Warren Ellis: A Séance for the Future

Posted by on October 28th, 2012
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The Animated “Stoned Ape”

Posted by on August 1st, 2011

Longtime readers will know by now that – scientific issues aside – some of us here at Grinding have a fondness for the “Stoned Ape” theory of the evolution of consciousness, language and technology.

The following video details a… version of that theory – with killer videodrome singularity robots, too.

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“This is a clip from Duncan Trussell’s Comedy Central Pilot “Thunderbrain.” The animation and voice over was by Will Carsola from daybyday (www.livedaybyday.com) and it was produced by RZO Hothouse (http://www.hhouseproductions.com/)”

The Empathic Civilisation

Posted by on July 13th, 2011
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via Wes Unruh

TEDTalk: The Anthropocene

Posted by on April 23rd, 2011

Executive Director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute, Professor Will Steffen, takes us on a journey through the science measuring humanity’s effect on the planet. Using tangible, real measures, Will shows us the profound change in the planet since the Industrial Revolution and argues that now, more than at any other time, humanity is the single most influential factor in global changes; so much so that we should recognise that now is the age of mankind – The Anthropocene.

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Unfortunately, this is unlikely to sway a climate-change denialist, but regardless, it’s an excellent overview of this important theory.

Transcendent Man

Posted by on March 4th, 2011

Your Friday Afternoon Movie for this week…

…yes, I AM stealing the “Friday Afternoon Movie” from COILHOUSE - we’ll keep it between us, right?

Your Friday Afternoon Movie for today is: Transcendent Man: the Life and Ideas of Ray Kurzweil.  Long time readers will know that I’m not the world’s biggest cheerleader for Kurzweil, but this documentary is still very much worth a look, even if you’re a grumpy old creature like myself.  The film is 9 parts on youtube.

The Real Life Civilization-Building Kit

Posted by on February 2nd, 2011

Making these machines, the group explains, is 8 times cheaper than buying them from manufacturers, on average. And in a world where resources might be scarcer than we anticipate more quickly than we anticipate, their ambitious project could prove to be a vital one. They’re publishing the full schematics and diagrams on their Wiki, so anyone can use them once shit goes Mad Max. If the internet still works, that is. OK, maybe you should print them out now just to be safe.

Via Gizmodo.

Molly Friedrich’s Unseen Technology

Posted by on January 26th, 2011


Policing Genes

Posted by on January 21st, 2011

The honey bee, pollinator and drug insect:

The genetics of the plants in your garden could become a police matter. Pharmaceutical companies are experimenting with genetically engineering plants to produce useful and valuable drugs. However, the techniques employed to insert genes into plants are within reach of the amateur… and the criminal. Policing Genes speculates that, like other technologies, genetic engineering will also find a use outside the law, with innocent-looking garden plants being modified to produce narcotics and unlicensed pharmaceuticals

Via Next Nature.

Open Source Superheroes, Idoru, and the Batman

Posted by on November 26th, 2010

(Continued from Brands, Prosthetic Identities and the Batman.)

What if you could opt-in to a prosthetic identity like Batman’s or Kanye West’s?

What if you could Be Batman?

Mentioned here (and everywhere else on the internet) this week, J-Pop star Hatsune Miku is a fictional android, a sex symbol, a popular product spokeswoman, and the output of a vocal software package.  As such, “she” is not just a saccharine-sweet corporate-operated pitchwoman but also a prosthetic identity that anyone with access to her software package can participate in the co-creation of.  It was arguably this open feature of “her” prosthetic identity that allowed her to become so popular.

However, I’d like to approach this notion a bit more directly – after all, this is a blog addressing self-upgrading culture, innit?

There’s been a lot of talk about Real Life Superheroes this week thanks to a recent incident in Seattle that returned the idea of the RLSH to web-consciousness after KICK-ASS vanished from the theaters.   Is the idea of putting on a costume and leaping into action on the streets of The City so strange?   Well, probably, but that hasn’t stopped a surprising number of people from doing it regularly over the past decade.  Existing long before KICK-ASS (in fact the book KICK-ASS’s first bit of viral promotion was a video that made the Myspace Real Life Superhero rounds before leaking into the internet mainstream) there was a loose network of folks in costumes in cites around the world.

With the World Superhero Registry serving as one of a handful of internet hubs, real life superheroes do everything from patrolling the streets and paying parking meter fines, to cutting the blocks off cars with an angle grinder.  Many do little more than visit hospitals to talk to kids and champion various causes.  Never let it be said that volunteering with kids at a hospital is a bad thing .

The problems with this approach are legion.  Even the crime-patrolling supes are doing little more than what citizen vigilante group the Guardian Angels has been doing for years – just in cooler gear.  On the other hand, Guardian Angels have died at the hands of police and criminals and they’ve suffered the problems that any vigilante organization does.   The only place I’ve actually seen the Guardian Angels in action personally is post-Katrina New Orleans where they were almost universally loathed by the residents I spoke to.    Replace the capes and tights fetishism with a desire to play soldier, and you’ve got the ideologically troubling Minutemen who patrol the United States’ border with Mexico – often armed.

The flip side of KICK-ASS’ “rocket launchers and jetpacks” fictional real-life superheroism is Brian Bendis’ SCARLET which tells the story of a Portland teen, who when her boyfriend is killed by corrupt police, begins killing cops and organizing a community of like-minded people to fight institutionalized corruption.  It’s a story that showcases how Real Life Superheroism could could veer into armed vigilantism:  What if I want to be the Punisher or the Boondock Saints instead of Batman?

Still, the current of what I call autosuperheroism has been running pretty strongly through media recently.  I love superheroes and a lot of folks do as well; there’s a reason the movies do well and the books are the life-support of a sick publishing industry.  Superheroes are awesome, especially when divorced from the fascist power fantasies and stripped to a core of “we can do extraordinary things if we try”.  (The “auto” part comes in from embracing the idea that nobody else is going to rescue us – we’re going to have to do it ourselves.)  It could be just a thing from my personal sample-group and the cross-section of the internet I live in – where activism, comics, social-justice, sustainability and futurism cross-over – but there really seems to be an autosuperheroic vibe out there right now.

“Something is going on there, a strange collapse. Like you said, more and more people want to become superheroes, even as comic-book writers and filmmakers have spent the last 10 years trying to make superheroes much more real, relatable and convincing.”

We can all be Batman?

As I said elsewhere, the transformation of Batman into Batman, Inc allowed the Batman brand to act where Batman was not present.  I compared it to MEND in its ability to self-organize and be embraced by previously unaffiliated entities.  There’s a core to that mobility and the ethos that a “Batman, Inc” would propagate that I believe can be adopted in a very real and practical way that is strangely far more literal than dressing up as a bat.

While traditionally visible mostly to marginalized subcultures and groups, the collapse of infrastructure in the Western World (especially America) has been increasingly visible over the last few years.  Here in the US, we got to watch a city drown while the government watched and did almost nothing to intervene as well as other glaring examples of the people “we” were told would “save us” not being there when needed.  In the medwest, cities like Gary and Detroit start to wither on the vine as “we” watch.  So many people I know suddenly had the idea, even if it was one that didn’t blow their minds, that in the event of an emergency there may not be anyone to save them.

Meanwhile, everyone’s 15 minutes of fame continues to be parceled in 10-second bursts and the participatory panopticon becomes the norm of the interconnected world, offering media prosthetics in exchange for perpetually being in a low-watt spotlight.    It’s a confluence of media influences and environmental stresses that could just make taking pages from the four-colour playbook look like a good idea.

In a world where prosthetic identities are commonplace, we can all be rockstars – and superheroes are rockstars that help people.  Being something bigger than ourselves isn’t a superhuman feat in a world where Twitter lets you crowdsource solutions in seconds behind an @-handle that may be more recognizable than your birth name.

Geek culture helps birth Maker culture.  Suddenly “makerspaces” are viable community resources.  Highly-networked organizations like Burners without Borders, Geeks Without Bounds and various Worldchanging spin-offs can leverage that networking to react quickly to problems and use local resources to help solve problems when infrastructure, for whatever reason  fails.   People who couldn’t give two tugs about Bruce Wayne are able to use their media footprint and digital prosthetics to organize in a way that stands to have real lasting impact on actual human lives.  The lesson from Batman, Inc becomes:  The ability to mobilize along the lines of 4th Generational Warfare – even, or especially in non-combat circumstances - is a superpower.

I have friends who are Street Medics; tossing on colorful tough clothes to go out into violent situations and help the wounded.    Wikileaks, love them or hate them, is a team of people (many with secret identities) that manages to keep whole governments on their toes using volunteers, donations and support from the crowd milling about the internet.  (Sadly, that description fits terrorist networks such as Al-Quadea, as well.  The same technologies and social structures that allow a previously unthinkable ability to leverage distributed resources – often in spite of geography – are also the things that allow wide-scale disruption and crime.)

The same current that gives us real life superheroes trying to help others spawns variants when it hits other spheres of interest.   Zombie lovers teach preparedness  in the US while the LARPers at a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. event in Russia get lessons on firearms handling and wilderness survival. (And those very real people who make their living within the real Chernobyl Exclusion Zone take on the name “Stalkers” co-opting the parlance of the movie and the video games.)   Tactical fashion slides into mainstream consciousness via William Gibson’s Zero History.  I can’t be the only one who sees in the “gear queer” fetishism an acknowledgement that the normal trappings of military lifestyle are associated with a machine that is ill-prepared for the world around it.  And if the military is losing its legitimacy – then we should do it ourselves, right? (Or at least look like we could.)

In the end, stripped of the technical language and self-upgrading futurist posturing, the idea that we can all be Batman if we want to is a valid one.   Batman is a man who took the darkest thing in his life and turned it into a superpower – who here doesn’t have a loss or tragedy that they wouldn’t like to weaponize or utilize to improve the environment?   Superheroes are a secular pantheon that instead of sitting above us unattainably, move through our lives as stories and challenge us to emulate them and join them.  They are an artistic transmission vector for the program of a finer world.  Batman will be punching things long after we’re all dead or uploaded; Batman, Incorporated or no Batman, Inc.  A brand is a story – a story that is often used to disenfranchise humans and  make the world a little less than it could be, sadly.  The idea of Batman as a brand is the idea of the narrative of Batman being able to help others in the absence of a Physical Batman.  Just like the prosthetic identities and micro-brands we use and generate ourselves are stories.   Just as I hope the story I tell in order to feel out the interconnected world is one that might help someone, somehow – the story of Batman is that of someone using their broken heart to help the person standing next to them.

We’ve all got broken hearts, and we’re all standing next to people who could use help.

We can all be Batman.

You can even wear the cape, if you want.

HP Invents a Central Nervous System for the Earth

Posted by on February 19th, 2010

HP has just unveiled an incredibly ambitious project to create a “Central Nervous System for the Earth” (CeNSE) composed of billions of super sensitive, cheap, and tough sensors. The project involves distributing these sensors throughout the world and using them to gather data that could be used to detect everything from infrastructure collapse to environmental pollutants to climate change and impending earthquakes. From there, the “Internet of Things” and smarter cities are right around the corner.

HP is currently developing its first sensor to be deployed, which is an accelerometer 1,000 times more sensitive than those used in the Wii or the iPhone – it’s capable of detecting motion and vibrations as subtle as a heartbeat. The company also has plans to use nanomaterials to create chemical and biological sensors that are 100 million times more sensitive than current models. Their overall goal is to use advances in sensitivity and nanotech to shrink the size of these devices so that they are small enough to clip onto a mobile telephone.

Once HP has created an array of sensors, the next step is distributing them and making sense of all the data they generate. That’s no easy task, granted that a network of one million sensors running 24 hours a day would create 20 petabytes of data in just six months. HP is taking all that number crunching to task however, and will be harnessing its in-house networking expertise, consulting, and data storage technologies for the project.

Link via inhabitat.com.

Nine Strategies of Geo-engineering

Posted by on February 19th, 2010

From nextnature.net.

Conceptual (h)ear Piercing Jewelery

Posted by on February 10th, 2010

From core77.com:

The Deafinite Style is a concept from Munich-based Designaffairs STUDIO that turns a hearing aid into a piece of jewelry, provided you’re up for a bit of lobe stretching to get started. The main advantage they propose (aside from an instant hipster-grunge-punk look) is the opportunity to embed the TriMic System — a highly effective directional microphone system made from 3 individual microphones — into the plug, helping people who suffer from severe hearing loss.

“Original Sound Track”

Posted by on January 22nd, 2010

Any future Beethoven’s in the house?

Oh my goodness this is cute. The design you’re about to experience is called “Original Sound Track” and it’s basically a sound box flipped inside out and turned into a train on tracks. Set up your tracks, which have pins in them in just the right places, wind up your train car and set it on the tracks, and wowie! You’ve got your own little sound compilation! Made for kids, but who am I to say you adult figures can’t have one for yourself.

When this train makes it to production, it will come with 10 pieces of track which can be arranged in any number of different ways, allowing for the kid who runs it to make lots of different fresh songs! Then, just like any good modern toy, this train has song tracks you can buy separately. I’ll be in line the day they release the Chemical Brothers tracks! Or the Kraftwerk tracks – how awesome would that be?

This toy is basically GOING to inspire creativity and growth in cognitive ability in any child that uses it. Arranging music is intense – this is by far the simplest way to get a child excited about creating real amazing songs. Who DOESNT want their kid to become a composer!?

Video and link via yankodesign.

Infographic Money Concept

Posted by on January 20th, 2010

tokyo based designer mac funamizu wondered what would happen if we rethought how coins were designed with an infographic perspective. funamizu remarks on the merits and drawbacks of round coins. while he acknowledges their benefits he wanted to see if they could be redesigned in a way that was more universally understood. this would benefit travelers and people not accustomed to a specific currency. the idea barrows from the world of graphic design, giving each coin an infographic form that corresponds to pie charts. a one dollar coin is a circle, while a two dollar coin is two. the smaller increments are segments of the circle or perforated to show what percentage they represents. while this idea wouldn’t work very well in things like vending machines, it makes you think about alternative ways we could design money.

Link via designboom.com, photos from petitinvention.

The Venn Diagram of Art and Science

Posted by on December 7th, 2009


The above picture is from Ariana Osborne’s blog, where she lays down some solid ranting regarding the “opposing” disciplines of Art and Science.

Tribal Communication Technology

Posted by on November 30th, 2009

Possible future communication devices:

Telecom shops already seem to be growing phones in infinite variations. Nonetheless, students of the University of Dundee managed to find an original twist by creating a series of extremely specialized phones that communicate music, communicate nearness, or give you a massage when you get a message. I especially like the ‘tribal’ design of the series of devices. Although the wood style is somewhat illustrative, it is well chosen to provoke a debate about the tribal communication technology penetrating our everyday lives.

From nextnature.net.

Phone Booths turned into Smoking Booths

Posted by on November 27th, 2009

Once a place to get away and make a call in privacy, phone booths now provide a place of refuge for smokers who want to get out of the cold or just smoke in peace.

Phone booths by graphic designer Simone de Graef, link and photo via nextnature.net.

Eclipse Phase

Posted by on October 12th, 2009

I remember reading a scan of an old real print comic once.  The character in it was railing against the imaginary people of his imaginary world, taking them to task about their dissatisfaction with the future they lived in.  But it was really aimed at the stupid people who wanted their stupid little futures and who were too stupid to see that the future is now.  It’s always now.  Except it isn’t anymore.  The TITANs changed that.  The future is now yesterday, and last week, and ten years ago.


In August of this year, I had the opportunity to interview Rob Boyle and Brian Cross – two of the minds behind the post-singularity, transhumanist horror Role-Playing Game ECLIPSE PHASE.  We covered a lot of topics — from details about the game and the game world to the singularity, technology’s influence on politics, reputation economies, anarcho-transhumanism and more.

(Also?  Creative uses for bacon in the dark post-singularity future.)


You can listen to the interview (recorded August 7th, 2009 in a noisy bar during the GEN CON gaming gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana) here:

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(Or you can download it in a podcast format from here.)  As a minor warning, there are some setting spoilers in the interview.

ECLIPSE PHASE comes out this week in the US and elsewhere from bookstores and gaming retailers.  (Or in PDF format from Drive Thru RPG.)

Prosthetics with aesthetics

Posted by on October 5th, 2009

Concept prosthetic porn:

This prosthetic arm was designed by Hans Alexander Huseklepp, a designer in Norway.

It is designed to be connected to the wearer’s nervous system, like the most advanced, but less aesthetically designed, prosthetics currently are.

Because each of its joints is a globe joint it is capable of a larger freedom of movement than a normal human arm.

The exterior parts of the arm are made from the plastic Corian, the inner layer is textile.

This image is a model built to demonstrate the concept.

Via newscientist.com.

The Suck Free Internet Manifesto

Posted by on September 15th, 2009

Social Media Blogger Sarah Dopp has some things to say about how we can remove the Suck from the Internet.  I tend to agree with her, vehemently.

I believe that all web-based interactions operate on the same principles as in-person interactions.

I believe in social karma. I believe that all people deserve to be respected and treated with kindness, and that whenever you choose not to do this, you set yourself up to suffer consequences, whether directly or indirectly. I don’t care how much they pissed you off. You still have the choice to be nice. (”Smile from the wrists down.” -@Gwenners)

I believe in social capital. I believe that if you have something to sell or promote, your existing relationship to a community determines your ability to get what you want when you ask for favors or put things in front of people. I believe that if you want your community to support you, you need to first support your community.

I believe that your web presence is an extension of your offline presence, and that the sum of all your parts make up you as a complex human being. I believe it’s okay to represent different personas online as long as you can face the fact that they’re allparts of you.


I believe that sucking at the Internet is both voluntary and optional.

I believe the Internet is awesome, and that it is worth getting excited about.

I believe that we are awesome. And we are worth getting excited about.

Check out the whole thing here.