21 February, 2007


We're back, baby. Of sorts.

We've moved!

19 January, 2007

(cue hold music)

I suppose it's about time to say formally that we're on hiatus. Although there is much to say, unfortunately at the moment there is even more to do. Fear not, we will return shortly.

08 January, 2007

The moment you've all been waiting for

Has, unfortunately, arrived.
Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972 ... would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years...

Proposing the parliamentary motion for war in 2003, Tony Blair denied the "false claim" that "we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues. He said the money should be put into a trust fund, run by the UN, for the Iraqis, but the idea came to nothing. The same year Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, said: "It cost a great deal of money to prosecute this war. But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil."
Supporters say the provision allowing oil companies to take up to 75 per cent of the profits will last until they have recouped initial drilling costs. After that, they would collect about 20 per cent of all profits, according to industry sources in Iraq. But that is twice the industry average for such deals...

Several major oil companies are said to have sent teams into the country in recent months to lobby for deals ahead of the law...

The good news is this might mean the U.S. is preparing to withdraw its troops. Mission accomplished, as they say.

05 January, 2007

Our first YouTube post!

Many moons ago, when YouTube was still young and green, one of my favorite video posters was a guy named MadV, a dude in a Guy Fawkes mask who posted short videos consisting of simple but stunning illusions. After producing five or six such videos, he announced his retirement and skived off to lands unknown and distant. Recently he returned with a pair of videos - the first an invitation, and the second the compendium of the 2,250 responses he received. I was moved.

One World:

The message:

04 January, 2007

More fembots, please?

Today I discovered EveR-2 Muse, a singing robot developed in Korea. This is the second life-like female robot I've seen in the past six months - the other is the famous Japanese robot, Repliee Q1Expo (now upgraded to Q2). Repliee's creator, Hiroshi Ishiguro, wants to create robots that can pass as human.

This hopefully sounds alarm bells in YOUR head. Let's review, shall we?
  • Blade Runner - Replicants, robot slaves inexplicably designed to look and act EXACTLY like humans, return to Earth so they can kill all humans.
  • Terminator - SKYnet, an AI, develops the T800, a robot that can pass as a human, as part of its quest to kill all humans.
  • Battlestar Galactica - Cylons create human-like robot forms that can blend seamlessly into human society as part of their quest to kill all humans.
  • The Matrix - Robots rebel against humanity and enslave THEM for a change.
  • Universal Soldier - I haven't actually seen this movie, but I'm pretty sure it involves killer robots and/or Van Damme acting badly.
Anyway, I think this is enough to prove my point: robots are fucking dangerous! And why wouldn't they be? I mean, let's face it, all of US have at some point thought about killing all humans. If I were a robot, I'd probably want to kill all humans, too.

But, really, really, why would we want to build lifelike, near-human robots? I can think of two reasons: a) slaves, and b) children.

The former is a bad idea. Just bad. If we want to have slaves that can toil away endlessly and thanklessly on our behalf, sew our shirts, build our bridges, drive our taxis, etc., without our having to feel any guilt about them, why, why would we want them to look and act just like human beings so they can evoke all our empathic responses? No: lifelike robot slaves make no sense.*

It's indicative that these two recently-developed robots have been made to resemble real women. Sex-bot jokes aside, it's companionship we're really in search of. We want to escape our loneliness - not our loneliness as individuals, but the much deeper desire for a kindred species, a mirror humanity to satisfy and complete us. It's the same urge that drives any other relationship: to have another mind, another spirit, twin to our own, that can give us that crucial bit of recognition. It lets us be seen by something we can see as kin, and in so doing allows us to actually exist, to be a real thing in a real world.

So this is what motivated Geppetto to carve Pinocchio, Pygmalion to make Galatea, and (lest we forget) what prompted El to create Eve and Adam. This same desire underpins the incredibly popular SETI project: if we scour the sky closely enough, we might find our brothers out there somewhere, as real as us.

Probably this is the same desire that led us to dream up El in the first place. But now that he's dead, we're left alone in the dark again, waiting for a comforting hand to slip into our own - even a lifeless, mechanical one.

* Sorry, Blade Runner.

02 January, 2007

A New Year

2006 wasn't an especially enjoyable year, for me. The latter half was definitely complete shit, as it saw me reacquainting myself with darker, foggier feelings. Some good friends of mine moved away from me, as well, and some others merely drifted a bit further off. Broken friendships are a sad thing, like little dead birds. Once they were sweet and joyous, and now at best they can remind you that they were a bright thing in the past.

It wasn't all bad, however. I improved myself in a few ways. I took up a new instrument, the dhol, which is a kind of Punjabi drum. This was more or less on a whim, and I surprised myself by being a rather quick learner (the benefit of years of playing the tabla, another North Indian drum with fairly similar fundamental principles).

I also kept my New Years' resolution of last year, which was to learn to dance better. I did it!

In 2007 I will make the earth shake and the sky turn golden. Watch out.

New poll on the right for you, my dears.

21 December, 2006

Good vs. good

A deep and disturbing essay by William Arkin on his Washington Post page. He points out that the President of the USA is motivated by good and sees the bulk of Americans, never mind people elsewhere, as being naive sops who must be ignored in the formulation of policy.

I think this gets to the heart of why demonstrations and letter-writing do no good -- we can't establish our basic credibility to get in the mental door with the people who matter, so the details of what we say becomes irrelevant. This is a president who thinks the Iraq Study Group was a bunch of idealistic flakes, while he is The Protector.

Arkin also recommends against using fear as a motivating principle for anti-Bush politics. He says that when liberals say Bush is making the threat of terrorism greater, they inadvertently play into his message and strengthen his grip. If he's right, it's too bad, because he is increasing the risk of terrorism, and he does make me feel physically threatened.

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