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Toy Ghosts, the Lifebox, and Juicy Ghosts

February 11th, 2019

I’m thinking about writing an SF tale involving what we sometimes call digital immortality. It’s a theme I’ve often returned to, starting with the writing of my Software novel in 1979-1980. We’re almost at the point where a low-end cloud-based model of you is possible. At present these are thin, pixelated constructs with cardboard search-engine Eliza-type personalities. Call them toy ghosts. Later in this post I’ll get onto the topic of something richer, which I’ll call juicy ghosts.

Speaking of toy ghosts, I’ve often referred to this kind of emulation as a lifebox. You read my whole analysis of building lifeboxes online in the “Lifebox” section of my tome, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

I’ve actually constructed a rudimentary lifebox that weakly emulates me. See my interactive Search Rudy’s Lifebox page. Type, say, the words “software novel” into the Search box and press enter.

The Google-supported algorithm will throw up some ads as the first two or three results, but after that there’s good solid links into pages of my vast website And not that there are pages and pages of search results, you can flip through them using the page numbers at the bottom of the list of results.

So, like I’m saying, if you put “software novel” in the search box, you’ll get links pages that involve my Software novel, which is, again, where my notion of the lifebox began.

Or if you especialy want to know about the lifebox concept, you might just put”lifebox” in the search box. In telling you this, I’m going meta on your ass.That is, I’m telling you to ask my lifebox page to find out what I think about the lifebox.

More fun: If you want know about the photo above, run the search on “Terence McKenna”. Or just plain “Terence” will do. Even though he’s dead, he’s still my friend.

This weekend I was talking to my son Rudy Jr. (CEO of, who host this blog) about where lo-res current-tech cloud-based toy ghosts would be hosted. By hosting a ghost, I mean two things.

[This is not Rudy Jr., this is a big wave surfer called John Bowling whom we know. I like the Viking hat so much that I put it into a Surfin’ SF story I recently wrote with Marc Laidlaw.]

(Ram) Store and maintain a large data base (what I’ve sometimes called a lifebox) of the person, along with the code for a program that can use the data to emulate the personality.

(Crunch) Provide processing power to run a simple-ass data-intensive personality emulation code on the data base.

[Yes that’s a toy ghost version of me, age 17, in the Chevalier Literary Magazine 1963, Louisville, Kentucky.]

For awhile I had a retrograde notion that some companies like Google or Facebook or Amazon might host toy ghosts on enormous supercomputers. What I was calling silos. But that’s an outdated way to think. Rudy Jr. pointed out that most storage and processing is distributed, with chunks of it scattered across a zillion nodes.

Rudy also made the point that there’s always going to be limited space on the nodes—not enough to immortalize everyone— so a kind of fitness function determines who gets to have, and to keep, a toy ghost. That is, if a toy ghost is to continue to living in the internet cloud, people have to be looking at it and interacting with it. The system’s automatic garbage removal will prune away all traces of a ghost that’s rarely visited.

This a bit like the author’s perennial quandary: Which books remain in print? Which books continue being stocked in libraries? Which books remain readily accessible online? And pirated editions are better than none!

[I happened to see this on a wall in Los Gatos by random coincidence. To me it feels relevant, because my friend Greg Gibson in Massachusetts son Galen was killed in a school shooting some years ago. Greg is currently running a GoFundMe to support the publicizing of an unusual gun control video ad that Greg is working on. Check out the campaign and see Greg’s moving pitch video.]

It may be that an internet toy ghost is designed with an “instinct for self-preservation,” so it’ll promote itself. Similar to the original philosophy-of-language Richard-Dawkins-type meaning of “meme,” a sticky, catchy, useful thought that impels people to pass it on to others, thus reproducing itself. The older notion of meme kind of assumes that the meme has some heavy intellectual content or survival value.

These days an “internet meme” just means something like a phrase or image that people repost. Cat pictures, for Christ’s sake. But I admit I’m intrigued by the subcategory of “dank memes,” which seem to be flashes that make stoners laugh.

[Frames from the immortal Will Elder’s early Mad magazine strip, “Ping Pong” (parody of “King Kong”).]

A toy ghost might say, “I seem to be a meme. Kan I has cheezeburger?”

How do you kill a toy ghost that lives on the internet? Say it’s an emulation of a martyred rebel, or of a dead oppressor. Some faction wants that toy ghost gone. How to quash it?

(a) We might invoke the notion of a smart malware bot that finds and erases all scraps of info relating to that toy ghost. I remember a scene in a Bill Gibson novel where an obnox virus-thing slides under the door of a virtual room, and a shape like a cockroach eats it, and one of the guys says the cockroach had “offered criticism.”

But in practice I’m not sure if/how that would work. The scraps of the toy ghost could disguise themselves. It’s hard or impossible to search the whole web and remove all traces of something. And the ghost cold be continually redistributing and coding and re-encrypting itself. And it sounds kind of boring to read about.

[My old pal Eddie Marritz the famous cinematographer.]

(b) Or the oppressor might make sure the targeted toy ghost doesn’t show up in common search engines. (Eyeball kick: an online program that searches for specific toy ghosts might be called “The Book of the Living Dead.”) If you can hack the search engines you can make a given ghost be effectively invisible, And by reducing its registered hits you make it likelier to be pruned.

Like if the magazines refuse to review your books, you’re more likely to go out of print.

(c) Another way to lower the effectiveness of a ghost, it to make sure that whenever the ghost is accessed, a shitty stupid parasite shows up with it. Like an unshakable troll commenter or spammy-ad link. Degrading the ghosts’ reputation, making it be treated as malware or as spam.

Toy ghosts have wireless contact with Earth peripherals. This is a move in both Wm. Gibson’s The Peripheral, and in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway.. Your toy ghost might talk to you on the phone. Like a type of smart cloud storage. Or a highly personalized assistant.

A ghost can be more autonomous and robust if it’s a biocomputation than if it’s an internet chip-based and system-moderated computation. So escaping from the digital to the analog would greatly empower a ghost. And being juicy or biological makes a ghost safe.

[Great painting by Stanley Whitney in the Harlem Studio Museum exhibit at the MoAD (Museum of the African Diaspora) in SF, right around the corner from SFMOMA]

If you’re juicy, you’re “in the wild” and not living on a human-built net by the sufferance of the internet operating systems and protocols. You aren’t subject to the ravages of the mindless internet pruning bots.

And the trick of converting a toy ghost to a juicy ghost is something that a rebel programmer called Gee Willikers has mastered. He found the trick of ghost migration while he was designing the weaponized wasps. In the process of his biohacking to create the Turing wasps, Gee Willikers learned to program living organisms. The organism runs a program on its neurons, in its hormone flows, in its DNA, it’s quantum computations, whatever. It’s tricky to port a block of info as large as a toy ghost onto an organism. The organism has to be temporarily paralyzed, like with cone shell toxin. Not even breathing.

My character Curtis Winch is going to make a really aggro move against a certain evil politician called Ross Treadle on the occasion of that guy’s third Presidential Inauguration. Curtis is going to use a tweaked, weaponized “Turing wasp” to temporarily paralyze Ross Treadle

[This is my artist friend Vernon Head with me at the SFMOMA Magritte Show. I almost feel like this image is a dank meme. :)]

And then one of the Turing wasps installs a copy of Curtis’s online toy ghost within Treadle’s bio processes. And then a rich new Curtis Winch will awake, hosted by Treadle’s body. And this won’t be just a chintzy toy ghost. No, man, this virtual Curtish Winch be a juicy ghost. And a bio-hosted juicy ghost, is much richer than a toy ghost. The “vital force” is real. It involves the richness of structure and function in living cells.

And now, having parasitized our illegitimate “President,” our juicy ghost is in a position to kick some serious butt!

Rain. Art Show. Chaos.

February 2nd, 2019

I’m really into the gnarl of the rainy weather these days.

Oak trees are in some sense smarter than other trees. They don’t just send a long branch *doink* straight out. They think it over. A little this way, a little that way, paying attention to the amount of light and air in each direction. Wiggly, man.

Whenever the rain gets heavy, I skeeve on down into this gully across the street from my house. It “belongs” to some guy in a big house up on a hill, but he doesn’t notice me. I’m down there with what’s sometimes called the “anima,” that is, the “spirit of place.” She’s singing here.

I’m having a big art show at the beloved Borderlands Cafe this month. 25 new paintings, all made since 2015. I made a poster for it. I gave a reading from my recent novel Return to the Hollow Earth at the start of the show…you can hear the reading on Rudy’s Podcasts.

Also I made a video of a little tour I gave the audience. I had the video camera dangling from my neck, so all the setting shots are of legs and chairs, but oh well….it’s hella Rudoid. It’s got a good pro-quality tape of my voice and spliced in hi-res shots of the paintings.

It felt really good to see all my paintings on the walls, and everyone was nice to me.

Rudy Jr. and his friend Devin helped me hang the paintings which, at this point, is more than I can handle. Standing on a stepladder and reaching is contraindicated for an old coot like me.

Cory Doctorow, V. Vale, Paul Mavrides and Michael Blumlein were among the celebs in attendance. Blumlein shown above. So many times I’ve seen these guys at my Borderlands shows. Paul M. always gives me good art advice.

The last show was in 2015. Time flies. Actually, if you really have some time to kill, you can see videos of all my painting shows on my paintings page. Department of “You Watch It, I Can’t.”

Special shout-out to Jude Feldman, who’s worked with me on all my Borderlands events, going back to, hell, the late 1980s, back when she and Alan Beatts had the store in a basement of a brick building off Hayes St., as I recall. Jude might be the only person I’ve ever known who never shows signs of impatience or irritation. And she does this while dealing with SF fans and—much harder—writers. Incredible. And Alan’s a big help too.

Back to the rain. Dig the umbrella. What a great shape.

And these geese looming on the horizon (the dam at Vasona Lake). Saw a trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters yesterday. Looked a bit like this?

A couple of weeks ago, Sylvia and I went to the Women’s March in SF. I love these marches. I feel safe there, surrounded by like-minded people. Sylvia knit a bunch of pink “pussy hats” for the first march a couple of years ago, and now we’re down to one. I like the way one ear goes up and one ear goes down.

I borrowed the hat and wore it atop my Stetson for awhile. Once I was wearing it, Sylvia started calling it a “pig hat.” I do like to draw pig ears that particular way, one up and one down.

I like this shot at the parade, the woman and the reflection.

And this one is perfect. The women not taking any more guff.

Cool visionary-eyes graffiti on Market Street with the women going by.

Says it all. But *sob* why does “dick” have to be a bad word? Well, somehow it does have a really specific meaning in terms of male personality traits… Tyrant, mansplainer, tetchy, bullying, lacking in empathy. A dick. Sigh.

After the parade, Sylvia and hit an immense Art Fair on a giant pier, maybe #35. Someone had drawn an immense wave made of hair, like 20 feet long.

On a rare sunny day we made it down to Cruz, as is our wont. Third Ave beach was covered with driftwood…really big driftwood including logs. I don’t quite know how it all gets there…comes down the San Lorenzo River, I suppose, but usually that river looks so shallow and unassuming. Ants that we are, we humans tend to make little houses (nests) out of the wood.

This photo is called “Cruz Crowd rift”, but I don’t remember what it is or why I took it. Oops, It’s called “Cruz Crow Drift,” and of course it’s a crow on a Cruz-ant-erected driftwood log. Love the hierophantic look it all. “This strange riparian civilization, now lost in the mists of time. In erecting this monument, it may have been that the mysterious Cruzans were…”

Up the hill the other day in another sunny moment. Spring just around the corner. Love how green it gets. The plants are so frikkin grateful for water.

Went to Santana Row in San Ho to see Cold War yesterday, what a great movie. These two guys welding something to the window outside.

Dig the august Kenneth Turan’s review of Cold War. Kenny was my roommate at Swarthmore College about fifty-five years ago. Quote from the review:

“Given Cold War’s emotional and narrative complexity, it’s a measure of how meticulously made it is that the film clocks in at just under 90 minutes. Working closely with cinematographer Zal, Pawlikowski has pared away extraneous story moments and seen to it that the dazzling cinematography and ardent acting are in perfect balance.”

Yes! I get so sick of bloated two-and-a-half hour movies with scene after scene of people saying the same things to each other. And long conversations to explain every transition. In Cold War, one second the man and woman are looking at each other from afar, and in the next cut they’re embracing and going all the way. Get on with it! Lots and lots of story to tell.

The ending of Cold War made me so sad. The two now-doomed lovers are sitting on a bench by a rural road crossing. And she says. “Let’s go to the other side. The view is better.” And they walk out of the frame, and you realize this is a visual metaphor, and “the other side” is the Land of the Dead and they’re gone for good. Oh, Zula! (Short for Zuzanna.)

[A mossy thumb as the tree grasps the ground.]

It’s been raining again for two or three days. I went up into the woods behind St Joseph’s Hill, at the top of our street, and made my way partway up a creek bed that I like to explore. No real path along the edge, lots of rocks, branches, soft soil. I use two walking sticks, and wear boots.

Walking there with the stream full, I revelled in the physical chaos. The multiple-pendulum action of the waving branches. The intractably complex analog computations of the water’s flow. The 3D fractal clouds above, the lichen on the trunks and stones below. The moss with its endlessly various detail. The banks of bubbles around the splash-pools at the bases of cataracts.

I looked for a while at one floating pile of cataract bubbles, the pile continually replenished by new bubbles entering it from beneath. As some of the smaller bubbles below pop, they add volume to larger bubbles above. The biggest bubble grows and grows—then pops. Some of the big guys manage to last a little longer by somehow managing to shrink just a bit…not sure how they do this move. Maybe the seeming shrinkage is an illusion, it’s just that they ink a bit deeper into the pile of lesser bubbles below.

Groping for a metaphor about poeple in society here. The big bubbles are like the richer or more influential folks. The bubble pile is also a bit like the cells in my body. Nothing is as simple as it seems—and you’re frikkin dreaming if you imagine an animated 3D computer graphic can emulate our wonderful, chaotic, dripping wet Gaia.

And the cataract is so…joyous. Rapidly, but without haste, it pours down, multi-stranded, grooved, stirring up the basin, making bubbles, utterly chaotic and unpredictable.

[My old friend the mossy alligator log. He looks different but the same.]

Someone might ask me: “What is this ‘chaos’ you’re always talking about?”

A chaotic process is something that’s non-random in the sense that it’s governed by natural law, but it’s of sufficient complexity that it’s detailed behavior is wholly unpredictable by any devices we can conceive of building. The only practical way to emulate a chaotic process is to build a physical copy of it. Or just watch the original copy that you already have. It’ll compute its state at time T by…running until time T.

The only way to find out precisely where your head will be at tomorrow is to wait until tomorrow. Because you’re chaotic. And remember, chaos is normal, chaos is the way the world naturally is, chaos is health.

What makes chaos different from brute randomness, is that, in a chaotic system, the overall behaviors and the general patterns are drawn from a limited repertoire, patterns familiar and known and expected—-although, as always, the precise details of each instant cannot be anticipated. By “general patterns” I mean things like the wagging of branches, the nodding of clusters of leaves, the bubbles at the base of the waterfall, the bumpy flow lines on the surface of a rushing stream, the back and forth oscillation of a flow, the drifting of a cloud, and so on.

[Crotch of tree. Bikini bottom.]

Human behavior has this same chaotic quality. The fine details are unpredictable. The moment-to-moment evolution of someone’s moods—–quite unfathomable. But a given individual’s overall emotional climate become knowable, and the full gamut of personalities to be found across the race is also a fact of nature that everyone learns.

A bucolic rainbow over a stray blooming plum tree above Silicon Valley’s San Jose, yes.

Podcast #105. “Return to the Hollow Earth: Meeting Poe”

January 27th, 2019

January 26, 2019. Reading from Return to the Hollow Earth at Borderlands Cafe in SF. I read the part about the shipwreck and Mason and Seela being saved by a flying nautilus and then meeting up with Eddie Poe. Good audience. Skipped Q&A, as I then did an “art tour” of a show of 25 of my paintings on display at Borderlands. (See the tour on YouTube. )  And press the arrow below to play the separate audio of my reading: “Podcast #105. “Return to the Hollow Earth: Meeting Poe”.”


And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

10 New Books. In the Tetons.

January 13th, 2019

First the recent news. Night Shade Books has begun publishing a series of ten matching editions of my novels, starting with Mathematicians in Love and Turing & Burroughs.

Yah, mon! I’ve made a web page summarizing the series.

I’m really excited about this. The books look good, and I have renewed hope of being better-known as a modern literary author. So many new writers are getting on the “speculative fiction” bandwagon these days.

And I’d like to be in on it, after forty years in the filthy SF ghetto, writing what the high mandarins have considered to be lowly subliterature. When all along I’ve been crafting cutting-edge, ahead-of-its-time, visionary and futuristic high lit! It’s like my entire career has been what philosphers call a “category mistake.” I was doing one thing, but it was consistently pigeonholed as being something else.

Each book a treasure, a pearl of great price, a blend of logic and surreal gnarl.

We went to Wyoming for Christmas, visiting daughter Isabel in Pinedale. We met up with son Rudy and his family there as well. We all spent the first few days in Jackson, where Isabel had a show of her latest paintings, very large watercolors.

Jackson is livelier than Pinedale. Dig the neon lights on this car outside a fancy pizza place.

I like this painting by Isabel, inspired by a visit to the Azores Islands. Her show, still going on, is called “Seeking the Light,” and it’s in the Jackson Center for the Arts. There’s a good interview with her that you can stream online.

We went out for big dinners in Jackson, looked around down and went out in the snowy woods. I liked this Christmas-decorated lamp in this one place, the Cafe Genevieve.

Saw a weird digital street light. Funny how peoples notion of “light bulb” keeps thrashing around. We had those twisty bulbs and then it turned out they weren’t nearly as good as the hype had said. And now, tiny blinding dots.

Here’s me with Isabel by one of her paintings that is, in a roundabout way, based on the kitchen in her house.

It was so nice to see real snow. Hoof prints. Or maybe feet. We’re at the base of the Tetons here. A scary, dark, rapid-flowing river was just down the hill, the Snake, I guess, very narrow and deep. Hard to keep the grandkids away from it. They don’t always listen to me. I mean, hey, I’m 72, and even they can tell I don’t have much authority anymore..

The Jackson parking garage looked rusty even though it was made of cement. I guess the rebar inside the cement rusts away and seeps out. Looked cool.

One day we walked along Cache Creek near Jackson. The snow had accumulated in a nice way, making lollipop bolls atop the fenceposts.

I just love the way the snow accumulates into these toothpaste-like forms, so elegantly curved.

And the holes in the ice on the creek, wow. Deeply creepy. An entrance to the underworld.

One day we went to the Teton Village Ski Resort near Jackson, not that Sylvia and I were going to slide on the slopes. We rode in a teléferique, or airborne “tram” to the top of Mr. Rendezvous, a minor Teton, 10,500 feet high. And here we are. I bought that hat on the street in Manhattan one time. “Da, komrad.”

It was 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind at 20 mph. Crazy. With a little effort we managed to hike about a hundred yards from the tram station to the actual peak.

And I stood on the top beside the official top-of-a-real-mountain-peak-rod. I never thought I’d make it to a spot like that. A thrill.

Meanwhile the skiers were whooshing off down the insanely steep slope. I’ve never been in a group of people that seemed as happy and gung-ho and upbeat as the skiers and snowboarders in that tram. Kind of the same vibe as on a SCUBA boat. Eager, let’s-get-down-to-it vibes. And the resort was playing super-hard-driving heavy-metal music in the tram the whole way up. Everyone getting amped.

They had a little shack up there where they sold waffles. Oh, that’s not a sound speaker on top of the hut, that’s an antenna. The only sound was the wind, and, the joyful babble of the waves of skiers. Loved being up there, we stayed about an hour.

So then we went down to Pinedale, sixty miles south of Jackson. There’s one shop we always go into, the Cowboy Shop, they in fact have a display-case of Isabel Jewelry on sale, and they have an amazing selection of cowboy boots.

I like the font on this place.

Isabel took us out walking along Fremont Lake. She and her husband Gus got married there a few years back. The water exceedingly chilly this time of year. It wasn’t frozen quite yet, but the lake snapped over into a solid sheet a couple of weeks later.

Always fascinating for me, as a coastal Californian, to see snowy scenes of winter again. The bluish quality of the shadows.

A boulder with a snow cap. Gorgeous.

We spotted a UFO of course.

And a big ass icicle.

Lumpy snow.

Good view of San Francisco on the way home.

And as we landed, a golden, hazy, intricate view of mythical-seeming buildings and rivers. The Western lands.

And, lo, he returns from the heights, dark with light

Greeted by his trusty alligator-log!

With books scattered about like fall chestnuts in the spring grass.

Hello, Turing & Burroughs!

Hello Mathematicians in Love!

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