Weird, Wonderful and Watch Your Back
How weird is money?
As a gift this year for one of my brother’s birthdays, I gave him $100 trillion dollars.
You might think this was perhaps overly generous, but it only cost me $9 Canadian for that denomination of Zimbabwean currency.
Zimbabwe in Africa in June, 2008, under the dictatorship of Richard Mugabe enjoyed an annual rate of inflation of 11.2 million percent. The country abandoned its currency soon after and uses the US dollar and the euro to get by.
How did this come to be? In the end, it reflects the lack of credibility of the regime. And there were so many bank notes produced for wars and corruption they lost any common sense of value.
In the 1920s, the Weimar Republic in Germany underwent a similar inflation with its money, although one of the causes there was the insistence by the victorious nations that Germany make economy crippling reparations for WWI (and thereby set the stage for Hitler’s rise to power).
Geopolitics aside, the tactile reality of the Zimbabwean trillion dollars banknote in my hand and its accompanying lack of substance provides me with a little meditation on the nature of money.
Oh…. Sorry, I like to just sit around and contemplate these things without necessarily reaching any conclusions…. I muse about Money as a modern god with economists as high priests, about what really does carry value, about all the artificialities we as humans rely upon for our sense of worth.
It’s interesting to note that bitcoin, a “decentralized digital currency” is starting to come into prominence. It’s not your everyday currency: there is no central bank or organization but a distribution network based on the internet.
Some people actually view it as an investment, but the Bitcoin open-source developer defines the system as an “experiment.” It is quickly becoming influential.
One recent headline reads: “Bitcoin Prices Blasts Through $100, Driving Speculators Wild.”
Artful renditions of childhood’s weird creatures
These are probably more an adult’s darker elaboration of the simple line-drawings that we made as kids, but there’s still a truthful element about that scary monster under the bed.
In an article by Rian van der Merwe, I discovered Dave DeVries’ The Monster Engine project. It was initiated by an impulse to make his niece’s drawings come to life, as DeVries does for various comic publications.
The whole gallery is on view at The Monster Engine website….
The wonderful Global Village Construction Set
Moving on to the wonderful, we come to the open technological platform of the Global Village Construction Set.
It reminds me, in a way, of my own feeling about the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica as a way to restart Western civilization, if we should ever want to.
But the GVCS as it is known provides a likelier shortcut: plans for fabrication of the 50 different industrial machines that it would take to create a comfortably modern environment from scratch.
They include such machines as the 3D printer (which might be invaluable in the assembly of some of the other 49), the 50 kW wind turbine, the dairy milker, the hay rake, and the laser cutter.
The whole enterprise is being developed by a network of farmers, engineers and supporters. They are working to make the plans for all these machines available to everyone. (For a short video on what they’re up to, see here.)
If you’re into TED talks, there’s a four minute intro there. (TED being a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing out ideas on Technology, Entertainment and Design. It’s kind of a wonderful thing too, actually.)
The wonder of pee power
In line with this same innovative frame of mind, an article caught my attention about four young girls from Nigeria who are working on developing an electrical generator which runs on piss.
Their idea is to use an electrolytic cell to crack the urine into nitrogen, water and hydrogen. The hydrogen is purified through a water filter and goes into a cylinder which pushes the hydrogen into another cylinder with borax (readily available) to remove moisture. The hydrogen can be then used to power the generator and provide six hours of electricity for every litre of urine.
This might be a more worthwhile startup idea than Facebook….
Nine-year-old Socrates in a backyard
You really should go look at this post by Robert Krulwich who writes on science on the National Public Radio website: it’s about a conversation a friend of his had with a 9-year-old boy in a Washington backyard patio which the friend felt compelled to put on video. The boy’s mother nonchalantly mentions that the lad is “interested in cosmology.”
In the video, the young one has a refreshingly large view of things, beyond his years. Towards the end of his remarks, I am taken by the saving grace of his or any other person’s thought process, a position of freedom and essential equilibrium: “But then again, I might be wrong.”
With this ‘don’t know’ mind he wiggles and fidgets like the fourth grader he is, while he discusses with obvious passion the clear ideas that come to him about life, the universe and destiny.
The first human holy place?
I am fascinated by antiquity, and human history (or what we are able to know of it) as it fades into pre-history. I think such artifacts as the Antikythera Mechanism, and sites such as the first known religious structure at Gobleki Tepe in Turkey, reflect the possibility of complex human civilizations reaching much farther back into those prehistoric mists than current scientific wisdom is willing to allow.
At Gobleki Tepe, with structures dating back to 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, the site has been described as “massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery.”
The archaeologist who discovered the site, Klaus Schmidt, feels certain that this is the first human holy place. He has said, “We are 6,000 years before the invention of writing here.”
Schmidt is advocating a different model of civilization based on what he has found at Gobleki Tepe. Rather than civilizations of sufficient development producing such a remarkable and sophisticated structure, it was the urge to glorify their sense of the sacred which led the ancient hunters and gatherers to create civilization.
To build this site required a great concentration of materials, people and organization. Sociocultural changes come first, then agriculture in this view.
It’s just that I find a certain arrogance in such statements as: “At the time of Göbekli Tepe’s construction much of the human race lived in small nomadic bands that survived by foraging for plants and hunting wild animals.” [From the article in National Geographic.]
On extremely limited data, inference and supposition, all of pre-history is constructed for us in this way. Perhaps there’s more and different that hasn’t been discovered yet.
The National Geographic article goes on to say:
“Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife.”
And from another site:
“The unique method used for the preservation of Gobeklitepe has really been the key to the survival of this amazing site. Whoever built this magnificent monument, made sure of its survival along thousands of years, by simply backfilling the various sites and burying them deep under, by using an incredible amount of material and all these led to an excellent preservation.”
Almost like a time capsule….
The Watch Your Back part
In line with the dangers of the coming surveillance society (as I remarked upon some time back in Subversive Fiction), I came across a recent news item or two on spyware called FinFisher being marketed by a European software company called Gamma International.
According to Wikipedia, the “surveillance suite is installed after the target accepts installation of a fake update to commonly used software.”
This is software ostensibly being offered to law enforcement agencies and other government organizations. Unfortunately, Egyptian dissidents who helped overthrow Hosni Mubarak found that Egypt’s savage secret police had a contract with Gamma International.
Activists in the Persian gulf kingdom of Bahrain were targeted by the software and FinFisher servers have also been found in the authoritarian regimes of Turkmenistan and Ethiopia.
“It’s installing a backdoor on your computer to record your Skype conversations and go through your email,” said a recent report based on Canadian research.
Very recently, a French based journalists’ organization called the company one of the “five corporate enemies of the Internet.”
The software is now being used in Canada by someone or something, as servers hosting the software have been found here. Such servers are also found in the United States among 25 other countries.
If you like science fiction….
In an effort to end in a more imaginative place, and as a reward for any reader who makes it this far (if they like science fiction), here is a link that includes the 6 minute and 26 second short film R’ha.
In that brief time, we are given a fully realized story and quite amazing special effects for such a small scale production. It’s in high-definition and I recommend sizing it for viewing as large as you can.
It fits in the wonderful category, although it has its share of weird as well. I like the alien….
Notes on images, from top down:Art, Awareness, Culture, Environment, Internet, Politics, Science Fiction