Log: 7/16/2021


This week: low-density ancient urbanism, an extraction-free Atacama Desert, AI and climate change, and Wakanda.

3d view of Tikal (PACUNAM/Marcello Canuto & Luke Auld-Thomas, via NPR)

The real urban jungle: how ancient societies reimagined what cities could be, Patrick Roberts

Most cities around the world, while still considerably varied, seem to have comparable density, layout, and land-use. The ancient tropical cities of the Khmer and Classic Maya empires were more sprawled and interspersed with agricultural plots and "forest gardens". In general they sound more integrated with the environment—perhaps easier because unlike the cities that would come later they were not yet inundated with toxic industry. Whether or not the impact of urban living shakes out to be an environmental net positive or negative is something I've meant to read more about but yet haven't gotten around to. But these examples of different forms of urban life are nice to think about, even if they occurred under tremendously different circumstances.

Lithium Landscapes: From Abstract Imaginaries to Deep Time and Multi-Scalar Topologies, Samir Bhowmik

A reflection on the vast timescales that give rise to lithium and the earthbound terraforming (human extraction of) lithium gives rise to. I especially like this painting:

Lithium Fields by Mafalda Paiva. (Image copyrights belong to Mafalda Paiva)

Portuguese artist Mafalda Paiva's painting Lithium Fields, which depicts the Atacama Desert reminds us of what could have been—a paradise instead of an extractive landscape. In the artist’s vision, “the salt flats hum with a preternatural vibrancy, an effect produced by the exaggerated density of species and radically foreshortened topography.”

These Are The Startups Applying AI To Tackle Climate Change, Rob Toews

I'm skeptical that AI can be applied to substantially help mitigate climate change. There are specific applications that seem to be useful, e.g. around power efficiency, the development of new materials, etc. It probably has a role to play but hard to say whether it will be much more than other technologies treated with far less fervor—this article breathlessly states: "Artificial intelligence is the most powerful tool that humanity has at its disposal in the twenty-first century."

I wonder if the wide proliferation of AI that many of its proponents either foretell or actively try to engineer through their own companies/investments will net out positive or negative in terms of carbon, given the intense energy requirements to train the largest, most sophisticated models. If AI is commodified and so as unnecessarily ubiquitous as microchips then perhaps it'll come out net positive emissions.

This list of companies claiming to use AI against climate change is interesting, especially because it reveals what it means to publications like Forbes to "tackle" climate change. Several of the companies are focused on identifying climate risks or managing climate insurance for businesses. A great deal of time is spent companies applying AI to carbon offsets, which looks more like companies bending over backwards to legitimize a completely ineffective/actively harmful way of "addressing" climate change rather than actually working to reduce their emissions. The "solution" to offsets sounds like more surveillance infrastructure.


I'm not a big fan of the MCU, but the creation of a cinematic universe opens up a lot of storytelling and character possibilities so I reluctantly follow along every so often to see what they're doing with that capacity. I wish it were some other more interesting, less indulgently militaristic fictional universe that had the resources to do something like that. Instead we get Marvel and soon the Mattel Cinematic Universe.

Ever since I found Wakanda listed as a US free trade partner I wondered how Wakanda might relate to other countries and how people outside perceive it. While reading Doomwar I came across this off-handed mention from Shuri:

I'm so curious about the terms of that loan. The first Black Panther movie wrestled a bit with Wakanda's responsibility towards its neighboring nations or developing nations (as it used to posture as) but if I recall it never really answered that question. I haven't watched Black Panther recently so forgive any misremembering, but I believe Killmonger was just defeated without any satisfying resolution to his analysis/proposals about spreading Wakanda's wealth. IIRC he proposed distributing vibranium for uprisings across the world—even if T'Challa disagreed with violent uprisings, maybe the spreading of that wealth is worth considering. Although given what Shuri says here, maybe that's exactly what they're doing. But again, I wonder on what terms?

I wonder if in some ways the now-opened Wakanda is perceived in similar ways to how China is perceived in our world. I don't know what it takes to qualify as a "superpower" but I imagine Wakanda checks off many of those boxes. Surely many people in the MCU pin their hopes on Wakanda to usurp the planetary hegemons...sadly, they'll probably be disappointed.

Log: 6/05/2021


This week: Comfort with contradictions, anime and Gen Z

Dialetheism and Eastern Philosophy

We recently finished watching The Good Place, which was very sweet. Overall I enjoyed it, but there was one plot hole that I was disappointed to see left unaddressed, I'll leave it in the footnotes to avoid spoilers1.

The other disappointment is the show's heavy (maybe exclusive) reliance on Western philosophy2 I don't really blame the show for this because it's just an enormous problem in how philosophy is taught in general. Something else that would have been nice to include is a reckoning with the extraordinary racism of Kant (see the previous link for some examples).

That's all to say that after the show I wanted to read more on non-Western ethical systems. This interview introduced me to the idea of "paraconsistency" and I got sidetracked into reading about dialetheism, which is the view that statements can be both true and false (in orthodox logics statements can only be one or the other; such inconsistencies "explode", i.e. entail everything to be true). The simplest example is the Liar's Paradox, which in one sentence is "this statement is false". My understanding is that under dialetheism this statement is not a paradox and to be rejected but accepted as-is.

As the SEP entry on dialetheism explains, dialetheism shows up a lot in Eastern philosophies (as well as in Western philosophy: dialectics, for example). The Daodejing and Zhuangzi are riddled with them. "The Way of the Dialetheist: Contradictions in Buddhism" (Yasuo, Garfield, Priest) gives an overview of how dialetheism shows up in Buddhism, describe some interpretative possibilities: are they presented as literal/true, or are they used as rhetorical/pedagogical tools for insight (as in Zen)?

My own understanding is usually that these apparent contradictions are not actually the case—for example, a common form is to say that thing X has property Y and Z such that those simultaneously having two properties is inconsistent/impossible, which I often take to mean "thing X" refers to our term for X and not X itself; and that in fact that term refers to two things that are different. For example, "race is real and not real" could refer to how race is not "real" as in it is an immutable part of the universe but is still "real" as social reality—as something that feels total and inescapable in our lives.

But this interpretation doesn't work in many cases. When Buddha says "the ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth", that seems to be more of a straight-up contradiction.

Welcome to Planet Egirl, Cecilia D'Anastasio

I definitely feel old given how much more I've been reading about subcultures through publications like Wired rather than experiencing them. But I'm struck by how much anime has influenced Gen Z and how visible/trendy it is, whereas for my generation it was an almost clandestine activity. Ariel brought up a good question: is this a popularization of Japanophilic culture or is anime being separated out? Anime production is still more or less the exclusive domain of Japan as far as I'm aware.

  1. To get Michael to understand human ethics they have him confront his own mortality, which I take to mean that human ethics is grounded human mortality. But once you're in the afterlife, you're no longer mortal. So why would you still be judged according to an ethical standard that no longer applies to you? 

  2. I hoped that the afterlife-ending gateway would actually lead them to be reincarnated; it would have been a nice gesture at non-Western conceptions of the afterlife and set a stage for introducing different ethics systems. 

Log: 5/28/2021


This week: The secularization/Westernization of Buddhism, IDEO, UFOs/UAPs, and #fixingfashion.

Questions on the origins of Buddhist concepts and Is secular Buddhism looked down upon in the Buddhist community?

Very interesting to read these threads on secularized/western Buddhism—which tries to "sanitize" Buddhism of its more fantastical elements. The western presentation often boils down to something like: "life is suffering, suffering is driven by desire, end desire to escape suffering". Maybe the notion of karma remains because it's in line with other western folk wisdom (e.g. "what goes around comes around"), but other elements like rebirth or that the Buddha had supernatural insight/powers are dismissed as nonsense. Even what it means to be "enlightened", as one commenter notes, is different under this secularized view: "Do you imagine that enlightenment just means feeling calm?". Maybe this kind of secularization or tampering down is a typical course for religions—thinking about secular Jews and most Christians I've met don't believe angels are real—but with Buddhism in particular it has strong colonialist overtones (usually from white people and with some implication that people who do believe in the supernatural elements are backwards/ignorant for doing so—unenlightened in the sense of "the Enlightenment").

I don't necessarily mind secular Buddhism as a concept (the problem is more the industry around it and its extractive/appropriative nature) but it's this attempt to re-write the historical image of the Buddha to conform to those beliefs—such that there exists an "authentic Buddhism" that does away with the elements you don't like—that is upsetting.

Surviving IDEO, George Aye

I worked at IDEO almost a decade ago—it was my first "real" job out of college, and so I didn't have any prior office experience to compare things to, but it was clear that there was a lot of kool-aid to drink and a lot of people drank it. I joined as part of a new team that was separate from the company's typical design consulting work (we were brought into help out with specific technical needs here and there) and so I was fortunate enough to be insulated from a lot of the broader office politics, pettiness, and discrimination outlined in this piece. Given the general lack of self-awareness the place has—e.g. speaking really highly of its practice as world-transformative but basically doing little but intensify capitalism's entrenchment in all aspects of our lives1 (I remember quite a bit of the work was basically creating new luxury offerings for financial institutions)—what's outlined here is sadly not very surprising.

Related to this topic: I recommend "It's Not You, It's the System" by Janani Balasubramanian. This piece was helpful for me in deciding whether or not to quit IDEO.

How the Pentagon Started Taking U.F.O.s Seriously, Gideon Lewis-Kraus

As a kid I liked the idea of extraterrestrial life and thought things like Fermi's Paradox and the Drake Equation were really fascinating (although the Drake Equation seemed almost arbitrary/impractical). A number of games I played growing up also built stories around aliens, like Dinosaur Safari (aliens going back in time to document dinosaurs) and The Journeyman Project 3: Legacy of Time (an "ancient aliens"-style game set in the mythical cities of Atlantis, El Dorado, and Shangri-La that, though the story was based around aliens, taught quite a bit about the actual ancient cultures these cities were inspired by). But aside from reading about these topics here and there I never got very deep into UFOs and the like. It felt like a cliff's edge into unsubstantiated and woo conspiracy theories. At the same time, it seemed reasonable that there would be some phenomena that is difficult to explain, and that in itself was interesting without needing to jump to the conclusion of aliens. This article explores that latter space, and also goes over a campaign meant to consign UFOs and an interest in them into the former conspiratorial category (read: "crazy"), effectively making the topic untouchable if you want to be considered legitimate. I'm skeptical that anything really earth-shattering will come out of June's UAP report but who knows, maybe something interesting will happen.

#fixingfashion videos

A really well-produced and comprehensive series on how to take care of your clothes, repair them, and modify them:

A bunch of my clothing recently got several rips, and repairing them has been a nice way to keep my hands busy on long meetings.

Here's the most recent repair I did—you can see the smaller yellow patches where I underestimated how large patches actually need to be relative to the size of the hole. The edges of those patches ended up tearing, leading to the substantially larger sashiko patch there now.

Repaired sweater

  1. You could maybe point to IDEO.org as a counter-example but I'm not really familiar with their work and I'd guess they have their own issues. 

Fugue Devlog 13: More World Modeling


Very busy with some other things so not much progress as of late. I've mostly been modeling more assets for the world map, which has forced me to think more thoroughly on what each city might look like. I don't feel totally ready to commit to anything I've made yet though.

Modeling and texturing are very time consuming processes, even with the low-res look I'm going for. I'm convinced that 99% of the time spent working on the game will be modeling and texturing.

I find modeling very meditative and enjoyable, though for the map the things I've been modeling are much bigger (e.g. buildings and cities), and for some reason that's a lot more daunting. It might be because larger objects need more details to look convincing. Modeling smaller objects is a lot nicer.

One thing that hasn't helped is that Blender (2.92) constantly crashes. I'm not sure what the cause is because it doesn't save a crash log.

Texturing is the slowest part of the process. Building the textures can be time-consuming: collecting the images, processing them and then assembling them into a single texture, editing parts to be seamless, etc. Most if not all of this can't really be automated or streamlined much further than they already are. One thing I'm trying to keep in mind is that because of the low-res style I can usually get away with low-resolution textures, which makes searching for appropriate ones a lot quicker (in particular: stacking islands together—kind of baffling that this isn't a part of Blender).

I'm also still learning workflow tips for faster UV editing. Blender's built-in UV editing tools are also kind of lacking, but I learned of TexTools which has helped make some aspects of it a lot quicker.

I'm also experimenting with how much I want to rely on free 3d models from elsewhere. For the megaflora on the map (see below) I'm using this model of a borage flower (organic shapes are harder for me to do quickly) but processing and editing it to better fit into the game also takes a decent amount of time.

Megaflora on the map

This city, inspired by the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery that I visited many years ago, was so tedious to texture, mostly because I was selecting and positioning faces in a really clumsy way:

Tiantai on the map

This pagoda was pretty quick to model, mostly because the UV editing is relatively simple, but also because I'd started using TexTools:

Dagu Pagoda

I'll spend some time watching videos on more UV editing tips to see if I can make the process less tedious.

I also wrote a bit about some of the thinking behind the game for the Are.na blog.

Log: 5/14/2021


This week: This week was very busy so I didn't have much time to read. In addition to an uptick in work obligations we spent most of our spare time uprooting as much knotweed as we could. Throughout the process I very much appreciated how useful my trowel was, which I used mostly as a lever and not as a shovel. In that spirit I have a few selections of interesting agriculture tools/equipment (for harvest specifically).

Mussel harvester

Carrot harvester

Olive harvester

This kind of violent mechanical vibration is common, and the idea that the most efficient way to harvest from a tree is to just shake the shit out of it is kind of funny:

Walnut harvester

For olive trees I've also seen these weed-whacker-like devices used:

Olive shaker

There's also this gnarly looking machine:

Olive lateral canopy shaker

There's a whole YouTube microgenre for mechanized harvesters:

Ag machine YouTube

Hand tools are way more interesting:

Blueberry rake

Some kind of super-scythe?

As a bonus, I was shared this CDC document on farmer ergonomics (h/t Eli). It includes not only advice on movements that reduce repetitive stress injuries but also equipment like the berry rake above and this harvest cart:

Harvest cart

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