MonthAugust 2012

Batman: Plutocrat

Bruce Wayne

Steven Padnick does a much better job expressing why I’m uncomfortable with the traditional version of the Batman/Bruce Wayne mythos, leading me to create my own alternative version, than I could:

Just look at who he fights. Superman (for example) fights intergalactic dictators, evil monopolists, angry generals, and dark gods, i.e. symbols of abusive authority. Batman fights psychotics, anarchists, mob bosses, the mentally ill, and environmentalists, i.e. those who would overthrow the status quo. Superman fights those who would impose their version of order on the world. Batman fights those who would unbalance the order Batman himself imposes on Gotham. […]

Of course, Batman doesn’t like the upper class he belongs to, either! Shallow, petty, boring, and vain, they know nothing of the pain and suffering he sees every night when he hunts killers through the slums of Gotham, every day when he closes his eyes. But does he dislike his wealthy peers because they don’t appreciate how wealthy they are? Or is it because they aren’t wealthy enough to appreciate how much responsibility he has?

But even if he thinks they’re upper class twits, he really doesn’t do anything about it. He leaves them in place, protects them from harm, flirts with and beds them. They’re not the bad guys, after all. It’s all those poor evil people. The one’s who keep crashing the gate, the ones who happened to be hurt in the hunt for profits. If it comes to a clash between the twit and the poor schlub they screwed over and disfigured, Batman tends to side with the twit. (To his disgust, yes, but he’ll do it.)

Tor: Batman: Plutocrat

The Christopher Nolan version does its best to skirt around this by making the Waynes progressive elites who help the poor and develop alternative energy systems and by making the threats to the status quo (mob bosses, the Joker, Bane) legitimately worse than the status quo. Note, for example, that Batman/Bruce Wayne are aware of John Daggett’s shady dealings in Africa, yet Daggett only becomes a concern when he steals Bruce Wayne’s finger prints and begins meddling with the Gotham Stock Exchange.

Short Documentary On The DIY Bodyhacking/Transhumanist Underground

kevin warwick

The Verge did a short documentary, and a piece of long form, participatory journalism, on the DIY transhumanist/bodyhacker/grinder/whatever movement:

The boys from Grindhouse Wetwares both sucked down Parliament menthols the whole time we talked. There was no irony for them in dreaming of the possibilities for one’s body and willfully destroying it. “For me, the end game is my brain and spinal column in a jar, and a robot body out in the world doing my bidding,” said Sarver. “I would really prefer not to have to rely on an inefficient four-valve pump that sends liquid through these fragile hoses. Fuck cheetahs. I want to punch through walls.”

Flesh and blood are easily shed in grinder circles, at least theoretically speaking. “People recoil from the idea of tampering inside the body,” said Tim. “I am lost when it comes to people’s unhealthy connections to your body. This is just a decaying lump of flesh that gets old, it’s leaking fluid all the time, it’s obscene to think this is me. I am my ideas and the sum of my experiences.” As far as the biohackers are concerned, we are the best argument against intelligent design.

Neither man has any illusions about how fringe biohacking is now. But technology marches on. “People say nobody is going to want to get surgery for this stuff,” admits Cannon. But he believes that will change. “They will or they will be left behind. They have no choice. It’s going to be weird and uncomfortable and scary. But you can do that, or you can become obsolete.”

Full Story: The Verge: Cyborg America: inside the strange new world of basement body hackers

(via Grinding)

See also:

Transcending the Human, DIY Style

DIY transhumanism on the cheap

One in four Germans wants microchip under skin

New From Hakim Bey/Peter Lamborn Wilson: Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto (Updated)

New(ish) material from Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey), published in the Spring 2012 issue of Fifth Estate:

Reversion to 1911 would constitute a perfect first step for a 21st century neo-Luddite movement. Living in 1911 means using technology and culture only up to that point and no further, or as little as possible.

For example, you can have a player-piano and phonograph, but no radio or TV; an ice-box, but not a refrigerator; an ocean liner, but not an aeroplane, electric fans, but no air conditioner.

You dress 1911. You can have a telephone. You can even have a car, ideally an electric. Someday, someone will make replicas of the 1911 “Grandma Duck” Detroit Electric, one of the most beautiful cars ever designed.

1911 was a great year for Modernism, Expressionism, Symbolism, Rosicrucianism, anarcho- syndicalism and Individualism, vegetarian lebensreform, and Nietzschean cosmic consciousness, but it was also the last great Edwardian year, the twilight of British Empire and last decadent gilded moments of Manchu, Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian, French and Ottoman monarchy; last “old days” before the hideous 20th century really got going.

The next step backward would be to join the Amish and other Old Order Anabaptists in 1907 — no telephones, no electricity at all, and no internal combustion. With this move, the battle would virtually be won. The next generation would be able to make the transition to no metal — the neo-neolithic. Arcadian pastoralism.

After that a dizzying sliding spiral back into — illiteracy. Oral/aural culture. Classless tribal anarchy. Democratic shamanism. The Gift. This would be the ultimate Luddite goal. But the first step will be back to 1911.

Full Story: Autonomedia: Peter Lamborn Wilson, “Back to 1911”

And people told me quitting most Google services was extreme 😉

(via the newly rejuvenated Aurthur Magazine Twitter account)

Update: It turns out this is an excerpt from a longer manifesto first published by OVO in November 2011:

Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: Music

Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: On (Type) Writing

Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: Energy

Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: Photography

Back to 1911 Movement Manifesto: Telephone

What Everybody Gets Wrong About Jekyll and Hyde

Mr. Hyde by Kevin O'Neill

Steven Padnick writes:

And when I say everybody, I mean everybody. Not just most people today don’t understand the original story—though that’s true—but every retelling of the story, from the earliest stage plays to Steven Moffat’s otherwise brilliant miniseries Jekyll, misses a key point of Robert Louis Stephenson’s original story:

There is no Mr. Hyde.

Edward Hyde is not a separate personality living in the same body as Henry Jekyll. “Hyde” is just Jekyll, having transformed his body into something unrecognizable, acting on unspecified urges that would be unseemly for someone of his age and social standing in Victorian London (i.e. some combination of violence and sex. Torture is specifically mentioned).

Jekyll did not create a potion to remove the evil parts of his nature. He made a potion that allowed him express his urges without feeling guilty and without any consequences besmirching his good name. That’s also why he names his alter ego “Hyde,” because Hyde is a disguise, to be worn and discarded like a thick cloak. He might as well have called Edward “Mr. Second Skin,” or “Mr. Mask.”

Full Story: Tor.com: What Everybody Gets Wrong About Jekyll and Hyde

(via Metafilter)

Evidence Of Previously Unconfirmed Ancient Human Species Discovered

Homo rudolfensis skull

The BBC reports:

Anthropologists have discovered three human fossils that are between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old. The specimens are of a face and two jawbones with teeth.

The finds back the view that a skull found in 1972 ago is of a separate species of human, known as Homo rudolfensis. The skull was markedly different to any others from that time. It had a relatively large brain and long flat face.

But for 40 years the skull was the only example of the creature and so it was impossible to say for sure whether the individual was an unusual specimen or a member of a new species.

With the discovery of the three new fossils researchers can say with more certainty that H.rudolfensis really was a separate type of human that existed around two million years ago alongside other species of humans.

Full Story: BBC: New human species identified from Kenya fossils

The Surprising, Stealth Rebirth Of The American Arcade

insert coins

From Ars Technica:

The arcade industry is dead in the United States—everyone knows it—done in by a combination of rapidly advancing home consoles and rapidly expanding suburbanization in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The only people not in on this bit of conventional wisdom are the ones who happen to be opening a surprising number of successful new arcades around the country.

Adam Pratt, who runs industry website Arcade Heroes when he isn’t managing his own arcade in West Valley City, Utah, tracked at least 12 major, dedicated, independent US arcades opening their doors in 2011, with 10 more opening so far this year. That might not be enough to rival numbers from the golden age of arcades, but it’s a notable expansion from the years before.

“I have missed plenty of locations, but despite that, there really has been an increase over the past two years or so,” Pratt told me. “News occasionally comes along of a place closing, but it is far outweighed by openings.” And almost all of these locations are thriving, based on what Pratt has been hearing.

Full Story: Ars Technica: The surprising, stealth rebirth of the American arcade

The Portland bar/arcade Ground Kontrol was ahead of the curve.

Quantum Encryption Becomes A Little Less Impractical

From Bob McMillan at Wired Enterprise:

Sharing encryption keys the quantum way is exciting because it promises to be an incredibly secure way of doing encryption. In quantum cryptography, the encryption key is read by measuring the polarization of the photons being sent between computers. And according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anyone listening in on the communications would have to start messing with that polarization. And that would be detectable.

Up until now, the photons used to exchange quantum keys have been built using external lasers. But this new laser-free technique would be cheaper to mass-produce, says Sven Höfling, a group leader with the applied physics department at Würzburg University. “We can make Quantum key distribution with electrically driven sources,” he says. This is really compatible with standard semiconductor technology, meaning it could be, in principle, very cheap.”

Wired Enterprise: Quantum Crypto Takes Practical Step With Photon Breakthrough

Bob also notes that this may never actually be a practical technology.

Disclosure: I work for Wired Enterprise

Study: Table Top Role Players Are More Creative

Interesting, but there’s a fundamental causation vs. correlation problem here. I know at least one person who says she doesn’t play RPGs because she’s not imaginative enough.

A study forthcoming in Thinking Skills and Creativity found that people who play table-top role playing games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons) engage in more divergent thinking (a common measure of creativity) than people who play electronic role playing games (e.g. Final Fantasy) or people who don’t play any role playing games.

What makes a game like Dungeons and Dragons so beneficial is that it gets at the cognitive core of what creativity is about — the act of connecting existing knowledge in a novel way in order to generate new knowledge. This new knowledge can be a pleasant way to place paint on a canvass, a plan to stop the leak in your sink, or a way to explain how a Dwarf’s Level 3 Fire spell is repelled by a Dark Ogre.

Peer Review My Neurons: Want to Be Creative? Play Dungeons and Dragons

(via Metafilter)

See also:

Research Shows That American Creativity is Declining

My interview with indie game designers Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen on their transhumanist RPG FreeMarket

U.S. Army Funding Research To Control Living Insects To Use As Drones

grasshopper

Haaretz reports:

In a Technion aeronautics laboratory, a pair of scientists are conducting experiments funded by the U.S. Army that would allow them to control the flight of insects from afar, as if they were mechanical flight vehicles. […]

Research in this field has developed considerably over the past decade thanks to advances in electronic equipment. The Technion lab is one of some five laboratories around the world conducting similar research. The University of Michigan team has been particularly successful, having managed to control the flight of insects from afar, for allotted periods of time. In the Haifa laboratory, researchers have gained control of the flight of insects that are connected to a simulator. They can give a series of commands that control the flight movements of insects for a few minutes. […]

Do the insects suffer? “I don’t know, and I don’t know whether anyone knows for sure,” says Ribak. “But the experiments which we conduct are extremely non-invasive. In comparison to experiments conducted on animals, this is child’s play,” he says. “The Helsinki agreements for experimentation on animals do not apply to insects. Insects are not regarded as important,” says Weihs. “After the electrodes are implanted, we don’t think there can be any pain, since the electric signal is a natural sign produced by the insect itself. We just tell the insect when it should make a movement, using these signals.”

Haaretz: In an Israeli lab, the world’s smallest drone

(Thanks Jim)

The Federated Web Should Be Easier Than It Sounds

My response to Twitter’s suspension of journalist Guy Adams’ account and recent calls for a more open alternative to Twitter:

I’m interested in plans to build federated versions of the internet, including “darknets” like Freenet, Cryptosphere or wireless internet alternatives like Project Meshnet and the many many other project like it. But for those of us living in relatively free countries, just having an internet where everyone owns their own portable identity is good enough. Owning a domain name is a bit on the geeky side, but it’s not like asking people to learn to program or configure their own Linux servers. We can still rely on hosted services – as long as we can pack up and move out of them when the time comes.

What we need to build an open alternative to Twitter isn’t more standards. We already have Dave Winer’s microblog namespace for RSSPubSubHubbub and Activity Streams. What we need is a self-hostable, single user Twitter clone that can publish these formats (and optionally push to Twitter and other social networks). That was the idea that Winer was seemingly getting at last week with his own post on a Twitter alternative, but he focused more on all the tools that are out there for building something like this, and didn’t come out and say what it is we actually need. And that’s something that power users can get up and running relatively quickly without having to write it themselves and with the least amount of server fiddling possible. A WordPress of microblogs.

Sure we have StatusNet and other clones already. But these are designed for groups who want a private Twitter. I’m talking about is giving every user control of their feed by attaching it to their own domain name. One such thing exists already: PageCookery, but the site is in Chinese. Another option is to just run StatusNet and be the sole user on your server. There are also some WordPress microblog themes, but that seems like a clunky solution. It might be nice to see something that isn’t in PHP, but hey – PHP gets the job done and it’s easy for non-developers to get PHP apps running on commodity web hosting.

TechCrunch: The Federated Web Should Be Easier Than It Sounds

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