Monthly Archives: December 2004

Waking up in Mexico

I was a little worried about getting into Mexico. Not so much gaining entry — although there's always the long shot that some psycho anti-fan of BME calls the border officials and makes fake claims about me (sadly, it wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened). I knew we should be allowed in — all our paperwork was in order (proof of foreign income, bank records, rental agreements, and so on) — but as much as you're allowed to stay for six months as a tourist (I can work on stuff for BME, DroidMetamorph, and so on, but I can't go working for a Mexican company of course), you're not really supposed to bring in this much computing hardware without importing it (and paying 17%).

Luckily it really was just a matter of walking up to a desk, getting a stamp, and being waved through. I think I could have brought double this much stuff if I'd chosen to. It wasn't until we were actually in La Paz's airport (we'd already cleared customs and immigration in Mexico City) that what appeared to be military police asked to inspect our big steamer trunk (and nothing else). They were very friendly though, never felt threatening in any way, poked around a minute, and let us head on.

The only thing so far that makes me nervous about Mexico is this Napoleonic Justice thing… the idea as I understand it is that instead of being innocent until proved guilty, you're guilty until proved innocent. I don't know if I dislike that idea as someone who's not always been on the right side of the law, or as someone who's got a general lust for justice… In relation to the first half of that, it's my feeling that if breaking a law doesn't hurt anyone (sodomy laws, whatever), then it is not a just law. That said, I think I'll tolerate a few of those and have no interest whatsoever in going to a Mexican prison.

Cold turkey!

For the first week we're staying in a resort hotel about five minutes from downtown La Paz. It's only a hundred dollars a night for a large suite with a big bedroom, balcony, living room, and kitchen. In the pictures above you can see the view from our balcony looking over the bay and into La Paz, the interior of the hotel's lounging areas, and of the earthquake warning sign outside our door. I'm doing my programming on my big laptop with a second as backup. The rooms here have slow telephone internet access but there's a business center with a LAN they don't mind me plugging into.

The only real “problem” so far is that literally nothing I've seen to eat other than slices of melon are vegan. Everything is very heavy on the egg, dairy, and meat… So I've got a few days of working (I have to do a feature article, and a major code overhaul by the first, to say nothing of a major BME update, although that'll likely go up on the 3rd) on beans and rice or whatever they can improvise. Not that it's that different anywhere else (and BCS is supposed to be the easiest part of Mexico to eat vegan in).

Other than that, and Rachel told me I shouldn't admit this because it makes me look like an idiot, but I thought people might be interested in my racial perceptions. Even though it's very racially diverse, especially in the metropolitan areas, Canada has a virtually zero Hispanic population. In the short term my brain's neural nets are cataloging crowds of people as Asiatic in origin (although my conscious brain overrides that before you start thinking I'm totally stupid). I don't imagine that will go on for more than a couple days, but it's really totally weird watching someone shift races in front of your eyes!

The other racial observation is that the more indigenous blood a person seems to have the poorer they appear to be, and the wealthier they seem, the more European they appear… Isn't it odd how the original “owners” of the land always seem to get shortchanged? But I suppose that's the same everywhere in the world, isn't it?

Mexico, Entry One Uno

I'm writing this entry from Mexico City, having just been granted what appears to be a six month visa along with Rachel and Jon. Toronto was fifteen degrees below zero and Mexico is fifteen above. Nice… We had a series of delays this morning in Toronto. I wonder why?

Actual picture.

Anyway, the transition so far has been pleasant. They had funny salt and pepper shakers on the airplay, Janet Jackson style. Check them out:

I'm just browsing from the airport lounge (unplugged one of their computers) so I'm being very brief and will write more over the next few days of course on my first impressions and so on — we're off to La Paz shortly, spend about a week hoteling it and then move into our new place.

Blessed are the depraved

I understand what causes most TOS type problems; people get in a disagreement, and for whatever reason it escalates to the point where the dispute is out of their mutual control. Or a relationship changes so the people involved perceive it as having different purposes and values, and it starts to affect their behavior negatively… Other times procedural rules get broken, which almost always amount to people not understanding the rules rather than being malicious.

But there's one kind that really confuses me that I still have to deal with regularly, and that's bigotry. Because part of IAM's conceptual design is of a “gated community” and a “safe space” there are some internal limitations on some types of expression — as counter-intuitive as that might seem given my general outlook — to ensure that it stays a safe place for the community surrounding BME. That includes attacks on homosexuality and body modification.

Now, of course it's no surprise to most people reading this that a person railing against homosexuals or talking about how sick people on BME are is going to lose their account on IAM… but the part that does surprise me and I suspect most of you as well is how or why do they come here in the first place? I mean, if one has kind of backward bigoted ideas, why come to BME at all? And why go to the effort to infiltrate its community site? Wouldn't one just say “you know, I don't really like these kinds of freaky open-minded people and I don't particularly want to spend time with them?”

It's funny, because it's always presented as some kind of psychotic oppression from me (yeah, because that's really what I spend my time worrying about)… as I've said before, I don't give a damn if someone finds me or my lifestyle repulsive — I don't even give a damn if they start a website somewhere else whining about it (it's happened a dozen times or so already). But I do mind if they come into our communal home and attack that lifestyle, and I will do something about it in that case!

So let me be pretty clear on this Christmas eve: If you've got a problem with homosexuals or with heavy body modification and it's something you feel so strongly about you have to make it a part of your online diary, please do not maintain a blog here.

The beast needs more torque now!

LexTalonis just pointed out that the dances site has gone live; you can now pick up the reissued DVD and very nice t-shirts and more. Check it out, you won't regret it.

This is an excessively rambling and aimless entry. Don't waste your time unless you're totally bored.

No offense intended to Americans, but I really am glad my flight doesn't even stop over inside the US with everything that's going on these days. People keep saying to me, “aren't you worried about how dangerous Mexico is?”, telling me apocryphal horror stories. From today's LA Times, this is of course about Los Angeles, California, USA:

Schools near these complexes boast 70% dropout rates, violence-related lockdowns and children with post-traumatic stress disorder levels as high as those seen in civil wars. The neighborhoods host hundreds of prison-brutalized men wed to cults of destruction and the hyper-masculinity of the powerless. Ex-cons who try to change must defy a dehumanizing dragnet that draws 70% of them back into prison. All face relentless search-and-destroy policing. With job prospects virtually nonexistent and few other exit ramps from the prison-parole hamster wheel, escape is rare.

Years ago I asked gang members what happened to kids who "just said no" to the Bloods or V-18s. They brought me a videotape other gang members had made for a 14-year-old boy who had refused to join them. The tape showed gang members raping his 13-year-old sister. The boy joined the gang so that its members wouldn't return to kill her.

So please, stop telling me Mexico is dangerous. Yeah, I may be from the land of Dudley Do-Right, but if I can handle America I think I can handle Mexico just fine. Philadelphia may not be Fallujah, but by the numbers it was still far more dangerous than BCS. Here is what a friend of mine just wrote me about where we're staying for the next few months (if not much longer):

Man oh man, I'm in Baja California right now and it's more fucking gorgeous than ever.... this place is heaven. Today I swam between schools of tropical fish, yesterday I climbed a small mountain overlooking the ocean and the cliffs, and the day before I discovered a pristine beach. I'm sure you'll love it when you see it.

The Sea of Cortez is where blue whales hang out. I'm more of a plant person than animal person I think, but there are two kinds of animals that are universally A-OK in my book: pigs and whales. I don't know why. In many ways, my favorite movie is in fact Whale Music and I empathize immensely with Desmond's character (of course I'm also a huge Brian Wilson fan; I consider Pet Sounds one of the greatest albums of all time). And of course Rachel has traveled here from a distant planet to save me.

Fay: This girl looks under age, Des. Could mean prison.
Desmond: That seems a heavy price to pay for a youthful appearance.

The weird thing about Whale Music is how many online reviews simply don't get it. I spent a while trying to find one to link to, but they all so utterly mischarictarize the movie that I stopped reading them after a while. One of the interesting things about art is that the purer it is, the less people are able to recognize it. Most people are afraid of God as well, which is pretty damn silly since one of the only shared qualities that “God” has across different faiths is immense amounts of love

But I'm rambling.

I had a good dinner today with an old business partner… We're talking about firing up a system we were working on a few years back; a few of the right pieces are in place and if we play it right we can walk away with fifty million in the bank at year's end. I wonder what I'd do with fifty million dollars?

Had another meeting earlier in the day as well (wrapping up loose ends as I go). He's no fan of BME and in fact I think finds it reprehensible, but is of the mind that it's not his problem and doesn't really mind me doing it — “But you know what bothers me Shannon? Two guys can get married these days, and I can't even smoke my cigar in public any more!”

(Before anyone says something, I really don't give a damn if someone is personally disgusted by me or my lifestyle as long as they support my right to live my life as I see fit).

Anyway, as much as I do appreciate the humor in being allowed to smoke marijuana in public in Canada but not cigarettes and cigars, it's pretty clear that there has to be a balance between individual and group rights, and I'm not comfortable when that balance swings too far over onto the “group” side. While I am very supportive of Canada's social programs and policies in general, I am uncomfortable with the current direction the smoking ban laws are moving.

Other than that, the FCC has done another insane fine, leveling $220,000 in fines against a Kansas radio station for “naked twister”. Let me be clear. Radio station. Ever hear the joke, “you've got a face for radio?” As far as I'm concerned, fining someone a quarter million dollars for saying they're naked when you can't even see them is insane. It gets even more insane when you realize that only one person complained to the FCC about it (more).

What continues in this entry is actually from something I wrote a few days ago but never posted. I write a lot here, but the sad truth is that I write probably triple this amount and just never post it. I don't think this entry is very good, but what the hell — if you've read this far in this entry, you're OK with that.

I have a confession! Because I didn't prepare early enough to be able to drop it off at a food bank, I've thrown out a lot of canned food that could have been put to good use by people who need it. I feel really bad about it — although I admit that the joy of tossing heavy objects down almost thirty stories of garbage chute was somewhat rewarding.

But it reminded me that I should repeat some of a conversation I had with Marty a few days ago about the future of compassion. We were talking about the temperature effects of the Gulf Stream stopping or altering course. For a simple, simple explanation, check out the map below:

That's showing warm water streaming up along the US coast and the arcing out into the Atlantic and northward as it gets about half way up that coast. It then continues across to Europe, keeping the UK warm and even enveloping and warming places like Norway. Now I'd like you to take a look at another map, paying attention to the vertical (as in North-South) order of nations:

You'll note that Scandinavia, although largely warmer than Northern Canada, sits dramatically north of the 60th parallel. To put it into context, Liverpool (which really isn't very cold even in the heart of winter) is about the same distance north as Goose Bay, Newfoundland — in January Goose Bay regularly has a daily temperature of negative thirty Celcius (-4 Fahrenheit). The average summer temperature is a scant twelve degrees.

While it's not quite this simple, if it becomes apparent that the Gulf Stream is altering or stopping, the temperatures across Europe and especially northern Europe would drop to what we have in Northern Canada, and while Canada is largely prepared for it because we've always had this problem, Europe does not. Few homes in much of Europe are insulated to the point where they can winter at sustained ultracold. There is no conceivable way to retrofit this many homes — the fuel alone simply doesn't exist.

So what happens if this scenario plays out? 500 million people would become homeless within as little as a two month window.

Anyway, I said I was talking about the future of compassion. If this really does happen, can a half a billion people be relocated? It would be the largest humanitarian effort in all history, and could redefine how we think about compassion… To move that many people the rest of the Western world (if not Africa) would have to open its arms and say, “yes, I will let you live with me in my home rather than die.”

Either that or war I suppose.

Get 'em while they're vulnerable.

That said, I've left out a lot of variables in my little “Chicken Little” game above. As much as the ocean would be cold off Europe it wouldn't be that cold, and unless prevailing winds drop, temperatures will be closer to what you'd get in Anchorage, Alaska which is about 15 Celsius (or 60 °F) in the summer and negative 10°C (or 14°F) in the winter — still cold, but not “Canada Cold”, and certainly not “evacuation cold”. The other big variable I've left out is that one of the larger contributors to Gulf Stream shut-off is desalination of the ocean. Personally I think that our destruction of the fresh water systems is going to force us to put in such large desalination systems just to survive that we'll balance out that change with our own shortsightedness.

Well, I've got to go to bed now.

Robot Apocalypse, Economic Style

Over the last few weeks the latest humanoid robots out of Korea and Japan have been demoed, and they're getting more and more impressive in terms of fluidity of motion, natural intelligent behavior and problem solving, vision systems, and so on.

Now, even if you don't buy my “robot apocalypse” notion where humanity is literally destroyed and replaced by creations thousands of times more intelligent than us and unwilling to recognize our value (a la Skynet — I wish that was a Terminator link but it's not), the robot apocalypse will come.

It can not be stopped short of unimaginable levels of luddite terrorism.

By 2030, manufacturers are predicting that they will have enough robots with enough “skills” to be able to replace 50% of all jobs currently done by humans, with that number halving every few years. By 2050, virtually no job will be done by a human — after all, omnimobile robots are a snowballing scenario. Once they run the factories and the power production in some ways they could be said to be free. Even if the dates are wrong, the scenario is not.

The problem is, how do you transition from a capitalist system (which is what is producing these robots) to an egalitarian leisure society where everyone is happy and has what they want — you have to pass through an incredibly difficult period of escalating wealth disparity, and you have to assume that those “at the top” choose to allow those below them economically to rise up out of generosity. You also have to assume that splitting the assets of the earth equitably will be accepted by the “finders keepers” lot that currently enjoy those assets selfishly. Do you believe that Sheik Trump will give up his yacht so you and he can be equals? It's not as if there's enough ocean (or fuel) for billions of yachts.

Have you ever seen the rich so generous that they lower their own wealth? I've rarely seen a rich person or corporation give away money that didn't give them a tax break (thus in effect shifting the tax load to the poor, who can not do these tricks because they're not “financially big enough”). They give to take. So what do I believe will happen? Massive scale prostitution and a lot of soma. I believe it will be a long time before we can build a convincing simulacrum, so the only thing that the poor and middle classes will have of value to the ultrarich with armies of servant robots will be human flesh.

Don't worry, robot surgeons will give you a cosmetic overhaul so you can better service your rich master.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's a lot of honor in being a simple farmer.