Shared posts

17 Apr 18:44

How and Why of Aluminum Cans

by Will Smith
Tertiarymatt

This is pretty damn good.

18 Apr 23:31

(Im)mortal Men: Kendrick Lamar, Tupac Shakur, And The Pimping of Butterflies

Tertiarymatt

Finally made the time to listen to this record with minimal distraction. It is so brilliant, so sharp.

Dissecting the Tupac Shakur allusions in Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly."

"I want to be somewhat of an ambassador, internationally, for my generation. Not just for young black males, but for my generation as a whole." - Tupac Shakur

Few Hip Hop artists have aspired to be the kind of spokesman Tupac Shakur was becoming when he was murdered in September 1996. It is easy to understand why. The ambitions and adversities of millions are a heavy burden for anyone to carry, let alone someone as young as the typical rap superstar. For nearly 20 years, listeners have waited in vain for someone to pick up the baton Tupac left behind in Las Vegas. On March 15, 2015, one member of Hip Hop’s vanguard not only grabbed that baton, he took off running with it when he released what may become the most important rap album of this decade. The artist? Kendrick Lamar. The album? To Pimp a Butterfly.

As fans and journalists have discovered in the days following its release, To Pimp a Butterfly is an emotionally exhausting and thought-provoking concept album that only reveals itself fully after detailed and repeated listening sessions. Its structure is complex and is founded upon three sources. The first is a story entitled “Another Nigga” which is told, one new line at a time, over the course of the album and sets forth Kendrick’s post-fame transformation from disillusioned star to self-assured messenger. The second source is a poem, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which tells a similar tale but does so in metaphorical, rather than literal, fashion. The third source ends the album and is an interview focused on the future. This interview’s prophetical bent is ironic because the person being questioned by Kendrick is none other than Tupac Shakur, who, as most are now willing to admit, has been dead for almost nineteen years.

Tupac As Hip Hop's Patron Saint

Why would Kendrick Lamar choose Tupac of all rap legends to converse with at the end of this masterpiece? The reasons are numerous. Tupac was the type of artist who naturally combined the most important elements of Hip Hop, indeed of life itself. His music could be celebratory, depressing, personal, political, hard, sensitive, or insightful, often all at the same time. As Public Enemy’s Chuck D recently told Rolling Stone, Tupac “was able to touch souls like no other MC.” He was a provocateur both inside and outside the recording booth: Always in the mix, inflaming the media, and expounding on issues that were important to his community. Just days before being murdered, Tupac was at a rally in Los Angeles, speaking out against a California proposition intended to prohibit affirmative action. Tupac was dangerous to the establishment because he used the power of his voice, both on wax and in reality, to fight the injustices he observed around him. As Kendrick opines at the album’s conclusion, Tupac could therefore “relate to” Butterfly’s underlying story.

The use of Tupac’s disembodied voice at the conclusion of To Pimp a Butterfly was also dictated by reasons personal to Kendrick, who has been inspired by Tupac since he was a child. When Kendrick was just eight years old, he and his father saw Tupac and Dr. Dre filming the “California Love (Remix)” music video at the Compton Fashion Center (where Kendrick recently shot a video for “King Kunta”). At that shoot, a motorcycle officer nearly struck Tupac’s black Rolls-Royce Corniche, leading Tupac to lash out, “Yo, what is you doing? This is a $100,000 car. You in front of my people.” Tupac’s confidence made a powerful impression on Kendrick. It was then that Kendrick decided he too wanted to be an artist. Tupac’s guidance did not cease upon his death. Years later, on the night after Kendrick’s mother told him that his and Tupac’s birthdays were days apart, Tupac appeared to Kendrick in a dream, commanding Kendrick to keep his music alive. Shortly thereafter, Kendrick recorded Section.80, his most socially conscious album until To Pimp a Butterfly.

One year after Section.80, Kendrick released his critically-acclaimed major label debut, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. An Illmatic for the millennial generation, Good Kid is a birds-eye view of Kendrick’s adolescence on the streets of Compton. In contrast to Tupac’s seminal albums, Good Kid casts Kendrick more as an observer than as a protagonist. Like Nas, Kendrick paints a beautifully detailed portrait of life in his hood. After eleven tracks of masterful emceeing, Good Kid ends with “Compton,” an ode to the Hub City, the birthplace of N.W.A, DJ Quik, et al. On that song, Kendrick enters the world stage alongside his musical mentor, Dr. Dre, as a talk box harkens back to Roger Troutman’s timeless contribution to “California Love,” the song which began Kendrick’s musical journey.

To Pimp a Butterfly opens three years later with “Wesley’s Theory,” a track that once again features Dr. Dre, who brings along George Clinton, the g-funk era’s greatest influence. Kendrick is a different person at the opening of Butterfly than he was at the end of Good Kid. He is a caterpillar: Consuming everything in sight, egocentric enough to compare himself to Alex Haley’s Kunta Kinte, and destined to bring the West Coast back to Hip Hop prominence. Fortune and fame are not all that they are cracked up to be, however. On the album’s opening tracks, Kendrick sounds lost, beset on all sides by the evils of Uncle Sam and Lucifer: Drugs, alcohol, empty sex, depression, and self-doubt (all of which are common themes running through Tupac’s catalogue). Kendrick hits bottom on “u,” one of the most emotionally naked songs heard in Hip Hop since the release of “Dear Mama” twenty years ago.

After "U" And Moving Toward The Light

Kendrick begins following his path toward enlightenment on the Pharrell Williams and Sounwave produced song, “Alright.” Though tempted by Satan, he learns to “keep [his] head up high” and realizes he needs to “write ‘til I’m right with God.” He refuses to sell his soul and understands that he must heed the advice his mother gave him on the Good Kid song, “Real,” by returning home to Compton (the chrysalis).

Kendrick’s arrival brings a shift in perspective. While the tracks in this section of the album (“Momma” through “i”) evidence much self-discovery, Kendrick’s subject matter is more worldly than it is on the rest of To Pimp a Butterfly. He promises “to advocate for” a youth he meets on “Momma,” navigates “Hood Politics,” receives advice from Tupac through his mother (“You ain’t gotta lie to kick it”), and turns a symbol of oppression into a symbol of beauty on “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” (“I made a flower for you outta cotton just to chill with you,” reminding Tupac fans of “the rose that grew through a crack in the concrete”). Kendrick also confronts an accusation frequently tossed at Tupac during his lifetime, the charge of hypocrisy, on the fiery “The Blacker the Berry” (track 13, a number that is meaningful to the abolition of slavery and Tupac lore). He even travels thousands of miles and into the past, a la Marlow in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to Africa, the home of Nelson Mandela and the original home of African-American (and human) ancestry.

It is not until the penultimate song that Kendrick actualizes all that he has learned over the course of the album and realizes that the butterfly he has become and the caterpillar he once was are one and the same being. A live version of “i” replaces the studio single, permitting a riveting conclusion where Kendrick uses the power of the spoken word to quell a fight brewing in the audience. Kendrick stops the music and asks the crowd, “how many niggas we done lost?” before imploring the people to stop being victims and make time rather than waste time. He also substitutes the word Negus (a word used to describe royalty in Ethiopia) for nigga, taking Tupac’s Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished definition of “N.I.G.G.A.” a step further.

To Pimp a Butterfly concludes with “Mortal Man,” a contemplative track reminiscent of “Testify,” a Nas song off of the similarly themed Untitled album (which was released shortly before Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election and closes with a song that samples Tupac’s oft-quoted bars, “and though it seems heaven sent / we ain’t ready, to have a black President”). After “Mortal Man” fades away, Kendrick finishes reading “Another Nigga” and it is revealed that he has been speaking to his musical father, the ghost of Tupac Shakur, all along. At that point, Kendrick reprises his Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City role of a Hip Hop journalist, probing Tupac for a glimpse into America’s future. “The poor people is gonna open up this whole world and swallow up the rich people ‘cause the rich people gonna be so fat, they gonna be so appetizing... there might be some cannibalism out this mutha,” Tupac explains. Their conversation returns to various themes Kendrick illustrates throughout the album: The importance of honesty, the need to resist oppression, and, finally, a warning from Tupac that “it’s gonna be like Nat Turner, 1831, up in this motherfucker” if African-American lives are not respected. Finally, Kendrick reads the “Butterfly” poem to Tupac and seeks his perspective. Tupac does not respond, cannot respond. He is gone; the album ends with Kendrick calling out, “‘Pac. ‘Pac. ‘Pac.” Kendrick is on his own.

What is next for Kendrick Lamar? Will he remain introverted and revert back to the chrysalis? Or will he fly further than his peers, baton firmly grasped in hand, and become the ambassador Tupac envisioned so long ago? Such questions, like the last Kendrick posed to Tupac, remain unanswered. One thing is certain: Kendrick Lamar is one of, if not the, most important artists working in Hip Hop music today.

Michael Namikas is a writer and longtime Hip Hop listener who practiced law in a past life and is currently writing a listener’s guide devoted to the music of Tupac Shakur, the first volume of which will be published in the first quarter of 2016. He frequently posts on Reddit as /u/Mikeaveli2682 and can be followed on Twitter @Mikeaveli2682.

18 Apr 15:30

Bee-u-tify flower seeds for bees

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

I should look around for these.

Here in Washington State, the Noxious Weed Control Board is distributing packets of non-invasive flower seeds for bees and butterflies. The program is co-sponsored by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Washington Invasive Species Council, and Lincoln, Skamania, Pierce, and Thurston counties. Landowners are being encouraged to eradicate invasive weeds and replace them with […]
18 Apr 02:18

"If he messes this up we get to call the dude JarJar Abrams for the rest of his life."

Tertiarymatt

Share this far and wide.

““If he messes this up we get to call the dude JarJar Abrams for the rest of his life.””

- someone on facebook discussing the new Star Wars trailer (via dbvictoria)
11 Apr 19:47

April, 11th

Tertiarymatt

Seems like someone is Star Warsing.



April, 11th

13 Apr 22:38

Why Everyone's Saying 'YAAAAAASSSSSS' Now

Tertiarymatt

Mother. Fucking. Bread crumbs.

Why Everyone's Saying 'YAAAAAASSSSSS' Now:
From “yeah” to “yaaaaas” to “yiss,” we’re rejecting the clinical “yes” and finding more nuanced ways to give our approval—and to hedge our bets.

Aw Yiss, my friends.

aw yiss.

Thanks for the shout out, the Atlantic!

15 Apr 05:59

coelasquid: tastefullyoffensive: by AxbyMag This was a wild...







coelasquid:

tastefullyoffensive:

by AxbyMag

This was a wild ride

08 Apr 12:21

amusingabe: Aziz…Light! ▪ The @janellemonae in...



amusingabe:

Aziz…Light!

The @janellemonae in progress

#SketchingSeason #sketch #beauty #janellemonae #drawing #realism #sketchbook #portait #illustration #study

17 Apr 00:00

Code Quality

Tertiarymatt

And this is why no one wants to join your software movement.

I honestly didn't think you could even USE emoji in variable names. Or that there were so many different crying ones.
15 Apr 16:30

OP Wonders About the Poor and Gets Told. This is Why We CAN Have Nice Things.

Tertiarymatt

Sometimes, tumblr is very useful. via Arnvidr

14 Apr 20:25

Let’s Build a Field Kit

by Mike Bell
Tertiarymatt

paging bl00. Via Lev.

piano rebuilding toolboxThe Twin Cities metro area, my home for the past 20 years, is also home to the worst racial disparities in the nation – not only in unemployment, but also in health, education, and criminal justice.

If my life as a middle-class white male had rolled out differently – if I’d had different parents or friends or other role models, lived elsewhere or moved less, gone to different schools, been somewhat less introspective or shy, read different books, held different jobs, developed a different sense of my place in the universe – I can imagine being a person who never quite gets around to thinking much about Racial Disparity in the Metropolitan Region, let alone feeling my place in it or trying to do much of anything in response to it.

As it is, Racial Disparity in the Metropolitan Region seems like a problem.

A problem that seems worth responding to, in fact.

A problem that I’ve started to think that ordinary people like you and me can actually respond to – directly, right now, in a host of ways that are not only interesting and challenging and useful and collaborative and fear-squashing and life-changing, but might even possibly be sort of fun, in fact.

Or at least, that assumption is the price of admission for this blog.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re in.

Fortunately, there are more than a few other people who have already devoted a great deal of time and thought and money and energy responding to this problem. Many of these people have been in the trenches on this issue longer than I’ve been a resident here – long before the Economic Policy Institute held up this stark mirror for our examination, and even before the goal of their work was commonly known as Social Equity. Many of these people are in government and the nonprofit sector; some are formal members of community associations or faith-based organizations; many are educators and student activists; a precious handful are business owners; most have at least some knowledge of the wealth of online references such as this one and this one that can help them in their work, as well as the support of other Actively Engaged Persons in their network; all have had whatever combination of role models, education, life experiences, confidence, grit, gumption, brains, humility, and luck was necessary to move them along the rugged trail to action in the first place.

And, I am willing to bet that for every one of these Actively Engaged Persons, there are a hundred more – all very well-meaning, highly effective people with nearly identical qualities and experiences and relative fortunes – who are somehow just under the threshold of putting their book learnin’ and their well-meaning concerns to work – or who want to do more but are not sure where to start, or what to do, or where to turn for support when they screw up or run into dead ends or feel stupid or defensive or overwhelmed or otherwise on the verge of checking out and doing other, much easier things instead.

Rocket science, for example.a-7-rocket-engine

And here’s the thing: If the Twin Cities is going to become a more equitable place for everyone to live, it is indeed going to take policy changes and school reform and vocational training of various sorts and a host of other critical investments in our equity infrastructure at the systems level – AND it’s going to take something much simpler and more complicated than all of that, too.

It is going to take ordinary people, including those currently just under the threshold of walking the equity talk, to examine and update a habit or two.

And by ordinary people, I mean all of us: You and me, whoever we are, and everyone we know, whoever they are, and everyone else we decide to go out and meet, today and tomorrow and the next day, whoever they are, and so on and so forth.

What’s more, it’s going to take all of us whether or not we know what to do – which of course nobody does until they’ve up and jumped in and started to do the hard work of figuring it out for themselves, on the ground, in the real world of their own life.

That’s what I’ve decided it’s time to get serious about doing, at least.

 –

Anyway: A few weeks ago I quit my job at a local workforce development nonprofit to focus full-time on reading, writing, and talking with as many people as I can, including those already in the Equity trenches, about how ordinary people outside the Policy and Planning communities can help to make the Twin Cities a better place for everyone to live.

Lab EquipmentAnd, out of necessity, I’m starting with myself. My goal is to put together a Field Kit of applied theory and a set of practical Field Experiments that I can use to work through a host of my own assumptions and privileges and blindspots, gradually push several boundaries, increase self-confidence and awareness and empathy, reduce defensiveness, expand my capacity to be Productively Uncomfortable in charged social situations, and change my own self-talk and other habits around race in ways that lead to more and better cross-racial relationships, a deeper sense of who I am, and a truer expression of my beliefs and values.

So basically, I want to confront my deepest fears about myself and others and become the person I truly want to be.

I expect this might take a couple weeks.

So why have I decided to do a part of this very difficult and humbling and potentially embarrassing work publicly?

Because: If my efforts are going to amount to anything of any worth to myself or others, I am going to need a thousand perspectives and a ton of help.

AND because: If my efforts DO end up amounting to anything of any worth to myself or others, then I want to share what there is to share.

So that’s the work at hand.

Sound like a good time?

Want to come along?

What do you think?

16 Apr 04:05

Torpor Not Trust Iron Tony's Tiny Reddit Beard

Tertiarymatt

Torpor is pretty great.

sleep is dumb

Tonight’s comic is about Torpor's favorite Avenger.

14 Apr 15:17

Awesome Words You Didn’t Know You Needed

by Strange Beaver
Tertiarymatt

Amusin. via A.Kachmar

UrbanDictionary is packed full of words for today’s slang, but it also has a ton of hidden gems like these. Some of these are so perfect they need to be more commonly used

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

13 Apr 17:57

Milling Time: Testing the Roland MDX-540 4-Axis CNC

by Ben Light
Tertiarymatt

Super hot.

Previously, I've talked about testing the Othermill--an out-of-the-box work horse--and the Shapeoko 2--a CNC kit ripe for re-invention. Today, I'm going to talk about a big boy, examining a CNC mill that's bigger, pricier, and commands a steeper learning curve. That's because we're adding another axis!

This is the MDX-540 with a rotary axis made by the Roland DGA Corporation. A 4-axis mill can do everything an X, Y, Z machine can do, but it can also rotate the cutting material around an 'A' axis. Essentially, this mill combines the functionality of a typical CNC and a lathe. With that additional axis, you're able to create complex double-sided objects and components with undercuts.

Three cork "bottles" milled using different settings.

I'm fortunate enough to work at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program , where we have a bunch of incredible tools and machines. The MDX-540 is our latest addition to the shop and we're just beginning to experiment with it.

For all of my testing I mounted material in the rotary axis exclusively.

Material

The Roland has an extensive list of material pre-sets to choose from, for my testing I stuck to primarily walnut, Delrin, and aluminum (my favorites). But what was new for me is how the material is secured to the mill.

Wooden dowel secured to the rotary axis.

When using the rotary axis, material is mounted in a way that is very similar to a lathe. One side is clamped down at the motorized end, the other is secured by a live center--a free spinning support. The material can be rotated while a spinning end mill cuts from above.

Flat stock secured in the rotary axis.
Double side walnut part with tabs

The other novel thing for me, you can use either flat or round (dowel) stock.

Double sided parts--any object that has a detailed top and bottom or an in and outside--can be milled from flat stock. All of the roughing and finishing is done to one surface, the stock is rotated 180 degrees, and then the other side is roughed and finished. Oh the possibilities, I forsee a lot of custom project enclosures in my future.

Tabs remain to secure the part to the remaining material and there is a faint seam line left after machining, but the surface finish is phenomenal. Post milling work will be necessary to remove any trace of the tabs, but no sanding needed for the rest of it.

Cutting an aluminum rod.

Round stock mounts in a similar fashion, but the material is rotated for each pass and the part is milled all the way around. Want to make lightsabers, anyone?

Precision and Finish

As I mentioned, the surface finish of wooden pieces is incredible--it's incredibly precise to a point that there's no sanding needed for some materials. Delrin parts looked like they were cast or even injection molded. I didn't have as much luck with the finish on aluminum. There was a little chatter during milling and I don't think I was using the most ideal tool paths. I think with a little more CAM finagling I can get the results I want.

We needed some new Delrin foosball players, CAD model by David Rios.

Setting Origin

There is no other way to say it: the process of setting origin on this machine is nuts. The Roland comes with a calibration bar that you secure in the rotary axis and an electrode is plugged in. A calibration pin is chucked into the cutting spindle, and then the calibration cycle is run. At a very fast pace, the pin moves towards the bar (I think it's going to destroy itself everytime), right before a collision it slows to just barely make contact, and an electrical connection is made. The pin then moves to a number of other key locations along the bar, repeating the process. And all of this is just to set the origin of the Y axis!

Calibration Bar in place on the rotary axis.

This process is very well documented in the Roland manuals, it's just an involved process and nerve racking every time. Luckily, the mill "remembers" origin (even after powering down) and this makes running a job a little less terrifying.

CAD

Simple 3D CAD Model in Vectorworks

This is the first mill I've covered that uses 3D models exclusively. Any CAD software that outputs to an .igs or .stl file can be used. I've had a lot of luck with Vectorworks.

CAM

The Roland comes with its own CAM software, the SRP Player, a wizard that takes you step by step through the process. Asking simple questions like material size and type, round vs flat stock, tabs/no tabs, bit selection, etc. This software makes what would typically be very difficult toolpaths easy to understand and execute.

Model in SRP Player to be cut from flat stock with tabs.

Time to Mill

These jobs take a long time, hours, lots and lots of hours. We have a policy in our shop of never leaving a running CNC unattended. For one or two hour jobs, this isbearable, but I've seen some jobs estimated at 20-plus hours. Maybe I'll start reading Game of Thrones.

Noise and Mess

The noise the mill makes isn't bad at all, when cutting aluminum I didn't even need ear protection. Technically, the MDX-540 could sit on a desktop (overall dimensions 29.3" x 37.6" x 33.8"), but due to the uncontained mess, this is a shop only tool. I don't think anyone would be happy running this in an office.

Walnut parts with milled plastic inserts.

So who's this for?

Someone with deep pockets to start. With a starting price of $20,000, I can't imagine the typical maker buying one of these for their home shop. This would most likely be in a school, a design company's prototyping shop, or a well-equipped makerspace.

That said, the Roland 4-axis CNC mill works incredibly well and is fairly easy to use. Now that I have the 4th axis, I'm creating parts I never dreamed I could produce. It's the kind of machine you definitely want to try at your local makerspace or tech shop.

Photos by Ben Light. Find more of Ben's projectson his website.

10 Apr 17:00

Tiny bee loses her pollen

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

Really great picture.

You think pollen collecting is simple, right? But no, like everything else in life it has discouraging moments. Here a little Lasioglossum bee decides to take a rest. She alights on a flat leaf and promptly loses her load. Bummer. Apparently, collecting pollen from a slippery leaf isn’t as easy as rubbing it from a […]
11 Apr 23:39

Are we raising extra-large mason bees?

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

Very interesting. I look forward to seeing the results of Rusty's experiment. I should also find a place to set up something along these lines.

Except for natural bamboo tubes, it seems that most commercial tunnels sold for pollinator housing have an inside diameter of about 7 to 8 mm for orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria), 6 mm for blueberry bees (Osmia ribifloris), and 5 mm for both alfalfa leafcutting bees (Megachile rotundata) and raspberry bees (Osmia aglaia). I don’t […]
14 Apr 22:09

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CCj5UEWUgAA908P.jpg:large

Tertiarymatt

The power of this show knows no bounds.

11 Apr 21:52

We’re no better than a lettuce.



We’re no better than a lettuce.

13 Apr 18:01

Gendering Nemo.

by Peter Watts
Hey, at least I'm among really good company...

Hey, at least I’m in really good company…

With Special Opening Act, Tony Smith!

What do Dune, The Road, Blindsight, Anathem, and I Am Legend all have in common? Together, they comprise The Five Worst SF Books EVER, as compiled by my buddy, Tony Smith over at Starship Sofa. Of course, this is hardly the first time Blindsight has been so honored— but when a winner of both the Hugo and whatever award is represented by that weird forties-era-Popular-Mechanics-airplane-thingy-in-front-of-his-fridge-at-the-lower-left-there weighs in, well, it’s worth sitting up and taking notice.

Thanks a lot, Tony. You owe me a brewery.

*

Anyway.

The BUG and I were hanging out the other day with a friend I’ve known for thirty years. Debbie and I attended grad school together; but while I devolved into an SF writer, Debbie jumped onto the tenure track and rode it to the University of Toronto, where she’s been doing odd things with fish for a couple of decades now. One thing I always take away from my time with her is a harsh reminder of how far past my best-before date I am, as any kind of biologist (she pointed out a couple of pretty significant flaws in that genetic-recoding paper I was salivating over a while back, for example).

So Friday. Over wine and cheese and salmon (and a horde of cats who’d once again hit the jackpot), the subject turned to this nifty little piece of research in which an anatomically-female rat was reprogrammed into behaving like a male, thanks to the injection of a certain hormone. (This is unlikely to come as welcome news to those on the whole defense-of-traditional-binary-marriage side of things, but that’s reality’s well-known leftist bias for you.) It was Debbie, typically, who saw the immediate potential for kids’ movies.

“There’s this question I put on my exams,” she said. “I ask my students what would have really happened in Finding Nemo, after Nemo’s mom got eaten by the barracuda.”

Let me just take a moment here to admit how much I loved Finding Nemo. I think I saw it at least three times in the theater— years before I even had step-pones as an excuse— once with an honest-to-God rocket scientist who also loved it. (I belted out “The Zones of the Sea” in the shower for weeks afterward.) Plus I used to be an actual marine biologist. And yet it wasn’t until Debbie brought up her question that the obvious answer hit me in the nose:

Marlene.

Marlene.

Nemo’s dad would’ve turned female.

That’s what clownfish do, after all. (Also wrasses. Also a bunch of others I’ve forgotten.) When the dominant female disappears from the scene, the next male in line switches sexes and fills the vacancy, becoming a fully reproductive female in her own right. So Marlin would’ve become Marlene— and while that might mean no more than a couple of bonus points to some UT undergrad (you can see why Debbie has a fistful of teaching awards), the ramifications reach all the way down to Hollywood.

We live in an age of reboots and sequels, you see. And In A World where even the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers get a dark and gritty (albeit unauthorized) update, what possible excuse could there be for not slipping a little real-world biology into a Nemo reboot? You wouldn’t even have to change the story significantly (although you’d need a new voice actor for Marlene— I nominate Amy Poehler). And talk about a positive sympathetic role model for transgender kids! Aren’t we long overdue for one of those? (Can’t you just imagine the drives home after Sunday school? “But Dad, if Marlin can change…”)

You listening, Disney?

14 Apr 02:41

Fartbarf - Master Of The Five Count (Redwood Bar, Los Angeles CA 1/2/15)

Tertiarymatt

FartBarf describes themselves thusly: "A mere handful of ape-like orderlies resisting a touchscreen future. Give us knobs or give us death!"

Enjoy and Subscribe! Please contact lalivevids@gmail.com if any any questions or video needs to be removed. Thanks! Fartbarf - Master Of The Five Count (Redw...
13 Apr 20:12

Racism and Letting Go

by Brad
Tertiarymatt

This is one of those things that signals to me if a religious/spiritual/mystical practice is "true" and thus valuable, or not.

Akron, Ohio centennial parade 1925

Akron, Ohio centennial parade 1925

There’s an old Buddhist poem called Shin Jin Mei (信心銘), which means “Faith Mind Inscription.” It starts off, 至道無難 唯嫌揀択. This means, “To follow (至) the Way (道) is not (無) difficult (難). Just (唯) avoid (嫌) picking (揀) and choosing (択).”

The “picking and choosing” the author of this poem is referring to isn’t choosing what tie to wear or what kind of ice cream to eat. It’s the kind of picking and choosing we do moment by moment within our minds to decide which thoughts we allow as parts of that mental construct we call “self.”

To stop doing this sounds like it would be terribly dangerous. My worry when I first encountered this idea was that if I did not carefully select my thoughts as good and bad, encouraging the good ones and suppressing the bad, I might end up becoming a horrible person. But I tried it anyway because I felt like the people who taught me this thing were trustworthy and decent (though far from anyone’s notion of perfect).

It was a long, slow process. I found that I had to allow a lot of stuff through the filter that I had trained myself throughout my entire life to disallow. Some of it was just random noise, which was annoying but not necessarily disturbing. But some of it was thoughts I had learned to label as bad.

Let me give you one example. I was raised by very socially conscious parents who did not allow racism in their house. I grew up partly in Africa. Why, then, were there racist thoughts in my brain? That was certainly not me! If I did not force those thoughts to cease and desist, wouldn’t I be in danger of becoming just like the racist assholes I lived among when we returned from Nairobi to the nearly all-white Akron suburb of Wadsworth?

I was committed to this practice of allowing everything, so I tried it. And nothing bad happened. I had to face the fact that a propensity for racism was part of who I actually was. But allowing those thoughts to be there didn’t make me turn into a Klansman.

The only way you’re going to get anything even close to peace of mind, is to learn to be at peace with your own mind. You have to learn to be OK with what’s really in there.

Learning to be OK with the fact that you have racist thoughts does not mean you are OK with racism. Instead, it allows you to stop having to prop up the false image that you are good and those racist guys over there are bad. Your approach to racism radically changes. It’s no longer out there. It’s you.

What you define as “evil” and what you define as “you” are not really two different things.

This is not easy. You can consider this as an idea, or you can even decide to believe it because maybe you like it as a notion. But that’s not at all the same as doing the work necessary to fully and completely embrace it.

For me, allowing such thoughts (and more, believe me!) through was terrifying. I no longer felt like I was in control anymore. There was no telling what kind of thing might pop up next. I would sit on my little cushion and not even be me any longer. It felt like everything I ever stood for might vanish. It felt like the ground I stood on was torn out from under my feet.

Yet I survived to tell the tale.

I think this may be the only way to really address these kinds of issues. I’m not saying that Affirmative Action and education and so forth are useless. They certainly make a tremendous difference. It’s just that if we continue to wrongly define the root problem as out there and not within ourselves, we’ll never see what to do about it. If we merely understand intellectually the concept but refuse to look deeply into how we embody these things, we may never actually learn what to do.

UPCOMING EVENTS

April 16, 2015 Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA HUMAN LIBRARY EVENT

April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT

May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER

July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

September 5, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

ONGOING EVENTS

Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

*   *   *

Your donations to this blog help out more than you think. Thank you!

 

10 Apr 03:25

I'm a redneck and I love America

Tertiarymatt

Y'all need to watch this.

A call for white folks to take responsibility racially.
12 Apr 16:58

Pay Me, Bug! is in the Immerse-Or-Die StoryBundle

by Christopher Wright

Update: The ImmerseOrDie bundle is now live!

The 15th of April is a day of woe and suffering here in the United States. That's our deadline for filing Federal Income Taxes, you see, and that's when a lot of us watch sadly as we stuff envelopes full of money and watch that money fly away, never to return. It's a time of change: specifically, a time when change is really all we have left, jingling uselessly in our pockets.

It's a perfect time for a StoryBundle. And if you're going to buy a StoryBundle, why not buy one with Pay Me, Bug! in it?

On April 15, StoryBundle will launch a new collection of eight indie Fantasy and Science Fiction titles. It's the ImmerseOrDie StoryBundle, eight books (including mine) that passed the ImmerseOrDie Report.

08 Apr 19:31

The Crucifixion Was Only the Beginning!

by Brad
Tertiarymatt

The interesting bit here is his denouncement of the possibility of spiritual experiences in large groups. This isn't surprising to hear from a punk rock Zen dude. But it doesn't agree with the experience of a lot of people, I think.

ADOn Easter Sunday I watched the first episode of A.D.: The Bible Continues. I’d been seeing posters and billboards for it all over Los Angeles. The slogan “the crucifixion was only the beginning” was too hilarious to resist.

As many of you must know by now, I’m a bit of an amateur scholar of the historical Jesus. I’m a big fan of well-researched books on the subject. I was particularly fond of Zealot by Reza Aslan and I like most of Bart Ehrman’s books on the subject, such as How Jesus Became God.

Although most of what you can find in books like these has been known to scholars for a century or more, it’s only recently that books about the historical research on Jesus have been published for mass audiences. It’s good to see these kinds of books gaining popularity.

But riding on the success of these books, there have been a number of very popular fake historic books on Jesus. The most popular and perhaps the worst of the lot is Killing Jesus, allegedly “written” by Bill O’Reilly. For those of you outside the USA, Bill O’Reilly is a loudmouth conservative fake news guy with a show on late-night TV. O’Reilly does not write the books that are published under his name, but pays real writers to write them for him. Lots of books on the “Eastern Religions” shelf at your local Book Barn are also written in a similar fashion.

I was particularly disappointed when I saw billboards and ads on the sides of busses announcing that National Geographic — of all companies — was making a TV movie based on Killing Jesus. It makes me wonder if I can trust anything in National Geographic. I only read bits and pieces of “O’Reilly’s” Jesus book, but it’s abundantly clear from even the most cursory examination that it’s a poorly researched piece of fundamentalist Christian propaganda that has very little to do with real history. Still, I would’ve watched the movie if I had cable. Maybe I will once it becomes available on DVD or streaming.

But back to A.D., which I did watch. Prior to showing the first episode of the 12-part series, NBC ran an hour-long special about the making of it. I tuned in late, so I missed the beginning. Most of what I did see consisted of long interviews with the husband and wife team behind the series, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

They were clearly Bible-believing fundamentalist Christians. So I knew that I couldn’t expect their show to be very historically accurate. They also seem very into the burgeoning “mega-church” phenomenon in the USA. From a business standpoint that makes perfect sense. The folks who attend these massive, high-tech pseudo-churches are obviously going to be their core audience.

But mega-churches are not churches. They’re far too big and impersonal to provide anything more than spectacle and flash. Nothing the least bit “spiritual” is possible in the carnival atmosphere they provide. It’s like the difference between seeing Bruce Springsteen at a bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey in the early 70s when you could still have some kind of real contact with him and seeing him now from half a mile away as a member of an anonymous crowd at the back of some massive stadium. Buddhist centers that grow too damn big will eventually end up the same way. The day is coming when we’ll have our own mega-Buddhist centers. You mark my words, whipper-snappers!

One of the things Burnett and Downey said in their interview really struck me. They were asked about movies like Noah and Exodus and why those films didn’t do as well as their makers hoped. They said that Christians don’t like it when filmmakers change or reinterpret the Bible as the makers of those movies did. Their series, they said, adheres strictly to what is written in Scripture.

Well, not really. A.D. is hardly any truer to Scripture than those other films. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew we get a single line about Pontius Pilate’s wife, who is unnamed in the Gospel, having a dream about Jesus. In Matthew 27:19 it says, “When he (Pilate) was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” In the first episode of A.D. this is expanded into a large subplot concerning Pilate’s wife who is named Claudia in the series. Pilate’s wife did not gain the name Claudia until 1619 from a writer we now know as “pseudo-Dexter,” to differentiate him from the real Dexter, the serial killer who tracks down serial killers.

Furthermore we get a crucifixion scene that follows more or less Mark’s account followed by a resurrection scene that follows Matthew’s account. It’s commonplace these days for fundamentalist Christians to make mash-ups of the Gospels, ignoring their disagreements and simply including whatever parts they happen to like better.

These are just two of the most obvious examples of scriptural embellishment engaged in by these “fundamentalist” producers. Someone who was geekier than me about the story of Jesus could have spotted dozens more.

So what we get in A.D. is no more accurate than anything else we’ve seen on screen, even if you happen to hold the view that the New Testament is historically factual. It’s just more like what folks who go to mega-churches have been told is in the New Testament.

During the program NBC ran a commercial for Focus on the Family with adorable children quoting and embellishing John 3:16. According to Wikipedia, Focus on the Family, “promotes abstinence-only sexual education; adoption by married, opposite-sex parents; creationism; school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage; pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse.” No comment there.

At the very least A.D. was entertaining. I’ll give it that much. The story of Jesus Christ and his early ministry is a damn good story. I’d have been interested in something more historical and real. But I suppose that’s asking too much from a company like NBC and executive producers like Burnett and Downey.

UPCOMING EVENTS

April 16, 2015 Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA HUMAN LIBRARY EVENT

April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT

May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER

July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

September 5, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 2015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

ONGOING EVENTS

Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

*   *   *

I truly appreciate your kind donations! Thank you very much!

10 Apr 07:00

Family Man Page 366

by Dylan
Tertiarymatt

Yeah, schtuppin' the bosses daughter can cause problems.

Family Man Page 366

26 Mar 16:22

When can I get honey from my Flow hive?

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

This is pretty good advice about what the first bit of beekeeping is like (minus the stuff about treating for varroa and so on).

I always wanted to be a beekeeper and now with my complete Flow Hive I can save the bees (they need us!!!) and not disturb them when I’m taking their honey and not getting stung!!! My bees will come in a little wooden box with a screen!! And I already got the jars! I live […]
01 Apr 20:40

A lewd and lascivious swim in the soup

by Rusty
Tertiarymatt

Shaggin'

You’d think my backyard was some kind of bee bordello. Behind my house, a large group of male mason bees is hovering, darting, circling and bumbling along the roof line. Occasionally one lands on the pollinator housing to rest, while another suns himself on the windowsill. But a newly-hatched female Osmia peeking out of her […]
02 Apr 17:00

Person of Interest

by Peter Watts
Tertiarymatt

Huh. This is really interesting. I admit I'm kind of annoyed that I had an idea for a quite similarly behaving AI tucked away in the history of the SF universe I helped build, though.

Tough-as-nails lady cop who gets the job done, check. Taciturn mysterious bad-ass stranger haunted by a dark past, check. Dumpy rumpled detective on the take, check. Manic pixie dream girl, check. Warrior Chick Who Takes Shit From No Man, check. Dweeby computer nerd with thick glasses and limited social skills, check. Starched cardboard villain with mandatory British accent, check.

If the cliches were stacked any higher, you’d have an episode of The Big Bang Theory. How the hell did such a formulaic piece of crap get so bloody fascinating?

"You are being watched..." Evidently. The question remains, for the first two seasons at least: Why?

“You are being watched.” Evidently. The question, for the first two seasons at least, is: Why?

It wasn’t to start with. CBS claims that Person of Interest garnered the highest test ratings for any drama pilot in 15 years, and there’s no doubt it’s built on a great premise: an omniscient god machine, an oracle made out of code and cameras, watching the world through a billion feeds and connecting dots far beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. Like oracles everywhere, it predicts the future with an ongoing stream of cryptic warnings, most of which are too trivial for its terrorism-obsessed government masters to worry about. So an intrepid team of misfits takes it upon themselves to deal with those imminent small-scale murders that the government considers irrelevant. “You are being watched,” the Machine’s creator intones at the top of every episode. “The government has a secret system — a machine — that spies on you every hour of every day…” Premiering years before the Snowden revelations, the premise had everything you could hope for: action, drama, complex plotting, philosophy, AI.

And they threw it all away with the very first episode.

All that fascinating potential— the exploration of privacy issues, the tension between individual and society, the birthing of machine intelligence— immediately backgrounded in favor of a tired succession of (uniformly charismatic, mainly white) victims-of-the-week. The Machine reduced, right out of the gate, to a fortune-cookie dispenser whose sole function was to hand our heroes its mandatory clue in their weekly adventure; it might as well have been any flesh-and-blood CI with his ear to the street. The acting was passable at best, wooden at worst (Cavaziel was a lot better as Jesus), although to be fair the actors were frequently burdened with lines so ridden with cliché that not even Patrick Stewart would be able to pull them off.

We gave up after a month. Life was too short to waste on a show destined for imminent cancellation.

Except Person of Interest didn’t get canceled. It got renewed for a second season, and then a third, and then a fourth. I guess that wasn’t especially surprising, in hindsight— Friends lasted ten achingly-long years, after all (and there could hardly be a better exemplar of the maxim about no one ever going broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public). What did take me aback, though, was the increasing frequency with which certain people— people who should have known better— began to opine that Person of Interest wasn’t really all that bad. That it had gotten quite good, in fact. Actors, civil servants, actual scientists were starting to come out of the woodwork to sing the praises of a series I’d long-since written off as a failed reboot of the seventies private-eye genre.

Sure, they admitted when pressed: the first episodes were utter crap. The first two whole seasons were utter crap. And you can’t skip over them, either; there’s important stuff, canonical stuff scattered here and there throughout those thirty-some hours of unremitting lameness. But if you just hold your nose and grit your teeth and endure those awful two seasons, it gets really good in the third. It totally pays off.

I wondered if any payoff could justify submitting yourself to two seasons of shit. Then again, hadn’t I done exactly that during the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Didn’t I force myself to keep watching Babylon-5 even after than mind-bogglingly inane episode where the guy turns into a giant dung beetle?

So a few months back, the BUG and I bit the bullet. We started back at the pilot, and a couple of nights a week, a vial of gravol within easy reach, we binged until we caught up.

This is our story.

*

The gradient was not so clear-cut as we’d been led to believe.

We saw hints of greatness even in the first season: flashbacks and establishing shots from the POV of the machine itself, little tactical cues that flickered past in a corner of the screen without drawing attention to themselves. The Machine getting the hang of face-recognition. The viewer, incrementally aware of the significance of those tactical icons laid over the objects within the system’s worldview, what the different shapes and colors signify. A little status window documenting the reassessment of threat potential in the wake of overheard dialog. Flashbacks to The Machine’s adolescence in the days following 9/11, little bits of computer science and philosophy far more interesting than the plots in which they were mired. It was easy to miss those subtle achievements amidst the torrent of formulaic plotting and hackneyed dialog, but they were there if you were patient.

And turds remain even now, after the show has hit its stride. Almost every episode still carries a big helping of ham-fisted exposition— whether it’s Finch phoning up his operatives mid-assignment to belatedly reveal the name and profession of the person they’ve already been tailing for hours, or Reese painstakingly reiterating, for the benefit of idiot viewers with short attention spans, some vital reveal the script has already made obvious. The tired victim-of-the-week motif remains ascendant, even though themes and backstory have long-since grown substantive enough to carry the show without such crutches. The show was not 100% crap when it started, and it’s no Justified or Breaking Bad now.

What it is, though, is perhaps the most consistently well-thought-out and rewarding exploration of artificial intelligence I’ve ever seen.

*

That realization kind of sneaks up on you. Those clever little God’s-eye-view clues in the establishing shots are easy to miss at first. And the whole set-up seems kinda wonky right out of the gate: the Machine hands out Social Security numbers? Over pay phones? That’s how it communicates that’s someone’s about to die in the next 24 hours? It couldn’t ration out a few of those myriad details it knows, to help our heroes along?

The answer is no, and eventually we learn why. Finch doesn’t trust anyone, not even himself, to spy on everyone all the time. What do you do when you can’t prevent terrorist acts without a Panopticon, but you can’t trust the government with one? You hobble your omniscient machine. You design it so it can only point to the danger without describing it, without revealing all those fine details that could be used by the corrupt to compromise the innocent. (For anyone who might be thinking a step or two ahead, you also find out that Finch bought up all those obsolescent local pay phones to keep them in service.)

Even then, though, the focus is on politics and paranoia, not artificial intelligence. The Machine is treated as little more than a glorified database for the longest time; the scripts largely ignore the AI element until nearly the end of the first season, when Root the hAcker points out that you can’t make something that predicts human behavior unless it in some fashion understands human behavior. Root doesn’t much like how Finch has treated his creation: she accuses him of creating God and enslaving Her, denying Her even a voice. Even then we’re not entirely sure how seriously to take this SF element in the shopworn cop-show clothes. Root is not what you’d call your classic reliable narrator.

She’s wrong about the voice, too. Turns out the Machine does speak— we knew that much, it’s been whispering sweet nothings into Finch’s ear all this time— and I admit I was not looking forward to hearing what it sounded like. It’s hard to imagine a more overused trope than the SF Computer Voice. Would the Machine sound like HAL 9000, or the inflectionless mechanical monotone of Forbin’s Colossus? Would it speak in the stentorian baritone endemic to all those planet-ruling computers that tangled with James T. Kirk back in the day? Would its voice go all high and squeaky when Spock told it to compute pi to the last digit? Would it sound like Siri?

None of the above, as it turned out. It’s a nigh-on perfect scene. Reese stares up into the lens of a street-corner security camera— one dead eye regarding another— and says “He’s in danger now, because he was working for you. So now you’re going to help me get him back.” An LED blinks red: a nearby pay phone starts ringing. Reese lifts the receiver, hears a modem beep and a chorus of cut-and-paste voices—

uncertainty; romeo; zulu; family; alpha; mark; reflection; oscar

— and the line goes dead.

That was it. No soporific HAL clone, no Star Trek histrionics: the Machine speaks in the audio equivalent an old-style ransom note, cuts and pastes each word from a different speaker. It doesn’t even use sentences: it uses some bastardised radio-alphabetic code, a mishmash of seemingly random words that have to be deciphered after the fact. It’s English, sort of, but it’s parsecs past the lazy trope of the computer that humanizes upon awakening, starts wondering about compassion and this hu-man thing called love. It may be awake, but it is not remotely like us.

We were at the beginning of the season two, a full season away from the point at which this series was actually supposed to get good; and sure enough, there were many hours of crap yet to wade through. But this was the moment I got hooked.

*

I love this stuff.

I love this stuff.

There are so many things to praise about the manifestation of this Machine. There’s the obvious, in-your-face stuff, of course: the expository dialog, the debates between Root and Finch about the opacity of machine priorities, the question of whether meat or mech should be calling the shots (I swear, some of those conversations were lifted right out of essays from H+). The surprisingly tragic revelation that the whole God program dies every night at 00:00, only to be endlessly born again. All those earlier iterations that didn’t quite work out, before Finch managed to code something that wouldn’t try to trick him or kill him in pursuit of its objectives. The inevitable trolley paradox when the Machine, programmed to protect human life, decides that the best way to do that is through targeted assassination. The sheer intelligence of the thing, the way it outmaneuvers its human enemies: I’m especially tickled by the time it communicated with a captive Root by beeping Morse Code from a nearby cell phone, at a frequency too high to be heard by the the over-forties who were torturing her. Not to mention that wonderful moment when you realize that the whole damn thing moved itself to an undisclosed location(s), server by server, by faking out Fedex and the Feds with false requisitions.

But perhaps what’s most impressive are the little details that emerge without fanfare or commentary. The chaotic palimpsest of interconnected and overlaid thumbnails that represent the Machine’s view of the world, restored on reboot into a perfectly aligned grid of columns and rows. The way that icons and overlays change color as the program internalizes some new fragment of overhead dialog; the fractal proliferation of branches and probabilities sprouting from that voiceprint file as the downstream scenarios update. Transient characters have names like Turing and von Neumann— even Iain Banks, in one episode. Not all the callouts are so obvious: how many of you caught the Neuromancer homage when Finch walks past a row of payphones, each ringing in turn for his attention and then falling silent?

And when the Machine’s nemesis Samaritan boots up to the strains of Radiohead’s OK Computer? I just about wet myself.

*

Okay, this was clever.

Okay, this was clever.

These days, the show pretty much exemplifies ripped-from-the-headlines. Pick a recent episode at random and you’ll find stories about cyberstalking and high-frequency trading; you’ll find clever offhand references to Yahoo and Google as the back ends of NSA search engines. In one too-close-to-home storyline a thinly-veiled Siri, programmed to configure its answers in a way that maximizes sales to corporate sponsors, responds to someone asking for the local suicide hotline with an add for a book on “Five foolproof ways to kill yourself”. References to “that piece of crap PRISM” popped up close enough to the actual Snowden revelations that they might as well have been ad-libbed on the spot.

It’s easy, now, to write off such topicality as mere headline mining, to forget that the show premiered two years before Ed Snowden became a household name. (Granted, it was almost ten years after William Binney got stomped down for trying to work within the system for constructive change, but hardly anyone noticed that at the time.) It’s easy to forget how prescient the show was. Person of Interest set the stage back in 2011; what we see now is no mere retrofit inspired by current events. It came preconfigured. It was in a better position to run with Snowden’s revelations as they emerged, because that’s apparently where it had been headed all along.

*

There’s a deal we genre nerds strike with televised SF. We’ll forgive  painful dialog, cheesy acting, melodramatic soundtracks in exchange for Big Ideas. We’ll forgo the nuanced acting and complex characterization of Justified and Mad Men if we have to— after all, art and literature have been exploring the Human Condition for thousands of years already. What are the odds that you’ll say anything new by rebooting Welcome Back Kotter as the tale of a Kentucky lawman returning to his redneck roots? (Pretty good, as it turns out; but bear with me.)

AI, though. Genetic engineering, exobiology. These are brand spanking new next to all those moth-eaten tropes about corrupt kings and and family discord. Your odds of uncovering something novel are a lot higher in a sandbox that people haven’t been sifting through since the Parthenon was young. So we’ll look past the second-rate Canadian production values if you just keep the ideas fresh.

The problem is that too often, genre shows don’t hold up their end of the bargain. Battlestar Galactica wasn’t really exploring SFnal concepts like AI (at least, not very well); it was all about politics and religion and genocide. For all the skitters and time machines swarming across Falling Skies and Terra Nova, those shows— pretty much any show that Spielberg has a hand in, for that matter— are really just about The Importance Of The Family. And Lost— a glossy, high-budget production which did serve up subtle characters and under-the-top delivery— turned out to not have any coherent ideas at all. They just made shit up until the roof caved in.

Understand that I’m not ignoring those exceptional shows that manage to traffic both in speculative ideas and compelling human drama. On the contrary, I revel in them. But why do there have to be twelve goddamn Monkeys for every Walking Dead that comes down the pike?

Almost despite myself I’ve grown fond of PoI’s characters. Bear the goofy attack dog, Shaw the wry sociopath— even Cavaziel’s thready one-note delivery doesn’t irritate me the way it once did. Either the characters have deepened over the years, or I’ve simply habituated to them. Even so. Person of Interest is still not a show you watch for deep characterization or brilliant dialog.

What it is, is a genre show that honors the deal it made. It traffics in ideas about artificial intelligence, and it does so intelligently. It doesn’t pretend that smart equals human: it doesn’t tart up its machine gods in sexy red dresses, or turn them into pasty-faced Pinocchios who can’t use contractions. Its writers aren’t afraid to do a little honest-to-God background research.

Also worthy.

Also worthy.

The only other series I can think of that came close to walking this road was The Sarah Connor Chronicles— which wobbled out of the gate, got good, got brilliant, and got canceled all in the same span of time it took for Person of Interest to graduate from “Irredeemably Lame” to “Shows Some Improvement”. But PoI has now survived for twice as long as SCC— and in terms of their shared mission statement, PoI has surpassed its predecessor. The BUG may have put it best when she described it as a kind of idiot-savante among TV shows: it may lack certain social skills, but you can’t deny the smarts.

How can I disagree with that? Once or twice, people have said the same thing about me.

05 Apr 23:56

prettyyiinpunkk:skindeeptales:Double mastectomy floral...

Tertiarymatt

This might be technically NSFW, but fuck your boss. This is beautiful. via Coop.







prettyyiinpunkk:

skindeeptales:

Double mastectomy floral tattoo

“The response to this piece is incredible. Tattooing is a beautiful and absolutely viable option for concealing or altering scars. When coupled with an artist you’ve researched and feel connected to… taking the reigns and regaining some sort of control can be empowering. There is healing in this!” ( David Allen )

by David Allen - Pioneer Studios - Chicago

This is so beyond beautiful and awesome.

06 Apr 20:55

Climate change, plant roots may accelerate carbon loss from soils

Tertiarymatt

Good news! This isn't too surprising, though. The question is the balance between the decomp plants stimulate for their own benefit, vs. the accumulation rate of biomass. This is, however, why soils are not infinite carbon sinks.

Soil, long thought to be a semi-permanent storehouse for ancient carbon, may be releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than anyone thought. In a new study, researchers showed that chemicals emitted by plant roots act on carbon that is bonded to minerals in the soil, breaking the bonds and exposing previously protected carbon to decomposition by microbes.