Friday, December 3, 2010

Lego My World

I played with Legos everyday until I was about 26. I wish. But really, I played with my Legos until I bought my Super NES when I was 12. Video games may have displaced my passion for Legos, but not the Legos themselves. At this moment I know exactly where my Legos are. If someone came over and wanted to play Legos, I could have them scattered all over the floor in less than 3 minutes.

My Legos are stored securely in my attic and my Super NES, well, I'm not entirely sure where that thing ended up (though it's probably filled with a dirt-dobber nest in my Papa's barn). I know where my Legos are, how about you?

I saved my Legos because I figure they'll come in handy someday. I used to think I'd pass 'em on to my own children someday, but that idea just won't work. It won't work because my kids -should I ever have kids- won't want my Legos. My Legos are old school and way too boring. My Legos were top of the line back when I built: I had clear windshield bricks, angled wing bricks, and even a couple of horses that came with my "Castles" series set. As cool as these pieces were to me, they're nothing compared to the intricate Lego bricks sold today.

Lego develops new bricks to help them make cooler theme sets. When I started building, Lego made 2 theme sets: City and Space. The universe was simpler then and the Legos reflected that simplicity. Back then, kids either built things that could escape Earth's gravity or couldn't -end of story.

The population of the Lego universe was also a lot less ethnically and genderly diverse than it is today. All of my Lego-men were men. I know this because the female Lego-men, which came later on, all had red pursed lips. So, despite being anatomically identical, I knew all my Lego-men were men because they had smiles on their faces, not pursed red lips. Lego seems to have made Lego-man and woman according the Genesis creation account, wherein Adam is made first then Eve. Man and woman, He created them all yellow. Oh yeah, and all my Lego-men were yellow, which as 4 year old I equated with whiteness, but now I suppose all my Lego-men are Asian.

Lego's themes really push innovation. A Lego theme is a whole new world. The last theme set I bought was "Pirates." All my Lego-pirates were still yellow, but some of them had beards, and others had eye-patches! This was a when the floodgates opened and Lego started creating individuals (or at least individual heads) to inhabit their theme worlds. Now-a-days there's Lego-Harry Potters, Lego-Batmans, and even Lego-Atlantis Manta Warriors. So you see, all my mis-matched bricks and Lego-Asians don't stand a chance against these new-school Lego celebrities and personalities.

And that's what really pisses me off. Back in the day I had to use my imagination. When I built a multicolored rectangle with a windshield, slanted wings, and a horse in the back, I had to pretend it was an inter-galactic X-wing Star-fighter piloted by Luke Skywalker-- the horse serving as R2-D2. Hell, now-a-days Luke Skywalker is member of the Lego-Galactic Empire, and so is the rest of the Star Wars Universe.

Lego is colonizing the cultural world and rotting our children's imaginations one contrived brick at a time. Kids don't have to imagine anything anymore. They just play video games or bully each other on Facebook. Of course I can't bitch too much, after all, the Super NES forced my own Lego building career into early retirement.

Newer technologies usually make older technologies obsolete, like the computer did to the typewriter, or like the car did to the horse drawn carriage. Legos, unfortunately, are an older game technology. But Lego is still in business, and it remains in business for two reasons:

1) It has made a Lego-world out of everything from Harry Potter to Atlantis. By expanding its base in this way, Legos appeal to a larger market segment. Lego colonizes to survive.

2) Legos have also made the digital-turn by making Lego video games like "Lego-Batman" and "Lego Harry Potter." I've never played these games, but it seems like they'd be nothing more than Legofications of regular games. Most today's kids probably first encounter Legos on their Wii systems than on their playroom floors. By extension, these same kids probably just figure "Lego," the word, refers to a blocky yellow aesthetic style used in video games.

Sure, I'm pissed off that today's Legos are so unimaginative and virtual. But at least they're still being made in brick form. I like the bricks. I like to feel the texture of the world I'm creating and then imaginatively move beyond it. I also like to stroll down the Lego isle and see what's new in the ever expanding, all consuming Lego universe. In Japan, I frequented the Lego Store at Saitama-Shintoshin. Walking through there sends my mind reeling and my heart lamenting that Lubbock doesn't have a Lego Store. But Lubbock did have Lego exhibit at the Arts Festival last year. (see pictures)

So while Legos are gradually taking over the past, present, and future of our world, it's nice to know they're still being played with. Though I dislike the virtual-turn Lego continually makes into the gaming world, I can understand their motivations. But then again, I dislike most things virtual. I like having more real-world friends than Facebook friends, and I like being paid in cash than the digital numbers of this direct deposit age. Hopefully my kids will too.
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Photos taken by me at the 2010 Lubbock Arts Festival.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A few short of a Haiku

I was sitting on a bench near some trees this afternoon. I looked around and thought "my but there's quite a lot of pigeon shit on the ground." I wasn't sitting under the trees because I didn't want to sit in or near the excrement, but I was sitting in the pigeons' flightpath. Thinking about the perils of the position I was in brought a stunning memory to the surface.

About 5 years ago... I'm walking home in the snow from Kaladi Brothers' Coffee House on University Ave. in Denver, Colorado. I'm bundled in a nice black pea coat and carrying a steaming cup of coffee. I'm wearing my flannel golfer's cap (I don't golf), thankfully. I'm just slushing along. The air is calm and there aren't too many cars on the road so the air is quiet, too. I love snowy afternoons in Denver; they go best with the aroma of fresh coffee and the warmth it gives. I don't hear the defecation; I only feel it. A little dopplethump on my head. Water dripping off an awning?

I feel it again when I go to take my cap off. Now it's on my cap and my fingers. White and grainy, kinda like toothpaste but a bit runnier. I wipe my fingers off in the snow, check to make sure my coffee is scat free, and smirk at the peculiarity of the event...

When I got back to my apartment I wrote a little poem, like a haiku, only without the right amount of syllables (consequently, it wasn't a haiku). Here's what I wrote, it's easy to remember:

On a snowy day
A bird shat on my head

I remember debating whether I should write "shit" or "shat" at the time. Either way. Some people say that being shit on, or shat on, is a sign of good luck. The same people make wishes when they light upon a stray eyelash. These uninhibited optimists make lemonade out of lemons, but I wonder what they'd make out of pigeon shit?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Flats and Pans at the Red River Rally

It's a Burrus tradition to spend Memorial Day weekend at the Red River bike rally. For a few days in May, the small, traffic light-free town turns into a biker oasis. The Red River Memorial Day rally draws close to 50,000 bikes and is one of America's top 25 rallies.


This year I spotted some really cool vintage bikes amidst the thousands of stock Harleys, a slew of Goldwings, and a spattering of "Hollywood Choppers." I dig the old bikes because when I see one of them out on the road I know the owner is more than likely very mechanically savvy. Those owners are also really cool to talk to because they tend to be older, and have more to talk about than custom handlebar grips and chrome.


Below are a couple of the bikes I stood around at Red River while their owners told me tales of epic breakdowns, wrecks, and 6 volt problems.

Up first is this killer 1947 Harley Flathead. This was my first time to ever see one of these things in person. What makes this bike so killer? Well, this is one of Harley's first big twin engines that predates modern engines (Evo's) by over 40 years. Just imagine cruising down the road on a motorcycle that's over 60 years old! Super cool. For its age, the bike is immaculate. It's a kick-started, hand-shifted, springer-frontended masterpiece of early big twin design. I chatted with the owner a bit while he fiddled with some little springs inside an old something or other part of the bike. I never really understood what he was doing, but he said on a 500+ mile ride he'll usually have to pull out the wrenches a few times before he gets where he's going. Rest assured, I ran into him at Red River where he entered his bike in the vintage class bike show.

This next bike is a 1963 Harley Panhead Electra Glide. The bike is a far cry from the modern Electra Glides you see cruising around today. Back then there were no front or rear fairings, no comfy seat for the misses, and definitely no radio/CD players. The real advancement with this bike was the electric start, hence the name. However, as the owner told me, you can't always count on that electric starter so the kicker pedal remains as a trusty standby. The solo seat is not original to the bike, neither are the saddlebags. The owner explained that after being rear-ended in the mid-'70s he couldn't find or afford the stock replacement tailpipes, seat, or bags, so he stripped them off a Sportster and made them work.

I think the bike looks great and wouldn't have know anything wasn't stock (minus the bullet hole stickers) unless he'd told me. One of my favorite things about this bike is the exposed oil filter on the right side. I figure back then Harley wasn't as concerned with hiding away or chrome plating all the unglamorous components of their motorcycles. Like the guy with the Flathead, this man entered and later won bike show in the vintage class. He said the judges liked his original paint. The man also told me that professional painters have offered to paint the bike for free, but he continually turns them down. Can't blame him.

And lastly I'll leave ya'll with an image of my own "old" bike. My Virago 1100cc is only 15 years old now, but it does meet one vintage requirement: it's discontinued, meaning it takes me a week to get parts for it...when I can find them.

Here I'm just leaving the Palisades Sill in Cimmaron Canyon. For all of you who knew my Dad, next time you're cruising by this spot be sure to pull over, walk down by the river, and say a few words to Dad. My family and I scattered his ashes here during the rally, giving new meaning to Memorial Day. It was his favorite spot on the way to his favorite rally.

Monday, April 26, 2010

15,000+

This week I was pleased to learn that my first and favorite self-made video passed 15,000 views! I can't believe it, 15,000+ views in one year! I made this video for Dr. Hamman's "Instructional Theory and Design" class at Texas Tech University. The assignment was simple: Compare and contrast the cognitive development theories of Piaget and Vygotsky in 90 seconds or less. The task sounded easy until it actually came time to compress these two distinct theories into a 90 framework, and then narrate it without screwing it all up. So for all you cognitive development buffs out there I hope you enjoy the music, the pics, and the theory.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"A Technically Perfect Camera"

For my fellow photography enthusiasts out there looking for the ever elusive "perfect" camera, look no further--look to the past. That's right, back in the '60s, Germany based Agfa made the "technically perfect camera," the Optima IIs, at least according to the owner's manual.

The Optima IIs (pictured left) is a charming 35mm rangefinder camera, featuring a revolutionary "automatic mechanism" that selects the proper exposure setting for every shot. Operation is quick and easy, just focus, press the "magic release lever," and BAM, perfect pictures every time! No more bad pictures caused by incorrect exposure settings.

Part of what makes this camera so charming is the brilliant language of the owner's manual. The first lines are worth quoting in full, "You are now the proud owner of a technically perfect camera- the fully automatic Agfa Optima IIs which does not require any complicated manual operation and so leaves you free to concentrate on the subject. What a source of boundless joy that is!" I don't recall reading anything like that when I bought my Nikon D40.

I have no doubt that the Optima IIs will be my source of boundless joy once I figure out how to set the damn ISO meter just right. Hell, I had to read the manual before I could even turn the ISO adjustment dial, where I learned "to do this, turn the milled disk with the aid of a coin until the required DIN or ASA speed is opposite the setting mark." Turns out all I needed was a quarter and my best guess about the settings. After setting the dial to ASA 200/DIN24, I loaded the camera with Ilford 400 Delta Professional black & white film and went to shooting. Here's a little taste of the magic:

The Texas Tech Architecture building before a storm. This is my architectural homage to Ansel Adams's The Face of Half Dome.


The Student Union Building just before the same storm.


And finally, the main library looking out from a second floor window in the Student Union.


All these images link to my Flickr page for optimal viewing. I would like to thank Ani Dela Rosa, a promising photo major, for processing the negatives and teaching me how to scan those negatives into digital images.

Please try to enjoy the pictures, and if you have any advice on how I can the Agfa Optima IIs better, please do not hesitate to comment on this post. I welcome any suggestions, magical or not.
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Reproduction of original Agfa Optima IIs owner's manual available at: http://www.butkus.org/chinon/agfa/agfa_optima_ii_iiis/agfa_optima_ii_iiis.htm

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bacterial Sentience? Intelligence? Civilizations?

What counts as “intelligent life” and who (or what) possesses it? These are the central questions raised in Slonczewski’s Children Star. As mentioned in class on 30 April, the difficulty we face in pinning down a definition of “intelligent life” in the novel stems from the author’s use of many different words with overlapping meanings. For example, the novel assumes that intelligent life is sentient, but not all sentient life is intelligent. The characters’ struggle to define intelligent life mirrors our own philosophical and biological struggle to decide what makes life intelligent, or at least sentient. Though sentience is roughly understood in the novel—witness the protesting electric sentients fighting for their civil rights—intelligent life is harder to recognize. Unfortunately for the creatures of Prokaryon, the answer to this question will determine the rest of their lives, intelligent or not.

Questioning the boundaries of sentience and intelligent life is not confined to science-fiction. Like Sarai in her mountain laboratory studying microzooids in hopes of understanding their behaviors, Jacob, Becker, Shapira, and Levine,[1] study bacterial growth patterns and argue that some bacteria, like Paenivacillus vortex and Paenibacillus dendritiformis (pictured top left), are not only sentient, but intelligent as well (assuming intelligent life is necessarily sentient). The researchers base this conclusion on these bacterial colonies’ abilities to “cooperatively make drastic alterations to their internal genomic state and transform into different cells (369).” Bacteria, like humans, are able to transfer genetic material between themselves, i.e. sex, however, unlike humans, bacterial “horizontal genetic transfer” does not lead to reproduction. Thus, the bacteria studied above are able to adjust the genetic composition of their colonies in order to thrive in particular environments, which, in this case, is a Petri dish.

There is nothing new about the above findings. Mircobiologists recognized the genetic capabilities of bacteria decades ago. What is novel, however, are the conclusions Jacob, Becker, Shapira, and Levine, draw from their controlled laboratory studies. One of the central questions arising from these documented bacterial genetic adaptations is how does the colony morph, as a whole, into different, more life preserving shapes? For as the study demonstrates, both bacteria, when placed in an adverse environment, selected a pattern “that maximizes the rate of colony expansion (370).” This beneficial selection, the researchers modestly claim, “hints that the colonial morphotype manipulation is applied to attain better adaptability (370).” These findings hint (show?) that bacteria choose survival and expansion over stagnation and death. Does this choice, even if it be at the genetic level, i.e. unconscious, point toward bacterial sentience?

And what about bacterial intelligence? Intelligence, like sentience, is a value laden term, more so than the term “life.” A tree that grows is alive, so is a barking dog, but are trees and dogs sentient, much less intelligent? Based upon the above findings, it is easy to conclude that the simple act of choosing life is an intelligent choice in itself. However, as Tyler Volk explains in his book Death,[2] autolysis, or self-dissolution, i.e. cellular suicide, is, in many cases, needed for a bacterial colony to continue expanding. Volk illustrates the workings of autolysis by looking at the case of myxococcus, which uses cellular suicide in order to form stalks—harder support structures made from the corpses of sacrificial cells (Volk, 29). Based upon Volk’s work with the suicidal cells of myxococcus (on left), it appears that death is sometimes the most intelligent, and dare I say it, the most telenomical choice.

At this point, after reviewing the findings of Jacob, Becker, Shapira, and Levine, and in light of Volk’s work with autolytic, and perhaps telenomic cells, the question of bacterial intelligence can be answered along two different lines of thought, one biological in nature, the other philosophical in nature. However revealing the philosophical implications of a seemingly telenomic entity might be, this route of analysis will be saved for a forthcoming essay. At present, the issue of bacterial intelligence will be considered from a biological perspective.

So how does a colony of bacteria decide which genetic mutations afford the greatest chance of survival and expansion? Jacob, Becker, Shapira, and Levine, hold that bacteria communicate among themselves, writing, “It is clearly essential to figure out how the bacteria can obtain semantic meaning, so as to initiate, for example, the proper context-dependent transitions between different operating states of the genome (370-371).” Though the researchers do not understand the process(es) by which bacteria code messages and send them, Jacob, Becker, Shapira, and Levine do conceive that bacteria have shared social communicative abilities, which, because of the nature of language, implies a shared knowledge of the semantic meanings of their codes (371). Based on these speculations, it would indeed appear that not only are bacteria sentient (by choosing), and intelligent (by communicating), but that they are also socially organized (but civilized?).

At the moment there is no definitive answer to the question of bacterial sentience, much less intelligence. Unlike the Petri dish bound bacteria above, we humans have yet to codify the semantic meanings of the words “sentience” and “intelligence.” (Which is odd, and perhaps a little telling, because we assume we possess both traits but are unable to define them.) But does there need to be a definitive answer? Biologist John Bonner, best known for his work with amoebae (left), which behave similarly to the bacteria described above, in an interview with Eduardo Punset in Mind, Life, and Universe,[3] refuses to answer the question of bacterial intelligence with a yes or no. Rather he states, “I prefer the idea of continuity and admit the difficulty in defining intelligence,” which Punset interprets as, “Therefore you believe that intelligence is a question of degrees and not, as many hold, that we are intelligent and other animals are not,” to which Bonner replies, “Exactly.” Bonner’s perspective is, I believe, more open mindedly curious and more scientifically sound than a simple yes or no. While Bonner’s non-answer to the question of bacterial intelligence would undoubtedly lead to the destruction of the fictional planet Prokaryon, his unique, and in many ways Buddhist perspective, heightens my sense of mystery and wonder about the microcosmic world I am.

Joan Slonczewski, Children Star, 2010, Phoenix Pick, Rockville, Maryland.
[1] In “Bacterial linguistic communication and social intelligence,” TRENDS in Microbiology, 12.8, August 2004.
[2] Tyler Volk, Death, 2009, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont.
[3] Lynn Margulis and Eduardo Punset eds. Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time, 2007, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, Vermont.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Break Wrenchin'

There's not much better than having five days off work to spend time with the fam, drink homebrew, and wrench on a classic truck. The time off was Spring Break, the fam was my cousins and grandparents, the brew was my cousin's homebrewed beer, and the classic truck, a 1953 Ford F-100. If you're into classic trucks, or at least classic truck axles, springs, and frames, then keep on reading.

My cousin Alan, the fiery headed mechanic/homebrewer, has been working on this truck in between his offshore work schedule for the last few months or so. He already had the original straight 6 motor machined 30 over and then painted and rebuilt it himself. Alan also rebuilt the axles and bolted on some sweet Kragar rims wrapped in fresh rubber. The truck has already come a long way from the $100 basketcase my Dad bought seven years ago. So check out the photos and enjoy watching my family and I rebuild a piece of history.
Here Alan and I are breaking down the rust encrusted leaf springs for a nice pressure wash followed by a fresh coast of black spray paint.

Here's the same springs after some long awaited tender lovin' care. The front springs have the brass spring inserts in them (on right), the rear springs still need the old worn out inserts smacked out.

And this why you need to replace the 50+ year old spring inserts. This wasn't even the worst of the old inserts; some of the inserts had done broke in half!

Tip: Always lube up your insert before pushing it in. Doing so makes the whole process go a lot smoother.Here's the suspension parts going onto the frame. The parts in baggies were bought from Mid-fifties Ford. Along with the new inserts shown above, we needed new rear u-bolts, shackles, hanger pins all around, new shocks from Autozone (front match rear), and a freshly cast rear spring hanger. This new hanger (bottom hanger left of red shocks) was a pain to work with, mainly because it was the only straight piece on the rear suspension, which meant it was crooked. A little grinding and smacking got everything lined up.

Alan lightly tapping in the bottom shackle pin. Notice the concentration and accuracy. He knows he's gotta hit this pin straight and easy so as not to deform its outer edge or rotate it inside the insert. You don't want the pin rotating because then you can't align the keeper bolt in the hole on the bottom right of the hanger.

With the springs hung front and rear, we rolled the axles underneath and bolted the whole set-up together. We decided to keep the original i-beam front axle instead of messing with all the new aftermarket IFS kits available for modern classic trucks. The suspension, drivetrain, and body will be completely rebuilt, stock equipment. I think we are gonna spring a little extra dough for power brakes and steering. Maybe even an air conditioner.

Speaking of the motor, here she is in all her oilpanless glory. We can't finish dressing out the motor because the thing is so damn heavy its slowly bending Alan's motor stand, so we support the front of the motor with a 2x4. I swear, this thing looks like goes in a tractor, not a 1/2 pick-up. The transmission is really wimpy looking compared to the motor.

So now we've got a roller. When we started working on the truck we had to carry the frame around from the backyard, but now we could roll it down the driveway if wanted to. Of course we can't steer it yet, or stop it, or start it, but hell, the point is the frame is suspended and rolling on some rebuilt axles with killer wheels. It'll probably be a while before we work on the truck together again, up next we're looking to drop in the drivetrain. Should be a blast. Till then, keep wrenchin'.

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The following blog post was brought to you by Smack Yo Moma Beer, homebrewed by Alan in sunny south Texas. [No, it's not "Smack Yo Mama," it's "Moma," pronounced like "soma," the drug of choice by many esoteric Indian explorers.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Need for Biomimicry

The following blog post is a reflection upon my Sputnik Observatory path focusing on biomimicry: the process of mimicking biological processes in human technological design.
Sputnik Observatory is an online oasis of free-thinking scientists, ecologists, architects, and artists who are committed to informing and inspiring the public with biologically and ecologically based scientific findings.

[To watch the videos online you will need the latest edition of flash. The following wander essay (path) responds to these videos.)

Embarkation: Interconnection and Human Meddling
In his conversation, “Earth is the Place to Be,” Trevor Paglen (artist/writer) speaks about the most important observable phenomenon in social, philosophical, and ecological history: reciprocity, dialectic, feedback; aka, interconnectedness. Using corn as his exemplum, Paglen states, “we have changed nature in a very fundamental way planting all this corn; but the fact that we’ve planted all this corn also changes us in a very fundamental way, too. We are turning ourselves into corn!” (0:27). Although the piece doesn’t allow Paglen to explicate how we are turning into corn, I assume it is partially due to the cattle industry force feeding corn (and other unnatural chemicals) to the cattle which in turn we eat as beef. “We are what we eat:” that feedback loop is a common phrase; however, the twice removed, less common phrase is “We are what we eat eats.”

This second phrase pushes the feedback loop between consumer and consumed deeper into the interconnected web involving farmers and veterinarians, cardiologists and morticians.

It is interesting that Paglen does not mention cattle feedlot diets as a reason why we are physically transforming into corn given the advice of Freeman Dyson (physicist), who appears later on in the same conversation video. Dyson holds that we should genetically engineer usable-energy-producing plants if we obtain the ability to do so. He encourages scientists and engineers to produce 10% more efficient plants—say by genetically programming a black leafed photosynthesizer—that would only require one tenth the land to produce the same amount of energy.

In general I am distrustful of such ideas and practices; especially given that it was logic similar to Dyson’s that brought about the creation of feedlots. By all rationale, feedlots are marvels of efficiency, requiring only 10% of the land to needed to naturally feed upwards of 60,000 cattle at a time. Unfortunately, such efficiency is unnatural and requires hormones, and a cornucopia of other chemicals in order to keep the cattle alive while reconditioning their stomachs to digest corn. Of course corn is a vegetable suitable for consumption; but not for cows. When was the last time we witnessed cattle grazing the vast open corn fields of America?

Contrasting Dyson’s idea of actually engineering plants that would produce energy for us (notice the direction the dialectic is travelling); Janine Benyus (author, biomimicker) argues that a more responsible form of artificial photosynthesis involves us as humans evolving our technologies to mimic nature’s processes of energy production. Her argument about turning our excess carbon dioxide into biodegradable plastics changes the flow of the dialectic, encouraging us to learn and mimic plants and bacteria: the true masters of turning waste into food. Let us mimic natural biological process instead of forcing those processes to meet our needs.

Step 2: Starting at Home
Instead of deluding ourselves in thinking we can control nature—from the stomachs of cattle to the biogenetic make-up of as-yet-un-crafted artificial photosynthesizers—in order to live more comfortably in the world, we should look toward nature’s evolved designs for Gaia-responsible living inspiration. Spring boarding from Benyus’s biomimetic approach, architect Andreas Vogler provides us with visions of biomemic future homes. Worldwide, 50% of all energy is consumed by our homes (0:09), with the other 50% being used by industry. Lowering the amount of energy we use in our homes can radically reduce consumption of natural resources. Yet Vogler has more than energy reduction in mind for biomimetic homes: he would like to craft homes that function as organisms do—plants in particular. Vogler envisions a home that functions not only as a human habitat, but also as air purification centers. These respiring homes can intake waste from the atmosphere, purify through techno-chemical processes, and release a newly purified bioproduct into the home and later into the atmosphere using negative feedbacks. The ultimate vision is, I suppose, to create negative ecological footprint homes; or, phrased inversely: homes that actually benefit and act in concert with emergent Gaian feedback loops. Human technology has an opportunity, and I would argue an ethical responsibility, to direct a proportion of its innovative efforts towards greener living solutions. Our technology should adapt to Gaian sensibilities.

Step 3: New Conceptions of Beauty
Despite how illogical our current use and abuse of nature is, it is apparent that logic and reason are not enough to inspire a change in worldview. One central ingredient in lasting change is positive behavior reinforcement; and no matter how fuel efficient or biomimetic a car is, if it is ugly people will not buy it. What we need is a different kind of beauty; a bio-aesthetic. Michael Hensel (architect) argues for this new look at beauty by asking us to locate beauty not only in crafted products, but in emergent biological processes as well (0:06). With this conception of beauty in mind, Hensel tries to craft dwellings in ways that utilize Vogler’s eco-friendly technologies in a style that encourage intellectual and sensual appreciation of process integrated architecture. Hensel’s idea is to make environmentally responsible productions pleasurable and attractive to participate with (through ownership and dwelling).

[The following literary application draws from Joan Slonczewski's amazing book A Door Into Ocean.]

From Gaia to Raia
Shoran verbs demonstrate the ingrained interconnected worldview of the Sharers. Their language helps them effectively communicate about the world around them, and life on Shora is life in the web. All phenomena are natural and interconnected. Hence, when the Valan colonizers use toxins to ward off sea-swallowers the entire web of life is affected. Valans (at Realgar and Jade) view the world from the for us side of the dialectic. Instead being biomimetic (copying the Shorans living rafts) and adapting their floating death camps to handle swallower season, they decide to alter the web. They prefer separation from the web rather than integration. What else can we expect, they are not sharers. Valans, like the majority of Americans, would rather alter nature than work with her; we find more beauty in material items than natural processes. This latter point is not surprising, for our pursuit of natural resources is decimating what is left of our most primordial source of beauty: nature.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ecosophy... got one?

What do you get when you philosophize about the environment and the natural world we all live in? You get ecosophy; the combination of ecology and philosophy. Ecology is the study of the environment and philosophy is the love of wisdom, so by putting the two parts together you get environmentally centered wisdom. That's a rough definition of ecosophy, and whether you understand it or not, we all have an ecosophy; whether we know it or not.

Nature, and how one believes we as humans should relate to her, is the crux of any ecosophy. Traditionally, there are two ecosophical views that represent two extreme ends: human-centric ecosophies vs. nature-centric ecosophies. Here's the skinny on each of them.

Some people view nature (by nature I mean everything living & non-living which makes up all that is Earth) as a mindless bunch of germs, mountains, and critters that are only good for scientific research, economic growth, or delicious food. This approach to nature is human-centric; meaning we humans are the most important part of the relationship, and we call the shots. This human-centered ecosophy says, "There's oil under that wildlife preserve and them critters ain't usin' it so let's start pumpin' boys. Billy club that baby seal." Basically, human-centered ecosophies are more concerned with humanity's comfort first and foremost; the Earth comes second, if at all.

If viewing nature as nothing but a huge collection of exploitable resources isn't your bag, then you might have a more nature-centric ecosophy. Where the previous view might be personified by a ten-gallon hat wearin' Texan, this second view is best personified by the unshaven (or showered) tree-huggin' hippie. Nature-centric ecosophies prioritize nature's health over human comforts. On the extreme end of this ecosophy you'll find eco-terrorists who have been known to spike trees, endangering loggers' lives while preserving the trees'.

Of course the two above characterizations of Texans and Hippies are just exaggerations for the sake of illustrating the extreme ends of opposite ecosophies. So if anyone is offended, don't be.

Most people do not fit into either of these categories or have such extreme environmental views. Personally, I don't think any of us actually seek to destroy the Earth by our actions; it just so happens that a lot of the actions we do everyday end up harming the Earth: like driving our car the grocery store less than a mile away; or spending 30+ minutes in a hot shower. Neither of these activities constitute a slapping the Earth in the face, it's just that there's better alternatives to both activities -like riding a bicycle to the store, or only taking a 5-10 minute long shower. These simple and reasonable alternatives keep us in shape and save gas money; which in the end, reduces the amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) being pumped into the atmosphere. [CO2 is a greenhouse gas which absorbs more solar heat than other atmospheric compounds, thus raising the Earth's temperature and upsetting bio-feedback loops.]

So what's my ecosophy? Well I'm still working that out. But I do believe that as a human being, I am just one member of an animal species called homo sapiens, and as such I must share the Earth with a wide assortment of other species. These other species are not under my control, and they did not evolve into their present form for my benefit and use. Each of us -and by "us" I now mean "living beings"- affect the environment we live in; and because of this we should do all we can to care for the Earth which we cannot replace or live without.

We are all part of a vast and extremely complex web life; and a broken link anywhere in the web effects the whole. More on ecosophy in future posts.
Here's a video of Stephan Harding speaking about Gaia: the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things. Please enjoy: