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“Welcome to Your Cyberpunk Future”

September 22nd, 2017

I’m going to my home town Louisville, Kentucky, to give a talk at the IdeaFestival 2017. I’ll be speaking on the morning of Wednesday, Sept 17, at 10:30 am. Apparently all the tickets to the day of talks have sold out. But I’ll give some info here.


[A solo guy at the Craters of the Moon lava park in Idaho.]

I’ll be posting images and links, and eventually a link to my written sketch of the talk—although my performance will differ from the sketch, as I don’t tend to read my talks from a script.

I’m going to make some slides, like I did for my Brussels TedX talk in 2011, and I’ll put a link to the online PowerPoint here. And eventually, I’ll link to a podcast recording I’ll make, and probably there will be a video too from the IdeaFestival people.

I’ll also post some photos and travel notes in here. In other words this post will be expanding over the next week.


[Smalltown shop window in Nevada.]

At the moment (Sept 22) I’m moving chunks of ideas around on paper and in my head, trying to get it together.


[Musician at a Fellini style beach picnic last week. Honk that horn!]

Boppin’ Down Karman Vortex Street

September 16th, 2017

My latest painting is a copy.

“Matisse Nude” oil on canvas, September, 2017, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I’ve always loved Matisse’s painting, Large Reclining Nude of 1935. That rectangular blue patch between her body and the arm along the right side. And the joyful curve of her bottom. The painting is in the Baltimore Museum, purchased by the Cone sisters, years ago. Matisse did six preliminary versions of the painting, getting more abstract and calligraphic as he went along, and those are in Baltimore too, you can view them here.

Over the last week I copied the main one. Took four or five sessions. I wasn’t sure it would be possible to get even this close—not that it’s all that close. The thing about painting is that you can home in on what you want…rubbing off and overpainting. I switched to oils for this one, and oils are especially easy to rub off. On the other hand with acrylics, it’s easier to paint over as they dry so fast.

We had the eclipse here awhile back. I’ll quote something I wrote in my anything-but-best-selling Journals when I saw a partial eclipse at home on May 22, 2012.

      There was a cool partial annular eclipse of the sun in the San Francisco Bay Area last week. It was about 6:30 pm, and the sun was going behind the hill that we live on. So I walked up the street to get a better view.
      I’d been using the safe method of studying tiny crescents via a pin-hole-punched sheet of paper, projecting the crescents onto the black back of a book. Wearing shades and walking up our tree-crowned hill, I noticed that the patches of shadow-light cast by the trees and bushes were strangely warped as well, with each dapple-blob molded into a crescent. A sun dapple is in fact a “pinhole camera” image of the current state of the sun!
      I looked up and I saw the eclipsed sun directly with my eyes.
      And, yes, I know you’re not supposed to stare at the sun, and I didn’t. But I could see it, via quick, raking side-long glances. The suddenly huge-seeming sun was a strange crescent, just above the horizon, filtered through the scrim of oak trees, archaic and mythical. The horned sun.
      It felt like a weird sign, a signal from on high.

I’m always looking for chaos in my surroundings. Dig the window light reflecting off some bathroom tiles. Like water, almost.

Sylvia and I were up in Berkeley and we went to the newish BAMPFA, that is, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive. On the wall outside, they were showing a documentary on a famous Berkeley street person who called himself “Hate Man.” He was on the streets back when my son Rudy Jr. went to UC. Hate Man’s doctrine was that if you started every conversation with, “I hate you,” then you would defuse it in advance. It’s a touching and funny film. The Hate Man was more together than I ever realized. His banter with religious evangelists is particularly rich. I can’t find, however, a link to the full documentary online.

Inside BAMFA they had a good show by Ugo Rondinone, “The World Just Makes Me Laugh.” A zillion clown mannequins, each dressed slightly differently, and big bullseye paintings in circus colors.

Also a show by Charles Howard who was active in the 1940s. I kind of like this vintage “modern” style. Those crinkly lines…are they pubic hairs? Phew! Miro used them too.

Reclining Molecule” by Phyllis Koshland, on a wall at new BAMPFA museum in Berkeley. DNA lounging? No, abstraction of a figure. Someone asked me, what kind of a wall does a molecule recline against? Well, the wall is made of second-order, really small molecules, of course. In the molecule’s little house in Moleculeville. I’d like to visit there.

Of all the zillion Buddhas I’ve seen this one is…the most recent. I like the face.

I’ve been hiking in the backwaters of the Los Gatos Creek above Lexington Reservoir lately. Getting some good strong wilderness hits. As reader of this blog will know, I’m crazy about ripples. Analog computation. Chaos in action. Always different, always the same. Mind made manifest.

I found this metal pipe (a surveyor’s marker?) sledge-hammered into the ground with it’s top split like a flower. A metaphor for a metaphor.

There’s this phenomenon I love called a von Karman Vortex Street. It’s when you have a smooth flow of fluid that passes an obstacle, such as this up-poking stick in the stream. The “laminar” flow of fluid is disturbed and that wonderful, yummy thing called “turbulence” sets in. The turbulence takes the forms of eddies, or whirlpools, or vortices, and they line up like wobbly pedestrians on a street, and they shed off smaller eddies, or split in two, and eventually dissipate into a tiny bit of added heat. They show up well here because of the bright sun casing their shadows. “Where you live, man?” “Von Karman Vortex Street.” “Gnarly.”

I like this thing, I bought it from a homeless woman at a special art show at St. Luke’s Church in Los Gatos a year ago. Kind of Boschian. A little like a woman with her arms akimbo, and a sprout of jade plant for her her head, and a hen-and-chicks cactus pup emerging from her fertile belly.

Sylvia and I rode the ferry from SF to Sausalito the other day. Great ride, with the mysterious mechanical gate to the ferry. Cheap, but lots of pushing and sweating to get aboard. And Sausalito itself is kinda…yeccch. Tourist zone! But you hop back on the ferry and get another ride back. The open Bay, ahh.

Pot ads on the sides of buses in SF. I guess it really is the twenty-first century now. And this Sunday they had a whole magazine section on “gourmet pot” in the SF Chronicle. In my day it was more like prison food: “Take it or leave it, this is the one and only kind we got.”

There’s an amazing graffito that I always see by a corner store at Hyde St. & O’Farrel St., a downbeat neighborhood, yeah, but this artist renews his work every year or two, and it’s always just wonderful. Like the Big Bang. No idea if there’s letters in here.

Driving across San Francisco, there’s this like knee, where all the streets bend, passing under 101, as you transition from downtown into the Mission. I always get confused when I’m driving here, but this time I was in an Uber and staring, what joy, out the window. That’s a graffito on the bridge up top. And really oddly modern-modern window shape on the landwhale next to us.

Came across my St. Xavier Tiger Yearbook from Louisville 1963. Touching young Rudy, so tentative, so unsure, not even knowing what to hope for. Don’t worry, little dude, it’ll all work out! And then you’ll die. But not for a long time!

I took my Norwegian neighbor pal Gunnar up into that creek spot I like. His English is quite poor, even though he’s lived here about fifty years. But he’s been meditating his whole life, even living in ashrams at times, and he does in fact say wise and heavy things. Sample: “I am always in the now. And there is no now.” And he says this like it confuses him, and he wants advice.

Gunnar likes to talk about beavers. The Norwegian word for them is bever, pronounced “bay-var.” He used to say it that way, and I would tease him about it, but he’s stopped. “So now that’s fixed,” he says with a chuckle if I remind him. “Something for once.”

We found what could be a beaver lodge in the creek. The tangled part on the right. I think the way a lodge works is that it’s a tangle of branches with dirt packed on top as a kind of roof, and there’s a bit of space between the water and the top of the lodge so that the air gets in. The beavers are safe from wildcats etc. in the lodge.

Beavers at work! When I was a kid, Ipana toothpaste had this logo/mascot in their TV cartoon ads. Bucky Beaver. At the climax of each ad, Bucky Beaver would bite something in half. Really hard. Like, CHOMP! I loved it. And their jingle. “Brusha, brusha, brusha, get the new Ipana…” The warm sea of senility laps at my knees. What if I lie down in it and fill my lungs?

Graffiti aren’t always necessarily a bad thing. Dig these on the abutments of the bridge over the creek. And check out that ring-like branch formation. Subtle alien biotech engine to power the magic door teleportation aspect of this gate.

I never get enough of seeing branches reflected in water. The theme of the double. These days I’m working on my twenty-third novel, my Return to the Hollow Earth, a sequel to my 1987 opus, The Hollow Earth. Has it really been thirty years since I wrote about these characters? I’m happy to be back with them. A high point of the first one, HE1, was when Edgar Allan Poe meets up with his double (thanks to passing through a tunnel between worlds). My climax was modeled on Poe’s climax to his own double story “William Wilson.”

Synchronistically enough, the characters Mason and Eddie Poe in my novel-in-progress just won $3,000 by betting the number 23 in roulette. They get paid off with 15 ounces of gold dust…it’s in San Francisco, 1850, and gold goes for $20 an ounce. So they split it, and they each have a little pouch of gold, and they’re getting out of the Eldorado casino as quickly as possible, and this woman barmaid Persephone follows them, wanting to accompany them on their expected spree.

      “Guard your pocket,” I warned Eddie, and he shook Persephone away.
      “You’re mistaking me for an entirely different class of person,” Eddie told her, always glad for a chance to tell some thumpers. “My cousin Mason and I are tending to his wife and their newborn baby. We only came out for diapers and clabber. We entered the Eldorado in error—Mason here thought it was a church. As for the roulette, well, twenty-three was Grandmother’s birthday. We’re grateful for her holy blessing. And we have no lust for low jinks. Do mark that I already tipped you. Sojourn on, fair maid, and may the Light be with you.”
      “You sober up fast, don’t you?” said Persephone with disgust. She turned on her heel and flounced back into the Eldorado. Eddie pulled out his poke of gold, loosed the rawhide around the pouch, and stared in, as if wanting to confirm it was real.

Yeah, baby!

Road Trip to Wyoming

August 23rd, 2017

Three quick plugs.

(1) My new, never-before-published augmented hipster reality story “Fat Stream” came out in the reborn Mondo 2000 online. I wrote it in December of 2016, and five of my usual SF magazine outlets turned it down. Too cool for the room? Or drooling senility? You decide. Read it online. Or listen to me read it to you.

(2) My 1981 hardcore cyberpunk story “Buzz” was reprinted in the Summer, 2017, issue of the far-out Big Echo semi-samizdat lit-crit zine. Issue includes a great piece by Brendan C. Byrne, plus other goodies still to be delved into.

(3) Podcast of me talking to Wilson Walker for KPIX. “If Chatbots Talk, Where Will AI Go?” Fun rap, casual, with wild ideas.

My wife and I went on a two week road trip to our daughter’s town Pinedale, Wyoming. All our kids and grandkids got together by Fremont lake there for a reunion. It was great. About four days in I realized I wasn’t thinking about politics, or about my books, I was just smiling and looking at nature, and at my loved ones and relaxing. A good trip. Here’s my pix.

If possible, I like to avoid driving on Interstate highways. Thing is, these roads are crowded with trucks and cars and you have to think about them. And the edges of the highways are cleared out in band of about a hundred feet wide on either side, so you’re never very close to undisturbed nature. And you don’t actually save that much time. If you drive on a back road, like Route 50 through Nevada, you can go 70 or 80 most of the way anyway.

I like this photo as it has three natural fractals that mirror or emulate each other. The cloud the rock, and the plant, all doing their things, but on different time scales. Cloud fast, plant slower, eroded rock really slow. This was in a little roadside park in Nevada desert. I had a real sense that it would be possible to die of the heat.

Off the interstates, you end up staying in weird small towns like Fallon, Nevada. Found a Motel Six here, it was okay, once we got a ground floor room instead of a secondfloor 110 degree room. The shop windows in towns like this are kind of heartbreaking. Or, looked at a different way, wonderful and surreal. I always say to Sylvia, “We should move here,” and she always says no.

Love the big clouds in the big sky. Dig how this guy is raining.

And another cloud. Beautiful shape. The things nature just does automatically and for free. Runs these wonderful emergent computations that, so very often, end up with self similar fractal forms in which the details resemble the whole.

There used to be a “shoe tree,” that is, a tree covered with shoes—who knows how or why—on Route 50, and some jackass cut it down, and now there’s a new one. Like the only big tree by the road within a hundred miles. An unexplained mystery cult, the resurgence of the shoe tree. As a parent, of course, one feels angered at the sight of children’s new and expensive shoes hanging high on a tree or, in a city, on power lines. Why do they do it? No need to know. Just admire.

We stopped to rest in Ely, Nevada. They pronounce it like Eely, in the sense of eel-like. Not like Eli in the sense of Elijah. This store had “a real soda fountain,” and I was in there to get a root beer float. A summum bonum of road food. One of the young women behind the counter had a cool tattoo.

This old man at the counter, I mean like eighty, not a spritely 71 like me, he started talking about cars, and then it came out that he and his tuned-out wife were the proud owner of this camper van across the street that I’d mistaken for a band’s tour bus. When I showed this to my friend Marc Laidlaw later, Marc said, “For every year that he lives, his van grows a foot longer.”

For the only-in-a-small-town bizarre touch, the windows in the empty building behind the creepazoid camper were filled with mannequins of aliens. I love these scenes that look as if they carry a message, but the message is so obscure and veiled that you never find out what it is.

In my weariness and Red Bull vibration, it seemed to me that this stainless steel public toiled looked like a rabbit. See the ears? One of my Twitter followers suggested that it was a Jeff Koons rabbit.

We spent the night in ghastly Wendover, which straddles the Nevada / Utah border. Massive casinos on the Nevada side. Did get a good meal in there. Slept in another Motel 6 in the Utah side, only this room was, oddly, under an outdoor staircase, and had intense signs of wear. A notch below from what you’d expect from even a rehab halfway house. I don’t mind these things really when I’m on the road. Part of the trip.

To my joy, I found a guy staying a few pods down from us…and the back of his station wagon was stuffed with huge amateur rockets. He was a member of the Utah Rocket Club.

Turned out there was an event called Hellfire 22 at the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats, wherein amateur and semi-pro rocketeers from far and wide would be grouping in the morn to blast their rockets up to two miles into the air. A three-day permission had been obtained from the FAA.

So in the morning Sylvia and I drove down there to check it out.

I hadn’t realized you could just drive any old car out on the fifty-mile-wide and perfectly flat salt flats…but, yeah, you can…although you might not want to crank it up to 120 mph just anywhere, as there are little…flaws…in the surface here and there. So wild to be standing out there. Almost as much fun as being dead, I figured. I mean this is often how the afterlife is depicted. Wham! It’s all white!

We drove in about five miles and found the rocketeers doing their thing. Paradise. I used to worship this stuff as a boy, and then as a father, loved to help Rudy Jr. launch rockets.

And then we made it to Wyoming. Water. Green stuff. Wonderful.

We had campfires and cook fires nearly every night. So fascinating to stare at a fire. It’s that chaos thing again…never exactly repeating, but by no means random. Certain familiar forms…the strange attractors…recurring over and over. Like life itself. Easy to wax philosophical, staring into the flames.

And a really good supply of wood on hand in daughter Isabel’s back yard. She and her husband used to go cut, and then split, the wood, but as middle age draws on they’re dialing that back and…actually buying the wood.

One day we rented a big party boat, the thirteen of us, and cruised around on Fremont lake, which is about twelve miles long. There’s this one spot there I really love, all green, and kind of a campground, but always empty. I was wearing giant “elephant” bell bottoms in this photo, easy to roll up. I got the bell bottoms for a “Summer of Love” dinner we had, celebrating the year 1967. But here I’m in sailor mode, or hermit is what it looks like.

This spot had a tree that was kind of partway into tipping over, but, at least for now, leaning on his/her buddies. Nature just does this stuff and it all works out. Eventually when you really fall down you rot, and that’s cool too.

We stopped in a little cove with a high bulbous rock, and there was a groundswell of support for the notion of mounting the rock. Isabel’s dog Rivers looks especially fine here. Love silhouettes. The 3D / 2D thing.

Our room was at the edge of the lake, and it was fun to look at in its various moods. The lake like the mind, whipped up by the winds of change and maya, right?

On our last days, these people where having a little regatta on the lake…they hauled their boats in…and there were these really savage gusts of wind from the Wind River Mountains and a couple of boats fell over.

I liked being out there, and I was thinking off and on about Return to the Hollow Earth, this novel I’m getting started on just now. I’m not exactly sure how my guys are going to get back inside the Hollow Earth. Probably a maelstrom at the North Pole is the way to go. I found a 2008 blog post about me writing the original Hollow Earth. At the end of that post, I found a funny riff about the Hollow Sun.

There was an article about my novel in the paper in San Jose, and a young but weathered homeless guy came by my office to tell me this news: “The sun is cold and hollow. That light you see overhead is just the interaction of some special rays from the sun with our upper atmosphere. I used to be a very famous surfer, you know. Look.” He pulled out a page torn from an encyclopedia with a grainy picture of someone on a wave. “That’s me. Inside the Hollow Sun.”

Well…maybe that guy was the muse, helping me in advance. Like seedy Mercury, messenger of the gods. Need to think it over. On the trip, at the motels, Sylvia kept telling me I looked seedy. But in a freindly way. Like I’m from the Hollow Sun. Trying to fit in. Hmmm.

Driving home from Pinedale, we took a northern route, mostly along Route 20 through Idaho and Oregon. I love that road.

Passing across Idaho, we went by Craters of the Moon national park, all lava, very fierce and strange. It was super windy…look at Sylvia’s hair.

And my windbreaker like a balloon. So exhilarating whenever you get out of the car on a road trip.

We ended up spending a night in Boise, Idaho. “We should move here.” “No.” They had a kind of hip couple of blocks around 8th and Idaho streets. Ate two great meals, at Fork and at Wild Root. Plus they had a Mission-style alley with street graffiti art, they called it Freak Alley.

We passed through Klamath Falls, which has one of those deserted and kind of heartbreaking downtowns. Nice stone buildings but not much going on.

Klamath Lake has white pelicans on it. I always think of my high-school friend Michael Dorris here. His father was, I think, a Klamath Indian, and there’s even a town called Dorris nearby. Poor Dorris, he died…it’s been twenty years now. Funny that we both turned out to be novelists. I wish he’d come back. Death is so final, and by now I have half a dozen or morr friends my age who are gone for good. My old pals Michael Dorris, Jim Carrig, Niles Schoening, Kathleen Hall, David Hartwell…where are they? Nowhere. It’s crazy. I’m glad for the time I still have.

Finally we were cruising across the fruited plain to Mount Shasta with the rough but lovable burg of Weed, California, at its base.

We stayed at this motel/café that I kind of like, it’s called the Hi-Lo. So vintage, so classic. Is the food good? Are the rooms comfortable? Those questions are, somehow, irrelevant if you can look out your window and see two bright-colored tractor-trailer trucks…with sacred Mount Shasta behind them.

And, ah, that iconic roadside neon with the vibrant evening sky. A good trip. And now I’m home and back to Return to the Hollow Earth.

Sneak in a Hollow Sun? Kind of tempting. but…it’s a lot of trouble to get from Earth up to the Sun. Of course there could be a shortcut trapdoor at the center of the Hollow Earth. Yes!

Or maybe, if I want to go somewhere new, it might be better for the novel to hop to Earth in 2150. What with the time shift from crossing the Hollow Earth’s central anomaly. Be writing some 22nd Century SF, then.

Or all of the above. Keep it bouncing, right? We’ll see.

Podcast #102. If Chatbots Talk, Where Will AI Go?

August 22nd, 2017

August 22, 2017. Audio from interview with Wilson Walker for KPIX evening news, taped August 1, 2017. Topic: If Facebook has chatbots that have developed their own language, what does this mean for AI? Should we be scared or hopeful? Press the arrow below to play “If Chatbots Talk, Where Will AI Go?”

Play

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