Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More Decentralized Power

Well, that was fast.

I no sooner mentioned the possibility of decentralized power in my previous post then I open last month's Wired Magazine to find that very idea in their Fix The Grid series of articles.

I've been thinking about it for some time, now, and I think it's not only a good idea, it's our only idea. Repairing the infrastructure is something we won't do until it's literally on fire. We're not a very proactive species (just look at petroleum), but small-scale problems, like large price increases in electricity, could be enough to motivate us to small changes in our way of life.

I think that a nationwide distribution of small-scale solar, wind, and tidal generation could be done for a cost measured in billions, as opposed to the trillions probably required for a revamp of the grid and all its plants. It could also be deployed faster. A grid revamp would, again, be measured in tens of years, whereas the small-scale project could be measured in mere years.

Obviously, wind, solar, and tidal won't solve all our power woes. We will still need to invest heavily into new plants, I vote nuclear, but this plan would likely take enough strain off of the primary plants and grid to make repairs to them something we could do over decades with no worries.

As such, distributed production is our only viable option.

(UPDATE: 15 Minutes Later) NPR has a fantastic interactive map showing how and from where our power comes.

The capacity of power plants is signified by the size of the dot on screen that represents the plant. Well, we hear wind and solar advocates frequently discussing new plants and installations capable of generating MEGAWATTS (oooooooh). This map reminds me how many of our plants are measured in gigawatts, with a "g". Almost all of them are either nuclear or coal, with the Grand Coulee Dam being one notable exception, which I think is our largest plant... just checked Wiki, it is.

It's obvious that centralized solar and wind is hopeless as a primary form of power. We have two choices on this map, coal and nuclear. So which is worse, a small chance of a core meltdown, or a guarantee of shit being pumped into the air?

I'd take the former.

Power to the People: 7 Ways to Fix the Grid, Now (
Power Hungry: Visualizing the Grid (

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Decentralized Power

There's a big debate going on about how to best handle the power problems facing the country. Some people say coal, others say nuclear (including me), while others still say to focus on solar and wind.

Still, the gorilla in the room is the power grid. It's old. It's falling apart. It' literally can't handle what we need it to handle. So why not simply take the grid out of the equation?

If we change from a centralized power generation model to one where lots of small plants generate the power, we no longer need a super-powerful grid. The weak grid and continuous-generation plants can simply back up the intermittent power from solar and wind. Every town has a wind turbine in it, and larger cities can mandate solar panels on the roofs, and smaller turbines on tall buildings. It's ersatz to a true solution, but we could deploy it immediately and relatively cheaply.

New Musical Order

A few posts ago, I talked about how the internet is opening amazing new possibilities in media distribution. Old walls are disintegrating and a new era of almost-democracy in entertainment is being, painfully, born.

That birth is painful because the old companies who made all their money controlling the previous business model don't want things to change. And why should they? They were emperors in their time. No movies or music was made without their say-so, and the valuable transmission channels for that media made them filthy rich.

I was perusing YouTube for my Angry Suburban Music, specifically Nu Metal (helping white people feel badass since 1994), and I came across the video for Korn's Y'all Want a Single, and it just about says what artists, even hit artists like Korn, were feeling. I'd embed, but it's disabled. I guess Korn doesn't fully understand, either.

I can't blame them, even Sir Paul McCartney is pretty clueless.

UPDATE like, three minutes later: The blocked embed wasn't Korn, it was Sony/BMG. Regardless, I found an upload that isn't blocked.

Enjoy! And remember my fellow privileged white people, stay angry!

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Media

Here be an article about Wolverine. I mean the new movie Wolverine. It's one of soon-to-be-many X-Men backstory movies coming out and a mini-crisis has erupted over its leakage to the intertubes.

This is my first post on the subject, but it's been long-discussed with anyone willing to listen to me. The current media environment of piracy is not bad. It's new and filled with possibility. But, of course, Fox and all major movie studios have reacted to the Wolverine leak by increasing security and getting more paranoid.

Considering increased security, rampant lawsuits, oppressive laws, widespread and extensive campaign contributions, and about a dozen different forms of control technology has done nothing to stop or even slow the spread of file-sharing, one must really wonder when old media is going to get a clue.

They continue to rage against the darkness even though they are surrounded by unlit candles. Their old business models are dying, and since they insist on tilting against this elephantine windmill, they must ACTUALLY think that they can stop things from changing.

For example, let's say they are 100% successful. We never have a leak like Wolverine, again. Also, let's assume that file-sharing does in fact have a significant detrimental effect on movie revenue. All they will do is stop the effect on opening day. Because after opening day, a camcorder copy will appear online. A week later, a DVD rip from a screener. By the second weekend, hundreds of copies from different sources will be lighting up the interpipes.

Moreover, we are at a point in the development of the movie business where the bulk of a movie's profits are made not in the theater, but from EVERYTHING ELSE. For example, Spiderman 3 took in $336 million, but cost so much Sony wouldn't even say. Estimates ranged from $250 to $350 million. puts the price at $258m, but Radar Magazine and Rotten Tomatoes put total cost at over $500m. Worldwide gross for Spidey 3 WAS $890m. But from that, you have to deduct the cost of marketing for each territory.

Now I can understand the studios are scared, since that opening weekend is critical to them. As The Economics of the Movie Theater over at the Movie Blog discussed, for big releases, the studio can take upwards of 100% of ticket sales for that first week. But over half of Spidey 3's take was after the first weekend, with around 30% happening between weeks 3 and 16, where the studio's take of ticket sales decreases to a point below 50/50. Which all means that, even though the studio makes buckets on opening week, we can only guess that around 70% of the total gross eventually goes to the studio, meaning that for costs possibly in excess of $500m, they earned $623m globally.

Basically, Spidey 3 broke even in the box office. Perhaps turning a profit in the single percentages. But Spidey earned buckets with merchandise, and $120m in DVD sales in its first four months on sale. Importantly, the "collectors set" of Spidey 3, and the Spiderman Trilogy collectors set both hit the top 10. If "the movie" was all that mattered, people wouldn't have bothered buying these.

What I'm saying is that studios have been kinda/sorta using theater showings as an advertisement for later sales for years, even this NY Times article from 1987, over 20 years ago, talks about how studios never make profit from the theatrical release.

The world is changing, and honestly, for a media company the future couldn't be brighter. If they stopped looking at this situation as an enemy, they'd see that it's fantastic marketing that's a whole lot less expensive than releasing a movie theatrically. Especially with a movie like Wolverine, they could release it theatrically, where it will be best experienced; release it free with toys, games, and other merchandise; engage the consumer with live discussions about the movie's production and with new, downloadable content; use the free movie to advertise package deals that people can buy that include dinner, the movie, and light, easily-produced Wolverine-related media like shorts, cartoons, or character backstories.

This new world breaks the chains of the old business model, and the fact that the studios aren't drooling over the possibility does nothing more than evince their short-sighted incompetence. When they die and allow better, smarter companies to move in, the world will be better off.

In An Alternate Universe, How 20th Century Fox Could Have Responded To Wolverine Leak (

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

200 Posts!

Hell yes!

I hoped I'd find time to continue doing this!

Possibly Possible.

One concept I consider in justification is the number of potential realities associated with a statement. For example, let's say I think my dog has just talked to me. What is the possibility that explains my experience as true? The only option is that my dog actually just talked to me. But the number of alternate theories is manifold: schizophrenia, drugs, trickery and special effects, a ventriloquist in the next room, mis-hearing, etc.

The problem with this is that almost ANY proposition has a greater number of alternate theories than what appears true. Even something simple, like “this apple is red.” The only theory that explains it as true is that the apple is actually red. But it could be white in red light, or green in purple light, or I forgot I'm wearing red-colored sunglasses. The numbers on the alternate side are smaller, because the statement is so simple, but they still outnumber the truth theory. I think Occam's Razor was invented solely to deal with this interesting dilemma.

In light of this concept, I find the manifold religious theories to be immensely problematic, especially for those who are true believers. Because many of them believe that the right religious belief, usually theirs, is critical to the correct life and a successful afterlife. But the stunning number of religions must make this scary. If you are wrong, you're fucking screwed. I wonder how people are able to rationalize this problem.

What is art?

I've talked before about my belief that art is much more important than many "practical" or "scientific" people are likely to say. While the truth of the world, whatever that may be, certainly won't be found in art, people perceive the world in artistic, interpretive ways. Art is reality vis a vis the human. As such, I think art as far as humanity is concerned is at least of equal importance to more abstract, harder sciences like physics and chemistry.

As such, what we call art is pretty important. How do we define art and what makes legitimate art or ersatz art. Indeed, is it even possible to have ersatz art?

I've always felt that art as art is the opposite of poetry. Poetry is eliciting images with words, while art is eliciting words with images. While they could both be considered "art," I don't say a beautiful poem is artistic, I say it's beautifully poetic. Both poetry and art are forms of expression in a totally human way. Truly, art can only be human, since whatever we find communcative does so on an emotional level, and our emotions are an evolutionary construct unique to us. We have no idea what an alien species would consider art because we don't understand their condition.

The art OF something is any non-quantitative analysis of an endeavor. The art of talking/flying/fencing/war. Anything that is quantitative necessarily becomes science or at least science-like.

I don't think there really is such a thing as bad or good art, only what underlies the art can be good or bad. Two books are fundamentally different, it's just that one book can be a hollow, inane story while another can be a complex masterpiece. The underlying message is what matters and how complex and well-communicated it is.

I guess to what degree skill allows the expression of those underlying ideas could be considered to be good or bad art. But that doesn't really make it better "art," it just makes it a better painting, and a good painting can have a great deal of, or next to no, artistic merit.

But the skill with which the former is exercised must always be taken into account, so in that sense, ersatz art can exist. But it's not specifically ersatz in its creation, since its creation might have had no artistic motivation at all. The art may exist in interpretation alone.

For example, I read two abstract poems. Neither is grammatically or syntactically coherent. It's chaos in words. But one is poetry, the other is nonsense. The first was written by a master of the language, who has proven in the past to write beauttifully coherent poetry. The second was garbled nonsense written by someone who doesn't even speak the language. Art and poetry are both expression, and if the artist or poet doesn't have the requisite tools for expression, than it can't be art.

But say I don't know the second poem was written by someone who doesn't know the language. I may read it and find it to be a powerfully moving poem. Even though the end result is the same, I don't think it's art. Art is expression, not interpretation. I can have a moving experience looking at a grand vista, but that's not art. It's not human. If we put the onus on the interpreter, anything can become art and render the label useless.

But back to assertion that art is the usage of imagery to elicit words. I say words as opposed to emotions because our world, truly our very selves, are constructed of words. While happiness and fear are both abstract emotions, we operate on our interpretations of them and application of words as labels to fully define each emotion. For example, fear and elation, physiologically, are very similar. Similar levels of neurotransmitters and hormones, but our interpretations of each emotion are radically different.

It is true there are underlying "truths" behind those words, but we don't operate on those. We operate linguically, with ourselves and with others. I don't deny that a human could operate roughly as a human without language, but the few examples we have of children being raised without langugage to structure their minds and worlds show them to be the proverbial wild children. Language allows us to construct a complex network if beliefs, apply labels, and then integrate new things into that system based on rules assocaited with the labels.

While we have vague emotions that may be difficult to apply words to, I think art's ability to communicate, and how good the art is, must be measured by how well words can be applied to it.

In the Wikipedia entry on art, it says that "a cup, which ostensibly can be used as a container, may be considered art if intended solely as an ornament." I actually think that this restricts art in such an un-needed way. Art is nothing more than communication, and in that sense, any human creation has an artistic element to it because no matter how rigid or objective the creator may try to be, they are still trying to communicate something with the creation.

That cup is artistic because all cups communicate something. For example, the cup on the left. It's highly ornamental. It is artistic. But why is it artistic? What words does it elicit? The closer we can get to a generally accepted set of words, the more effective the art has been at expressing what it's trying to express. I see "luxurious," "leisure," "wealthy," "decadent," "royal," and a multitude of other words. That's how I frame my interpretation of the cup. I use words. And whether I like the cup or not is super-subjective. If I want to feel rich, I may like it. If I hate rich people and listen to lots of Rage Against the Machine, I'd hate the cup, but it can't be denied what the cup communicates. It is, in that sense, perfect art. But it also highlights how incredibly subjective even that is. For example, why does the cup communicate those things? It does so because of a shared history. We all understand decadent European and classical history, which this cup elicits. For someone not aware of that, the cup may still communicate its being expensive, and detailed, and wealthy, but perhaps not the undertones of decadence and royalty, or of classical culture. As our culture becomes more global, the shared artistic language will probably allow greater universality of these artistic concepts.

Now let's look at the cup to the right. No grand details, or metal accents. It literally is just a cup. But think about the designer and what words the cup elicitis. Simplicity. Humbleness. Directness. An almost clinical level of cleanliness. This is the cup of a man who wears a perfectly pressed suit to work every day. That is the cup the designer wanted to make, or else they would have designed it differently. Even something seemingly simple communicates ideas when the human condition is applied to it. As such, there is art in every cup. If a cup is used as an ornament, like in the Wikipedia entry, then whatever artistic quality is in it insofar as it communicates words is added to its quality of being a cup. So its nature as a cup is now used to communicate something artistic in the endeavor. For example, I make a decadent cup like the first example and it communicates ideas like wealth and royalty. I then take those cups and glue them to a female mannequin, now, not only do the cups express wealth, they express being a cup. Now my art can be seen as expressing a woman's need to appear rich and able to entertain. This new usage of its nature as a cup to express art doesn't negate that it has artistic qualities separate from being a cup.

Moreover, my earlier example of a non-speaker using a language to write abstract poetry doesn't apply here. A designed cup must be understood be its designer. It's impossible to have an abstract cup. Because if the artist creates something abstract, like Barbara Hepworth, and I find I am able to use it as a vessel for storing fluid, it doesn't matter because the artist never called it a cup. Just because I can "interpret" it as a cup, as in use it to store fluid, that doesn't mean it's a cup. It can still elicit words. For example, a curvacious abstract piece can appear feminine and human, and elicit words like "sexy," or "relaxed." It's still art. It's just not a cup. And those interpretations requires a more basic understanding of the human condition. It requires an understanding of human form, as opposed to the trappings of more advanced human life, like dishes.

Still, the important factor in all of these is what words the art communicates. If the art can't be broken down into words, its effectiveness as art is limited. That's one of the problems with abstract art, and why we have comical cases of five-year-olds selling paintings for thousands. I'm not saying that there is no artistic merit to the works, it's just that when we obfuscate expression under chaos, it must be tightly controlled to be communicative. Moreover, only very broad concepts can be communicated. You can't hide details in chaos; they get lost.

Art is an expression of the human condition. The human condition is defined by words and labels; It's how we organize our world. Thus, art must be defined by words and labels. And so my defition of art as using visuals to elicit words.

April Fools Truth.

April fools is an interesting day. I had been thinking about it because of the now infamous Conficker virus and how so many people were convinced it was all a hoax because of April Fools. In fact, I JUST talked to someone who thought it was a joke that no one has owned up to, yet... It's April 13th! She thought this because Conficker was kind of a no-show. Nothing really happened. Although, things are happening, just nothing apocalyptic.

I just find this all interesting because April Fools day is the only day when the entire population actually exercises some sense of incredulity or skepticism. On any other day, whatever people read in the paper, it's true. On April Fools, NOTHING is true. In that sense, on that day, people are the most philosophical they're going to be in the entire year.