Thursday, May 26, 2011

Network Theory

I've been finally noticing the blogger stats option, and in particular, the traffic sources. Who do I know in Iran? Nigeria? Sri Lanka?
Lotka-Volterra Equations

Funny how the brain works. We magically assume certain associations, not realizing it's not about us, is it? It's about the network. It's not the nodes, it's the loops.

Hey, speaking of which, did I ever tell you how I started out in college going for an art degree and came out the other end with a math degree? And how I almost used it?

You see, back in 1977, I took a course in mathematical models. I had taken a calculus class, and had found it fun and easy, so I decided to try some other courses. Intro to Mathematical models was loosely tied to another course in computer simulations, using FORTRAN. By coincidence, I was also taking an Intro to FORTRAN class as well.

Just so you have a flavor of the times, the computer facility was still using punch cards. You'd sit at a gigantic console, and type in commands on these chunky indestructible keyboards, and meanwhile a bunch of little holes would be punched out on a thick paycheck sized cardboard card. And when you had typed out your program on the cards, you would hand those through a slot in a glassed-in booth to an operator wearing a white lab coat.

Yes, a fucking white lab coat.

And so, you'd hand your shoebox full of cards over like a supplicant to a high priest. (I can remember one time a kid tripped and his shoebox full of punch cards spilled all over the floor. He started crying. To my credit, I helped him scoop up the cards before they were trampled). And then about a half hour later, they would stuff a printout into a mail slot with your results, which were usually not program output, but a list of programming errors you had committed. And so, this bullshit went on for several hours until you finally got a result.

Then one day they installed big boxy terminals in the basement of the math and physics building, and you didn't need to deal with the snob dickheads at the computer center. So, I would get all stoked up on dope, and visit the basement to code in front of an amber screen through the wee hours of the morning. The only other people there would be dorks playing a game of StarTrek or early primitive role playing games.

Anyway, one of the simulations that I got sucked into was predator/prey simulations which were first worked out in a simple version called the Lotka-Volterra equations. This LV model is also called the Foxes and Rabbits Game.  And basically what's going down here is that you have two main parameters used to determine the population numbers of foxes and rabbits. Obviously, the two numbers are linked to each other, and the parameters are reproduction rate of predators and prey versus destruction rate of prey by predators. It is a system of nonlinear equations, and these are notoriously difficult to find a general solution to. The trick is (and in math and science circles "trick" means a clever hack, not a trick as in trying to cheat) that if you can simplify some terms so that the nonlinear equation becomes linear, why, then, it is easy as pie to find a solution. Problem is, you typically take all the reality out of your simulation by doung so, and it ends up being a toy.

The LV model doesn't even come close to reflecting real life numbers, but it is, after all, only the simplest modelling. Once not included would be the carrying capacity of the environment, in other words, the recognition that lots of rabbits will be self-limiting, once they eat all the grass. So, having foxes prey upon the rabbits helps out the grass, and allows more rabbits. So you would expect a cycle, but not to the extreme seen in the LV equations. It was fairly easy to plug and play the equations into the computer via FORTRAN, but after awhile I realized this was all just a circle jerk. Nowadays, we call this "Chaos Theory".

I informed my professor of the situation, and his reply was quite snippy. "Well, figure out a better way" he sniffed.

So, I created networks with agents. I doubt I pioneered this. (Actually, my simulation preceded Andrew Watson's and James James Lovelock's Daisyworld simulation by at least a decade, but I never published).

But it just seemed an easier way to messy up the conditions without ending up with a really hideously complex set of equations. Local rules (the links and loops) affecting each agent (the nodes representing foxes and rabbits), all tied together by local conditions and rules. Kind of like John Conway's Game of Life, but with three levels of boardplay - one board being for the ground (grass, water, etc), one for the rabbits, and the top level for foxes. And the one thing I noticed right away was that the more inefficient the networks were, the closer the numbers looked to empirical results. In other words, the worse the transmission of data was on the links between nodes, the better the simulation played out.

Inefficient networks played out. Why? Well, foxes don't always catch rabbits. Rabbits don't always get to eat grass at their leisure. Thus was my justification. But as it turns out, it seems that inefficient networks may be more efficient than efficient ones. So say the ants, at any rate.

I ended up getting a C from snippy old Professor Poopbreath in the math models class. I didn't really care at that point. I had discovered von Neumann self-replicators by then, and had moved on to simulating robot farms.

But that's another story.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I recently had a dream that I had a daughter. I am, in waking life, as far as I know, childless (unless you count the 30-40 kids I herd around at the college). In the dream, my daughter was perhaps 6-7 years of age. We play games. We cuddle. Exchange hugs. Read books. We tickle and tease one another.

We do all the things fathers and daughters do. It is a wonderful dream. My daughter is healthy and beautiful. She is smart, funny, quick, bright, lithe, and really quite gorgeous. Just a gorgeous face on her.  You can tell she is going to be heartbreaker. She is also as black as coal.

I would assume most progressively oriented people would prefer that I listed her attributes in just the order I did, or some variation, with the physical attributes and appearances last. Most of all the fact that she is extremely dark complected. Funny thing is, though, in the dream, it is the very last thing I notice.

You know how dream logic is. Some portions which would normally be immediately noticed are either accepted as completely natural, or are suspended within the narrative, aspects put aside for later review. So it is with my daughter's skin color. It is a suspension of the dream narrative noticeable enough to wake me up. I think. I mean, I was so delighted with having such a wonderful daughter, her complexion was really hardly worth noticing.

How post-racial of me. Ah, but no. Despite being raised by liberal parents, growing up in the town that I did, in the nation that I did, in the time period I'm from, I can't help but be racist. I am not, like most liberals, in denial about this. I have seriously fucked up prejudices. I'm working on that.

And I've got to question if there is a white paternalism thing as well. She was my daughter, after all. Not my equal. Not my mate. My dependent.

And, then there's the question of subconscious yearnings. Have I jungle fever? Negrophilia? Actually, I'm not certain about the word. It does have, given modern cultural associations, a haint to it. I keep thinking of "Good Times" episodes where Wilona would use the phrase "Negro, please!", and I can't see her meaning it in a good way. Maybe she was talking to Erik Rush.

The first time I came across the word "negrophilia" was in a reading of how, before there was much in the way of constant contact, Europeans were negrophilic. I'm assuming they meant back in medieval or ancient times, but how this particular factoid is known in the book, I've quite forgotten. Perhaps it was an undocumented assertion. But why not? We've all of us a taste for the rare and exotic. Unless, of course, it was a misprint, and it should have been "necrophilic". I can see Europeans swinging that way, too.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"The Reception Committee"

"The Reception Committee" 2011 Bronze Approx. 14" x 4" x 3"
I've messed with these figures off and on for over two years. By that I mean, I've molded them for hours, and then set them aside for months. Not quite happy with them, I figure time would show me what to do. But that never happened. I finally came up wit a solution and cast the dang  things in bronze. I'm generally pleased with the result, but two years is a disappointingly long time to put into something and then only be generally pleased. Not enthusiastic, just pleased. And there are many particulars about the pieces that I'm completely displeased with. I won't go into it.

Sometimes you force the material to your will, and you win, but seeing as reality is plastic, it will always find a way to deform outside your will so that you are not entirely satisfied. Or at least, that's what I notice.

Some particulars of the piece I am pleased with, going beyond the generalized satisfaction. With the particular postures and gestures of the figures, what I once considered the awkwardness of rendering (they are a bit stiff and not quite proportional), I now consider helpful in that they reinforce the overall awkwardness and peculiarities of the piece. I've never been one to worry overmuch about anatomical fidelity. I've always been willing to sacrifice that if it supports emotional transport. And emotional transport is necessary to convey a concept (if one exists). So, eh. Whatever.

"The Reception Committee"
The figures are not quite done. The hollow forms have been welded together and the weld seams cleaned up, but there is still detail work to do. I'm fortunate in that the next two weeks will be kind of an Antarctic retreat. The college is closed before the summer semester starts. For some reason, my phone calls and emails seem to trickle down to nothing, and any outgoing messages on my part are rarely answered. Not quite sure why this happens this time of year. And, at the end of the two weeks, I'll be desperate for human companionship - chattering at anyone unfortunate to cross my path.

In the meantime, it's cleaning up these figures. Chasing. Rough surfaces to smoothen. Filing and sanding. An appropriate patina must be put on. And then they'll be done, and I'll be in a strange place of having nothing to do, and no projects planned.

This is the longest dry spell I've ever had. Going on three years. No new ideas. Just rehashing old stuff.

If I didn't keep busy, I'd be worried.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Privatize THIS!

Two weeks ago I witnessed a scene which evoked contrasting emotions in me. Arriving at the strip mall Chinese restaurant for weekend lunch, there was a small crowd at the entrance. Closer examination revealed a hairy streetperson on the pavement, prostate, clutching his head, and writhing in pain. After examining the street guy, and determining that he was completely gassed up, three sheets to the wind, several hours into his weekend binge, and that he had lost his balance, had fallen over, hit his head, but was sitting up and looking for his beer, I decided he was OK, stepped over him, and so proceeded into the restaurant to order lunch.

One woman with two small, filthy, and obviously miserable children in tow demanded that someone call 9-1-1. As far as I could determine, she had no relationship with drunken prostate street guy. Eventually, the possible munchausen-by-proxy woman (you'll just have to accept my opinion on this as I've no time to narrate her behavior to justify this statement, but suffice to say she was trying to milk as much attention from the unfortunate's situation as she could) called emergency services on her cellphone.

Now, I don't know how it is in your town, but in Chicago, a 9-1-1 call for emergency medical assistance means that not only will an ambulance arrive, but the cops will also arrive as well. Drunken street guy knew this, and after lurching himself erect asked which way Belmont street was (presumably part of his route). Despite insistence from various onlookers that he remain seated for the ambulance, he made a steady and rapid recovery and took off toward Belmont street.

Perhaps a minute, and certainly no more, after the busybody woman had made her call, a firetruck, which is to say a ladder truck, showed up in the parking lot of the strip mall. Fire personnel in full medical assistance regalia disembarked, and when told by members of the crowd that the emergency victim was high-tailing it up Belmont street, fanned out to find the bum. I saw nothing more as by then the takeout was done and I headed back to the studio.

The conflicting emotions were as follows:

Anger. Anger at the busybody woman who not enough sense to realize the bum was not incapacitated by injury, or rather, by voluntary behavior. Anger at the waste of public resources and tax monies. The public institution's response was a bit overzealous.

Pride, and no small amount of amazement at the rapidity and capacity of the public assistance. Had this been a real emergency, it would have been handled deftly, expertly, with the utmost competence and, yes, style. I really don't see this type of outcome coming from private industry. I really don't.

Think about it. "Good enough for government work" is an Orwellian piece of propaganda, an insult unworthy of the subject.

If you want to see cheap, shoddy, crappy, inept products or services, look to the private sector.

Can you imagine how that 9-1-1 call would have gone, if a private industry were in charge of emergency medical services? One clue as to the response on the phone, and it starts with "Do you have any medical insurance?..." No? =click=

Government services - when properly funded - just beat the living crap out of private industry when it comes to quality. Social security checks, millions of them, go out on time and accurate every month. The people's socialist weather satellites and supercomputers do a pretty fantastic job at forecasting, especically during times of disaster. Remember Katrina? The National Weather Service pretty much predicted the track of that storm down almost in terms of feet. Speaking of accuracy how about NASA's space probes? Think they are good enough for government work? Think Fedex could do as well? Fedex wishes they had their shit together the way the command-and-control economies of the US government does. (And what is a private corporation but a little private command-and-control economy? When it's run right that is).

The big lie which is gaining traction these past three decades can be summed up as the religion of free market fundamentalism, as the triumphalism of the neoliberal cult (although the past ten years haven't given them much to be triumphant about. You've two tenets in this current cult of privatization. One I've mentioned: market fundamentalism, the belief that most problems can be solved by the private parties rather than state oversight. The implicit assumptions in this belief is that markets, or competitive industries within a market, are rational and efficient. Empirical data to date denies this. Markets are not efficient. Actually, they are, but only when incorrect pricing is resolved, and the market "suffers a correction". The only time a market is efficient is during a crash. 

And competition? Well, the point of competition is to eliminate the competition. Once the competition is eliminated, there's no point in pursuing efficiency is there?

The second tenet is techno fundamentalism: the optimistic belief that technology can solve all problems (especially the ones created by the technology to begin with).

Together, this creates the religion of neoliberalism, which goes beyond your usual simpleton's libertarianism. Championed by Reagan and Thatcher, mastered by Clinton and Blair, taken on fiath by Bush, Cheney, and a Republican Congress, thirty years of it has nearly driven us all to ruin, or rather, those of us not in the top .1 percent. And, of course, the beautiful thing about this religion is it can be self-fulfilling in predicting a failure of public institutions to supply an essential public good. All you need do is defund the government, or better still, remove revenues in the form of taxes.

For the private sector, it's a beautiful thing. Public projects are up for grabs, public infrastructures and institutions, built up over 400 years in the US of A, and worth tens of trillions, are now available to be cannibalized into obscene profits. And all you need do, to insure a public failure - the mirror image of market failure - is to cut the funding.  Beautiful. No need for public intervention. Not when it can all be privatized and at bargain basement prices (for them, not you).

Like your society as it is? Enjoy the benefits of frivolous but beautiful things like public libraries, public art, public parks, folk festivals, opera, museums, free concerts, free anything? Do you seriously think you'll get any of this from private corporations, if they have a monopoly on everything,  have no fear of public oversight and intervention, and, quite simply have no incentive to provide for the public good, or, more likely, prevent public harm? Private corporations that generally treat the public as a resource to extract time, talent, information, and energy from? The record to date is, in general, pretty fucking abysmal. We are just human resources to them.  We are the raw material for the extractive industries around us, the latest being the "social" ones.

So, with the current fad being to privatize everything that isn't nailed down, maybe it's time to tell the fucking corporate leeches and their public stooges to privatize THIS!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Gun Stupid"

You may recall an essay (here) about making wax hands and playing around with the waxes. I finally, some six months later, finally, finally made some art with them. Here's the result, entitled "Gun Stupid":

Pouring aluminum hand guns
It's a wall hanging about 15" x 11" x 3" and it is all right angles and properly squared, it's just that the camera angle was a bit askew to cut down on the glare from the glass. The material is gingham I guess, and the starry ribbon I got from the 4th of July clearance display at Hobby Lobby. It obviously is meant to be an ironic celebration of America's gun culture. I had considered a subtitle of: "As long as you ignore everything before the comma, the 2nd Amendment is crystal clear".

A gun tree. Who says they don't grow on 'em?
I can only figure that reason a manufactured crisis about the fragility of the 2nd Amendment is ginned up every couple of years is to drive some monies towards the arms manufacturers. Every time some type of slippery slope argument is presented revolving around gun control, guns and ammo sales shoot up a notch. Think of it as arms dealer welfare.

Of course, there is absolutely zero chance of the 2nd Amendment being repealed, or any form of significant erosion done to it. That battle was won long, long ago. As a result, we all just have to get used to the idea of a spree killing and mass murder every few years, and of course, the continual "collateral damage" of innocents and bystanders mutilated, maimed, crippled, murdered...

But what's a few bullets in the heads of a few babies between us well-regulated citizens?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Judgment Day!

Mark your calendars for May 21st, 2011, because according to the latest Bible cypherin' and supersophistimetated calcee-lations, that's the date of the Rapture!

Now, my understanding is the Rapture is like a major G-force amusement park ride that yanks you clean out of your clothes and shoots you naked up into the sky. Those that remain enjoy 152 days of a "horror of horrors", culminating in the destruction of the universe on October 21st, 2011. The beauty of the whole project is that while the privileged sit up in Heaven enjoying the fruits of their virtue, they get to witness the torment of all those wicked people kept down by the weight of their sins.

"Schadenfreude". It's not just for Germans anymore.

I personally am looking forward to the destruction of the universe in hopes that it will be the grandest fireworks display EVER, or at least since the Big Bang. I'm hoping the Almighty will not disappoint with, you know, everything just disappearing in a poof with a magic word with no fanfare or grandiosity. I mean, if Me and My host of angels spent so much time and effort building something, I'd savor the chance to  really trash the living fuck out of it before I the shit-canned the project. Not even really sure why I'd put a 7000 thousand year old expiration date on the enterprise. I generally like to build things to last, but hey...

Hey, here's my idea of a good practical joke. Get everybody at work to bring a change of clothes of the exact wardrobe they are wearing that day. Find some excuse for the Rapture candidate to temporarily leave the office space. When they return they find nothing but the empty clothes and stuff dropped where it lay. Then the Elected One returns to find...

"Hey, I was supposed to... uh, oh".

I love that joke.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Meteor Strike

Say what you will, for or agin' him, you have to admit that President Obama has some big, giant gonads. Or, if Obama was a she, some big giant ovaries.

I mean, all that jowl-shaking, turkey-wattle, war-wimp pufferfish talk about how Reagan was The Man... Obama puts Reagan's soggy, half-inflated, crumpled-up, watery old ball sack in perspective. It makes the coming 2012 candidates coming from the right look like so many shit-covered flies buzzing around a wet smelly little turd called the Republican party.

And then, to pound a few nails into the soft cheese-filled skull of the foul, rancid puss-filled D-bag Trump is just, wow, almost an imperial afterthought. Let's face it, fucking Trump's got a ratty old vermin-infested cum-stained mattress where his soul should be, and he was put down the way he should be with all his vile racist shit posing as curious inquiry. Obama's casual flick of the finger, banishing that rich (poor) white trash putz into an orbit beyond Pluto was Classic! Classic!

The Pakistan raid was a huge political gamble, and we need to recognize, as in any risk-taking activity, that the negative outcome vastly outweighs the payoff. Had things gone south (*cough* Desert One Carter *cough*), as they could have in ten thousand horrible ways, that would have been the end of the Obama presidency. Further, in fact, the end of any person of a color darker than, say, bone white ever having any kind of position within our primate power structures.

For good or ill, that bold act all on its lonesome got my vote come November 2012.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

Today, walking around campus, I smelled the smell of Spring in the air.  Spring, hopefully, after this rather over-worked and elaborate finding of keys to unlock Winter over the past two months, is finally here. And I experienced a powerful memory smell association with the smells of Spring. A smell memory as fine as a rich cup of coffee, with all the musical metaphors that accompany such a smell. The earthy bass line, the rich nutty melody, the dense sweet fruity harmonic companionship. Or is the melody fruity? Who fucking cares.

I had a vivid memory of going down to Hannah's Nursery with my father. It invaded my consciousness like the Russian Army. It's a wonderful memory, accompanied by the feel and sight of warm sunlight in a greenhouse enclosure. I've always felt greenhouses, like libraries, are the first and best examples of human civilization. In a way, greenhouses are libraries, but with plants for books. Anyway, it's a good memory and I will savor it as much as I can.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

Charlie Stross recently expressed a dark fantasy involving the utter annihilation of the Royal Family of England. Or Great Britain. Or the United Kingdom. Whatever.  It's all just idle speculation, I'm sure. Just a spot o' fun to play with. Also, probably partially Charlie crowd-sourcing for ideas, fishing about for interesting contingencies. A partial reading of his commenter's thoughts basically devolved to line of succession and King Ralph scenarios.

But it got me to thinking... Charlie's instrument of destruction is a meteor strike. Specifically, Charlie says:
"The devastating explosion that ripped through Westminster Abbey less than an hour ago is confirmed to be a meteorite. The 10 meter object was tracked on radar by National Air Traffic Service (NATS) prior to impact. According to Project Spaceguard it was considered to be of low significance, Official sources say terrorism is not involved."
  The wedding party is very accurately wiped out by this celestial object. But really now, given our species tendencies towards misinterpreting events, and reading significance into random accident, and intent into unfortunate coincidence, what exactly are the chances of some type of conspiracy theory developing around this 10 ton object from Outer Space? Hands? Anyone?

Fucking A right there's gonna be a conspiracy theory! A meteorite that only takes out the Royal Family and the British government? Which makes me wonder just how large the  smoking hole has to be before it moves from human agency to act of God. Just how large the object has to be. The interesting thing here is that it is similar to problems in music and art. In visual art, it would be a matter of scale impacting the viewer. The equivalent of scale in music would be some combination of tempo or volume, I suppose. But the interesting thing here is how the continuous range of a parameter (meteorite heft and size, scale of a sculpture, etc.) results in an abrupt and discontinuous change in perception or behavior.

In math, this is called an inflection point. In dumbed-down middlebrow-speak, the term is "tipping point". The interesting thing is, is there an exact, precise inflection point? Or a range? Since we are dealing with human psychology, I'd go with range.

A meteorite that takes out Westminster Abbey versus, say, the structure and five hundred yards out, so that a substantial part of the commoner crowd dies as well, turns the catastrophe into a chance event. But two hundred yards, fifty? How large a crowd has to die to kill off the conspiracy theory? Probably a term paper in this somewhere...

I probably think out things like these more than is necessary.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lightning Strike

I attended Art Chicago this past weekend. The ur-conscious theme was butterflies. It happens every year. Various artists make something purportedly unique that interests them, like "boats", get it in a show, only to find that every-fricking-body has made boats that year.

"Son of a bitch!"

Jung would have called it synchronicity, or a manifestation of the collective unconscious. I view it as far more complex and interesting. Call it swarm intelligence if you will, it is a still little understood phenomenon , which, by the nature of being not entirely understood, is far more interesting than the late 19th or early 20th century explanations.

Regardless, the really important thing that happened there was a mutual lightning strike. Unfortunately, the chance meeting failed to gel into anything. It happens, more often than I would prefer. It was at Art Chicago, in the NEXT portion of the show. I turned the corner to come face to face with a tall, willowy blonde with  huge luminous blue eyes. Basically, my genetically predisposed type, a Nordic blonde. It's the eyes I always remember.

We smiled and said "Hi" to each other. At that moment, her girlfriend eyed me, grabbed her by the arm, and moved off. At the same time, Newman and his wife, the people I went with, called to me. I turned to see what they wanted, turned back, and she was gone.

Not the first time this has happened to me, and certainly not the last, but these bittersweet lost moments have a way of haunting you that the more lasting moments do not.

"What might have been" may not be the four saddest words in the universe, but they are up in the top ten.