blarg?

June 4, 2012

Today, In Orbital Panopticon News

Filed under: doom,future,interfaces,lunacy,science,toys — mhoye @ 3:23 pm

This is really astounding, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. The Department of Defence has given NASA a gift of two better-than-Hubble telescopes it built but never used, because despite this quote describing them…

They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.

… it considers them to be outdated. That’s right – 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, more maneuverable and able to take far more accurate pictures, hugely better than any instrument available to any civilian anywhere, and apparently an antique. As The Atlantic notes:

“That’s right. Our military had two, unflown, better-than-Hubble space telescopes just sitting around. […] This is the state of our military-industrial-scientific complex in miniature: The military has so much money that it has two extra telescopes better than anything civilians have; meanwhile, NASA will need eight years to find enough change in the couches at Cape Canaveral to turn these gifts into something they can use. Anyone else find anything wrong with this state of affairs?”

Maybe just the fact that those cameras were intended to be pointed down, not up.

The issue’s not whether you’re paranoid, Lenny, I mean look at this shit, the issue is whether you’re paranoid enough.

Strange Days, 1995.

May 31, 2012

The Pre-emptive Machine-Vision Horror Trope Needs A Better Name

Filed under: arcade,awesome,doom,future,interfaces,lunacy,toys — mhoye @ 9:27 am

That’s a game called StarForge, a kind of minecrafty farm/build/survive game that looks pretty promising. Trading off the eight-bit charm of Minecraft for a lot of FPS aggro, it looks like a boots-on-the-ground, shovels-in-the-dirt revisiting of classics like Dune II or Command And Conquer.

There’s a moment in there at about the thirty second mark, though, that gave me a surprising amount to think about; it would have been interesting to see a longer buildup to this, maybe with an explanation of the world and some more examination of what the player’s built up, leading up to the alone-in-the-dark moment where the turrets suddenly spin up and start grinding through ammo before the player can even see what’s coming. From a gameplay perspective this is a great demo; you can tell by the way the entire internet is trying to turn his poor server into one of the smoking craters you see in the video. But from a human-experience perspective, there’s a new thing on display here.

We have tools now that can see a lot further into the dark than we can, make decisions about what they find and then act on them immediately, deploying an staggering amount of force with remarkable precision. It’s sudden, and there’s a good argument to me made that it has to be as sudden as possible – the delay of a warning, a supervising authority or even just a human interaction might be an unacceptable delay, a burden the selection pressure of a technological arms race will quickly discard. Often, in fact, the best-case scenario there is that these tools leave enough of an audit trail that a complex situation might be understandable in long hindsight. But more often you’ll have a few thousand spent casings, a few dozen empty rocket tubes, the burned out shells of a few smoking buildings, the charred husks of their residents and no way to reconcile that with justice or conscience.

So now there’s this moment, that a human can be alone with their anticipation in the crowding dark, when machines we’ve built whose judgement we don’t really trust suddenly act with incredible violence on things we can’t see for reasons we don’t understand.

It’s really a perfect moment – the visceral panic of survival horror, that existential sense irrelevance that lives at the periphery of monstrously outsized forces, the deep-seated, voodoo suspicion of incomprehensible tech… “Your support tools or personal network suddenly goes insane” is going to be the spring-loaded-cat of the 21st century, I think, and for good reason.

I really need an “overthinking” tag.

April 16, 2012

Even A Change Of Hats

Filed under: awesome,beauty,future,interfaces,life,lunacy,parenting,science,weird — mhoye @ 10:23 am

Bloor Station

Sufficiently advanced fashion is indistinguishable from cosplay.

The obvious corollary to that is: fashion that is easily distinguished from cosplay is insufficiently advanced.

I mentioned this to somebody in passing the other day; today, my goodness, the Internet Provides:

If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.

So scientists report after studying a phenomenon they call enclothed cognition: the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.

It is not enough to see a doctor’s coat hanging in your doorway, said Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.

The findings, on the Web site of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, are a twist on a growing scientific field called embodied cognition. We think not just with our brains but with our bodies, Dr. Galinsky said, and our thought processes are based on physical experiences that set off associated abstract concepts. Now it appears that those experiences include the clothes we wear.

See also, of course:

“It is a well known psychological fact that people’s behavior is strongly affected by the way they dress.”

But here, I’m going to do you one better: Have you heard of Endosymbiotic theory? It’s the idea that the internal structures in bacterium – and not just the bacteria in your gut, but the cells that make up a You – have evolved partly by absorbing other organisms and hosting their processes internally, a symbiosis that eventually makes them functionally indistinguishable from a single organism. Sort of the way you, looking through your eyes at this screen, feel like you’re functionally a single organism.

But you’re not. You’re colonies of symbiotic colonies all the way down. The consciousness you think of as you is an emergent pattern on the outside edge of fractal stack of organic Matryoshka dolls. A consciousness you can arbitrarily game with cosplay, letting you temporarily absorb the psychological practices of a different stack of Matryoshka colonies symbiotically into your own.

There’s no you. You don’t exist. It’s cosplay all the way up and colonies all the way down.

Dress up a little.

March 27, 2012

Fear In Its Purest Form

Filed under: awesome,digital,doom,interfaces,lunacy,vendetta,weird,work — mhoye @ 9:35 pm

More Of The Same

The one thing that makes gives me more of that bone-chilling existential dread than anything else in the world, the thing that makes me question the fundamental physical underpinnings of the universe and fear the answers, is code that stops working as you’re staring at it, at the exact moment you realize that it should never have worked in the first place.

Not cool, universe. Not cool at all.

This Internet, It Drives By?

Filed under: fail,hate,interfaces,lunacy,vendetta — mhoye @ 9:47 am

Last week I announced a software release to the enterprise mailing list. I promptly get back a one-word reply, mailed directly to me.

From: Grant Street
Organization: A***** L****
To: Mike Hoye 
Subject: Re: BeSDS now supports Thunderbird and Thunderbird ESR.
Return-Path: grants@**.***.au

Unsubscribe

Thanks, Grant.

This morning, I get:

7:14 -!- Irssi: Starting query in mozilla with User6708
07:14 <User6708> F`UCK YOU !!!!!!
10:38 <mhoye> What?
10:38 -!- User6708: No such nick/channel

Ladies And Gentlemen, a tiny fraction of the glorious joys of developing software for people on the internet.

February 8, 2012

This Meta Goes To Eleven

Filed under: awesome,flickr,interfaces,life,lunacy,parenting,weird — mhoye @ 9:33 pm

Meta, Circular

I took this picture of Maya taking a picture of a Skype session with her grandfather, in which the camera on my computer embedded a picture of her in the corner of the picture his computer took of him holding up a picture of me from when I was 12 years old, holding a camera. While thinking to myself privately that Douglas Hofstadter was, on reflection, a bit of a simpleton.

It took me a few minutes to shake this moment off, let me tell you.

December 22, 2011

Astrophysics

Filed under: academic,lunacy,science — mhoye @ 11:27 pm

According to Wolfram Alpha, there are 2.9 x 10^6 dietary calories in a cubic meter of cheese, 142829% of your recommended daily caloric intake.

Furthermore, there are 8.468×10^47 cubic meters in a cubic light year. From this, we can conclude that there are 2.455 x 10^54 dietary calories in a cubic light year of cheese.

According to NASA the sun produces 3.8 x 10^33 ergs/sec or roughly 3.8 x 10^26 joules/sec. Over the course of a year that adds up to approximately 6.065 x 10^37 joules of energy.

One dietary calorie or “kilocalorie” equals about 4180 joules. Doing the math we conclude it will take 1.7 x 10^20 years for our sun to generate the same amount of energy as a cubic light year of cheese.

Be warned, however, that at 977 kilograms per cubic meter, or 8.27 × 10^50 kilograms per cubic light year, the Schwarzchild Radius of a cubic light year of cheese would be 1.23 × 10^24 meters, significantly greater than the 9.46 x 10^15 meters in a light year. From this we can conclude that a cubic light year of cheese, should that somehow manifest itself, will immediately collapse into a black hole.

So while you would think a cubic light year of cheese would be the obvious choice over the sun, if you are presented with a choice between them, the numbers suggest you would be far better off choosing the sun.

These numbers assume cheese of approximately constant density. Swiss cheeses require much more sophisticated modelling.

(This article has been updated to reflect a comment from Jin, seen below, who notes that Wolfram returns dietary calorie units, which is to say kilocalories, rather than simply calories. The original claim, that it would take the sun 1.7 x 10^17 years to generate the same amount of energy as is contained in a cubic light-year of cheese was inaccurate, and has been corrected above. The author sincerely regrets any inconvenience this may have caused.)

December 16, 2011

Horror Show

Filed under: analog,interfaces,life,lunacy,parenting — mhoye @ 10:20 pm

The Window

You’re no doubt familiar with the old horror-movie bit of the walking, lumbering monster being able to chase down a victim who’s running hard to get away from them. You know the drill: it doesn’t matter how hard, fast or far they’ve run, they could have the stamina of a marathoner and the speed of a sprinter: the moment they stop to catch their breath the monster is there, chainsaw, claws, mandibles or lurching undeadness to hand.

I’ve long thought that classic scares like that come from some common antecedent lodged deep in the collective unconscious, the common experiences that so many of us unsuspectingly have. But I hadn’t really thought about where that particular one might come from until I was trying to catch up with my daughter as she took off down the block, running flat out as fast as a two-year-old can go. While I walked after her at a stately pace, eventually catching her without particular effort.

So if you’re wondering what the original of that particular horror trope is, there you are.

It’s me.

November 19, 2011

“I knew it, I’m surrounded by assholes.”

Dark Helmet: Who is he?
Colonel Sandurz: He’s an Asshole, sir.
Dark Helmet: I know that! What’s his name?
Colonel Sandurz: That is his name, sir. Asshole. Major Asshole.

Have I mentioned that the No Asshole Rule has profound geopolitical implications? It’s an idea that’s been rattling around my head for a while.

JWZ links to the question:

In Egypt earlier this year, the cops refused to attack the people. East Germany and then the whole Iron Curtain collapsed when the local cops wouldn’t smash heads when Erich Honecker ordered it. What about America? Where are the cops who walked off the job rather than attack their neighbors drowning in debt and despair?

Daniel Davies provides the answer:

And so that brings me to a useful piece of advice for any readers who are aspiring dictators, one that the Communists knew, Suharto knew, but that some modern day tyrants seem to have forgotten. There is always a level of civil unrest that outstrips the capability of even the most loyal and largest regular armed forces to deal with. In all likelihood, as a medium sized emerging market, you will have a capital city with a population of about five or six million, meaning potentially as many as three million adults on the streets in the worst case. Your total active-duty armed forces are unlikely to be a tenth of that. When it becomes a numbers game, there is only one thing that can save you.

And that is, a reactionary citizens’ militia, to combat the revolutionary citizens’ militia. Former socialist republics always used to be fond of buses full of coal miners from way out the back of beyond, but the Iranian basijis are the same sort of thing. Basically, what you need is a large population who are a few rungs up from the bottom of society, who aren’t interested in freedom and who hate young people. In other words, arseholes. Arseholes, considered as a strategic entity, have the one useful characteristic that is the only useful characteristic in the context of an Egyptian-style popular uprising – there are f—ing millions of them.

This is my advice to any aspiring dictator; early on in your career, identify and inventory all the self-pitying, bullying shitheads your country has to offer. Anyone with a grievance, a beer belly and enough strength to swing a pickaxe handle will do. You don’t need to bother with military training or discipline because they’re hopefully never going to be used as a proper military force – just concentrate on nurturing their sense that they, despite appearances, are the backbone of the country, and allowing them to understand that although rules are rules, there are some people who just need a slap. The bigger and burlier the better, but when the time comes they’ll be fighting in groups against people weaker than themselves, often under cover of darkness, so numbers are more important than anything else. The extractive industries are indeed often a good source, as are demobbed veterans (Zimbabwe) or the laity of an established religion.

I think this is my new rule for assessing the stability of any dictatorship around the world, and I am on the lookout for any Francis Fukuyama-style book contracts. The key factor in determining the survival of repressive regimes isn’t economics, religion or military success. It’s arseholes.

If you’ve been reading the news lately, this may sound familiar. It’s that sentence near the end there – “The bigger and burlier the better, but when the time comes they’ll be fighting in groups against people weaker than themselves, often under cover of darkness, so numbers are more important than anything else” – that makes it so horribly prescient.

November 14, 2011

Mimes: Disturbingly Prescient

Filed under: digital,doom,future,interfaces,lunacy — mhoye @ 10:52 am

Seen this thing about interaction design that’s been making the rounds? You should, it’s pretty neat.

It just occurred to me that if all our interactions with technology eventually involve smooth translucent glass surfaces, then the standard Mime trapped-in-a-glass-box routine goes from being something cute and kind of silly to being a profound, terrifying metaphor for our impending technological disempowerment.

Eventually, we will all be trapped in this smooth glass box, the are saying. Or the would be saying that, but they don’t.

Or can’t. Ominous.

(dun dun dunnnn…)

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