Journey into Night: January in Svalbard

island, Julian-Hanna, Svalbard, Spitsbergen, arctic, polar-night

The strangest thing about visiting the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago during the 24-hour darkness known as polar night is that you can’t see the island you’re on. I was surprised, when I flew into Longyearbyen this past January, how unsettling an experience it was. The fact that I was there for an island studies conference compounded the sense of absurdity: though I talked about islands all week, I never actually saw the island I was on. It was pitch black when we landed – nearly everyone arrived on the same afternoon flight from Tromsø and climbed out of the cabin to go blinking across the runway moonscape – and blackness followed us from morning till night. It was still dark when we boarded the return flight at noon on the day of the US presidential inauguration. I was ready for the cold (the temperature hovered around -15, often with a strong wind chill), but I was not prepared for the disorienting feeling of being on an island built largely from my own imagination.


Everywhere is someone’s dystopia, etc.







You know, even if I was interested playing the Solarpunk setting as straight as possible, it would still probably come out looking like a pretty unpleasant place to live, and that has everything to do with the kind of character I enjoy writing.

See, I think even the most idyllic society would have people who Just Aren’t Happy There. Who feel trapped, or don’t fit in, or fall through the cracks, or whatever. And that there are more explanations for why than just “these people are wrong and probably not very nice either.” Those outliers are the people I like writing about, and who I keep returning to again and again, in every setting, no matter how objectively good/okay/shitty the wider world is. Hell, I even (sometimes especially) like writing about them when they are Wrong or Not Nice.

I like creating and consuming stories about these people trying to carve, scrape, or smash a space for themselves in worlds that never seemed to hold them. Or smashing themselves/turning liquid to fit. Even if they don’t succeed. Even if they don’t survive. (Again, maybe especiallyin those latter cases.)

I’ve always been less than uninterested in fiction that only asks  “how do we make an ideal world?” I want fiction that takes it for granted that “ideal” and “world” barely belong in the same sentence, and then asks,  “what then?”

And I guess that’s my favorite thing about writing. Taking any kind of world, and asking it, “what then?”

This kind of stuff is why I don’t like the formulation of solarpunk as utopic. A space in which people are generally trying to do things better, with limited resources in every sense, is a space where people willfail to fit in, will suffer, sometimes unjustly, will make mistakes. 

I think your sense of “solarpunk played straight” and stories about these kinds of characters would be fantastic, because it gets precisely to the point that there’s a never-ending supply of nuance and exception that will always result in conflicts and will always feature people worthy of an exceptional effort of compassion and understanding. Sometimes their communities will fail them, and that’s worth exploring too. I think what would make a story like that solarpunk is when it’s clear that the community could have, and should have, done better. What’s less so is when the community’s failure is inevitable, based on immutable prior conditions.

There’s no such thing as a singular ideal world. There aren’t even going to be singular ideal communities, but to even get close to that we need to accept that the precise mechanics of improvement will vary wildly from place to place, time to time, people to people. 

Solarpunk doesn’t hope to depict a world with no suffering, because that’s an unachievable goal and efforts to reach it converge on fascism. Solarpunk hopes to build widespread conventions of compassion and innovation that mean fewer people suffer, and that people suffer less. 

It sounds like you’ve got exactly the attitude necessary to tell compelling stories about a world that is trying to improve and succeeding, but is still a world made of people with all the variety and pain that that will always entail.

It’s not quite solarpunk but for a good example of this kind of thinking I recommend Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom,” which is about a post-scarcity civilization in which everybody’s needs are comprehensively met, but in which the protagonist suffers because he’s an asshole and he makes bad decisions. It’s possible to read that story, empathize with the protagonist, and still recognize that almost anybody would choose that world over this one and be better off for it.

Another good one is “Pacific Edge,” in which the major emotional conflict involves heartache – which certainly isn’t going anywhere.

That’s all not to mention the fruitful territory for stories about people fighting and winning against the neoliberal hellscape that is the world as it exists today, which is where on the timeline I think the heart of solarpunk is, but even best-case scenario, post-solarpunk worlds where the communities of the world are generally collaborating toward peace and sustainability, there will be people who are unhappy.

That’s okay. Almost good, even – in the sense that pursuits toward the alternative, again, converge on fascism. 

I really hope you don’t feel like your interest in exploring experiences of othering, alienation, and exclusion mean that you can’t write stories that fit comfortably in with solarpunk. These realities – that better isn’t perfect, that there are painful steps in between here and better, that any system has margins and therefore marginalization – they’re all extremely important, core complexities, and I think exploring these real life complications, with which all optimistic movements have to grapple, is one of the highest kinds of meaningful storytelling solarpunk can aspire to.

The world around your protagonist doesn’t need to be an expansion on, or reflection of, their inner state. Solarpunk says it shouldn’t be. The world goes on around you in all its nuance and complexity as you, in all your nuance and complexity, move within it. You don’t need an empty world to show a person who’s lonely. You don’t need a horde of zombies to show someone who’s enraged. We all know it’s not the case that the world getting better generally means we personally are each guaranteed a proportionate and evenly distributed increase in baseline pleasure. We shouldn’t write like it has to be.

I’d really love to read your “Playing solarpunk straight” stories. 

My reply got pretty long, so it’s under the jump!

Keep reading

This is a great response, and I really enjoyed reading it! 

I think the point I’m most interested in from your response is this one:

the only way to really keep things from going bad in the long term is to occasionally step back and figure out if what we’re doing is still working. But that’s another thing we’re kind of bad at, for all the reasons I mentioned… Well, in this entire post. 

It reminded me of the argument some philosophers have made that we’re at the “End of history” – that large Liberal Democracies are the final form of politics and we’re going to be living with them forever because we’ve “found the right answer.”

To my mind, frequently stepping back and asking “Did this work? Is it still working?” is vital for effective political movements. For example, I think of solarpunk as being a post-”is this working” revision to Original Flavor punk, because capitalism turned out to be more capable than expected of commodifying aesthetics that are hostile to commodification.

I also want to add that I don’t think most solarpunks think all fiction needs to be optimistic. Cautionary views are important and valuable. Solarpunk emphasizes optimism because we got frustrated that “things get worse for everyone” seems to be the onlynarrative going right now in speculative fiction.

Hey, no problem! I love discussing and pontificating and whatnot.

End of History! One of those things I always forget has its own name, argh. And yeah, I guess that’s something I always have at the back of my mind when I’m doing worldbuilding. That any given type of setting is just another link in the chain, and the center won’t hold forever. And there probably isn’t any kind of stable end we’re heading towards, and that’s probably okay.

Oh, I didn’t mean Solarpunk specifically! I just meant it’s something that gets knocked around in certain Internet Writer circles, and it gets on my nerves a little because I don’t really find light! and uplifting! fiction particularly fun or satisfying to read or write.

I also don’t think downbeat things have to be cautionary, and actually prefer it when they aren’t. I think I mentioned before on here that “do that!” and “don’t do that!” in fiction usually come from the same, fairly obnoxious place, and are often in complete agreement with each other. I don’t really like stories that tell you how to think of them, or telling people how to think about my stories in-text. I like when the narrative/setting/characters re just presented as they are without comment, so the reader can draw their own conclusions.

So yeah, “everything will get worse for everyone!” is as heavy-handed as “FUTURE GOOD!” I’m more fond of “people will always be people,” or, if I’m quoting song lyrics “change will surely come, and be awful for most but really good for some.” (With the caveat that most changes are about the same that way, within reason. Basically, the relevant example is that a Solarpunk will have just as much inconvenience and bullshit as our own, but it’ll be different inconvenience and bullshit.)

Spy Images From Cold War a ‘Gold Mine’ for Climate Scientists

climate, siberia, seeing machines, climate change, satellite imagery



The recent declassification of tens of thousands of images from Cold War spy satellites is helping climate scientists compare Siberian terrain between then and now, and they’re showing some obvious signs of climate change.

It was common practice during the Cold War for the U.S. and Soviet Union to spy on each other using any means necessary, which included satellite and aircraft images from space to find military bases and possible signs of invasion. After the Soviet Union was broken apart, the U.S. released their images from Corona and Gambit, two reconnaissance satellites that were decommissioned in the 1980s.

The University of Virginia is now using those images to study the remote area of the Siberian tundra. By using images from current satellites, they are able to create a time lapse of the terrain. They found that the shrubbery and forested areas expanded by 26 percent since the 1960s images were taken.

“These spy images are a gold mine as a reference point,” said Howie Epstein, coauthor of the research. “We know from Earth-observing satellite data that the Arctic generally has been greening for 35 years or so. But the Siberian tundra had not been as closely observed until relatively recently.

“We now know that a lot of greening has been going on there, too, with tall shrubs and woody vegetation. The vegetation has been getting both taller and expanding in space and range.”

Though this may sound normal or even natural, Siberia has been widely affected by this expansion. Increased vegetation means an increase in carbon dioxide uptake or heat absorption, leading to a warmer regional climate and less snowfall overall. This has altered the ratio of plants to animals and affected the food web in the area.

Spy Images From Cold War a ‘Gold Mine’ for Climate Scientists

The Kufra Basin in the Sahara Desert of Libya is one of the most heavily irrigated oases in the world. The Libyan government…


The Kufra Basin in the Sahara Desert of Libya is one of the most heavily irrigated oases in the world. The Libyan government enacted a plan in the 1970’s to enable agricultural cultivation in the desert by extracting water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, a non-renewable source of fossil water located beneath the surface. Because the area receives only one inch of rain per year, the acquirer is now nearly dried up.
24.129228, 23.218823
Source imagery: DigitaGlobe

Douglas Coupland: ‘The nine to five is barbaric’

Douglas-Coupland, 9-5, employment, work, future-of-work, technolgy, 1995, 2017

“Most people who work in tech – 99% – don’t want to look at the implications of what they are doing. They just want to hit their milestones and that’s it.” But there’s no turning back. The internet is here to stay and will continue to profoundly change societies and the workplace. “If the internet stopped one day, can you imagine the chaos? What would we call that scenario? It’s called 1995 – that’s how far we’ve come.”


Imagination vs Speculation


Fiction has two modes: the imaginative and the speculative. The mode that has to do with pure, unbridled invention and the mode that tries to think logically about rules and consequences. So the imaginative parts of Lord of the Rings have to do with the whole-cloth contrivance of things that don’t exist: ents, hobbits, dwarves. The speculative parts have to do with how, given the rules of Tolkien’s universe, his characters might behave. What would it take for a homebody hobbit to leave home? This principle goes for stories that lack ‘fantastic’ elements as well. The imaginative part of Huckleberry Finn is Huck and Jim and their life circumstances. The speculative part is what it might take for Huck and Jim to bond and run away. Imagination is Jim finding a dead body. Speculation is Jim preventing Huck from seeing it.

(That good speculation requires a good imagination is a given. But it is still different, for my purposes, from the act of creating something from nothing.)

In order for speculation to be concerned with what mighthappen though, it has to be concerned with what is. Every act of speculation speaks as much about what rules a writer thinks govern a fictional world as it does about how those rules might manifest. And if a writer is trying to speculate about how reality could go, as many writers are, then they are proposing hypotheses about the way reality is. In a third season storyline of The Wire, for example, the show imagines that Baltimore establishes a zone for the legal use and exchange of drugs. It then speculates how the government, police, and citizens would react—revealing general principles about what motivates these people and why.

But fiction is weird. Fiction usually isn’t concerned with either a fictional reality or a real reality—but both, simultaneously. So in a satirical movie like Election, the story is at once attempting to distill a supposedly real phenomenon (what happens when unscrupulous people butt up against cowards and innocents) and be consistent within a necessarily heightened movie reality. Which means that fiction, in order to feel ‘correct,’ has to scan according to both realities. If you don’t think that automatons of ambition exist, or you don’t think that they succeed in the end, or you think using Tracy Flick to depict that kind of person puts unrepresentative blame on the heads of teenage girls—the speculation doesn’t track for you. On the other hand, based on what the movie establishes about Tracy Flick, we would also consider it ‘illogical’ or bad speculation if she suddenly behaved selflessly.

Interestingly, the more metaphorical or satirical a work is—in other words, the more it is attempting to have meaning—the more, I would argue, it becomes concerned with ‘real’ reality. The more, that is, its implications about reality affect whether or not it works. If I’m watching Transformers, it doesn’t actually matter that much whether it makes sense that a giant alien robot would pal around with a teenage kid. Because Transformersisn’t trying to claim much about reality.* But if I’m watching a production of Rhinoceros, it sure as hell matters whether I think fascistic impulses exist, or whether they colonize people in the absurd, virulent way Rhinocerosdepicts. It matters less whether Rhinocerosestablishes complicated rules for its fictional world. Though it should be (and is) self-consistent.

*(Insofar as Transformersis trying to distill a reality, one might claim it is trying to distill what a certain attitude or fantasy looks like. So it is consistent with the reality of the terms of that fantasy—cars, heroism, hot girls— rather than whether or not that fantasy is especially likely to happen. “ IfI were trying to make the perfect heterosexual boy fantasy movie, what would I include? In other words, what is the perfect heterosexual boy fantasy movie? What defines a heterosexual boy?” In a thoughtless execution of the het boy fantasy genre— XXX? Crank? I don’t know—this kind of consistency would matter even less.)

What am I getting at? I want to set aside the definition of ‘speculative fiction’ that acts as a euphemism for science fiction. And I want to examine what makes good or bad speculative fiction, and what counts as ‘speculative fiction’ in the first place. Right now, the terms ‘science fiction’ and ‘speculative fiction’ are a confusing conflation of three different genres:

1. Fantasy with tech or futuristic trappings. Star Wars, Transformers.

2. Speculation about the consequences of a scenario that doesn’t exist (a technological innovation, a social innovation, a crazy circumstance). Looper, A Handmaid’s Tale, Asimov, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Contact.

3. A technology or a fantastic setting as a metaphor for a real world phenomenon. The Forever War, Metamorphosis, Frankenstein, Xenogenesis.

There are good and bad executions of all of these genres. And of course they tend to overlap. But in order to talk about whether a given work is failing or succeeding, we have to talk about which realities the works are trying to make claims about (or take as a given), and therefore whether or not the claims are accurate or convincingly depicted.

The first category mostly only needs to scan according to its fictional reality. When this kind of story makes a claim about real reality, it usually tends to be a claim about human emotion or human values (what is tragic, what is virtuous, what is cool). The questions you ask about Star Wars are things like “Is this fun?” or “Does it make sense that Luke is sad here?” The last category, in turn, mostly needs to scan according to its real reality. Something like Xenogenesismakes you ask questions like “Is this effectively evoking the conflicted, shell-shocked experience of cultural assimilation?” Frankenstein is more of a story about hubris rather than a story primarily about the actual consequences of reanimating the dead. Stories in this category can be tremendously complex on the narrative level, and care about being consistent and exciting on that level, but the speculation part tends to exist primarily in the service of a concept rather than itself.

I think of it this way: speculation in service of a concept will be closed, rather than open. The Wire’s Hamsterdam storyline is open because there was no way it really hadto go, other than the way that the writers thought logically sprang from the state of Baltimore’s citizens and civic institutions. But something like District 9is trying to convey a pre-established position about the mechanics of prejudice and othering. District 9is more effective if its narrative logic is sound, but there was also no way District 9’s plot was going to depict any fallout from alien contact other than xenophobia. Top-down rather than bottom-up storytelling. Evidence-based versus theory-based. This isn’t inherently a good or bad thing, for the record, just a distinct difference in genre. In metaphorical stories, the logic of something is considered more or less known to the author; the problem is how to get other people to internalize the logic.

True speculative fiction (category 2) and true narrative fiction (category 1) seem to resemble each other more than they do metaphorical fiction (category 3) because they both take the bottom-up approach. What is something like a sitcom ( situational comedy) other than putting characters in a scenario and asking what will happen? Beyond approach, what Friendsand Star Warsand Game of Thronesand Isaac Asimov all have in common is a curious paucity of thematic content (that is: it’s difficult to say what they are “about”), but not in a bad way. Extremely hard speculation like The Wire tends to not be terribly thematic because theme requires a certain amount of artistic control that epistemically honest speculation doesn’t lend itself to. When works of hard speculation are thematic, and when they’re good, they seem to mostly lend themselves towards themes about the complexity of systems. Which makes perfect sense. Hard speculation is also different from “hard science fiction” that mostly applies its hardness to its setting and not to its narrative. Only occasionally, like in things like The Silmarillion,does a hard worldbuilding story understand that its worldbuilding isthe story and put the focus there accordingly.

All this said, most works of speculation are in-between things. Things like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Brazilor Heror Children of Men or Contactor Snowpiercer. Eternal Sunshineis fairly honest speculation about how people would use a memory-altering technology, but the only reason the story proposes that technology is to explore things about romantic relationships. Most stories, in other words, choose their speculation in a thematically pointed way, even if they’re not transparently allegorical.

The thing I want to figure out is why the way that something like Eternal Sunshinespeculates thematically is so much better than the way that something like Herdoes, despite the fact that they have similar subject matter and approach. While both pure narrative and pure metaphor and pure speculation can all, to a certain extent, get away with ignoring one or both of the above, blended works seem to ignore the other categories at their peril. The absolute worst executions I can think of are the metaphorical stories that are undermined by a refusal to speculate. Stories that have such a poor understanding of consequences or such a lack of curiosity about them that it ruins the metaphorical and literary power of the reality they are trying to convey (see: what it means for a work of art to take itself seriously). A good metaphor will not simplify reality, but will open it up, and this is impossible to do without a good understanding of what reality is (or a respect for the fact that understanding reality is overwhelmingly difficult).

Works like Herand Snowpiercer seem weak to me because their artistic reach extends their grasp, but in a lazy way rather than a forgivably ambitious way. They imagine overly wholesale fictional circumstances: allthe people fall in love with their computers, allof society is trapped on this train. These are huge statements about the pervasiveness of both loneliness and the stratification of society, yet neither of them are convincing on the individual character or narrative level, and so their huge claims fall flat. Theodore mostly seems to be lonely because he’s an almost inhumanly stunted person. I found myself wishing the movie were just a simple story about an individual in the real world that falls for a catfisher. Similarly, I felt that Snowpiercerwould almost be more convincing as a story set in an actually oppressively stratified country. Those “realistic” stories would be less symbolic, but far richer. Although movies like The Matrixand Children of Menalso have overly ambitious speculative conceits, both put considerable effort towards the complexity and excitingness of their narratives and also make much smaller claims about reality. The Matrixis a metaphor for a more generic feeling of unreality and aimlessness, while Children of Men tries to be a thriller in a speculative circumstance, but makes few sweeping, moral claims about society that it has to prove. Poor speculation, in other words, takes its ideas as “given” and uses metaphor as a kind of autotune to conceal a lack of work.

[C redit both to Peli Grietzer for autotune as a figurative concept, and Gabe Duquette for this specific usage].

Reversing the Lies of the Sharing Economy

Medium, Brett Scott, P2P, sharing economy, rent, economics, employment, precarity, Uber, platform cooperatives

There’s nothing resembling a “sharing economy” in an Uber interaction. You pay a corporation to send a driver to you, and it pays that driver a variable weekly wage. Sharing can really only refer to one of three occurrences. It can mean giving something away as a gift, like: “Here, take some of my food.” It can describe allowing someone to temporarily use something you own, as in: “He shared his toy with his friend.” Or, it can refer to people having common access to something they collectively own or manage: “The farmers all had an ownership share in the reservoir and shared access to it.” None of these involve monetary exchange. We do not use the term “sharing” to refer to an interaction like this: “I’ll give you some food if you pay me.” We call that buying. We don’t use it in this situation either: “I’ll let you temporarily use my toy if you pay me.” We call that renting. And in the third example, while the farmers may have come together initially to purchase a common resource, they don’t pay for subsequent access to it.


z\w\a\r\t\24 in HELVETE #3 - ’ Bleeding Black Noise’ “The third issue of Helvete, “Bleeding Black Noise,” features artwork and…


z\w\a\r\t\24 in HELVETE #3 - ’ Bleeding Black Noise’

“The third issue of Helvete, “Bleeding Black Noise,” features artwork and essays that focus on the sonic aspects of Black Metal, specifically its interactions with Noise — the interruptions, creations, and destructions of signals. “Bleeding Black Noise” is a revision of Steven Parrino’s statement, “My relation between Rock and visual art: I will bleed for you.” In this issue, Rock is replaced with Noise, and Bleeding is celebrated as a release of the Black Noise — raw energy and formless potential. The essays and art portfolios included here experiment with sonic and conceptual feedback, as well as the way that black noise works through feedback as a process, resonating as background hums or drones, and cascading in foregrounded screams.”

Edited by Amelia Ishmael

Contributors Gast Bouschet, Faith Coloccia, Nadine Hilbert, Bagus Jalang, Alessandro Keegan, Max Kuiper, Kyle McGee, Susanne Pratt, Simon Pröll, Michaël Sellam, Nathan Snaza, Bert Stabler

Exhibition: Sector 2337 (Chicago, IL) February 12 - March 12, 2016.

Mastodon is dead in the water

Medium, Mastodon, GNU Social, social media, federation, twitter, identity, free software

This is the first attempt I’ve seen at a decentralized alternative to major social networks that feels like a modern, well-designed, user-friendly competitor, actually surpassing the native UI for Twitter in some areas. There are still some bugs, rough edges, and server downtime issues, but overall it cleanly passes the bar for “minimum viable UX”, and this inspires hope for me that open-source alternatives don’t always mean a precipitous drop in user experience quality.




Containers is an 8-part audio documentary about how global trade has transformed the economy and ourselves. Host and correspondent Alexis Madrigal leads you through the world of ships and sailors, technology and tugboats, warehouses and cranes. At a time when Donald Trump is threatening to toss out the global economic order, Containers provides an illuminating, deep, and weird look at how capitalism actually works now.


Love in the Time of Cryptography

Quinn Norton, Love, Privacy, technology, surveillance, legibility, log files, encryption

There are few pictures of us together. Very few were taken by us; neither of us are much for selfies. Those that do exist, we ask our friends to keep offline. We know that the vague and soft anonymity of our relationship probably won’t last forever. And I doubt there will ever be a surfeit of digital connections between us. Our phones trace the paths we walk together, existing in telecom databases (and more recently, in WhatsApp’s logfiles) long after we’ve moved on. Their cell tower and GPS logs are like a pair of maze paths with no walls, lines coming together and parting, and coming together again. But what we said on those walks is lost, even to us. Only the feelings, memories, and paths remain.


Creative entropy — a killer problem with Laloux’s evolutionary purpose

Medium, creative entropy, evolutionary purpose

The concept of ‘Evolutionary purpose’ — a central theme from Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations — is a deeply flawed conceptual model. There’s convincing evidence that it doesn’t even exist, and even if you try to implement it anyway there are major flaws including ‘creative entropy’ — a gradual loosening of an organisation’s focus — which may be the opposite of what’s needed to realise a big idea.


A Manifesto for the Open Participatory Organization

Medium, organisation, Open Participatory Organization

This new zeitgeist is less interested in the old social influences of authority and social obligation, and more concerned with demonstrable legitimacy and guaranteeing universal access to the common wealth. Today we are more interested in opt-in/out ways of participation than with committed and consistent roles. We are empowered by communities of practice and peer-to-peer connectivity rather than social status and statutory reputation. We are a generation exploring real abundance in nature and ingenuity that flows from human spirit when it is set free. This shift in attitude signals a reckoning with old ways of power which instrumentalizes the earth, and institutionalizes and bureaucratizes human activity.


Intro to Rally Point Alpha

Medium, Andrew Venezia, consciousness, integral practice, Blue Church

I’m here and interested because I’m fascinated with collective intelligence and have been studying and researching it for the last 7 years or so, mostly from a consciousness and identity oriented angle. I undertook a two year research project for my Master’s Degree focusing on what is called “We Space” — Intersubjective Awareness Practices, which you can find here. We Space is one name for the more directly contemplative practices of ‘Collective Intelligence’ though I also include organizational practices such as Theory-U in the rubric.


Badiou’s “four objections” to the idea of a post-work future

Medium, Badiou, post work, post capitalism, UBI, automation, work, purpose, meaning

Badiou notes that the positive programme of Inventing the Future is organised around three points — full automation, universal basic income, and a “post-work” society — and that the first two of these points are really dependent on the third (automation as the means, UBI as the necessary consequence). He therefore addresses his critique to this nexus of ideas


In the case of Hypsiboas punctatus, we found that under twilight-nocturnal conditions, between 18% and 30% of all the light…

bioluminescence, frogs, Hypsiboas punctatus, GFP, flourescent

In the case of Hypsiboas punctatus, we found that under twilight-nocturnal conditions, between 18% and 30% of all the light (photons) emanating from the frog’s skin were florescent. That’s a substantial proportion, enough to add significant fluorescence to the typical green (in daylight) colouration of the frog, enhancing its visibility.

Finding fluorescence in a land animal is particularly interesting because it has been generally considered irrelevant but for its presence in some insects (spiders, scorpions, beetles, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, millipedes) and in two avian species, parrots and parrotlets. In parrotlets, differences in feather fluorescence between sexes have been found to serve a function in mating and attraction.

With the polka-dot tree frog, we expect that its fluorescence plays a role in inter-species visual communication (because it matches the sensitivity of the frogs’ eyes photoreceptors for blue and green). We do not believe that it has any relevance to mating, as florescence does not seem to differ between females and males.


Cthulhu in the Kitchen


In a previous experiment, I let a neural network trained on the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft finish phrases from cookbook recipes. Now, I tried it the other way around, in which I gave phrases from Lovecraftian horror to an innocent neural network trained on 30MB of cookbook recipes.

There was thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain to find the cake cooked.

I was not alone, for foolhardiness was not then mixed with the ham slices.

Now and then, beneath the brown pall of leaves that rotted and festered in the antediluvian forest darkness, I could trace the sinister outlines of some of the cooking pancakes.

For I, and I only, know what manner of fear lurked on a cookie cutter.

The pitiful throngs of natives shrieked and whined of the unnamable powder served with the flour and red pepper.

Everything seemed to me tainted with a loathsome contagion, and inspired by a noxious alliance with the steamed chicken.

All was in vain; the death that had come had left no trace save the steamed red peppers and chicken broth.

Sometimes, in the throes of a nightmare when unseen powers whirl one over the roofs of strange dead cities toward the grinning chasm of Nis, it is a relief and even a delight to make the soup.

Cooking with Cthulhu


Here’s what you get when you give incomplete cookbook recipes to a neural network trained on the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft:

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 32 minutes. Test corners to see if done, as center will seem like the next horror of Second House.

Whip ½ pint of heavy cream. Add 4 Tbsp. brandy or rum to possibly open things that will never be wholly reported.

Cook over a hot grill, or over glowing remains of tunnel mouth.

With blender on high speed, add ice cubes, one at a time, making certain each cube is the end.

Dice the pulp of the eggplant and put it in a bowl with the vast stark rocks.

NOTE:  As this is a tart rather than a cheesecake, you should be disturbed.

This may be one of the most exceptional souffles you’ll ever serve. The beet color spreads upward from the noisome Great Ones.

Coat apple slices with strange things.

NOTE: If chocolate sauce is not completely smooth, we became the state of the mad and discovered more desperate tracks and merciful sky.

Cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Spoon over bizarre eyes.

Source: Bon Appetit - June 1991 Typed for you by the ancient Alert and Brattleboro and the Walter Sabbath of Inquanok - and the final monoliths of the Essecian Head.

Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition

Medium, 2017, Trump Insurgency, politics, USA

While many things have changed in the world in the past two years, 2016 saw what looks like a phase transition in the political domain. While the overall phenomenon is global in scale and includes Brexit and other movements throughout Europe, I want to focus specifically on the victory of the “Trump Insurgency” and drill down into detail on how this state change will play out.
This war is about much more than ideology, money or power. Even the participants likely do not fully understand the stakes. At a deep level, we are right in the middle of an existential conflict between two entirely different and incompatible ways of forming “collective intelligence”. This is a deep point and will likely be confusing. So I’m going to take it slow and below will walk through a series of “fronts” of the war that I see playing out over the next several years. This is a pretty tactical assessment and should make sense and be useful to anyone. I’ll get to the deep point last — and will be going way out there in an effort to grasp “what is really going on”.


Why Each One Should Eat His Own Turtles: Equality in Uncertainty

Medium, skin in the game, risk, Mercury, parable

The origin of the expression is as follows. It was said that a group of fishermen caught a large number of turtles. After cooking them, they found out at the communal meal that these sea animals were much less edible that they thought: not many members of the group were willing to eat them. But Mercury happened to be passing by –Mercury was the most multitasking, sort of put-together god, as he was the boss of commerce, abundance, messengers, the underworld, as well as the patron of thieves and brigands and, not surprisingly, luck. The group invited him to join them and offered him the turtles to eat. Detecting that he was only invited to relieve them of the unwanted food, he forced them all to eat the turtles, thus establishing the principle that you need to eat what you feed others.


Anarchist bitcoin hacker flies to Syria to join a 4-million person anarchist collective the size of Massachusetts


Amir Taaki is a well-known anarchist bitcoin hacker whose project, Dark Wallet, is meant to create strong anonymity for cryptocurrency transactions; when he discovered that anarchists around the world had gone to Rojava, a district in Kurdish Syria on the Turkish border, to found an anarchist collective with 4,000,000 members “based on principles of local direct democracy, collectivist anarchy, and equality for women,” he left his home in the UK to defend it.

The scene on the ground is somewhat shambolic, and Taaki spent months fighting at the front, watching his friends die to jihadi machine-gun ambushes, before someone figured out that he had special skills relevant to the cause. He was finally transfered to Qamishli, Rojava’s capital, where he worked as a technologist before deciding to return to Britain to finish Dark Wallet in the hopes that strongly anonymous cryptocurrency could be a fundraising tool for anarchist free states.

However, he was arrested and accused of terrorism as soon as he landed. Now, he’s mired in a long, terrible fight with the British government.

2016: You Want It Darker

Dougald-Hine, Dark-Mountain, liminal, liminality, collapse, crisis, uncertainty, ritual, transformat

The concept of liminality was first used to describe the structure of rituals like the one at the centre of The Encounter, but its application as a term for thinking about modern societies is connected to the study of theatre and performance. The anthropologist who made the connection, Victor Turner, distinguished the ‘liminal’ experiences of tribal cultures – in which ritual is a collective process for navigating moments of change – from the ‘liminoid’ experiences available in modern societies, which resemble the liminal, but are choices we opt into as individuals, like a night out at the theatre. This distinction comes with a suggestion that true liminality, the collective entry into the liminal, is not available within a complex industrial society. Now, perhaps this has been true – but here’s my next wild suggestion. The consequences of that very complex industrial society are now bringing us to a point where we get reacquainted with true liminality. To take seriously not just what Dark Mountain has been talking about, but what Monbiot and Harris are touching on, is to recognise that we now face a crisis which has no outside. The planetary scale of our predicament makes it as much a collective experience as anything faced by the tribal cultures studied by Turner and his colleagues. […] To navigate at these depths, you need a different kind of equipment. Facts alone don’t cut it down here.


Spiders could theoretically eat every human on Earth in one year

spiders, biomass, ecology, humans, food

Spiders mostly eat insects, although some of the larger species have been known to snack on lizards, birds and even small mammals. Given their abundance and the voraciousness of their appetites, two European biologists recently wondered: If you were to tally up all the food eaten by the world’s entire spider population in a single year, how much would it be? Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer published their estimate in the journal the Science of Nature earlier this month, and the number they arrived at is frankly shocking: The world’s spiders consume somewhere between 400 million and 800 million tons of prey in any given year. That means that spiders eat at least as much meat as all 7 billion humans on the planet combined, who the authors note consume about 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.


Facial recognition database used by FBI is out of control

facial-recognition, pattern-matching, bias, FBI, USA, policing, errorism

Approximately half of adult Americans’ photographs are stored in facial recognition databases that can be accessed by the FBI, without their knowledge or consent, in the hunt for suspected criminals. About 80% of photos in the FBI’s network are non-criminal entries, including pictures from driver’s licenses and passports. The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are more likely to misidentify black people than white people.


Sand patterns are seen here in Salta, Argentina. Salta is situated 3780 feet above sea level in the northwest part of the…


Sand patterns are seen here in Salta, Argentina. Salta is situated 3780 feet above sea level in the northwest part of the country. The palette of colors in the sand is caused for a variety of reasons. The red occurs from large amounts of iron in the sand that have broken down, and stained the sand a rust color. The black presumably occurs following volcanic activity. The white seen in this Overview is snow covering the tops of the mountains.

-22.821924, -65.030245


Source imagery: DigitalGlob

For more identity, not less

Medium, Dan Hill, identity, nationality, multiplicity, estonia, digital services, post-national

2016 was a year in which modern notions of identity were shut down for short-term political gain. Yet in actual rather than alternative fact, how we live and who we are continues to unfold, dovetail and joyously entwine. Already complex identities, drawn over millennia of trade, migration and social experimentation, become yet more complex with each passing day. Binding that glorious mess to anachronistic approaches to decision-making and identity, rooted in some mythical simpler times, it’s little surprise we are allegedly tearing ourselves apart. The 2016 American presidential election and Brexit referendum results reveal countries apparently rent in two, systems that carelessly allow an almost insignificantly small majority to be described as ‘clear mandates’, by shredding those rich tapestries such that they are perceived instead as crude, diametrically opposed camps. The seams of those political systems are badly misaligned with the reality of how and where we live, clearly foregrounding the concerns of rural voters over urban, a design derived from a previous age of feudal landowners yet still in place.


Dear Tech, You Suck at Delight

Medium, Sara Wachter-Boettcher, AI, UI, tech, Apple, siri, partial automation

What we’ve found, over and over, is an industry willing to invest endless resources chasing “delight” — but when put up to the pressure of real life, the results are shallow at best, and horrifying at worst. Consider this: Apple has known Siri had a problem with crisis since it launched in 2011. Back then, if you told it you were thinking about shooting yourself, it would give you directions to a gun store. When bad press rolled in, Apple partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to offer users help when they said something Siri identified as suicidal. It’s not just crisis scenarios, either. Hell, Apple Health claimed to track “all of your metrics that you’re most interested in” back in 2014 — but it didn’t consider period tracking a worthwhile metric for over a year after launch.


GroWorld – FoAM

Medium, FoAM, groworld, Fourth door review, plants, patabotany, culture, permaculture, animism, viriditas, thalience

At the intersections of culture, gardening and technology we can start to see how plants can become organisational principles for human society in the turbulent times of the 21st century. Although we may need to scavenge at the fringes of contemporary society, we can observe many healing effects that humans can have on their surroundings through a symbiotic collaboration with plants. Some fight desertification and remediate industrial wastelands through natural farming and permaculture. Others design whole lifecycle, closed-loop technological and architectural systems inspired by natural processes, based on the art and science of biomimicry. Yet, these are scattered examples. We still don’t have widespread methods to improve wasteful, often counter-productive human behaviours. How do we encourage broader, longer-term cultural changes? What varieties of culture would be capable of forging symbiotic relationships between postindustrial human societies and the rest of the earth? How do we compost bitterness to grow beauty?


Lossy Futures

Medium, changeist, futures, flatpack futures, lossy futures, narrative

So, while flatpack futures attempt to deliver a whole world, system or universe embedded in one short vignette, lossy futures — be they artifacts, simple scenarios, wireframes of speculation, rich prompts, brief vignettes or some other material object — give us the scaffolding and ask or allow us to determine the details ourselves. In doing so, they transmit the critical data, the minimum viable future, and give us the opportunity to fill in the gaps we think are important to understanding, or have a dialogue around what these gaps may mean. The irony here is that flatpack futures are often high fidelity productions, complex, if flawed, narratives. They are beautiful renderings, but submerge engineering, social, business model, ethical or spiritual problems in favor of presenting a glossy face. Lossy futures are lo-fi, and intentionally omit detail as a feature, not a bug.



monika bielskyte, VR, AR, MR, shamanism, Experience Design, possibility, 2017

As we go into this future without screens, we must pay attention to the context that our ‘innovations’ shall be set in: we have been witnessing the loudest voices on the internet, in the media, & in politics screaming for alienation vs communication, enclosure vs openness, fear vs curiosity. In the light of recent events, I cannot help but admit I have been somewhat troubled by how narrowly we have been approaching our work, even we — even this very group of people that calls themselves innovators & explorers. Our work is never just entertainment or marketing or science or technology, we are, in fact, creating culture.


Why Teams?

Medium, Yaneer Bar-Yam, complexity, teams, collaboration

The advantage of working together is to get a complex task right, to be successful at making the right decision. The higher the complexity, the more specialists cannot be successful, but teams can be. This is important in healthcare in addressing complex diseases and conditions that can interact with each other. It is also generally important in dealing with complex tasks of all kinds. The cost of having such a team in place might seem high, but for complex cases such a team will prove to be more effective and less costly than the alternative. The challenge is making sure the teams work together smoothly and efficiently. This will yield better results than specialists working separately.


Let Robots Handle Your Emotional Burnout at Work

Medium, emotional labor, burnout, robots, deep acting

Deep acting, according to research, allows a worker to perform emotional labor with reduced emotional dissonance. Studies on administrative assistants and hotel service providers cite lower levels of stress, exhaustion, and cynicism in those who use the technique. While surface acting has been associated with job burnout and depression, those who practice deep acting tend to feel a greater sense of personal accomplishment at work.
But while this and other recommendations to try mindfulness practice, meditation, and exercise may help laborers better manage problem customers and stressful jobs, they squarely place the responsibility of dealing with the rigors of emotional labor on the “victim.” Customers are never told to take ownership for the way they treat those serving them, or encouraged to practice their emotional intelligence when interacting with service representatives. As Laurie Penny writes about turning the ideology of self-care into a politicized anecdote to systemic issues: “Essentially, if we are sick, sad, and exhausted, the problem isn’t one of economics. There is no structural imbalance, according to this view — there is only maladaptation, requiring an individual response.”
We can’t, however, shelve the unintended consequences of entirely replacing human service professionals with machines. Specifically, since the professional service industry is mostly comprised of women and, for some paid out on an hourly basis, those with less education. Assuming such work becomes automated in the future, these people may not have to perform the emotional labor associated with their previous professions — but they could find themselves out of a job. If robots begin to replace occupations for specific demographics, this will quickly become a political issue, even if we can get the technology right.


Synesthesia and Chinese characters


Language Log has an interesting discussion up on synesthesia in Chinese characters, starting with the following reader question: 

I’m curious to know whether, in your years studying and teaching written Chinese, you’ve ever come across synaesthesia as applied to Chinese characters (zi) or words (ci)?

The most common form of synaesthesia (~1% of people, I think) involves the systematic assignment of colours to letters, numbers or (sometimes) whole words. I have this ‘grapheme-colour’ quite strongly: when I hear a phone number or see a number written on a page, for example, I automatically sense it as bands of colour. Much the same for words: it literally bothers me when I don’t know how to spell someone’s name, as their associated colours can be so different […] Sounds a bit loopy to people who don’t do this, but it’s a very useful mnemonic trick when learning French vocab or Latin verb conjugations and noun declensions.

As far as I know, though, most of the research on synaesthesia has involved subjects who use the Latin alphabet – not sinograms.

The comments, which are also worth reading, also start getting into how synesthesia works for new writing systems that one acquires in adulthood. 

For me, I’ve never tried to learn Chinese characters, but I do have synesthesia for the Greek alphabet and the IPA, which I learned fairly young and which have a lot of similarities to the Latin alphabet. (One peculiarity I’ve noticed is that lowercase nu (ν), which looks like v, has the colour of v when I’m not thinking about it but I can “convince” it to take on the colour of n when I concentrate, kind of by thinking of it as a sloppily written n. On the other hand, eta (Η η) which in uppercase looks like H and in lowercase like n, simply won’t take on the colour of e.) 

I’ve also spent some time with the Arabic alphabet and Japanese hiragana, but not enough that I can sight read them, and I find any colour associations there to be weak and unreliable. (Kaf ك and lam ل have the colours of k and l, but they also have similar shapes to them. Most of the other symbols are murkier than that.) I wonder if this would change if I became more fluent, as some people in the Language Log comments describe

Any other synesthetes want to weigh in? 

(Please note that seeing the “wrong” colours associated with particular graphemes, even just by mention, is uncomfortable for some synesthetes, myself included, so I’d greatly appreciate if people could keep their discussion abstract, as in “the colour of b” or “b has a colour” so that those of us who are bothered by this can simply substitute in our own “b” colour. Note that the Language Log post does contain specific grapheme-colour mentions.)

Synesthesia and Chinese characters

Synergy in Ethereum

Medium, Ethereum, ETH, dapps, blockchain

Beyond just another trading instrument, ether is a means to run many services on the Ethereum blockchain, like fuel for energy. Smart contracts when deployed can provide many different use cases. Even as we write, we are already seeing many decentralized applications making use of smart contracts to provide a myriad of services on Ethereum. Below is just a small non exhaustive list of examples.


Beautiful Racket

programming, language-design, racket, lisp, scheme, DSL, book, textbook

The idea of a pro­gram­ming lan­guage that can be molded by its users—I like the phrase lan­guage exten­si­bil­ity—is almost as old as our old­est pro­gram­ming lan­guages, given the his­tory of macros in Lisp. So why isn’t every­one already using macros to extend lan­guages? Like garbage col­lec­tion, macros may seem like a cool idea in prin­ci­ple, but with too much over­head to be prac­ti­cal (but with the over­head in pro­gram under­stand­ing, instead of pro­gram exe­cu­tion). Like first-class func­tions, macros add an extra dimen­sion to code that may seem too mind-twist­ing for an aver­age pro­gram­mer. And like a type sys­tem, the the­ory behind hygienic macros may seem too daunt­ing to be worth the extra guar­an­tees that hygiene pro­vides. Maybe so. But Beau­ti­ful Racket makes the case that the time for lan­guage exten­si­bil­ity has come. That’s why this book is impor­tant. It’s not an abstract argu­ment about the ben­e­fits of macros or a par­tic­u­lar style of macros. Instead, this book shows you, step by step, how to use Racket’s macro sys­tem on real prob­lems and, as a result, get a feel for its ben­e­fits.


Starting with the man introduced in television series Bewitched with little or no explanation, Dick Sargent. Dick, when did Mego…

pitchfork, Dick Sargent, farmersmanual, MEGO, jump the shark

Starting with the man introduced in television series Bewitched with little or no explanation, Dick Sargent. Dick, when did Mego jump the shark? 

Well, Ted, I’m going to go with the highly ambitious but ultimately impenetrable and boring Farmers Manual RLA DVD set, compiling nearly four days worth of audience fuckery audio files, all live. Christ, there were MP3s on that over three hours long! What were they thinking?

“Otra Nation is the shared co-nation open to citizens of both Mexico and the United Stated and co-maintained by respective…

Otra, USA, Mexico, bi-national socio-ecotone, post-westphalia, nationalism, borders

“Otra Nation is the shared co-nation open to citizens of both Mexico and the United Stated and co-maintained by respective governments. Physical land and the initial investment will be provided by both countries and the infrastructure and services will be built with a workforce of 50% Mexico and 50% American. Otra Nation is the worlds’ first continental bi-national socio-ecotone.

The 19th century brought us boundaries, the 20th century we built walls, the next will bridge nations by creating communities based on shared principles of economic resiliency, energy independence and a trust based society.”