Monday, November 24, 2014

Corporations are the *only* people, my friends.

The rest of us are just pesky citizens.

Mostly in the way, at least until the universally reprogrammable robots are online.

Case in point: Is there some way to exploit the labors of pesky citizens, without having to provide an unwholesome equanimity of remuneration? Make them temporary workers. And from there, why, it's all downhill. They don't have any real legal recourse, once they accept that first humiliation, but now it all looks so entrepreneurial!

Lesson? Never invite a vampire into your house.

Case in point: North Dakota. The person involved is Burlington Northern Railroad. The key passage for me in this article is:

"On June 20, 2011, the Schwalbes received a letter informing them that Burlington Resources intended to forge a 30,883.94-acre oil production unit that would effectively override their lease agreement with Marathon and subsume their mineral property. In the Bakken, such units are typically 1,280 acres.
The Schwalbes were instructed to sign a ratification agreement by August, when a hearing was scheduled on what some started calling “the mega-unit.” The mega-unit would include the Little Missouri State Park, a patchwork of private, state and federal land beloved for its rugged trails.Initially perplexed by the thick document on their doorstep, the Schwalbes soon grasped a painful point: though they would be ceding control of their mineral property, their consent was not required. Only the owners of 60 percent of the unit’s minerals were needed for ratification, and Burlington, together with the federal government, already met that goal.
“That’s part of why they chose Corral Creek for their scheme,” Dr. Chaffee said. “They didn’t have to deal with a lot of fleas like us, the pesky citizens.” 
Sound familiar? For this part of the country, it should: "For as long as grass grows and rivers run, the tribes shall have the right to possess, occupy, and use the lands allotted to it".

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. And the Conquest of the New World would seem the best analogy I can use as comparison. But now individuals are the Redskins.

Friday, November 21, 2014

M. fetor particeps and M. ultor particeps

Moving slowly on the mechanical front. This one I did as two separate pieces, and then realized they were kind of boring, and so combined them.

I suppose dirty-minded people might find this naughty

So, originally thought to be two different mechanicules and wrongly named M. fetor and M. ultor (guess which one is which), it was later found they were two components of one mechanicule named M. particeps.

Nomenclature being what it is, they retained their original names, and so are the first mechanicules to have middle names. I suppose if a component gets in trouble you will know, because the middle name will be included when addressing them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Collective Unconscious of Superorganisms

I notice the Senate failed to pass the Keystone XL pipeline project. That's all right. They'll do it next year. It's not like we don't have oil pipeline leaks anyway. We have hundreds thousands of leaks a year, most of them unreported. Keystone XL will leak the hell over everything, just like all the others do.

First of all, any engineer will tell you that there is no such thing as leakproof. I've heard tell that, on average, even the best pipeline will have at least one very small leak for every mile of pipe. That wouldn't surprise me. Multiply that by tens of thousands of miles, and you get the idea. If you live in Nebraska and Kansas, you've already got some really hideous chemicals in your rapidly depleting aquifer anyway, so what's a few more volatile toxins?

And anyway, the way solar is going, and, until oil prices goes up, rooftop solar will start to seriously compete with natural gas right about the time Keystone XL is completed. And so what if Canada rapes their landscape?

See that's the thing I've noticed about the group think of group minds: just how fucking stupid it can be.

Are you worried about AI, hyper-intelligent killer robot swarms, massively vast collective consciousnesses, the way Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are? Don't be.

We've had these things - these organizations - since at least the time of the Sumerians, and, true, they make life miserable for a lot of us citizens, and they do seem to be hellbent on wrecking our habitable living spaces, but they sure don't display much in the way of real intelligence, even a planned malevolent intelligence actively trying to commit genocide (can't even manage to get that right).

See, the thing I've noticed about these collective entities is that seem to get their tasks down despite themselves. It's not that there are not neat things happening. It's like, if you peer inside a black box you see all sorts of clever and wondrous elvish behaviors and tactics and coping mechanisms, but when you look at the black box, it just takes the inputs and stupidly poops out the outputs according to some least common denominator version of cheap-ass processing.

Mine is admittedly an anecdotal experience, but I've worked for five successful multi-billion-dollar corporations, and the thing I notice was they all made money despite themselves. It was always weakest link in the chain kind of stuff (and granted, these are hierarchical collective command structures, but a more distributed network still has the same weak links. I'll go further, and suggest that these links are made weak by the very globally emergent properties of these collective minds.

You know, I think I started to think about this back in high school, or perhaps before. It may have been exposure to Carl Jung's notion of the collective unconscious, but no, it was science fiction reading. Maybe Jack Vance, but for sure Fritz Lieber. I still remember a (paraphrased) line from Leiber's "The Foxholes of Mars"  where the protagonist, battling his alien enemy, has the feeling of the two of them being "epithelial cells scraped off the skin of two warring monsters".

And that, more than anything, gave me the idea that bigger and smarter is not necessarily bigger and smarter. True, you see it in ant colonies, where the behavior of the super organism is much sophisticated than an individual ant, and true, humankind as a whole has done things like land probes on comets, but then, you can also get ants to engage in a death march around the rim of a bowl, and humans to (maybe someday) annihilate themselves in nuclear armageddon.

So, it came to my attention that AI was bandied about over at I haven't been able to read edge for at least ten years now. Those fuckers can't seem to put forth a substantive discussion without using ten words where one will do. And once you condense what they are saying into a more palatable and digestible form, it's usually old wine in new bottles. I never rarely seem to learn anything new from these smart fuckers. Okay, enough snark.

Anyway, that's what prompted me to write about this subject. It doesn't mean that a superior collective intelligence isn't an existential threat, it's just that this is not a new threat.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Saturday Bronze Pour 11/15/2014

I gave my safety lecture with my cupped right hand brimming with blood and hidden behind my back. It was the tiniest cut on the pad of my ring finger, but it was from a broken shard of slag off the crucible. At one silica-molecule-thick, glass is the sharpest edge in the universe. I had taken aspirin as a blood thinner that morning, so that one little tiny cut bled a good quarter cup before it was done.

Eventually, the blood started to overflow and drip onto the pavement, and a student noticed it.

"You're bleeding", he discretely murmured.

"I know", I replied "Consider it an object lesson".

It almost screwed up my speech, but either people did not notice, or chose not to. And I had practiced a long time on that speech. In front of a mirror.

Are you surprised that I practice speeches? Well, I do. I'm trying to engage my students, impart the maximum information in the minimum time, and keep their attention from wandering. Like any performer, I hone my delivery and content, culling what doesn't work, keeping what gets a laugh, but more importantly, a laugh that drives the particular point home.

So, that bleeding threw off my touch and timing some. Parts where I thought would rivet them drew puzzled stares. Parts where I became alarmed at the bleeding through me off, but I got back on track and went through okay. I mean, that's why I practice my delivery, right?

My post-mortem of the Saturday bronze cast is that it went well, but I failed to allow my students to participate more. I know exactly why it happened. We had over fifty pieces, and some 560 lbs of bronze to pour, and me doing 85% of the heavy lifting meant that we got done in a timely fashion. We started at 9am and (I) went non-stop to 4pm, and I didn't want to go beyond that.

So... this time out, I pretty much was the attendant at the roller coaster ride. Not so much them casting their own pieces as me muppeting them into casting their own pieces. Normally, that doesn't happen. But like I said, we had a lot of shit to go through.

I'll remedy that for the next semester, and in fact, most semesters, I stand back and let them do the work.

On the whole, a very good semester so far. We had zero failures and minimal defects. Almost all pieces defect free, with those with defects being hot and cold tears of the metal, due to too thick an investment shell. Well, I warned them about that...

P.S. About the only thing that makes me happy lately, is staring down into the crucible and watch metal melt... which makes for some expensive therapy.

P.P.S. Not to brag, but I was informed by my students on Monday, that I ROCKED!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I Don't See Any Other Animals Landing Shit On Comets

The European Union, in the form of the European Space Agency, landed a probe on a comet today.

Consider that, one hundred years ago, this same group of peoples were engaged in geopolitical Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome: some one-million-plus people slaughtered since July of 1914, trenches now scarring a moonscape which was once a landscape. A lot more gruesome ghoulishness is to occur until four years from now - minus one hundred years and a day - when an armistice went into effect.

It's not that we've advanced any. We are the same killer ape we one hundred years ago. If anything, we've only managed to manage the carnage, and there's no reason to think we won't screw the pooch at some (near) time in the future, and do far worse than try and chew our tongues off, or poke our eyes out.

Still, as bestial as we are, I don't see any other animals landing shit on comets. And if other animals  did, why, I suppose it would be our duty to wipe them out.

Other things. I had probably the most horrible lunch at the college the other day. I got a chicken sandwich, and the chicken was a grisly, gristly mess. I sure do miss the socialist food service we used to have. Now, because of privatization, the food quality is down, service is shoddier, portions are smaller, and prices are up. Yay, capitalism!

I expect no less once our new empty Carhartt jacket is installed in the governor's mansion that he just bought, I'm sure we can expect to see the destruction of lots public institutions, the emptying of public coffers into the pockets of rich crooks, and the ongoing race to the bottom which we have all come to expect here in America.

Speaking of Bruce Rauner, I have been taking an inordinate number of poops lately. You know how, you eat a whole bunch, and you don't gain weight, but then, when you empty your bowels, this pathetic teaspoon of stool comes out. And you wonder, where the heck did the food go? Perhaps there is some extra-dimensional pocket in our innards where it gets stored, and then finally it fills up, and even though aren't eat any more than usual, suddenly you are pooping out a cornucopia, a horn of plenty of poop?

Yeah, America, like that. Get used to it.