Monthly Archives: September 2016

Mars != Humanity’s salvation

Let’s go to Mars! I’m all for it.

But let’s not make the mistake of pretending that a Martian colony represents some human lifeboat failsafe; that it could be a ‘offline humanity backup’ ready to return society to Earth in case of a total apocalyptic event. Let’s face it, the worst day on Earth will beat the best day on Mars — when it comes to survival — every time.

The likelihood that an ELE (extinction level event) will kill EVERY human on the planet, is pretty darn small. While the likelihood that an ‘uh-oh!’ moment on Mars will kill every Martian is much much higher.

Eukaryotic life has existed continuously on this planet for 2.5by. On Mars — never. Even through massive extinction level events, earth was livable within a few years to decades later. You screw up on Mars – game over! You crawl out of your cave on Earth after 20 years – hey fresh start. And look, O2 to breath for free and H2O to drink. And I don’t have to wear a spacesuit to go take a pee outside. (Not that you’d ever do that on Mars…)

Things that might go wrong on earth that would require a human society reboot:

  • Bio-terrorist attack? Nuclear winter? Killing everyone? Extremely unlikely.
  • Snowball earth would take centuries to develop, not much of a ELE there.
  • Super volcano? Mega asteroid? Both would come with warnings, plenty of time to distribution billions of dollars of resources in underground locales around the globe (or on the moon).
  • Sun death? What? In like 5b years? Like humanity is gonna even survive the next U.S. election cycle…

If Musk was sincere about saving humanity, and he was serious about doing it soon, then he should probably build an ark on the Moon and keep it stocked with a Svalbard Seed Vault and a couple of IBM Watsons full of all the information to rebuild society. Oh and maybe a few ten thousand embryos of a few hundred different species of animals, not to mention embryos of humans. Maybe get a couple of dozen caretakers up there too. Then, a generation or so after the planet gets wiped – send down a part of the Ark to kickstart society. If you ‘really’ wanted to protect the continuity of the human species — that’s the way to do it.

Probability speaking, the odds that a Martian colony will survive long enough, off or on its own, be able to package up every possible resource a new Earth based human colony will need, send it back successfully, to land successfully, in a location that is now “fit for humanity” is so astronomically small that to speak of it as one of the primary reasons to build a Martian colony is ludicrous.

Elon Musk’s scenario puts the “successful isolated backup drive” on Mars, out, realistically, to at least five generations. We could build the Lunar Ark in one.

Point is, you wanna create a backup drive? Either make one here where you’ve already got all the resources to do so. Or, if you’re drop-dead convinced that Earth will get clean-slated, then build a lunar back up system. The Lunar Ark system could work!

Social messages = cocaine


“Deedle, deedle, deedle”


Oh goody! I just got a text, sms, email, voicemail, facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, flashvote… ANNDDDDD I got a tiny shot of endorphin too! Or maybe a itty bitty boost of dopamine, or serotonin. Yummy! Do it again! Do it again!


Won’t SOMEBODY pay attention to me?


Oh, yeay!

Is social messaging delivering our chemical highs these days? Instead of smoking crack, snorting coke, poppin’ pills, going for a long run, or diving into some great sex, are we all addicted to the tiny boosts of pleasure hormones we get when we see or hear our phones signal “hey, somebody reached out and touched you,”metaphorically speaking?

I posit that that is indeed the case. I bet we get a little boost of happy brain juice every time we see the numbers on our retweets or facebook notifications climb ever upward. They might be nothing but bots or trolls, but just to see those little red flags, dink, dink, dink up the number scale is enough to lift us out of our funk and twist the drip knob on our digital morphine IV ever the more open.

Turn that thing off and put that phone in a drawer!

What? Are you crazy? I’ll go into a detox fit!

No you won’t. Just try it. Just put it away for a weekend. I assure you, when you turn it back on Monday morning, you will have found you didn’t miss all those deedle dees at all.

Speaking vs Writing

I can’t talk and think. But, I can write and think. Hmm, maybe it’s the other way around…

I can’t think and talk but I can think and write. Yeah, that sounds better.

Anyway, I know people who can think while talking and they sound really intelligent. They can come up with ideas and elucidate those ideas and well, not sound like me when I try and think while talking. But I wonder about this breakdown. I seem to have the ability to hear myself speak, in my mind, while I write. But when I try to voice, like, out loud, such thoughts it’s like my brain shuts down. Why I wonder?

Could it be that the feedback of my actual spoken voice conflicts with my brain’s ability to both listen for information AND create information simultaneously?

I can listen very well. I can parse and evaluate people’s spoken words and drill straight into the nexus of those thoughts, what they mean and what the implications of those thoughts might be.

I make a very good interviewer. But asking short poignant questions is much different than being the target of those questions.

“So, what are your thoughts on the democratic process applied to resource distribution?”

“Sure, let me first take on the concept of what resource distribu…, feedback, feedback, feedback…”

What do you guys think? Could one’s own voice interfere with your brain’s processing of information? Forcing your brain to listen and speak at the same time? Are some people better at tuning this out? Or maybe they just suck at listening…?






So you wrote a novel…

So, you wrote a novel.
Hey, so did I!

And you know what? So did at least fifty thousand other folks — just this year alone.

(That number might be as high as 100k, or as low as 30k, but 50k is a conservative number to work with. And I’m going to over simplify here, as I do throughout this blog, but the general premises are worthy of exploration.)

50,000 authors who are looking to get published.
50,000 authors who want YOU to read their story.
50,000 authors, 90% of whom, will never see the inside of a bookstore.

Most authors will self-publish, because, that’s the only way to get their creation onto those warm white printed pages. (

But *all* authors will probably try to get their work submitted to a publisher. Which means that’s 50,000 queries and manuscripts that need to be analyzed — by humans. Let’s stand back and take a look at this as an information processing problem. Literary agents and publishers are sifting through tens of thousands of novels, the haystack, to find the ten or fifty needles that thread the reader onto its string of emotional attachment. Stories that will win awards, rise in the ratings and hopefully pay for themselves and all the wannabe novels that flop.

That’s a shit ton of critical analysis reading to do — accurately and quickly.

Enter, stage left, Deepmind.

Google’s Deepmind neural networked general intelligence platform is designed to take data, any data, and learn it. Want Deepmind to find cats in a picture? Find terrorist threats in email? Learn to mimic the human voice, or parse and replicate Shakespeare? First you need to train it. Engineers take a training set, say the top 500 most popular novels of the 20th century, and the worst 500, and they feed them to Deepmind. DM eats them like lollipops, licking and linking all the nuance of language, cadence, sentence structure, word selection, scene usage from these novels. It doesn’t “understand” them, but it doesn’t need to. It just has to learn: that’s good, and that’s not.

Then you take the next 100 top sellers and a the next worst 100 and test the dynamically constructed mind that was created from the original training. Editors would stand by to give hints and advice to the neural network, edge cases that Deepmind would miss. Eventually, the Automated Literary Analysis Neural Network ALANN, could now be opened to the public. Budding authors like you and me could submit our full manuscripts (no queries or synopsis nonsense) and ALANN would swallow up our words and spit back a thumbs up or down, and maybe a critique of what needs improvement.

ALANN wouldn’t be fool proof. But statistically, it would easily reduce the number of needles that proved worthy of closer inspection. ALANN would house manuscripts for years, waiting for trends to return. ALANN would be the single stop shop for finding material for publication.

The idea is not new. Ten years ago the concept was put to work for screenplays:

Imagine how well a Deepmind ALANN would perform today. If this doesn’t exist today, it will, soon. Billions of dollars ride on the discovery of the next Twilight, Hunger Games, or Harry Potter literary phenomena.



What is Fun?

We have squirrels in the backyard. They are fascinating to watch. One of the reasons is that they appear to have ‘fun’. We put small foam footballs near a location where we feed them sunflower seeds – and the squirrels play with the balls. Really. They toss them, and roll with them, they bite them and scamper about as if they were playing some squirrel game with them.

Cats and kittens will play with a puff ball, or mouse toy, for hours it seems.
Dogs and puppies will play with toys, with or without you, until they’re exhausted.
I’ve seen horses kick about a soccer ball, parrots fiddle with strings and toys.

And I got to wonder, are they having fun?

Fun: enjoyment, amusement, lighthearted pleasure.

Fun appears to be the result of an activity that has nothing to do with survival, or mating, or preparation for battle, or migration, or social hierarchy establishment.

Fun appears to be the result of an activity that is performed solely for entertainment. For the shear joy of it, lighthearted pleasure.

Are these squirrels tumbling about for the pure lighthearted pleasure of it?

I kind of hope so.

Movie Stars = Artistic Failure

Name a popular movie you’ve seen recently, staring a mainline actor/actress.
Now, name the character that any of those mainline actors/actresses played.

(This is a grand over-simplification I’ll admit, a gross misuse of the movie venue, but I think the theory merits examination.)

Let’s take Brad Pitt for instance. Here are a few movies that come to mind:

The Big Short,
World War Z.
Essentially Brad Pitt being Brad Pitt, with a little action, drama, intrigue, maybe a tear (I can’t remember). Now, I’m not trying to sell these movies short. They were all excellent entertainment. And there were some great stories told. But I ask you, if you were a creative writer constructing a compelling story with truly moving, approachable and endearing characters, would you want your character creations overshadowed, in anyway, by the personalities of Movie Stars?

What was World War Z about? Well, that’s a poor example as the character was loosely fabricated into a screen play from the thread of the novel. But still, WWZ was Brad Pitt trying to save the world from zombies. Yes? How about the movie Fury? Brad Pitt, and the EvenSteven kid in a WWII tank doing their duty to free Nazi occupied Europe. In their defense they both did super jobs at portraying the characters. But in the end, they were movies where Brad Pitt did his thing.

Historic portrayals, accurate portrayals that is, like Meryl Streep in Julia & Julia or in The Iron Lady, seem to draw out a different aspect of an actor’s ability. Streep WAS Julia Child, she WAS Margaret Thatcher. Neither of those movies were Streep being Streep (not that she hasn’t made movies like that). But it was the character that you remember — above all.

And so it is my opinion that creative fictional stories, novels put to screenplay then put to screen, suffer if the characters within the stories are portrayed by movie stars.

This is not to say that ALL stories suffer. Some stories are written with characters designed to be played by specific people, Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, etc. (I had to lookup Cruise’s character, while Bourne, we’ll, it’s in the title, duh!)

But as a writer, if you want your story told through the screen, then wouldn’t you want the characters you’ve so lovingly created, agonized over, tuned and perfected TO BE THOSE CHARACTERS IN A THE MOVIE?

(And not Brad Pitt pretending to be your beloved character…?)

Computer Art?

There are many beautiful, intriguing, curious, mesmerizing displays of color, shapes, terrains and entities that we see everyday: sunsets, the full moon, the Milky Way, a landfill, a bucket of Legos spilled down the steps, a bamboo forest, etc. These exist. They are not art. The just “are”.

When a computer,
• on its own,
• with programming (neural network) that it has created,
• that has been established to be a fully standalone, conscious, sentient being,
• and that computer deigns to photograph, paint, sculpt, describe or capture in anyway
• a scene as mentioned above or extracted from its own internal or external vision of existence,
• that expresses some reflection or nuance of itself –
• then that computer will have made art.

Until then? What a computer might create is just an extension of its creator. Or, is, like a sunset, a thing that contains beauty or strangeness – but is not art.