Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Which Kuiper Belt Object Should New Horizons Visit?

After it completes its mission at Pluto, New Horizons is going to head out into the Kuiper Belt, and will visit one or two Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs). The Ice Hunters project is one of several at Zooniverse crowdsourcing part of its work - in other words, you can help decide which one it will visit. Yes, the New Horizons has a spectrometer to look at Pluto and KBO atmosphere and surface composition, which is more exciting now that we know there are neat nitriles and hydrocarbons on Pluto, and very interesting if you think we might find organic von Neumann probes on low-gravity high-water bodies in the solar system. Visit the Ice Hunter website to start.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A New Solution to the Fermi Paradox: Masturbation

Yes, basically. UNM evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller worries that our ability to stimulate ourselves with junk food, video games and porn (maybe we should throw cheap credit in there?) will lead to our demise, and whether this hasn't led to similar ends for intelligence elsewhere in the universe. This concern tracks eerily close to a line I extracted from an Vanity Fair article in a post at The Late Enlightenment: "A color-coded map of American personal indebtedness could be laid on top of the Centers for Disease Control's color-coded map that illustrates the fantastic rise in rates of obesity across the United States since 1985 without disturbing the general pattern."

The more general argument that Miller is making is that intelligence is a dead end. Indeed, why do so many seemingly adopt teleological thinking and assume that intelligence is the automatic endpoint of evolution, or at least the best way for replicators to make an impact on the universe? It's kind of strange that seekers of alien life consistently look for intelligence or even "civilization", which may not have any meaning beyond humans. Intelligence is just the most "extreme" form of behavior - and here the term behavior is used in its clearest maning, as biological motors (muscles) moving in response to nervous systems - which in turn are just networks of cells that integrate inputs from pressure, light, and chemical changes external to themselves. Nervous systems respond much more quickly than genes to changes in the environment, because they rely on millisecond-scale changes in ion currents. Of course those networks of ion currents are not perfect modelers of future states, they have weak spots or poor plasticity. They even have analogs of halting states. Therefore, because they change so much more quickly than the genes underlying them, problems in the system can be hugely damaging to those genes, to the point where they all disappear. Organisms profoundly changing their environment in ways that end up killing them is of course the core concern of sustainability advocates and it's happened before, right here on Earth, to the cyanobacteria - even before there was such a thing as behavior.

The Fermi paradox is an ongoing topic here, and other questions include: for Singulatarians, couldn't this be the instrument of the Great Filter, and/or shouldn't we be able to see alien singularities, whether as wave fronts of computronium (or at least von Neumann probes) or at least very strange looking decompiled star systems? Can we in principle even know what to look for? Miller's entry is that the Great Filter need not consist of an intelligence explosion, but rather an intelligence introversion: once a nervous system can game the system - game itself - it's not going to last much longer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Synesthesia, A God Or An Other (Demo, 2011)



If you want to be an awesome metal band like Seattle's A God Or An Other, first thing is to have a cool album cover. This one is like Dali meets Roberto Matta. I mean you can't go wrong.



But then you have to back it up and actually be awesome, and I quite dig their atmospheric neo-North American black metal thing they have going on. But then you have to have awesome titles too. So these guys have this one (Synesthesia), and also Xibalba*, also Not An Eye Was Left Open to Weep For the Dead.

*Xibalba is also a Pomona band that plays around San Diego, as evidenced here; Facebook them here. Having exhausted the Abrahamic world, metal is quickly consuming the religious mythology of non-Western peoples. Quick! Someone invent a new religion so metal has some new dark iconery to incorporate!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pluto Probably Filthy with Hydrocarbons and Nitriles


NASA.


An instrument on the Hubble has shown a high UV absorbance on Pluto, which could be explained by hydrocarbons and nitriles. Granted, Pluto is a little past the frost line, but anytime we see more substrates for organic chemistry on solid surfaces in the solar system, this place looks a little friendlier for self-assembling organic replicators like von Neumann probes. More argument for why we should be looking for organic von Neumann probes in our own solar system, on solid low gravity bodies, here.


While we're at it: the dynamics of the Earth-Moon system work out so that at any one time, Earth should have 2 natural satellites: the big werewolf one that we can see, and a small meters-across one that it captures from time to time, then let go. And in fact this works out empirically. This has implications for the natural-seeding method of replicator spread, which I Fermi-problem-calculated out to be about 40 million years riding hyperbolic comets between stars the distance of the Sun and Alpha Centauri. Jupiter no doubt has captured satellites, but do they escape? It would be a good place to look for replicators (maybe better than the asteroid belt) but not good for them to spread from.


And if you're hoping for more islands in the void to serve as reaction vessels for aqueous chemistry, this should make you happy: M-class stars actually have a larger habitable zone than we thought (spectrum and albedo argument).

I Warned You, Cryonicists

...that you would wake up in a hellish, incomprehensible dystopia. (Actually it's not that bad, I just asked why they would wait until after they're dead, if they believe their own claims about future medical technology.)

Well it turns out I was too optimistic, because you cryonicists will be waking up next to Larry King. Orwell's 1984 will seem idyllic in comparison.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tommy Chong Wants You To Know Something



Although John Cleese is on record saying he hates this movie, I don't know what he's talking about. It's half of Monty Python, plus Cheech and Chong, in the same movie. It's physically impossible for the movie not to be funny.

Highlights:

Heavenly forth!
Corporations should show this for employee motivation.

Greetings your royal molestation!

Women's rights, here and here and here, and Graham Chapman further encourages good family values here.

You will laugh at this, and it means you're a bad person.

The sad state of the youth of today.

Proper education for the youth of today.

And finally, Msr. Chapman shows how civilized people settle debates.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Two Metal Proposals: New Metallica and AI Metal

1. A group of bands should get together and record the next Metallica album, each contributing one track. (Because Metallica isn't doing it.) Not covers. New songs. Like you think they would've written, say, during the Master or Justice eras. No concerns about originality, because you're intentionally trying to sound like Metallica. Imagine, we'd have Justice part 2! And we'd know a bunch of new bands good enough to create it!

2. Evolutionary metal. There have been a few articles bouncing around about algorithmic music, where simple loops of code produce music. Couldn't someone develop genetic algorithms to automatically create awesome metal? (Another post on AI and metal composition here.)

I'm sorry Dave, that bridge section doesn't crush enough.


Or on the contrary, it would be cool to do something reverse-engineering riffs, to see what the underlying grammar of a metal riff is. In any event, Ville-Matias Heikkila is "trying to crowd-source music discovery" and it's plausible that there will be an end-result similar to the former if there's a separate forum for exclusively metal feedback. Here's an example of his stuff:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Upcoming Metal Shows in San Diego

As a service to the community (so you don't miss cool shows like I just did) check these out. Don't forget to check SDmetal.org.


Please enjoy Symphony X while perusing these events:




Friday 13 January 2012: a total metalfest at Electric Ladyland, with Ruinist, Caymul, Damcyan, The Parlour Shootout, Beheading the King, Thirty30, and Ruinist headlining.

Che Cafe has a bunch of shows coming up, AND they're trying not to close. If ever you buy a ticket and get in there, now's the time.

Wednesday 22 February 2012: Symphony X, Iced Earth and Warbringer at House of Blues San Diego.

Goddammit, the Iron Maidens Were Here

I'm walking down the street in Ocean Beach today with the modern-day Kevorkian, one Dr. Desai MD, PhD whose identity will remain protected, when I see that the all-girl Iron Maiden tribute band the Iron Maidens played a show in San Diego last night. Many Anglo-Saxon terms were used when I realized I'd missed them. I've wanted to see them for a long damn time. Next show is up in Garden Grove on 17 December.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hari Seldon's Latest Disciple

"While Toynbee was impressing me with the history of civilizations, Isaac Asimov was shaping my view of the future in equally profound ways...For a high school student who loved history, Asimov's most exhilarating invention was the 'psychohistorian' Hari Seldon. The term does not refer to Freudian analysis but to a kind of probabilistic forecasting of the future of whole civilizations. The premise was that, while you cannot predict individual behavior, you can develop a pretty accurate sense of mass behavior. Pollsters and advertisers now make a good living off the same theory."

- Newt Gingrich


From "Newt Gingrich, Galactic Historian" at George Mason University's Heritage News Network. "If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Newt Gingrich is from the planet Trantor..." Gingrich is not the first person to be inspired by Hari Seldon to do things in the real world; Al Qaeda and Shoko Asahara (sarin-in-the-subway guy) both thought his ideas should be reified as well.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Metallica and Currency Exchange Rates

Very interesting WSJ article about how Metallica's manager Cliff Burnstein partly bases tours on currency trends; a weak dollar is good for American exports, of which Metallica is one. (Thank you Marginal Revolution for the economic angle on metal.) One MR commenter asks if metal is a countercyclical good. The halls of Justice are, indeed, painted green. (ZING-O)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Fermi Paradox and von Neumann Probes (Again)

Karl Schroeder points to a paper by Keith Wiley about the Fermi paradox and von Neumann probes. He converges on arguments made here, here and elsewhere:

1) that von Neumann probes are a better way to detect alien intelligences than electromagnetic radiation (either signals or detecting large structures)

2) that if self-replicating probes are possible and there are alien intelligences, there should be loads of them in each solar system already. The best feature of the linked paper is that Wiley takes a stab at estimating how many there should be in this solar system.

3) that the universe as we now see it could already have been profoundly influenced by the activity of intelligent entities, but we don't know because it's the only way we've ever seen it and we have dumb-matter (i.e. natural) explanations for everything. Apparently non-testable but still interesting to think about.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ballard's Complete Short Stories


The Temptation of St. Anthony, Max Ernst


I've just read the Complete Ballard short story collection that came out after his death. It's thick and took me two borrowings to get through it. Before this my experience of Ballard was limited to Crash, the film adaptation of Empire of the Sun, and the novel the Crystal World. Certainly his fans (especially one old friend and sometime reader of this blog) play up his strangeness and the oblique apocalyptic imagery of his work, and maybe this is why I'm left a little cool by his short stories - my bar for shock and surprise were set a little high. In fact I would put most of these stories on the margin of mainstream 60s-90s science fiction; in fact P.K. Dick, with his non-hierarchical realities and attendant narrative structure games and unreliable narrators, is inarguably further outside.

Positive observations: it's hard not to get the sense that Ballard is a guy who spent a lot of his time alone in introspection, and the essential isolation of his protagonists is near universal, whether they're in some kind of inexplicable post-London wasteland or in an unhappy marriage. His imagery of the deserts and ruins, and especially his accounts of the internal dialogue of the characters wandering them, are expertly drawn. His description of the strange malaise of the permanent desert-beach resort dweller is also incisive. Ballard also solves a narrative problem of speculative fiction - the extended character-less, plot-less extrapolation - by taking out the characters and action, and writes like a historian a journalist, in broad brushes. Hard science fiction especially often grudgingly salts a story with characters just so there are mouthpieces to describe the device or alien ship they've found, but Ballard sometimes tosses them out as superfluous and writes honest prose more true to its narrative purpose.

One trick that Ballard occasionally pulls out is to take advantage of his genre's tolerance of the fantastic by descriptions where it's unclear whether he's speaking metaphorically, or we're seeing the sci-fi version of magical realism. For example: in one story he makes frequent references to a woman who has twitching insect legs for eyelashes. Few of us would be romantically drawn to such a woman, if he's describing her literally. Is this magical realism, i.e. a change in technology which in turn has changed social norms, so the characters react acceptingly to something which would shock us? Or are we to take it as a metaphor, in deliberately alienating terms? More interestingly, is this ambiguity his intention? Without resolving the question of metaphor or realism, it's hard to know whether the characters react as expected or even visualize the story, which produces an interesting and distancing reading experience, and if he conceived and executed this deliberately it's easily my favorite Ballard signature - although so far as I detected, it occurs only in his early works.

The ambivalent: without taking sides in any piece of writing with political overtones, we can observe that those overtones are dated, and Ballard's 80s writing also carries the disdainful flavor of the frustrated liberal at that time in the political wilderness, writing self-satisfied allegories. (Again, I wasn't expecting such a supposedly strange writer to fit so neatly into worn slots left by his contemporaries.) Also around this time or slightly before we see his investigations into the parallel reality produced by consumer culture; maybe even due to its successful penetration of popular awareness, this species of bludgeoning anti-commercialism hasn't aged well either; I found myself thinking, "Yes yes, I get it." I'd rather read Umberto Eco's nonfiction on hyper-reality than this.

Ballard's self-reflection, when encountered repeatedly in a collection like this, is probably less charming than when seen in a single story or novel. But here his obsessions are on full display and in repeated screenings they get stale quickly. In particular, there is the frequent apperance of medical authority figures and psychiatrists in general - not surprising, since Ballard began medical school intending to be a psychiatrist but didn't finish - and in this at least he's different from his early contemporaries, whose heroes were often physical scientist-adventurers with seemingly no internal dialogue. (I'm in medical school right now and psychiatrist is on my short list of specialties, which initially endeared Ballard to me, but the effect didn't last. Introspection is difficult to make interesting to people besides yourself.) His non-standard (at least for mid-century science fiction) protagonists are refreshing but again, certainly not strikingly innovative.

Oddly, one of the aspects of Ballard's short stories that has aged well is a nuanced techno-optimism that places him squarely within the science fiction mainstream. This is probably what surprised me most about the bulk of these stories, relative to his reputation. Although unlike his mainstream sf contemporaries he recognized that science isn't magic and often induces social and moral conflicts that weren't anticipated (sometimes spending too much time on questions that medicine and science either has now answered or which the public became generally comfortable with), at base he shared what many now consider mid-century naivete; technological progress is inevitable, will lead to the betterment of mankind in important ways, and is pushed forward by rugged individuals with scientific training, even if they're a little more reflective than other science fiction protagonists.

The negative: Easily Ballard's most annoying tic is his strong tendency to make a point pretty clearly through allegory or symbolic analogy - and then in the very next paragraph, explicitly state the point he was making. I first noticed this years ago in The Crystal World; the same tic is on display in several of his short stories in this collection. The real issue is that there's no charitable interpretation of this habit. Either he's insulting his reader by feeling he has to explain what he's doing; or he's insecure in his own delivery and just can't bear that someone might miss it; or his editor suggested he make the message more explicit, and he dropped these clunking paragraphs into his stories and left them there, un-smoothed, out of spite or laziness; or he just didn't realize that this repetition would make such an impression. Even if he deliberately wants to annoy the reader (which would be a completely valid goal) there are much better ways to do it, and there's no sign that he's being so clever.


The lesson to me is that Ballard's reputation does him a disservice by setting expectations out of line with his writing. His work is worth our time but it would be much easier to appreciate him if he weren't consistently presented as science fiction's Dali.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Three Stories For Clarion, Revised

Moctezuma meets Fernan Cortez in Tecnochitlan


To those of you on my email list who gave your votes for what Clarion wants, my thanks. I'm glad I put it up for a vote, because it's hard to objectively judge the appeal of your own work. No one liked the Pristine Dome, the thriller/alternate history piece set in a divided Cold War era Japan. Lots of people liked The Nightmare Collector. Here's my updated list of what I'm submitting, and my public commitment of when I'm finishing them. Feel free to harass me in public - that's the point of posting this here!

Story #1 - completed on 15 Dec - The Nightmare Collector - a technology is developed to develop PTSD, to record nightmare images from traumatized people, in an attempt to treat the disorder. A community of fetishists arises that collects women's nightmares. One man has to confront the morality and hypocrisy of what he's doing and the nature of his flawed character when his own wife, an Iraq war vet, has her own nightmare recordings stolen. (Note: in a creepy twist, I'm the nightmare collector; every nightmare in this story is a real recurring nightmare I took from a woman I knew.) I'm getting this one out of the way first because it's the one I've least developed so far.

Story #2 - 31 Dec - The Tuesday Fire at the American Place - a shy and awkward thirteen year-old boy growing up in an American refugee village in Eastern Siberia tries to impress the daughter of one of the village's Russian commanding officers, by reading chapters to her from the diary of his grandfather, an officer in the old U.S. Marine Corps during the December War against China. In the process he finds things out about his own family, as well as the Russian officer's. (One of my original picks.)

Story #3 - 15 Jan - Cherax Destructor - an American drug runner and a giant, bioengineered, multilingual crawfish share stories and cigarettes on an island off the coast of Honduras. They seem to have a good relationship - the man helps feed the crawfish, the crawfish kills law enforcement and rival drug runners - but the man isn't just there with the crawfish as an innocent drug runner, and the crawfish begins to figure this out.


There was a tie for third place and I picked Cherax Destructor instead of one of my own original picks, The End of Everything, because people seemed more enthusiastic about it and End of Everything is a moody and not very uplifting meditation on the possibility of meaning. In addition to not wanting to be depressed, I'm betting that Clarion wants people to demonstrate an ability for pacing and action and dialogue before they get all Camus. Plus, giant chain-smoking crawfish that speak Mayan are funny.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mieville's Embassytown

...is good. Read it. Spoiler alert.
(Not everyone loved it; for a comical review by someone who didn't get it and probably also reviews Chinese restaurants in terms of how Mexican they are, go here.)

Mieville likes designing monsters and also frequently defends science fiction as a literature of ideas. Both are on display here. Early on, before any real action, to keep things interesting, he inserts a monster that stowed away on a transport in hyperspace, something that must adapt to our universe and assemble itself out of matter and actions and relationships in this dimension. That was very cool. (I also think his cactus-men and especially mosquito women demi-humans in The Scar were pretty awesome too; not everyone gets as big a kick out of them as I do.) He also reimagines hyperspace as something called "the Immer", short for immersion; sort of the highest permanent reality, with ours only a pale reflection (characters mention our universe is the third one). One thing different about this take is that the Immer is really the basic, permanent universe and we're a temporary reflection built on top of it (usually hyperspace is conceived of as being "between" or "beyond" the real world).
It's hard not to think of Plato's world of forms - another connection to a Stephenson work, Anathem, where the world of forms is explcitly discussed as a literal real place - but I don't think that's what he was implying. He even solves the Fermi paradox by noting that the first human probes into the Immer picked up lots of communication and beacons: it's just that no one uses normal space. The most disappointing aspect of his flavor of hyperspace was that people get nauseous in the Immer. This is a heavily used convention in science fiction, but here I think Mieville falls for something that he avoids elsewhere: the idea that human (or any) biology would have a reaction and compensation for something it never encountered. For example, ionizing radiation is scary precisely becaues it doesn't hurt, or smell bad, or even irritate you, while it's killing you. No organism ever needed an alarm, because there wasn't any in our environment. Similarly no Earth organism has ever been in hyperspace/the Immer/whatever you want to call it, and a more interesting treatment might have been to have it damage us in odd ways that we aren't aware of until it's too late. Overall I'm pleased that he took an old convention and made it much more interesting; he seems to realize that you might as well because ultimately, whatever you call "hyperspace", it boils down to being a heaven or underworld that is described with sciencey-sounding language and that lets you get where you want to go in a reasonable amount of time.

I read this book mainly for the linguistic thought experiments, which were interesting, and reminiscent of Snowcrash and even moreso of Julian Jaynes's Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, a version of which the humans in the story directly induce. He's clearly thought through his ideas. I like it when an author explains a weak point that I hadn't identified; it shows s/he's doing his/her job. The explanations weren't always convincing but then again, it's fiction, not a linguistics textbook.

He also does a good job straddling the boundary of keeping the aliens alien, but allowing an interaction with humans that makes for good plot. I like how his here-and-there descriptive hints of the Hosts sort of gives you a picture, but not really: once he describes them as bird-insect-horse-coral creatures. He definitely does his best to avoid the intelligent gerbil effect. And he drops hints if you're paying attention that show there's a lot more to know about this universe's history: without saying so explicitly, several times we hear people mention Earth not as a myth, but as a place you can't get to anymore.

For my money right now Mieville's prose is the best in speculative fiction. My only complaint about him on this front was the over-dramatic single-line paragraphs in his Bas-Lag series, but those are gone. I hate having to still say this about science fiction, but his tone is very adult and nearly lit-fic. I wish everyone in the genre took their prose this seriously.

A sure sign that I really like an author is when I find myself making guesses about the person while I'm reading their fiction, or looking for little clues. For example, I know Mieville is a socialist so I can't help but look for allegorical clues or little lessons in his work, but I don't find any. He does have a few interesting comments about colonialism and racism in general, including one observation about the function of stories about natives going berserk and killing people when some minor social norm is violated (are those stories really about our insensitivity, or about natives being oversensitive and superstitious and stupid?) Not that his putting his political ideas in stories would be bad, even if you don't share them; I would mainly be wanting to see them done well, like Vinge does in Deepness in the Sky. What you do see in his work, quite clearly, are the messy unprincipled realities of politics. Normally I can't stand to waste my time reading about the politics of people and places that don't exist - I can barely stand to read about politics in the real world - but somehow Mieville pulls it off. I tried to figure out what he does differently and so far I haven't been able to.

Another pattern: in both The Scar and Embassytown, we see a female protagonist romantically involved with a morally very imperfect male who is maybe a little bit too sure of his own abilities and vision and value. This doesn't stick out quite as much as Paul Auster's odd insistence on killing his protagonists' families, but an odd amount of space is given to explicating the protagonists' lover's personality. Is this Mieville examining parts of himself he doesn't care for? A clever marketing trick to appeal to female readers? Pure speculation and maybe even coincidence, although again, Mieville does this well.

Probably my biggest disappointment with Embassytown was in the portions where the humans leave the city and go out into the Ariekene fields. We get some interesting ideas about Ariekene ecology and the mismatches that arise when alien evolutions collide (good) but very little of the sense experience of being out in alien fields. What color are things? What does it smell like? What does the land look like, and the soil and the rocks and the hills? (It's a good sign though that I care enough to be disappointed we don't get more of this.) I suspect the reason for his disinterest is that Mieville seems to be very much a metro guy, very much in love with London and the complexities of cities in general (that's quite clear in The Scar) and while he renders human landscapes expertly, he neglects natural ones. You see similar blind-spots in many American writers from New York, and (more often and more oddly) Los Angeles.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Three Stories for Clarion

Cortez burning his ships at Veracruz.


Given the contents of this blog, it may be no surprise that I occasionally write science fiction. I would like this to count for something. But writing is hard and keeping up with writing goals very hard. So I'm making a public writing commitment.

I will submit to the Clarion workshop this year. This requires three stories. Here are the story titles, descriptions, and dates on which on I will complete them.

Story #1 - completed on 15 Dec - The Pristine Dome - an alternate history where the U.S. never used atomic weapons against Japan. The action is a cut-throat espionage story in a divided early 60s Japan, with a Japanese-American jazz columnist-turned-spy uncovering a possibly world-ending plot by short-sighted cynics on both sides.

Story #2 - 31 Dec - The End of Everything - in flagrant contradiction of our understanding of physics, the sun collapses into a black hole. The survivors on Earth face certain near-term extinction. Wondering why they continue persisting in the dark deepening freeze and waiting for the Earth to be fried and pulled apart, they beam records of the existence of Earth into space and search for brittly-frozen food in the pitch darkness of braille-labeled streets and empty stores, knowing that the very information of their existence will disappear.

Story #3 - 15 Jan - The Tuesday Fire at the American Place - a shy and awkward thirteen year-old boy growing up in an American refugee village in Eastern Siberia tries to impress the daughter of one of the village's Russian commanding officers, by reading chapters to her from the diary of his grandfather, an officer in the old U.S. Marine Corps during the December War against China. In the process he finds things out about his own family, as well as the Russian officer's.


These are my calls, but I have a number of incomplete stories to pick from, and a few trusted advisors who will tell me if I'd be much better off going with those others. So in a future post the stories might change, but the dates won't.

Heifetz - Mendelssohn Violin Concerto E Minor (Op. 64) - Part 2

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Russian Spacecraft to Land on Phobos, Return Samples

[Added later: unfortunately Phobos-Grunt ain't landing nowhere. To say the least, a real disappointment.]

Phobos-Grunt will touch down on Phobos and return samples to Earth. If we expect the surface of low gravity bodies with organic materials (like asteroids and comets) is where we'll find evidence of von Neumann probes if they exist, then this is an exciting mission. "Low gravity" really means "low escape velocity", so life materials can spread more easily, and with an escape velocity of 40 kph, Phobos falls into that category.

Why Do We Ignore Economics When We Think About Movies?

Charlie Jane Anders reports on a studio executive's public admission that the big studios make bad movies. This is no big surprise, but what's most interesting is the reasons he gives: he says, paraphrased by an audience member, "almost nobody can afford to do what James Cameron did with Avatar, and he's proud of A Beautiful Mind — but he wouldn't do it again because he'd rather make money than make critically acclaimed award bait." Bingo! (Original article here.) Interesting because it exactly reproduces the same argument made here about business interests superceding artistic goals as media become more complex and more expensive.

New Sith Lords: Samuel Jackson and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman



Below: even better. Caveat watchor, since the light saber duel starting after 6 minutes very nearly killed me.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mock Mars Mission Ends

They claim they were trying to simulate the conditions of a Mars mission, although it seems they came closer to simulating medical school: "Psychologists said long confinement without daylight and fresh air put the team members under stress as they grow increasingly tired of each other's company." ZING! Article here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Megatron's New iPhone

Megatron thinks the terms of agreement on his updates are a little coercive.



NB this update turned him into Leonard Nimoy. IMO that's a bug, not a feature.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Byzantine, Centurion (from Oblivion Beckons, 2008)

Imagine if Chuck Schuldiner had joined Carcass and Ken Owen's replacement was Tomas Haake from Meshuggah (or maybe one of the boys from Dillinger Escape Plan?), and that's Byzantine. I think they also manage to escape the bounds of their genre better than any of these bands without looking like they're trying to. I hope these guys from the wildlands of West Virginia get the recognition they deserve now that they're back together. Imagine Meshuggah with occasional clean vocals, some Slayer influence, a truly unique sense of chord progressions, and some harmonic bits thrown in for good measure (thirds and all). All this innovation is well-presented by excellent production and some very light touches from non-traditional instruments, without compromising heaviness and aggression.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Constructed Languages in Science Fiction

Check out this post at author Marshall Maresca's blog about conlangs and the merits of fully elaborating one in the interest of complete world-building.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Insert Simulation Argument Joke Here

A visualization of the distribution of matter in the universe very soon after the Big Bang - The Bolshoi Simulation (via Vorjack at Unreasonable Faith). Starting points for your joke: either something about the little people in the simulation, or the simulators getting mad that we're forcing them to use so much computational power simulating our own universe convincingly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vernor Vinge at Mysterious Galaxy

I now have Vinge points,* and you don't. Below: during the discussion.



I was thrilled to meet and briefly talk with the good professor Vinge this evening at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego, where he did a reading from his most recent novel, Children of the Sky. This is in the Zones of Thought series, a sequel to Fire Upon the Deep, and takes place on the world of the Tines, a species of canine hive-minds into whose medieval civilization a human ship crashed long ago. It was also my first time at this store and how I missed it before, I don't know. It might actually be my favorite bookstore in San Diego now after that one visit. The champagne and cheese and crackers they put out didn't hurt one bit, but it was the science fiction book selection that won me over. What a resource.

Besides Children of the Sky, the audience also asked quesitons about other novels, especially Deepness in the Sky. There weren't as many singularity questions as I would have thought, considering here we had the man who invented the thing! I asked him one-on-one that if the Singularity is real, doesn't it at best mean that we'll be in a world completely re-designed by and for post-human intelligences who completely ignore us? (Still not a good outcome; ask any species whose numbers have dwindled since the start of the neolithic.) He referred back to his original 1992 essay where he coined the phrase, and said that of the tracks which could get us to the Singularity, the one that boded best for us was human intelligence enhancement - although he said that there were good arguments that humans were the last things you wanted becoming super-intelligent. (For previous posts on the Singularity go here.)

*I also have Robinson points, Barker points, and Benford points (no picture for that last one unfortunately.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cast Iron Crow - New Video



If you ever wondered why Alice in Chains didn't do more memorable riffs and thirds a la Maiden and Euro-infused styles of metal, you can just listen to Cast Iron Crow and you will have found paradise. This one nicely straddles the line between being formulaic and too bizarre or unpredictable to follow. Plus it's a pretty cool straight-ahead and refreshingly unpretentious video of guys playing music.

TOUR DATES:

Thu, Oct 20 Oakland Metro - Oakland, CA
Fri, Oct 28 Music Depot - Hayward, CA
Sat, Nov 5 Gilman - Berkeley, CA

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Completely Context-Dependent Power of Art

Joshua Bell played his violin as a panhandler in a metro station in Washington D.C. Interesting, because Bell is considered one of the greatest living violinists. Here's Bell performing Schubert's Ave Maria, one of the pieces he performed in the metro:



The experiment was whether the abstract power of his talent, and of the music he was performing, would cut through the fog of people's commutes. The unstated assumption is that if it doesn't, there's soemthing wrong with us.

The WaPo article deserves some criticism, but not for the questions it's asking. As such the piece is a really incisive look into high-cultural values that most of us are not comfortable questioning so explicitly, and Gene Weingarten deserves kudos for having the cajones for approaching Joshua Bell with the idea. As does Bell, who followed through on the experiment and seemed very forthcoming about his subjective experience. Indeed that may be the most interesting part of the piece. The rest is entirely predictable.

The problem with the article is the unstated assumptions buried in this experiment, and the often moralistic tone employed in discussing the whole enterprise and its outcome. Weingarten beats the reader over the head with said assumptions roughly enough that it seems he was intentionally trying to get us to notice them - but if that was really the point of his whole experiment, he doesn't ever allow that he realizes this. Some of them are:

Assumption #1: Beauty in art is context-free. The experience of beauty should radiate through and wake us up, regardless of our background. Kandinsky is often held up as an example of someone whose art showed his belief in context independence, and consequently as the classic example of the failure of modern art, precisely because it could not be reduced and purified to its essence. The National Gallery Curator in the article understood this clearly and was unusually frank about it; Joshua Bell did not. What's most interesting about believing artistic beauty is so strongly objective and context-free is that this would also mean it would be easy to build a machine to measure beauty, which (I would wager) most people who think art is context free would not want to believe.


Wassily Kandinsky, Yellow Red Blue


Assumption #2, related to the first one: Beauty in art exists on a one-dimensional spectrum. Should these people in the transit station have reacted the same way to someone playing Slayer, or Elvis, or to the world's best mime? If not, why not? The obvious answer is the presumption that classical music is better.

Even leaving aside debates about the virtue of one over another set of esthetic values (i.e. metal vs. classical, of course) I do not have adequate ability even as a music appreciator to hear why Bell is so much better than anyone else. (I do however claim such abilities where metal is concerned, and exercise them frequently on this very blog, of course for your benefit dear reader.) Again, this a) assumes the existence of only one dimension along which skill can be appreciated, but also b) requires special effort from appreciators, which wouldn't be so bad if c) there wasn't a moral judgment and presumptuousness that so few people have this skill.

Assumption #3: There is a moral failure in modern life if it does not lead us to appreciate artistic beauty - when and where the artists want us to. The fact is that we're saturated with media today, and we hear far more music and see far more art than people did even fifty years ago. (Indeed, American Gen X and Yers are more likely to listen to classical music than our parents.) Notice that it was the children in this story who stopped and listened to the violinist, because it was probably the first time they'd heard a violin. If we lived in medieval Europe when most people rarely heard music, they would have stopped too, not because medieval peasants could appreciate artistic beauty better or their lives were somehow more in balance, but out of sheer novelty, just like the children did.

But more important here is the sheer presumptuousness of such an attitude on the time of the passersby. I say this is good art, and if you don't take time out of whatever is important to you to look at it, there's something wrong with you! This was in Washington D.C.; if you're American, most of those people in the station are running your government, and here's this guy distracting them with a violin! I imagine a smartass artist response to this would be, "Exactly - their lives are out of balance." Next time this same hypothetical smartass is running somewhere, to their job or to pick someone up at the airport or to meet someone for lunch, let's take ten minutes of their time and ask them to just calm down and listen to some Miles Davis before they jump in the car, and we'll see whether they're concerned with balance then. The point is, there are lots of people who enjoy Joshua Bell and classical violin, and when they want to, they go to the symphony and do it there, on their schedule, when they're expecting to. Not completely out of context when they're trying to do their jobs.


To reiterate, Bell was gracious and brave to undertake such an experiment, as was Weingarten to approach him - but the article is better as a starting point for surfacing the assumptions we have about the esthetic demands that high culture makes on our attention.

Megadeth, My Last Words (Peace Sells But Who's Buying, 1986)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nomad 927, Choke (2011)

Check out Nomad 927, a San Diego experimental band. If you think of a very well thought-out Pelican with vocals, you'd be close. As cannot be pointed out enough, metal is awesome, and science fiction is awesome, and the song below has a famous insane computer in it at one point. What more do you need you idiot?!?! Their debut live performance (the anti blackout show) is tomorrow (today really), Tuesday, October 4 at 7:00pm at the Park Gallery in University Heights, San Diego. Click the little play button to hear their song Choke.

Choke (vocals by Gerg, music by Chanauk by Nomad 927 (Listen with headphones)


Get more of Nomad 927 here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Alexander Shulgin Documentary

If there's any single person that embodies Berkeley, California it's this guy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rova Saxophone Quartet, The Drift



Here's Rova Quartet's website.

While I'm posting classical saxophone stuff I might as well put a link to a Debussy piece for orchestra with saxophone.

There Are Many Nerds In San Diego

...and below is where to meet them. Moving here from San Francisco 2 years ago, I've often complained that San Diego culture isn't nearly geeky enough. Slowly but surely over the past few months I've discovered the nerdy corners and nooks of this place. There are lots of interesting, smart, fun, strange people here. In the interest of making San Diego a nerdier place, and to save you the trouble of digging, I highly recommend the following organizations to meet your fellow oddballs, science geeks, metalheads, and deviants:

The San Diego New Atheists and Agnostics - a predominantly social organization that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Atheist groups are always great places to meet interesting folks. General secular group events (including this one's) are listed centrally at SDCoR's calendar (the San Diego Coalition of Reason).

3RDspace is a cool venue in Normal Heights that hosts groups, art shows, you name it. Look at their calendar to see what's coming up.

Lesswrong - whether or not you're in San Diego, this rationality blog lists meetups for cities around the world, and some have been in San Diego and Irvine.

Sifter - gathers interesting folks and often focuses on exercise and outdoors stuff.

Che Cafe - frequent metal.


Should you decide to go to any of their events, feel free to say it was Mike and his awesome blog Speculative Nonfiction that steered you there. This will gain you immediate credibility.

Richard Cheese, Man in the Box (cover, orig. Alice in Chains, Facelift, 1990)

This is more clever than you'd think. It's also a smart idea to expand your audience, because when you're genre-shifting like this you can record just about any music that you enjoy, and then put the lyrics with it and say "this is Man in the Box". (The Tori Amos approach to Slayer's Reign in Blood was quite guilty of this; it's not clear that it's an interpretation at all.) But to be fair to Mr. Cheese, this sounds more like Man in the Box than I expected.



This version is almost more Klezmer than lounge-lizard.

Paper: Habitability of Tidelocked Planets

People in the planetary science groups at UC Berkeley and U. Hawaii produced this paper, which models possible instabilities in the climates of gravitationally tidelocked planets. As you might expect, in terms of habitability, it's worse to be tidelocked than not. Although Mars isn't tidelocked they use it as an example of the kind of run-away weathering that tidelocking could produce.

Here's an article of what would happen to our geography if the earth stopped rotating.




Iapetus is tidally locked to Saturn, as the Moon is to Earth.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

At Least Humans Have an Enzyme That Breaks Down Carbon Nanotubes

Kagan et al demonstrated last year that myeloperoxidase (which clinical types will recognize as an oxidative defense against certain bacteria) can break down nanotubes. Thus allaying once and far all any remaining concerns about the singularity and bio-invasive gray goo.*




Above: Believe the Singularity is coming? Well then you can rest easy that when the AIs decompile you in order to print matter at their whim, at least your hand won't turn all black and fall off like that. Not because of the specific structures pictured here that is. You're welcome.


*By that I mean, not allaying once and for all those concerns.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Van Canto, Battery (orig. Metallica, Master of Puppets, 1986)

I especially like the huge ancient-Rome-sounding perfect fifths they did for the bridge section. H/T to my fellow UCSD SOM Class of 2014 metahleads.



Only disappointment was that I was hoping the female would take the guitar solo. Around 2003 there was a crazy Japanese guy who did an all-vocal recording of himself covering Slayer's Angel of Death and put it up by MP3 (pre-Youtube days) but I can't find it. A music professor friend of mine once said that the evolution of Western music was strange in that the two kinds of sounds that humans make either imitate beating something rhythmically, or the tonality of the human voice, and Western music until recently neglected the former entirely in favor of the latter. So it's interesting that in versions of metal songs that return to more traditional instrument - strings like Apocalpytica, or the human voice as here - that they still end up including drums, much to their betterment. Ever seen Apocalyptica live? Their drummer might be my favorite that I've ever seen perform.

There's something to be said for a genre that inspires this kind of passion and inventivity. You don't see people doing stuff like this for Philip Glass or Lady Gaga.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cast Iron Crow in SoCal Early-Mid November


Cast Iron Crow is planning a tour supporting their debut album (First Edition) to Southern California in November. Venue suggestions for San Diego are welcome (leave a comment). Reviews here and here (free download at that last one). For CIC updates from the source, go to their Tumblr or Facebook.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The BNR Death Metal Tournament; Or, the Triumph of the Classics

Older records on average did better in BNR's death metal tournament. The average age of the releases in each round increased as the tournament moved toward a champion.


You'll note that I adjusted the y-axis from 0, because even in the first round (with the on-average newest releases) the average age was still 16 years old. That's right - the youngest group of records, on average, came out in 1995.

Why might this trend exist? The following possible explanations assume that the number and accessibility of metal releases has remained roughly constant since the late 80s (easy to argue with, more below) and also that the voting represents actual opinion.

1) Maybe the old sh*t is better. This is the most interesting possibility, especially if it generalizes to other areas of art. ("I liked Dali's early stuff but he sold out man.")

2) It's rare that people become metal fans and then later stop liking metal, but as people age, they do stop getting into new bands. Also, most metal fans aren't old enough to be lost through death, and it's not growing any faster than it ever was; so by the population dynamics of metal, most metal fans should have been metal fans for a while. Therefore there may be a tendency for more people to like older stuff. Note that if this is true, the average age should stay constant. So in other words, if they run this tournament again in 10 years, the average age of the first round should stay about 16 years, but then it will mean a release date of about 2005, not 1995.

3) In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb expresses something like Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap") as it applies to art over time. If 90% of everything is crap, the older something is that has remained accessible and current, the better it's likely to be - assuming quality has even a slight positive correlation with retention of interest in the work over time. Hence, instead of constantly digging for what might be a great work of art or literature or music (but probably won't be), a reliance on classical canons is a good crowd-sourcing strategy. And it's the rare death metal connoisseur who won't enjoy Death's Leprosy, the winner of the tournament.

4) Again generalizeable: maybe early successes in a genre define the genre. These constraints then sow the seeds of the genre's stagnation, because if future works stray from those constraints, they aren't as good; and if future works remain within those constraints, they're boring and not as good. That Leprosy is not compared against Megadeth's Rust in Peace (which won BNR's separate tournament for "regular" metal) but is the winner of its own category is interesting, because it's clearly being measured differently. This might be a good definition for speciation in the arts.

Note that if anything, metal releases have become more abundant and more accessible since the 90s and certainly the 80s. Therefore, if changing accessibility has an effect, it should skew toward the later releases (assuming quality is constant, we would find more good metal albums later, just because there are more metal albums later). So that can't explain what we're seeing here.


Other comments from this peanut gallery, which you should probably dismiss as being expressions of personal taste only:

- I'm surprised that Deicide got as far in this competition as it did. Even when I was 17 it was mostly good for a laugh, although carrying around this tape in school was enough to get me the nickname of Satan, which stuck for years.

- I love both Obituary's Cause of Death and In Flames' Jester Race but if I had to pick one I'd go with the latter. Looking at how the voting went, the neoclassical NWOSDM sound seems to be fading at the close of the metal Silver Age.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Games and Hyper-Reality

This lecture by CMU Prof Jesse Schell should be retitled "How Our Worst Cognitive Weaknesses Are Exploited For Money By Video Game Makers". Using games as incentives to get people to do things isn't a new idea but he boils a lot of it down to psychology in a very clear way. This brings up lots of points.

There are lots of people who don't ever play video games; unless you count this version of Missile Command, I'm one of them. It's not that we're Amish or something, but many of us just don't see the point of spending time learning skills (i.e. the necessary information and maneuvering in a game) that are not transferable out of the game, and which result only in points in the game. Here are some points that are much more worthwhile spending time on: going up 50 points on your credit score! going down 30 seconds on your mile time! Going down 20 points on your cholesterol! That last one gives you literal life points.

The problem is that I (and many other people) wish we were better at paying attention to those kinds of points. Life already is a kind of game anyway (especially if you think we live in a simulation) but the problem is reinforcement. If saving money and eating well and investing and doing speed work-outs (which I hate) had some kind of immediate positive feedback, either from beating your friends or seeing automatically how you've improved over time, lots of people would do them more and better. Schell talks about this at the end of the lecture. If somehow my efforts in Halo or Mafia Wars (those are games, right?) could help me organize my finances, then I would play those SOBs every damn day.

Schell also makes a few comments on the commodification of experience, echoing comments that Umberto Eco and others have made about modern capitalism, and how this has changed life specifically for American consumers. The experiences which are created and sold to us are quite brighter, more clearly-defined, more real than the things they're imitating – and they become "hyper-real". (Ever have a cherry pie without coloring and extra flavors, and realize you didn't like it as much?) This wasn't key to Schell's talk but it's interesting to see this theme's convergence with the technology world.

My own eureka moment on this came during a visit to the California Adventure section of Disneyland, which features various California gold-rush-history-themed rides set among transplanted ponderosa pines and ersatz Sierra granite. As I stood looking over the simulated whitewater of one of the rides, it occurred to me that I could be in the real actual Sierras, with wild ponderosas and genuine granite and whitewater, in about four hours. With no lines, and no screaming kids (or not screaming for long anyway, until the mountain lions do us a favor). But I had still paid to be at this fake one. The commodification of "wilderness" experience is my particular high horse, but then again I'm just fine with going to Taco Bell for "Mexican food", so I guess we all have to pick our compromises.

Disney vs. actual redwood forest.

Notice though that the question of hyper-reality applies to things we purchase mostly for their sensory content: music, food, experiences like Disneyland. Why? Some of the hyper-reality has to do with the brute sensory input of colors and flavor and meeting preconceptions, but some of it has to do with the ideas and beliefs you experience while you're consuming the product. So far it seems to be mostly food products that have exploited this avenue; i.e. you're thinking about how thoughtful of a person you are for buying fair-trade coffee and local organic produce, and what kind of wonderful people from a distant land you've interacted with indirectly. But not all products are as amenable to this as food. I don't know that people are concerned with whether their external A/C unit is "authentic".

"Creed is Good"

I think that phrase is even darker and more nihilistic than Gordon Gecko would have uttered, but this Slate article makes that dubious claim.

True confession, not only did I actually not mind Creed but I performed covers (singing Scott Stapp's part) with current Cast Iron Crow bassist Joseph Evans on guitar. (Next show, September 17th at the Englander in San Leandro.)

I just realized I'm the Ron McGovney of Cast Iron Crow.

Michael Moore Introduces Satanists in a Jacuzzi

The Words of a Great Man

Grand Magus, Black Sails (Hammer of the North, 2010)



Grand Magus was recommended to me by Tom of Crysknife.

Like Entombed Grand Magus has some very American-hard-rock-sounding elements, although moreso than Entombed they come across at times like a NWOSDM-infused version of Skid Row (the good elements of Skid Row). Mountains Be My Throne is another good one.

How The World Looks When It Rotates

To paraphrase an anecdote told by Paul Churchland in Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind, Russell said to Wittgenstein that people had a hard time grasping that the world was round, and that the world rotated rather than the sky, because that's just not how it looks.

Wittgenstein retorted, "Then how would it look, if the world did look like it was round and rotated?"

It was meant as a smart-ass rhetorical question to prove Wittgenstein's point that the world already looks like it's round and rotates, if your thinking is good and you knew what to look for. But I disagree. Because if the world looked like it's round and rotates, here's what it would look like.

A Timelapse Journey with Nature: 2009-2011 from Henry Jun Wah Lee on Vimeo.


The dramatic impact on our perception made by just changing the time scale is sublime.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Crowd-sourced Reverse Image Search

[Added later: the best guess seems to be that it's a Japanese door-curtain, i.e., the Japanese answer to a bead-curtain. If you think you can verify this or can definitely identify it as something else don't hesitate to comment.]

Here. H/T Dan. Google is trying to automate it but it didn't work well for this image (below). Would've been nice when I was trying to figure out what the flowers outside my front door were. Answer: Callistemon. I found it only because a nice gentleman in Georgia posted pictures happened to use the same descriptor I do, "toilet-brush flowers".

Here's what I'm trying to figure out what it is dammit. My own guess is it's a blanket or something for an office floor. It's hanging partly on a door here, it's flat fabric and about the thickness of a thin blanket, and it's the right size to drape over your legs. It has a tag on it that says "Oswal".

So what is this?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tom and Jerry, the Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R. Theme (1967)

Honestly, I still walk around humming this theme. I wish the composers would've written a whole album of spy theme music.



And while you're in a high-energy mod mid-60s action theme kind of mood, here's The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Peter Gunn and Hawaii Five-O. (I'm so sorry they Miami Viced the Hawaii Five-O theme for the re-boot. Only having Hottest Cylon Award Winner(tm) Grace Park kicking ass keeps me from condemning the show outright.)

Vernor Vinge, On How the Future Surprised Him

San Diego's own Vernor Vinge speaks to Reason Magazine:



One of the many things I liked about Deepness in the Sky was his subtle treatment of libertarian themes as they run into the messy realities of human life and struggles. Being able to non-clumsily incorporate Big Ideas into fiction is a sign of real skill.

More on his book Rainbow's End here.

Karnivool, Roquefort (Themata, 2006)

Here are some zany kids from Perth, West Oz, who I'm sure are gonna go far.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A More Formal Approach Detracting from the Simulation Argument

Brian Weatherson's approach has implications for the self-indication assumption mode of argumentation in general; specifically, he addresses claims on why and whether certain properties (like being human) can be exempted.



Roberto Venosa



Drugs. Drugs now. Venosa's website here.

Angela Bassett, Waiting to Exhale



This is the hottest scene from any movie ever. And now I have shared it with you.

You're welcome.

Balochi Music

Balochi are an ethnic minority in NW Pakistan and are the targets of a fairly ruthless internal war waged by Pakistan's always-ethical, non-lying, not-playing-one-side-of-the-other-and-incompetently-at-that military. I haven't yet thought about it in music theory terms but a lot of these pieces sound 2/3 Indian, 1/3 Celtic to me, and the style (as well as elements of the Balochi language) traces clearly to pre-Islamic Persian times.

Biological Material in Impact Ejecta



This article calculates the odds for Earth ejecta seeding Europa (actually, just Jupiter, but some would hit Europa).

A frequent topic here is the ability of comets and wet asteroids to serve as vectors for replicators, given that a) they have liquid water, b) organic compounds like amino acids and nucleobases, and c) small gravity wells that are easily escaped. Some comets are hyperbolic, which means they escape the solar system. (See here for calculation of spread rates between solar systems based on hyperbolic comets.) Whether this is the seedign of proto-biological materials, or a "lifecloud", or von Neumann probes is really up to your ability to gauge the intentions of probe designers, their ability to prevent function-destroying but fertility-enhancing mutations, and your own cut-off for a definition of primitive life (self-replicating RNA? Viruses? Floridians?)

Lyzanxia, Silencecode (Mindcrimes, 2003)



Somehow a lot of the bands that Carcass has strongly influenced are in France, like these excellent fellows. Carcariass is another great one although is maybe a little more Stockholm-sounding; although I imagine both bands might object if I say they were "influenced" since they started very early on and could be argued to be contemporaries.

Lyzanxia's Mindcrimes is one of the best metal albums of the last decade. I couldn't embed the first track on this album (Time Dealer) from anywhere but it's my favorite and has an off-tempo bridge section which is just brilliant.

Bonus: Carcariass, Watery Grave (The Killing Process, 2002). Both Lyzanxia and Carcariass are outstanding and should be much better-known than they are.

The Fermi Paradox From An Economist's Standpoint

As a dismal scientist, Karl Smith is probably onto something when he asks Where Is Everybody.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

Give it until about 1m20s.

In Ictu Oculi, Greta Alfaro.


If that's not enough for you, this might be. You might also try the late great Wesley Willis.

A Use for Quadrotor UAV's

Finally. Matternet is developing models for delivery of critical high-value supplies (like medicine) in parts of the world that lack roads and security infrastructure. Not surprisingly, the company's in-box is currently at Singularity University in Silicon Valley.

Below is a test flight of a quadrotor (not Matternet's model) at Stanford.

The Physics of Throat Singing

We have two sets of vocal folds in our larynx; one is "false" or vestigial, and doesn't normally serve to help us make sounds. Little kids often discover this independently, although it has actually been elevated to cultural art form - previous post with Tuvan throat singers here. Here's PhD thesis in acoustics by Leonardo Fuks about the physical properties of both woodwind and false vocal fold phonation (main section here, ToC here). I wonder who learned it first, Tuvans or alligators?

As an aside, China got UNESCO to recognize throat-singing as their own cultural contribution, which is outrageous B.S.


Alash River, Tuva, by Konstantin Mikhailov.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Borges, the Blue Tigers

A lesser-known short story, online here.

The expressed horror at the a-rational foundation of reality situates him squarely within the tradition of strange fiction (see Hodgson's House on the Borderland) which was only then beginning to differentiate itself from other fiction. Borges even anticipated cyberpunk in a way. The ethno-cultural mishmash, the messy repurposing of rational social order, the uncertainty and crime and based motivations that lead, in the coordinatedness of the modern age and the future, to higher phenomena that are strangely alien to human experience, yet uniquely associated by humans.

It was strange to see an image of Borges ideas during Google's recent celebration of his 112th birthday. His work never presented itself to me visually. It's mostly about ideas and therefore highly semantic, and except for very specific experiences required to support the ideas in the story, not sensory at all. For example, the special color in the story I just posted; or the sensation of fire in The Circular Ruins. Borges remains the only non-English-language writer who I make a point of reading in his original language. This is why it seems quite strange to me that he's honored with a picture, rather than text. Consequently the Google Doodle didn't look to me like Borges but rather like Ultan the librarian from the start of Wolfe's Urth of the New Sun novels.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This Bothered Me So Now You Have to Watch It Too

Like a Tool video made by Georg Cantor. The music is more industrial electronica but I mean come on.

METACHAOS from Alessandro Bavari on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Marshall Maresca and Bruce Sterling at ArmadilloCon

With others, they'll be on a panel called "Is the Singularity Possible?", a popular topic on this blog (a few relevant posts here, here and here). 10pm Saturday in Austin; schedule here.

Maresca's blog

Neil Degrasse Tyson is a Superhero



This went around a little bit ago but I mean come on. As if badass astrophysicist and wrestler wasn't enough, finally we know his alter ego: fighting crime as Late 80s Funk-Metal Man. Between him and Hawking's crime-fighting exoskeleton, the bad guys don't have a chance.

Intellectual Property on the Planet of the Apes

Franco's discussion with Jimmy Kimmel about a "non-visible art" museum - or rather, one which only contains plans and concepts for works of art - seems silly at first glance. But it becomes a lot more interesting in an age of 3D printing, where the templates are what really matter. Either way Franco is an interesting guy.

Metal From Failblog, Where Sadly, It Belongs



I must admit to one (and only one) tattoo, an un-dramatic but awesome "Delta S > 0" to celebrate the neat-o heat death of the universe. (I didn't have it yet when these guys signed me, so you can't see it there.)