Monday, March 14, 2011

Thoughts for Japan

From where I sit watching the news, from a chair in the comfort of The Shire, I don't like to feel that I am given to hysterical, pointless lamentations of how much suffering and woe goes on in the world that is beyond my control. I assume earthquakes will continue to happen and I assume lives will continue to be shattered. I assume that as the population grows and humans continue to build their ant hives across the surface of this world, the devastation from such events will grow worse in terms of the death toll.

I have no words for those people and I do not understand what they are experiencing as they stand in the tides of the dead.

I watched my Twitter feed fill up with photographs and exclamations of dismay. I watched fingers wag. I watched it give way to discussions about the logic behind daylight savings time.

I imagine a man, not very old, gifted and bright with a degree in nuclear engineering from an American school. I imagine that three weeks ago he had normal, first world problems, just as I do. I imagine that he is now going to work every day, setting aside the grief of not knowing if his friends and family are dead or just missing, through a ravaged, apocalyptic landscape still trembling with aftershocks. He will suffer from radiation sickness if he doesn't die in an explosion in the next few days, or at least, that's a prospect is facing. He is still going in to his job only because he has chosen to sacrifice himself to prevent a disaster.

He will live more in the next few days than I will in my life.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Killer futuristic robots.

Screwed around with Windows Movie Maker for the first time today.

See the results here.

Meanwhile, they are making killer futuristic robots

Here's some heavy reading about how the internet
is filling up with crap.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Random, Pointless Ideas About Complexity That I Had This Morning

Articles like this one boldly state that the human brain is "the most complex structure in the known universe". I think that is a very interesting -- if utterly pointless -- observation, one I've heard made over and over. It speaks of a perceptual horizon that mocks our attempts to understand the universe, once you start thinking about it. It has the self-referentialism characteristic of arguments that rely on the anthropic principle in some regard. Of course we can't know anything more complex than the thing with which we're knowing things.

The so-called "debates" or dialogues that concern themselves with intelligent design have a similar flavor. More or less intelligent people are having more or less intelligent discussions about whether evolutionary processes are more or less intelligent. But of course, intelligence is a subset of evolutionary processes in the first place. Can intelligence resulting from evolution make a real distinction concerning whether evolution is intelligent or not? Can craziness resulting from evolution make a real distinction concerning whether evolution is crazy or not?

We live in a snow globe, and our quest for a unified theory of everything is fruitless.

Douglas Adams famously said that if we ever did figure out the universe, it would vanish and be immediately replaced by something more complex. In fact, this had probably already happened.

I miss him.

I have long been a proponent of critical rationalism as a discipline offering some method of finding dialogue between different modes (fideist, reductionist) of knowledge. For example, most rational, scientifically-minded people would be very quick to ridicule the efforts of theologians who in bygone years discussed quite seriously the problem of how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. Look twice - those theologians were talking about Zeno's paradox, and they had some interesting insights. They were using a different language to express their ideas.

Here's what I think. A fly crawling across a compact disc on which Beethoven's masterworks are recorded, has no experience, no possible way of appreciating in any sense the scale of the significance of what it is interacting with. It cannot understand humans, or their history, the industrial revolution and the invention of electricity, lasers, SONY corporation, music, Beethoven, coffee tables, or any of those other things. Can these things... the hairs on the fly's leg, the brilliance of Beethoven's 9th symphony... be said to be real in the same way? What do we mean by reality, then?

Consider your receipt of this message. It formed as an idea in my mind, I clumsily encoded it in English in my own brain, then sent biological signaling to my fingers to cause them to transmit kinetic force to plastic keys, which triggered a cascade of electronic signals through a relay of machines, which then reconstructed the data as images and displayed them as flashing lights, emitting photons which then were received by your eyes, which then talked to your brain, which then reconstructed the information into words in English, and then deconstructed the emergent meaning encoded in that English for the underlying idea.

Is this message real, then, in the same way that a rock is real? Part of the same universe? Is there any intersection of the state space? Do objects actually exist discretely?

Beats me.

Complexity is a funny word. Reality is a funny word.

Maybe we need to rank complexity. Maybe we need to rank realities. Maybe we need to index and measure our experiences accordingly.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

The David Boyle / Donald Rumsfeld Letters

The preamble here is this interview Donald Rumsfeld did with Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. It's far less awkward than this other interview Rumsfeld did on the radio with comedian Louis C.K.

I don't think Donald Rumsfeld is a lizard. However, I do know based on my own experiences in government communications in 2001 that he is a baldfaced liar whose utter contempt for the public smokes off him like a cinder jacket.

In his Twitter feed, alluding to the interview with Stewart, he wrote:

My goodness! Watch the full unedited @thedailyshow interview online:

So today, I thought I'd see if he wanted to have a conversation. I sent him the following tweets:

@RumsfeldOffice My goodness! That's quite an interview! At least he stopped short of asking you if you were a lizard.

@RumsfeldOffice You're going to face the void soon with a lifetime of evil and contempt behind you. My goodness!

I'm currently waiting on a reply. Meanwhile, I'd encourage you all to take the time to personally thank this soulless fucking lizard for playing his part in squandering your children's future. Thanks to Rob Sheridan for pointing me at this.

Update: Rumsfeld posted the following comment to his Twitter feed within about 30 minutes of my attempts at communicating with him.

What a past few weeks! Thank you twitter followers – I appreciate reading all your kind comments.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

If Stephen Harper had a love child with a unicorn it would look like this

From a letter to The Ottawa Citizen:

In Dan Gardner’s February 4th piece, “Harper’s supposed evil plan isn’t panning out”, we “non-fans” of the prime minister, characterized by the intensity of our loathing for the man, are assured that he is, in fact, a “nasty but inconsequential” being whose true threat to Canadian society is overstated. We are encouraged to resist the temptation to think of Harper as Sauron spreading the darkness of Mordor across the land, because that sort of rhetorical finger-pointing is precisely the sort of tool that Harper makes such devastating use of. We’re the rational ones. We should not presume to use the One Ring to good effect.

It’s an age-old problem that nobody has ever really figured out how to address. In the eternal struggle of light versus the darkness, goodness has to act honourably, while evil is allowed to cheat. Well, at least goodness is allowed to be smug once in a while.

Bless Gardner for his caution and his Gandalfian words of wisdom, but allow me to play devil’s advocate for just a moment, and express a few thoughts that I think are salient in this discussion of what sort of damage Stephen Harper’s reign is really doing to our society.

Famously and quite recently, Obama addressed Americans in a frank and earnest manner (he does earnest really well, that man) and told them to get off their collective asses and rise to the challenges of the day, which are considerable. Embedded in that cryptic entreaty (us? Do something?) was a subtext hinting that a lowering of expectations might not be the worst thing in the world in light of what’s coming.

China is on the rise. Climate change is real and it’s happening now. The economy has tanked and may not recover. The middle class is gone and it isn’t coming back. The internet is destroying or transforming everything in its path – bookstores, bookshelves, libraries, video rentals, dirty magazines, readable magazines, newspapers, the music industry, nations, dictators, the stock market, banking. The entire public service is about to retire, and the best and brightest of our generation are working hard at making video games. That sounds like a bad thing, but really, these days, setting up shop in a crummy little apartment and playing World of Warcraft until China takes over isn’t an illogical alternative to raising a family in good faith that they’ll have a chance to compete and enjoy a decent life.

It is, indeed, the future. It is a brave new world. It is a twittering, facebooking, globally warm, peak-oil apprehending, overpopulated, underfed, increasingly less biodiverse world we live in, right now. This being the case, I don’t see how Stephen Harper’s rudderless, bent, pseudo-messianic drive to clamp down on criminals and layabouts, to import Fox News north of the border, or to do whatever other batshit insane thing he seems to think worthwhile, can be seen as anything but singularly destructive to our national dream, to our hopes for the future, to the continuance of our species.

Many of us still think of the political landscape as being one of right versus left, where good-natured people of differing ideologies can politely agree to disagree about which direction is the best one. This thinking is, sadly, becoming dated. The talk in Universities these days is that democracy is a demonstrable failure, because a four-year planning horizon cannot adapt to the challenges facing humanity. The Chinese understand this, and they have a government run by engineers, while ours is run by idealogues, propagandists, lawyers, and self-interested lobbyists. The United States stands paralyzed in the high-beam staring contest between those who love reason and those who feel threatened by it. The coming years will not be kind to them. Just watch what happens.

The truth is, reason plays very little part in helping people to make up their minds. We all like to think of ourselves as reasonable people, but we’re not… or, if we are, it’s a trick we’ve learned to play when we have an audience, like a dog standing on its hind legs.

What changes people’s minds is advertising. Harper understands this. It’s why he’s sticking around. Those of us on the left, those of us huddled up in Gondor, we like to think of truthful things to say, say them once, and let our sense of moral superiority be the rocky ground on which those few scattered seeds fail to find purchase. Harper understands that bullshit grows better gardens. In a time when truth and action are what we are being called to, that makes him anything but inconsequential. It makes him dangerous, and evil.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

10 Tips for Clean Living

Just because I need to write something, I thought I'd outline some general operating principles that I think are sound.

I usually believe what I say at the time that I say it.

1.> Not being too proud of your opinions is a good thing. Still, if you have to choose between having a belief or an opinion, you're better off to have an opinion. Language is important. Why 'believe' or 'disbelieve' something when you could ponder, doubt, think, feel, wonder, guess, suppose, or estimate? Try mixing some of those words into your dialogue next time you're elaborating on how you feel about a complex topic.

2.> Everything's going to be alright... so long as your problems are primarily first world problems. Sorry about how much this all sucks for the rest of you. Really.

3.> Diet mayonnaise sucks. Other than that, diet and exercise really do seem to make a difference.

4.> Having a lot of conversational boundaries tends to result in some pretty narrowly defined psychological boundaries.

5.> Your inner critic needs to go fuck itself once in a while. The more, the merrier, honestly.

6.> The question of whether or not God exists is a whole lot less interesting than the question of whether or not you exist. It requires someone unusual to question the obvious.

7.> Being a little bit afraid of death actually helps you get shit done.

8.> I generally hate people who shit rainbows out of their ass just for the sake of being smug, but it turns out that smiling actually does fire electricity into the 'happy' part of your brain. It's an easy, quick fix... also, prozac.

9.> I think it's really important to occasionally scream out obscenities when nobody expects it. Remind everyone not to take you for granted.

10.> Get your ass off Facebook for a bit. Also, if you're playing World of Warcraft, and you're not an invalid, or retired, consider quitting. You know those experiments where a monkey sits with a wire into the pleasure center of his brain, and just presses the button over and over until he dies because he can't take a break for a food pellet? That's you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Just a note on the power of language.

When I first discovered and used email, I was just thrilled with it, for about a period of three weeks. When it dawned on me that I had just discovered a new obligation, I admit I withdrew a bit.

Ditto for cellphones. As a privacy advocate, I've had a hard time convincing myself that there's any real need to carry those damn things around.

I even think answering machines are a bit weird.

Social media is another link in that chain. "No, Mom, I don't want to be facebook friends. Yes, we're still friends."

It occurs to me that one of the more interesting facets of social media is how it seems to map itself on pre-existing deep structures in our brains based on its use of language.

As a thought experiment, imagine a website like facebook that was identical in every way, had the same users, the same popularity, offered the same amount of connectivity in the same format, but instead of connections being labeled as 'friends' they were labeled as, I don't know, say, 'assfaces.'

Instead of 'liking' something or someone, you got to press a button to 'jerk off' to it.

It would change the whole context of it, wouldn't it? But why? Everything else about it is still the same. It should be no different than putting your profile in piratespeak mode for kicks, right?

Anyways, I get that there's research behind this. Reading text simulates having memories. Nothing that new or profound there, perhaps...

It's good to keep in mind, though. These interactions have taken on some dimension of significance that is disappointingly misleading, I think.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Demotivational Posters and the Occult

I had a crack at creating some demotivational posters. The results were as follows:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

8 ways Weird Al, Seth Green, Clare Grant, or membership in TeamUnicornFTW could help you survive a zombie outbreak

This is going to require some explaining, but I'll try to get to the good part quickly.

I've been putting myself out there. I'm trying to get a feel for the Feng Shui of life. I'm cool, I want people to notice it.

In some peripheral way, I managed to involve myself in a performance art stunt by Weird Al Yankovic, Seth Green, and Clare Grant, whose TeamUnicornFTW project has produced some of the best celebratory (if self-referential) geek culture memes in the past two years.

The stunt itself involved a number of photographs being posted to the Twitter feeds of the participants showing them in various states of... uh... trying on lipstick, throwing up skittles, and attacking each other with weapons. I can't explain it better than that... you either 'get' the joke, or you don't.

For whatever reason, it struck me that it would be an interesting thing to do to re-frame some of the images as cards for the game Magic The Gathering (at least a couple of the participants are fans of the game. How do I know this? I'm lame.)

Then I posted some of the resulting images to my Twitter feed using some of the same addresses and hashtags to bring it to the attention of the right people.

Clare Grant got back to me scant minutes later with this message:

"@boylegd Wow. These are all Amazing. Thank you SO much!!!"


It's like I touched the hem of Weird Al's robes. Biggest thing to happen to me today.

UPDATE: Rileah Vanderbilt (on the right hand side of the Fuck, Yeah card shown above) has also been saying nice things. Clare, Rileah, you girls really put the awe in awesome, thanks for taking a look!

Monday, January 10, 2011

15 must-see websites about Felicia Day

So, it occurs to me that Felicia Day is actually Shiva the destroyer, a harbinger of the apocalypse.

If you don't know who Felicia Day is, suffice to say that she's a smart, cute, neurotic actress who has practically defined the phrase 'famous on the internet' by placing herself at the center of the apotheosis of geek culture into the monster it is today. She is the quintessential somewhat-hot girl at the Farscape convention.

Her signature work is on the webseries The Guild, which is about a bunch of people who have willingly become precursors to the battery-pod slaves in The Matrix. These people play World of Warcraft all day. They waste their lives and they fucking love it, revel in it, celebrate it.

Which, you know, is sort of the only logical thing to be doing when you really start to look at how things are going.

The bees are dying. Just think about that. Fuck!

The bees are dying.

No more bees. No more honey.

Or flowers.

Or food chain.


I mean, you know, I am in danger of edging into 'rhetoric' mode again here, but how is it that anyone who even understands what 'ecology' means isn't either be rioting in the streets, putting a gun to their childrens' heads, or getting themselves fixed and settling in to a nice, involving time vampire of a game that will just feed signals to the pleasure center of their brains until it's lights-out time? Game on.

Look at that temptress. Come to your doom. Come fade away.

The David Boyle / Pat Cadigan Letters

In conversation with noted science-fiction author Pat Cadigan (via Facebook):

Me: Wait, I read a book once. There was something in it about "thought crime", or was it "group think"? I think my teacher was trying to indicate that it was important that I read it, but now that I think about it he spent a lot of time weeping at his desk and sighing heavily. He was probably a terrorist.

Don't worry, someone probably shot him. Now you won't be troubled by any more dangerous ideas.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

7 Things About Sarah Palin That Science Can't Explain

A few thoughts as we enter a new decade with smoke rising on the horizon.

1.> I would like to encourage Americans in the future to try to be more respectful, less shooty, and less prone to rhetoric in their politicking. This is important to keep in mind as the Chinese take over, the seas rise, the farmlands dry up, the oil and water shortages begin, and the Wal-Marts become landfills.

2.> I think it's great that people are surprised that the lowered standard of living in The United States has resulted in a hick uprising. It's almost as if liberal idealism was a privilege afforded to the comfortably affluent, and not the natural endgame of evolution. Well, at least I get to be a bit smug about having a history degree. We could have seen this coming, guys. And I would guess that this isn't even the tip of the iceberg.

3.> The 9-year-old who was shot dead at the Giffords event was featured in the book “Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11." This is tragic, if sort of startling in its grim irony to those of us who feel we gave up hope on 9/11 (you remember, when two airplanes knocked down three buildings in violation of the laws of physics or common sense?). Yes, the zealots have been running things into the ground since then (up here in Canada as well, lately). To be frank, the apathy and high-minded invincible ignorance of the moderately educated liberal left is at least equally responsible for getting America where it is today. It's not that people are getting shot, it's that the bullets weren't aimed at George Bush 9 years ago.

4.> Democracy has clearly failed, as it auto-corrects against any attempt at long-term planning and thus cannot meet the needs of a society in ecological escape. Totalitarianism seems like the lesser of two evils when considered against extinction, and is probably a humane alternative when compared to the massive die-off that we are hurtling blindly towards right now. I know socially liberal people will find the thought repulsive, and I would agree, but I can only submit that any putative future historians will look back on us as a people dedicated to ignoring reality and the mandate of physics.

5.> I struggle to express myself here in a way that isn't meaninglessly rhetorical. I'm not even sure what I feel or think these days. I think that maybe I think the death of the 9 year old girl could have been avoided, but people (the smart ones, I mean) need to do more than tsk tsk about it... they need to rethink some deeply-ingrained assumptions. Maybe I think all the tut-tutting being done now is sort of like an 800 pound man at the buffet table announcing that he's going to eat a salad for his 5th plate of food.

Monday, January 3, 2011

10 Reasons Why Arnold Schwarzenegger Could Annihilate Lady GaGa With His Mind

Well, this article here makes the point pretty well... this man was a badass among badasses, able to live up to his own legend in a way that Hemingway could only dream about, a king by his own hand, who indeed wore his crown upon a troubled brow.

When asked if she thought he had been good for California at all, porn star Aurora Snow
answered, "Heck no! So happy to see him out! He cut education & security!"

It was a screed on Twitter, after all. Perhaps elaboration would bring her points into perspective. Seriously, though? She seems like a nice, smart girl, but this, in a nutshell, spells out to me why as a species we're doomed, and why democracy is a total failure.

I don't even live in California, man, but I hear an awful lot about what a bad job this guy is doing.

I mean, he took over a sinking ship when he took office. He kept his finger in the hole and kept the boat afloat for seven years. That's an accomplishment, right?

What, he made cuts? Uh, didn't he take office promising to make cuts and stuff? Wasn't the economy notoriously in the crapper already?

Can we pretend for the moment that democracy isn't a sham and a joke and assume that Obama's presidential record is somewhat meaningful as something other than a cover story? Let's do that. It is immediately apparent that in the realm of politics, people have an attention span that makes goldfish look like fucking illithid elder brains. Why the hell would Obama have anything but the full support of the people who voted for him for at least four years of trying to correct Bush's fuck-ups? Oh, right, this is the same electorate that mostly didn't show up to EGG HIS CAR when he stole his second election.

Fuck it. People get what they deserve. California, getting what it deserves. American people, getting what they deserve. A bit harsh, eh? That's democracy for you. You get what you deserve.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

7 things I figured out in 2010.

1.> Finding the right balance between zen and motivation is less like juggling on a tightrope and more like sliding down Occam's Razor on your crotch.

2.> It's ok to give yourself a break once in a while.

3.> When in doubt, go for a walk. Seriously. I've made my first headway this year against a 16 year fog of depression and the key to it was walking. Making your brain make happy juice turns out to be easy... at least, things seem more manageable. I just want to point out that I am not a huge fan of exercise for its own sake, but I'm always glad after forcing myself to do it.

4.> About knowing yourself: we are creatures of habit. Your cognitive override is a quiet little voice riding on the back of a crazy monkey. That said, the monkey is trainable. Form good habits and then sit back and let the trained monkey do the work. Changing attitudes and behaviors isn't really an uphill struggle without end, just a conviction to overcome the inertia.

5.> If you are depressed a lot, or for a long time, that will change the physical structure of your brain to the point where it will become a self-sustaining state. Looking in the mirror and saying 'shee, I'm pretty awesome," is not about wishful thinking or pathetic overreaching... it's a way to reprogram your mental state. Surround yourself with supportive people as much as you can.

6.> Keep a clean, well-lit space for writing. That applies to every aspect of your life, really. Clean up the house. Clean up your head. Do all your email every day. Make those phone calls. The most prolific writers in the world (Isaac Asimov being a great example) had a habit of answering every fan mail they ever received.

7.> As for the existential crisis: we are built to see meaning in things and to react to perceived meaning. That fact is in and of itself either meaningful, or it isn't. People who assume that it isn't are exceeding their programming and wind up insane. So, even if God is dead or the sky is an empty black void or whatever, the awakened individual should understand that it is necessary to believe in something. What you do has meaning. The way you live matters, until Cthulhu rises.