Can We Make a Star on Earth

There was a recent Horizon episode that dealt with the current state of the art of nuclear fusion. It was mostly interesting because it bought the issue of energy production into sharp focus. In order carry on living the kind of high energy life that we currently live, we face a pretty stark choice: either we build prodigious amounts of sustainable capacity (to replace the un-sustainable resources that we are in the process of exploiting to exhaustion); or we find a way to control fusion.

Fusion has a long history, as long as i’ve been aware of it, something like 25 years, it has always been, “25 years in the future”. Back when i was a kid, and subscribed to the New Scientist, there were articles about the Tokamaks that would contain plasma streams at temperatures higher than the centre of the Sun… it just never seemed to get any further than being experimental, let alone being a net producer of energy.

Today there is news that significantly shortens the time horizon, down to two or three years:

The most energetic laser system in the world, designed to produce nuclear fusion–the same reaction that powers the sun–is up and running. Within two to three years, scientists expect to be creating fusion reactions that release more energy than it takes to produce them. If they’re successful, it will be the first time this has been done in a controlled way–in a lab rather than a nuclear bomb, that is–and could eventually lead to fusion power plants.

This is obviously not a tokamak, but a different approach using lasers to focus massive amounts of energy down into an extremely small space. If this actually becomes a reality, it will significantly change the path of human development. At this point i’m pretty jaded, and suspect that the engineering involved in building this thing may be well belong what we are currently capable of doing on a massive scale… but that is a hurdle that can be overcome. With a proof of concept build different talents can be bought to bear on those problems.

In all likelihood, a development such as this (an (effectively) unlimited power source) is our only hope for continuing our wanton destruction of the planet. Fingers crossed, eh?

Influences / Inspiration

Shamelessly inspired by a shot that Sean has now taken down…

There is a set of fine lines between copying / be influenced by / getting inspiration from other peoples work. My general feeling is that there isn’t much new and uncharted territory in art anymore… at least not within our current social structure – rip it all down and start again, then maybe we’ll see some new idea emerge. But, at this point we’ve all been steeped in the same juices for so long that it’s asking a lot of your subconscious to come up with anything pure and unique.

That isn’t to say that it’s alright to flat out co-opt someone else’s ideas, and make them your own. There needs to be some sort of reference back, some sort of acknowledgement of the debt of inspiration, a new twist that adds something of you… otherwise, why are you bothering? It’d be easier to just look at the original work.

The cross-pollination of ideas is just going to happen. You talk to someone about an idea that you’ve been developing, and by virtue of presenting the idea it develops. Not just in you, but also in the listener. It may not always be something that inspires the listener to go out and do something new, but it’s a new seed value for the chaos engine of their subconscious. Their reaction is reflected back in to you in the same way.

I guess this is why artists form groups or collectives: the influence of their peers opens up new ideas, new expression.

Tokyo Beats Show

combined-flyer

A bunch of degenerates i’m happy to call my friends are doing a show next month at a cafe / bar in Shibuya. It’ll be up for the entire month, but there is an “opening” on April 4th, Saturday night. If you’re in Tokyo drop in and say hello – would imagine that it’ll be a good chance to get to know some fun people.

私の友人たちが渋谷のカフェ/バーにおいて個展を開きます。4月いっぱい開催され、オープニングパーティは4月4日土曜日の夜に行われます。どうぞお誘い合わせの上、お立ち寄りください。


Delicate Balance

Living in Japan is a delicate balance for me. There are aspects of this society that i find repellant, difficult to cope with, and wish i could change, but know that i can’t. This results in the construction of a fairly complex set of interrelated “justifications” that make life bearable. This set is far from being consistent, not only in terms of my world view, but within itself. 

Consequently when events occur that upset this delicate balance the whole lot comes crashing down. This usually leaves me in turn, confused, angry, resentful, deflated, bitter, and finally… well, i don’t really know where i am when i’m back at peace. Denial? I sense a nasty cycle here somewhere…

This process isn’t unique to living in Japan; it was the same in England, and certainly in America. What seems to be hard to cope with when living outside of the anglo-saxon sphere is that the balance of societies actions does not always flow in my direction.

Is this how a black kid in Brixton feels when the police stop him every week for walking down the street? Or how Pakistanis in Birmingham feel when their idea of the law does match up with the reality of the british justice system? A migrant worker in L.A? A North African in Paris? A Turk in Hamburg?

None of those things have ever effected my on a personal level – by which i mean that  they have an impact on me, but not directly. They are aspect of those societies that offend my sense of justice, but they are someone else’s battle. This seems reasonable to me, other people are civil right organisers, fighters for equality, etc.

In Japan things get much closer to being personal. Whenever one of these ‘unbalancing’ events happens around me, the frustration drives me to want to get organised, fight back… there is a reason that the 在日韓国人 can get a better deal from the government than other permanent residents – they are organised.

For right or wrong (mostly the later) racial relations in Japan are more complicated than simple racism. There are certainly aspects of simple minded xenophobia, nationalism, racial hatred, and yes, it is institutionalised in the bureaucracy, police, justice system, but my daily experience in Japan isn’t a barrage of abuse, threats of violence, or even prejudice…

This cycle always ends with me thinking that i could always leave and start again somewhere else… but that’s eventually going to lead me to a similar but different set of justifications as i understand a new aspect of man’s behaviour towards man.

And here we are, back to constructing the structure of stupid generalisations, and half-truths that let me stop ranting and get back to work.

Distractions

For some rather convoluted reasons i’ve been doing some thinking about what it would mean for machines to gain consciousness… seriously, don’t ask why. This thinking lead me to Roger Penrose‘s work, in particular, Shadows of the Mind, and The Emperors New Mind.

It’s a somewhat guilty pleasure reading things that confirm your thinking, but it’s nice to have some rigour to back up what has previously been instinctual. I’m currently plodding through his thoughts on the implications of the Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and beginning to wonder if i can’t just trust my instincts…

As an example of the kind of mindfuckery that we’re talking about here, in a section on intuitionism:

The most famous example of this occurs with Bertrand Russell’s paradoxical ‘set of all sets that are not members of themselves’. (If Russell’s set is a member of itself then it is not; if it is not then it is!)

I’d write more, but i need to go and clean-up the few chunks of my brain that are still stuck to the bathroom tiles… always good to read this kind of stuff in the bath.

Bear Entrails

Can you tell i’m catching up with my reading?

four-bears-large

Over on dshort.com there are updates of the Four Bad Bears, and Mega-bear Quartet. The first of those links to some pretty interesting looking datasets / discussions. In essence this is now the 2nd worst S&P / DOW market in a hundred years… I’m guessing the Great Depression record is going to be hard to beat. Despite all my cynicism, it does appear that some lessons have been learned in the preceding years.

That being said, the Swiss have started trying to devalue of the swissy, that doesn’t bode well.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the S&P tracks the 30s collapse. My feeling is that we’ll see a similar pattern of long decline, punctuated by ‘Sucker Rallies’. The peaks and troughs in those graphs are really maps of human nature, and despite what history tells them, people just want to believe!

Hope. Hope has bought us this far – far enough to shred our hearts to pieces.

Decline and Fall

There was a big climate change meeting in Copenhagen last week:

Don’t be misled by the recent cold winter in Europe and north America – or by this week’s conference of vocal climate change sceptics in New York. Pay attention instead to the larger gathering in Copenhagen, where mainstream scientists have issued a series of dire warnings that global warming is proceeding far faster than the scenarios published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change two years ago.

Many politicians who believe in global warming have taken some comfort from the IPCC consensus opinion that average temperatures will rise by about 2°C this century, an increase to which the world could just about adapt. Unfortunately that view is out of date, according to recent evidence presented in Copenhagen and elsewhere – ranging from the rapid thinning of Arctic ice to the unexpected vulnerability of the Amazon rainforests to drought and heat.

Rather sobering to think that that quote is taken from the Financial Times…

I’ve not really been paying enough attention to such things for the last couple of months, there has been another ‘meltdown’ going on that demanded attention and understanding. While that situation is obviously far from over (as previously noted, i think it’ll drag on for at least a decade) the general outcome doesn’t appear to be in much doubt.

We are going to see a decline and fall of anglo-saxon capitalism, and with it an overall subsidence in the wealth of the world. Trillions of dollars of wealth has already been eradicated since mid 2007, and as the basis of so much of that wealth (property) is still falling in value, there isn’t much reason to assume that the leveraged decent is going to ease up.

Along with that, there has been a huge decline in world trade, the sentiment has turned against consumption. Fear and frugality are the order of the day. The longer the descent continues, the more people are swindled out of their savings / pensions / “investments” (come on, they were bets!), the longer it’s going to take to get back to what we considered normal. Of course, that ignores the idea that we’re living in normal times, and that all we were doing was pissing away our inheritance…

Where does this leave of beleaguered environment? On one hand the collapse of economic activity will probably end up buying the next generation some time (remember, we are only just starting to pay for the sins of our fathers). The reduction in world trade, transportation, tourism, industrial activity means that more coal / oil will stay in the ground… for longer.

However, on the other hand, it seems very unlikely that America, China, India, and Europe are going to pushing through the kind of radical investment programs that are needed to de-carbonise their economies. In times of economic hardship, the environment suffers, a luxury that cannot be afforded, and a hardship that can be spread thinly enough to never really be an issue… especially if you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from! More than that – there is a good chance that some of the G20 nations are actually bankrupt, and unable to take on any more debt.

Nick, The Modern Mystic, over on YouTube makes a good case for believing that we are now at a point where the governments of the world will have to admit failure, and overturn 500+ years of contract law, or tough it out through societal collapse / civil unrest, with un-payable debts. The later seems unpalatable, while the former seems merely impossible…

Digital or Film?

It was somewhat inevitable that i’d get dragged into this debate at somepoint… it’s not like i’ve made much of an effort to avoid it.

For the record, here is my current thinking, in response to the latest: “Don’t believe the film hype! … Just looked at your latest stuff, really nice… want to shoot together so i can compare film and digital?” interaction.

As far as i’m concerned, the whole film / digital thing is pretty much a aesthetic choice.

On one hand digital is precise / fast / easy, and on the other it’s sterile / cold / disposable. 

(The actual adjectives are unimportant, and the choice just reflects my current aesthetic.)

By the same token, film is organic / warm / slow / awkward / precious.

It’s a little like audio i guess; in most cases it doesn’t make any difference, amplification is amplification – you can hear it… that’s enough. But there still people out there, perhaps overly focused on result(?) that swear by insanely old fashioned, inherently flawed, things like valve amps…

Yeah, so if digital is doing it for you… i say go with it. It wasn’t doing it for me, and i’m happy that i tried something else.

The chances of this being my last word on the subject are minimal. Wish i was confident enough in my photographs to tell people to judge by the results.

三光院

Went out on Sunday for lunch at a nunnery… as you do. I’m not entirely clear on the concept, but it seems that one of the nuns trained and worked as a French chef for thirty years, and then started doing shoujin ryouri. The suggestion is that it’s French influenced Buddhist cuisine. Vegetarian, obviously.

[The picture was taken in the temple grounds; i’m trying to post colour shots this week… but like this a lot today, so here it is.]

The influence, as far as i could tell, was only in the presentation. Usually shoujin ryouri comes as a single tray of dishes, but this was served more like kaiseki, one dish at a time, in a traditional order. Everything was done with a great amount of attention to detail, beautiful prepared and presented. The flavours were all very traditional japanese, very simple and natural.

Our fellow diners were some people from japanese television, and a couple from Paris. The place has been reviewed in places like the New York Times, and featured on TV, etc. All very swank.

Recommended for a different dining experience. Kind of pricey for what it is… but probably worth it for a special occasion. Be a good place to take things like visiting parents.