log (1999/12/24 to 1999/12/30)

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Thursday, December 30, 1999

Every couple of Net-years, there's a big to-do about Synthespians: entirely artificial actors who (which) are going to revolutionize Hollywood. The thing that puzzles me is why anyone thinks they're new. Isn't George Jetson a synthespian? Elmer Fudd? Bugs Bunny? That mouse dancing with Gene Kelly? Every character in the Toy Story movies and the Reboot TV series? I'm supposed to be excited because synthespians will be really realistic cartoon characters? Be still, my heart.

I admit some interesting things may happen if/when we can do cartoon characters well enough that they can appear in movies that the viewer doesn't think of as either cartoons or high-tech demos. But I have a hard time getting real worked up about it.

A scene from the other day: a house full of neighbors, desserts covering a side table, kids on the stairs and the floor (and under the side table), lots of folding chairs set up facing one end of the room, and at that end two lovely young women, sisters, playing their violins for the enjoyment of the guests. (Before and after, we also heard some guitars, a cello, the piano.) A paradigmatic scene of prosperity and contentment.

Someone from fifty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago would, I think, have understood quite a lot about what was going on there. The oddities would have been in the details: the unflickering (electric) lighting, the easy mingling of men and women, the variety and details of dress, the perfect clarity of the window-glass, the incredible quality of some of the furnishings, and at the same time the complete lack of servants.

The same scene will take place, no doubt, fifty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years from now, and one of us looking in on it would be able to understand quite a lot about what's going on. The oddities will be in the details. There are no lights, perhaps, but even sun-like lighting seems to come from everywhere. On, or just under, the ceiling of the room is a gently glimmering mesh or web of fabric or metal whose purpose we can't guess.

No one is wearing eyeglasses. It's hard to tell the men from the women; the cues have changed again. In some cases it's obvious, but doesn't that person in the corner have both a bushy Santa-Claus beard and medium-large breasts? It's hard to pick out any individual races; everyone looks vaguely Asian, vaguely African, vaguely European.

A couple of people have distinctly green or blue skin-tones. Is that cosmetic? What about the halo, or something, of fabric or something (similar to the one on the ceiling, but fleshier) that floats over the heads of two or three of the guests, supported or tethered by a filament that emerges from the hair at the back of the head?

The windows are large, and they keep in the warmth even though there doesn't seem to be any glass in them. At one point we see a man lean out the window and take a few deep breaths. His exhalations steam; it's a chilly winter night out there, but warm and cocoa-scented in here.

The violins look just like violins, and the music they're playing is clearly music. Mozart, isn't it? The desserts on the side-table are quite recognizable, but there seems to be a very small amount for so many guests.

Here and there on the table, on shelves, in the corners, there are small things moving, ignored by the guests. Mouse-sized servants? Parts of the house? Dynamic artwork? There are pictures on the walls, and a couple of them also seem to be moving. In one corner there is an unmoving golden statue or something, vaguely humanoid but without legs, and people walk up to it now and then; are they talking to it?

In general, though, there is still attention, appreciation, flirtation; the kids still roister about, and the grownups still relax in their chairs and breathe the air as the music plays.

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

A cat is like an insatiably hedonistic lover. "C'mon," the lover says, "our bodies have everything we need for perpetual ecstasy. Why would you want to be anywhere but in bed with me?"

The cat says, meaning just the same thing, "why would you want to be anywhere but on the couch with me on your lap, scratching me behind the ears?"

Hold me in your fevered arms
And we will
Shimmy through the night together

Let me make a point of
Making a point of
Oh oh oh oh oh


Teilhard be Chardin continues to frustrate. On the other hand, an enormous bucket of honey-barbecue chicken wings is very satisfying.

A sampling of reader input from the survey about preparation for thought:

Code is substantially easier to write than english or even design. Sometimes it seems like it's just a puzzle that anyone who has the tools can solve. For prose, if I'm rusty, I have to prepare with some kind of dialogue: sit in a quiet place and read something whose goals are similar to whatever I'm trying to achieve, for inspiration and in order to have something to push back against.

I remember once in my youth doing some writing during / after a long spate of reading Lovecraft, and finding that everything came out sounding like a bad Lovecraft pastiche.

Generally, both code and prose come from rather the same place with me. I paste things in and splice them around, fleshing in the edges with the needed bits and transitions. I don't see either as being particularly more modular, but I suppose it also depends on the language. Environment-wise, it helps to be able to see the "big picture", which one cannot do in this teensy-weensy lil' textbox. Usually I type fragments and glue them together, but these two short lines force me to flow in-line. Or not flow, as the case may be. I enjoy jarringly bad segues and confusing transitions more than I should.

(Insert confusing transition here.)

Whilst coding, I need my text editor and command library, otherwise I'm just completely lost. Actually, I also need my MP3s to listen to (yes, I know that everyone probably says that, but it's /vital/ :-) ) For writing up my diary, I merely need the editor. It's just that little bit too customised...

And finally, very succinct:

caffeine & nicotine

I've never really done nicotine, and (I'm probably strange in that) caffeine's not an important part of my personal pharmacopoeia. Sugar, on the other hand...

So what preparation or relaxation do you need before writing, or thinking, or coding, or skiing? Inquiring minds want to know.

One contributor asks "do you track our IPs or should I start signing stuff?". Both and/or neither: the form-recording script does record the hostname that you're connecting from, but that doesn't uniquely identify you, and I try to ignore it anyway. You can sign stuff if you like, but I kinda like not knowing who you are, so I may ignore even your signature! *8)

Sunday, December 26, 1999

Christmas was fun. Did I mention we have a house full of people again? The other three adults, and three of the kids, have gone off to some mall (I don't know about these people), leaving me and my nephew-in-law to guard the house.

(During the complex "which kids want to go along and which want to stay home with Dave" negotiations, I almost gave in and offered to go along just to simplify things, but just then I found that a pipe in the basement had developed a leak, so I have to stay home to wait for plumbers to call and so on. This was, I suspect, a blatant move by the Gods or by my future time-travelling self; there "just happened to be" a bucket already sitting under the leaking pipe, so the actual damage done seems to be zero.)

Teilhard de Chardin continues to be frustratingly metaphorical and vague. His style reminds me strongly of Plato; if you know the conclusion you want to reach, and are willing to accept plausible-sounding metaphors in place of actual logic and experiment, you can reach just about any philosophical conclusion you want. But it's not clear what you gain in the exercise. We'll see if my opinion improves as I continue further.

(Amusingly enough, his views on consciousness are so far a sort of panpsychism that accords pretty well with my own current theory; but this makes the shakiness of his arguments for those views all the more frustrating, really.)

Self-imposed exile from the Web is going very nicely. M's sister's husband did ask me to connect last night so we could ask NASA for the Space Station's overflight schedule. Turned out there was one coming up in just a little while, with an estimated visual magnitude of -0.5 (brighter than most things), so he and I and the kids all bundled up and went outside to watch for it. We're pretty sure we saw it. Pretty neat. Space stations are cool.

Friday, December 24, 1999

Christmas Eve!

Her place is a mess, a disaster area. Clean clothes hang out of open drawers, dirty clothes lie patternless on the rug, books, pens, cardboard boxes, dishes, balloons mix in utter confusion on the floor and the chairs.

I like to think that this reflects a solid confidence in her, the desire and ability to take things as they happen to fall, to function comfortably in the chaos. But I wonder this morning, for the first time, if there's some frailty waiting to strike, some unsuspected support deep down in her world, single and barely strong enough for the task, that snapping some singular day might leave her helpless and bewildered, overcome among the mess and debris, unable to find her keys.

Maybe she should clean up.

I don't know about this Teihard de Chardin feller. I'm reading The Phenomenon of Man, and while it's not as slow going as I feared, I'm not at all sure that he's actually saying anything. He keeps emitting sentences like

The universal totum and quantum tend to express and define themselves in cosmogenesis.

and I'm not entirely sure that means anything. It certainly doesn't seem falsifiable ("Scientists discover univeral quantum does not express itself in cosmogenesis"), but that's OK. I'm not a radical positivist; there are non-falsifiable statements that are still meaningful. But I'm not sure this is one of them.

It isn't poetry, I don't think. It's probably intended as "suggestions for angles to think about the world from" (the third main category of meaningfulness). But I'm not sure it does that, either. In context, it may be that it's saying, essentially, "think of the world in terms of quantum and relativistic, rather than classical, physics". Since that's mostly how I was raised anyway (unlike Teihard's original readers in 1955), maybe I'm just having a hard time seeing what the big deal is.

He also doesn't seem to be very careful. The sentence above follows a section in which he talks about how the universe may be considered as a system, a totum, and a quantum. By mentioning only totum and quantum in that sentence, does he mean to suggest that the universal system does not tend to express and define itself in cosmogenesis? What would that mean?


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