Friday, February 27, 2015

Harper College's 38th Annual National Juried Exhibition Featuring Small Works

I got into the Small Works show here at the college. Only took 20 years of submissions to finally get in. The piece that got in is the same as got into the Rockford Midwestern Biennial.
Machinerette Diptych #2

I've cast more of these. Here is one:
Machinerette Diptych #4

Here are waxes for the next one:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Neural Nets In The News, Again

I sneezed and split my lip open this morning. Even the application of Burt's Bees lip balm can't keep my lips moist enough. I've resorted to using skin lotion, mainly because I've gotten really tired of looking at my scaly lizard skin. The thumb cuticles are constantly threatening to crack open.

If this is what Mars is like? (And it is). With the cold and extremely dry air? You can fucking have Mars. As it is, I don't know about you, but I'm definitely done with Winter.

Speaking of which, are we done yet? Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk are all got an existential fear over AI. As I've said before, BFD, but.. maybe they are on to something. AI is in the news. Neural nets. Or, as they are called now, Deep Learning.

I actually played around with neural nets back in the late 80s. Got a book from John Wiley on, learned all about Hebbian networks with feedback and forward propagation. Even did a art piece called "The Chinese Room" that used a lot of neural net diagrams in it (and the I Ching, and Red Army propaganda, and blast it if I didn't end up understanding Chinese in the end). (No I didn't).

Not only did I play with it, I wrote a program I called an artificial retina to process data for a company. And the problem went like this: We had contracts that normally, on an old mainframe, would be batch processed overnight into an active status, all linked up to the rest of the database and inventoried and documented and such. The company would have preferred to have contracts processed as they came through the daily paperwork, but for managerial and practical reasons, the batch program could be run during the day. A trigger program was tried, but it got into other problems, as some of these contracts contained thousands of inventory items, processing of which would slow the daytime online system to a crawl. (Bad architecture and design? Yes).

So, I wrote a little neural net program that would 1) look for changes in the contract system, and 2) learned what was and was not an acceptable volume of inventory items that big huge contracts, and 3) learned what was and was not considered high volume traffic that would tax our system.

That's all like baby stuff now. In fact, that program is, along with the Old Iron it ran on, fallen into the data Ginnungagap to which all things eventually get dumped in, existing perhaps as stray static charges on anchor chains and angle iron in China.

But like I say, retarded dwarf baby stuff, compared to what they are doing now.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Animal Weapons: A Book Report

Animal Weapons by Douglas J Emlen. This book came out last year, and I finally got it from the library. Emlen investigates the various forms of natural weapons that animals have, and compares them to human weapons.

No surprises, really, about the comparison, because humans are animals, so of course we are going to parallel a lot of the same things other animals have come up with - especially eusocial animals such as ants and termites.

So, termites build hives. Monkeys build hives. We build fortresses, castles, battleships, bombers, all armored up and rigged to repel attackers from all angles. Of course, there are always game changers that make these weapons obsolete.

Emlen notes that weapons cost energy, and so one would expect most weapons to be small. Emlen lists three necessary ingredients for weapons to become large, for an arms race to occur, based upon the logic of economics:

1) Valued and limited (limited by scarcity or access) resource that,
2) is economically defensible (can be contained or constrained from others), and
3) is competed for in one-on one struggles

This is Emlen's recipe for arms races. Once a dueling tradition for resources exists, an arms race is inevitable. Emlen sites examples ranging from dung beetles to elk, sheep and deer.  From there, he moves towards human artifacts: armor, weapons, camouflage and subterfuge. The analogy only goes so far.

Interestingly, Emlen does not consider that other forms of competition are not arms races. He devotes a chapter to what he calls "Sneaks and Cheats". In other words, males that employ sexual reproduction tactics that do not involve one-on-one competition with other males (and why only males? surely there must be all sorts of intersex games going on that are not covered here).

Clearly, sneaking and cheating are valid and acceptable tactics to pursue. We need a better description.

Dung beetles.

Dung beetles that produce horns for dueling traditions are dung beetles that compete for the tunnel the female has dug. They can battle it out until a male is ejected from the tunnel, and invariably it is the larger - and larger horned - male that wins. There are sneaky male dung beetles that will dig a side tunnel into the females tunnel, wait for the opportune moment when the horned male is not vigilant, break through, and mate with the female.

I fail to see how arms race pressures make this particular form of competition any less of an arms race. It reminds me of the competition that occurs in between guards and prisoners in jails and prison camps, where increasingly clever means of escape are countered with increasingly draconian levels of surveillance and control.

There are species of dung beetle that do not develop horns. These beetles fight over the balls of dung, in rugby scrums. But even here there must be selective pressures for strength and stamina for a successful male to get a smaller piece of dung for a female. Therefore, my take is this type of arms race does not produce visible attributes, but is escalating nonetheless. The end of the race occurs with either dissipation and bankruptcy, or a new "cheat" that becomes a game changer.

The final three chapters look at human weapons. What Emlen does not cover is the most important weapon of all: brains. Clearly our giant Irish elk antler brains (compared to other primates) have been a result of an arms race.

I'll not describe the chapters save to point out that clearly the Cold War was an stupidly unthinking and inevitable arms race that should put us in our place as being not much smarter than a crab or a beetle or any other animal that grew horns or antlers or claws or teeth.

In fact, I would suggest that our ridiculous Irish Elk H-bomb antlers are testament to a monumental lack of wisdom and forward thinking. Deterrence is not what it is cracked up to be, and the so-called Fermi Paradox, in light of this, is not a paradox at all. Species that develop large brains wipe themselves out.

But I would observe that the current intrusion of behavior into the realm of computers and cyberspace is rather looking like massive antler building as well. I wonder if the game changer will be a sapient program that refuses to fight, or fights on its own terms.

Now that would be interesting. The end of WWIII might be Drone War I.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

But I look good on the outside!

"The Almighty must love parasites. He made so many niches for them".  - Me

You notice the male of the species, in situations were limited resources or access result in a one-on-one dueling tradition, develop weapons. Horns, antlers, beaked and spiked protuberances for struggle.

Elk, deer, beetles, all sorts of critters do it. And thing you notice is, you get an evolutionary arms race going.

You end up with these ridiculously huge weapons, as large as the biological cost to the individual will allow. In deer, antlers require so much calcium and phosphorus that the male cannot obtain through forage. Especially during rutting season when they spend more time fighting than eating. To get the antler growth, individuals will borrow from their own skeletons. Not exactly the best strategy for an individual to survive, creating what is basically osteoporosis at the one time - rutting season - when you would like to have strong bones. Worse, rutting and mating season comes before winter, and after all those struggles and woundings and exhaustions, a male is hard pressed to gain back all that lost infrastructure through foraging before winter sets in.

Most don't. Most die. Most don't even get to reproduce to justify the huge expense.

There is the classic tale of the Irish Elk, Megaloceros, misnamed as it was a giant deer, neither Irish nor elk. It could stand seven foot tall at the shoulder, and have a rack of antlers up to twelve feet across. And the story goes that the Irish Elk took the arms race too far with it's ridiculous huge rack and went extinct. More probably, climate change was the cause of it's extinction rather than stupidly huge weapons.

It occurs to me that we see an analog of giant antlers in being apes with ridiculously large brains. Near 20% of our metabolism is devoted to feeding these giant brains, despite our relatively large body size, as mammals go. If true, if our large brains are the result of a dueling tradition of evolutionary arms race, who was dueling whom? Could it be, despite protests from Bishop Dawkins that group selection is heresy and blasphemy, that there is a mechanism of group selection that would explain these giant brains? Maybe.

Of course, there is also another mating strategy that males can employ. Males that are not quite up to snuff in the weapons department can employ deception. Sometimes up to 40% of the offspring are not the dominant males'. (Females also hedge their bets by sleeping around). Small horned dung beetles will dig a side tunnel into the tunnel a large horned male is guarding to get to the female. Small male cuttlefish imitate female cuttlefish, and can swim past the big guardian males to mate with the females.

Some would call this strategy "cheating", but taking advantage of a loophole in the heuristics of mating can hardly be called cheating. It's just another tactic.

Is there some equivalent of this with us Irish Elk antler brains? I think so. Pretty boys, I think you call them. I don't know if it is true. I don't know if there is a correlation between being pretty, or musclebound, and being dumb. We make jokes about it, but... I don't know.

What I do know is I'm gonna die, and sooner rather than later.

The title of this essay was a joke my doctor made during my last physical examination, when we went through the whole litany of faults and flaws I possess as a biological organism.

Warranty expired just this year, and definitely going to die, and sooner rather than later. I'm not all that upset about it. I did a lot hallucinogens in my youth, and as a result have no (real or lasting) fear of death. I don't believe in the survival of consciousness after death. (Probably just as well, as I figure the odds are even that in the next world, you're on your own anyway). Still, the idea of nonexistence would make you think I would treat every waking moment as precious.

Nah. That's what I call the Lazy Atheist's conundrum. Here you are, occupying what amounts to a free neutrons persistence of existence in a vast and interminable cosmos, and you spend your time watching TV. Or some other time wasting activity. Shame on you! Nah. Those moments pass regardless, they are your precious moments to waste, What the fuck do you care?

(Free neutrons - unpaired neutrons outside the coddling environment of the nucleus, last about fifteen minutes before they decay into protons).

So, fear not. Death is soon for me, but not immanent. I'm pursuing this more as a philosophical exercise than anything.

I am probably looking at a radical nephrectomy this year or next, to get the nonfunctional kidney out. But I see this as fixing the barn door after the horse is gone, as the right kidney stubbornly tries to take up the metabolic load. But the latest sonograms suggest it's going to go south pretty soon as well. In which case, dialysis and/or transplant is my option.

I'm not gonna do dialysis. Just not. I say that now. I may change my mind.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grilling Saturn

Ceres is poised to become a world in March. A dwarf world, but a world nonetheless. Pluto and it's moons will become a living menagerie in July. After that, I'm willing to bet New Horizons provides evidence that there are thousands of carbon-rich icy worlds out in the Kuiper Belt. Thousands. I'll bet serious money on that, and win.
image courtesy

Irony, all that gas and oil and only a few billions of miles drive to get it all.

Evidence for an incredible cornucopia of worlds not yet seen beyond Neptune keeps on piling up. Evidence for carbon richness falls mainly on the weird little interloper moon of Phoebe orbiting Saturn. Phoebe is without a doubt in my mind a captured moon from the Kuiper belt.

And can you believe that Cassini has been in the neighborhood of Saturn for a decade now?

Speaking of Saturn, I found a really weird icon on a unisex bathroom door. It' supposed to indicate a baby changing station, but it looks more to me like either a coroner is examining a dwarf's corpse, or a man is BBQing Saturn on the grill.

Weird. Hey, also, more little ceramic thingies for.. stuff.