Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   pretty fucking bleak
Sunday, June 25 2006

a snowball's chance in the Precambrian

I'm a smart guy who stays on top of the latest ideas in science, but evidently there is still much to learn. Yesterday for the first time in my life I read about the Snowball Earth Theory. If I didn't know about this, you might not either. According to the mass of data that has been assembled, in the late Precambrian (750-580 million years ago) the Earth was beset with its worst ice age ever, with glaciers advancing all the way to the equator and the world turning into a big white snowball. According to a certain Russian scientist who ran the calculations, once polar icecaps had advanced to within 30 degrees of the equator, the albido (reflectiveness caused, in this case, by ice) of the Earth would have been so high that the process would have gone into runaway-feedback mode and the entire planet would have become covered with a couple kilometers of ice. All the geological evidence from the late Precambrian confirms that the Earth was indeed locked completely in ice during that period. The only thing that saved us was a runaway greenhouse effect (the result of volcanos acting in a precipitation-free world). Many evolutionary biologists now think that the survival challenges of the Snowball Earth were responsible for the rise of multicellular life and the Cambrian explosion (which you probably have heard about).
This Snowball Earth theory has haunted me all day, like other things have haunted me in the past, such as the risk of nuclear annihilation, Peak Oil, and periodic megameteoritic impact. Jesus Christ, we're so vulnerable and alone here on this little planet! Some people take comfort in thinking some God is looking down on us and, I don't know, watering us and giving us the occasional grow stick of moral guidance. But the truth is much bleaker. Not only are we alone and isolated in a big empty universe, but we don't even have the sense to manage what little we could manage if we had the sense. We have become our our own argument against the persistence of intelligent life. It's really very sad, given the dogged persistence of our non-intelligent forebearers. That Snowball Earth was, after all, pretty fucking bleak.

I relocated the firewood in the garage and began removing the stuff from in front of its back wall in preparation for a delivery of sheetrock that will allow me to give these structures a proper surface. As I did so I was listening to the This American Life show about "Father's Day." There was a point in that story about the father with Alzheimer's, about the end stage of his disease where all he could remember was his motherless childhood, and it was so existentially tragic (in almost a Snowball Earth kind of way) that I actually began sobbing, not just crying. That kind of emo is common for Gretchen but it's rare for me. She's a poet; I have no such excuse.

riding the great slopes back

I read a book review in Salon of Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. The Salon article was ultimately about the commercial DNA analysis industry and our society's response to it. I hadn't known this, but recently an industry has sprung up that will test your blood and then send you back a list of markers, which you then can use as passwords online to connect with others who share your makeup. It's a fascinating new way to connect, even if it, by its very nature, gives too much import to ancestry in the human condition. Still, I can only imagine that is just around the corner, and one day we'll be able to swab some cells onto a keyboard sensor and, with the help of a massive search engine, mathematically calculate within a certain margin of error how closely related we are to anyone else in the human (or even just living) family. Comparing your genes to someone else's will be like getting a set of Google maps driving directions, only they will be browseable as a set of migrations on a globe (an easy Google Maps integration) or as a family tree.
For the time being, though, these tests are all about mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal DNA. This gives special relevance to our mother's mother's grandmother and your father's father's grandfather, but denies the role of your mother's father. During this brief phase of commercial gene-analysis, we have grandfathers and grandmothers and great grandfathers and great grandmothers but the great baggage of testably-distinct genetic information comes down to each of us from only two people with each of our ancestor's generations spanning back to the very origin of gender.

unknown rock and roll baby

I only buy music from bands that are too obscure for their songs to be available for free through Gnutella. It's a great system: if your band rocks the house but nobody has heard of you and you're working a day job at Taco Bell, I'll actually spend money on your music. But if you're famous and your music is easily found on Gnutella, I'm getting it for free. In my Robin Hood utopia, it's just the way music distribution works. Today in the mail I received a copy of The Standard's August, which I'd paid money for (this is because you've never heard of The Standard, whose lead guitarist is a greeter at a North Carolina Walmart). When I'm new to music I slap it in the stereo to see what it can do and that's what I did today. But whoah, these songs are all so complicated it was hard to get a bead on which ones I actually liked. On August, the band has concentrated on dynamics above all else, with many of the songs building from mellow beginnings to sublime perfection in a "Stairway to Heaven" kind of way. To achieve dynamic contrast, The Standard will do anything, even if it means starting with Hall and Oates and ending with Black Sabbath. I particularly like the song "The Five-Factor Model," where things start out annoyingly keyboard-heavy but then this miraculous guitar keeps swelling up from the silences in the polished Steely-Dan production until it can no longer be contained and is finally allowed to bust out and rock the fucking house, if only for a shimmering ten seconds or so. Most of the songs do something like this. Other initial favorites include "Treeline," "Bells to the Boxer"," and "When Everything Went North." They're doing something here that you don't experience every day in pop music. This is a large part of the reason you've never heard of The Standard.

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