synthetic zero


August 31, 2003

Check out Ricardo's blog, Banubula.

Yesterday I had this little epiphany. For example: when the Europeans came to the Americas, and the people who were here died of disease ---- the reasons were that the way European and Asian civilization had developed, with a lot of use of domesticated animals and a lot of travel east to west, they developed many more diseases as well (many which came from the animals). So European and Asian immune systems were much more developed, from fighting all the diseases they were exposed to. It occurred to me that New York can be that sort of place --- if you can overcome the challenges of a place like this, you can develop resources that you might otherwise fail to acquire. Of course, that is, provided you don't get crushed, defeated, demoralized, or killed...

When I walk around Portland I always feel this sort of magic in the air; it seems to cover everything, even the light. Last night, for the first time, after having this insight, I saw this in the streets of Manhattan.

August 24, 2003

We had a seminar of Kira Institute Summer School alumni and one faculty member, Piet Hut (Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton) yesterday. It was a great success --- a total of seven people gave talks on a variety of interesting subjects, ranging from "Second-Person Perspective as an Aesthetic Advance in Physics and Cinema" (Roberta Morris) to the nature of intuition (Leonore Wigger) to the relationship between information, mind, and spacetime (with particular reference to Gregory Bateson --- that was my talk), to the future of science (Piet's talk). Rob Calabro gave a talk on holistic medicine, detailing an experience he had recently with an acupuncturist (who is also an MD) who helped him with a medical problem that had proven intractable to the other ordinary doctors. Tracy Dennis gave a talk on emotional regulation. Rajesh Kasturirangan engaged us in a discussion of how we could bring some of these ideas more into the world. I will be posting some recordings of the talks later (I am not sure how audible they will be --- I'll try to do what I can to clean them up), and a more detailed summary of the proceedings. We will probably be holding more salons, events, performances, etc., here at the space, so stay tuned. If you're local to New York and have some ideas for an event, please email me.

I exchanged the Infocus X1 for a Panasonic PT-L300. Though it's more expensive (I got it for $1700), and the picture quality is similar to the X1, I found the X1's rainbow effect to be too distracting; I actually got a slight headache when watching certain scenes. The PT-L300 has a beautiful picture, but better --- no rainbow effect. Among other things we will likely hold some screenings here (experimental film, etc.)

Aftermath of the blackout:


August 18, 2003

The big blackout --- well, like millions of other people I was caught right in the middle of it --- in the doctor's office, sitting there, suddenly it was dark, and we thought, hey, it's just the building --- no, maybe the block --- no, the neighborhood --- whoa, it's the whole city, etc., etc. Unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to immediately hop on the first bus (things unravelled in slow motion --- though the lights were out buses and cars at first were almost proceeding normally, but within 20 minutes every bus was completely full). However, it was for the best because I did have the presence of mind a few moments later to pick up some candles, a pocket radio, and some batteries, which served me well over the next day or two. We flowed, a mass of pedestrians; I walked 85 blocks --- Susan walked 125; I met one man who had been walking from 59th street and his destination was in Westchester County. There was little choice. Taxis went out of service for lack of gas, the buses were full, the subways dead.

We got to know our neighbors (who have decided to move to California after spending a month in New York subletting the next door loft --- but we had a wonderful evening hanging out with them). In the streets: no looting, just block parties, barbecues, dancing. It felt transformative, somehow. I think New Yorkers were proud of themselves afterwards.

I bought a video projector today. An InFocus X1, DLP projector, 1000 lumens with Faroudja video processing and scaling (which does an incredible job of scaling, by the way --- believe it or not, I can display readable text at 1400x1050 even though the projector has only an 800x600 native resolution). Nice contrast levels, good blacks and beautiful color. Really, an impressive little unit.

Today, a woman in the local bodega said about me: "Look at him standing there, mad pretty." I think it was intended to be a compliment.

I want to say something about the crappy design of video game character interactions. I got a copy of the latest Star Wars game, not because I'm super into Star Wars but because I had read that it was a tour de force, a breakthrough in game design. I have to say I was disappointed. It is a very well-designed game, but it breaks no boundaries. The character interactions remain stilted and unrealistic. I know ways of doing this far better; especially the conversations. I worked on a game years ago which I still feel it is far ahead of the pack design-wise. It's amazing, really, how little has changed in the game industry since then --- only the graphics have gotten significantly better. Gameplay and realistic characters remain very hard to do. If only we could get the funding to finish our game... or to design an even better one. I guess we'll just have to work at it in our "spare time."

August 12, 2003

Pictures of the loft:


August 5, 2003

Now that we're done with the construction in the loft I have to say I am mighty pleased with the result. It is even better than I had imagined it would be; while we were building it, I can't say that it was fully possible to appreciate how it was going to work after we finished. But there are many wonderful moments/slices where one can see little vistas, parts of the space, through some of the interior windows we have cut in the walls, from different angles --- it's very satisfying. It feels rather nourishing, in fact.

The problem I have now, however, is a sense of letdown --- it is over, this giant (for us) building project, and we must move on to something else. I feel strangely purposeless now. The conclusion of a big project often feels this way --- oddly unsatisfying. I think I like the building more than the having built.

August 4, 2003

www.longbets.org --- long, long-term bets.

August 1, 2003

A stupid article in the New York Times about Hussein's weapons programs. The height of stupidity can be found in this paragraph:

It is already clear that much of the recent debate over Iraq's weapons programs has been too simplistic. In recent months, the discussion of Iraq's intentions seems to have oscillated from one extreme to another. Iraq was described by hawks before the war as a nation that was an imminent threat to the United States, bristling with chemical and biological weapons, or C.B.W., as intelligence agencies call them. Now the administration's critics seem to suggest that the absence of weapons stocks means that the Saddam Hussein regime had somehow abandoned its goal to be an assertive regional power.
Er, yeah, right. I'm not sure who these unnamed "administration's critics" are supposed to be, but I certainly have never read any critics of the Administration who argued that Hussein had completely abandoned his regional ambitions, or even that he had no weapons programs. The article makes it seem as though going to war against Iraq was a "judgement call" --- that somehow the fact that Hussein was hoping to someday reinstitute his programs, maybe, made a hugely expensive, bloody, and geopolitically disastrous war somehow justifiable. He was nowhere near being an imminent threat: he didn't try to reconstitute his nuclear program even after the inspectors left in 1998. Not to mention the fact that as long as he remained in power we would have had a massive inspections regime in place --- something the UN was planning had we not gone to war --- and there is simply no way he could have restarted a nuclear program without us finding out about it. This has been the argument of critics of the Administration both before the war and now. To suggest that there is a significant fraction of critics who believed Hussein was completely "reformed" is to utterly misconstrue the debate, and to make it seem that the war might have satisfied some sensible "middle ground." The neocon "strategy" is a deluded, unrealistic policy based on a combination of fantasy and distortion of the evidence --- and their "critics" are not asserting that Hussein posed zero threat --- we have asserted all along merely that the threat he posed was marginal at worst, and that the costs of war would vastly outstrip its meager benefits. I have argued all along that the war would reduce our national security, not improve it, and so far I think the evidence is mounting that I and many other critics of this policy were, sadly, very right.