Saturday, December 30, 2006

Superhero Personality Test

Your results:
You are The Flash

The Flash
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
Iron Man
Fast, athletic and flirtatious.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Soylent Green

I remember when I was first told where milk came from. I didn't have any of it for about a week until I realized that in order to be consistent I would also have to give up ice cream. If you think more than a little about many of the foods we eat you could easily find a way to talk yourself out of it. Similarly, but with even greater ease your hunger will talk you out of your abstinence. It is a delicate game we play with ourselves, a deliberate self-delusion that is often aided and abetted by language.

If we called that white liquid by the name of bovine lactose or even cow's milk then the connection would be more readily apparent so we call it just milk instead. If you're sitting down for breakfast you may have in front of you chicken embryos, pig's ass, as well as tubular intestines and snouts (eggs, bacon and sausage) but describing it as such could be problematic. While eating turkey dinner over the holidays I realized that the gravy added a lot of flavour to the meat and mashed potatoes. But it might surprise some people to consider that gravy is made mostly out of the blood that drains from the cooking meat which then mixes in with the melting fat.

I'm guessing that people from the city are more adept at playing this game of self-delusion since we may live and die among the towers without ever seeing where food really comes from. We frown upon people who go out into the woods, stalk and shoot an animal to later dismember and eat it. But in that case at least the animal has a fighting chance, which is more than can be said for that chicken or cow born and raised in a factory farm only to be later killed and dismembered for our eating pleasure.

Despite what I have just written and how disgusting it all sounds, I still eat meat. We live without admitting that life is at its base a messy and visceral affair that retains all of the disgusting ancient caveman products and processes which we have cleverly removed from sight through the alienation of automation and removed from mind through the palatable renaming of those products and processes.

Sometime after discovering the back-story on milk I was told of the connection between what goes in my mouth and what comes out at the other end. I didn't eat for all of about six hours until my hunger got the best of me. And if you don't know what Soylent Green is made of, here's news that they're now making something else from this abundant renewable resource.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Abide the Chains that Bind

A mutt snuggles up to a little girl looking for attention and she rewards him with a thorough rubbing behind the ears. This girl confides in her friend at school about how mean her dad is to her and her friend hugs her and tells her not to worry since she'll be old enough to leave home soon. This sage of a friend doesn't reveal just how mean her own father is to her, she only tells her teacher who promises to help and tells the girl that it's not her fault. This teacher cries on my shoulder and I tell her I love her. I seem to be at the end of this emotional food chain.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Backwards Incompatible

We're driving faster and faster into the future, trying to steer by using only the rear-view mirror.

- Marshall McLuhan

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Skeumorph (Skeuomorph)

Nearly every funeral hearse that you see has a landau roof. In fact some of the ugliest cars also have landau roofs. It's that leathery looking back part of the roof that makes the car look like it's a convertible without actually being a convertible. It is a design element that is left over from horse drawn carriages. Those ancient buggies would often have ribbed covers that could be pulled up or down depending on the weather. Auto marketers needed to sell to people who might have been uneasy with the horseless carriage so they cleverly conspired to keep some design elements from the old carriage, like the landau roof, so the old guy could feel at ease in his high-tech contraption.

The landau roof is an example of a skeumorph - a design feature left over from the past with all of the visual markers intact but with the functionally mostly or completely missing. One example would be the instances of Greek or Roman pillars one finds in front of those giant houses in the suburbs that are built by people who prove over and over again that money simply cannot buy taste. Denim jeans have fake rivets reflecting construction methods before the development of modern textile manufacturing processes.

With the hyper-acceleration of the rate of change we don't have to go very far back to see an example of a skeumorph. The Microsoft Zune was designed with a prominent circle on the lower half of the face of the device. It looks like a scroll-wheel but it isn't. It is actually a constellation of buttons laid out in a circle with the only possible purpose being to make it look just like an Apple iPod.

Let me know if you come across other examples.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gift Ideas

If you're wondering what to buy me for Christmas, don't even consider gift certificates. It's like giving currency as a gift but the currency of some limited geographic use like the Slovenian tolar. I'm sure Slovenia is a lovely place and they may have wonderful things I may consider buying for myself but why do you want to limit me to shopping only in Slovenia?

Advertised lately are gift certificates for a collection of various stores or restaurants under a larger corporate umbrella or gift certificates that can be redeemed at any store inside a particular mall. Again, why limit me?

If you insist on giving a gift certificate then consider giving the most useful gift certificate ever invented: Cash. It's accepted in every establishment at the mall, in every restaurant, by any street vendor and if it's US cash it's probably accepted also in Slovenia.

Black or White

Fundamentalism is:

the fear of grey.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I'd like to thank...

I just opened my reader and found the following message:

"You" have been named as Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

I just want to thank all of you. It could not have been done without each and every one of "You".

I guess no one bothered to tell Chrysler because they are running an ad on that reads "You might not be Time Person of the Year. But you can drive like you are."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Speaking of Punk

I never really bought into the CD craze. I went straight from vinyl to MP3. I've recently been downloading some of the music that I own only on vinyl. These are some of the bands that made my teen years bearable.

The Clash - Arguably the best Rock and Roll band of all time. Probably their worst album was their most famous album.

Crass - Even if they never heard any of their music the album covers were enough to scare decent folk.

Stiff Little Fingers - This was the music I played on my car's cassette deck on my first date with Cathy. We're still very close, so it must have impressed her. I just downloaded All The Best of Stiff Little Fingers and was dismayed to find that their subsequent albums were really quite lame.

The Stranglers - Everyone talks about how these guys were the progenitors of Punk but you might appreciate them more for their later work which is probably some of the better examples of New Wave.

The Ramones - I bought my first drum kit for $100 from a guy who lived right beside the Dofasco Steel Factory. The shit had been played out of it and the worn-out skin on the floor tom had "The Ramones" scribbled on it in ink. Many years later I would see them live at RPM. For several days I feared that I had permanently lost my hearing.

Forgotten Rebels - This was a local band that shocked me with lyrics like "Elvis is dead. The big fat goof is dead, dead, dead" and song titles like "Bomb the Boats and Feed the Fish."

Dead Kennedys - Exhilaratingly fast west coast speed punk. I only played songs like Nazi Punks, Fuck Off when my parents weren't home. I remember showing the Frankenchrist album to Mr. Roper, the straightest laced Vice Principal you could imagine. He politely viewed the banned Giger poster that came with the album and mused that the name must be a comment that America hasn't been the same since the Kennedy assassinations.

Punk was for many a reaction to the numbing banality of Disco. Although it's pretty funny now.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Time Travel Tourism

You are asked to choose some time in the past to which you will travel. It could be a thousand years ago, a hundred years ago or last week. When you get there you will create a new timeline so that everything after that point will begin to play out as it would have with the addition of your influence. You might want to pick a time far enough in the past so that people don't recognize you. You could use your future knowledge to gain power, wealth or lost love but act fast since the stock market won't behave exactly the same way it did the first time around since you the butterfly will be emanating hurricanes of change from your minutest actions.

Strapped in, the machine turned on.
They disappeared.

To the past of their choosing?
No way to know for certain.

Their new timelines would have no effect on ours.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


"The only thing constant is change itself."

- Heraclitus (535-475 BC)

"The 20th century is the century in which change changed."

- Marshal McLuhan (1911-1980)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Free Media

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
-- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

New technologies are often described by way of a metaphor or an extension of existing technologies. The automobile was initially called a "horseless carriage" and rightfully so. It performed the exact function of the carriage which was to carry people from point to point and the carriage makers soon went out of business.

The radio to some extent performed the same function as the music box. It could play music but did so wirelessly at a distance. So by seeing it as a music box one could wonder how one would collect revenue by sending out music to nobody in particular. At best, it could be used for public service or education but how could you make money from it? It soon became clear that commercially the radio was more within the paradigm of the newspaper. They both deliver content which may or may not be freely distributed but the real revenue is made from selling advertising.

Early television was described by some as an educational tool and thought destined to be an electronic teacher of the future. The metaphor could be apt but it was a little misguided commercially. Commercially it has more in common with print and radio since it came also to make money by selling advertising.

When the internet came to be noticed by people who didn't even wear pocket protectors it was also hailed as an educational tool that would aid in the teaching of the masses. But once again the commercial paradigm started by print media, continued by radio and expanded by television seems to be the most efficient way to make money from the internet. Google has proven that gobs of money can be made on the internet by selling or facilitating the selling of advertising which has been modified in clever ways to fit the new medium.

Of course radio, television and the internet have all been used successfully to educate the masses but the commercial exploitation of the media has been largely through the selling and placement of advertising. But is there another way? People still pay to buy newspapers (less and less it seems). Satellite radio and cable TV are proving that people will pay subscription fees for premium content distributed to their home or car. What we haven't seen yet are any large-scale successes of subscription based businesses on the Internet.

Is this just a temporary lag before the commercialization of the internet matures? Or is the nature of the Internet different in any significant way? A new generation of kids are growing up thinking it is quite natural to get content for free while at the same time eschewing any attempts to be advertised to. Commercially this tension seems untenable since it seems that someone's got to pay for the ride. You will either accept to be interrupted by advertising or you will pay for the privilege of bypassing it.

But even as I write this "message sent to nobody in particular" there are ads on this blog and some bloggers are trying to extract subscription fees from readers. We continue in the spirit of blogging to produce content by ourselves for ourselves and because of the diminishing costs of the technology there is a chance that we may be able to keep it mostly free.

When Friends Go Wrong

As a young boy growing up on the other side of the fence and watching a lot of American television I grew up with the understanding that Americans were the good guys and that their enemies were evil. When The Clash came out with a killer triple album called Sandanista I started to pay attention to Nicaragua and learned of the treatment given to them by the Reagan government. My teenage years were spent mostly disliking all that America stood for. I hated Disney's saccharine sweetness, refusing to watch anything they produced and I would have more successfully boycotted Coca Cola if I wasn't so addicted to it.

The charms of Clinton won me over and I realized that America could be a force for good. I also got into business and had the opportunity to work with many Americans whom I found to be mostly decent and amiable. They didn't seem to be sporting any discernible horns on their foreheads. I came to respect their work ethic, their integrity and their innovative nature.

I think a lot of Canadians have had similar experiences and consider Americans to be our closest friends. We were somewhat surprised when you elected Dubya. It didn't seem like a smart choice for such a nation of smart and decent people. But we all have friends who have made some bad choices. The important thing is that they learn from their mistakes. What completely puzzled us is why on earth you would vote him in again for a second term when he was so clearly incompetent, incorrigible and disingenuous. Here was reason to worry again. Well I'm glad that our friends to the south are finally starting to see what's what. In the words of that great orator: "Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, uh, uh, uh... won't get fooled again."

Meanwhile the spirit of Punk lives on below:

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Name That Species

For some unknown reason I was reading a description of Species 8472. This was the species of aliens on Star Trek Voyager that came from another dimension and were so advanced that not even the Borg could resist them (it's futile, they should know).

In the descriptive overview it was written that Species 8472 was only the name given to them by the Borg (not this Borg). Their actual name is unknown." I was a little stumped by this. Does anything have an "actual name" outside of what they are called? If the Borg call them that and we call them that, then that's their name. I suppose if we could figure out what they called themselves then there might be a case made to favour the self-naming of the group. But we don't even allow that respect to the people of a certain Scandinavian country by the name of Finland because in Finland their country is called Suomi (I know because I saw it on their hockey sweaters).

This approach to thinking of things as having real names is a little too Platonist for me. It's like saying that raccoons have an "actual name" apart from what we call them in our various languages? Maybe that would be what the raccoons call themselves?

Which brings me to another question about naming. We sometimes name things or animals based on the sounds they make. This is perhaps the simplest method of nomenclature. A child may call a dog "woof woof" or say "meow" when pointing to the cat. A car may be referred to as "doo doot" for the sound of the horn or "vroom vroom" for the sound of the engine. So if raccoons were to come up with a name for us humans what would they call us? It seems clear to me that they would call us raccoon because that is usually what they hear us say when they come across a human. If I am walking with a friend and we see a raccoon one or both of us will say something like "look, raccoon" or "there's a raccoon" or "wow a raccoon" or "shh, raccoon. The point is that whenever those masked bandits see us they hear us make the sound "raccoon". That is the sound they most associate with us humans and that is what they would likely call us if asked to name those curious bipedal creatures that leave food for them every night in large covered plastic bowls.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Compelling Silliness

The Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatrist (2000)

This was probably inspired by Steinski. Listen to The Motorcade Sped On (1983).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Passages From An Unfinished Novel

After some squirming she rolls over and sits spread atop, knees bent, facing Ziggy's shuttered visage.

Coursing in circles around the accelerator the streams of billions rush past each other. Occasionally and rarely an electron slams directly into a positron. The resulting explosion while invisible to the naked eye is nevertheless a display of spectacular pyrotechnics. The aim of this collision is to create new particles hitherto unseen. The art is only incidental.

Loudly - "Ohh Ziggy"

Whispered - "Ohh God"

Exultations, visceral and archetypal. Exaltations, one and universal. The silence that follows will soon be punctured when Susan looks over to the clock on the night table and registers in order the digits 8, 1, and 4.

"Oh shit, I'm gonna be late again. I can't be late again. Fuck."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Machinations, Minds and Machines

Both my Mac and PC were down the last couple of days. Since I had been writing so much about machine intelligence I wondered if they were conspiring and rising up against me.

A computer was the title given to a person who worked with numbers. The machine that replaced him took from him not only his livelihood but ignominiously also his name. A machine can be defined phenomenologically as anything which enacts some dispensation of energy. Anything that does anything is a machine. But the mêchanê (μηχανῆς) as known to the ancient Greeks was a type of crane device that was used to lift up and bring the Gods flying onto the stage. This is where we get the Latin Deus ex Machina or literally "God from the Machine" that swoops into a dramatic play and out of the blue is able to solve a hopeless situation.

My favourite example of Deus ex Machina recently is in the film Adaptation written by Charlie Kaufman. The film is about the writing of the very film we watch. After becoming completely stuck the hero screenwriter goes to a Robert McKee seminar and in epiphany all of his problems are solved. Later over a drink McKee harshly warns him not to dare employing a Deus ex Machina in his script. A clever example of the very device raising a warning about itself.

The word machine has come to be used in various ways. The cross in Christian Liturgy has been described as the "theatre machine" of Jesus. Early motor vehicles were simply called "machines" as they are still called machina in Italian and other Romance languages. In this century a brilliant thinker envisioned something called a Turing Machine which directly lead to the creation of what we know as the computer.

In present day English we seem to use the word machine in the sense of something that is used to carry out some work. Despite the fact that the human mind comfortably falls within the definition of a machine in the most basic sense, it is meant as an antithesis to the human. The machine is thought to be something unthinking. The idea of machine seems to imply an absence of agency altogether. In other words, the machine is said to have no will. It is simply designed or programmed to act.

The computer (the human who worked with numbers) was replaced by a machine (the computer who works with numbers). We now ask if the human mind is really just a machine and also whether a machine can have human intelligence. If human intelligence is a complex machine that can be replicated by the "computer" should we fear that such a device designed to carry out work can replace us not just in the mundane number-crunching professions but replace human intelligence in some wholesale fashion? Should we be concerned that these innocuously named devices could devise some such machinations?

There are some who predict that the increasing complexity and processing power of computers will allow them to reach a stage in which a single processor will be more powerful than all of human thinking capacity combined. Millions of such processors networked or combined in some parallel fashion would create the power and intelligence of some entity that would undoubtedly be described by some as a god or God. Turning Nietzsche on his head, after killing God we will give birth to him in the near future by using the computer as the theatre machine of resurrection. Will this be the god from the machine that comes out of the blue to solve all of our problems and will this Deus ex Machina be kind and helpful enough to raise any warnings about itself?