Friday, April 23, 2021

Systemic Hyper-parasitism

Two careers ago I was a mainframe programmer at, successively, four multi-billion/international kaiju corporations. They are all gone. Extinct. I would like to think I helped, but that's just my natural arrogance.

All of these kaiju, in one form or another, did not die by the free market, not by competition with other kaiju, but rather were bled to death by parasites. More specifically, management infestation in the form of financialization. When I started consulting at Corporate Kaiju Number One, I had one report-to boss between me and my boss's boss. By the time I went to the next gig, there were three bosses in between. And assistants. And administrative staff.  This man-in-the-middle parasitic attack is part of why so many companies are gone, but not the whole story.  A hippo or a grizzly bear has no problem with the parasites sticking out of their assholes. No, these corporate kaijus almost always died of frat bro nepotism, a differnet form of parasitism.

Typical frat bro CEO, not realizing they were a piloting a corporate kaiju, made stupid existential choices of one singular puny human being. The first kaiju I consulted at, and having greedily and short-sightedly eaten every around, disappeared in the 2000 tech bust.

( I realize I ruined the labor relations of these companies by being a consultant/gunslinger. Had I a vested interest as a stakeholder, I'd've been more militant. {Probably not, I'm kind of a wuss}. Still, I deprived, as an outsource labor unit, in-company people leverage against the kaiju. But no, Johnny got the attention of the production manager, which made him a little prince, and he worked zero bullshit jobs happily ever after there).

Johnny has been lucky to have worked many shit jobs, but just a handful of bullshit jobs. Since my every position was glorified janitor, it's easy to ignore the paperwork. Others not so much.

In the 1990s, Eastern Europe, the Russians and Ukrainians, mainly, showed up in the USA to take even more IT jobs. They took a long around and said "oh yeah we know this drill, except we get paid". Shareholder owned Soviet Unions, three clerks to sell a loaf of bread.

Neo-feudalism? Nope, same old feudalism. Hyper-parasitism, exploiting nested niches. It is said that in Nature, the record is seventeen levels of hyper-parasitism. The evolutionary means to counter parasitism are myriad and oh-so clever. One of my favorites are the mini caste in leaf cutter ants. The regular leaf cutter ants are prey to tiny flies that will lay their eggs in them. The colony developed little tiny ants, minis, that ride around on the workers and shoo away the flies. Maybe that's what I was, a mini.

David Graeber* nailed bullshit jobs in a book called Bullshit Jobs. A majority of bullshit jobs not surprisingly are at the top. Consider, 50 years ago, most CEOs were mustangs, rising through the ranks, knowing, not just their business, but their neighboring businesses. But then financialization and pseudo science kicked in. People with wizard degrees from Harvard and Wharton took over from the village witchdoctors. The locals didn't disappear, just got shoved down the corporate food chain into the shit job productive levels that somehow keep corporations making monies despite themselves, and here we are.

Graeber attempted to quantify bullshit jobs into categories: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, taskmasters. (My thinking the last few years is to think of categories more a dials or slides, and the overall variety as a sound mxing board with slides rather than boxes to place things in. Each fader or blender slide on a mixer can have a mixing component of its own, so slides all the way down)

Many of my shit jobs occasionally involved duct taping, so I was immediately struck by the fact that you can have, not just jobs, but aggregates of jobs in subsystems and systems of bullshit (like the upcoming Internet of Shit), and this Wired article by Andy Greenberg on Bullshit Systems made my ears prick up when I saw it. This is classic hyper-parasitism involving rnet extracion via soft-serv ice cream machines (and why they break down so often). The solution, unfortunately, involves duct taping, which you will see a lot of as we enter the Internet of Shit Era. Covering everything from corporate sabotage to right-to-repair, I can't help but realize this as just another example of  Why We Can't Have Nice Things. 

*David Graeber died of cancer in 2020. One of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street, he also wrote Debt: The First 5000 years. I should re-read that book. Fortunately, before passing Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow wrote a book called The Dawn of Everything due out in October 2021. I can't wait to read it, but based upon what I have read about  their review of the past 42,000 years, a good alternate title might be Something Went Wrong.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Poop and Pee

Some people collect watches. I collect skills. A lot of them are survival skills or low tech hacks, but that's not because I am a survivalist. It's because it's fun.

Take gunpowder. What red-blooded American boy doesn't know how to make gunpowder? Johnny got entangled in the web of causation. Do you need sulfur? Why does charcoal work better than coal? Where does this wonderful saltpeter at the drugstore come from? Books at the library pointed me to nightsoil, dedicated piss pots, shit and piss farms.

Pre-Revolutionary France was known to have the worst gunpowder in Europe.  A certain count or duke of something something determined how to rake quality saltpeter out of mounds of black dirt infused with copious amount of poop and pee. His holdings also included zinc and lead mines, so he was a bullet farmer. Off went his head in the Revolution. (which should serve as an example to doomsday billionaires).

In the event that things get bad (but not TOO bad), I too will be a bullet farmer.

The stench? Well, I'm reminded of a story about a Roman merchant that supplied ammonia fermented from piss to the fuller industry. His son was hesitant to take over the business because of the stink. The old Roman shoved a gold coin under his nose and said "Well, then don't get used to this smell!" There had to be a speculative shit market in ancient times. In fact, I would bet that certain areas or towns were of renown for making miracle shit.

Piss and shit are worth their weight in gold. If you look at folklore you find tons of references to gold being shit. The coin pooping donkey. The devil's ducats, where he spends gold coin and in the morning it is turds. Rumpelstiltskin, spinning (dung infested) straw into gold. Gold is fucking worthless. 

In Mad Max world, gold as commodity is porn magazines. That's the bitcoin. Survivalists take note.

Other things. I am still churning out VR sculptures. Trying to do one a day.

Some people say they are awesome.

Others, the ones that buy stuff, crickets.

I have been thinking about Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord's categories.

The general was commander-in-chief of the German Army and an undisguised opponent of Adolph Hitler. He said: 
"I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage". 

Here is a more accurate model, but still only approximating the human essence.

Mediocrity rules, thank goodness.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Utopia as a horror show

 Thomas More wrote Utopia as a satire, a critique of the political and economic ills of Europe in the early 16th century. It's a satire in the vein of Juvenal and Aristophanes, which, I'm sorry, aren't funny at all. Unless you think bears forced to fight dogs kind of funny is funny.

The modern version of utopia would be Star Trek war socialism, elimination of poverty and strife (at least at a local level), which is not the same as More's utopia but fuck him. A great many people in North America, people of a certain strata, check all the boxes for the modern Utopia.

Freedom from Want? Check. Freedom from Violence and Strife? Check. Freedom from Disease? Mostly Check.  Compared to 99.999% of the history of humanity, life in 21st century North America is paradise. 

So why all the angst? I mean, besides working a soul-killing bullshit job in the standard BDSM deadly-serious-game of hierarchical killer apes whose only safe word for a bottom is "I quit"? (In which case you play the deadly-serious-game of homeless and possibly starving).

Is it the same feeling of dread that a cow might feel upon entering the slaughterhouse? Could be. We could find all these themes over at TVtropes, with the website itself ironically a link in the Food Chain of Evil

I watched two horror films that I think nudged me to write this essay. The first, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, is your standard vampire fare with a really nice black and white atmosphere to it. It is billed as the first spaghetti western vampire movie in Farsi. It explores a theme of vampires as useful scavengers, eliminating the dross and dreck that would otherwise clog up society. A somewhat similar movie would be Innocent Blood, where the vampire protagonist preys upon criminals until that gig goes south when she accidentally turns a mob boss that starts a vampire crime family.

So, the Girl is your standard modern vampire, has superhuman strength, retractable sharp teeth, can't go out in the sun, etc. Doesn't turn into a bat whihc honestly is stupid. Funny thing is the original vampire of Balkan folklore had no problem being in the sun. That aspect got started in the late 19th century. Also, the folk vampire has no bones or teeth. Weird.

Anyway the mood I picked up is she is knows everything goiing on in her neighborhood, knows who is who and what's what. Perhaps some psychic ability involved to peer into souls. So, she leaves the good people alone and goes for the baddies. Which, given that we are all shits from time to time, would require a certain amount of mercy. I'll get back to this theme of culls in a minute.

The other movie was Train to Busan, a Korean fast zombie plague flick. Again, your standard zombie  movie but with some great action sequences and a little character development. The real villains (naturally) are the business executives who unleash this synthetic biotech toxin, and also a COO train passenger who fucks anyone over to avoid becoming a zombie.Which takes us back to vampires.

Most business executives wish they were vampires, but nah, just don't have what it takes. However, it makes sense that a moral, merciful vampire would prey upon business executives. From a business standpoint it makes no sense as a much larger criminal prey population is available. Still, business executives are crooks and if you do it right, taking them out would make the world a much less angst-sy place.

(As an aside, I never understood the blood sucking thing except as quick means of dispatch. Blood has little nutritive value and I, as a vampire, would prefer sucking on marrow, or just eat the tasty bits of the carcass. Better still, instead of stashing dead bodies like a wolf or a leopard, I'd prefer to keep my meal alive as long as possible. So, maybe I would be a surgeon, or better still a hospital administrator. Which makes me a business executive. How much more of a scumbag would a vampire be as a member of the upper crust, and the answer is quite a lot more of a scumbag).

Okay I lost the thread there. The common theme I get from modern horror, from (as much as I can recollect) Invasion of the Body Snatchers to the Blob and the Borg, is not just fighting monsters, but fighting monsters to avoid becoming the same sort of monsters. Which is, of course, lack of free will.

But then there are monsters and there are monsters. Zombies? Nobody wants to be a zombie. Okay, some weirdos want to be zombies, or at least want a zombie apocalypse. Me? Pass.

Werewolves. That would be cool, but again you lose control, you lose your ego, your conscious self (I think) when you go full wolf. So again, pass.

Vampires? Sure. But it could be you lose your soul and will be eternally damned although none of this is certain. In which case, if you lose your soul, you end up being a howling cognitive void encased in skin, which gets us back to the boneless vampire of Balkan folklore, or the eventual all-powerful AI that people worry about. (Needlessly, I think worry about. You don't get from the banal magic of statistical inference to a conscouis being AFAICT).

I myself, through psychedelic experiences and observation, am convinced I have no soul. I am a howling cognitive void encased in a meat brain. Which suggests I can be platformed on a mineral brain. But I cannot use inference to suggest that everyone is like me. There may be others that do have souls. In which case I am morally obligated to treat them accordingly and not be mean or vicious or cynical or cruel or suck their blood and stash their living carcasses in a IV suite in a subbasement or warehouse out in Hicksville. Anyway I think that movie has been done. 

Okay, definitely lost the thread now.

Monday, March 22, 2021

VR Anecdotes

I have an Oculus Rift-S. I sit in the middle of the couch when I use it with the coffee table pushed forward so I don't bang into anything. My only purpose in getting this rig was for artistic expression. For that, there are a lot free things. Gravity Sketch, good solid industrial design program. The Facebook/Oculus in-house Quill, which makes me nauseous. Clay analog voxel software Medium. Medium has been sold off to Adobe. 

There are I'm sure much better systems, but I am comfortable in Medium's saddle and froze and walled it off from the wilder yonder, if that's possible. If you haven't experienced VR, the good stuff is almost too immersive. There should be a dial to get back to the outside. 

My rig has really nice sounds for my music. Sometimes, ambient background noise makes me feel someone is in the room with me. I will tear off my visor to an empty room.

A Black Mirror/Twilight Zone episode: My rig has a B&W camera used for setup of floor and safety zone. Ambient noise makes me feel someone is in the room. I turn the dial on the camera and a looming figure stands over me. After a brief heart attack, I rip the visor off to an empty room.

After I'd played with immersive sculpture and animation, I thought so we are back to the stolen dreams of the 80s. Ready Player One. But there has to be more. I thought of ideas, but the good ideas are good for a reason and a lot of people think of them. Then there are the people with more money who fuck up your good idea. 

VRChat, and before that Altspace, the WoW of VR social. Although the avatars were fun, the kiddies were annoying. Pass. Although VRchat had full body trolling with sensors wrapped around the ankles. Hands, ankles, visor is all you need. A cheap Mocap suit for what? $450? $700? 

I thought of sports bar avatar karaoke on the big screen. Slip on wrist and ankle sensors, a head band, tied into a VJ station, and you get the Masked Singer Dancer on the big TV screens. Psychedelic, (This was 2014 idea of mine, and 57 million other bright lads). You get a Mp4 of your performance and maybe a highlight on our karaoke popular.

Better still. Dance groups. With groups you head into kinect territory. Easier to track one hundred with a kinect. Can still do sensors, no prob. If  4 sensors gets you a human, two dancers with 8 sensors gets you a spider or an octopus. Well, no. Octopus is hard. Maybe 100 dancers for one octopus.

Point beyond performance art? It's not going to stop at body sensors, The visors will pick up stuff from the brain. READ ONLY is bad enough but if a visor can write to a brain... it can write to a brain from a distance. You don't have to be wearing a visor as writeware.

We are entering a dangerous age/ (As if we haven't always been). 

The past has been crises of scarcity. The future crises of plenty. The danger of utopia far surpass what we have experienced.

Back to the dance troupe. It could be a company of soldiers, spread over hundreds of miles. Better still, commanders along for the ride, watching, guarding, and ordering from first sight facts, over thousands of miles. The Borg Trap. The drug of omniscience.

Everyone a soaring eagle loses the burrow.

Anyway, an Xsens suit costs the tens of thousands, the Danish Rokoko is in the thousands. You can do DYI. I won't. I'll build (ha!) or wait for the market. I still need a hamster cage. No one has done a good job on the hamster cage. You would think by now they would have parks where you have 200 feet vertical/horizontal hamster cages and are simulating space war. Or maybe that''s what the UFOs are, the US Navy seeing 25th century thrill rides.  

Well, that's reassuring.

Anyway, the logical choice is to go all e-brain passing cloud so you ain't thrashing around, and I say, yeah sounds fun but Nope,

I'm a stupid old donkey, and kind of want to stay that way.

That picture of the Penguin from 1960's TV show Batman and Rocky Balboa from the movie Rocky is a Nested Celebrity Mashup. Pick an actor, put in the role from on show or movie, and put in another. Burgess Meredith as the Penguin as Mickey Goldmill.  

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Motion Capture

Since getting a VR rig 2 years ago, I found a program in beta called Tvori. Easy animation with either real-time hand waving or frame-by-frame. I think they are heading in a Enterprise direction so they really should put out a kid version. 

I've also been invited to beta test Animotive.

Sans VR rig, Blender would be the one to try.

I honestly don't know how to convert their XYZ dxdydz into a Eshkol Wachman notation like stickman in hamster cage, but that's what programmers are for, of which I aren't for a long time. 

But it also raises the idea if all you want is motion capture data, of which there is a shit-ton and a lot is fight stuff for games, that is an easier route than homespun karaoke.

Twilight of the Gods by Ian W. Toll

 The Final Volume of the Pacific War Trilogy

War in the Western Pacific 1944-1945

I'll not give a review of this book. I've read perhaps a dozen accounts of this conflict and watched half as many documentaries. I'll tell you how it turns out. Japan loses.

Many, including a former President with a strange smeared-shit-on-toilet-paper pallor and tiny hands, consider this America's greatest moment. Which is hilarious. A savage gump of a hick nation from the 1930s, with a laughable science program, kicks the crap out of a guy ten times smaller, and then somehow creates a physics-powered Long Boom economy.

The irony is the so-called greatness was done with a command economy and the help of a refugee population that gave us nuclear power and TV sitcoms.

WWII itself is not the glory we see in the movies and in our retarded popular culture. It will be remembered by our hopefully more advanced descendants as a burst open stinking carcass that best be buried in a cornfield someplace.

Regardless, each historical account provides another excerpt worth remembering, and here is the excerpt I culled from this book, 10/25/1944 at the Battle off Cape Engano, Bill Davis flying a Hellcat from the Lexington:

"At 10,000 feet there was a thick black cloud of bursting shells from the 40mm and 5 inch guns... a second deadly cloud forming at 4,000 feet from the exploding 20mm* shells". Knowing that velocity was his friend, Davis firewalled the throttle. Pulling out of the dive, he estimated he was flying more than 500 miles an hour, significantly faster than Grumman's recommended maximum. He was low over the sea, and a Japanese heavy cruiser loomed ahead. Rapidly it grew larger in his windshield; he did not have time to turn away. Davis pulled up and banked hard adn to the right, passing between the superstructure and the forward gun turret. "I was perhaps three feet from the windows on the bridge and could see the Japanese officers and enlisted men commanding the ship," he said. "There was an admiral in dress whites, complete with sword. The other officers and men were also in dress whites. I was going 530 miles an hour, and I only got a glimpse, but that image is impressed on my mind forever."

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Agisoft Metashape

Agisoft Metashape is a stand-alone software package that processes digital images into a 3D spatial data. 

Improved from their earlier quite popular Photoscan, this photogrammetry program uses a Structure From Motion (SFM) technique to build a "mesh" structure of the object's surface. Briefly, SFM uses overlapping digital images combined with the camera's location data (metadata) to perform complex geometric calculations to determine a "point cloud" of surface dots. The dots are then connected to produce a polygon mesh of the object. Metashape can also extract images from video.

Metashape has a large support structure - tutorials, user manuals, blogs to rely upon. It has an educational license for significant cost savings. The Educational license ($59) is available in both Floating (installed on multiple work stations), or Node-locked (a single rehostable work station). 

Metashape has a straightforward UI for loading and processing photos.The number of photos is under no restriction (unlike other packages both free and commerical). Once photos are added, a mask function can be used to reduce irrelevant elements (background, accidental foreground, etc.) to reduce noise and prevent "merging" of the object with other surfaces. The mask function has nice feature where you only need to mask a few images, select points based on the masks, and clean up the other images automatically. It has intuitive masking tools (Magic Wand and Intelligent Selection tools) that make an otherwise tedious task less tedious,

Next the photos are aligned to refine the camera locations and then a dense point cloud is produced. A number of tools exist to refine the point cloud. For example a manual bounding box can be created to orient and refine the point cloud (this is can also be done automatically). The dense point cloud is calculated using depth information from the camera location data. Once the point cloud is built, the mesh is built and ready for export. Each step has a number of parameters that can be used to further refine the 3D model. 

The nice thing about this batch process is it is relatively quick compared to other photogrammetry packages (seconds to minutes versus minutes to hours or days) and also has a tooling feature that will optimize the batch for a specific GPU on your computer, significantly speeding up processing time. You may also have a low/medium//high feature settings to get a quick and dirty 3D model, and then reprocess with high setting for the final model.

The mesh can also be refined from the depth maps (the camera location data) to create better details as well. 

It's a solid piece of software, rarely freezing or crashing, that produces nicely detailed results in a timely manner.