Monday, May 23, 2016

Deep Neural Shipping Network

An article about the global shipping network on Motherboard caught my attention. Doing a first order analysis of shipping behaviors, where ports are nodes, and the shipping between them the links (number of ships weight of links) shows that first order dependencies are poor predictors of global shipping.

They found this out when they examined the spread of zebra mussels. Zebra mussels are spread from port to port in the ballast of cargo ships. The spread of zebra mussels does not correspond to the behavioral model of shipping.

Current behavior models only look at first order dependencies. For example, if more ships go from  Tokyo to San Francisco, the model says a ship usually ends up in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles. That's not the case.

Higher order dependencies, such as where the ship came from before Tokyo, give better predictors of where it goes. Thus a ship going from Shanghai to Tokyo may be more likely to end up in Los Angeles (more properly the terminus of Long Beach).

A slightly more detailed report can be found here. Now, what I found interesting was the diagram they used.

See, what that looks like to me is not a static network, but a dynamic neural network. One of those, what they do call it? Encoder-decoders? You know, where they do a nested or sandwiched net. The input layer of a net feeds an input layer of another net sandwiched in, and the output layer of the inner sandwiched layer feeds the output layer of the outer net.

Next logical step in logistics, I suppose.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ultimately, it's all about me

Art, aside from being the first form of writing, is ultimately about the artist. Art say "Me me me!"

Now, as the first form of writing, art gave us two things: narratives, and lies. Prior to art as writing, or writing as art, we could all of us be bullshit artists like Donald Trump. Not worry about the truth, or lies, and not have to keep track of truth or lies we told to stay consistent. We just made shit up on the fly and eff you if you didn't buy into it.

But, long before man first put stone upon stone and called himself civilized, he drew shit on walls. And the minute that happened, canon was produced, an official story line, a baseline narrative from which all offset variants would be compared and measured. And so, official lies came into existence. We went from the Dreamtime, where everything goes, to a linear constraint of narrative. Any digression was suddenly suspect, no longer open to play.

So, art is a curse and a blessing. Art braids that peculiar rope of bullshit we call history.

And one of the most important aspects of history is being in it. Being memorable.

Which gets us back to "ME ME MEEEE!

I got into the Rockford Art Museum's Midwestern Biennial. Again. Third successive time. With two pieces in the show. I love Rockford Art Museum.

The two pieces are The Stockmen.
The Stockmen

and Runt of the Litter.
"Runt Of The Litter"

I also got The Smokemakers shipped back to me from the Disruption show at Grounds For Sculpture.
The Smokemakers

Imagine my surprise when, reading through the May issue of Sculpture Magazine, I find an article by Ilene Dube about the Disruption show, More importantly, at the very end of the article is a mention about my work! I'll quote it:
John Kurman (CSI) also explores the future in The Smokemakers, two figures who appear to be fending off chemical warfare with vacuum cleaners, oilcans, and plumber's tools. Though fighting futuristic forces, they are using very 20th-century weapons. their faces, covered with rectangular bronze blocks, look like they are ready to press something at the cleaner. Kurman's other works hint that the enemy might be a bug.
Thanks, Ilene, and I gladly accept the interpretation. It occurs to me that, on prior occasions, things I have made were physical manifestations of subconscious or unconscious themes or matters of import that my shallow little conscious self was not entirely aware of, or preferred to ignore or deny. All those angry kidney objects kind of presaged the kidney problems I had. And I don't like bugs, but I keep on making them,.. so there must be something there.

I think Ilene's take helped me solidify an ongoing worry of mine, and don't laugh because this is going to sound ardently very high school, but Global Warming.

Here we are, on our way to 4C degree warmer earth. People are in denial or apathetic about it. If things don't change, we end up that much warmer sooner rather than later as a result of something called the 2nd derivative. (Change accelerates). Well, folks, some will ask "What's wrong with a warmer earth? I wouldn't mind that!"

I'll tell you what's wrong with that. Bugs. Big and little bugs. Big bugs, as in arthropoda, in the form of pests and parasites, and things that dearly love to eat our crops. Crops that we will have a smaller and smaller area to grow in due to the coming Big Squeeze (not just flooding of coastlines, and that's on its way big time, but extreme weather, and latitudinal diminishment of living space and habitat). Also little bugs, germs that dearly love to get us sick and sickly. And the bugs in between, the parasitic blood worms and metazoans like malaria and chagas, elephantiasis and other grisly awful shit. Things that were deterred by deep freezes will no longer be deterred.

That's what a 4C warmer world promises. Not a tropical paradise. As an Englishman of my acquaintance once explained: "If you are not fortunate to be at a resort, the Tropics are pure hell". And the problem with combating this problem, is so far, we are using last century's weapons and methods, because we always end up fighting the wrong war. So, it's all coming, even if we fight it.

(Which is the definition of conservatism: a futile attempt to preserve the status quo).

Long before the 22nd Century, the signpost up ahead: Welcome to Pure Hell.

Time to rewrite my artist's statement.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Paleolithography and the Future Flood


I call you cousins because scientifically that's it how works out. Maybe before Toba we were unrelated, but sorry to say post-Toba, we are all cousins. I'm about as thrilled with the fact as you are.

Wait, turns out Toba is probably not responsible for humanity's near-extinction and subsequent inbreeding.

Mom did the mtDNA test to find out where all her mother's mothers came from. Turns out we're black.

Oh, true there was a detour up into Northern Europe, and so, even though we all, cousins, go back to African Eve, I have Ursula of the seven daughters of Eve as my great great times x grandma.

Haplogroup U, and actually U81a1a1a, which is primarily in Sweden. Now mom got a little upset to find out we are more Swedish than Norwegian, but no one else could get all that worked up over it.

Haplogroup U8 though, is fairly rare, and U is very old, probably the pioneers in Europe. The Basque are the most modern collection of haplogroup U, and U (as X) also made it across the Bering land bridge into the the Americas.

So, like Dad's family, we all followed just footsteps behind the glacial retreat into Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Want to find some evidence of our occupation? Get some scuba gear ro a submersible, because the artifacts are all hundreds meters below sea level. Might want to start with the Dogger bank, where fisherman still dredge up stone and bronze items.

Deep time gets me to thinking about the biblical flood for some reason. Biblical? Hell, universal. I know geologists don't like catastrophism, but oral history has a way of having an amazing fidelity, but no small grounding in fact. I'm thinking we pass down stories about the glacial melt surge that happened, say, 14,600 BCE.

And you know what I say? Expect another catastrophic Big Melt and Flood, and soon. I'm looking at you, Florida.

Reality is never what you expect it to be. That's how you know it's real. Same with apocalypses, by gum.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Yesterday was my birthday. 59. May 15 is an interesting date to be born on. Day 1957135 in the Julian Calendar. Wednesday, which is Odin's Day. I am also a Wednesday's child, and thus full of woe.

I wasn't particularly woeful. I spent the weekend back in Indiana and all my brothers were in town. Even eldest bro was in from California on business. Mom was sick as a dog and spent the whole time in bed. Bronchial infection, and she didn't go to the doctor for fear they would put her in the hospital. We all noted that they don't actually put people in the hospital, and she should have gone to the doctor  instead of trying to fight it off in order to spend time with us.

She very much wanted to cook something nice for me, and I said don't worry about it Mom. I cooked something nice for her instead. I also cooked breakfast for my brothers. Just like old times in college, when I cooked for the house - for my roommates in the house we rented.

Bachelor chow, of course. Beef stew. Chili. Spaghetti and meatballs. On Friday nights, steak, refried beans, and home fries. You name it for breakfast, but I made a huevos rancheros casserole dish that people would just happen to stop by to eat.

Not much of a cook now, when it's only me, but glad to know I still got the chops.

My younger brother laid a bombshell on us, informing us that his son now identifies as a woman. We, of course, voiced support for our nephew/niece. I could tell he was trying to do the Northern European thing of not letting it bother him, but I could tell it shook a few pillars.

Well, what you gonna do? Modern family. You support decisions, your support family and that's that.

I guess it could not be a better time for kid to be transgender.

Me? I'm surprised how unhappy I am about it, but I will do what I can to help them out.

It's not like there was a choice involved.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Borgification Has Commenced

There is a 1967 movie starring James Coburn called The President's Analyst. It's a spy flick, a parody, and the supervillain, in the end, turns out to be The Phone Company. Coburn, as the President's psychoanalyst, is kidnapped by The Phone Company and asked to persuade the President to adopt what may be the first mobile contract in history. Here's the scene:

Quite prophetic, all things considered. I certainly would not allow any brain/machine interface chip implanted in my brain. Something wearable, like the technology that the Open Water startup wishes to develop, I might be amenable towards.

So, and then, what with mobile tech pulling down a trillion in revenues a year, far more than anything else has ever done, and signifying mobile tech becoming pretty much ubiquitous across the planet. You do the prognostication. We will all be borgified sooner rather than later.

People wearing brainwave-translating hairnets hooked up to mobiles: electronic telepathy, no more privacy, the ending of barriers of timer and space (at least, within about a 5000 mile range or so), and breaking down the borders of ego, and we end with a global hive mind.

Not that that's new. We humans have had hive minds for at least a quarter million years, and it's called a society, or a polity. It's just all significantly speeded up is all.

I guess the question is, once again, what kind of global hive mind will we have?

So far, not a loving one, that's for sure.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Green Zone

I had a conversation with my weekend boss about sculpture placement in public spaces within the city of Chicago. He was complaining that he is on a fund raising committee to recruit sponsors and wealthy donors, and he's having a hard time finding them. He also complained that the person (who is the liason between the City of Chicago Parks District and a sculpture organization he belongs to) who plans where sculptures go was taking forever to find a spot for the sculpture we are currently working on.

After a questions, I noted that this should be relatively simple that could be done on an excel spreadsheet. It's not even a Hard NP problem like the Traveling Salesman or Just In Time Inventory. It's a pretty damn easy situation to resolve: places, times, durations. What's so hard?

There are tons of public parks and undeveloped open spaces and easements throughout Chicagoland for these sculptures to go up in.

And then I realized, ahhh, we have personalities and politics involved. You got sculptors that want prime locations for their stuff to be displayed. I understand this, but the primary motivation of these sculptors - to sell their work - actually prevents them from optimally selling their work. Let me put it this way, these sculptors, jostling like invertebrates over prime nesting sites, fail to notice that their shit doesn't sell. At least, not if they are not top tier. If they top tier, they don't go through this futile rotation of public sites. The powers that be, if you are top tier, give you prime choice sites.

And what exactly are these sites that the sculptors are jostling for? Why, on the North side, more specifically, the tony upper-income areas like Lincoln Park, Lakeview, etc. They feel someone amongst the upper-class denizens will see, like, and buy their stuff. Sometimes that happens. But in general the plan is about as effective as going to the ball park with your glove, catching a fly-ball out in the bleachers, and having the general manager of the ball club shout "Sign that boy up!"

It don't happen.

But let me get back to that prime real estate. When I say North side, what that translates as is "Where all the white people are". In other words, where it's safe. Or relatively safe.

I've known about the makeup of the city of Chicago and the institutional racism involved since I was a little kid. It's like water for fish, you don't even notice. This should not come as a surprise, but reading an article in the New York Times about black, hispanic, and white perceptions kind of recently drove the point home.  Those white people live in the Green Zone.

The people who live in the South and West sides live in the Red Zones.

From the article:
“I’ve been living in this neighborhood about 30 years and I really like it — it’s gotten nicer over the years,” said Tammy Snider, 60, who is white and lives on the North Side. “I sometimes take the bus to an aerobics class in an area that’s not that safe, but it’s during the day.”
The difference between the North Side of Chicago and the Green Zone in Baghdad is that the concrete bollards and blast shields were all built back in the 1960s and they are called highways. But other than that, not much. (Oh, there is a concentrated effort to keep the gangs small and fighting each other, so that, if they get too big, the next thing you know you got truck bombs and IEDs and such... although who knows?)

I got a little naively idealistic and said perhaps the donors are a bit jaded with all the free pretty-pretty public art, and would get more excited about placing public works where they are needed most - in the most bullet-riddled public parks in the high crime areas. Hell, find me a sponsor and I'll put something up.

"It'll get graffitied, vandalized, or stolen for scrap!"

Yeah, and so what? Put up another one, keep doing so until something goes up that remains unmolested. People are not fucking animals. You put something nice up, something relevant, something they can enjoy and appreciate and identify with, and some people will care about it. Get enough people to care and it stays up. I'm not foolish enough to think if art is good enough it won't be touched. But I think you could get donors excited over engaging in an arms race of engaging people's humanity.

But I don't think it is foolish to think that art is the difference between living and survival. If you don't have the spare time and spare energy for music, dance, poetry, literature, the visual arts, you are not really living are you? You are just surviving.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Red Internet

Ever wonder why the Soviet Union didn't develop an internet?

(BTW, Happy May Day two days late, comrade)!

It is Mr. Benjamin Peters contention, filled out in book form, that the Soviet internet failed to materialize (and the American internet did materialize), because the Soviets approached the problem as having a competitive free market solution, whereas the Americans arrived at a solution via a cooperative effort.

In other words:
The first global civilian computer networks developed among cooperative capitalists, not among competitive socialists. The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists.
I guess I'll have to read the book to follow his argument. The book is How Not To Network A Nation: The Uneasy History of The Soviet Internet by Benjamin Peters.

Excerpts may be read here.

I'll not spend $40 to read it. I requested of my local socialist book depository that they purchase a copy.

(As an aside, ever seen a picture of the two sides of the Berlin Wall? One side was covered in colorful graffiti, the other side the bleak institutional prison gray of bare concrete. Ever seen a picture of the two sides of the border wall between the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez? Guess which looks like which? Guess where the US of A is heading based upon this graffiti analogy? Bonus Guess. Guess where Web 3.0 is going?*)

Peter's contention is probably a safe one. Having read about the byzantine machinations that occur in a corporation, the power struggles that enervate any effort to produce a product - having worked in four (three failed, and good riddance) multi-billion-dollar international corporations, seeing what is basically a seething mass of creepy crawlies underneath the upturned rock - I can tell you that there is no difference between either side of the Iron Curtain when you are a prolecat slaving in the salt mines of an organization beyond the Dunbar number.

(As an another aside, I would note that one time someone asked if I was an atheist, and I said "It requires entirely too much faith to entertain that notion". Agnostic then? Believer? I replied with a wry smile  "A woman once told she couldn't believe in Fate, but she was a big fan of coincidence". The Dunbar number, pegged at around 150 is roughly the organizational limit where a group could adequately keep track of itself. Thus, platoons, etc. are usually this number. I would also note that the Bulk number, the number of atoms needed to start seeing global properties emerge from out of the quantum realm, is also pegged at about 150. Coincidence?)

In fact, it is to your advantage, since force and fraud is visited upon you every day within the hierarchy, to use what little force and fraud is available to you. ("Got that report done, Kurman?" "By Friday, boss!")

I lost my train of thought. Isn't it an irony that both nations sought out a network solution to a command and control problem? Isn't it an irony that the very solution to this command and control problem, presented as an enhancement towards further egalitarianism will probably someday enslave us all?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Straight Outta Compton

Short Review? Watch it! Good movie, kept the pace going, entertaining, and, unlike almost all biopic movies, mostly true.

Oh sure, there were incidents taken out of time context, a little embellishment here and there, but still true to form. As has been noted before, you have to kill the book to make the movie. So it is with biopics, even though there was no book.

Now, you might ask, how does a elderly white boy like me know anything about NWA? Well, truth to tell, I did my research after the fact. That's how I know what's what.

But, Sherman, set the swayback machine for 1989. What's this white boy doing? He has recently moved to Illinois from Hoosierland and gotten a consultant's job coding mediocre fixed asset inventory software for clueless empty suit business types in a multibillion dollar company that is making monies despite it's own best efforts not to. In his spare time he drinks and smokes weed, takes drawing classes at a local community college, and plays video games. He is being paid a large sum of money to do nothing of worth.

Does he wish he had that time back? Yes, he does.

He is only peripherally aware of rap and rap music and hip hop. He likes the beat but finds the rhymes juvenile. He is not the rabid weirdo who says that rap music isn't real music. ("I like all kinds of music except country and rap" goes the archetypical single's ad). But at this stage of his life, the closest he comes to listening to rap is Parliament/Funkadelic. Which, on the scale of whiteness, makes him positively orange. He is also aware that the principle cultural export of the US of A is not polka, accordion, or marching band music. As such, there is a certain cultural debt that necessitates remuneration... just not from him.

So, what's happening in California? It is in full lockdown mode. Business stooge Reagan, having successfully wardened the garrison state as governor, has exported the model nationwide. True, his Veep is now in charge, cleaning up the budgetary mess, but we are just getting started with the prison system and the occasional pockets of luxury walled off from national squalor.

(I did spend a brief period in California in the late '80s, and that is when I found that if you are not cop (or cop owner) you are little people. Why it took a visit to California to discover that, I couldn't tell you. Maybe my brain finally grew into the front of my skull pan).

California is an interesting place. People think of it as a liberal bastion, a people's republic of pussy hippy types, but one must remember that California gave us both Nixon and Reagan. It is, in many respects, the reddest of red states. For one, it had (or has) one of the most brutal and extensive prison systems in the world. California gave us Charlie Manson. Charles was fucked in the head from the get-go, but it was the California correctional facilities that put the finishing touches on him.

California has been, for as long as it has been a state, a very successful criminal enterprise. The feudal ethos is well embedded there, the oligarchy rules the land with an iron fist.

California is probably one of the cutting edge examples of a near approach to the Platonic ideal of the free market that you can find. Which is to say, it is pure criminality, force and fraud are well established and well celebrated there as foundational business principles. There's a giant grinding machine, well hidden and distributed about the state, that people can be sent to should they run afoul of California.

People will be ground down there regardless of race, creed, or color. But oh, that color. Oh, that race.

Which gets us to the movie. It's pretty much the way it is, and the movie told it all the way it is. It sucks. It sucks to be black in California. It shouldn't suck like that, if you read all our high sounding government documents, but it does. Inequality abounds, when, honestly, the only inequality that matters, or should matter, is talent.

What is talent? Talent requires a work function to describe it. Talent is, if you will, intelligence, plus energy equals work. Talent must be made manifest to be talent. It's not a fucking IQ test. I don't care if you are IQ-160. Show me what you can do.

Now, the interesting thing about the whole Horatio Alger story is that once talent is recognized, it is exploited. Horatio Alger had a nice way of putting it with mentors helping out hard working boys (sorry, no boot straps in the real world, unless, like Athena, you appear out of the shining void fully equipped with all your powers fully formed), and eventually the hard working boys become mentors in their own right by finding more talent. Mentoring, yes, is a selfless and sacrificial act, but is not without its rewards.

These guys had talent.

A few movie observations. I notice Jerry Heller wrote a book to counter his portrayal in the movie. I notice Suge Knight, if the movie has accuracy, pretty much got what he deserved. I couldn't help but raise my middle finger during the "Fuck Tha Police" performance scene in Detroit, and had big fucking grin on my face when I did it. And I know that the real thugs are not the kids, not the stooge cops, but the feudal oligarchs that hide in the sharp-edged shadows of sunny California.