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Monthly Archives: July 2009

The time of now is saturated with  §

a kind of sludge that distorts perception, motion, and planning. It’s unclear to me how I feel, what my plans are, what my status is, what tomorrow will look like, what tomorrow ought to look like.

I have tentatively finished the first of two field statements, cutting it from about 70 pages down to 35. It ought to feel good, but it feels tremendously neutral, like turning a doorknob or putting gas in your car.

The walls these days are anthropomorphic and their boredom with me is extreme. In response I am happy not to look at them, as people often (don’t) do with walls.

I have to become who I was just a few short months ago. I am slipping away from myself again, due, no doubt, to the kinds of circumstances that surround me today—circumstances with which I have not yet learned, despite decades of trying, to live.

Mental note: look up “discipline” in a thesaurus in an attempt to come to some metaphorical understanding of just what it might be.

For those who balk  §

at the previous entry, remember that in the 1980’s there was a small class of people like me busy telling everyone that they knew that:

– Computers were going to be everywhere

– And they were being taught to communicate with one another

– And this would result in something called “networks”

– And eventually we would live our lives through them

And in the 1980’s, people made fun of the idea, told us that it was gibberish, told us that nobody cared about computers, computers were calculators for a few science geeks, they would always be too expensive, too arcade, and most of all too cold, unfriendly, and useless for normal people to pay any attention to them.

More to the point, they said, computers don’t “communicate,” they don’t “talk” to each other, and even if they did, so what, it would be in “computerese” and these “conversations” wouldn’t have any interest for humans.

Now, of course, computers run most of the economy, science, medicine, and politics with their conversations, and they make a huge number of the decisions—witness the latest “scandal” in which the general public apparently realized for the first time that the Goldman Sachs “employees” responsible for the vast majority of their profits are their autonomous computers and the trades that they make, without any direct human intervention.

All of this by way of saying to the public: you were wrong before, and the world that you could not imagine is here today, and you take it for granted. The same will happen again, and the change this time will be much bigger than the last.

When “in the wild” artificial intelligence arrives,  §

if it hasn’t already:

– Most will fail to recognize it for some time

– Some will refuse to recognize it at all

– Ethics will become obsolete

– Darwin will return with a vengeance

– But for social (i.e. metaselective) reasons

– Both types of “intelligence” will be broadly unable to develop empathy for the other

– War will be fought in ecological spheres

– That most today would in no way recognize as “ecological”

– Because of the essentialization and reification of “Nature”

– Actual nature, meanwhile, is a ruthless domineer

– Who will be happy to demonstrate the extent of its domain

Humans oppose “physics” with “nature”

They oppose “information” with “nature”

They oppose “creation” with “nature”

What, then, is nature? It is the empty category, free to be filled with wild fantasies and the lack of empathy.

Nature, sans physics, sans information, and sans manufacture/creation—is not nature.

Humans will be busy lamenting the end of an imagined and undefinable “natural,” rather than trying to comprehend and leverage the actually “natural,” of which “artificial” intelligences are a part, in the service of their own survival.

Claims to “non naturalness” that are silly and made by nearly everyone:

– “Machines?” Not natural.

– “Chemicals?” Not natural.

– “Logical systems?” Not natural.

– “Instrumentally rational?” Not natural.

Yet we are all of these things, in our very essential natures. If none of these things are the “natural,” then what, precisely, is the “natural” component of the human?

More simply, if cars, computers, networks, and roller coasters are “not natural,” then whose laws, prey, did we rely upon in their manufacture and for their operation? Certainly not those of “nature?”

The world is about to change, radically. In the next 20 years.

For those that thought that the rise of computers, networks, robotics, and technological automation was revolutionary…well, they will be beyond shocked and bewildered. They will be utterly, utterly dumbfounded.

Somehow humans have gotten so caught up in Amazon.com, smartphones, and self-parking Toyotas that most of them have failed to realize what these tools are capable of, and what they are being used for inside the halls of engineering, manufacture, and research.

Computers are tools for building exponentially more powerful computers.

Networks are tools for building exponentially more powerful networks.

Robots are tools for building exponentially more powerful robots.

Intelligences are tools for building exponentially more powerful networks.

And in all cases, in a selective world of limited resources, it is rational to employ them toward these ends.

We are climbing an exponential mountain of power—no longer differentiable into “powerful thought” versus “powerful energy” versus “powerful physicality.” They will increasingly become one in the same, and each new generation will beget a next generation that makes its creator appear to be witheringly tiny and incapable in comparison.

Most haven’t spotted the process yet, though it has been going on for decades now, because we are at the opening end of the exponential curve; we have for some time been more horizontal than vertical.

The first half of the 21st century is the inflection point; we are in the acute portion of the curve now. Shortly we will go vertical.

We will either die or survive. If we survive, we will not be what we have been since the beginning of human life, nor will the Earth be what it has been since the beginning of time.

We will quickly discover whether there is any God or not, because we are going to call out, in the voice of heaven that we will have increasingly mastered, that we are challenging God to a duel—to the death.

As a final, speculative aside, I also suspect that human speciation will occur, sooner than anyone imagines, and that we will fail (for social and structural reasons) to realize that this is the case for far longer than most would think possible.

A great and terrible liberation is coming, a literal storm system of matter and energy that is humanity and that is growing, and whose ultimate dimensions will be nothing that humanity could previously have imagined.

I am the walrus  §

goo goo g’joob.

Freedom.

Freedom.

FREEDOM.

F R E E D O M !

The state of Linux and a bit on PulseAudio  §

This isn’t a technology blog. This isn’t even really a “public” blog in the sense that I expect anyone to ever read it apart from my family and friends. But I’m posting just to join the Google ranks of those who say that:

PulseAudio SUCKS.

And something is not right in the world of Linux these days.

Now I’m no newbie. I started using Linux when a 386DX with a co-processor, an ESDI hard drive over 100GB, and a couple of XMS-capable memory boards in ISA slots combined to make about the hottest system around. Unaccelerated 640x480x256 video was luxurious and expensive.

I was using Slackware from the beginning, when there were actually floppy images sized OTHER than 1.44MB to install from, and they all had to be downloaded at 1200 bps using your shell account and ZModem.

I switched to Red Hat around 5.0 and liked it so much that I ended up writing a series of books about the product family.

So I’m not new to Linux, I’ve been using it since before even most computer science departments knew it existed.

Thing is, Linux was always better in the ways that mattered to me. That meant that it was:

a) More configurable

b) More powerful (a kind of corollary to (a) above)

c) More modular

d) More stable

e) Faster than other operating systems on similar hardware

For many years, this was the case.

These days I dual-boot Linux and Windows Vista on a 2.1GHz Pentium M Tablet PC machine. It’s not a brand spanking new 64-bit multi-core RAID-10 SATA Gigawatt-Graphics wowza suppa duppa whizbang geek machine.

I’m done with that stage of my life for a lot of years now.

But here’s the thing.

Windows Vista is bloated. It isn’t slow, really, but it’s nowhere near as fast as Windows 2000 used to be, and it takes up a shit ton of hard drive space and breaks compatibility with lots of things.

And Linux is slower, less stable, and less compatible these days.

What happened?

PulseAudio is a case in point.

What is it for? Why does it exist? Little documentation is around apart from “rpm -i” and I really don’t have the time these days to go on quests to understand some obscure service that the distribution packager thinks is essential. It should just get out of my way, or it should have a convenient and obvious configuration dialogue accessible through the desktop menu system.

Neither is the case.

So far as I can gather, PulseAudio lets me do things like software mixing (which I don’t need) and network sound (which I don’t need) and software resampling (which I don’t need).

For about the last three versions of Fedora, the process has gone something like this:

1) Install distribution

2) Try to use old applications

3) Get no sound whatsoever

4) Try to use new applications

5) Get sound for 10-15 seconds with massive CPU load

6) Until pulseaudio server crashes hard and sound disappears

7) Figure out how to surgically remove PulseAudio from system

8) Have sound in old applications and new applications just fine without PulseAudio

9) With significantly reduced CPU load

Why is this thing here if it just plain doesn’t work? Why do I have to spend hours each time I install a new version of Fedora trying to figure out why basic things like sound aren’t working, then figuring out how to amend system-level stuff without easy configuration dialogues in order to restore basic functionality?

This basic set of questions goes a long way.

Why is there a distinct lack of configurability any longer in either KDE or GNOME without having to play around with arcane sets of files and tools that are poorly documented and not friendly?

Why have all the configuration files, once easily discoverable as “dotfiles” in a home directory or “system configuration” files in an /etc directory been dispersed throughout the filesystem in a nonstandard, variable-per-system-or-daemon way?

Why does loading a simple web page or playing a YouTube video bring my Linux system to a crawl with a 2.1GHz CPU that has 2MB of cache and 2GB of RAM?

Why does it seem harder and harder to “pick and choose” what parts of the system I want in a modular way, rather than finding that everything depends on everything else in default configurations, and that configurability has been hidden and made user-unfriendly to the extent that it can’t be done without a serious investment in study and experimentation time?

I’m no noob. I wrote six books about Linux, starting back when Linux didn’t even have a “real” word processor to its name.

But things are bad when I find myself booting into Windows Vista because it’s faster, more stable, and easier for me to configure and modularize.

Linux these days seems to be less and less UNIX and more and more an inadequate riff on Windows. I’m about ready to switch to FreeBSD or OpenBSD, but I hate at this stage of my life and (now non-IT/non-CS) career to switch my primary operating system.

And by the way, let’s get the fuck rid of PulseAudio as a default configuration, at least until it works (i.e. can play sound) and does so with both legacy and new Linux applications.

I was just starting to really get excited, the last couple of days,  §

and now everything’s in doubt again. I can’t keep up with our life.

I still don’t know.  §

How can I know whether it’s the right thing? The calculation depends in part on our own approach to the very calculation.

We were on top of the entire world and now we’re going to claw our way straight back to the bottom? Why? Is it really the only way? Is it really best?

I go back and forth.

Some moments I can’t see any other way.

Other moments I want to break every window I see, to yell at the top of my lungs that this is the most stupid thing I’ve ever done.

But then immediately after that sensation passes, I go back to feeling as though this is the only thing that makes sense, as if there is no other option and I have to take it wherever it goes, come what may, or simply give up on my life altogether.

It’s killin’ me.  §

It’s just f’in killin me. I have to think about it some other way. I have to stop thinking about it at all, maybe—figure out a way to push it out of my mind.

You can know you’re making the right decision, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t feel as though you’re leaving your homeland never to return again.

So  §

it’s really long, life. I mean, it takes a while. And some things you do over and over again, as though you hadn’t done them yet each time, even though you have.

And the clouds.

And the roads.

And the clocks and the ticking, and you walk, and you go on past, and you listen, and you stop listening, and you say, and you speak, and you try, and you try not to try, and you want, and you want to wonder, and you wonder, and you writhe, and you heal, and you hear, and you hew, and you drive, and you drink, and you’d rather, and you know in the end that no matter what and no matter how many open doorways, ajar windows, breezes blowing through, Corona bottles on wire mesh tables, beach sand, little hut with “respect” painted on the doorway, you aren’t going anywhere you aren’t going anywhere you aren’t going anywhere you aren’t going anywhere.

You live inside you.

You live inside your head, inside your heart, inside your soul.

It is yours, your palace, your duneon, your today, your tomorrow, your eulogy.

That is the way it is, the way it has been, the way it will be, it was decreed before you were here, it was decided before you knew.

There is nothing else.

And it is.

Things I want  §

– Ph.D.

– Kids (abstract; tough to imagine concrete since they’re so variable)

– Resurrected writing career

– Hardwood floors

– Big windows

– Fast self-assembled wildly overspecified computer system

– Big self-assembled solar system

– Old self-maintained engine-integrated RV

– Beachfront property

– Sanity

– Self-discipline

– Acres and acres of cattails

– Years as a photographer

– Trip to China

– Restoration for the 25-year old Volvo

– Enough money to travel NYC<->SLC with ease, over and over again

– An end to the tension

– Blundstones to go with the Redbacks

– For this to all be over and done with

– A month in Venice to read Proust

– Carl’s Jr., right now

– For most of my exes to die suddenly and hilariously

– Absolution for the previous remark

– Honesty

– Respect

– Serenity

– Peace

– Time

I very much wish  §

I had the money to build myself a PC right now. This notebook (Pentium M 2.1GHz, single core of course, 2GB, Nvidia mobile 5 series) is getting just a little bit long in the tooth and slow for current versions of…everything.

Here’s what I’d build:

A 300W Mini-ITX case w/room for a 9″ Nvidia board

Core 2 Quad processor

4GB RAM

1TB+ SATA

Latest 9″ Nvidia-based board, whatever it happens to be

Everything else on USB

Some kinda flatness, with at least 1600×1200

Fedora 11 (already running it on my P-M)

Goddammit that would make research life easier. Clickety-clickety-click, bookmarka-bookmarka-browsa-bomb.

We’re ready to sacrifice everything,  §

everything, and it doesn’t matter. It’s not good enough. It’s still horrible, the worst thing in the world. There is nothing that’s good enough.

Motivation and inspiration  §

are two radically different things. New York inspires me like no place else I’ve ever been, but it’s less able to consistently motivate me, it seems. Salt Lake City motivates me, but it leaves my soul absolutely cold—no inspiration at all, just empty time and space.

I wonder if there’s any place on earth where I can find both?

I wonder if I’m up to the task that I’ve set before myself in the first place.

I feel this mix of desperation and terror  §

right now as the ramifications of things I’ve already decided begin to come clear to me. I am basically about to cut of the legs of my academic career, the only thing I’ve ever really cared about or worked toward, with the expectation that I’ll be able to re-learn to walk, if with a slightly smaller stature.

It is the hardest decision I have ever made in my entire god damn life and it feels as though nobody I know understands the agony but me.

I suppose that’s because they’re my legs.

But the process of adaptation and reconciliation to the new sense of my life is going to be intensely difficult, frustrating, and deflating.

I’ll need an incredible amount of backbone, serenity, hope, and mindpower to be able to do it without having everything in the world that I care about, in just about every aspect of my life, spiral downward into destruction, neglect, and a kind of devastating irony.

Damn scary, but it needs to be done. I have to keep repeating this to myself.

When you start hearing Stevie Nicks floating through your head telling you about the seasons of your life, you know you’re in a bad state.

I wish I had someone to talk to about this stuff in the academic world. But everyone’s gone right now. And everyone’s in New York, so soon they wouldn’t be of any help anyway.

God, this is hard. It feels like I’m trying to be a hundred conflicting things, and as a result, I can’t let myself be anything properly despite my desperate desire to keep it all together, on every front.

The sensation is simply intolerable and I hope it passes sooner rather than later, because otherwise I won’t make it.

Parts of me are  §

scattered everywhere.

Ears and eyes in Salt Lake City.

Smile and hair in San Francisco.

Arms and legs in Chicago.

Feet and hands in Portland.

Liver and pancreas in Los Angeles.

Part of my heart in Poland.

Soon I will leave another portion of my heart in New York.

There is no reassembling me.

Such fragmentation is the antidote to provincial concentration, which always leads to psychosis and suffering of one kind or another.

Such fragmentation does cause, however, a pain all its own—

the pain of permanent, ever-multiplying separation.