Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The current  news cycle features guns and Mexicans. Thus the title, by association. Mexicans, of course, include everyone affected by the coming immigration reform. I'll get to that in a minute.

As to guns? I think I've made it clear how I feel about guns. I have no problem with guns. I have no problem with me handling guns. I have a huge problem with you handling guns. 'You' being your average American, who, in the course of the usual gun-play is not only a terrible shot, but can barely handle the task of adequately wiping his own well-fed visibly spreading buttocks, so why on Earth would I trust him to handle a gun? Unless, of course, he's gotten safety training, a license, and insurance. That would be the least amount of responsibility I would inconvenience the American gun owner. Owning a gun is, ultimately, personal responsibility, right? So, let's show some.

"Wages? I don't need your stinking wages!"
As to immigrants, I think we are at a stage where we will see current ironies heaped upon historical ones. Traditionally, Americans will shirk hard labor if they can. If they can find someone to do all their dirty work for practically nothing they will. The sources doesn't matter much. For quite some time we (some of us, I use the general we) enjoyed the benefits of chattel slavery, but peasants from Europe or Asia or south of the border would do in a pinch.

This is not to say all white Americans are lazy good-for-nothings, but as a general rule of thumb, do seem to be at about an eighth-grade level when it comes to applying themselves. It must be the inherent anti-intellectualism, or perhaps just our deep-seated viciousness (that we inherited honestly from the Neolithic cultural package).

But I can't help but notice how many American citizens are so very upset that all these wetbacks and beaners are going to be cut some slack, even though they've 'violated the law', 'haven't played by the rules' are 'criminal elements sucking up our social services', 'taking away all our jobs', etc. Basically, the polite question, as polite as it could be phrased from a redneck would be: "Why should a person that broke the law and came here illegally not be arrested and deported?"

Well, I think that's the wrong question. The correct question is... Well, let me quote this excerpt first, from Hidden America by Jeanne Marie Laskas. (Actually, if I could, I would quote the whole chapter Hecho En America: Migrant Labor Camp, Cherryfield, Maine):
"...A good raker with strong rhythm averages one hundred boxes (of blueberries) a day. At $2.25 a box, it's not uncommon to see a weekly check for $1,350. Compare that with just $375 a week picking Georgia peaches, or $400 down in the orange groves of Florida.   Washington County, occupying the far eastern tip of the state, is where the majority of the blueberry barrens are located, and it has 12.2 percent unemployment, the highest in the state. And yet the money does not draw the local unemployed into the fields - an inexplicable dimension to the new American dream repeated nationwide. Raking is hard, backbreaking, and the sun is hot. Just a generation ago, the harvest was a community effort. A ritual that brought out all the locals to the barrens...The locals no longer do the raking...The migrant workers I spoke to were well aware of the disconnect: they labored to support a culture they had virtually no part in, for people who had no part in theirs. "Now, you see everyone here is brown", said Noel, Consuelo's brother-in-law, one morning in the barrens. "When I first came here in 1998, there were white people raking blueberries. None now. White people got lazy and let the Spanish take over. White people are lazy."
So, the correct question is, given the increasing difficulty in crossing the border, given the risk to life and limb to get to America, given the heightened risk of deportation, and thus a necessarily longer stay in this alien Northern country, the correct question is "Why do these people risk their lives to take jobs that soft, fat, lazy, white people like you refuse to take? When did Americans like you "Real Americans" become such spoiled pampered wimps?" 

Or actually, given that, things south of the border are starting to pick up, Mexico is starting to look like the Aztec Tiger for the Twenty-teens, and it will become increasingly harder to find cheap serf labor to exploit, the answer to the redneck question is "Well, because you need them more than they need you, you stupid ignorant, fat, lazy redneck".

Friday, January 25, 2013

Slow Starts

This time of year brings out my inherent laziness. It's hard to go into the gym. Hard to go into work. Hard to get up in the morning. Hard to think. Hard to create. It's hibernation time.

Nevertheless I seem to be getting things done. The hardest part of anything is just showing up, so I got that going for me.

A few quick things of note. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa, and yes, I was pronouncing it keen-o-wa until corrected) has impacted my consciousness three times in the past two days. Something similar happened two years ago with ch-ch-ch-chia, which, as it turns out, is a potent high energy drink runners appreciate (see: Born to Run). Quinoa is a pseudo cereal grain developed by the Andeans. It is drought and salt tolerant. When drought and heat make corn, wheat, and soy no longer an option in the American breadbasket, my guess is farmers will turn to quinoa. It appears there may be a fly in the ointment with respect to quinoa. It's popularity is driving prices up, making it hard for indigenous farmers in the Andes to continue eating it. Not when when they can sell it and then purchase pasta and noodles and rice and such. Thus the danger is that they will turn into big fat diabetic slobs like us, and then, once we have a world full of fatties used to eating high on the hog, these types of alternative crops are gone, and the the food crash and lots of hurt. As we all know, there's more than enough food produced for everyone, and if anyone starves, it's not a distribution problem, but a poverty problem. They simply cannot afford to pay for food. Ironic then, that some people who recently couldn't get enough and now get more than enough of the wrong kinds of food. Weird.

Other things. I simply don't understand why we waste so much time on Mars. Look, I don't have a problem sending probes and robots to Mars, but quit blowing smoke up my ass about how there might have been life there. Mars has been, always has been, dead as hell. If you think about the evolution of the sun it was 30% less bright at the beginning of its history. Even with greenhouse gases, Earth barely kept from freezing, and Mars certainly froze early.

Let's think for a minute what planet would have been nice and balmy in the early days of the Solar  System? Why, Venus of course.  If life got started early, Venus would be the place. In fact, we are probably Venusians. Too bad we can't study Venus's early history the way we can Mars. But Venus sucks now. So, like the drunk looking for his lost keys under the streetlight because he can see better there, we send probes to Mars.

My brother mailed me his HTC Incredible phone which is now obsolete. I'm going to activate it, and officially join the rest of you all in the 21st century. I will soon be one of the Great Distracted. Oh, Joy.

Maybe I can operate drones with it (considering this seems to be one of the unintended consequences of the smartphone mobile technological development).

Lastly, I've a partial new inventory of mechanicules to cast:

And I'm working on the rewards for my Kickstarter project. One of my student aides (who by the way operates a business selling drinking horns), has run a successful funding project on Kickstarter. She is now my advisor. It's kind of funny how she gets frustrated with my glacially slow mental capabilities, and can't seem to understand why my 55-year-old brain doesn't just pick immediately on what she is saying. All I can provide in my defense is, it will happen to her someday, and, yes, my brain was pretty fucking fast on the quick draw when it was nineteen like hers.

In any, case, she has proven a valuable resource in putting my little cost-benefit analysis together re: rewards. I am turning out rewards soon, and then slap the whole project together, hopefully get it out by the end of February (and she can't understand why I am missing the end of January target date). Here's a sample:

I am going for twenty bronze pendants (kind of based upon the mutant gypsy vacuum cleaner mechanicule) for a $35 contribution. Thinking about little cast glass tiles of these as well. Those would probably be $50. Here's a closeup of a pendant, maybe about inch and a half wide. I was trying to understand why I liked them, and then realized they kind of look like Klingon warships:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I make it a point to experience extreme weather. Yesterday, we had subzero (Fahrenheit) temperatures, and, as is my wont when we get this kind of weather, I went out for a walk.

It's not a point of pride or anything. It's not about dip-shit stoic macho extreme sport outward bound wilderness braggadocia crap. I'm not going to do the polar bear club thing. I'm not going to jump into ice water naked (although I do like the rush of jumping in a snow bank from a sauna or hot tub, but only if you get to go back into the sauna or hot tub).

I'm not going to brag about being a Northern type adapted for the cold, because that's not true. Why, even Siberians and Inuits aren't really adapted for the cold. No one is adapted for the cold. You don't thrive in Arctic conditions. You don't develop an advanced culture or a rich panoply of leisure activities. You merely survive. So, bragging about going out in the cold as an extreme experience is really kind of stupid.

No, I think I do it for the novelty, and like people who go on safari in Africa, there's only the suggestion of risk in doing it. (The stupid stuff, I got out of my system as a kid). I go out well prepared, with zero or no risk to my core temperature, and even less to extremity exposure. So, aside from exposure to my face, it was a very comfy walk in subzero temperatures. It was fun. The air was fresh and super sweet. The taste buds embedded in my lungs were having a good time enjoying the minty freshness of arctic air.

I can remember when I was a kid, we'd have at least two weeks of subzero weather at this time of year. Now, we are lucky to get a day or two of it. Did I say lucky? There may come a day, sooner rather than later, when temperatures getting to near freezing may be a novelty. Then I guess I'll have to move to Finland.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thermal Nuclear Rockets

Lately, there was fluff piece about how the White House addressed - tongue in cheek - a petition to build a Death Star. How cute.

Meanwhile, real people have put together a real petition (that doesn't involve wizards and laser blasters and like that) to restart the thermal nuclear rocket project.

I signed it. I want you to consider signing it. Here's why.

When you consider that the $770 billion spent on bailing out Wall Street fat cat's bad wagers could have put the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise - fully stocked, crewed, and fueled to explore the Solar System on a five year mission - into near Earth orbit, then you have to admit that we as a species need to aim for loftier goals than we currently have. Which is, what? Making sure rich people stay rich, I guess.

One small portion of the 100,000 Year Project should be having the option open (granted rather a long-shot of an option) for human beings to able to live off planet. One of the requirements for this is some kind of nuclear rocket. The technology is proven, the technology is sound. It can be improved still further so that the risks of a nuclear rocket crash are minimized.

There is no such thing as zero risk. No guts, no glory. Like, we should build the Nautilus X, only ten times as big. Maybe fifty times as big, crewed by 300 to go to Jupiter in a month. (I built a scale model of this Pilgrim Observer when I was a kid, and fully expected to crew it when I was an adult. Silly me.)

I say go for it. What say you?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Generals gathered in their masses-

- I can't see nothin' without glasses!"

Ozzy Osbourne never sang that, but I just did. I got glasses. I had to get glasses, My eyes were getting bad.

I've always had good eyesight. Like, eagle eye, fighter pilot, astronaut kind of eyesight. Most everyone goes through the nearsighted phase, the cheaters at 40 phase, and I did as well. But I never figured I would need glasses. Well, my last road trip down to Indiana convinced me to get some glasses. Road signs were getting blurry, even from a short distance.

So, off to the eye doctor. He had read the chart, and no, I had no problem reading the tiniest line. But then he had me use just one eye, and when I covered my left and used my right... Holy Cow! I couldn't even read the third line of five! All this time, my miraculously complex visual cortex had been compensating. I guess that's why it occupies nearly a third of your brain, to do all that fantastic visual magic that allows to see the world seamlessly.

So, $435!!!! dollars later, I got glasses. Now I look like a grandpa. It's strange and takes some getting used to. Like living in a fishbowl. I actually felt a little queasy for a bit. And I can't wear my glasses too close to my face, because my lovely long lashes brush up against the lenses. And I'm obviously a vain person, because I seem to be the only that notices I have glasses now.

On the plus side, I can see again. I'm back to my old driving habit of driving a mile ahead of me (because now I can see a mile ahead of me), and I am surprised at how closed in my world had gotten.

Wow. Next stop, cataract surgery, I guess. In about thirty years.

Friday, January 4, 2013

More 2013 Prognostications: A Lot of Negativity

Most people do not understand the power or the process of the third derivative, let alone the second.

Let me explain. In calculus, you have these things called derivatives which take the pulse of mathematical equations. The briefest example is motion.

Something standing still at a position X on an x-axis at time T on the t-axis is said to be, by Newton and probably Leibniz, at rest. Were we to figure out it's velocity, which is the first derivative of it's equation of motion, it would be zero. The first derivative, velocity, is nothing more than the change of position during some duration, often denoted as dx/dt. If we push this something, so that suddenly it is moving, we have accelerated it, and this is the second derivative - the change of velocity over time.

Right then and there we should pause for a moment. An example of acceleration is gravity, which, through the mystery of the Almighty, or random chance, acts uniformly over all things within it's force field. And thus, under airless conditions, a hammer and a feather will fall accelerate at the same rate.

What else accelerates? Well, it turns most every process that involves even the slightest external force - nonlinear external force - will have some acceleration in it. And when the slightest external force provides just the right little touch, you get what is called an inflection point, or a tipping point to you Malcolm Gladwell fans.

Okay, next up, the third derivative. If acceleration is the change of the change, then the third derivative, called "jerk" or "jolt" or "surge" or "lurch" is the change of the change of the change of position.  If you've ever ridden a rollercoaster, or suffered whiplash in a car accident, you understand the third derivative.

The fourth derivative, the change of the change of the change of the change, is called "jounce". The fifth and sixth are called "crackle" and "pop", and the seventh and eighth are called "lock" and "drop". Humorous and whimsical as all these sound, you definitely do not want to experience them, considering a hefty application of even the second derivative can turn you to jelly.

What's the fucking point here?

Well, let's talk about climate change for a second. I can tell you right off that, unlike Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dreams, I don't have no lean cows eating fat cows to use as a visual to interpret. All I got is pictures of lost ice and spreading desert. Neither is particularly sufficient to justify a trend. And I am a little leery of trend analysis. But, looking at the data, I have to conclude that a second derivative is now in full operation global climate wise, and probably we can expect a third derivative operation before the decade is out.

How bad you ask? Well, depends, and depends upon the slightest of external forces.  But now it appears that the Big Squeeze is underway. People notice, to pick one place, the increasing urbanization of Africa. There is good reason for this, and only partly due to the attraction of big city life.

The Kalahari seems to have decided to move south and east. The Sahara (and Sahel) seems to have decided to move north. Good for Nigeria and the Congo, not so good for Spain, Italy, and Greece, but I can't have sympathies (for now) for a place so distant. I've said before that the US Southwest is screwed, and that's seems to be a given, and that is a moderate concern if only because all of the reverse Okies, the displaced pampered snowbirds and rednecks will soon annoy all the rest of us Yankees and Canucks.

But the Big Squeeze is firmly in place now, what with drought areas heading north, and ice melting up north. Good for people who invest in hoverbarge stock, but not so good for people who think they can just migrate north in the upper latitudes to get away from the lack of water. Once all that ice melts, once that permafrost is water, that's all swamp and mud. No place to live, son, not with all those giant sub-Arctic mosquitoes now carrying malaria.

So, gonna be unpleasant for some people. Me, as an ice ape, being one of them. Especially when that third derivative kicks in. My guess? No land ice in fifty years. No permanent ice caps in fifty years. Sea level rise of forty feet in one decade. All the disaster movie stuff that your vengeful little heart could desire.

I'm probably wrong. I hope I'm wrong. But I got a feeling I just have a hard time shaking. But, to be on the safe side, I'll flip a coin.

Heads. Ah! Nothing to worry about. Everything will be fine. Or at least no worse than the Eemian.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Prognostications

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you had as good a holiday as I did. I got to see family and friends, friends that are family, and had a spa experience to boot. The only fly in the ointment is the post-holiday blahs, looking at the long stretch of cold, dark, grey winter ahead. But it's only bad when I think  of it that way. Before I know it, it will be late winter, which is tolerable, at least. And, on the bright side of things, the short day is behind us, and the days are getting longer.

Forgive if this essay is disjointed or incomplete. I've a limited time window for typing, and this is all worst than first draft stuff here. Don't even get a chance to think.

In any case, I'm thinking about what's in store for 2013. I pride myself on being hip, but as it turns out, that's a false conceit. I haven't been hip since at least 1977, if then, and probably for about two weeks. (I was also beautiful then, which was good). But I do try to follow trends, or predict them, but the thing I am interested in is not the obvious trends, but the game changers, the things coming out of left field. My record is about as good as a coin flip.

There are a number of things piling up in the left field bleachers that should spill out and, I guessing maybe this year.

Various people are predicting this as the year of 3D Printing. I've noticed it for about five years. It really popped into my consciousness just this past year, what with Makerbot, and the Thingiverse, and Shapeways on the acceleration curve. Which means, since I am not hip, that 2012 was teh year of the 3D printer. Now, I don't think these things will end up on desktops. I do think you will start to see franchises like copycenters opening up. I still don't understand why there is not a 3D printer facility at the UPS and Fedex hubs in Louisville and Memphis. But I'm betting this year there will be, because...

Logistics, logistics, logistics! This is the year of all things logistic. You are going to be tired of that word when the giant comet arrives next this December. Because things are picking up, and things and materiel gotta be moved around.

I am predicting the World Go Boom. Economically speaking. A two pronged boom has been occuring and will accelerate. You got the developing world boom, and it is quite something. The beauty and problem with that is that you get only a one-time boom when a coutnry goes through development. So, the problem is doing it right the first time out. It's not going to happen in most places. (Not that there aren't still plenty of places to go boom. Myanmar is looking promising, but then what? I don't know). The second prong is the convergence of cheap robots (Rodney Brook's Baxter looks like a winner), Internet coordinations (by what Bruce Sterling calls "the Stacks", but there is hope open-source still can blossom), and finally we get to use all that fiber optics that have been laid down. So the second boom is developed world automation - again.

But don't count out leveraged booms. I'm guessing cheap solar continues to get cheaper, and the logical place for that is the developed world. So once again, I call ou attention to Africa. Maybe this is the year wher saying "It's Africa, stupid" comes true.

So, believe it or not, despite all the horseshit, I don't see how things can't improve economy-wise.

(The coin came up tails, by the way).