Ran Prieur

"The bigger you build the bonfire, the more darkness is revealed."

- Terence McKenna

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June 27. More about the Brexit, a long reddit comment and discussion about why the town of Burnley voted two thirds to leave the EU. Basically it was economic decline, incompetent government, and corrupt immigrants. But several comments point out that these problems have nothing to do with the EU, and there's no reason to think leaving the EU would fix them. So the voters just wanted to lash out, or they were thinking there's no risk in making a big change because things couldn't get any worse.

Here's a challenge: without making any moral judgments, because that would block the search for deeper causes, explain why all this bad stuff is happening now, when it didn't happen before. I don't expect to see a final answer -- historians still don't agree about the decline of Rome. But my general guess is that we've only had a global high-tech economy for a short time, and we don't know what we're doing. More specifically, there are new and bigger ways for wealth and power to feed back into more wealth and power, and we have yet to evolve the laws and the culture to prevent this.

New subject. A week ago I wrote about the Copa America games, and today I want to cover the last two rounds. I said the USA would lose valiantly to Argentina, but it wasn't valiant. The key moment happened early, when Ezequiel Lavezzi found Lionel Messi unmarked at the top of the box. Three American defenders panicked and rushed to cover him, leaving Lavezzi open and breaking toward the goal. Messi sees the world in slow motion, so he saw all this happening before the ball even got to him, and one-touched a pass over the defenders to Lavezzi who headed it over goalkeeper Brad Guzan who was in exactly the wrong spot. Mentally the USA never recovered. They kept playing hard but played sloppily and Argentina won 4-0.

The story of the final match was supposed to be Argentina, the world's top ranked team with the world's best player, finally winning a championship over Chile. But they missed their chances, leaving the game still scoreless after overtime, and it went to penalty kicks. Now the popular story is that Messi let his team down by sending his kick over the goal. But only moments earlier, Chilean leader Arturo Vidal's kick had been blocked. So after Messi's miss, the contest was still on equal terms: four kicks left, your best player can't help you, and who is the better whole team? Chile had already proven they could win a big game without Vidal, beating Colombia 2-0 in the semifinal. And the shootout told the same story, as Chile buried their next four kicks and Argentina did not. In the end it wasn't about Messi's failure, but Chile's team chemistry and mental toughness.

There was a hint of this earlier, when both teams had reasons to be outraged at the referee, and the sideline reporter mentioned the reactions of the two benches. The Argentine players were jumping and screaming, while on the Chilean side the players remained calm, and only the coach was animated. Juan Antonio Pizzi looks like a meathead car salesman or mobster, but he must be some kind of genius to have his team playing so well on so many levels. I've been watching the European games too and I think Chile is the best national team in the world right now, as disciplined as Germany and almost as intense as Iceland.

I wonder if Iceland's shocking success over much more talented teams, and Leicester City's Premier League championship against 5000-1 odds, are actually the somewhat likely results of a global trend, in which systems built from a foundation of excitement and honesty have a deep advantage over systems built from the need to maintain power. It took me a long time to word that, because even though this subject is all-important, we don't have the right language for it.


June 24. The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it. This is a good example of the difference between two kinds of thinking, which I'll call myth-based and reality-based. What defines myth-based thinking is not that it's wrong, but that it feels right without being tested against reality.

Are political decisions more myth-based than they used to be? If so, what might be causing this dangerous trend? I can think of two stories -- which have yet to be tested against reality. One is that political systems are becoming so complicated that it's both more difficult and more boring to observe political reality, so fewer people are doing it.

My other, scarier hypothesis is that we are losing the psychological skill of reality-based thinking, because we have fewer opportunities to practice it. If you're deciding which breakfast cereal to buy, it doesn't matter if you use myth-based thinking, because nothing bad will happen either way. More and more of our decisions are like that, partly because of well-meaning regulations that protect us from bad decisions, and partly because big control systems are making more of the decisions that really matter.

The exception is large-scale democracy, where we still have power, but we no longer know how to use it skillfully. If Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were breakfast cereals, Trump would totally win. And as more of our decision-making experience is on that level, the biggest elections will go to whatever is branded better, not what is best for us.


June 22. Some links on what has become my favorite subject, the psychological dimension of human society. The War on Stupid People argues that our society is overvaluing cognitive processing and undervaluing other skills. Ironically, the article would be better if it had more precise thinking. I'd like to see a careful definition of "intelligence" and a discussion of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. There's some good stuff in the Hacker News comment thread, including this:

As we automate more and more fields of labor, we are moving towards a post-job society... Forget our negative perception of "the dumb". We need to fix our negative perception of "the lazy". We must learn how to value people for something beyond their contributions to labor.

One of the best reddit commenters, yodatsracist, explains in detail why people hate Dan Brown. Basically, to feel good about ourselves, we construct a cultural identity, and this is based not just on what we like but on what we actively dislike. I did this a lot when I was younger, but now I try to just like what I like and not care what it says about me. Dan Brown is a clunky stylist with dumb characters, but I think a writer's number one job is to keep the reader from getting bored, and I admire him for doing that as well as anyone in the world.

Finally, redditor damnableluck explains Hannah Arendt's famous phrase, the banality of evil. Edited excerpt:

Eichmann's evil comes from having been a "joiner". In a search for some higher meaning, he gave himself to a cause so completely that he created a intellectual fence around himself and relieved himself of having to think critically or examine his convictions.

There is pleasure in understanding the world around us, and meaning in the unending work of developing and refining a coherent world view. Adopting an ideology short-circuits that effort, providing pleasure and meaning with an unwarranted degree of certainty. Consequently, fully adopting an ideology, whether it's Nazism or Feminism, is fundamentally not a benign act. People do this on a regular basis: unquestioned, mild, allegiance to their church, to their political party, to traditional values, to their social causes, etc. There is a strong intellectual resemblance between the unquestioned beliefs and unexamined assumptions that allow a man to ship millions of people to extermination camps, and the unquestioned assumptions and beliefs that we all operate on, on a daily basis.


June 20. The only way I can keep this blog fresh is to write about whatever's most fun to write about. Today, sports. A few months back I got into women's soccer, and it's a good introduction to the game because the play is slow enough to follow what's happening away from the ball. Now Leigh Ann and I are watching men's international soccer, the Euro 2016 and the Copa America Centenario, and I'm appreciating the game better with the help of cannabis. I like to expand my focus and watch the patterns of players moving together, and I've noticed that some teams have signature patterns, especially on defense: Colombia likes clean parallel lines, while Chile tries to form concentric arcs in a big wedge with the point on the ball.

Weed also helps me see the games as stories, and sometimes they're stories that even the best writers could barely script. On Saturday in Europe there was a fun individual story, as Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most smug and imperious player, repeatedly failed to score on open shots, including a penalty kick that bounced off the post. But the best team stories have been in the Copa America, with excellent games in all four quarterfinal matches.

The first game on Saturday was the tournament favorite, Argentina, against the Cinderella team, Venezuela. Argentina went up 2-0, but late in the first half Venezuela made a flurry of attacks that had Argentina rattled, coming to a focus in a penalty kick. The kicker looked confident, and everyone expected him to bury it so hard that the keeper had no chance even if he guessed right, and Venezuela would start the second half with scary momentum and only a goal down.

Instead, the world's #77 team tried to embarrass the world's #1 team with a trick, a gentle kick right in the middle that would make the goalkeeper look silly lunging to one side. I don't think it was cruel -- it was a tactical move to get under the opponent's skin and press their advantage. But the keeper saw it coming the whole way. He just stood there and calmly caught the ball, Venezuela's spirit was broken, and Argentina cruised to an easy win.

Early in that game the world's best player, Lionel Messi, was clearly taken down in the box, and the referee refused to call a penalty. This is the opposite of American football and basketball, where elite players get every close call in their favor. Instead the ref was saying, because you're an elite player, you're held to higher standards. This made what would have been a boring game much more interesting, and I think a great referee is like an orchestra conductor, making the game better by setting the right constraints with how he calls fouls.

In the second game, the defending champions were the underdogs. Chile struggled a bit in the group stage, and everyone thought they were a pretty good team that happened to have a great run last year. Their opponent, Mexico, was loaded with talent, riding a 364 day undefeated streak, and playing in America in front of tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants who were even more excited than the crowds at home. They seemed likely to challenge Argentina in the final and stake their claim as one of the best teams in the world.

Instead, Chile came out with a perfect conjunction of creativity, discipline, and raw energy. At first they just seemed feisty and dangerous, but as they continued to win one on one battles and began to swarm the goal, it became clear that they were playing on a level that Mexico had not imagined was possible. They had to work for their first two goals, but at the third goal Mexico gave up, while Chile kept their foot on the gas until the fifth or sixth goal, and ended up with seven. Keep in mind that a goal in soccer is normally harder than a touchdown.

Tomorrow night the USA will lose valiantly to Argentina, and Wednesday night Chile would crush Colombia, except that they'll be playing without world-class midfielder Arturo Vidal, the heart of their team both tactically and emotionally. So the narrative is whether they're strong enough as a team to win without him, and then they'll get him back for either the third place match or the final.


June 17. Music for the weekend, and this is mostly recent and easy to listen to. Living Hour is a dreampop/shoegaze band from Winnipeg, and Steady Glazed Eyes is from their debut album that came out earlier this year. The sound is a more polished version of Bangs by Your Friend, who are from Lawrence, Kansas, 800 miles south on the same central plains.

Most of the Time is a beautiful lo-fi pop song by Jeremy Daly, who records under the name Lou Breed. It's easily the best song on Locus of Control, but that's an interesting idea for a video, where he walks around lip-synching the whole album.

Forndom - DauĂ°ra Dura is another 2016 complete album. They describe the sound as mythic Scandinavian forest music, but to me it sounds like the slow and pretty parts of black metal.

Going back a few years, Espers - Flaming Telepaths is a long psychedelic folk cover of the Blue Oyster Cult classic.

Lately I've been listening heavily to this song by my favorite band: Big Blood - A Watery Down II. It's like space lounge music, with a hypnotic bass riff, lilting phase guitar, swirling multilayered electronics, and dreamy vocals in evolving verses that come back five times to the same chorus over more than 15 minutes.


June 15. State of Surveillance is an episode of HBO's VICE where they interview Edward Snowden. To me, the least interesting thing is how much surveillance is going on and how easy it is. The most interesting thing is from 20:45-23:00, where they argue that broad-scale surveillance is ineffective: The more information the government collects, the harder it is to sort through it and find what's useful.

This reminds me of the unconditional basic income, where it would work better to just give everyone money than to keep a file on every person to try to figure out if they deserve it. The problem is, if you have the power to collect any given piece of information, it's really hard to not use it. I see this as a psychological challenge of letting go of control, but Snowden mentions the political fear that you'll get in trouble for failing to collect some piece of information that turned out to be important. Anyway, this isn't just a weakness of government but also private powers like Google.

Another YouTube video on a whole other subject, Why Poor Places Are More Diverse. It's about the diversity of plant species in poor soil. Where nutrients are abundant, the fast-growing species suck them all up and crowd out the slow-growing species, but where nutrients are scarce everyone can find a niche. Then the video tries to apply this model to human society! This is fascinating, but I think it's a stretch. Notice that their plant argument has detailed evidence for a simple story, and then they project it onto the much greater complexity of human systems with less evidence. And even if they're right, the political implication is ridiculous: that we can make a better world by forcing every place to be poor. Clearly it's better to have abundance and also have laws and social customs to keep the abundance widely spread instead of gobbled up by a few powerful interests.


June 13. A reader reports on the Illinois budget crisis:

Our state did not pass a budget last year. It was a tough year for lots of people, especially those in social services and education. But everybody knew that eventually a budget would be passed, so it was just, Hang on, borrow money to get through, hang on...

But our state also did not pass a budget this year either. Shit is officially hitting the fan. MAP grants for students didn't get funded last year, but schools mostly funded them anyway. This year, students have been told if the government doesn't fund them, the students will have to pay. Universities are cutting staff. Staff are fleeing to more secure jobs. Students are choosing more stable universities.

Public elementary and high schools are unable to begin school next year without funding. Yep, Illinois school children may all be home schooled next year! The homeless shelters in our town for men have closed down. Social services are closing down right and left.

This article explains the political background: Fallout of Illinois budget feud grows. I think the Democrats are being smart and ruthless, allowing a disaster to unfold to gain a long-term political win, while the Republican governor is being stupid and ideological. Republican voters believe that most government spending is waste, but Republican politicians are supposed to know this is bullshit, and promise to slash taxes and spending but never actually do it, because then voters learn through direct experience that government spending is more valuable than they thought.

And a loose end from Friday's post. As I thought, my psychic pain self-immersion idea is not original. Max sends this 2013 Alex Robinson post, strong medicine, where she describes basically the same thing and calls it "sitting with pain".


June 10. For the weekend, some personal thoughts about self-knowledge. I've been practicing meditation for many years, not that often, but it adds up, and I'm understanding better how it works. I don't think posture matters except as a placebo, and actually keeping your mind blank is not the point. The value in meditation is that you have to turn your conscious mind inward, and you notice stuff. It's like the Undercover Boss reality TV show, and you're putting in time as the undercover boss in your own mind and body. If meditation makes you a better person, it's because you find harmful subconscious habits and you grind through the process of fixing them.

I've invented another technique that enhances meditation, and it's pretty powerful on its own. Someone must have figured this out thousands of years ago, but I've never read about it anywhere. You know how you feel when you think about doing something you dread? Try to capture that feeling, let go of the thoughts that brought it up, and just open your soul to that pain, as intensely as you can for as long as you can. Obviously this feels terrible! It's the opposite of the serenity you expect from meditation. But I find, if I can stay immersed in the pain long enough, it wears out, and then it has less power over me in daily life, and I can face more difficult stuff.

My third practice, you guessed it, is marijuana. It lowers my intellectual intelligence while raising my emotional intelligence, so that they're both about average. It also gives me mind-blowing awareness of music, so that's usually where I put my attention, focusing on my strength. But lately I've been focusing on my weakness, combining pain immersion therapy with drug-enhanced emotional awareness to do a full life review. And I wonder if this is why weed gives people anxiety, because they sense the horror of looking at their life with new eyes and seeing all the mistakes.

Anyway, I've learned that I'm not as good a person as I thought I was, but maybe stronger. My subconscious mind actually has more social intelligence than my conscious mind, and it would be a pretty successful Game of Thrones character, except that it's sloppy and erratic. So I need to integrate the different parts of me, and bring the whole thing into sharper focus.

By the way, over on the about me page I've updated my photo, so you can see the trendy vintage glasses I've worn for more than a year now, and just last week I tried using henna on my beard. Next time I'll leave the temples grey.


June 8. After some reader feedback, I want to apply some logic to the unconditional basic income. Start with the fact that more and more jobs are being automated. Now, this might be reversed in a total technological collapse, which makes the question moot. For the sake of argument, let's assume that automation will continue to increase. What does society do with the people whose jobs are replaced?

Broadly there are two answers, and they can both be framed in moral terms. One is that it's wrong to let people starve and die, and it's right to spread the benefits of technology to everyone.

The other is that it's wrong for people to be given the necessities for survival without doing any work, so people whose jobs are replaced should starve and die. Nobody will stand up and say this, but they'll hint at a more moderate position: if your job is replaced, you must invent a new job serving the big money interests that benefited from replacing your other job, and if you lack the initiative to do this, then you starve and die.

In practice, societies are leaning toward the first answer, to spread the economic benefits of technology to everyone. There are two ways to do this. One is to maintain a massive bureaucracy strictly defining what people have to do to survive, and what they can spend their money on. The funny thing is that some people are comparing the UBI to communism, but this scenario, the most realistic alternative to the UBI, is basically communism. In comparison, the UBI is libertarian: strip down the social bureaucracy, just give people money, and they're free to spend it however they want.

The other day I said this was inevitable, but I've changed my mind after an argument from Anne: the urge to control people is too strong. Even if all jobs are automated and no one is left behind, and even if bureaucracy is less efficient than just giving people money, governments will still distribute benefits in a way that allows them to manage our lives, because that's what governments do. Now I'm thinking that an unconditional basic income is at least a hundred years away, because of how hard we'll have to fight for it.

More generally, my philosophy on economic freedom is that it should be inversely proportional to economic power. So I support a corporate death penalty, a financial transaction tax, and aggressive antitrust laws, but there should be a level of economic power, maybe $20k/year for individuals, below which you're free as a bird.


June 6. Paean to SMAC is a massive project by one guy, Nick Stipanovich, writing in depth about the game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. It's a great game, easily the best in the Civilization series, but the most interesting thing about his blog is how obsessed he is.

In this kind of obsession, I see the massive untapped potential of humanity -- not for objective progress, but for subjective quality of life. I think everyone in the world could find something they love doing as much as Stipanovich loves writing about SMAC -- and if they get bored with that they can find something else, and this is possible even if we exclude passive entertainment and crime, because the range of benign creative activities is basically limitless.

Right now the limits are imagination and economics, which are linked, because our imagination must first figure out how to escape the economic emergency of ordinary modern life, before it looks to the vast ocean of activities that are not worth money.

Voters in Switzerland just gave a big no to an unconditional basic income, so it seems to be decades away, even in Europe. But I think it's inevitable if we continue to see improvements in 1) automation, and 2) general support for the poor. The main thing holding back a basic income is the moral belief that money should be connected to work -- a strange idea that's only a few hundred years old. The cultural link between money and work will eventually give way to efficiency, when enough jobs are done better by machines than humans, and when simply giving everyone money becomes clearly cheaper than paying a giant bureaucracy to enforce conditions on money.

By the way, my own obsessions do not include this blog. I keep posting on this page because I keep thinking of stuff to write about and it keeps me connected to other people.


June 3. Stray links, mostly from readers. On the subreddit, zenfulmind is very optimistic about virtual reality, and doubts the claims made in Monday's link.

Dutch Firm Trains Eagles to Take Down Drones. This is cool but I don't see a future. It takes a lot of money and human attention to train eagles to attack drones, and these costs will not get any lower, while the cost of drones that attack drones will drop a lot.

Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial. I imagine this works by reconnecting the brain, taking apart a network of connections that isn't working, and allowing new connections to form that are better adapted. And I wonder if there's a political equivalent, a way of suddenly rewiring society. My guess is that a psilocybin-like transformation is relatively easy in a group of a hundred people who all know each other, but in a large complex society, it's so difficult that the drug equivalent of historical revolutions is drinking random stuff under the sink.

And a fun reddit thread for the weekend, What are some weird, real life X-files type mysteries? For much more on this subject, check out the books of Charles Fort or John Keel.


June 1. From a month ago on reddit, an epic four part comment on environmental history. The author, agentdcf, begins with ideas from new book, Capitalism in the Web of Life by Jason Moore. The basic idea is that before around 1500, value was seen to reside in land, and the peasants who worked the land were seen as part of that value. Then this changed:

The new way of seeing humans and nature divided the universe into the "human" realm and the realm of "nature," with a firm separation between the two, so that all things must fall on either side of that boundary. The human half contains all of the things that register in our metrics of value, order, and control; the nature half contains the world that is unknown, chaotic, and illegible to humans. Humans became the subject, the thing that acts; nature the object, the thing acted upon.

And the boundary, then, is in human labor, which acts upon nature to bring order, to impose control, and to create value by extracting things from nature and bringing them into the human realm. Nature itself has no value in this scheme; only by acting upon it and bundling our labor with it to create commodities do we assign value to it, but in doing so we bring it into the realm of humans, and thus out of nature. Labor productivity became, at this point, the best way to accumulate greater amounts of value... What is labor productivity, then? It is the appropriation of greater and greater streams of unpaid work-energy from the nature side of the binary, so that they may be made into commodities on the human side.

Then agentdcf goes beyond Moore's book into a critique of science...

in which a relatively small group of wealthy European males began to assume both that nature had universal laws that operated the same everywhere and all the time, and that they could apprehend these laws through empirical observation and experiment... It was now up to this group of people to say what was True -- to define nature, in other words. This all fed into the Cartesian binary because it understood nature to be static, defined by its laws, while humans -- at least some of them -- could effect change.

And here is where we begin to use the concept of nature in really contradictory ways. On the one hand, "nature" is a model; it's the way that things are supposed to be... At the same, though, we also think of nature as a thing to be conquered, controlled, improved, bent to our will. Our ability to apprehend universal laws brings the ability and the confidence to manipulate those laws, and to manipulate nature itself.

From here, agentdcf talks about biopolitics, the attempt to transform human nature to better fit the control systems, and also critiques free trade as the dismantling of local economies that still care about ecology and social justice, to fit big money economies that only care about growth.

I want take the critique of science in a different direction, but that's a topic for another post.


May 30. How big an issue is the nausea problem for Virtual Reality products? It's a huge issue, even in $80,000 military VR goggles, and the author explains how it's caused by depth perception, momentum, and other differences between what your eyes see and what your body feels, so that most people can't stand to wear the goggles for more than a few minutes at a time.

This leads to one of my favorite subjects, because some people are thinking, "Ha, I knew it, technology will never cheat reality." But this is a religious position, because what unseen law or authority defines "cheating"? If you believe in a fundamentally physical reality in which life is intrinsically meaningless, then you're a transhumanist, because it has to be possible to rearrange matter and energy so we all feel perpetual bliss, and there's no reason not to.

I think life does have a meaning, defined and enforced by something beyond materialist science -- but I'm not totally sure, and in any case we have to test it. Let's try holodecks, happy pills, whatever, and either we'll succeed, or we'll learn something about what's stopping us and what it wants.

This is also how I try to live my life. I feel like a rat in an incomprehensible experiment, and I don't know if the experimenter is the Tao or the human collective unconscious or the alien simulation overlords, but I sense a pattern of punishment and reward that's not completely random, and I'm trying to figure it out so I can get rewarded all the time.

In a related personal story, last week I tried getting high five nights in a row. I still wasn't using a lot -- a nug the size of a black bean in the vaporizer will give me four good lungfuls if I do it right, which will get me to a [7] and linger all through the next day so I never really come down. On the good side, I can't remember ever feeling so happy for so long, and I was able to keep up on dishes and groceries, and maybe write more creatively -- see the degamification post below. I gained intuitive understanding of the creative process through Picbreeder, and recognized a new favorite album.

On the bad side, my body felt constantly washed out, my brain was never over 90%, my sleep was pleasant but unsatisfying, and the days seemed to go too fast. Coming down last night, 48 hours after my last dose, I felt more bored than I ever have in my life. Even fun activities were tedious chores, which must be how depression feels all the time. So I went to sleep at 10 and got up at first light when I couldn't sleep any more, thus today's early post. Now I feel almost normal again, and on balance it was worth it, so I'll do more experiments to seek the optimal balance of nights on and nights off.

Also, thanks to another reader for another generous donation! My financial future is looking safe enough that I now feel awkward taking donations and I don't expect to link to my donation page again.


May 27. For the weekend I want to write about TV shows. Like everyone we're following Game of Thrones, and I appreciate how it has made fantasy morally complex, but I'm sick of all the boring pompous verbal arguments. Also, if there are multiple plotlines, a good storyteller will link them so that events in one plotline affect events in others, and GOT does that clumsily and not enough. And why hasn't winter come yet? At the beginning I was expecting White Walkers at the gates of King's Landing by season four at the latest. My new favorite character is the girl who stick-fights with Arya. Faye Marsay is great in everything I've seen her in, and they should have made her the next Doctor Who companion.

Doctor Who: We've almost finished watching the whole new series from 2005, and anyone who likes sci-fi will find it worth watching, but not every episode. These are my subjective opinions: Peter Capaldi might be even better than David Tennant. Eccleston failed because he was never convincingly cheerful. Matt Smith is the opposite, so fluffy that none of his episodes had any depth except The Angels Take Manhattan. River Song is easily the best side character. Companions should never have boyfriends -- I thought Mickey was annoying but he's great compared to the others. Donna Noble was the best companion and the next best was Martha Jones. They should have had seven year old Amelia Pond be Matt Smith's companion the whole time. 2005-2007 had the best opening theme and the newest seasons have the best opening visuals. Top five episodes: The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, Listen, The Family of Blood, Heaven Sent.

Leigh Ann is watching Hemlock Grove, an attempt at high quality horror, but for me it's too slow and broody and it's hard to tell what the characters want. And we continue to follow Grimm because the ideas have potential, but it's written like the audience are morons. If it were up to me, the villains would win and everyone would die except Trubel and Wu, who would roam the postapocalypse wasteland in a spinoff series.

Right now my favorite show is Orphan Black. Season three was a bit weak because they got too epic and lost storytelling discipline, but season four is back to the incredible quality of the first two years. It's smart, funny, surprising, the plot moves fast, the different stories are well-connected, and there's never a scene that just gets the story from one place to another -- it always earns your attention.

Finally, thanks DN for a $50 donation!


May 25. This 1916 Guide Shows What the First Road Trips Were Like. The article looks at "Blue Books" that were densely packed with maps and instructions to navigate the extreme complexity of local roads before state and federal highways. What jumps out at me is how much fun this would have been! Every minute you're being challenged, feeling a sense of reward for staying on the route, and being right in the middle of new places. I can't think of any kind of travel that I would enjoy more (except see below).

As more people got cars, governments made driving easier with highways and signs, and driving gradually changed from something fun you do for its own sake, to some shit you have to do to get from one place to another. In a few years someone will ride a self-driving car across America, while giving all their attention to a video game that simulates the kind of exciting exploration that they would get to in the real world if it hadn't been improved so much.

I call this technological degamification. Gamification is when a boring activity is tweaked to make it more fun, and it's often done for marketing and other sinister purposes. Technologial degamification is when technology is applied to an activity with the goal of making it easier, but the result is to make it less rewarding by removing too much fun stuff from human awareness, and not enough tedious stuff.

Now that I have this idea I'll probably start seeing examples everywhere, but I want to continue on the subject of driving, by imagining Road Trip Utopia:

It's the year 2116, and the world is finally recovering from the deep economic and infrastructure collapse of the 21st century. High tech never went away, but the old highways are weedy rubble, and nobody drives fast except on race tracks. Long-distance travel is done on trains or hybrid airships, and short distance travel is done by foot, bicycle, mule, or sun buggy (a small electric vehicle with giant wheels for bad roads and a maximum speed of 20mph, powered by hyper-efficient solar panels, or maybe liquid fuel from artificial photosynthesis).

All of these transports are used by adventurers who spend their unconditional basic income on high-grade water condensers and concentrated food, and travel the old roads through the wilderness and the ghost suburbs, alone or in small groups. They navigate with computer maps that are constantly updated by microdrones, but sometimes they turn off the map for fun, and they don't ask the computer which way to go, because the point is to discover it themselves.





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May 2016 - ?