Monday, June 30, 2003

You might like (My dystopian book reviews are cited. I'm very happy someone's noticed them.)
Never enough

Becoming posthuman may not be enough. We must become postbiological. From a sheer computational perspective, meat-brains are inefficient and decidedly user-unfriendly. They cling to faulty reality constructs and suffer from hardwired glitches that we've mistakenly labeled "normal" and "virtuous." Superstition is glorified while the reptilian urge to seek out leaders (real or hallucinatory) is condoned under a blanket of "patriotism."

Cruel symphonies of twitching neurons

Biological, meat-based life might be a necessary larval form of intelligence, the mentational equivalent to the Industrial Revolution's reliance on environmentally debilitating fossil fuel. But permanence is illusion; we are a species in transit. The prospect of moving on can seem so devastatingly soulless. What happens to emotions -- neurochemical ephemera -- when we control our minds instead of the other way around? Will postbiological humanity (an oxymoron, to be sure) cling to emotions when they're no longer needed? They may be viewed as charming cognitive momentos or they may be systematically erased.

Capillary dilation or the so-called "blush response"

Philip K. Dick's androids could be revealed by their incapacity for empathy. Yet they remained eerily human, like peripheral reflections of ourselves.

Getting rid of the meat

Mathematician Roger Penrose thinks that artificial intelligence is impossible because the human brain relies on quantum-level structures that, in his view, can't be duplicated artificially. Conceivably, uploads that fail to take quantum effects into account will be unable to collapse the quantum mechanical wave state, leaving reality unwritten. A universe without consciousness becomes a blur of raw probability: a realm antithetical to life as we know it. We might have to take some meat with us after all . . . or at least a convincing simulation. But will we choose to bring along the capacity for fear, self-loathing, love, despair?

Little Gray Men

If aliens are contacting us, what do they possibly want from us? Interestingly, many "abductees" claim that extraterrestrials have evolved past the need for emotion and now seek human assistance to revitalize their genetic stock. Are we dealing with a postbiological species that uses visual symbolism? The "aliens" might actually be our descendants: a tragically posthuman race on the razor's edge of extinction, unable to summon empathy without a mediating intelligence. They may be posing a question: Do we take our emotions with us or leave them on the evolutionary scrap-heap?

In heaven, everything is fine

There's something chilling about abandoning emotion. Emotion is at the very core of our heritage as a species, just as a water-bound existence was to early lifeforms. Posthumans may elect to become emotional amphibians, deliberately savoring pangs of jealosy and wonder one moment and becoming "vast, cool and unsympathetic" the next. To say nothing of creating altogether new emotions . . .

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Warm greenhouse drizzle tapping my AC window-box. The air is warm and nastily enfolding, pressing against the base of my skull.

I started "Spaceland" -- still in its expository phase, but enjoyable -- and have been making up for a generally wasted Saturday (with the exception of an interesting Chinese dance/mingler last night, courtesy of my date, who's Chinese).

Next weekend I'm heading for St. Louis, which should be fun. I'm so habitual, almost neurotically so sometimes; I need to take more trips and take in more scenery. The alternative is what William Burroughs called "stasis horror": the logical result of spending too much time in the same place. The true "horror" is the inability to see what's happening and inadvertantly feigning sanity or, even worse, worldliness. You see this most readily in small towns.
"It's real early morning
No-one is awake
I'm back at my cliff
Still throwing things off
I listen to the sounds they make
On their way down
I follow with my eyes 'til they crash
I imagine what my body would sound like
Slamming against those rocks

And when it lands
Will my eyes
Be closed or open?"

--Bjork, "Hyperballad"

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Friday, June 27, 2003

Brain music

When I'm writing/thinking/drawing in top form, messing around with ideas is like jazz music: very spontaneous, loopy, packed with riffs and digressions, yet ultimately with some sort of meaning. Linear, sequential thought is antithetical to creativity. Thinking should be fluid, energetic, volatile. The alternative is atrophy, stasis and eventual extinction.

The ultimate question

My website and blog are preoccupied with hidden realities: aliens, other-dimensional intelligences and ideological agendas. Thus far I haven't had much to say about the "God" question other than my periodically revised case for agnosticism.

To clarify: I think words like "spiritual" are crude masks for possibly real phenomena. I shun "belief" but I'm not without ideas; I suggest that reality is knowable, that all is one, and that consciousness is an unrecognized but integral aspect of space-time. Physicist David Bohm reasoned that the universe has an "implicate order" that's barred from unaided perception. I think that as we interface with machines -- which, like microscopes and particle accelerators, provide us with surrogate senses -- we will begin the process of grasping the implicate in a more meaningful way. Conversely, the explicate order that comprises "normal" human reality will change, perhaps drastically.
Rudy Rucker's "Spaceland" is out in trade paperback!
The city seen

Remember the balcony of the apartment highrise I got trapped on a while back? The place has its own website. If you look at the picture on the start-page, you can see my building -- vaguely-- through the central column of water from the fountain in the foreground. While the Sulgrave advertises itself as the ultimate Plaza living location, my own building is actually a bit closer.

Haunts and hang-outs within walking distance:

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Under extensive renovation. When completed, it will have translucent, partially underground galleries in what is now the front lawn. Cartoonist Bill Griffith ("Zippy the Pinhead") said he'd give me a "tip o' the pin" if I sent him some photos of the much-maligned giant shuttlecocks. (When is kitsch kitsch? When is it art? Can art successfully maquerade as kitsch, and vice versa?)

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Neat place with a knack for bringing in strange exhibits.


I'm having trouble getting the first track from Radiohead's latest out of my head. Not an entirely bad thing. My favorite album of the moment is "Out of Season" by Beth Gibbons and Paul Webb (aka "Rustin Man"). Gibbons is the lead for Portishead and has one of the best voices of the millennium.


I'm not reading anything in particular right now with the exception of "Crop Circles: Signs of Contact," which I got for free by agreeing to do a review for Mysteries Magazine (second issue due out soon).

Thursday, June 26, 2003

"Quantum evolution"

Evolution is fact, not theory -- but that doesn't mean that it's without its share of mysteries. For example, the transitional forms expected by Darwinian natural selection simply don't seem to exist in the expected quantity. It's as if evolutionary leaps from one species to another occur in fitful bursts: a phenomenon that, to some, implies an intelligent designer.

While I don't think that life on Earth has been steered by an omnipotent deity (although extraterrestrial intervention shouldn't be discounted), the lack of transitional specimens in the fossil record may be an important window into the mechanics of evolution. Rather than laboriously searching for "missing" links, perhaps scientists should concede, if only as an exercise in thought, that there are no transitional specimens; perhaps life has found a way to circumvent awkward transitional forms, hastening the evolutionary process. It's possible that DNA possesses its own collective intelligence, perhaps only loosely allied with its host species, resulting in morphological "quantum jumps."

The human lineage is by no means exempt. While contemporary humans share a common ancestry with apes, we have yet to find a transitional protohuman that would end the "missing link" controversy. (Of course, no amount of evidence will ever placate "Creation scientists" possessed by the idea that we were somehow created by divine will, but that's another matter . . .) But just maybe there wasn't a "missing" link. Maybe protohuman genes, sensing some incipient change in the biospheric zeitgeist, launched a new version of humanity to increase their chances of survival.

This sounds like an act of intelligence, but is it really? Temporarily setting aside the paradigm-smashing concept that living things are endowed with sentient or semi-sentient "morphogenetic fields" [term coined by Rupert Sheldrake], an evolutionary "leap" might be purely reflexive. (Ants and wasps construct elaborate "architecture," yet no one accuses them of intelligence. Similarly, viruses capably hijack cell nuclei, yet biologists hesitate to even consider them "alive" in anything but a rudimentary technical sense.)

The implications of evolutionary quantum jumps are far-reaching -- and disturbingly relevant. Humans have reworked the Earth's biosphere in countless ways in just the last few hundred years, exceeding the influence of our ancestors at a rate that promises to exponentiate. We have added new ingredients to the fabric of our planetary chemistry, saturated the skies with electronic transmissions, shaken the earth with nuclear explosions, and unleashed a veritable zoo of psychoactive substances. We live in an environment increasingly besieged by information of all conceivable forms; consequently, we suffer from new maladies and addictions.

Will these trends spur an abrupt genetic "upgrade"? Will homo sapiens cease to exist within a handful of generations? Fossil-hunters of the distant future, still seeking the worryingly absent links in the human continuum, may find the skeletons of "Starbucks Man" suddenly superseded by a new, improved version.

None of this is to say we shouldn't take measures to deliberately hasten our evolution. We may be unique in being the first humans capable of making the transition to a higher form of our own volition -- not an opportunity to be taken lightly.

(This entry brought to you courtesy of "Blogger New." I've posted a very similar version of this on my Mars site.)
I didn't post yesterday . . . but not because I didn't try. Blogger was experiencing technical difficulty while it made a transition to an improved version. Now that I've gotten got that of the way, here's what's been going on:

I finished editing the manuscript for "After the Martian Apocalypse" and emailed the revised version to my editor. I'll be interested in his take on the new draft. In the meantime, some of the pressure to finish the manuscript has abated -- and I won't feel as guilty about reading other people's books now that I'm done (?) with my own.

Maggie sent the following URL to me yesterday. I recommend giving it a whirl: If you can't think of a good website for Snoop Dogg to "translate," enter "" It definitely makes this blog more entertaining and shit, you know what I'm saying?

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I got some major work done on the Mars book last night. Unless I'm tragically mistaken I'm basically done with the exception of printing out a hardcopy and burning the illustrations onto a CD for the publisher. Then half a year of pre-publication limbo . . .

Rudy Rucker (see the nicely dressed guy in the photo below) read my extrapolation of his "personality recorder" idea and mentioned putting me in the acknowledgements to a potentially forthcoming book on future computers. This was extremely flattering, as I really don't know a hell of a lot about the nuts and bolts of computing while Rucker is a longtime hacker (in the benign sense of the word). I'm sort of like William Gibson circa 1980: to me, computers are sleek metaphors with lots of potential as sheer Idea. So while I can relate to Gibson's wired characters (i.e., Cayce Pollard from "Pattern Recognition"), die-hard programmers/"cypherpunks" like the ones so perfectly captured in Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" remain vaguely alien. And I'm not saying that just to extricate myself from "geekdom." I may very well be a geek, but I'm a relatively novel sort of geek. (Comforting thought.)

By the way, I like my new glasses.

Monday, June 23, 2003

I had my eyes checked today because I'm picking up a new pair of glasses. Instead of dilating my eyes the optometrist's assistant used a digital camera to take full-color pictures of the inside of my eyeballs. This involved staring into a device that flashed about as brightly as a nuclear explosion. But the photos were worth it: my eyeballs' interiors look uncannily like the cracked surface of Jupiter's moon Europa (blood vessels and nerves substituted for Europa's icy fractures).
Caffeine laughter
Julia sets
(anomalous magnetism)
Captured on film
(we study reports)
Acres of glass,
Imitation marble
Raw squid
and infomercials
Hyperoxygenated blood:
more durable memory
Rorschach calligraphy /
Thinking machines
No, truly thinking
(aware of quantum manifestions)
Why don't we all meditate
on the singularity
Small Gray men
(suits of reptile flesh,
cardboard and cinnamon)

Sunday, June 22, 2003

I'm reading Colin Andrews' new book on crop circles. Like Andrews, I'm convinced some circles are the real thing. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the CEIII phenomenon shares roots with crop circles. Both seem to function as ecological/environmental warnings; "abductees" almost always emerge with some sort of heightened environmental sensitivity, and reports of (presumably) predictive simulations of the End of the World are rampant. Andrews makes a good point: it's no coincidence that crop circles appear in consumable grain crops; the substrate medium is part of the message. In this case, we're offered an implicit metaphor for life/death/renewal.

Somehow, it's easier for me to accept a "New Age" collective unconscious explanation for crop glyphs (i.e., messages from a distressed planetary overmind) than grasp at altruistic extraterrestrial visitors. (See Carl Jung's "Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies.")

Authentic crop circles certainly represent some form of intelligence, but I feel it's a human intelligence at work. In "Neuromancer," William Gibson describes cybernetically augmented performers who use holograms to "dream real." Crop circles and "alien" abductions might be what happens when an entire sleeping species "dreams real"; few would argue that the phenomenon, whatever it is, lacks in absurdity or surrealism.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Chinese for lunch; Mexican for dinner. Listening to "Hail to the Thief" (finally). Possible review forthcoming. Doing laundry. Need to work on Mars book. There's a cat asleep on my leg.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Take a moment out of your day (or evening) to check out The Time Travel Fund. I found this distinctly hilarious.
I just bought "Hail to the Thief" by Radiohead; can't wait to listen to it.

National Public Radio has been doing their annual fund drive, which is so whorishly self-congratulatory it's actually painful to listen to. If I attempted the same sort of campaign for my website or this blog, it might go something like this:

Spokesperson 1: "And where else but MTVI can one find such stimulating essays on misunderstood scientific phenomena?"

Spokesperson 2: "And that's saying nothing about the great book reviews! This is definitely a site that that deserves a hearty financial contribution!"

Spokesperson 3: "I'll say, Spokesperson 2! I think it's time for all the poeple who have enjoyed Mac's online material to team up and give him a large sum of money so he can continue to bring us the absolute best in oddball commentary, eclectic links and utterly selfless truth-seeking!"

Ad nauseum.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Everyday I get "spam" email: generic ads for Viagra-like products, career-building software, come-ons from nonexistent women who urge me to view their private webcams, etc. Spam is possible because of digital media's ability to reproduce at a staggering rate. It follows that if people eventually colonize a computerized substrate in the form of sentient software uploads, people themselves can be copied at will, resulting in a deluge of (post-) human spam.

Today's overpopulation is a crude but useful analogy. The Earth is spared complete destruction because food and energy are finite. It takes time to produce a human child. Not so with digital "wildlife."

If we decide to live an uploaded existence, will we succumb to the urge to multiply unnecessarily, perhaps out of sheer hubristic fanaticism? Will we inundate the Cosmos with copies of ourselves?

Ken MacLeod anticipates a similar situation in his "Engines of Light" trilogy, in which god-like alien intelligences have an understandable aversion to primitive species that spam themselves. On the other end of the argument, cosmologists such as Frank Tipler -- who believes we are the universe's sole intelligent species -- heartily endorse saturating the universe with our presence . . .

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I ran across this website in this week's Pitch. Have yourself buried on the Moon for a cool $100,000. As a space enthusuiast (and activist, I guess, in a small way), this prospect bores and depresses me. It bored and depressed me when Timothy Leary opped out of cryonic suspension at the last minute and had his ashes launched into space. Extravagant gestures are wasted on the dead. I'd like to visit the Moon while I'm alive, even if this means bending the definition of alive.

In three-hundred years there might be a machine intelligence in total possession of my memories, attitudes and convictions (see post below). Will this silicon-based successor be me in any real sense? That depends on the "physics of consciousness" I brought up in the post about crop formations.

Tonight I'll be on Internet radio discussing Mars. Listen up. (And buy my forthcoming book.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Science fiction writer and mathematician Rudy Rucker has proposed a low-cost alternative to biological immortality: an interactive, portable neural net-based computer capable of imitating its owner's personality and artificially duplicating his or her memories. Rucker describes the device as a sort of attentive Palm Pilot that asks its user questions about every conceivable topic, establishing a rudimentary neural "map" as the interview progresses (a process that may last years) . In essence, the device acts as an autobiographical ghost-writer and companion.

But as fun -- or annoying -- as working with such a device may be, its purpose is far from trivial. Its ultimate job is to replace you. When you die, the device will have gathered a massive cross-referenced database that can be used to conjure up an ersatz version of your deceased self. Presumably your ancestors may enjoy "your" company, or future historians might use your duplicate to conduct research. Copies of the quasi-intelligent replica could be made as easily as we now duplicate images and sound files.

Rudy Rucker

A collector's market may arise, with the best and brightest recorded personalities achieving virtual superstardom. Entirely fictional personalities could be culled from promising recordings. Or a virgin device might be tutored by two or more recordings, resulting in an interesting "splice." Bandwidth is the only limit; unlike a device absorbing a human's persona, "imprinted" devices could communicate among themselves digitally, spared cumbersome, time-consuming human speech.

Most would agree that this isn't true immortality, but a novel imitation. But Rucker sees such technology as a stepping stone to an actual uploaded human psyche. If humans choose to upload themselves into a computer substrate prior to biological death ("deanimation"), a few years of vigorous dialogue with a "personality recorder" would help simulate the user's own neural "system architecture." This map, as crude as it may be compared to the complexity of an actual human brain, could serve as the basic scaffolding for an authetic human upload, ensuring that the final product is as indistinguishable from the original as technically possible.

So where are these things now? Interactive, infinitely customizable electronic devices are ubiquitous in the form of PDAs, cellphones, laptops, digital cameras, and combinations thereof. Rucker's fictional invention would likely be a sure seller, but two factors keep it from becoming viable: memory and intelligence. The first problem -- constructing a device with the staggering amount of RAM needed to soak up its owners' personality -- is probably surmountable. But enabling the device with the conversational savvy to allow for competent "interrogation" is another matter.

But perhaps we're getting closer than we know to realizing Rucker's speculative stab at immortality. DARPA (the folks who brought us the Internet) recently unveiled a project called "Lifelog," which diligently tracks human respiration, brain rhythm, speech, and movement, allowing future scientists (in theory) to create consummately life-like simulations of day-to-day activity.

And the blogging phenomenon shouldn't be discounted either. If a Net-based artificial intelligence is spawned in the next 20-30 years, it may elect to trawl the Web, greedily digesting any written material in its path. Blogs -- from the explicitly personal to the more technically oriented -- may provide a newborn AI with a broad-spectrum glimpse of the human ordeal. A globally networked AI might be a kind of amorphous, innately shizophrenic entity, adopting and modifying personality elements to suit its whim.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Speaking of music, I've purchased a ticket to R.E.M.'s Kansas City concert in September. The last time I saw them was in 1995 during the "Monster" arena tour; this time around the venue is smaller and I'm expecting a better, more intimate show. I don't know who's opening for them yet. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

I realized the other day that Radiohead's new album is out. I'd totally forgotten.
I've written a great deal about "weird" subjects such as alien contact, so it's ironic that I've barely even mentioned the crop circle enigma. The subject is so dauntingly strange and rife with fraud . . . and inundated with even more brainless New Age thinking and professional debunking than the UFO phenomenon -- if such a thing is possible.

If I had to guess, I'd posit that there is an actual mystery behind crop formations. And I don't think it has anything to do with atmospheric plasma vortexes or black-budget defence projects, although the latter may play a peripheral role. I think there's a nonhuman intelligence involved and that hoaxers and disinformationists have exploited the prevailing mythos to their own ends.

The prospect of hard evidence of nonhuman intelligence scattered throughout the crops (and frozen lakes) of the world is almost insidiously intimidating. Given the large numbers of known human circle-makers, it's little surprise that this enigma hasn't received the attention it deserves. Perhaps a strange sort of dialogue is unfolding, with feints and subterfuge from both participants.

Some close encounter researchers have noted that the so-called "abduction" epidemic seems explicitly personal, even intimate. The crop formation controversy shares this same "grassroots" sensibility -- sometimes even literally. It's as if something is bypassing established lines of communication in order to

a.) avoid contaminating the recipient culture


b.) remain hidden behind a screen of "plausible deniability."

The implications are dizzying. We may not understand the formations' message until we develop an actual physics of consciousness. I predict that this may arise, at least in part, from artificial intelligence research. If we can construct a sentient mind, we may inadvertantly crack the code that renders crop formations and close encounters so maddeningly absurd. The "parasphere" -- that liminal realm of subjective anomaly and official duplicity -- may suddenly begin to make sense, even if we have to learn a new cognitive syntax.

Like learning to process visual association blocks (see post below), crop formations may catalyze the very way we think. But how? And why?

Saturday, June 14, 2003

He pauses under the awning and breathes in aerosolized rain, fresh despite the taint of fossil fuel. The storm turns the skyline into a strobing silhouette; cars pass like oversized insects nearing the end of meandering lives and dimly recognizing their futility.

Flesh bursting along unlikely seams. A glimpse of muscle and tendon before laces are nonchalantly tightened, buttons fastened in a series of quiet metallic clicks. Octopi sulking in tepid bathwater, feasting on doughy wads of bloodless human skin. Teeth sprout from fingertips. Crockery levitates, shatters, falls to floors littered with anonymous feces and delicately severed limbs.

Vinyl apocalypse. Prophetic fluorescent night. A landscape of entwined skin and rubber faces, enormous worms writhing in a parody of genetically cultivated sentience.

Holograms, mirrors, ranks of spotlights and the ruby-needle stab of elusive lasers. Skulls made of rudely compacted sand. A liquid crystal dragon courts its own flaming fractal breath before vanishing.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Here's a site I want to explore as soon as I have the time: Excellent surrealist photography. Thanks to Blake Dinsdale for the tip.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

I endured some dental work today. I tried getting out of Novocaine, but apparently the filling on the right side of my jaw was too deep. I think I could have managed without anesthetic, but didn't want to take on more pain than I could handle. I was gripping the armrests pretty tightly the way it was. The dentist is keen on doing a "bite analysis," although he's rather vague regarding what this involves. In the meantime I'm not asking.

You know that nasty burnt taste of powdered human tooth? Very distinctive.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

"Emoticons." Do I use 'em? A year ago, my answer would have been an emphatic "no." Now I find myself using a couple every once in a while, specifically




and occasionally even


to denote mock horror. My problem with communication-via-smiley-face is that some people essentially replace the written word with them. Ready-made animated icons have their place, but they're not a replacement for text.


In some of my science fiction stories, characters communicate with "eglyphics": animated, interactive hieroglyphs that inhabit ultra-thin flatscreens, turning the urban landscape into something like an enormous animated billboard as conceived by Bosch and Gibson. Some eglyphics are digital wildlife. Some can even change substrates and cling to human flesh in the form of cunning ornaments.

For some cool examples of eglyphic-like technology in action, see "Minority Report." I can't claim that Spielberg cribbed my ideas since the basic motif has been alive and well since at least the early 1980s (i.e., "Blade Runner" with its ubiquitous electronic screens and television monitors urging Earthlings to relocate to off-world colonies. And that smiling Asian woman, like Orwell's Big Brother transmogrified into a pill-popping geisha . . . )

Will a thoroughly "cyber" culture eventually devise a high-tech pictographic language? William Burroughs was keen on the idea. Making the switch from linear text to visual association blocks will likely require a fundamental shift in the way we think. We might alter our brains to facilitate information intake or have our brains retooled by the very process of absorbing association blocks.

Is technologically assisted meditation any better than the "real" thing? Does the brain care whether its user spends decades practicing or if s/he simply has access to the motherboard?

Information itself, arriving in unmatched density and increasing complexity, might be a no-kidding evolutionary catalyst. Sink or swim.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Yesterday's spiel was decent therapy. I think one of the central reasons why Americans typically work longer hours than their counterparts in other developed countries is that most Americans simply don't know how to have a good time. They may think they do: a trip to DisneyWorld (really nothing but an extravagant walk-through infomercial) suffices as a vacation and getting drunk at a smoky, dimly lit bar constitutes "letting loose." Give me a break. I'm tired of having to circumvent the lame, mindless reality tunnels so abundantly emplaced by our so-called "culture."

I'm reminded of my comparison between people and computer operating systems. In the software world, contending systems include Windows, Macintosh and Linux. In "meatspace," contending systems include Talks About Cars All the Damned Time, Pseudointellectual Snob, Inane Gossip and Aren't My Kids Cute?, among others -- most of them distasteful. Sometimes you meet someone and you want to say "You know, I've met you before -- hundreds of times, actually. There's nothing even vaguely authentic about you. You're like an extra for some mercifully nonexistent film."

The Earth is teeming with the human equivalent of spam email. Read/met one, read/met them all. Click "delete." Move on. There's so much to see and do, so many landscapes to explore.

"Why do I spend valuable time with people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?"

--The Smiths, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"

"There are brighter sides to life and I should know because I've seen them (but not very often)."

--The Smiths, "Still Ill"

(Actually, I'm in a remarkably good mood as I write this. No, really.)

Monday, June 09, 2003

Work was frustrating today. The basic situation is this: in theory, overtime isn't mandatory, but -- and here is where it gets Kafkaesque -- there's an implicit threat that I might lose my job if I don't work overtime (ideally, large chunks of my weekend).

The part that makes me the angriest is that the corpses don't -- or more probably can't -- understand the concept of wanting to do something other than work. Frankly, I put in my 40-hour week and I don't want to even think about going back until Monday morning. Yes, I can appreciate that we're understaffed and behind schedule. But is this my fault? Might it conceivably be the fault of the corpses making bad hiring decisions? Oh, but we mustn't entertain such heretical notions.

I had a nice chat with one of the main corpses this morning. He/it demanded to know what I did on my weekends that was so valuable. I really fumbled for words on this one. I don't have to justify my desire for two days' peace out of the week. Even so, I mentioned my contract with Simon & Schuster, to which he/it replied "Well, why don't you do that full-time?" with a leer that made me want to rap his skull against his desk a few times.

For many people, "free time" equates to "watching TV." Faced with the option of staring into a computer screen seven days a week and making a few dollars or listening to the toxic silence of their own minds, they choose the former. For better or worse, I'm plagued by the ability to actually enjoy and cherish my time off, away from work and away from the soulless corporate culture that would have me do nothing but. To the corpses, this is tantamount to a severe mental illness.

I routinely complain that I don't get enough done on my weekends, but I do more than most people: I read, write, correspond with friends, give interviews . . . I think, or at least enjoy pretending I do. To say nothing of cultivating some semblance of a social life, which is neither convenient nor exactly easy for a self-obsessed cyber-yuppie whose immediate interests include extraterrestrial archaeology and reading the complete works of Philip K. Dick.

My livelihood is being threatened, presumably because I'm not a consummate "team player." But I don't recall joining a fucking "team." I remember getting a job -- which I happen to be good at. I've been at my present place of employment for a year. I have broken no rules. Occasionally, I've even been congratulated for doing a good job and told to expect a welcome raise, although this is never forthcoming (or, I must presume, even seriously considered).

Final word: My weekends are mine.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

I went on a date last night and braved the crowds at The Cheesecake Factory, one of the biggest attractions on the Plaza. This was only the second time I've been, despite the fact that my apartment overlooks the restaurant. (The tower is now lit red, white and blue at night in honor of Operation Where the Hell are Those Weapons of Mass Destruction?) The Cheesecake Factory is one of those places that excels at serving industrial-size helpings of just about anything you can think of. The service has the efficiency of an assembly line, and it's impossible to get in without a fairly lengthy wait outside. So I sat around and watched the Hare Krishnas do their stomping 'n' swaying routine.

Plans for today are still pretty nebulous. I was exhausted last night and got up late today. For whatever it's worth, the cats seem to be getting along pretty well now.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

I just finished taping three hours worth of material for the Alien Views radio show, which was a lot of fun. As I had hoped, we discussed more than just Mars anomalies: alien encounters, nanotechnology, near-miss meteor collisions, etc. My mouth is incredibly dry.

Thanks to the Alien Views crew for the thoroughly professional job. Now I'm going to get a drink.

Update: I have to append this. Not only is it possibly the kindest thing ever written about me, but it's one of the most heartening as well.

"We just finished a three hour interview with Mac Tonnies. He was fabulous. The guy is as well versed in abduction as he is in science and technology -- and he was equally skilled at verbalizing his wide-ranging areas of interest. I get the first 'audit' of the show as the one who records it, and it was a pleasure to listen to. The guy was a real treat -- charming, as a matter of fact. And Hell, he didn't hang up on us either, which means he's a damn good sport. If you can't tell, I'm a new Mac Tonnies fan."

Friday, June 06, 2003

I read the first half of Philip K. Dick's "The Man Who Japed" last night. It was written in 1956 and I'm surprised at how developed it is . . . in an alternate universe, "The Man Who Japed" might be on high-school summer reading lists along with "Brave New World," "Fahrenheit 451" and "1984." It's "brisk" by PKD standards, but very effective and laugh-out-loud funny.

Tomorrow I'm going to have an interview taped for a forthcoming radio show. Most of it will be about Mars, I expect, but it might get significantly weirder. I hope it does.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

The following is an excerpt from the Electric Warrior weblog, which presently features come commentary and discussion on posthumanist thought. It also features a gnarly image of me:

MacBot Singularity

The Electric Warrior : Web Log June 5, 2003


"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." - Frank Herbert

artwork: MacBot Singularity

(The Electric Warrior) - "What does a posthuman look like? Whatever it wants to look like." So says Mac Tonnies, author of the Posthuman Blues. He's probably right. In a world where appearance is predicated by software algorithms and computerized virtual reality, anything goes. I asked Mac what the title of his blog meant: "'Posthuman' denotes a stage after 'transhuman,' when intelligence is infinitely more durable and tenacious than it is now. I think we're in a basically larval form at present."

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Why must NASA spokesmen resort to tacky comparisons in order to garner excitement for what the vast majority of people view as forgettable science-fair exercises? The present "Mars rush," consisting of four new spacecraft (if all goes well . . .), has already been compared to NASCAR, for god's sake. And a NASA tech is on record bragging that one of the new rovers on its way to the Red Planet is the extraterrestrial equivalent to a "monster truck."

Enough of this condescending crap. I'm willing to bet that only a very small percentage of the "monster truck" crowd even realizes that we share this solar system with eight other (known) worlds. I doubt that alpha proton X-ray spectrometers and aerobraking especially excite them. In fact, I can quite easily imagine beer-swilling crowds in acrylic ball-caps paying to watch fume-belching monster trucks pulverize sissy NASA hardware under their tires. (Imagine the "Flesh Fair" sequence" from Spielberg's "A.I.")

One of the things I like about Britain's Beagle 2 lander (shown below) is the British scientific community's relatively savvy public outreach, free of NASA's typical "expert" pontificating and bureaucratic baggage. Even its website -- with its own domain name -- is excruciatingly hip by NASA standards.

I read somewhere that the word "posthuman" is becoming increasingly mainstream as a reponse to heightened awareness of biotechnology (i.e., cloning). While this is encouraging as an example of meme-dispersal, it's also sort of sad. The term is bound to get cheapened and watered down for easy public consumption. How long until McDonald's starts selling Posthuman Happy Meals? How long until Honda's Insight hybrid car is advertised as "ideal for today's posthuman lifestyle"? I'm sorry, but we're not there yet. Barring cataclysm, we might get there in the not-unforeseeable future . . . in which case I think the last things on our minds will be fast food and cars. Not to mention "monster trucks."

In the meantime, on to Mars.

Monday, June 02, 2003

The cats are getting along much better, to my relief. I won't go into detail. I'm convinced pets and blogs make a sickeningly irrelevant combination.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The motorcyclists outside the coffeeshop like would-be cyborgs, decked out in midnight polymer, bikes like craftily contorted insects. Matte-black Space Age fabric, ergonomic cushions and helmets like bulbous gleaming skulls.