Friday, June 28, 2013

Creepy-ass Cracker

I certainly don't consider this racist, any more than I would "creepy-ass douchebag", or "creepy-ass cocksucker". The fact that the term was used in the context it was used in makes it abundantly clear to all except tiny-brained, creepy-ass, douchebag, cocksucking crackers that want to make it an issue about race, which it is not. It's slang. Get over it, bitches. In fact, I plan on using the term as often as I can, for a little while, even to people who aren't white (if I am in that situation where I can do that).

You want to see a truly creepy, creepy-ass cracker? Here you go:

This was made by a ten-year-old student in the summer craft program here at Harper.

On a few occasions, I've watched the show called "Adventure Time", and this ceramic bunny reminds a little of that. A quick google search tells me the closest approach is a fan-fiction alternate-sex character called "Fiona", as in "Fiona and Cake". When Fiona is excited or infuriated, her eyes become big blue dots.
Image courtesy of

Ever notice that there are no people of color (I mean non-white colorful people), in the post-apocalyptic world of Adventure Time? What's that about?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Do Not Habilitate

About two years ago, I wrote a short essay called "Is it too late to rehabilitate the Gadsden Flag?" I asked the question, but never answered it. A certain Mister DeVega of We Are Respectable Negroes, asked to expand into a guest blog, which I did, to mixed reviews. In particular, there was some commenter named Deb who basically accused me of white-washing history and being a racist in denial.

This irritated me, as I thought I had said that history was white-washed and I was a racist (as is everyone in America, most especially her included). And so, at the time, I did what Fred Sanford would sometimes do when confronted with a shrill tirade from that wretched old termagant, Aunt Esther, which was to ignore her, turn away and growl to himself.

But the thing is, you don't get irritated unless there's something to get irritated about, which was, yes, I was bothered by the past behavior of my native lands. It's true I and my family, recent arrivals, and duly exploited, had nothing to do with the unpleasantness of the 18th and early 19th centuries, but we were, still, by virtue of being white, indirectly rewarded by past injustices.

I realize what evils our country has committed (some of the most barbarous acts ever, in history), but was hopeful that, when the balance sheet was composed, with all the pros and cons of America tallied, coupled with what seemed to be social progress, that maybe in the future our country might actually live up to the ideals it set for itself.  Ah, but see, that was mere trending, which doesn't mean spit. And nowadays it appears we are going through our delayed version of Soviet Empire collapse, via top-heavy capitalist excess threatening to capsize the whole market economy. (No, really, have you noticed how increasingly cheap and shoddy everything is becoming? Seems like it's only a matter of time before Americans face empty shelves and are waiting in line for toilet paper).

But if you go back and look at the early history of the United States of America, you can't help but notice the places of power were populated by dicks. (And I am going with Louis CK's definition of "dick", e.g slaverholder = dick). Seriously, how could Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence, and looking out out his window at his field hands, his human property, not realize he was a complete dick? And it turns out old Gadsden, Christopher Gadsden was a dick as well. Not only him, but his whole family and descendants (right on down and past his grandson, buddy of that enormous asshole Andrew Jackson, who facilitated the extinction of southeastern indigenous peoples, and finagled a purchase from Mexico after a trumped up war) were every single one of them a dick.

Okay, so I'm ready to answer the question. Not only can the Gadsden flag not be rehabilitated, it should never have even have been habilitated.

Fuck that yellow snake flag, and the ignorant, amateurish clowns who have lately appropriated it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Newfound Radioactive Powers

I misunderstood. I thought I was to undergo outpatient surgery today, and found out that this was merely a renal scan to check kidney function.

Well, there was no merely about it. It set me back $1200. They injected a dilute solution of technitium-99m-L,L-ehtylenedicystein into my veins, and then a gamma ray camera recorded the secret workings of innards. Technetium, as you are all aware, is the only element that has no stable isotope. It must therefore be manufactured - usually by neutron capture of molybdenum, the generator often being called a "molybdenum cow". I have partaken of its milk.

The technician was a very pleasant man of Indian extraction, and was therefore very hard to understand. At one point, he told me he going to administer me with a "Lasik", which I thought was a nice touch. But it turned out that was a diuretic which made me pee like a racehorse for the next hour or so.

"Girish" was the man's name. I plan on giving him high marks when I receive the evaluation card in the mail. In fact, I've had nothing but good experiences with Northwest Community Hospital, where the test, and many other outpatient procedures, have been performed on me.

So, that wasn't all that bad. I'm radioactive for the 24 hours. Not sure what to do with my newfound powers.

Perhaps I will go visit airport security.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Plutonium Babies

Thank goodness for the Battle of Jutland, say some scientists. Whenever they need steel uncontaminated by radioisotopes, they've got several thousand tons of steel at the bottom of the North Sea, ready for specialty instruments or sensors.

That's the problem living post-1945, we are all contaminated. Some more than others. I remember getting away with that excuse on one occasion with my Dad, who, having taken offense to some stupid teenage behavior, was amused, or at least distracted with the excuse I came up with: "What do you expect? I'm a plutonium baby, dad! I was irradiated in the womb by atmospheric tests!"

Which is true. All of us have something inside of us. Some more than others. It would seem, based upon what was dumped on whom, that the federal government of the United States of America has a particular ax to grind against those citizens of the Mormon persuasion. (See: fallout from Nevada tests, and the Idaho National Laboratory reactor tests sites).

(And, no, this essay is not an attempt to mollify the "Market good, government bad" troglodytes out there. It is, like the prior essay, an attempt to recognize empirical facts, to deal with reality. The US government, like the people it represents, can be an awfully nasty entity).

So, remember Three Mile Island? How every little flipper-limbed jellyhead that could squirt out a little brown stain in public or on the media did so? And how much radiation was released? How many people died? Answers: hardly any, and zero.

Ah, but let's talk about all the bomb tests from 1946 through 1980. Shit, there was a period in the 1950s where the military was like a bunch goofy little kids with firecrackers. What to blow up next? What NOT to blow up next? Above ground? Underground? Underwater? In space! On barges, on tops of towers, suspended from balloons, you name it. At least, globally half a gigaton of explosions.

How many tons of radioisotopes have been distributed globally, to be found in everything alive, from the bones of Yanomami Indians deep in the Amazon, to whale blubber in the Antarctic? The mind boggles.

Of course, my favorite is the unofficially named Wiener Roast experiment. The Air Force, determined to build a nuclear plane, and not for any strategic or defense reasons, but solely and selfishly to be part of the cool nukes club, decided they needed to find out what would happen if a nuclear powered plane crashed. As reported in Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History, by Todd Tucker:
"To simulate this catastrophe, the Air Force in the summer of 1958  designed a series of experiments  in which they burned to a crisp a series of used nuclear fuel elements in open air. The official name of the experiment was the Fission Products Field Release Test, but it was soon informally dubbed Operation Wiener Roast. Previous crude experiments... had burned highly radioactive, used fuel elements in a section of airplane fuselage filled with kerosene, but the temperatures achieved were not sufficient to melt the fuel elements. For Wiener Roast, a special induction furnace was constructed, and in nine separate experiments highly radioactive used fuel elements were incinerated, and a wide, club-shaped swath of contamination was soon mapped in detail across the NRTS... The Wiener Roast experiments were in some ways emblematic of the Air Force's efforts throughout the 1950s. They generated huge amounts of radiation, employed hundreds of scientists, engineers, and servicemen, and generated thousands of pages detailing an effort that was, in its own way, dramatic and impressive. The experiments did not, however, in any discernible way, get the world any closer to a nuclear-powered airplane".
The Air Force effort cost some one billion dollars over the course of nearly thirteen years (1946-1958). Amortized today, that is roughly $12 billion. Your tax dollars at work!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Stone In My Shoe

I really should just leave this one alone. Especially as I'll be out of touch and not able to address any responses to this immediately.

It's such a little thing, it really isn't worth the bother. The fact that I can't just goes to show the exponential growth cycle of mildly irritating things into annoying kind of big things. And the annoying kind of big thing this reminds me of is the ongoing rage and dread that seethes through the American right of both conservative and libertarian stripe, this thirty-on-year temper tantrum of us Americans not doing what is best for us. Yeah, where have I heard that before?

Seemingly intelligent people, or people possessed of compartmentalized intelligence, operate under the worldview that there are two camps within this country: the hardworking productive elite, and the indolent masses leeching off their labor through confiscatory taxes and transfer programs.

And, since clearly this not only probably immoral but - even more obscene - irrational and inefficient, various Candyland proposals are put forth as viable alternatives.

Take, for example, this prime piece of idiocy. Coffee sharing. Isn't that nice? That reeking homeless guy, lying about in his own waste products, can now walk into your tony, trendy coffee place get himself a free cup of coffee courtesy of free market agents!

 Do I consider the idea of suspended coffee, as it is called, idiotic? No, I consider the idea that somehow:
The answer is simple, it cuts out the middleman of government & the compulsion of law and instead uses unregulated markets and the goodness of people's hearts.
"It" being the act of charity known as suspended coffee. So, the beautiful thing about the quoted sentence is how many logical and empirical fallacies are implicitly embedded within it, and uttered without even the slightest effort at evaluating the scheme as somehow truly eliminating middlemen or the threat coercion, but somehow appealing to the efficiencies and generosities that are so evident every here on planet Earth, the Nice Nice Planet.

No, really, let's think about this for a second. Anyone who has spent any time at all working in the retail world knows that two items are guaranteed to produce a profit with the minimum of effort or added value are: coffee and eggs. I could point out the obvious and remark that it is extremely difficult to survive on coffee alone, but since approximately the same markup is involved between coffee and eggs, it really doesn't matter whether we use Denny's or Starbucks as our supply chain model.

So let's use Starbucks. On average, the typical markup on a cup of coffee is about 300%. Meaning that 3 dollar cup of suspended coffee you so generously provided that bum at Starbucks could have been made at your house for 25 cents. Good thing there is no government middleman there to crank the price up even higher! Oh, and wait, that coffee Starbucks purchased was through an unregulated market, right? Well, once upon a time it might have been, back in the 1980s before coffee growers banded together. But coffee is a regulated market, voluntarily regulated by growers. Because why, class? What happens to prices in an unregulated market, class? They fluctuate wildly. That's right! So, middlemen like Starbucks can take advantage of inefficient information exchange (arbitrage) and purchase exemptions (lowballing, blackmail, conspiracy) to drive the market to their advantage (bankrupt poor farmers and extract unfair prices from the survivors).  Boy, it's a good thing those poor farmers (or anyone that supplies a product) aren't coerced or compelled in any way towards their ruination.

Speaking of coercion, how can anyone buy into the argument that taxation is theft? If taxation is coercion, a denial of choice, then what is profit? Wait. Aren't both a social contract? Isn't taxation more like membership dues? The classic argument is the market presents a choice, whereas taxation does not. Really? That's a red herring, of course. You have a choice in whatever you do. What they really mean in invoking that logical fallacy is: they want a choice with no important consequences.

You have a choice not to pay taxes. Should you be expected to enjoy the privileges incurred through the social contract of taxation, such as rule of law, protection of private property through defense, basic human services like water and roads, weather reports, clean food, no poisons in your medicines, things like that? You can leave the country, go someplace where you don't have to pay taxes.  You can also go out into the market and try and pay for a product that has no markup. Let me know when you fulfill that choice.

Hopefully, you get the idea. This the problem with libertarians. They are un-communists, in that they refuse to accept any empirical evidence that disproves their utopian social theories.

Now, this is not a "government good, markets bad" simplistic argument as the reverse is too often employed by the sanctimonious right. The fact of the matter is, this version of charity is neither efficient nor non-compulsory. Someone is always coercing you into doing one or another thing in the real world. The principle of nonaggression is a cloud-cuckoo fantasy. Anyone who lives in the United States of America, where indigenous peoples were aggressively booted off their land, and foreign peoples of a certain skin tone were compelled to work against their will, had better recognize the right of conquest/the absurdity of the principle of non-aggression or prepare to be mercilessly poked fun of.

Hey, speaking of charity, I think the point being made really boils down to this:
The solution is ideal. It gives the person donating the money complete control. 
Do they mind that an executive of a company might use their money (the money they worked so hard for, and exchanged for a product) to buy cocaine or child-porn, or importing sex slaves? What's the difference? Is it still their money? And money they give to the government, that's still their money? Nonsense!

Ah, see? The keywords I highlighted in the above quote. Complete Control. That's really what it is all about isn't it?  I think it because of that little authoritarian, that little Hitler, that lurks within conservatives and libertarians. Never mind that that money they want to control is no longer theirs. After all, that's the idea of a gift, right? There are plenty of aid organizations that allow them to control how their money is spent. They can choose to contribute to that, but this doesn't absolve them of the responsibilities of living in a society. See, this suggests to me that they ultimately really don't like democracy or trust people. They want you to do what you are told.

And that's a big thing. Cute enough in the infantile realm of two- to three-year olds. Evil in an adult realm.

Friday, June 21, 2013

New Cast Glass

Fresh out of the kiln. I kept notes. Here's the final shot first:

Fresh out of the kiln. I am not entirely displeased with Mutant Gypsy Vacuum Cleaner. The gradation of color is a little ham-handed, and I didn't quite stay within the lines in the transition between figure and background. It is what it is, and I'll not modify my techniques too much. I could cast the mechanicules separately and then embed them in a new casting, but I'm sticking with the plan.

The glass is all from Bullseye Glass Company. Ready? I kept notes.  Background color, which I dig, is a layer of True Blue coarse frit, backed by transparent frit, about 50/50 by volume. Figures were backed with transparent frit to avoid color changes.

Figures were Canary Yellow, Orange, Red powder, backed by medium grade Red frit.

The investment mix was 2 parts 325 mesh silica flour to 1 part #1 potter's plaster by weight, and 2 parts dry mix powder to 1 part water by weight.

Firing schedule was:

  • 150F/hr to 400F, hold for 48 hours
  • 50F/hr to 950F
  • 100F/hr to 1550, hold for 6 hours
  • AFAP to 1260, hold for 2hrs
  • 150F/hr to 900F, hold for 12 hours
  • 3F/hr to 800F
  • 5F/hr to 700F
  • 18F/hr to 100F

Explanation: The investment mix ratios and firing schedule are what work for me. I have consistently had good results with this. The mix is a little dense and soft compared to most, but it is simple and easy to remember, and works for me. The firing schedule (aside from the back end which was for a 3" thick casting using Bullseye annealing schedule, The reason I used the 3" thick schedule, even though the glass was 2" thick maximum was because the thickness was not uniform (background glass in about 3/4" thick). is slow compared to most, but I rarely get cracks in the mold, and so it works for me. This time out, I was very surprised to find a crack. Judging from the flashing, it must have happened on the down ramp after the casting soak. Eh, so what.

See the crack?

Decanted from mold, not cleaned up yet.

Investment scrubbed off before bead blasting

Backlit glass
I'm going to put it into a frame later, and perhaps put a mirror behind the glass for a partial backlighting.

I've also finished rigging up some more machinerettes for bronze casting in a coffee can mold (same investment material as the glass):

So, the funny thing is, the sense of urgency I've felt about getting all this stuff done by the end of August is now compounded by the fact that I have a little health problem. Turns out that pulled muscle in my lower back was not a pulled muscle, but an obstruction in the ureter of my left kidney. There's a cyst impacting it, which caused the kidney to swell up with urine to the size of a grapefruit or something. And then, Tuesday morning, in some of the worst belly pain I've ever had, to the point of nausea and puking, I drove myself to the emergency room. After an MRI, it was determined that my left kidney had basically exploded and sent a gush of urine into the abdominal cavity, thus causing the belly pain. So, I'm operating on one kidney, and I'm scheduled for outpatient surgery next Tuesday with a urologist. He will probably put a stent in my ureter. Worst case involves removing the kidney, and I will definitely be wanting a second opinion on that shit.

In the meantime, I'm on Vicodin and tylenol and seem to be handling it OK. We'll see. So, I'm trying to get as much shit done as I can before Tuesday morning.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Arithmetic of Interstellar Travel Revisited

I gave the subject short shrift, but considering I was a little busy at the time, I forgive myself.

As Quiggin pointed out, sending 10,000 colonists to a planet 1200 light years away requires a multi-generational ship that can survive in interstellar space. Any civilization with that ability has no need of planets. I'll go further and say that any ship that can survive in interstellar space must not only be self-sustaining and self-repairing, it must by definition be not only a world unto itself, but a world that can self-replicate. In which case, all such a ship needs is a decent energy flux and some mass to exist and reproduce. Planets? Nebulae will work as well. Dust clouds. Ah, but with one slight proviso, that I'll get to in a minute.

Well, fact is sending canned ape to the stars is probably the worst idea ever conceived. If it happens, and I doubt it will, it's going to be robots that do it. Or some unknown magical technology that various speculative fiction authors have played with.

But let's get to the more interesting possibility of 10,000 colonists on the Moon by 1978. As I once pointed out, there were plans to continue lunar exploration. But the fact is, no plausible scenario can be created that would have resulted in a lunar base. Public interest simply wasn't there. Even the one demographic which was supersaturated into a maximal sugar high - the youth of the 1960s - couldn't sustain any realistic interest. And the Mundanes - the lumpen-proles drinking beer and watching black and white television shows - displayed the appropriate interest at the appropriate time (the Apollo 11 moon landing), and then moved on. Perhaps, if, say, we were a sane species, and had not invested some tens of trillions of dollars in mutual assured destruction, perhaps there might have been room for a moonbase in the 1970s, but that was not to be. So, the social incentive was not there, could never have been there, unless it had turned out that something remarkable was out there that was worth investigating/exploiting/avoiding.  You know, TMA-1, extraterrestrial amazon babes, or moon dust gives men giant stiffies, or some such thing.

Interesting thing, though, about that MAD program. As Neal Stephenson points out (as pointed out to him by Dr. Jordin Kare), you don't get the Moon Stunt without the insanity, or at least a semi-improbable series of events that results in rockets big enough to hurl large payloads into orbit contingent upon:
1) Mid-20th century world's most technologically advanced nation under absolute control  of superweapon-obsessed madman develops rockets
2)  Astonishing advent of atomic bombs at exactly the same time
3)  A second great power dominated by secretive, superweapon-obsessed dictator
4) Nuclear/strategic calculus militating in favor of ICBMs as delivery system
5) Geographic situation of adversaries necessitating that ICBMs have near-orbital capability
6) Manned space exploration as propaganda competition, unmoored from realistic cost/benefit discipline
That's Stephenson presentation. Allow me a different wording. Nazi Germany creates basic rocket technology which cannot hit shit. America creates fission bombs using 1930s theory and 1920s technology. Stalin threatens to lop off heads if he doesn't get both technologies for his birthday. Rockets and H-bombs are a marriage made in heaven as rocket's guidance systems can barely hit the broad side of a city, H -bombs are only good for destroying cities. Mutual targets in the USA and USSR require rockets that can reach orbit. Other things the size of H-bombs, like communications satellites and space capsules can be launched. As a result, the Apollo program is the greatest triumph of Communism ever.

(And, of course, let's not forget the burgeoning computational and data processing industries, created by the Federal government due to the fact that targeting cities with H-bomb using 1930s-style electronic brains with vacuum tubes and switchboards was horrendously inaccurate and wasteful, much more sophisticated electronic computers were required to the job, thus subsidizing all of those libertarian code-monkeys literally into existence, but that's for another time).

It would seem that had the original Apollo program been carried through, with ten moon landings, followed by a semi-permanent lunar base, followed by a more permanent lunar laboratory, there was a chance that many of the things we know now (water on the moon), would have made a colonizing effort more palatable. Ignoring the total lack of public support, could it have been done? Could a colony of 10,000 have been established by 1978.

The answer is yes. But a qualified yes. I'll not go into the space geek stuff. Clearly, turning Detroit into Rocket City, getting launch costs down through an economy of scale from cranking out space ships like sausages, is believe it or not, the easy part. (And think of what Detroit would look like today? Wow!) Again the greatest difficulty about building nuclear rockets is not the technical aspect but the legal and diplomatic ramifications of having the danged things fly over your airspace. That kind of technical wanking, though fascinating is actually the minor part.

The biggest problem is all the deaths. If prior colonization efforts are to be used as comparison (most fairly successful under more or less optimal conditions of having air to breath and water to drink), then perhaps the closest analogy to a permanent moon colony would be the distastrous colonizing history of Jamestown. Famine, inclement weather, hostile natives, resulted in about a 80% mortality rate for English colonists. I would expect the same for Moon colonists. So, to get 10,000 hearty souls to thrive on the Moon by 1978, I would expect at least 50,000 Americans must die. Well, what's that? Less than World War I, more than Vietnam. Could Americans accept that death toll without hostilities to justify it? I kind of doubt it.

And then, that proviso I mentioned? There's the really big bugaboo, the elephant in the room that no one really wants to address. You know the basic rule of real estate? Well, in space exploration, it's radiation, radiation, radiation.

The average stay on the ISS is about 200 times as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for a year. I don't know if that's true, but it can't be far off. And living on the Moon is not that much different. Oh sure, you can live underground, but it's amazing how living 100 miles at the bottom of an ocean of air can protect you from all those really nasty things that a Moon bunker can't protect you from. Cosmic rays - near-light-speed atomic particles, gamma rays, shit like that, just tears right through you. It would seem, if you want to exist in space, you would like to come up with some type of material substrate for consciousness that eats gamma rays for breakfast, that actually thrives on being composed of unstable nuclei. Robots won't hack it. Conventional electronics get fried. What's a boy to do?  I don't know, but no conventional matter will last long on the lunar surface. You got to dig down, like way down, like kilometers down below the surface. Have fun with that.

Which, of course, addles your already insane cost/benefit calculations. Bummer.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rasta Johnny Hempseed

A fellow artist creates wigs for performances. I helped her document in exchange for pictures of me wearing it. Funny thing is, about forty years ago, this was pretty close to reality. Except I was a blonde.

Yes, I was beautiful once... for about two weeks in 1975. Now I just look like a goofy old guy wearing a wig.

From Scratch?

The cast glass is here! The cast glass is here! Things are going to start happening to me now!

I know preppers get a lot of shit with their doom-monger end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-is-a-coming reputations, but I can sympathize with them. A lot of them are just planning for emergencies. Considering retail stores carry only three days worth of food, it makes sense to prepare for a two to four week delay in the supply chain. Any longer than that seems pointless though. If conditions are such that you need a year's or a decade's worth of supplies, I figure that will be the least of your worries.

But I appreciate the just-in-case attitude. I myself am a prepper, but in a different way. Some people collect things, like wristwatches or Bugattis. Me, I collect skills. I figure that puts me way ahead of most preppers that are just stockpiling (but I'm guessing most also value survival skills). Me, I value not survival skills, which really for a generalist scavenger/predator such are ourselves is almost second nature and easy to pick up, but civilizational survival skills.

So, when uglyblackjohn mentioned that I make stuff... from scratch, well, that isn't exactly true, but it makes for a good exercise. What if I did want to make one of my bronze pieces literally from scratch? What would be the ground rules here?

Well, actually, in post-apocalyptic world, with all of our trashed stuff laying around, metals already smelted and purified, tools at hand, probably some fuel and generator and electricity available, well, that's just too easy. How about we eliminate the majority of conveniences that the modern web of technology places before us? I'm figuring setting the wayback machine to partly 1830 or so, with bits going back to, say, 5000BCE.

That means, here I am, 20 miles west of Chicago, with no tools, no metal, no coke or coal or oil or gas, no electricity, and I am to make a bronze critter. What do I got to do?

I'll need metal, for starters. A kiln or furnace. A smelter. Wax. Tools. Fuel. That's the minimum.

Let's start with metal. The bronze we use is Everdur, 94% copper, 4% silicon, 2% manganese, a marine bronze noted for it's resistance to corrosion. Aside from public works, it's also used for ship's propellors among many other things. I can't make that. I can probably make the old ancient bronze which is 60% copper, 40% tin. Where would I find. Here where I am, bedrock is a good hundred feet down underneath glacial till, clay and sand, and the bedrock that is there is limestone. Not much use even if I could get to it. The clay and sand I will take, as I will need that for my kiln and/or furnace.

Well, guess what, I don't know where there is a ready source. It would seem that knowing skills is not enough, knowing other people that do know this shit would be better. (So, where's Mister Dee Ray Metallica when you need him?)

It seems my do it yourself project has already evolved into a do it with others project. Funny that.

Well, actually, I do know the UP of Michigan has very nice veins of copper, parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota as well. I might have to google where I can find tin stone ore, but as it so happens, younger brother spent some time on Isle Royale in the middle of Lake Superior (he is fascinated with moose and wolves), and he told me there are both copper and tin mines on that island. Great!

Not so great! How the fuck am I going to get there? I could a raft out of logs, but, uh, hmm, ship building is not in my skill set. I can ride a horse, so that's gets me up to the shore of the lake at least in short amount of time, and let's haul shit without ruining my back. I just have to find a horse, and then find someone who can help with the boat.

Okay, let's assume somehow that all worked out and here I am back in Illinois with a couple dozen pounds of ore. (One the assumption that I only need about two pounds of bronze). Do I know how to smelt copper and tin? No. Shit. Better find someone who does. Let's assume I do.

I suppose I'm going to have help out making the smelter, which I would assume could be done in a sealed sagger in a wood fired kiln just like you make wootz steel. So, I can make charcoal. I can do that. I can build a kiln from sand and clay. Where do I get the tools?

Some tools I could make out of wood, but I would prefer metal. I don't have any metal. Perhaps a handaxe, or a stone chopper. I don't how to knap flint. I suppose I could learn it, but I'm told it's harder than it looks to get a good stone tool. Jesus, I've pushed my tech date back two million years, haven't I?

Alright, so let's say I got my stone axes, and sicles, and blades, and knives, and I've cut wood, and carved tools, and dug clay and heaped sand, and my connections have provided me with ingots of bronze, and I'm ready to go, right?

I need wax to shape for the lost wax process (which, thankfully, I know how to do using the Old Skool process still used in West Africa of dipping wax into a clay slurry and sprinkling with sand to make a stucco, dry, repeat, then fire out the wax). I currently use microcrystalline wax, which is a petroleum byproduct made by skimming off the solids from a vacuum distillation process. I got no petroleum. I got  no still. I got no engine to create a vacuum. I don't how to make any these, not easily. By trial and error, sure.

Maybe instead, I should use bees wax. That I'm sure I can find. Probably got stung a lot, but...

Okay now I'm set. Ready to melt metal and cast my piece. And all it took was a few years and either a lot of barter, or a lot of labor, probably far more labor than I had ever anticipated.

Modern society rules.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An Observation Continued

My brother has a dog, a Boston terrier, which is, I'm sure, convinced that I'm a total idiot. It's His sole purpose in life is to have fun playing catch. When I show up, it he approaches with a ratty old tennis ball in it's his mouth, which I refuse to take the clue. It He gets more and more frustrated and insistent until I finally give in and throw the ball. What took me so long? Clearly, I'm an idiot.

I'm sure cows must think the same thing. "Milk me, you idiot", they low to me. Similarly cats, chickens, pigeons, squirrels, and really almost any animal that has consistent contact with us must think that we are just as dumb as a box of rocks.

My surmise is, if or when hyperintelligent synthetic brains or computers are developed/spontaneously emerge, we humans will consider them fucking stupid as hell, complete dolts, clueless morons.

I'm sure the Roman plebes, the lower classes that worked for a living, must have felt the same towards the monied and propertied patricians. In the previous essay, on a revolt and secession of the laboring classes in Rome of the 5th century BCE, it was assumed that Gaius Menenius Agrippa's fable of the idle belly was about the patrician class. However, I have to ask the question if it was, or if the belly analogy was about the lower classes and an intestinal revolt?

Reason I ask that is Gaius seems to have a rather enlightened, clear-eyed, almost apologetic attitude toward his upper class compatriots, the idle rich, far too modern a view. My suspicion is the fable is a realization, an admission that the lower classes apparently serve a purpose within Roman society. Reason I say that is at the time, the patricians would have considered themselves the truly important portion of Roman society. They were, after all, the main military force used for defense of the homeland and expansion of the frontiers (Rome at the time relied upon private militias, and a standing army was far in the future), the priesthood and sole arbiter with the gods (propitiation of the gods took up an inordinately large amount of time in Roman society, and the aristocracy held all priestly positions, all ceremonial and auguring duties rested solely with them), a hereditary clientele/patronage system existed with the aristocrats calling the shots (job creators), and, of course, all publicly held lands were administered by the Senate (and obviously to promote the general welfare, all for the public good, right?). All in all, the plebs, the lower classes, were but mere scenery, the stage and sets upon which the real actors, the aristocracy performed. Part of the background to be ignored, and an absurdity that they should rebel at all, as if the very trees and rocks picked up and left! So, it must have seen exceedingly large-hearted and progressive in the extreme for Gaius to recognize the lowly proles might actually in some lazy fashion contribute to society after all.

At least that's my take, times being what they were.  Fast forward to the 17th century, and honestly, not much changed, did it? You still have the landed and monied class in a position of privilege, not really paying much attention to the sturdy yeoman farmers, laborers, and mechanics that naturally gave some form of support and sustainment to the Founding Fathers, granted, occasionally underfoot and annoyingly vocal, but useful, I suppose, in helping greater things to be accomplished. Say what you will about the efficacy of the Constitution, if is clearly a pre-industrial, medieval document written to assure and protect the rights and privileges of the American elites. Otherwise, why not support universal suffrage and egalitarianism - the voting rights of the property-less, the freeing of slaves, and granting of equal treatment to women and other undesirables? And that's all right there in the Constitution, right?

And that would, in turn, explain the fork in the road this nation took in 1857, when the twin competing stimulus packages (and visions) stood before Congress, of America as a slave empire, or America as an absorber of cheap peoples to run machines. It could have gone to the former. The South, for the first half of the 19th century, held all the cards in an America whose chief export - at least until 1914 - was agricultural produce. We forget that some of the richest people on the planet were Southern planters with enormous capital in land, produce, and slaves.

I've often wondered how that dark world would have played into the future, had the vision of slave empire come to pass. Would we as a nation still have a giant asshole on the twenty dollar bill? Or would he have moved up in denomination? I've no doubt America would be a banana republic, and certainly with a titled aristocracy. Would there now be foment and revolution and strife in our territories and dominions throughout the Western hemisphere? Or would that have happened in the 1920s? Or not all? Could it be that by now, as in Rome, some 40% of all American citizens would be slaves, with a market in nearly every town? Who can say? It's probably worth a book. But I can't see that world, despite all of our failings here, being better than our world.

 Of course, it was not meant to be. I've got to look to the Industrial Revolution for part of the change, although I've never bought into the economic argument that slavery was inefficient, considering modern statistics. I think the real kicker was the telegraph and the steam engine, which allowed modern bureaucracy and the corporate state.

Ever seen the nerves in primitive animals like the squid giant axon? The nerves are that big because they are not insulated, the leak electricity down the message path. Along come the glial cells, almost like some aliens from another planet, and encase the stodgy nerves in an amazing support system. Interestingly, the glial cells in our nervous system out number neurons about ten to one, about the same as plebs to aristos in ancient Rome, or common citizens to Revolutionary aristocrats statesmen. I'd like to make that my number, Kurman's number, like Dunbar's number, were it not so far off from present day's number of, what, 99 to 1?

Monday, June 10, 2013

An Observation

The founding fathers admired and emulated Rome - a republic that lasted, more or less, some 500 years before it devolved permanently into empire. This is not to say that the Roman republic had it's periods of suppression and despotism (and by modern standards, the whole of it's history was one long sordid affair).

Nevertheless, the trend in Rome, for a time, was increased democratization and the promotion of egalitarian sympathies.

Sometime in perhaps the fifth century BCE, a remarkable speech was given by a certain Gaius Menenius Agrippa, a member of the aristocracy, though of moderate views, and the speech went like this:

"Once upon a time, the members of the human body did not agree together,as they do now, but each had its own thoughts and words to express itself. All the various parts resented the fact that they should have the worry and trouble and sheer hard work of providing everything for the belly, which remained idly among them, with nothing to do except enjoy the pleasant things they gave it. The discontented members plotted together that the hand should carry no food to the mouth, that the mouth should accept nothing that was offered it and the teeth should refuse to chew anything. Because of their anger they tried to subdue the belly by starvation only to find that they all and the entire body wasted away. From this it was that clear that the belly did indeed have a useful purpose to perform. Yes, it receives food, but, by the same token, it nourishes other members and gives back to every part of the body, through its veins, the blood it made by the process of digestion. On this blood we live and thrive".

Now, what is this fable about? Is Gaius referring to the idle rich as the belly? Or the poor?

To put it in context, the republic had suffered a series of military setbacks that resulted in economic stagnation. The lower classes and laborers - the farmers and artisans, peasants, the poor and disadvantaged, suffering under crushing debt and other restrictions imposed upon them by the aristocrats, boycotted Rome. They literally abandoned the city, offering no violence or provocations, they went on strike, and left the upper classes to their own devices.

So, within the context, it is clearly the ruling elite that is the soft belly of Rome.

Would that speech be interpreted differently today, here in America, where the cultivated attitude towards the poor would seem to suggest that they sit idly by, living off of government largesse? And if so, how would this fable be received today?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Busy Little Creature

The glass is ordered, ships out Friday. Bullseye gave me a discount on the order. Very nice.

I have three plaster/silica glass molds ready to fill and fire. I just completed the wax for a fourth today.

This one I've been calling "Mushroomtron". Don't have a proper Linnaean binomial classification for it yet. I'll work on that. Here's another view of the wax:

Kind of reminds me of fossil crinoids.

I'll get the glass mold poured tomorrow and start on the wax for number five. With any luck, I'll be casting glass end of next week!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mechanicules and Machinerettes

This essay might skirt dangerously close to an artist's statement. Within the fictional construction/rationalization of creating all these little critters was the idea that they acted together as a community or consortium that in turn created a metabolism or quasi-stable non-equilibrial flux control system that allows fantasy machines to survive and thrive. Not having any expertise in biology or systems thinking or graph theory or networks pretty much guarantees that I will be fascinated by all that - but without having to do any of the heavy lifting. However, I do note that the trends in thinking about technology are shifting towards the worldview of living systems (see Kevin Kelly's thoughts about The Technium, or the fact that industry trend journals now regularly speak of technological ecosystems).

This makes sense as 1) technology is created by living systems, and 2) once tools get sophisticated enough, they enter the realm of behaviors inhabited by living systems. (I've talked about this before. Want to see what the Technological Singularity looks like? Study microbiology).

So, when I thought of making these little suckers, it was always in the sense of a community of things rather than individuals. And source topics would have to be the gut and its inhabitants (our Second Brain), or the neurovascular system of our brain and (all those weird - almost alien - glial cells that suffuse/support/supplement those stodgy neurons of ours). And it was always in the sense of a community of things that think (not individually, but collectively). So what are they thinking about, and what are they doing? I DON'T KNOW!

So, when I was making each of these things, either unconsciously, consciously but unwittingly, or wittingly but unintentionally, I was thinking of them as a group. And it kind of shows, what with each having either a tentacle or a grabber, or a handle of some type, or some way for them to be embedded together. And perhaps that's where I should go with them, just make a shitload and pile together in some kind of techno-biolfilm, a siliceous/mucilaginous layer of commensal sophistication.

Ooh. Eek! But still, not really all creepy, right? Or is it? maybe I'm unconsciously making plastic gyre trash.

In any case, that's probably what I should end up doing with the cast glass prepared slides. The bronzes seem to be trophies, stand alone dead representations of the mechanical creatures, but the cast glass slides, I'm thinking now, should be in vitro/vivo/situ community snapshots. Messy. Colorful. Alive. Populated.

Refractory mold waiting for the glass

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


I've talked about Bose-Einstein condensates before, and actually, kind of salivated over them, thinking that some Next Big Thing will result from them. And I think I've mentioned fermionic condensates as well. But I'd have to google myself on that topic, and I just don't have the time. So, at the risk of repeating myself, I think fermionic condensates might be big shit as well. (And fermionic condensates (FCs) would be like a degenerate electron gas, supercooled and paired up to behave themselves, but they can't unify the way a BEC does due to the Pauli exclusion principle. With me? Good).

Well, it occurs to be that, as long as you have your electrons all stacked in the available energy states, as in a supercooled example, then you get your FC. Of course, what's really required is that the electrons be stacked relative to each other. In other words, they don't need to be supercooled temperature-wise, they just have to be supercooled relative to each other's energy states. And, in fact, there is now a way to do that with tunable short-pulse beam of electrons that are moving at close to the speed of light. These "cool" relativistic beams of ultrashort pulses, done with a fucking really nice tight tuning mechanism, should produce relativistic fermionic condensates. And that, dearies, should make for some really awesome applications, like superconducting charges without the materials, I'm guessing. But then, if I thought of it, I sure others much, much smarter have as well. Stellar tectonics, anyone?

Okay, okay, time to cover my Kickstarter post-mortem. It was a success, but also a failure. It was failure in the sense that kickstarter is about strangers giving you monies for your project. That didn't happen with me. Friends, family, and acquaintances made up the vast majority of contributors. So, it was my failure to adequately plan out the campaign. Not that I didn't read up and do research. We Kurmans are notorious for advance preparation when it comes to a new endeavor that interests us. Why, I've known my brother to practically put in expert hours (10,000 plus) in book-learning prior to tackling a new thing that he gets hooked on. Almost overnight. I kind of do the same thing, but I notice I have a particular blind-spot. I will do all of the research, examining and planning for all of the aspects, drilling down on every facet, covering every base - except one. And in that sub-category, I will make a beginner's mistake. Quite simply because, well, I don't know. What I do know is it must have something to do with my fascination in overall systems thinking and analysis, but not quite being fascinated with one boring detail.

So, in the kickstarter project, I think I did well on prepping the material rewards, not so well on presentation and marketing my target group.

Bill Hicks on Marketing:

You would think, as an artist, and having said many times that presentation is 90% of the whole deal, that I would have spent more time on polishing the videos. But honestly, I just wanted to get past that, and get the product vision out there. I could have done a much better job, but felt that, given pretty much everyone and his uncle is now kickstarter, that I better get something out NOW.

And I really, really didn't do a good job on identifying my demographic. What is my demographic? Well, the creepy-crawlie/Charles Adams/Edward Gorey/H.R. Giger/maybe-kinda Carlos Huante fan base out there. Instead, I had people telling me they liked my steampunk robot animals.

Steampunk? WTF? Well, steampunkish, in the sense that I used bronze, mistaken as brass, but honestly, do you see any goggles, any 19th-century design, any zeppelins and high-pressure steam engine shit in these things? I don't. And maybe that's my blind spot. But I'm going for the ultra-violet biomechanical crowd, the mutant metal creepy crawlie crowd, the Prometheus crowd.

Steam powered?

Degenerate fermionic condensate, Cooper-paired neutron fusion, matter/antimatter powered, bitches! With cigarettes and booze!

Okay, so, given that the Intertubes today are powered by photos, I really screwed the pooch by not targeting the tumblers, snapchats, and twits. I did do a half-hearted tweet campaign, but I just couldn't go fishing for those paramecia. ( Speaking of which, there were some nasty and infantile comments on reddit, and to be honest, twenty years ago I'd have engaged in a two-week-long flamewar with those losers, but, uh, fuck 'em. I notice it's becoming easier and easier to ignore over-priveleged, pretentiously pompous, pampered, undertalented, simpering little buttholes and not react to them).

And as far as social networks are concerned, my anecdotal experience is that the facebook and google+ and living social and all the rest aren't quite the Kevin Bacon dissipators we are all led to beleive. My guess is, I got to two degree of separation before the whole message drowned in noise.

My thoughts, anyway. And unlikely it is I will do another campaign, maybe not much an analysis.

Oh, yeah, pictures of machinerettes (which are little versions of mechanicules):

In Color...

...and in Black and White