Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
I found this comment on an article [This Dumb Decade: The 87 Lamest Moments in Tech, 2000-2009] about how "lame" the y2k problem was to be particularly revealing and relevant to the sort of complacency that is easily encouraged by successful behind-the-scenes work.
The y2k problem was a snoozer because a LOT of geeks worked a LOT of hours in 1998 and 1999 to fix the problem before it happened. I was in a y2k war room and when midnight passed our first customer without the lights going out in Canberra (our product was controlling the Snowy Mountains Project electrical grid) we all cheered. Outside the y2k war rooms of thousands of companies whose software was supporting the world’s industrial base, nobody heard that cheer, but we damn well won that war before the first (potential) shot was fired.
I think here about the Swine-flu "non-issue". . . .
Monday, January 11, 2010
Great (Dutch) documentary from 1997 about my guitar hero Bill Frisell (check out all three parts). I've seen Frisell in concert (mostly at the Village Vanguard) a good dozen times and always notice the sort of incongruous awkward mannerisms (if you watched him with no sound, you'd think he had no sense of rhythm) and amazing music. Great stuff. If you're new to Frisell, I highly recommend picking up some of his impossible-to-classify albums. Lots of selections on Lala (heavy on Disfarmer initially, but make sure to check out songs from his collaborations with Elvin Jones and Dave Holland, Unspeakable, Floratone, Ghost Town).
I've also been really digging his online live recording series. Number 4 is great — I was at this concert, I believe, at the wonderful Jazz Standard (which also has a BBQ restaurant upstairs) including one of my favorite songs of all time, "Follow Your Heart" by John McLaughlin. Number 5 ("Live at the Babicon") is also really good: aside from the improvisations, the album is all Beatles covers.
Side note/question: Is it wrong to like covers of the Beatles more than the Beatles themselves?
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Gizmodo recently picked up on an article about a Japanese project aiming to use bacteria (genetically modified, possibly?) to convert CO2 into natural gas (well, methane, anyway) and sequestering the (leftover?) carbon. They don't have funding yet and frankly I hope that it doesn't get it. Aside from the fact that we don't really know whether sequestering carbon will work — it might just seep out again — it seems to represent strange priorities. The flub in Gizmodo's write up is illustrative:
Many nations have already built massive carbon sequestration plants that can store carbon dioxide underground, as part of a worldwide effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Obviously, sequestering atmospheric carbon does absolutely nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions! Now, I'm all for thinking about the climate change problem in terms of a total "budget" of atmospheric carbon compatible with a 2° rise in global temperature averages, but these pie-in-the-sky solutions just don't get to the heart of the problem. Worse, they allow us a sort of vague hope that technology will save the day and allow us to keep on doing what we're doing. When did we forget that technology is ultimately going to be our undoing? Haven't these people watched science fiction movies?!?
Friday, January 8, 2010
Just caught this post (with many photos) of the now mostly derelict Biosphere 2. Fascinating stuff (and judging from some of the comments, possibly not an accurate representation of the state of things there; the official webpage is here). I vaguely remember the buzz surrounding this thing in the early '90s. I suppose at the time that I assumed that the '2' referred to the fact that this Biosphere was a more sophisticated, bigger, whathaveyou version of Biosphere 1.0. No: we're living on Biosphere 1.0:
Watching something originally built precisely as a simulation of the Earth—the 2 in "Biosphere 2" is meant to differentiate this place from the Earth itself, i.e. Biosphere 1—slowly taken over by the very forces it was naively meant to model is philosophically extraordinary: the model taken over by the thing it represents. It is a replicant in its dying throes.
Aside from all the ironies involved, it's interesting to think about the underlying assumptions behind this project. At least, I think they were underlying assumptions: that a closed biotic system of a certain sort would attain some kind of equilibrium. Put a bunch of plants, water, microbes, animals, and whatever else together, seal it from the human-disturbed outdoors, and we'll have a sort of indoor Garden of Eden in the Sonoran Desert. But not only did its container mess things up a bit (the concrete screws with CO2 levels, I gather, the trees hit the ceiling, &c.), there was a roach/ant explosion (since presumably the relevant predators weren't included.
Not long ago, Wire Science had a nice feature on it (Biosphere 2 Not Such a Bust) that pointed out its importance for preparing for future mars/moon bases. Perhaps someone should try building Biosphere 3 at sea so that we can get ready to head to Waterworld.