast one of the 2nd iteration waxes in a mold and smash next week, but I got a feeling I've found the limits of the heuristic with just plain smashing.

I can, of course, modify the waxes afterwards, and will, even though technically I am violating the rules of spontaneity.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Full Metal Foam Jacket

Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei
A potential game changer has been developed by a researcher at North Carolina State University - a bullet proof composite metal foam. The researcher, Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei, and her staff have found that the inch thick armor plate - composed of a boron nitride ablative ceramic outer tile, impact absorbing composite metal foam, and Kevlar cloth backing - that it doesn't just stop armor piercing rounds, it obliterates them to dust.

The game changing aspect, of course, is not that the material is great for personal bulletproof armor - although that is certainly application - but for space capsules and space stations, as it not only stops 7.62 armor piercing rounds, but also stops x-rays, gamma rays, and neutron radiation!

Speaking of impacts. I went back to square one with the plaster. Bashing it with a hammer, and then later a hammer and chisel. The results are not impressive. But I do feel the need to understand this weird stuff better. My suspicion is, since plaster is an amorphous material held together by water, the impact velocity determines whether I get a fracture or a cleavage. I prefer cleavage, ah ha ha, but that is not as interesting a surface as a fracture.

And from outer space to inner space, the first brain scans of people on LSD are in. It really is a pity that that megalomaniacal dickhead Timothy Leary fucked up research on psychedelic drugs for all the rest of us, and set practice back good fifty years where it should be, but they are finally doing serious research on the stuff. The fact that they got MRI scans of people on LSD is a major step forward, and will probably explain a lot, like dude why people's brains turn orange on acid.

I remember having a dream one time that I was tripping, and it was the most intense visual hallucinatory experience I ever had. And then I woke up. Anyone want to tell me why me dreaming about tripping on acid was at least ten times better than any time when I on acid?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Breaking The Mold: Investigating Heuristics

I submitted an application for a residency at Kohler Art Center. My proposal was to produce objects from broken molds. I'm the one breaking the molds. The idea is to break them in interesting ways, and to somehow try to control the spontaneity of the breaking.

Control the spontaneity. So, now that we are all done laughing...

I've spent a good technical portion of my art career learning how not to break molds. Broken molds, when casting glass or metal, are very annoying.

I've done a pretty good job of not breaking molds. But when molds do break, they produce some  rather interesting results, cracks, cracked surfaces, and leaks that, in glass and metal, are sometimes more interesting than the stuff I'm casting, or make the stuff I'm casting a little more interesting. True, at the moment when it happens, I'm not that thrilled, but later, in calmer circumstances, investigating the results, there is fun stuff going on.

So basically, rather than wait for acceptance in a residency, and then just show up like a bumpkin and say, hey howdy, I'm going to break molds for two months, got any plaster? I decided to start now to get a handle on things and see what's what.

The first thing I did was to take some old plaster molds and break them. Actually the first thing I decided to do was to produce objects in slip-cast clay or wax, as the feedback is immediate and turnaround time on making the next batch of molds is short, so I can go through many iterations of developing techniques pretty rapidly.

So, I took two old molds from my wax casting library, and broke them. Then put them back together, then slip-cast clay into them. I wasn't sure what would happen afterwards, but I saved the objects by bisqueing them for documentation.

I found it is really hard to break plaster. I mean, you really bash the shit out of it, which often results in total destruction. So, then I says, alright, this is probably a fork.

(I bashed the above mold up, and slip cast the object, a balloon, which actually is a very creepy looking thing).

Fork1: Either learn how to break plaster in a more gentle fashion, by tapping the plaster with a very large number of small impacts, or find a way to weaken the plaster.

Uh, duh. When you heat plaster, the water, which is the thing holding the plaster, leaves, and makes the plaster weak. So, I put a mold into a kiln, took it up to 400F for 12 hours, and drove pretty much all the ager. Like 98% of the water.


Success, but too successful, because now the mold is too weak for any of long term manipulation.

So, another fork.

Fork 2: Either play around with the firing schedule (in time and temperature), or make another mold of the object using the existing fracture lines as parting lines for a multipart mold.

Today, I tried out fork 2, by making a plaster mold, and firing it up to 400F for 4 hours instead of 12. Success, in that mold lasted a little bit longer, but still fell apart. So, the plan is next to try firing the plaster mold up to 400F for two hours. And if that doesn't work, then firing the mold at a lower temperature.

The plan is to go back and try out the other fork 1 next week, and of course, document, document, document.

The object? Well, I had to change a burnt-out lightbulb, and said, hey as good as any object.

Got a nice smooth surface, good recognizable form, with varied associations. So there we go.

Monday, April 4, 2016

US of A is the No. 1 Tax Haven for the World

Courtesy Chicago Tribune
That is per Bloomberg Businessweek.

USA! USA! Winning!

Meanwhile, the big news is all about the Panama Papers, a 2.6 terabyte data leak that makes Snowden's and Wikileaks' leaks look like a little stream of old man pee working it's way around a swollen prostate.

So, yeah, all those foreign motherfucking cocksuckers, those supervillianous evildoers like Valdimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Muammar Ghaddafi, etc. Boo! Right?

No big surprise, but what about all the 1%ers in the US of A? Huh? You know that those cocksuckers are doing just fine while us peasants take it up the ass.

Is anyone worried that the pitchforks and torches just might finally come out if anything were disclosed? Seriously? After 2008, crickets, so that can't the reason. Maybe, like Rahm Emmanuel, they wait until after the presidential elections just in case anyone might get embarrassed at the disclosures. Especially the ones involved in luxury real estate development?

Meanwhile, a place that I drive by to and from for my weekend job, Brudders, at the corner of Addison and Pulaski, had a bouncer shot in the head Saturday night. In an unfortunate bit of timing, Chicago's Best aired an episode of this place Sunday evening, with Walter Payton's daughter eating and cooking burgers at the place. Someone dropped the ball at the Tribune Tower on that one.

Shootings, in case you haven't noticed, are up in Chiraq for 2016. There's a map up above, or you can look at the Chicago Tribune article.

So, that map, in case you are wondering, the problem areas are: on the west side, the Austin and South Austin neighborhoods, West Garfield Park, Lawndale. Down south, South Side, Marquette Park, Ashburn, Auburn, Gresham, Roseland... basically any place south of Garfield. Anyone care to case the particular ethnic make-up of that area?

Bonus question: anyone care to guess the level of policing that occurs in those areas?