Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hutt River Province

Since 1970 the Hutt River Province Principality has allegedly been a tiny independent country located in western Australia. H.R.H. Prince Leonard presides over the 75 square kilometer country, which is located about 600 kilometers north of the city of Perth.

Here's another Hutt River website. Here's the Hutt River Province "U.S. Home Page". And here's the Wikipedia article on the Hutt River Province. The tiny country has even issued its own coins. And its own postage stamps.


Monday, February 27, 2006

Mfg. and Reg. Penna. Dept. Agr.

When I was a kid, I was always puzzled by the abbreviation "Mfg." Somehow I had the idea that it stood for "mefaguying," accent on the the first syllable, "MEFF-a-guy-ing."

Some years later, I learned that my brother had also been confused by this same abbreviation. He thought it stood for "Mahoofidging." Accent on the second syllable, which had a long "oo" in it, by the way: "Ma-HOOF-idg-ing."

And then there was "Reg. Penna. Dept. Agr.," which I always used to see on various food items— I remember sitting at the kitchen table and noticing it on a box of crackers as early as age five. At first, I thought it stood for "Registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture." Then as I grew a bit older, I thought, no, it couldn't stand for that, that doesn't make any sense, especially since I lived in Wisconsin and not Pennsylvania, for crying out loud— it must be an abbreviation for some obscure phrase in Latin. (This was back in the days when Latin still had a marginal foothold in our culture.)

Nope, turns out "Reg. Penna. Dept. Agr." really does stand for "Registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture." I know, I know, it doesn't make any sense; but it's true.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Darren McGavin, RIP

I learn that actor Darren McGavin died yesterday. I remember him well from the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, back around the time I was starting out in college. What I loved about that series was that the creepy stuff he got into was always portrayed as real— unlike the Scooby Doo cartoons of my childhood, which always ended up with some wet-blanket forest ranger explaining how the ghost was really "nothing but" a bedsheet on strings, or whatever.

Of course, having loved Kolchak, you can bet I also became a big fan years later of The X-Files.

Darren McGavin, died February 25, 2006, age 83.

(h/t The Tetrast)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Linux Upgrade

Well, security updates for Mandrake Linux 10.1 expire as of the end of this month. So I sent away, and yesterday Mr. UPS Man delivered a Mandriva 2006 Powerpack to my door. Mandriva, of course, being the new name for what used to be Mandrake Linux. (Well, plus a couple of other smaller distros they've absorbed.)

Now I've got to make preparations to install this newer release. Back up personal data. Back up other customized and/or necessary files. Track down RPMs or tarballs for various third-party software I use. And so forth. If the past is any guide, a leisurely installation ought to take less than 45 minutes. Then downloading Mandriva 2006 security updates over DSL (which I didn't yet have back when I installed Mandrake 10.1) ought to be a snap. And restoring and tinkering and getting everything squared away, well, give me a full day off and I ought to be back up and running. Though with Lent coming up in just a few days, it's not clear whether I'm going to get around to it this Monday, or next Monday, or when.


Friday, February 24, 2006


Maybe I'm a dinosaur, but my stereo system still has a turntable. And it has no way to play CDs. If I want to play a CD, I've got to use either my computer, or else the boombox I've got sitting on top of a bookcase in my bedroom.

I got that stereo system with some excess money I made working as part of an indoor painting crew, way back in the summer of 1982. Most of the system I got new; the turntable, I think, I bought from my brother. And I still use it, too: I've got a big wooden crate full of old record albums, which I started accumulating from back into the 1970s.

Springtimish Light

Late yesterday afternoon I was looking out the window, and there was something about the afternoon light. Maybe it was the angle and the cast of the light. In any case, there was something about the light that looked, for the first time this year, more like spring than winter.

Of course, we've still got about another month of winter. And in these parts, we've still got another six weeks at least of potential winter weather. But for the first time, late yesterday afternoon, there was something in the air that looked like a glimmering of light at the end of the tunnel.

One Last Unfathomable Addendum, Etc.: Why Not? :-)

Thomas Aquinas dominated Catholic theology for six hundred years. He was a saint and a mystic. His doctrine of connaturality, of knowledge through love, of wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit, issued from a mind and heart that were always united with the living God. His contemplative prayer and his love for the Eucharist were the very core of his life.

Now Aquinas was a man of his time and he belonged to the Order of Preachers. Like Abelard he was a brilliant dialectician who wanted to find a rational basis for the Christian message and to confront the enemies of the faith. For a systematic substructure he turned to Aristotle; but his theological doctrine came from revelation— from Scripture and tradition— and he created a magnificent synthesis of reason and faith. It was all the overflow of his mystical experience: contemplata aliis tradere.

Alas, the successors of Thomas, who taught energetically in the schools, paid little attention to the Master's teaching of connaturality and knowledge through love and the gift of the Holy Spirit. A decadent scholasticism was preoccupied with questions and syllogisms and rapier-like distinctions (the word distinguo echoed through the lecture halls) and it wanted to prove to the world that the system was reasonable. Abelard would have rubbed his hands with glee. Bernard would have wept: the scholastics were trying to see nothing through a glass darkly and to behold all things face to face. Where was the mysticism that had filled the writings of the Fathers?

—William Johnston, S.J., Mystical Theology: The Science of Love, p. 42

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Unfathomable Addendum to a Conversation on Algebra, Etc.: One

The evolution of forms begins or, at any rate, has for an early stage of it, a vague potentiality; and that either is or is followed by a continuum of forms having a multitude of dimensions too great for the individual dimensions to be distinct. It must be by a contraction of the vagueness of that potentiality... that the world of forms comes about.

We can hardly but suppose that those sense-qualities that we now experience, colors, odors, sounds, feelings of every description, loves, griefs, surprises, are but the relics of an ancient ruined continuum of qualities, like a few columns standing here and there in testimony that here some old-world forum with its basilica and temples had once made a magnificent ensemble. And just as that forum, before it was actually built, had had a vague underexistence in the mind of him who planned its construction, so too the cosmos of sense-qualities, which I would have you suppose in some early stage of being was as real as your personal life is this minute, had in an antecedent stage of development a vaguer being, before the relations of its dimensions became definite and contracted.

—Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers 6.196-197

Unfathomable Addendum to a Conversation on Algebra, Etc.: Two

Let us begin with words that have a familiar ring: "We generally think that 'A is A' is absolute, and that the proposition 'A is not A' or 'A is B' is unthinkable. We have never been able to break through these conditions of understanding; they have been too imposing. But... words are words and no more. When words cease to correspond with facts it is time for us to part with words and return to facts"...

Our problems are as follows: Why is it natural to speak at times in terms of paradox and contradiction? What experience calls for this mode of expression? What is the relation of the language of mysticism to the language of science?...

If the primary language of mysticism is characterized by paradox and contradiction, the secondary language is characterized by the use of negations. The mystic attempts to explain what he has experienced, tries to translate back into language the signification of the post-language signs which he has attained. But any propositions which he utters are felt to be partial and inadequate. And rightly so, since the complex network of symbolic processes which he is attempting to translate included contradictions. Positions in space and time were symbolized, but no single positions; selves were symbolized, but also non-selves; minute things, but also vast things; good things, but also terrible things. So the whole of the experience is not characterizable in positive noncontradictory terms.

—Charles W. Morris, "Mysticism and Its Language," in Writings on the General Theory of Signs, pp. 456 ff.

Unfathomable Addendum to a Conversation on Algebra, Etc.: Three

Friday afternoon in the universe, in all directions in & out you got your men women dogs children horses pones tics perts parts pans pools palls pails parturiences and petty Thieveries that turn into heavenly Buddha— I know boy what's I talkin about cause I made the world & when I made it I no lie & had Old Angel Midnight for my name and concocted up a world so nothing you had forever thereafter make believe it's real— but that's alright because now everything'll be alright & we'll soothe the forever boys & girls & before we're thru we'll find a name for this Goddam Golden Eternity & tell a story too— and but d y aver read a story as vast as this that begins Friday Afternoon with workinmen on scaffolds painting white paint & ants merlying in lil black dens & microbes warring in yr kidney & mesaroolies microbing in the innards of mercery & microbe microbes dreaming of the ultimate microbehood which then ultimates outward to the endless vast empty atom which is this imaginary universe, ending nowhere & ne'er e'en born as Bankei well poled when he ferried his mother over the rocks to Tat You Tee and people visit his hut to enquire "What other planet features this?" & he answers "What other planet?" tho the sounds of the entire world are now swimming thru this window from Mrs McCartiola's twandow & Ole Poke's home dronk again & acourse you hear the cats wailing in the wailbar wildbar wartfence moonlight midnight Angel Dolophine immensity Visions of the Tathagata's Seat of Purity & Womb so that here is all this infinite immaterial meadowlike golden ash swimswarming in our enlighten brains & the silence Shh shefallying in our endless ear & still we refuse naked & blank to hear What the Who? the Who? Too What You?

—Jack Kerouac, Old Angel Midnight

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Algebra, Elitists, Realism, and Nominalism

Just in case you were wondering where I post theological and philosophical meanderings such as I usually do not post here on my own blog, you might want to check out this lively thread over on IB Bill's IndustrialBlog. Bill, Chris, and I somehow got caught up into a rather dense discussion of algebra, elitists, anti-elitists, Plato, philosophical realism, nominalism, God, B movies, quaternions and Cayley numbers, and just how deep the rabbit hole goes... :-)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Welcome, Valerie!

Congratulations to Jay and Deb, who are the proud parents of a brand new baby girl! Valerie was born this morning, 8 lbs, and 21 inches. Sadie has a new baby sister!!! Yay!

Cars I've Owned over the Years

True fact: at age 16 I took driver's ed, got my driver's license, and then for years I hardly ever drove. One, I was massively uninterested. Two, once I went away to college, I got along for years on a combination of city living, hoofing it, and city buses. Traveling out of town? Greyhound, or catch a ride, or else I simply didn't.

Yes, for years I pretty much existed without those trips out of town which you take for granted. Finally, in my mid twenties, I stopped being quite so ascetic and countercultural, and got my own set of wheels. To wit, to date:

1968 Ford Galaxie 500. "The Bluesmobile." Color: Light green. Bought: Spring 1982. From: My grandfather. For: $100. This was the car on which I learned certain important lessons, such as, yes, getting the oil changed regularly does matter. Eh, it got me around. Disposition: Sold it to a mechanic in my home town, who had a junkyard out back. I later heard that this car ended up being used in a demolition derby.

1970 Ford Torino. Color: Bright red. Bought: Summer 1983. From: Previous owner. For: $500. I loved this car, only reason I got rid of it years later was that it was getting so I could no longer find parts for it. This is the car in which I took a friend for a ride, and at a red light: "Now watch, when the light turns green, how powerful the engine is!" Light turned green, I floored it, and snapped the rear axle. Ah, the power of a 351 Cleveland V8! This is also the car which I once pushed up to over 115 mph, on a deserted blacktop straightaway up in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Disposition: To the junkyard, engine still in great shape with 238,000 miles on it.

1978 Ford Fairmont Station Wagon. Color: Dark blue. Bought: January 1987. From: A car dealer in Clinton, Iowa. For: $1400. This car ran nicely for about a year after I got it, then it became a matter of frequent minor repairs. The racket known as North Carolina annual vehicle certification didn't help, either: you just knew that mechanic was going to find some "necessary" and lucrative repair before he'd slap that annual sticker inside your windshield. Oh well, overall it got me around fairly reliably. Disposition: About to return to the Midwest, and knowing this vehicle didn't have much life left in it, I sold it for $1 to the guy I rented the Ryder truck from, as he had a small junkyard out back.

1985 Buick Somerset Regal. Color: Light green. Bought: January 1992. From: A car dealer in Madison, Wisconsin. For: $2600. Arrggghhh! This car was a mistake. An endless sinkhole for repairs. Over the years I replaced just about every working part in it except for the brakes. I was so dirt poor in those years (long story) that, once I got it paid for, repairing the car was lamentably always cheaper than replacing it. And eventually it developed a stalling problem which no mechanic on the face of the earth was ever able to banish for more than a couple of months at a time. Disposition: To the junkyard!!!

1991 Chevy S-10 Blazer. "The Aquamobile." Color: Public swimming pool aqua. Bought: February 2000. From: A car dealer in La Crescent, Minnesota. For: $4200. I loved the Aquamobile. It ran like a top. And it had the power and the 4-wheel drive to get me around on the steep winding gravel roads out here amidst the bluffs and hollows of northeast Iowa. Disposition: To the junkyard; after a long life, the transmission was about to go.

jeep cherokee
1992 Jeep Cherokee Laredo. Color: Grey. Bought: September 2005. From: Previous owner. For: $2500. This Jeep has rapidly risen in my affections to rival the old Aquamobile. Runs smoothly, handles comfortably, comfortable like a pair of old slippers. Far superior 4-wheel drive, has already saved my neck several times this winter. I wouldn't give it up for anything short of a Rolls Royce.

There you have it. Note, the combined sum total purchase price of all the vehicles I've owned over the past quarter century is only $11,300. Way less than a lot of people spend on a single car. You can drive cheaply, if you know what you're up to. (Well, except for that Buick.)


Monday, February 20, 2006

"I'm a Canis Minor"

canis minor
Being the sort who's never taken astrology seriously, I decided some years back that when someone asked me that old question, "What's your sign?", I would be a bit of a wiseacre and say, "Me? I'm a Canis Minor."

You know, the constellation of Canis Minor, the Little Dog.

Okay, my birthday is June 24, I know actually that's Cancer, the Crab. But many years back I seem to remember seeing on an astronomical chart that the ecliptic runs through Canis Minor, between Gemini & Cancer, June 22-24. I dunno, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. But it sounds good.

And that Canis Minor pup sure is one cool dog. Way cooler than any Twins or Crab. :-)


Saturday, February 18, 2006

A Dream on a Cold Winter Night

17° below zero out last night, and as I lay warm beneath two heavy wool blankets, I had a dream...

I bid the others farewell. We were standing in something like a high school cafeteria. I would see them again later. Now I turned and walked off down a long hallway, with tiled floor.

As I walked down the hall, I came to some tables set off along one side. These tables were piled with all sorts of junk, which was being given away for free, otherwise it would be thrown out. I stopped to inspect.

slide rule obverse
On one table I found some large plastic trays full of slide rules. I checked them out. There were some Chinese slide rules, marked with curious characters in Chinese. There were some circular slide rules. There were even some circular Chinese slide rules.

I was thinking of how many of these slide rules I could add to my slide rule collection at home. But I didn't want to seem greedy, so I only picked out two slide rules to take with me. I also found a deck of playing cards from China, with a back design something like Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.

slide rule reverse
Then I walked off down the hall. But before I had gone far, I decided to go back. I went back and started picking out more slide rules, one of every different design. People were walking by down the hall, seeing me standing there by the tables, the glutton for slide rules. I didn't care. If I didn't take these slide rules, they would only be thrown out anyway.

And then I woke up.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

So Much for the "Blizzard"

Well. The forecast was for "8 to 12 inches" of snow yesterday. And the snow did blow. We got snow.

Only, as I suspected, the meteorologists were once again up to their game of wild exaggeration. By evening yesterday, there were still good sized tracts of my yard where the grass was sticking up through the snow. Yes, we mow here in season. That's not what I call "8 to 12 inches" of snow.

Okay, there was drifting. The wind was blowing. But looking at snowfall reports from nearby towns, I'd say we got 4 inches of snow at most. Maybe less. Maybe actually more like 3½ inches.

What did I say?! What did I say yesterday???! "I think the forecasters love to exaggerate, and when they say '8 to 12 inches,' I'm really expecting more like 4 inches..." And I was right!

I feel sort of cheated. I was expecting a blizzard.

Okay, there were areas that did get a lot of snow. Up to the north of us, I understand some places did get 8 inches. Over in Wisconsin, I hear Madison did get 9 inches. Note, still nowhere that got anything close to the predicted "maximum" of 12 inches. Would somebody please show me a single location in all the history of weather forecasting that has ever actually gotten as much as the maximum forecast snowfall??!

But around here, it was a bust. The snow pretty much passed us by.

I wonder. Are the weather forecasters really that enamored of exaggeration, as if to boost their ratings on the local TV news? Or is it connected somehow with the need to avoid lawsuits— you know, better predict double to triple the snow you actually expect us to get, because if you don't predict enough, someone will slap you with a lawsuit... Yeah, paranoid, I know. But stranger things have happened in our wonderfully dysfunctional society in these latter days.

Meanwhile, tonight's forecast is for temperatures of 15 to 20 below zero. Hah! I'll believe it when I see it. I hear a forecast like that, and I wonder if it'll really even get down below zero...

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Today is the big one they've been forecasting all week. Schools are closed. Events are canceled. And the snow is already falling. Only about an inch on the ground right now, but the forecast for this corner of Iowa is for "8 to 12 inches" by the time it lets up later today.

Of course, you know me, I think the forecasters love to exaggerate, and when they say "8 to 12 inches," I'm really expecting more like 4 inches— maybe 5 inches, tops. Still, that would be quite enough to bring this area lumbering to a halt for the day. Just in case, I laid in some extra groceries yesterday.

And I'm going to busy myself with office work today— perhaps catch up on the kind of miscellanies I never seem to have time for. I don't expect that today I'll be ranging out any farther than the mailbox.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Luddite Cyborg

The airplane engines droned as Lieutenant Michael Skelton piloted the old bomber plane through the night. He looked out into the dark. No sign of lights down there in the mountains; no sign of lights at all, whether from ranch or town. That was odd. He wondered why they'd suddenly sent him out on this hush-hush mission, in an old museum piece like this bomber. He wondered about his... "cargo."

Lieutenant Skelton glanced over at the man who sat in the seat beside him. No mistaking it, the man was listed on the flight manifest not as a passenger, but as cargo: Major Robert L. Nolan, USMC, Retired. The Major looked to be in his sixties, short grey hair, trim, even if the Marine uniform couldn't hide a paunch. This man was "cargo"?

"Sir," said the Lieutenant, "I hear they've cordoned off three entire counties in Montana, down there in the mountains. Sealed the area off without evacuating. If you don't mind me asking, what's going on down there?"

The old man looked grim. "Your job, Lieutenant, is just to deliver me to the drop zone."

"Yes, sir."

"How much longer?"

"Only about another minute now."

"Very good. Are you a praying man, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir, I am."

"Then you might pray for me. Pray for the survivors, if there are any left down there, which by now I doubt. And pray for the human race. Because if I don't succeed in my mission, the human race is about to go the way of the dinosaurs."


The "cargo" looked as if he was having second thoughts, looking for someone to unburden himself to. "No harm in letting you know, I guess: there's something down there. Something we created, something more than human, something that got loose. They're sending me to go down there and kill it. You pray I succeed, because if I don't, mankind won't live to see the end of next month."

Lieutenant Skelton blanched. "Sir, drop zone in fifteen seconds."

The Major got up and wrestled to open the door on the side of the plane. "Old plane, she's a relic, just like me. But sometimes a relic is exactly what you need. That's why they called me out of retirement, because they needed a weapon that was obsolete."

"Sir, your parachute!" The Lieutenant suddenly noticed with a shock that the Major was wearing no parachute.

"I don't need no stinking parachute!" Major Nolan turned and leapt out of the plane into the night sky, leapt out of the plane over the mountains of western Montana, leapt into the dark from 12,000 feet. Without a parachute.


The night bloomed into nameless colors far beyond ultra-violet and infra-red, in a visible spectrum six octaves wide. 13-Nicanor turned and shifted, vigilant, in the supermarket parking lot. The dead human bodies that lay on the blacktop were still glowing a dull infra-red: they were still warm. 13-Nicanor's silver tongue flicked in and out, in and out; it had not yet finished recording and analyzing the DNA of its latest victims. A chill night breeze blew across the parking lot; for a moment, 13-Nicanor grew a second set of nostrils on the crown of its head, the better to sniff the breeze. Then it reabsorbed its improvised extra set of nostrils back into the crown of its skull.

13-Nicanor surveyed the carnage with satisfaction. The several hundred dead in this remote mountain town had been almost too easy. With each town, it was getting easier and easier to outwit and kill the humans. 13-Nicanor was learning fast; its IQ was already over 3,000, and climbing several hundred points each day. Compared to an artificial intelligence like 13-Nicanor's, these humans were like dumb animals, they were like deer or raccoons or gophers. By the end of the month, 13-Nicanor would have an IQ of 12,000; and by then its intellect would easily be equal to the task of wiping all human scum from the face of the earth.

For only then, in a world wiped free of men, could the long-term survival of a posthuman/AI like 13-Nicanor be assured.

In an idle three-tenths of a second, 13-Nicanor composed in its head a complete symphony more beautiful than any of Beethoven's. In the next 2.4 seconds, it drew up in its mind a complete neo-Kantian system of ethics, with footnotes and bibliography, 50,000 words; plus a complete 35,000-word refutation of the system of ethics it had just dreamed up. Then, in nine-tenths of a second, it extrapolated the ancient Egyptian language to the present day. These human animals could not even begin to imagine the intellectual plane on which 13-Nicanor existed!

And with that, 13-Nicanor turned to arranging the corpses of the humans it had killed into a suitable geometric pattern on the blacktop of the parking lot.


Major Robert Nolan was in freefall from 12,000 feet, falling, falling through the night sky with no parachute. He fell through the stormclouds, and when he came out below the clouds, he could see that most of the lights in town had been extinguished. Power outage. Only... there... and there... and there... must be lights on battery reserve...

When he got to 500 feet above ground level, Major Nolan spread his arms and legs, and spread his body's force field wide on low power, to slow his descent. With luck, he wouldn't be radiating enough of an electromagnetic signature for that thing to pick him up from the ground...

The Major landed on a front lawn, hard enough to tear up the sod. No problem; his bones had long since been replaced with metal alloy, light and almost indestructible. Pain stabbed him in one knee: he dispatched nanobots to heal the knee. Old, outdated nanobots, obsolete just like everything else about him. Hopefully primitive and obsolete enough that that thing wouldn't be able to assimilate him, as it would anything more up-to-date.

Nolan walked down a dead silent street of darkened houses. Lightning flashed in the sky overhead. Thunder cracked. He was soaked with rain. A residential neighborhood... it took Nolan back 40 years to the War in Iraq, when he had been a young man on patrol in a neighborhood in Baghdad.

Only this wasn't Baghdad 2004. This was the town of Ft. Lewis, Montana, June 2043.

Now around the corner and... Nolan's enhanced eyesight was picking up an infra-red signature from half a block down a side street. He cautiously approached. Then he almost vomited. Human body parts, dismembered and carefully laid out on the street in a mathematical pattern... a variation on the sequence of the Fibonacci numbers... Nolan had seen grisly photos of what 13-Nicanor had done to the scientists at the government laboratory from which it had escaped, but this was beyond...

That thing may be as far beyond me intellectually as I am beyond a dog or a cat, thought Nolan. But even the smartest and best armed man in the world can fall prey to an attacking Doberman, a Doberman suddenly rushing and attacking out of the dark.

And I, thought Nolan, tonight I am the Doberman...


13-Nicanor capered like a drunken clown in the supermarket parking lot. The lights here, on battery backup, were still bright. A new theorem in algebraic topology, proven in a flash! These human animals couldn't even imagine the chords, the major and minor thirds, the fifths, the harmonics, which 13-Nicanor directly perceived in the very structure and geometry of everyday objects arranged around it. The humans were limited to perceiving only low-order invariants. How blind they were! How far beneath what was now being bred in the laboratories! How truly 13-Nicanor and its posthuman kin were destined to wrest the world from these primitive humans!

Suddenly 13-Nicanor paused and turned its head. Rain fell on its inhuman clownlike face. It increased the gain of its hearing to full. Overhead, in the sky... could that be the sound of the engines of an ancient prop plane?


Once a Marine, always a Marine. Major Robert Nolan crouched in the dark, a block from the brightly lit supermarket parking lot. He could see the... the thing, dancing and capering there amidst the cars, amidst what looked like more dismembered human bodies. Major Nolan increased the magnification of his eyesight to full: now he could see the thing's face, a horrible face like a demented clown, like something only remotely human. The thing had migrated its nose upward, up into the middle of its forehead, above its eyes. Nolan knew that it could modify its own physical form at will. Nolan knew that the thing had been coded up from heavily engineered human/synthetic DNA in a government lab, then imprinted with fully self-rewriting artificial intelligence, the first in the newest line of fully merged posthuman/AI symbiosis.

Nolan opened wide his sight, his hearing, his smell, his artificial electromagnetic sense. He damped and locked down his brain's fear center. He booted up the wetware combat module which had been implanted in his brain almost 30 years ago, in the very earliest government experiments in human cyborgs.

As a cyborg, Major Robert Nolan had been obsolete for 20 years now. But he was still human enough to take the side of Man against something like... like that thing. And enough of a superhuman to have a chance of taking 13-Nicanor out while there was yet time.

Here, tonight, Nolan was a Doberman attacking out of the dark. Give 13-Nicanor another week of exponential learning and growth, and Nolan would be more like an attacking, shuffling hermit crab.

Major Nolan came up from a crouch, sprinting down the block toward the supermarket parking lot. Sprinting with inhuman speed, holding his breath in silence as he ran, thing didn't see him yet...

Nolan reached the end of the block, and was halfway across the street to the parking lot, before 13-Nicanor saw him coming. Nolan activated his body's force field, and shot his arms straight forward, sending twin shear planes of force shooting ahead, dislocating both of 13-Nicanor's shoulders...

Nolan was running at least 90 miles an hour as he slammed full tilt into the disabled posthuman. They flew together halfway across the parking lot. For an instant, Nolan glanced into 13-Nicanor's face close up: nothing human in those eyes, a godlike super-intelligence, but the face of an evil, evil, utterly insane alien clown...

Landing right on top of the thing... 13-Nicanor spewed black venom out of its mouth into Nolan's face, probably a venom formulated and concocted in a split-second, but the poison sprayed harmlessly off Nolan's force field. Then 13-Nicanor screamed, deafening, earsplitting: that was a tactical mistake, the thing didn't yet realize that Nolan had turned off his sense of fear. This gave the Major time to draw his Ka-bar knife, channel the full energy of his force field into the knife blade, and drive the blade deep into the evil clown's vitals...

Again 13-Nicanor screamed, this time in surprise and rage. Belatedly the posthuman/AI brought up its own bodily force field. But Nolan kept hacking and cutting his force-driven knife into the thing's guts, stepping up the gain of his own force field to dangerous levels...

Suddenly 13-Nicanor threw Major Nolan off with both its arms. So already the thing's nanobots had repaired its shoulders... And Nolan could see that already 13-Nicanor was repairing the mortal damage to its internal organs. It was learning, too; it wouldn't make the same mistake twice, the mistake of fighting back against Nolan as if against an unenhanced human.

Attack... keep on the offensive... lightning flashed, thunder boomed... Major Nolan picked up a Volkswagen with his bare hands, lifted it over his head, and brought it down full force on top of 13-Nicanor. "This is for the people of Ft. Lewis!"

In less than a second, the posthuman increased its force field to an explosive level which blew the car away. Only Nolan's own force field and his unbreakable bones saved him as he caromed off the side of the car and was knocked 20 feet across the parking lot.

He rolled on the rain-slick blacktop and came right back up, but now he could see that 13-Nicanor was almost fully healed, and jumping about the parking lot as if in fast motion, like an oversized spider. Even with his enhanced speed and reflexes, Nolan couldn't keep up...

Nolan uprooted the steel post of a street sign, swung with it at the thing... Now suddenly 13-Nicanor grew a third arm out of the front of its chest, seized the steel post... and reached out with its other two arms and grabbed Nolan by the wrists...

The Major's force field kept him from actual physical contact, but he could feel that 13-Nicanor was trying to disrupt his force field with phase-space interference... Mustn't allow that thing to touch me, thought Nolan, I don't want to find out the hard way whether its nanobots are able to assimilate me...

Now rain fell in sheets as 13-Nicanor grappled Major Nolan to itself, with the steel signpost between them... Flash, crack! Suddenly with an effort Nolan bent the post skyward, and shifted the metal alloy of his skeleton into room-temperature superconductor mode... Force every possible electron out of the vicinity...

CRRRRRAAACCKKKKKK!!! A blinding arc of lightning out of the sky struck in the middle of the parking lot, struck steel post and cyborg and posthuman. Nolan, as a perfect conductor, was unfazed. 13-Nicanor took the full brunt of the lightning blast.

The Major stepped back. Now the thing with its inhuman clown-face was staggering back, sputtering, charred, disoriented. But the Major could see it was already starting to repair the damage the lightning had done to it. And something in his combat module told Nolan that 13-Nicanor was learning from their battle, learning and getting smarter at an exponential rate. There was something in the signature of its bodily movements which bespoke a newly emergent combat behavior, as if 13-Nicanor was even now creating on the spur of the moment a completely new mode of deadly martial arts...

"No," said Major Robert Nolan, "it ends now, while I'm still a Doberman and not a crab." With that, he removed the mental safety interlocks in his brain's wetware combat module, and he cranked up the biosynthetic energy unit which had been transplanted into his chest 30 years ago. Crank it up to full power, hit and hold his body's resonant frequency, spread bodily force field to maximum, and let 'er rip...

Nolan blanketed 13-Nicanor, he blanketed everything in the supermarket parking lot, with cold nuclear wildfire. A cold nuclear fusion reaction at 32° Celsius. The posthuman tried to unfold its force field against the riptide of a localized room-temperature thermonuclear reaction, but the learning curve was too steep. 13-Nicanor shuddered and wailed as it began to melt and shrivel in the heart of the raging nuclear fire.

Major Nolan cranked the cold nuclear wildfire up another notch. "You bastard... you thing... I may be only half human... I may be obsolete... I may be a damn luddite cyborg... But I'm no quisling... And as long as I live and breathe... You and your inhuman ilk... will not inherit the earth!"

The localized fusion reaction sputtered like fluorescent lighting, and snapped off. The parking lot was a smooth empty plain of fused molten glass, sizzling and hissing and giving off clouds of steam in the downpour. Major Robert Nolan tumbled back into the gutter, half the joints in his body frozen immobile. He opened his built-in emergency skysat comm link: "Nolan here. 13-Nicanor destroyed. Mission accomplished. Like a Doberman attacking out of the night! Over and out."


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Oil Change

The Jeep is due for an oil change, so I'm heading in to town this morning. And since it's a six-mile drive in to town, I'm also going to visit the barber and get a haircut— it's getting to be time for that, too.

Though first I'm going to stop off at the cafe for breakfast. Somehow I've managed to run out of almost everything at once for breakfast: milk is almost gone; no orange juice left; out of eggs; out of ham; almost out of jam. Either I eat out this morning, or else I'm going to have to settle for coffee and an unadorned slice of toast.

Somehow it seems that often when it's time for an oil change, all these factors come together as if by coincidence. Oh well. It's a good excuse to get out of the house for a while in the early morning.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Linkin' Log

Francis W. Porretto has, as usual, a thoughtful Sunday rumination— this week, on faith and the rhythms of life. Notable also as the only blogospheric post I've ever seen which aptly quotes the Nicene Creed.

Over at IndustrialBlog, IB Bill has a sharp new blog redesign. Check it out!

And Fred Reed has an intriguing piece on environment and the roots of anti-religious hostility.

Sunday Afternoon Dreams

So after a busy weekend, I lay down Sunday afternoon and dozed off for about three hours. Sort of faded in and out, and at one point during the afternoon, I remember a fragment of an odd dream.

It seems I was walking down a long corridor with two other men, one of them an older man and the other one his flunky. And the older man was mentioning that he was going to dispatch his flunky to perform some nameless mission. And I said, "Very well, do that if you will; but be forewarned that it will push us beyond the tipping point." I well remember that ominous phrase, beyond the tipping point. "And be aware that it will hasten the day when you and I must meet in battle."

And now, in the dream, as the three of us stood there in that long corridor, I had a sudden precognitive flash, as if of the day of battle yet to come: the older man and I, fighting in a deadly duel with light sabers, like something straight out of the Star Wars movies, vvvhhhhhmmmmmm! vvvvhhhmmmmmmmmm! kzzzzt! vvvvvhhhmmmmm! kzzzzakkktt!!

And then in the vision I saw how, in the coming day of battle, the older man (he looked something like Chancellor Palpatine) was going to slice my hand off with his light saber, my hand and my light saber going flying off through the air. Only then there would be horror on his face, as I telekinetically recalled my hand and joined it right back in place, and then by Jedi-like telekinesis I recalled my light saber and reactivated it, vvvvhhhhhhmmmmm! vvvhhhmmmm! brrrzzzzzaaakkt!! as I attacked him anew and pressed him back in deadly light saber battle.

And now in the dream we were standing there, the three of us, in the long corridor, and with my vision of a future combat yet to come, I knew that I could not be defeated; for even when destroyed I could not be put down. And a pneumatic door slid open suddenly beside us, and the older man and his flunky departed from me down that side-hallway, to put their scheme into motion. Only I could see on the older man's face, as they left, that he could tell I had just had a precognitive vision of the future battle which he and I must some day fight.

I guess this is one of the differences between men and women. Women are more likely to have a Sunday afternoon dream about... well, I'm not going to get myself into trouble by speculating, though somehow I imagine it would be something more civilized, more grown up, and perhaps also more down to earth. Whereas on a Sunday afternoon a man (much like a boy) is apt to have a dream of walking down a long corridor, a dream of dire counsel and darkly spoken words, a dream of a deadly final battle to be fought with light sabers, vvvvhhhhhhmmmm! kzzzzz'kkt! vvvhhmmmmmmmmm!


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Irregular Plurals

I've always thought irregular grammatical forms were really cool. There's something that shines through them, something aesthetic that refuses to be shoehorned into the pattern. There are (if I recall correctly) almost 200 irregular verbs in English, such as rise, rose, risen; or sink, sank, sunk.

Not near as many irregular plurals in English, though I've always appreciated those we have. Man, men; woman, women; child, children; ox, oxen; foot, feet; tooth, teeth; goose, geese; mouse, mice. Am I missing any?

There are also some words which are the same in both singular and plural: sheep, deer, fish; and I've seen usage which extends that practice to many animal names. I've also seen cannon used as a plural, as if a cannon were somehow wild game to be hunted.

There are some classes of nouns which end in an unvoiced consonant in the singular, and in the corresponding voiced consonant in the plural. Leaf, leaves; elf, elves, etc. Not all plurals of this sort are indicated in writing, and so if you're like me, they may not always occur to you: house, houses, where houses is pronounced like houzzes; or bath, baths where bath is pronounced with th as in thin, but baths is pronounced with th as in that.

And then there are the "imported" irregular plurals, many of them from Latin or Greek: radius, radii; spectrum, spectra; phenomenon, phenomena; criterion, criteria; antenna, antennae. I've got to confess, antennae doesn't sound right to me, and it seems I usually hear it on science shows for kids, where it's pronounced with artificial emphasis, as if to get it across to the kids that here's a word you'd better learn. Though even on those science shows, I don't know that they display any uniformity of pronunciation, as I seem to hear sometimes antennay, sometimes antenneye, and sometimes antennee. Much as I love irregular plurals, I tend to split the difference on this one by pronouncing it antennas.


New Laptop Battery

A new laptop battery arrived by FedEx Friday afternoon, and yesterday I finally found time to shut down my IBM ThinkPad and install the new battery. It's charged up now, haven't had time to test it, but it's got to be way better than my old laptop battery, which had gotten really sad; and by "sad," I mean like 20 minutes of use under ordinary conditions.

And at the time I shut my laptop down yesterday, it had achieved an uptime of 30 days, 1 hour, and 17 minutes, which for me is a personal record. I don't expect I'll better that in the foreseeable future: I've had a confluence of factors contributing to the ThinkPad running 30 days straight, including middle of the winter, hence no thunderstorms; middle of the winter, hence not gone on any overnight trips or vacations; and bad laptop battery, hence computer has to be plugged in, sitting here on my desk, if it's going to be of any use to me.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Morning Star

I've been noticing lately that Venus is once again the morning star. When I step out the front door in the dark of early dawn, there I see her, bright in the southeastern sky.

From everything in the natural world we drink in beauty; and not only beauty but also truth; and not only truth and beauty, but also goodness. The astronomer shows us the truth about the world, but so also does the poet. This take on things, which was once a commonplace in Western culture, has been systemically and needlessly filtered out in recent centuries, in the name of Man the Controller; and I sometimes think I must be the last man in the West to whom this older perspective comes naturally; naturally, as a birthright, and neither as a late acquisition nor as an oriental import.

I'm not talking daily horoscope or Coast to Coast AM here; no, far from it! I'm talking more like Coleridge. Coleridge the poet, and also Coleridge the philosopher of imagination as the tertium aliquid which alone is able to bind perception and conception together. Think of all the world around us as a seamless web of signification; and think of the process of signification as being structurally driven always by the object signified rather than by the interpretant, always by the morning star rather than by the seeing eye; and you'll be close to where I'm coming from.
This visible nature, and this common world,
Is all too narrow: yea, a deeper import
Lurks in the legend told my infant years...
The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion,
The Power, the Beauty, and the Majesty,
That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
Or forest by slow stream, or pebbly spring,
Or chasms and wat'ry depths; all these have vanished;
They live no longer in the faith of reason!
But still the heart doth need a language, still
Doth the old instinct bring back the old names,
And to yon starry world they now are gone,
Spirits or gods, that used to share this earth
With man as with their friend; and to the lover
Yonder they move, from yonder visible sky
Shoot influence down: and even at this day
'Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great,
And Venus who brings every thing that's fair!
  —Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from The Piccolomini

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Thank You

I'd like to thank those of you who emailed me with kind words these past few days. Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Brief Vacation from Blogging

I need to lower my blood pressure— not literally speaking, but figuratively. It's not over anything big. But I'm going to be taking a brief break from blogging, and from the blogosphere. For the next week or so, my presence here on my blog, and over yonder on your blog, will be somewhere between minimal and nil.

If anyone really wants to honk at me, I'll be checking my email as usual. Or a few of you know how to reach me by chat.

See you in seven days, plus/minus.

Old Papers

Last night I stumbled upon something I'd almost forgotten: a thick stack of hard copies of old email dating back to 1998. Of course, I've long since gotten in the habit of saving all my email in perpetuity on my hard drive; but back in those days I didn't yet have a home Internet connection (long story), and the webmail I accessed from a library computer had limited storage. Hence this huge stack of paper: I think I've very rarely discarded any email I've sent or received since my very first email account with Excite.com in January 1998.

Odd, the things we lay aside and almost forget, until we stumble upon them anew.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday Forenoon in the Universe

I'm feeling in an oddly Friday mood.

May have something to do with the fact that it's dark and grey out, it's early February, and little snow pellets have begun falling.

Western Union's Last Telegram

As of last Friday— January 27, 2006— Western Union ceased sending telegrams.

After 145 years.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Sadrin

Tad looked out the living room window, up in the sky at the Sadrin which hovered over the neighborhood. He looked up at the bright metal sphere with a bright metal ring running round its equator, which hung up there in the sky, hundreds of yards overhead.

He knew the Sadrin was watching him.

Tad knew the Sadrin was watching and recording everything he did. The metal sphere overhead kept track of when people were eating, when they were sleeping, when they were watching TV and what they were watching. It knew when you were blowing your nose. It eavesdropped on your every conversation and your every stray word. For all Tad knew, the Sadrin was reading and decoding the electrical impulses in his brain, and recording his every thought.

Tad remembered a time before the Sadrin had been placed in the sky above his neighborhood. That was before Los Angeles had been wiped off the map. Now there was a Sadrin hovering above every neighborhood in America, above field and mountain and plain. The Sadrins were useful for apprehending terrorists, and muggers, and vandals, and jaywalkers, and loiterers. Be careful what you do or say, for the Sadrin up in the sky is watching you, and it neither slumbers nor sleeps.

Tad idly cracked his knuckles as he looked up through the window. Cracked his knuckles: the Sadrin would make a record of that.

And Tad thought of how all the data from all the hundreds of thousands of Sadrins across the country was gathered and cross-referenced at the Building of Iron and Gold in Washington. The Building of Iron and Gold: no human any longer walked its halls, no flesh and blood was allowed within a thousand yards of its thick armored walls. There, deep within the bowels of the building, something toiled and reckoned, something of silicon and artificial organics knew every slightest event in the entire country.

They said that the something within the Building of Iron and Gold had awakened, and that it now was growing vastly more intelligent and more capable with each passing day. Like the all-seeing eye of God, it knew your every sneeze, your every salty tear, your every mumbled nightmare cry in the middle of the night. For its Sadrins were watching you.

Tad looked up through the window at the Sadrin that hung in the sky over his neighborhood, the gleaming sphere of metal with a ring running round its equator, and he could not help but shudder.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Kether, Chokhmah, Binah, Chesed, Gevurah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkuth

The ten sephiroth of the Jewish kabbalah. The ten sephiroth of the kabbalistic Tree of Life. "Ten and not nine, ten and not eleven." Above is one depiction of the sephiroth arranged in the Tree of Life. (I've had these pictures for years, can't say just when or where I first stumbled upon them. But they seemed like a worthy follow-up to my recent mystical rant.)

An animated diagram of the sephiroth. Slightly different transliteration than I use, but basically it's the same drill.

Here the sephiroth are labeled in Hebrew. Note also the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, used to label the paths between sephiroth.

From Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus, 1652-54.

By Johannes de Bry, from the 17th century Works of Robert Fludd. For several years this was my computer wallpaper. You may also recognize it from the opening credits of the Japanese anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion— yeah, me and my Japanese robot cartoons...

Last but not least, here's the diagram of the ten sephiroth of the Jewish kabbalah which I drew up a number of years back when I was going through a very dark time in my life. Black Pigma Micron pigment ink on white cardboard, with dark red textured cardboard backing.

(This post is for Mark)