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…)

August 24, 2011

This Is A Triumph

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve been grinning like an idiot since noon, so I’ll tell you.

I had an idea today, and it seemed like a decent one so I emailed it to Gabe Newell.

Sir –

My daughter, who is all of two and a half years old, has asked me if I can get her an Aperture Science Turret for Christmas. I told her that Santa wasn’t likely to bring her a turret, but I would see if we could get her a companion cube, and she seems OK with that.

I thought that it would be perfect, though, if there were kids’-sized shirts in the Valve store commemorating Aperture Science’s “Bring Your Daughter To Work” day. There don’t seem to be, though, and I thought I should bring that oversight to your attention.

Thanks for everything,

— Mike Hoye

An hour later I got an email from Arsenio Navarro, in charge of Valve’s merchandising, which read in part:

Hello Mike,

Thank you for your email – and excellent t-shirt idea.
We will correct this oversight and offer a design at the Valve Store. […]



I haven’t been that giddy about something in my inbox since I got an email from Don Knuth. I’m sure that most of you are aware that Valve Software, and Gabe Newell in particular, are 100% awesome. But for those of you who were not, let me assure you: that is the case.

August 4, 2011

Global Portaling System

Filed under: arcade,digital,interfaces,lunacy,toys,travel — mhoye @ 12:25 pm

Everyday I'm Bustlin'

This came to me the other day when a friend of mine was talking about some acquaintances of theirs who’d driven across Africa, including through the Sudan: some people in some places really, really need a GPS that talks to them like the Fact Sphere from Portal 2.

“The situation you are in is very dangerous. Turn left in 200 meters.”

“Proceed straight for 500 meters. The likelihood of you dying within the next two kilometers is 87.61%. You are about to get me killed. If you proceed along this route, we will both die because of your negligence. The Fact Sphere is not defective. Its facts are wholly accurate, and very interesting.”

“The route you have chosen spans three kilometers of elevation and two war zones. This is a bad plan. You will fail. Violently. Turn right in 100 meters. If you continue on this road at this speed, you will be dead soon.”

“The situation is hopeless. Take the next right turn. You could stand to lose a few pounds.”

July 29, 2011

War Machines

Filed under: beauty,documentation,doom,future,interfaces,lunacy,science — mhoye @ 7:45 pm

Fire control computers solve fire control problems.

Individually, these are fascinating: A seven-part instructional series on using the mechanical computers of the second World War to calculate firing solutions for ships engaged in naval battles. The first three videos cover “Shafts, Gears, Cams and Differentials”, the second four are about “Component Solvers, Integrators And Multipliers”, and they’re a stark reminder of how hard it is to solve problems like these on the fly when hardware means milled steel and software doesn’t exist. True to the movies of the time, the well-starched young men demonstrating them don’t move with the urgency you’d expect; the pressure in that room must have been unimaginable in a shooting war, when losing that sprint to another gunship meant a room of hot metal and a hull full of cold water.

I play them all at once, just to listen to the cacophony of conflicting guidance and spinning machines. For some reason, it feels informative.

May 19, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons

Filed under: awesome,future,lunacy,science,toys — mhoye @ 9:43 am

When Life Gives You Lemons

I made this for a friend of mine who was having a rough week. I really loved Portal 2.

February 22, 2011

The Process

Filed under: analog,interfaces,lunacy — mhoye @ 3:19 pm


Imagine if you would that somewhere in the bowels of CBC headquarters there is a great device of some kind, an upright metal sarcophagus adorned with a large bakelite dial and single green button. It is a worn gunmetal grey, the last and likely only one of its kind; a stern block of Cold-War-vintage engineering built to outlast the Soviet menace, its looming door secured with fist-sized bolts, arm-sized hinges and wide handwheels worn smooth from decades of wear. The dial twists from 1 to 10; next to the number 10 is a small plastic label, obviously affixed years later, and in small block capitals it reads “Jesse Jackson reading Green Eggs And Ham.

Next to 1 a similar label reads “Truman Capote trapped in a tumble dryer.” The metal below it is streaked red where it has been underlined repeatedly. It is lit by a single bare bulb, and the floor is strewn with pipes of various widths, threading away into the darkness.


Every few years in a ritual quietly observed by only a few of the CBC’s senior staff an elderly, bearded technician twists the dial left and right a few times before setting it back to 5, where a small maple leaf has been engraved in the steel. Somber, he presses the green button and the room fills with a low, mechanical hum. It subsides after a time; the handwheels begin to turn of their own accord. An acrid white smoke settles to the floor as the door opens, and Stuart Maclean emerges, reanimated by the most advanced technology that Avro Canada‘s secretive biological skunk-works could, once upon a time, provide.

He emerges from this Military Gothic process hungry and, for reasons no-one living can fully articulate, his first meal is invariably a damp mash made of Pierre Berton’s Toronto Star columns and Dave Barry’s earlier collections, their spines carefully removed. It is otherwise unseasoned.

As he stumbles forward, eyes unfocussed, he is promptly wrapped in the HBC blanket he will wear until he has fully recovered from the device’s more pernicious side effects, and is deemed ready to return to air.

I’m sure all that doesn’t happen, but whenever I hear Vinyl Café, I’m just a little more convinced that it must be something like that. Assembling the ambulatory thing that hosts it must be this horribly baroque, retromedically Lovecraftian vivigrafting process; it has to be. I may be the only person I know who can’t stand Stuart Maclean, but the fabrication of the eldrich mitocultural pastiche necessary to invoke him must be fascinating.

December 3, 2010


Filed under: a/b,digital,doom,linux,lunacy — mhoye @ 3:38 pm

Fresh Rain

From Douglas Adams “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”:

It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N’N-T’N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

What can be made of this fact? It exists in total isolation. As far as any theory of structural linguistics is concerned it is right off the graph, and yet it persists. Old structural linguists get very angry when young structural linguists go on about it. Young structural linguists get deeply excited about it and stay up late at night convinced that they are very close to something of profound importance, and end up becoming old structural linguists before their time, getting very angry with the young ones. Structural linguistics is a bitterly divided and unhappy discipline, and a large number of its practitioners spend too many nights drowning their problems in Ouisghian Zodahs.

This is somehow an oblique parable for the greater open-source community. I’m not sure how or why, but the idea’s been gnawing at me all day.

November 26, 2010

On The Relative Proximity Of Apples, Trees, Smoke And Fire.

Filed under: awesome,doom,life,lunacy,parenting — mhoye @ 2:12 pm

Baby's First Chocolate Goatee

Maya ran into the room this morning, grabbed a stuffed monkey and a plush Mario mushroom, started laughing maniacally and then ran back out of the room.

“Maya? Maya, what’s your plan there?”

And from down the hall, I hear “pie!”

Well… OK, then. Pie it is.

September 9, 2010

Baby Vs. Tech, Round 2

Filed under: awesome,doom,future,interfaces,life,lunacy,parenting,toys — mhoye @ 2:23 pm

Hello again?

A few days ago Maya was talking with her grandparents via Skype. Anyone remember when videoconferencing was all expensive and futuristickey, and not approximately free and marginally annoying when it’s not immediately available? Yeah, me neither.

So while they’re watching Maya fool around, she picks up my iPhone and shows it to them. And they say oh, that’s so cute. Do you know how to use that?

And then Maya, who let me remind you is sixteen months old:

  1. Pushes the button to turn on the screen,
  2. Unlocks it and picks the phone app,
  3. Picks their names off the Favorites list, and
  4. Calls them.

And when they pick up, she holds the phone up to her ear and says “Hi.”

No joke; that is how that happened.

Most of me was thinking, that can’t have really been entirely on purpose, can it? This is clearly my girl, cute and awesome, but really? But there’s also a tiny, terrified little voice in the back of my head yelling “WHAT… WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT“.

I don’t remember it all that clearly, but I’m pretty sure that when I was sixteen months old I’d barely figured how to put tinkertoys in my nose. Yesterday as I was coming inside, I handed her the car keys and said “Ok, Maya, lock the car”, and she took the keyfob and pushed the button to lock the car. The only thing stopping her from driving it away is that she’s not tall enough to reach door handles yet. She’s already standing on her toes with the keys to reach the locks, and she’s not quite there yet.

But almost. Lately she’s been having me read to her all the time, but I’m pretty sure she’s just humoring me.

This Singularity that’s apparently coming? I predict that it will actually get here, but it won’t be driven by artificial intelligence. Not even a little.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Powered by WordPress