Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Singularity and the Fermi Paradox

The idea that there will be a technological singularity relies on the development of self-replicating technology that is able to improve its replication and anticipation of the future (i.e. it is self improving). Those who argue for a singularity would seem to think there is a high likelihood of this happening, assuming humans continue to improve technology.

Therefore, if you believe that technology-using intelligence can evolve elsewhere in the universe, you should also believe that singularities have very probably already occurred elsewhere in the universe, barring an argument that the singularity is somehow predicated on provincial aspects of human technology.

If that is the case, it is very likely that evidence of any non-entropy-driven replicators (i.e. "life") from outside the solar system will be from an alien singularity, rather than the klugey "naturally" evolved aliens themselves.

This argument parallels Bostrom's simulation argument. A general form for arguments of this sort is

A) If the concept of revolutionary technology/event X is coherent,

B) And if humans are not the first technology-using intelligence to evolve,

C) then X has probably already occurred,

D) and also the universe as we already experience it is likely to exhibit characteristics determined by X.

It's worth asking how a very post-singularity star system would look from 50 LY away. Of course by asking about star systems, I'm engaging in matter chauvinism, because I assume matter is required for doing things like computation. Perhaps there are better substrates where we should be looking.

For those who think a human singularity is inevitable, but agree that we have not seen evidence of alien singularities, if the assumptions above are valid, then we should start rephrasing solutions to the Fermi paradox in terms of the singularity:

1) Singularity always equals cancer: when systems of self-organizing matter can move in giant steps rather than tiny incremental steps, their bad rules or inefficiencies matter much more, so they behave unsustainably and destroy themselves (in LessWrong parlance, they become paperclip maximizers.)
This is just a singulatarian instantiation of Fermi's concern that technological civilizations would destroy themselves, making Drake's L factor a major attrition factor.

2) There are signs are all around us but we don't recognize them (or, we just haven't looked hard enough.) We're not so bright. Do we know what a singularity would look like 25 million years after it happened? Don't discount this one. It's my explanation of why we haven't seen found anything yet.

3) We're in a backwater. If we look far enough away, or wait long enough, we'll see them.

4) Singularities conceal themselves. The ones that don't get destroyed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Middle Eastern Metal Is Coming. Are We Ready?

Recently Boing Boing reported that Bahrainis were feeling "triumphant, warlike, metal" based on their top download, Fates Warning "Ivory Gate of Dreams" from Somehow I had grown up a son of late 80s/early 90s metal without listening to much Fates Warning. Because of Bahrainis' enthusiasm, I have corrected this. So now Middle Eastern metal kids, you're influencing the rest of us. With your newfound freedom you must pursue the one sure path to enlightenment: METAL! Maybe it will be Middle Eastern metal that saves the rest of the world from the encroaching metal Dark Age.

And it occurs to me that in simultaneous service to freedom and metal, the metalheads of the free world should start checking out Middle Eastern metal. Without further ado, here's what I done found. (If you know of any others please comment.)

- The Voice of Metal in Bahrain on Facebook
- General rock and metal site on Facebook

EGYPT: A whole sh*tload at

IRAN: There's a whole frickin blog of Persian metal bands.

IRAQ: Acrassicauda of course! (Here on Facebook too.) (5/29/11 at Brick by Brick in San Diego!)

JORDAN: Bilocate

LIBYA: Disrooting

OMAN: Arabia (that's the name of the band)

PAKISTAN: somebody put together a video summarizing their 10 favorite Pakistani metal bands.

SAUDI ARABIA: Crossroads Arabia, SA death metal magazine

SYRIA: Trendkill

TUNISIA: Barzakh

YEMEN: couldn't find any! Do you know of some? Let me know!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Jumbo Jet in the Middle of Seoul

It's really odd. You should read about it and look at the rest of the pictures.

The Three Ages of Metal So Far: And the New Dark Age

If you don't read this blog for metal, you'll want to skip this one. If you do, gather round, and listen to tales of yore by your metal elders!

Metal has actually run in cycles from its speciation as a genre until now, with dark ages and Cambrian explosions alike. Here I argue that we're probably entering a new dark age but that the coming-online of parts of the world who've not yet contributed to global metal complicates this and may save us from the 2010's answer to Nu Metal.

The Iron Age of Metal and the Big 3: 1970-1975

I'm not going to rehash the Central Dogma of Metal, except to note that the early days of metal in the early 1970s were really dominated by 3 bands: Sabbath, Zep and the unfairly underemphasized Deep Purple, who often sound more like the bands that followed in the 80s than the other two. (For my money Zep is the least impressive of the bunch.)

The First Dark Age: 1975-1983

In terms of bands which inspired the next wave of metal, after the mid-70s there was an 8 year lull with the notable exception of Iron Maiden. Little is known about this era or the other bands that populated it, much like the Sea People of the ancient Near East.

The Golden Age of Metal: 1983-1994

This coincides with thrash, speed, etc. metal (which were stupid terms because they were all equivalent, since none of them ever distinguished any characteristic of any band from any other band), and contains the Big 4: Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica. The dark age here snuck up on us: 91-94 was the initially non-obvious backside of this curve. The genre was no longer underground once Metallica started appearing on MTV and the radio. Carcass went to Sony, then was shown the door. There were some ominous motifs noted even at the time: album covers and videos started being overrun by old men. Perhaps the genre knew its energy was flagging.

The Great Dark Age: 1994-2001

1994's Slayer release was not up to their usual standard, perhaps because it was Lombardo-less. Wearing on into the mid-90s, Danzig IV was bad (and don't even ask about Blackaciddevil). Sepultura broke up. Worst of all, mosh pits formed at a Belly show outside my dorm window. Everywhere were signs of decay. Bands began dabbling in every other genre, whether for broader acceptance or a need for unlistenable, super avant-garde originality (think of Pestilence, Mordred). I was so traumatized by this that, now that I'm seeing similar trends in prose in works like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies I tremble for the future of literature in general. This was to be metal's Mannerist Period, except instead of long necks, it was mongrel metal.

There were bright moments during the interegnum. Carcass put out Heartwork at the tail end of the Golden Age and Swansong came out in '96; thereafter Carcass disbanded, an immoral act if ever there was one because it deprived us of future art. Also during this period there were solid releases from one of the Big 4, specifically Megadeth putting out Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings; but Load and Diabolus in Musica didn't give the world what it needed. (Semen on the cover of an album? Did that really seem like a good idea gentlemen?)

Meanwhile, filling in the gap by the late 90s/2000 we had the dreaded nu metal*, the likes of Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Korn and Slipknot. These were truly desperate times. In '94 the metal depression was not obvious but in '96 it could not have been denied.

Recovery and the Silver Age: 2001-2009

(Keep in mind that in 2001 I was already 27 and a little out of the metal demographic. So forgive me if these dates are a little later than they were for you.)

The early waves of NWOSDM reaching the U.S. in the late 90s were a real bright spot. In Flames gave me hope that the light of metal was not yet extinguished (by the way, if you think I'm being a little stupidly melodramatic, go read some Billzebub interviews and then come back with your palate cleansed.) In the U.S. the New England metal scene was producing commercially successful bands, but nothing hard except for Hatebreed (and that Seth Putnam comedian was still staggering around.)

There was a major non-music factor that drove the recovery: technology. Metal sites like Blabbermouth appeared that supported the community like never before. During the golden age, there were a couple usenet groups and a couple magazines, but there really was very little two-way communication outside your little circle of 4 metal buddies from your high school or dorm. Culturally I think it helped that metal fans relaxed and started having fun at shows, and appreciating when musicians had fun - instead of trying to impress everyone with how mean and evil and angry you are all the time. (Granted, this was and still is polluted by irony to some degree; some people will do anything to avoid appearing to be made happy by something!) The best early example I saw of the "return to fun", for want of a less stupid-sounding term, was at the Grocery in Manhattan in 2002, which had a weekly live metal karaoke night. What a blast!

Again, as with the beginning of the dark age, the beginning of the recovery and the death of nu metal was not obvious at the time - Limp Bizkit opened for Metallica as late as 2003 - but it was coming, and the recovery had started in retrospect by 2001. I had expected metal would get an infusion from punk and hardcore, which happened - at the Gilman in Berkeley in 2000-2002, if you asked kids in the bands whether they were metal or punk (because they sounded the same), their answer mostly correlated with whether they liked Bad Religion or Pantera better. By 2003 I heard Avenged Sevenfold blaring out of a house in my neighborhood and knew the recovery was on.

2 other minor innovations: it seemed like metal bands had exhausted every cool noun or noun phrase to use as a name by the late 90s, so I wondered if they weren't going to start using verb phrases (As I Lay Dying, Avenged Sevenfold, etc.) I'd also expected metal to start raiding other religions for novel eschatology and theodicy vocabulary, and was satisifed to see this had happened when I saw Shadowsfall open for In Flames at the Glass House in L.A. ("the First Noble Truth"). (Side note: they had TVs embedded in every surface, including the floor, and were cycling the eye-slicing scene from Un Chien Andalou. Try to relax while that shit's playing before you've had your second Guiness.)

Before moving on, a word is required for the excellent upper Midwestern metalcore scene in the mid-aughts; Dead to Fall and Black Dahlia Murders come to mind. Other innovative American acts that are still with us include The Sword, Pelican, Mastodon, along with a peppering of excellent cerebral European metal (Lyzanxia). By the mid-aughts it seemed that musicians composed innovative metal while recognizing that there were rules of composition they could choose to deviate from, or not. Conventions had been set. Silent Civilian, for example, strikes me as an outstanding band that's dead-set on producing great metal, rather than neurotic about "originality" (think of Handel: was he worried about "originality", or about writing good music?) While it might've been hard for me to admit this at 18, this is to the genre's credit (and Silent Civilian's - listen to this and try to tell me it's not excellent. This is pretty cool too.)

Descent Into A New Dark Age: 2009-?

A new world not quite so brave, one might even say - in fact, right on the edge. (One of my top rules for living: always work in Carcass lyrics when you can.) But what happened? Again we've lost our way. By Cloud Connected, In Flames had turned into Abba. For that matter, name a band that became well-known in the past 2 years that you really dig and expect to be around in another 2 years. By the end of the last decade bands were making claims that they had written Ride the Lightning Part II (sorry Trivium), and fallen far short. So I have some bad news for you: we're now at the beginning of another metal recession. It's never obvious for the first couple years, but here we are. I don't know who will save us (are you a kid playing metal? maybe you!). Unfortunately I might be too old the next time around the block.

My Predictions For the Next Wave of Metal

- Metal will be composed and performed by accomplished musicians (often professionals from other genres) with no axe to grind and no need to prove to people that metal is a real genre. There will also be recognized and not-resisted well-established rules of metal composition - metal has been around long enough at this point that there's no debating it, and the overstated obsession with "originality" will decrease. The downside is that, even though metal will be more ubiquitous, there may not be a metal "community" as such anymore. This is partly a result of the internet, which means that subcultures don't scare people anymore - they're too easy to look up on Wikipedia.

- We'll move away from the myth that metal bands are primarily a live phenomenon (Metallica in particular believe this about themselves and it's flatly false). Given piracy, certainly to make money, you will have to do live shows. So studio recordings will have to be either passion-driven and available free, created by kids in high school and college (and hopefully, a searchable online metal resource so the crowd figures out what's good so you don't have to wade through crap); OR, more records will end up being crowd-financed by the distilled fanbase that reads the Twitter-stream equivalent. (This is happening already with movies.) We're also going to see a lot of metal that never came out of a guitar.

- I think the emotional space of metal has been pretty swept-out. It's modern war-dances, and there are only so many variations on that theme. I have no predictions for the direction that sweeping-out will drive it.

- I keep predicting that the rise of middle classes around the world and the internet will result in metal from elsewhere, twisted in unique ways by local tastes. The international brotherhood of metal is ever stronger, but still there are no bands getting to us from China or Argentina. Why not? I largely credit NWOSDM with salvaging metal during the Dark Ages, but I see no emerging non-Anglophone metal scene to save us! This is why we need a directory. Malay metal! Salvadoran metal? Here a plug for the metal scene in Calgary, Alberta, which I stumbled across, and which is awesome - but I never would have known about it otherwise. (By the way, I'm not as active a metal-seeker as I was and if this does exist, please direct me to it.) I imagine there's a lot of pent-up anger in all those new or soon-to-be Middle Eastern democracies - here's a directory of their metal.

- If I'm going to draw another art history analogy, I would say that music in general (outside of the academy) hasn't really been that strongly influenced by computers yet (by that I mean its production, not its distribution). Maybe this is limited by the bandwidth of the human ear and brain; if not, we're going to see a chance in the next decade parallel to what happened when art became abstract in response to being supplanted by photography a century ago. What it might mean to decompose metal into planes, I don't know, but a) it would be cool and b) I eagerly await metal's Picasso and Dali, as opposed to its Michelangelo and Velasquez who have already come. (Meshuggah may already be its Cezanne.)

*Speaking of nu metal, Lars Ulrich once said P.O.D. (remember them? Me neither), a nu-metal band, copied Hallowed Be Thy Name by Iron Maiden. I don't have the axe to grind with Ulrich that a lot of people seem to, having randomly met him once in San Francisco and talked to him (he was nice enough). But I do think he had a lot of chutzpah on this specific point, considering that Ride the Lightning closely tracks Powerslave and Number of the Beast in song structure and lyrical theme, if not direct melodies.

Skynet Knows How to Tug On Our Heartstrings

By obsoleting the lawyers first, Skynet has bought itself a special place in our hearts. Who can be mad at the cuddly supercomputer as it consumes the livelihood of legal parasites the world over?

On the other hand, maybe the lawyers engaged in a Lovecraftian deal with the AIs in order to be eaten first. Not dead which eternal lie, ipso facto according to Part III conversant with the party of the third part.

Meshuggah, Stengah (Nothing, 2002)

Make sure you've taken your ayahuasca before you click play, or you will be injured.

I admire how Meshuggah seems to have made conscious decisions to separately analyze the most basic elements of their work. How will we use rhythm? How will we use tone? Solos are either tone-only (long, drawn out single notes held for multiple measures) or motion-only, moving quickly through unpredictable patterns; trying to tell the notes is like trying to read a sparkler. A good solo on this album can be found in Glints Collide.

The U.S. Will Not Put a Man on Mars First

I don't know if I'll be able to put up with everyone acting surprised when Russia and/or Europe and/or China beat the U.S. to a manned landing on Mars. This article shows a combined Russian-European effort to explore some of the physiology and psychology problems that might arise during such a mission. Where will it be? Chinese patriotic fervor? Eccentric Russian fossil fuel billionaire and hardy army volunteers?

I think most of us would be all-for an international effort but in the U.S. political climate, committing to funds as would be needed for such an endeavor would be political suicide. I hope I'm wrong.

Iron Maiden, Flight of Icarus (cover)

A correspondent shares this:

Philip K. Dick's Late-Career Revelation

Note: I wrote this post a few weeks before the earthquake in Japan. The last Philip K. Dick work I read was a short story collection I bought at a foreign language bookstore in Sendai. Sendai is the kind of city where you can find, tucked away on the third floor of shopping complexes, bookstores that carry science fiction in foreign languages. For that and many, many other reasons, it is my favorite city in Japan. Do what you can to help.

Ludicrously, there are more Dick films coming. I have not yet read the Christian-mysticism-themed Radio Free Albemuth, though I'm more excited about the coming Ridley Scott version of the Man in the High Castle.

I had never heard of Dick's late life real-life Christian mystic conversion, though given some of his other experiences it's not too surprising. Of course if we want to read about a science fiction writer from that era with a connection to religion, L. Ron Hubbard is much better known. There is of course the story that Hubbard once said to another science fiction writer that there was no money in science fiction, and the way to get rich was to start a religion. Though I have no love for something as silly as Scientology, I always thought that this too-fitting story was of dubious verisimilitude (although if you have a source please comment).

Well, it turns out that one common version of that story has Dick as the other writer. Zany! If such an exchange actually happened, it leads to interesting speculation about the motivation for Dick's In-Hoc-Signo:

1) He was honestly reporting his experiences, and was influenced by thiopental (schizophrenia initial onset at that age would be unusual, but these are heavy drugs)

2) He was doing clever marketing.

3) He saw that Scientology had actually taken off, got jealous, and wanted to start his own Xenu club.

I'm half and half #1 and #3.

UCSD Should Start a Department of Rhythm Guitar Riffs

...and and make As I Lay Dying the first dean. When I hear this, I want to destroy the whole universe and end all life, i.e. it makes me happy.

Blade Runner Remake and the Elements of Literature

Blade Runner is the best movie of all time. If you want to argue that point, you are fundamentally flawed, cognitively and morally. I'm interested to see what they're going to try to create in the Blade Runner mold but I don't envy them their responsibility and I'm not getting my hopes up.

Reflections on film and prose in the setting of science fiction:

1) Film is much more capital-intensive. It costs more money to make a movie than write a book, which is fundamental to the nature of the work that gets produced. Film-makers are naturally going to be more risk-averse. This is why there's a longer tail on BOTH sides for books in terms of innovation and quality, and more interesting/ experimental/weird books than movies. The barrier to entry and risk to investment is just lower (and books can be written solo). Hence, movies like Blade Runner get accidentally made and are considered failures by most people responsible for their creation and distribution, because it was a box office disaster, even though it continues to make people happy, a mere 8 years from 2019. (Speaking of which, I'm calling dibs on Blade-Runner themed parties New Years Eve 2018-2019.)

2) In movies where a paradigm shift is key (spoiler alert, Deckard is a replicant), it's very difficult to pull off a second one. In fact this puts the producers of sequels in a very bad position. If you use the same paradigm shift, it won't be cool because everyone already knows; to their credit, in the new V, at least they didn't drag it out, like a vampire movie where you have to wait around for the police to figure out what the audience, and everyone with a brain, figured out the first time they find a corpse drained of blood by two bite marks in the neck. In Planet of the Apes the spin Burton tried to put on it was absolutely pointless. And the Matrix sequels were largely done in by the unexpectedness of the shift in the first movie. But on the other hand, if they don't do something with the who's-a-replicant question, they're not making a Blade Runner sequel, and why did you go see it? It's really a rock and a hard place, and why from an artistic standpoint these kinds of movies should be left alone after the first one. If they were Box Office flops like Blade Runner, they might be; if they made money like the Matrix, they won't be. This isn't a problem just in science fiction - action thrillers often use paradigm shifts as well. As the most intense possible plot element, paradigm shifts will be useful in any plot-driven genre, which both science fiction and action thrillers are.

3) Because of the capital-intensiveness and therefore the risk aversion of the film-making endeavor, the use of cinematic properties that are guaranteed an audience, or at least close simulacra of them, is one approach to minimize risk. E.g., Transmorphers, or Starcrash. These film makers didn't seem to have delusions of art like Ed Wood did - these are businesspeople, and they're very good at what they do, and they seem to get a good ROI. Even if you rent it just as a goof, unless you pirated the thing, you still paid to see it. Ironic dollars raise bottom lines just as well as earnest ones do. (Note: if you watch Starcrash, watch the documentary Marjoe too. I stumbled across Starcrash being shown in a bar on my 35th birthday, oddly immediately after I had seen the Marjoe documentary and not known that Marjoe was ever in a "real" movie.)

Science Fiction and the Elements of Literature

There's more to be said about the importance of literary elements in science fiction, versus other genres. Literature is first and foremost built on plot (I'm just paraphrasing Aristotle here - the focus on character is a modern development.) The evolution of literature is about bringing more of its basic elements into play over time. The first stories were just lies: plot elements that didn't happen, even if the people were all real. (Imagine a caveman telling his tribe that he fought a huge bear.) Gradually, people got smart enough to know when they were getting lied to but to enjoy it anyway, and to let the story-teller know that they knew they were being lied to, but keep going. Chimps can deceive each other but not on the level that we can. Eventually, some smartass decided to make up people who never existed, or even whole classes of people that never existed (like ghoststhe kind that live on Mt. Olympus.)

More recently, setting has been brought consciously into play, and we make up places and times that never existed. Thinking about it this way gives us an idea about how to resolve the perennial question of whether Shelley or Plato were writing science fiction: they were certainly using the setting element creatively, to make a point or tell a story that they couldn't tell without playing with setting, but (to their credit) there was no continuous convention of using the setting as one of the variable elements.

More recently than setting, structure and genre rules are in play. Again, we can look back to previous examples: some sections of Shakespeare's Tempest, or Don Quixote, or certainly Tristram Shandy play this game - but there was no continuous convention until the last century. In part, developing an awareness of these elements and structures is a malady of the postmodern age that we can't escape because this wealthy era so saturates us in media that we can't help but notice the patterns. Consequently, to stand out in the marketplace, writers have no choice but to tweak our nerves by violating these now-obvious expectations slightly. This is no surprise, since what drives pattern recognition in all organisms from worms on up is what has driven art since day 1: novelty with some preservation of patterns that can still be recognized.

Testament, Electric Crown (The Ritual, 1992)

The Ritual followed the early 90s trend anticipated by Metallica of a mainstream thrash-to-rock transition; who knows if there was "something in the water", or whether it was a move motivated by sales. Either way this album was roundly criticized (including from within the band), which I think is ill-founded. Electric Crown is one of my favorite Testament songs and this record takes me back to my freshman year in college. I never even knew there was a video for
this (here it is, song cut short for the format.) Guessing, I think this was filmed at the Water Temple on the Peninsula near Palo Alto.

On posting this I realized I had many gentle Testament moments to share. Share yours in the comments, wontcha?

- Best one: I saw them on my 33rd birthday in San Francisco, an awesome show if ever there was one, with the usual two assholes with whom I go to Bay Area metal shows. These two assholes never read my blog, which is why I can repeatedly call them assholes in total safety. (On the other hand, to all the assholes who do read my blog, my sincere thanks.) There's no better way to stave off the advance of unwelcome maturity than with healthy doses of thrash metal, hence this show was a perfect birthday experience. At one point it was announced that someone had flown in from Beijing specifically to see this show and I believed it. The next day I was setting a group running trail in an awesome Bay Area State Park with not-so-awesome rangers, and because I was still deaf, I couldn't hear the approaching engines of their four wheelers as they chased us down for setting an illegal trail. Fortunately my trail-setting partner hadn't been to the same show and her hearing was intact, which fact kept us from an ugly confrontation. (We got away partly by heading into a canyon where the four wheelers wouldn't fit. The rangers were fat and wouldn't get off their four-wheelers. NICE.)

- I also saw Eric Peterson's Dragonforce several times, once in Alameda, where an earlier incarnation of Cast Iron Crow was opening for them, and got to shake Eric's his hand afterward. At that show he was wearing corpsepaint, which I hadn't been expecting. The corpsepaint tradition has spread from Norwegians to Apaches I guess.

- A few years ago at a Slayer show in San Jose I remember noticing a stunning blonde watching the show from next to the soundboard, which was set up in the middle of the venue floor. During the show I couldn't stop turning around to look at her. It wasn't until the end of the show as the crowd was breaking up that I noticed the large man standing next to her, named Chuck Billy. I saw them together at later shows, including at a Soilwork show in San Jose where both Chuck and Eric played a song with the band. (Eric had clearly rehearsed the part, whereas Chuck needed the lyrics printed out for him.) Later I got to shake Chuck's hand and thank him for enriching my life. He was quite laid back.

- A historical observation: much is made of Francis Drake's well-behaved interactions with the Indians he encountered during his pit-stop along the northern California coast in 1579. Even assuming his account was an honest one in this regard, I'm not impressed that this shows Drake's honor and decency. Why? It's likely that the people he met were Pomo. Chuck Billy is Pomo. Ask yourself this: if you landed a boat with maybe a hundred men in a strange land, and there were a few thousand guys there the size and shape of Chuck Billy, would you behave yourself? Yes, and not just cause you're so nice.

- Saw Alex Skolnick's jazz trio at the soon-to-go-extinct Blake's in Berkeley. He did easily the oddest version of War Pigs I've ever heard.

- Souls of Black was probably the first occult-looking album I bought. Until then I had only bought Justice (as opposed to high-speed dubbed it. Remember that? Tape-to-tape transfers?) and Justice isn't so evil-looking. Souls of Black fixed that.

This Is Not Evidence of Life on Asteroids

I'm on record as saying we will probably find evidence of life in the form of replicator chemistry (more common parlance, von Neumann probes) on asteroids and comets. My reasoning is here.

There was a recent paper in the Journal of Cosmology on this very topic which has come in for a good deal of bashing. Like many theories, my theory is a good story. But good stories are a dime a dozen. So now we need evidence to support or falsify the hypothesis.
Unfortunately, after this paper, we still have none.

CUT MATRIX SCENE: Morpheus Visits the Architect AND the Oracle

Although they take different forms than those to which he is accustomed...
and so does he.

What is "real"?

UCLA Kids Honoring Ministry

Warms the heart to see them doing a little back-and-forth performance art to commemorate their elders. First, listen for a few seconds (just a few seconds, trust me, you'll thank me):


And while you're at it you might as well:

Solitons in Swimming Pools: Verified

...Verified, that is, the appearance of the physical phenomenon, but not what it means. I did the experiment as promised, and though with the light I couldn't get a picture, the vortices lasted 42 seconds. There's not much of a trick to it at all and it's really quite eerie. It looks like this when it works (not my film):

Note: the pool has to be fairly calm as evidenced by failure to replicate it in Palm Springs with pre-eminent Large Hardon Collider scientist Thurston supervising.

Claims have been advanced that these are virtual particles and their behavior has implications for the geometry of space time. The math is all quite beyond my poor power to evaluate so I asked two people: an astrophysicist and a cosmologist. The astrophysicist said politely that it was bunk. The cosmologist (in fact, it was Dr. Splat himself) said:

I can certainly see how these things can exist in a pool, but connecting that to string theory is a bit of a stretch. He already acknowledges that there is a Navier-Stokes solution for these. If he actually knew what he was doing, he'd be asking whether these structures exist in General Relativity (& I'd bet that they do), not string theory. They might be something like a rotating wormhole.

People often see 'spooky' connections between phenomena at different scales & then try to say 'everything must be made of vortices', or twistors...But I think what's really going on is that there are only so many ways to write down a successful physical theory, & almost all of them involve second-order partial differential equations with varying degrees of nonlinearity.

Behold: Unicron, i.e. Wesley Willis

The fast-paced ones were always more fun.

Seriously, think of the similarities between the two:

- Hates Batman
- Eats whole planets ("I'm sorry that I got fat")
- You need to leave them alone with your war-hell-ride punk
- Was destroyed by the Autobot Matrix of Leadership

Even if every human being who knows both references reads this post I still think the audience is around twelve people.

Sadly I must admit to having seen Wesley Willis perform, in 2001 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. I say "sadly" because of my motivation, which was the same as everyone else's at that show. Imagine a room packed with white urban alterna-types in their late 20s. People went crazy cheering when he went on stage. Somewhere around the fourth song I looked around and noticed people looking sad and bored ("Wow, my irony isn't protecting me from realizing that I just paid to be amused by the incoherence of a mentally ill man, and now I'm just sad and bored." At least that's the reaction I was having.) Maybe a tenth of the crowd stayed for the full show. I was going to go get my head-butt before the show but he got a little too rough with some of the people in front of me in line so I decided not to.

I Like When Reality Beats Science Fiction

Alvin Toffler always said the future always gets here too fast and in the wrong order. So get ready for some trope-and-quote mixin': "The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy."

I wouldn't spot this easy. If you don't know there are terminators around and you're not generally fearful of all humanoids, then assuming they can get it to walk, it could get close to you for a few seconds before it failed the Turing test or you noticed something was wrong. By then, too late. Even if they can't get it to walk convincingly, they can get it to at least crawl like an injured soldier, which would also excuse it from having to talk intelligibly for any length of time. By "they" I mean "government with resources to build this weapon" or (much worse) as always, "Skynet". Not ready for prime time right now, which is unfortunately. It would be kind of funny if in the first war between humans and terminators, the real John Connor was one of Gaddafi's men.

There are those who explain away obviated science fiction as alternative history, but that's weak. Steampunk, as much as I hate it, is alternate history, because you know it didn't happen that way when you're writing it. Hugo Gernsback or H.G. Wells is not alternate history, it's just wrong predictions. To his credit, in the Ender's Game universe (most of which was written when geopolitics changed around the end of the Cold War) Orson Scott Card put in something about the "New Soviet Union". Still, interesting to live in a world where a science fiction writer's futuristic-sounding ideas are sometimes behind the curve of technology that's actually being developed in commercial labs. (Building proteins out of D-amino acids? OLD NEWS BUDDY!)

I'm Back, Here's RATM's First Public Performance

Since I've fallen off the wagon with blog posting I might as well post some METAL. Here's the first performance of Killing in the Name of, 1991, Cal State Northridge: