Eating the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is the most famous picture in the world, right?  I mean, it's one of the handful of paintings that I can't remember ever not knowing its name.  The Wikipedia page on the Mona Lisa quotes someone describing it as "The best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world," in the first sentence of the article. So, no matter how famous you are, no matter how much you accomplish in your life, odds are extremely good that you will never be more famous for any of those achievements than the Mona Lisa is now.

And there's an easy way to tell, as the title might have tipped you off:  If you stole, and ate, the Mona Lisa, that fact about you would annihilate the rest of your legacy as a human being.  If the President of the United States stole and ate the Mona Lisa, centuries after the fact, people would say, "Hey, you know the guy who ate the Mona Lisa?  He was actually a president of the United States!"  Pretty much no-one would say, "Here's an interesting list of facts about President Whatsisface:  Despite its passage, he vehemently opposed the Thirty-Second Amendment, he slept on the White House lawn for fear of terrorists under his bed, he once accidentally said that England was a U.S. state and that we'd seceded from Montana, oh, and he ate a famous painting called the Mona Lisa."

It's hard to think of people to whom this wouldn't apply.  If Tim Berners-Lee ate the Mona Lisa, people would say, "Hey, that guy who ate the Mona Lisa was also the guy who invented the World Wide Web."  If Queen Elizabeth II ate the Mona Lisa, people would say, "That woman who ate the Mona Lisa was queen of Britain at the time."  If Martin Luther King Jr had eaten the Mona Lisa, people would say, "The guy who ate the Mona Lisa was actually a very important civil rights leader before that."

Maybe, maybe, the Pope could come away on equal footing -- the Pope who ate the Mona Lisa, not the guy who ate the Mona Lisa was a pope -- but it would still overshadow everything else about his career.

It's very strange to think about it, but there are things in this world so absurdly famous that if you interacted with them too significantly, your life would be plowed down into a footnote in the story of that thing.

I also think this can be a good diagnostic tool for the present obsession with fame, and with narrative relevance:  I brought this theory up at a party with some college students my age, and several of them immediately agreed that, if their other life plans didn't pan out, if they didn't end up being famous for any other reason, then they would, as a back-up plan, endeavor to steal and eat the Mona Lisa.  Because being significant, for whatever reason, seemed more important to them than any other option they could imagine.  They couldn't think of anything about their futures that could be worth preserving if their bid at fame didn't pan out, instead choosing (or claiming they'd choose) to pointlessly destroy art of incredible cultural significance, just so people would remember it was them that did it.

There was an arsonist in ancient Greece named Herostratus, who, in 356 BC, burned down a major temple that was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.  He did it because he wanted to be famous, and as a punishment the local authorities executed him and tried to outlaw anyone ever repeating his name.

It turns out, there's a whole category of people who have been wiped from memory:  it was a punishment in Rome called damnatio memoriaefor people who'd brought dishonor to their city.  Obviously it would be impossible to do this today, but it seems like a lot of people feel like failing to get themselves adequately recorded is a sort of de facto damnation.

I don't really know what else to say about this.  I can't in good faith condemn the trend, because I'm trying pretty hard to be significant.  Granted, my motivations for continuing to try aren't just "I'm supposed to be famous, that's how it works." But feeling that way, and feeling like my life only mattered if I was hugely important to loads of people, was a big part of why I started, so it would be disingenuous of me to pretend it's not relevant.

But also, it's really horrible and irresponsible, and I hope that it starts to deconstruct itself -- I especially hope that the idea that being remembered is worth it whether or not you're remembered for something good goes away.

China's beautiful hypothetical(?) pebble towers

io9 has an article up about the result of a commission for a proposal to do with the city of Shenzhen -- the proposal is a set of six towers that resemble stacked glass pebbles, which would contain agricultural space all the way up.

One of the frustrating things about io9, eco-cities, and China is that it's really hard to tell which things are serious proposals, which things are already in production, and which things are cool concept sketches that aren't really anywhere near happening.

io9 writes,

The Chinese city of Shenzhen recently commissioned the French firm Vincent Callebaut Architects to come up with an innovative and sustainable building solution for the growing metropolis. The result is this: The Shenzhen Asian Cairn Farmscraper project, an initiative consisting of six mix-used towers structured like a pile of rocks. Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, the buildings will provide space for residents, offices, shops, recreation — and as the name would imply, its own food.

See what I mean? The picture up there looks like a sci fi illustration.  But the text says it will provide space... the result is... they've come up with a solution...

And I, personally, have no idea how to separate (a.) my belief in the plausibility and value of vertical farming and integrating nature with the cityscape, (b.) my awareness that China is pushing ahead in the cutting edge in a lot of ways America isn't, (c.) my awareness that China is big on censorship and propaganda, and this could all just be puffery, and (d.) my lifelong indoctrination into the implicit belief that all new buildings built from now until forever will be ugly concrete or glass modernist rectangles and everything else is just a silly joke.

So I guess the Nook is in decline?

I don't follow much about tablets and e-readers, because I was heavily de-incentivized after Borders closed, because it made me sad.  But according to Slate, in an article titled Barnes & Noble Founder Wants To Repurchase the Core of the Company, B&N is getting ready to abandon ship on their share of the e-reader market:

The attempted Nook pivot has been executed about as well as I think anyone could realistically hope. The Nook devices are good devices. But it's failing as a businessbecause the market only seems to have room for two or three complete tablet ecosystems, and Barnes & Noble just doesn't have what it takes to muscle out Apple, Amazon, and Google in this space.

Gavin and Stacey: an American adaptation

I don't know whether I've talked about it here before, but Gavin and Stacey is/was a British comedy series about a couple meeting up after a long distance relationship, and the culture clashes between a guy from just outside London and a girl from Wales.


Apparently, they're adapting it to an American version.  That link covers all the major facts of the remake.

I have no idea how the hell this adaptation is supposed to work.

I mean, I don't deny the possibility that the remake could be good.  I don't think remakes are inherently awful.  But, and maybe this only seemed like this because I'm an American watching a show from the UK, but it seemed to me the central plot of Gavin and Stacey is the culture clashes between working/middle class Wales and working/middle class England.

There have, apparently, been previous attempts to remake the show in America.  The attempted NBC version was going to cast Gavin in New Jersey and Stacey in South Carolina.  This upcoming one is via Fox, and production "is tentatively set to begin in Los Angeles in March 2013," but Wikipedia doesn't say anything about where the main characters are going to be from.

And, again, this show could be good.  I'll certainly give it a shot.  I just don't know in what sense it would be a remake of Gavin and Stacey.  It seems to me like the only thing the remake status could do is hold it back, forcing the cast to repeat stale and out-of-place jokes rather than develop themselves as characters native to their own story.

I hope that doesn't happen, because I regret the fact that Gavin and Stacey ended after three seasons, and I want there to be a new series that's engaging and satisfying in a similar way.

And whoever Stacey's friend is, it'll definitely hurt the show that, rather than being however good a character she is in her own right, she'll come off, at least at first, as a disappointing Nessa.

Gun owner on gun control

Former(?) critic of gun control legislation James McMurtry discusses, in his article More Than Just A Tall Order, some ways in which the Sandy Hook shooting has made him rethink some of his former positions.  I like a lot of what he says, and want to post some of what I think are the more important bits, here.

Another aspect of the Clinton Crime Bill that I used to think was silly was its restriction of a firearm's magazine capacity to ten rounds. I didn't see what good such a restriction would do. If we assume, however dubiously, that the shooter abides by the law and only carries legal magazines of the proper capacity, what's to stop him from carrying a satchel full of extra mags with which he can shoot all day? Nothing's to stop him, of course, but he will have to re-load more often, and here is where that silly old gun bill might finally have a practical application due to the evolution of police tactics. [...] If a school shooter is not extremely well trained and has to change magazines under duress, he's out of the fight for a second or two, and the highway patrolman, or the deputy sheriff, or the city constable who just happened to be there will have a second or two to fire at the shooter without risking return fire. If I were any kind of a cop in that situation, I would sure appreciate those seconds. The tragedy would still have happened, but the body count might be lower.

It's nice to see a gun owner admit that small steps that might help a little bit are important, that when it comes to killing, less killing is a change worth making -- it doesn't have to be all the killing or none of it.

If we are to call ourselves a society, we will have to behave as a society. We will have to pass laws and make deals, and none of us are likely to be satisfied at the end of the day. This is a symptom of a condition known as Democracy.

I wish that this were a bigger part of the national dialogue.  Nobody getting their whole way is a lot better than the inability to deal with anything at all that the US currently has to settle for.

The thread that runs through Tim McVeigh, Adam Lanza and Charles Whitman is not just mental instability, but rage, pure unfathomable rage. And we are an angry people these days. I don't know why. I suspect that our world is changing faster than we are capable of changing. Some of us feel left out; some of us feel outnumbered; so we're fearful and angry. Our societal anger needs to be acknowledged and addressed, perhaps diagnosed and treated, as do our individual angers.

I don't like the "It's a mental health issue" argument.  I mean, I'm not unhappy about the added attention, funding, and efforts at de-stigmatization that come out of these debates.  But I don't think it's going to help much with the US's gun violence problem -- because our gun violence problem isn't about individual mental illness, it's about an attitude at the societal level, that when your back is against the wall, killing a whole bunch of people is a good response.

I disagree with McMurtry that America's anger comes from rapid change.  I think it's the same cultural anger that fueled the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, McCarthyism, religious radicals, Wall Street, the Tea Party, and the NRA.  It's anger fueled by entitlement -- the idea that, in America, a small group of people with strong feelings about something are allowed to do whatever they want to try and get their way.

I'm not sure anything good has ever come of that anger.  But it's part of our national character, and I'm not sure that America can change that while staying America.  We'd need a new set of myths, a more civil origin story, a less hyperbolically defensive constitution.  And maybe we'll get the chance -- maybe the gridlock in Congress will push America off the cliff, and out of necessity we'll have to accept the aid of the rest of the industrialized world to get us back on our feet.  Maybe then we could have a cultural narrative of humility and gratitude.

Slate on Amish values in technology

Jamey Wetmore at Slate has written an article arguing that new technologies are making us behave more like the Amish, which struck me (as I'm sure was the point) as slightly absurd.  I didn't realize, though, that the Amish values surrounding technology aren't about outright avoidance of electronics or combustion engines -- it's that the Amish take a defensive stance against technology as an effort to protect the family and community.

For many of us, the technology rules the Amish have developed seem arbitrary and silly. But they are actually thought through very well. The Amish meet twice a year in groups of 40-50 families to decide if any rules need to be changed. If someone is thinking about using a new technology, this would definitely be a topic of conversation. What are the metrics for making decisions about technology? Community and family. The Amish believe that the best life is one that is lived in community with fellow believers. The majority of their decisions are driven by the goal of strengthening the ties they have to one another.

So those seemingly arbitrary rules I just mentioned do have a purpose. Why can’t an Amish person buy a car? They’ve seen how our communities have slowly unraveled to the point where many of us don’t even know the names of our neighbors. They think the automobile—which gives us the ability to travel great distances by ourselves quickly—bears a great deal of the blame for this. But they do see the benefit of occasionally using car travel, and if a neighbor wants to lend a hand, spending time with them helps to strengthen their ties.

Jamey makes a lot of solid points in this article.  I mean, I still wouldn't want the rest of civilization to start focusing on family as much as the Amish do.  I think that would be really bad for us, and I think America's reduced emphasis on family is a good thing.

But I like the idea of structuring our relationships with technology to build communities, rather than focusing just on profit and convenience.  This reminds me of one of my favorite TED talks "The shareable future of cities" by Alex Steffen, specifically the bit about halfway through about the drill.

In the event of my death

Delete my internet history. No but seriously, what am I going to do with all my data when I die?  I assume it's going to be a very long time from now, but I can't actually be sure.  And I am completely unprepared.

I've been thinking about this occasionally since I read this interview, between webcomic creators Joey Comeau and Ryan North.  North talks about what's going to happen with all his online affairs after he dies.  His answer, too, is apparently nothing:

Joey: Your career is on computers, and probably a large part of your life is, too. Does anyone else have your passwords? What happens if you die tonight? Will your family be able to get into your email and sort out your affairs? Do you want them to? Have you got a goodbye Dinosaur Comic in your will?

Ryan: I've got nothing. I've come close to setting up a dead man's switch: a program where if I don't check in on it once every week or so, it assumes I'm dead, and goes into action. My final Dinosaur Comic gets posted, friends get pre-composed goodbye emails, enemies get a final "HEY SCREW YOU I'M DEAD BUT I'M STILL KINDA CHEESED AT YOU" message, and important passwords get emailed to my family. But I keep thinking, what if it goes wrong? What if it goes off prematurely and starts trying to tie off the loose ends in my life when I'm still around? It's a risk I haven't taken yet. It might make a good subject for a comic though!

Anyway if you're asking for my passwords they're all "ryaniscool" now.

This is on my mind again today because Cory Doctorow posted an article on Locus Online, The Internet of the Dead, last Friday, and I got around to reading it last night.  A friend of his, a much more exhaustively embedded hacker than Ryan North, passed away, and (because no one knew what to do with it) he offered to store the data until his friend's family knew how to deal with it.

Keeping your data on your live, spinning platter means that it will get saved every time you do your regular backup (assuming you perform this essential ritual!), and if the drive starts to fail, you’ll know about it right away. It’s not like dragging an old floppy out of a dusty box and praying that it hasn’t succumbed to bitrot since it was put away.


if you just stick the PC on a shelf or in a box in the basement until you know what to do with the data, there’s a good chance that the data will be lost. When it comes to computers, storage is fraught with peril. The lubricant on the drives’ bearings dries up and the disks seize. They get flooded out, or damp infiltrates them. They get gnawed by rodents, and insects fill them with droppings.

If natural causes don’t get them, then robbery might.

Ultimately Doctorow puts his friend's files on a cloud drive, where they will be held in an archive for 10 years, prepaid.

I'm not good enough with computers to set up my own dead man's switch, and I can't afford to set up my own cloud drive archive of my whole life.  But I have thought about putting together an envelope, perhaps with a password to a ZIP file I will keep updated with all my current passwords -- or, the ones that I don't want to have entombed upon my passing.  An instruction to locate and post a final blog update, messages to my friends and family, documents appointing artistic and digital executors, and a general outline of what to do if I happen to have some kinds of assets upon my death.

And I think it's a fair bet that I've thought this through more than most of the people I know.  Granted, many of them may not have quite as much of their lives on the interwebs.  But what data they do have online means something, and for some of them, it might be lost forever.

Or, maybe most of the people I know just share all their passwords with their parents, and I'm more than usually paranoid about this sort of thing.

The Bloop: another mystery solved, another dream killed

(via Boing Boing) Damn, I was really hoping this one was Cthulhu. 

The Bloop has been a mystery for over a decade.  It was a strange sound recorded in the deep ocean, heard throughout the ocean.  That sound, when played at sixteen times its original speed, sounds distinctly like a "bloop."  Obviously.

Apparently, the Bloop is the sound that icequakes make.  As of right now, the Wikipedia page has been updated to reflect this new information, but still has a link to the List of unexplained sounds.  There, it appears under "Specific," then under the subhead "Later identified as Ice."

I'm totally thankful for science and stuff, and in an intellectual sense I'm glad that scientists are still figuring stuff like this out.  I mean, that's sort of the point.  I liked the Bloop because it was unexplained.  But it's not a special unexplained thing.  There are plenty of other unexplained things.  And if anything unexplained is cool enough, eventually someone figures it out.

Getting too attached to the existence of particular mysteries seems to generally end up sucking.

We've still got dark matter for at least another few months, though, right?

Presque Vu

Today is the day before Thanksgiving.  So, obviously, one of my professors assigned an exam, worth a large chunk of our grade, and not re-takeable.  I finished the exam very quickly, because I always finish exams very quickly. Part of the reason, I think, that many of the other students were slower than me is that we had the option to take the exam in groups, so most of the rest of the class had to coordinate with two or three other people before they could move on from question to question.

Another part might be that other students in the class check their answers before turning their papers in -- a practice which was suggested to me dozens of times when I was going through K-12, but which studies show is usually an objectively bad idea.

But I wonder if there might be an outright difference in recall speed from person to person.  And that led me to think about the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, and wonder whether it happens to some people more often than others -- maybe some of the other students in my class have more points where they know the answer, but their brains just won't give it up.

Presque Vu

The fact that the French phrase for tip-of-the-tongue is presque vu is one of my favorite pieces of trivia.  The reason I like it so much is that it puts the phenomenon in a family of five feelings, alongside deja vu, déjà entendu, jamais vu, and reja vu.

You probably already know that déjà vu is the experience of feeling that a place or circumstance is familiar, even though you've never experienced it before.  Jamais vu is the opposite -- the feeling of unfamiliarity in a place you should feel familiar with.  (Like when you wake up in a hotel or on someone's couch, expecting to be at home, and have no idea where you are for a few seconds.)  Déjà entendu is déjà vu but with sounds, and reja vu is the feeling that what's happening now is going to happen again.

Presque vu fits in nicely here: the feeling of knowing, without the information to show for it.

I don't know if the other four occur more frequently in some people than others, but I do know that déjà vu varies from person to person -- there was, for example, a guy who had deja vu nearly every day, and kept a journal of the experiences.  Maybe for some people, they have to fight their brain to wrest out every piece of specific information recall.

Exams would be awful for those people.

I want to visit the world's most silent room

(via Reddit) According to an article on the Hindustan Times website, Why world's most silent room is scary, the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the quietest place on earth.  According to the article, it's virtually impossible to stay in for substantial lengths of time:

"We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark - one reporter stayed in there for 45 minutes", said company’s founder and president, Steven Orfield.

The article uses a lot of passive voice, and cites the Mail Online, so I'm not confident about the accuracy of its claims -- but Anechoic chamber is the first thing that comes up when you google Orfield Labs, so I think at least that part is probably true.

I hope the part about them challenging people to stay in it is true, too, because I definitely want to try it out.  I mean, like, if my therapist thinks it's okay.  Sensory deprivation isn't exactly known for encouraging psychological stability -- from "Negative effects" on the Sensory deprivation Wikipedia page:

One study took 19 volunteers, all of whom tested in the lower and upper 20th percentiles on a questionnaire which measures the tendency of healthy people to see things not really there, and placed them into a pitch black, soundproof booth for 15 minutes. After, they completed another test that measures psychosis-like experiences, originally used to study recreational drug users. Five people reported seeinghallucinations of faces, six reported seeing shapes/faces not actually there, four noted a heightened sense of smell and two people reported sensing a "presence of evil" in the room.

I wonder how that would feel, and whether I'd be okay with it.  (I imagine not, since apparently no one has been able to spend more than 45 minutes in one.)  I'm also (surprisingly intensely) curious about what it would sound like to sing in a room that silent.  I imagine a feeling of having my voice pulled out of my throat and taken away, but I don't suspect I'm very good at guessing what that kind of room would sound like.

1984: new work in ENG102! Yay!

We've just finished Grimm's Tales in my English 102 class, and we're just moving on to one of my favorite books, 1984.  Part of the format of this class is writing essays in response to each reading assignment -- 1984's assignments are divided up one for each of the three sections -- and I have a lot of ideas.  And I'm only 12 pages in.  So here's a bit of an idea dump so I can move on with reading. Oppression, Capitalism, and Architecture

The Ministry of Truth -- Minitrue, in Newspeak -- was startlingly different from any other object in sight.  It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters in the air.

This is the Shard.  It is 306.9 meters tall, according to Wikipedia, and is the tallest building in London by far.  I'll grant that it's not made of glittering white concrete, but it's pretty damn closeto looking like the Ministry of Truth.

That said, it's not the home of the British Government's propaganda wing.  It's a private building, full of offices, restaurants, and hotels.  We're in a weird place, as a civilization, where the biggest construction projects we can manage are not the source of nationally organized collective action for the benefit of all, but private enterprises for the benefit of the very wealthy.  The Shard is for corporate offices, and it is, essentially, a gigantic ad sticking out of the center of London, declaring, "We are friendly to Corporate Offices.  Come put your Corporate Offices Here."

The Reactionary Anti-1984

I will grant, unequivocally, that it's a good thing that 1984 didn't come true.  We would not be better off as a world if a lot of countries had ended up going down that road, and I do believe that Orwell gave us the tools to discuss it, and thereby prevent it.

What he didn't do, which is fair enough because we can't expect one writer to fix the whole of the future, was explain how things could go wrong in the other direction.  The use of propaganda in 1984 is oppressive and insane.  But it bred a rabid anti-propaganda culture, where what would have been better in its place is a system of transparent propaganda: more "This is what the government asks of you and why," less "The government has no right to ask anything of you."  Civilization means we're all in this together, and at best the government is our efforts to cooperate, manifest.  In fear of letting it control us, we've completely untoothed it.  Now, we're suffering other kinds of oppression.  (See above: The Shard, corporate overlords.)

Facebook: The self-manifest Telescreen

We're not strictly living in the kind of technological Panopticon that Orwell envisioned.  More like the reverse -- we're living in an increasingly comprehensive environment where, at any time, we could be broadcasting.  See, for example, this blog.

Some of us are hopefully using this for good.  I, personally, see my online presence as a way of holding myself accountable by putting my best self forward and demanding of myself that I live up to my online presence.  But I don't feel like most people have as carefully thought through what version of themselves they're putting forward.

As I've written before, some of our online resources, like Facebook, are engineered to encourage us to put a particular version of ourselves forward.  Facebook encourages us to be nasty, shallow and narrow-minded.  You can use these tools without succumbing to their leanings, but Facebook isn't helping anyone be a better person.

And all your friends could always be watching or listening. The more you use Facebook, the more your silence is conspicuous.

The phenomena Orwell described in 1984 are largely deliberately orchestrated by the Party.  But it's also possible for many of them to occur organically, through the mere existence of the appropriate tools.  Facebook's relevance algorithms encourage everyone to pay closer attention to your relationship status than any other aspect of your life.  Twitter, Tumblre and tagging in general arguably promote a kind of #newspeak.  In this case, the failure of social media companies to make their products actively anti-Orwellian constitutes a failure to prevent the world that Orwell sort-of predicted.


I don't have any ultimate point here.  Any one of these might get expanded into my first paper on 1984, or I might come up with some totally new topic.  I've got like three days to write it, who knows what will happen. (Apart from Google, whose algorithms have presumably already predicted the content of my blog for the next six weeks.)

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Some of my Doctor Who pet theories

I've been mulling over the potential logic of the universe of Doctor Who for a while now, and I think it makes a lot more sense than it seems to at first glance.  I mean, it's still wildly implausible.  But I think some of the major categories of complaints might not be totally valid. My theory relies on the overlapping of the history of the universe many, many times -- which I think is fair, because it's a show about time travel.  If we assume that the state of the universe as it exists is the most recent combination of all the different instances of time travel, the Doctor Who universe makes a lot of sense.

Part 1 of the theory: Time Lords are the many-universe-lengths descendants of humanity.

I think this one is pretty straight-forward.  Humans tinker with time travel enough that they manage it on a scale to save the species, within the timeframe of a single stretch from existence to oblivion.  Then, the Time Lords are the descendants of humans who most obsessively continued to tinker with time travel.

2.  Most of the species throughout the universe are descendants of:

(a.) other strains of the early human time travelers, or

(b.) other earth-native species who were transported during the terraforming of other planets.

This would explain why so many species have so much in common with humanity -- anthropomorphism, speaking language, similar vulnerabilities and dietary needs, sometimes even the ability to interbreed.  (The Daleks might be one of the only other real species in the universe.  Or, they might just be some of the most horrifically corrupted humans.)

3.  The Weeping Angels are the flew-too-close-to-the-sun poetically punished descendants of the most extremist Time Lord experimenters.

They have, as a fact of their existence, unlocked some of the most basic problems of the universe -- applying quantum indeterminacy to a human-scale survival technique, a biological ability to transport people in time, and they're said to be older than time itself -- which could easily be because they were created when some already too-far-gone Time Lords tried to travel outside of the existence of time.


I'm not sure if any of these theories have been articulated before, or who I should credit or nod to if they have.  And they still don't explain the problems of some of the essentially impossible things that go on in Doctor Who -- though that can basically all be chalked up to "Time Lords are way more advanced than we can even begin to imagine."

I also like the vision of the timeline of the universe that this theory provides, because it seems to reflect the way it plays out in the show -- that there's a sort of horizontal flow of time, iterations of the universe, then there's a vertical flow of time that becomes increasingly chaotic and tenuous.

This theory also arguably self-explains why it's not explained in the show -- time is constantly being rewritten.  Many of the processes of point A to point C could continue to exist long after point B has been overwritten a hundred times.  Certain things remain constant, the strongest pillars of truth through time, and certain things become fixed.

As for "Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey," I imagine this all being far more complicated than I've just explained, well beyond my own understanding.  Also: if I ever get to write an episode of Doctor Who, there will be a scene when he spends some time examining a holographic representation of time, trying to figure it out. It will be made clear that "Wibbly-wobly, timey-wimey" is the Doctor's way of saying "I failed that class, stop asking me questions about it."

Optimism about the impending collapse of industry

I wrote last Friday about the fact that I think the impending proliferation of 3D printers is going to cause the industrial economy to collapse.  Since most of the global economy, and the self-worth of a lot of people in industrialized nations, is built on having a job, this transition could be pretty traumatic for a huge number of people. But if we manage to get our crap together and come up with a way to keep having a civilization when there are only enough jobs for a fraction of the population to be employed, there are groups of people who will be unambiguously better off.  For example, employees of Foxconn, a company that makes some of the iPhone's components.

On Sunday, employees at Foxconn's Taiyuan plant rioted against the security guards who monitor them.  There were about 2000 employees involved.  This riot, which was sparked by a failure of the management to deliver on a promised pay raise, was not, apparently, the first one.  SourceFed covered it, here's their video:

I thought about trying to figure out whether the iPhone could still be produced and sold anywhere near its current scale, if all the employees involved were paid a working wage.  But Apple is notoriously secretive about their products and working conditions, and I wouldn't begin to know where to start.

The way I'd go about it, though, is to figure out how many people are involved, and bump all their wages up to a living wage in their region.  Ideally, labor would also be redistributed among a broader number of employees working fewer, less demanding hours, which would increase labor costs a bit more, as well as adding some more cost to overhead.

Shipping would likely stay the same.  Any part of the process currently done manually which could be automated would change.

Then, I'd take the amount of extra money it would cost to maintain the current rate of iPhone sales at their current costs, and see how it matches up against the salaries of the highest earners in the company.  Here are some of the ways I'd look for places the money could come from:

  • (a.) Reducing the pay of the highest paid executives, but not below 300 times the lowest-paid employee, (If the lowest paid employee makes $4/hr, then at a 40-hour workweek the highest-paid employee could make about $250,000/year.)
  • (b.) Reducing the pay of highly trained employees such as engineers and graphic designers by the amount they pay in student loan debt, assuming their debt would be forgiven and future American education would be socialized,
  • (c.) Requiring cell phone carriers to pay an amount of money to the phone creators proportional to the standards of (a.) being applied to their executives, as well.  (It wouldn't be all of it, though -- some of that money should go back into infrastructure, and some of it should go towards cutting the costs of cell phone service.)

I have no idea if those changes would actually allow for the iPhone, or any smart phone, to be produced ethically.  It's totally possible we might still be a decade or two away from the technology to produce ethical smartphones.  Sometime soon, though, I think I'm going to try to dig up this information -- if not for Apple, then for some other companies with unethical supply chains, and see if I can find what luxuries the less wealthy Americans enjoy that involve poor people suffering only to make the super-rich richer.