Archive for the ‘Rudy’s Blog’ Category

“Simply Gödel,” Phenomonology, and Monads

I recently read an advance copy of a great book by my friend Richard Tieszen. It’s called Simply Gödel. It’ll go on sale in mid-April, but you can pre-order now if you like. The book is a remarkable achievement—a handy guide with the impact of a philosophical tome. It’s all here: elegantly lucid discussions of Kurt Gödel’s epochal discoveries, a sympathetic account of the eccentric genius’s life, focused discussions of his encounters with his astonished peers, and a visionary peek into the future of mathematics, philosophy, and the on-rushing specter of robots with minds. A compact masterpiece, brimming with fresh revelations.

I’ll discuss some of my thoughts sparked by Simply Gödel today, adding some of my paintings to the illos, including two new ones.

As I’ve mentioned in my blog posts “Memories of Kurt Gödel” and “Conversations with Kurt Gödel,” in 1972 I had a couple of long talks with Gödel in his office at the Institute for Advanced Study. He made a huge impression on me. It goes almost without saying that he was the most intelligent person I will ever meet. Even though he was, at some lower levels…eccentric.

“The Wanderer,” acrylic on canvas, 24 ” x 18 “, September, 2008

How so? Gödel had very unusual views on the nature of reality. He firmly believed that there are indeed higher levels and higher beings—things like ghosts or demons. Indeed, he felt that a person is in some sense an extradimensional being that might be called a monad, after Leibniz’s use of the word. A monad affects the physical world, but it’s not embedded in the spacetime framework. A bit like a soul.

At less philosophical levels, Gödel could be paranoid. He worried that poison gases emanated from his refrigerator or from his furnace. He worried that strangers might be assassins who planned to kill him. He worried that his food was poisoned—and he preferred not to eat anything unless his long-suffering wife Adele had tasted it first.

But these aspects of the man weren’t apparent when he was talking about mathematics, science, philosophy, and mysticism. To me, he seemed like a man of knowledge and wisdom, profoundly so.

“Origin of Life” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 30” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Shown above is a painting of me talking to Gödel in 1972. Well, actually it’s a painting of an abstract image based on a cellular-automaton screen I recently captured, characterized by having double scrolls known as Zhabotinsky patterns. See my previous post, “Still Seeking the Gnarl,” for more about these CAs. These patterns occur naturally in certain chemical mixtures, and they could have played a role in the origin of life within the primordial soup. So I called it “Origin of Life.” But, who knows, maybe it is me and Gödel. Monads in an extradimensional space of phenomenological impressions. But which one is me?

Gödel was Einstein’s best friend during the physicist’s later years in Princeton. Why? Probably Because Gödel was the one person who could readily understand what Einstein was talking about. And perhaps because both of them had made a priori intellectual discoveries that changed humanity’s way of seeing the world. But Einstein wasn’t above teasing his younger friend. Here’s a quote from Ernst Gabor Strauss, taken from Rebecca Goldstein, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel.

Reading Tieszen’s great Simply Gödel got me thinking about all these things again. If we have souls and telepathy, maybe Gödel is still talking to me. Helping me understand Tieszen’s book, as far as it goes. Something in the book that strikes me as particularly interesting is the notion that, in his later years, Gödel was looking for a way to justify his belief that we have a direct perception or intuition about mathematical objects. He felt we could “see” even such objects as outré as transfinite sets such as the cardinal alef-one, or the continuum of all real numbers between zero and one. You want to know if these two sets have the same size? Focus. Look harder…

Immanuel Kant famously said that the “real” objects around us are so-called noumena, and we know them only at second-hand, that is, via the phenomena given by our senses…sounds, images, touch sensations, smells, etc. And later the philosopher Husserl started talking about phenomenology, which might mean the practice of taking your sense impressions as in some sense external to you as well. Like, rather than blundering around banging our shins on noumena, we’re spacing around in a cloud of phenomena. Husserl isn’t super clear about any of this. He strikes me as something of a bullshitter, never writing one word when twenty will do. But I feel there’s a fertile acorn sprouting beneath his great load of words. With an oak to emerge.

“Topology of the Afterworld,” acrylic on canvas, 40 ” x 30 “, August, 2009.

Trying to imagine being a phenomenologist, I let go of my ordinary stance of being an object among objects. As Husserl would put it, I bracket this mode of thought, that is, put it on hiatus. (There’s even a short Wikipedia article about phenomenological bracketing!)

So I frikkin’ bracket the whole issue of what is reality. I’m a monadic focus point amid phenomena. I’m not watching things, I’m kicking it back a level, I’m experiencing phenomena. It’s like an exercise in mindfulness. Just focus on the flow of sights and sounds and touch and weight and don’t try to interpret them or see them as objects, just take them for what they are…phenomena.

It’s so hard to “keep up” with the onrushing flow sensations, one is continually tempted to dive down into associative chains. But when I can do it for a few minutes, it gets me high, and that is, after all, the end goal of philosophy (at least to this reprobate’s mind). And you can jack up your phenomenological awareness to a “transcendental” level and treat your thoughts as phenomena as well.

Looking at the odd 3/4 moon on the horizon last night, rotten looking, moldy as an overripe cantaloupe that seeps smeely fluid, I advised to Sylvia that we bracket any thought about the Moon’s physical nature, and merely focus on the look of the moldy moon.

I think for the rest of the week I’ll make a habit, of saying I’m bracketing whatever is going on around me at any given time. Kind of a Woody Allen thing to do. He loves joking about higher philosophy.

Speaking of phenomenology, Georg Hegel is my great-great-great-grandfather, and one of his best-known works is Phänomenologie des Geistes, which we call either The Phenomenology of Mind or The Phenomenology of Spirit. Not that, so far as I know, Hegel’s notion of phenomenology has much to do with Husserl’s. I’ve been trying to read this book since I was in high-school, and so far I’ve never gotten beyond the preface. But there is one passage in the preface that I’ve grown to love. Especially the sentence I italicized.

A building is not finished when its foundation is laid; and just as little, is the attainment of a general notion of a whole the whole itself. When we want to see an oak with all its vigour of trunk, its spreading branches, and mass of foliage, we are not satisfied to be shown an acorn instead. In the same way science, the crowning glory of a spiritual world, is not found complete in its initial stages. The beginning of the new spirit is the outcome of a widespread revolution in manifold forms of spiritual culture; it is the reward which comes after a chequered and devious course of development, and after much struggle and effort.

I take this passage to express an idea popularized by Stephen Wolfram in his A New Kind of Science. And this is the notion that, in the realm of computation, we can have incredibly rich and complex patterns that are in fact based on extremely simple little rules. The Mandelbrot set is a classic example of this. And, if you think of biological growth as a type of computation, the tree is indeed the “output” of the tiny acorn program. One of the most interesting places to see small rules making cool patterns is in the world of cellular automata.

“Antarctica” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

This is another recent painting of mine based on cellular automata. The image also dovetails with my ongoing obsession with “At the Mountains of Madness,” which is H. P. Lovecraft’s story about the lost ancient city in Antarctica. You can see the image in that same recent “Still Seeking the Gnarl” post. I think of this painting as an aerial view of the ruined city. Synchronistically, the Capow pattern happened to have a shape like the head of a penguin. Working the phenomena. But maybe that’s possible. Maybe if you get phenomenological enough you can be dancing with the universe, in synch with reality’s higher cosmic patterns.

But if I’m living in some sense to the side of the so-called physical world, then what am I? As I was hinting at above, Gödel seems to want to say that he’s a monad, in Leibniz’s sense of the word. Gabriella Crocco of the university of Aix/Marseille wrote a great 2013 paper about Gödel, Leibniz, and monads, entitled, Gödel, Leibniz and “Russell’s mathematical logic”. The phrase “Russell’s Mathematical Logic,” refers to one of Gödel’s papers.
As another good philosophical resource see my Paris philosopher friend Mark van Atten’s excellent, “Monads and Sets. On Gödel, Leibniz, and the Reflection Principle” from 2009. Mark was my nearly constant companion when I was a visiting scholar in Brussels.

Tieszen’s Simply Gödel further discusses Gödel’s rationalistic Platonism, and gets into the issue of having direct phenomenological perceptions of transfinite sets, which is something which Gödel hinted at in his essay, “What is Cantor’s Continuum Problem,” and which G also discussed with the philosopher Hao Wang, and mentioned when talking to me. One the appealing things about Tieszen’s book (as well as Crocco and van Atten’s papers) is that, as a computer programmer might say about efficient low-level code, they “stay close to the metal.” Meaning that, rather than launching into overly wispy imaginings of what Gödel might have meant to say, these philosophers stick to actual quotes from the man’s published and unpublished papers, the more fragmentary remarks in his archives, and of others’ records of conversations with him. There’s more than enough here to launch the wildest fantasies.

“Thirteen Worlds,” acrylic on canvas. 24″ by 18″. January, 2009.

Getting back to monads, back in 2004, I read the whole of Leibniz’s short book, The Monadology. It’s pretty close to being incomprehensible. It’s way out there. Leibniz seems to say that our universe is an assemblage of “monads” which reflect each other, and each monad has the whole world inside it. Naturally, it struck me that an idea this crazy ought to be used in an SF story. And—here’s the literary surrealist-in-action part—as soon as I thought of that, I immediately thought that each monad should resemble a knobby giraffe. With brindle patches on it. And in 2016, I wrote an SF tale called “The Knobby Giraffe” for Lightspeed magazine.

But I still feel like I’m missing the mark in my conception of monads.

Something more to think about. Anyway, thanks again to Richard Tieszen and Simply Gödel for getting all these wild thoughts churning in my head!

Still Seeking the Gnarl

I finished a new painting, “In the Lost City of Leng.” It goes with a novella of the same title that I’m working with my writer friend Paul di Filippo. It’s kind of a sequel to H. P. Lovecraft’s greatest tale, “At the Mountains of Madness.”

“In the Lost City of Leng” acrylic on canvas, March, 2017, 40” x 30”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

The story is about some adventurers who find their way into a tens-of-thousands of years old city beneath the ice and snow of an obscure plateau in Antarctica. And some of the down-sloping walls of the hallways are adorned with friezes that describe the history, science, art, and culture of the “Elder Ones” or “cukes” who lived there. The cukes were all be exterminated by some train-car-sized slugs known as shoggoth. So in my painting, we see a couple of explorers, totally unaware of the waiting shoggoth below…

The main thing I was doing for that week or ten days was revising an old program of mine called Capow. It shows smoothly changing (or continuous valued) cellular automata (called CAs for short). Shown above is an image that Capow made for me. I like to say this is an aerial photo of the ruins of the lost city of Leng on the high Antarctic plateau by the Mountains of Madness. By a gift from the muse of synchronicity, the image contains a shape like the outline of a penguin head. Yep, I’m firing on all cylinders, bwah.

“Capow showing the “2D Grid – Gnarly Computation (pattern).CA” file. Click for a larger version of the image.

Supposedly Capow was developed for scientific and technological purposes, and I even wrote a formal paper about it, “Continuous-Valued CAs in Two Dimensions,” at the Santa Fe Institute in 1999. But what I really do with it is to create and watch gnarly edge-of-chaos lava-lamp-like realtime tweakable light-shows, based on 1D and 2D continuous valued cellular automata modeled on linear and nonlinear wave equations, on reaction-diffusion rules, and on user programmable rules. Time to get ill.

I have two web pages about Capow. The older Capow home page, with some references and a bit of history. And the new and more streamlined GitHub download page for Capow. I’d always wanted to put something on GitHub, which seems ultrageek and techie.

If you’re a Windows user, download the program, I’d advise you to load up that “2D Grid – Gnarly Computation (pattern).CA” file, and start to play. It’ll eat your brain. Dig the Norwegian (?) art deco quality of the next image.

I’m planning to do a series of CA paintings now—with the “simple” expedient of hand-copying prints of some of my fave CAs with my crude daubing. Should make for some nice abstract paintings. The hard thing about abstracts is to find a sufficiently off-kilter image that isn’t just the first standard scribble I might come up with. So this where my CA friends can come in.

What is a CA anyway? They’re based on so-called CA rules, which have the form of a tiny program which is, in effect placed into each cell of a 2D grid. I show these cells as pixels on your screen. The cell grid updates as fast as it can, maybe a few times a second, depending on the size of the grid. In the update, each cell or pixel looks at the continuous range of colors of the eight nearest pixels (the ones touching the sides and the corners of the pixel). And it applies its “rule” to this info in order to calculate its new color.

The old “game of Life” is a type of cellular automaton, but a kind of limited one, in that each of the grid cells for Life has only one on-or-off bit in it. But in Capow, each of the cells has one or two decimal numbers in it. We call the Capow rules “continuous-valued CAs.” Way gnarly.

What’s my hat doing in here? I’ve been on an oldtime fedora hat kick this winter, I got two new ones.

With the CAs munging my brain.

I still go out in the hills anyway. Had a great ride in Almaden-Quicksilver Park last week. This is a spot I rode to on June 3, 2004, right when I retired from teaching CS at San Jose State, already more than twelve years ago, wow. Lifebox self-archivist that I am, my Journals 1990-2014 book is online, and here’s a sampled quote from it relating to that particular day.

I’m retired, it’s vacation, I’m glad. I’m in Almaden Quicksilver Park, sitting at a picnic table beneath an oak high atop a long ridge that I biked up. Writing these notes on a folded-in-four sheet of paper from my pocket.

Today feels like a turning point, me going off bike-riding alone on a week day. Still processing the fact that I’m retired. Edging into a new phase of my life. Autumnal, ripe, brimming over.

The meadows are dry, summer gold with empty seed cases like pennants on the grass stalks. The oaks are green and vigorous, a bit dusty-looking already. Billions of chaotic oscillations in the grasses and the leaves, indeed this page is sun-dappled with shifting shadows. Quiet.

A woodpecker taps now and then. They’re such slow workers most of the time. You rarely hear the conventional jackhammer rat-a-tat.

Drifting down from the north is the muted roar of San Ho. But I’m facing towards a big valley of parkland, including the Guadalupe Reservoir and Mount Umunhum (means “hummingbird” in the Ohlone Indian tongue).

It’s so good for me to get out into nature. Away from the news, which creeps in everywhere now, into Twitter, Facebook, email, nearly every web page, and, of course, the news apps that I can’t quite stop looking at. Feh.

Also especially good to get out if I’ve been programming. I was spurred to do a new Capow release by seeing an interesting GitHub page about a somewhat similar kind of continuous-valued CA program called Ready, written by the Golly Gang, who are also associated with a fast Game of Life program called Golly. But it’s Ready that caught my interest. If you scroll down the Ready page, there’s some good images and great videos. I spark of that familiar competitive drive, and wanted to keep my program still in the game. So I decided to make a 2017 build of Capow, which is originally from 1998, and was last rebuilt in 2007.

The advantage of Capow is that it’s written in C++ for just one specific platform, and it’s optimized to run fast, and it’s interface is designed for clicking and playing. Ready, on the other hand, has the huge plus of being multiplatform, that is, there’s versions of it for Unix, the Mac, and so on. And it has a more scientific interface. But it runs very slow.

Mainly I wanted to up the “resolution” or number of cells that my Capow can run in its 2D CA rules. The thing about CAs is—they can soak up as much computational clout as your computer has. Make your grid twice as big, and you have four times as many cells. Put decimal numbers into your cells instead of little integers, and you’ve got another speed hit.

But in order to rebuild Capow, I needed to download a (surprisingly!) free Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 compiler to rebuild the code. A rusty laser cannon of a tool…or at least when faced with my ancient code. When you use old code there’s the issue of what hackers (old word for programmers) call “bit rot.” That is, the new compiler doesn’t approve of some of your old code and will throw warnings and cryptic error messages your way.

There’s a slot machine quality to trying to building a running program from code. Over and over you click the build button in your so called IDE (integrated development environment), over and over you get errors—and you fix them. Over and over you run the program, see things you don’t like, go back and change the code, push the build button, get new errors and fix them, push the build button and run the program, see new flaws and fix them, push the build button and—and so on. Like a bathrobed geezer with a walker in a Vegas casino working a slot.

Eventually I got to something that seemed good enough to share. Not something perfect by any means—that would require a whole new fresh start. But good enough.

And now I’m logging time, off and on, in the happy land of CAs. The images I’m showing you in this blog post don’t really do the program justice. All those spirals are merging and turning, and you can ding the screen with the “touch cursor” and the patterns shift. In the old days I used to love to look at these images when I was high—and now I find that I don’t even have to be high to look at them, they get me high on their own because, dude, those are images of my actual brain that I’m looking at.

Yeek! As I say, it’s also good to get outside.

But there is one more thing I want to mention about the Capow images, and this is the fact that so many diverse kinds of CA rules end up making swirling spiral scrolls. I call these Zhabotinsky patterns, after the biochemical Belusov-Zhabotinsky reaction-diffusion or activator-inhibitor reactions known to make such patterns in petri dishes or, for that matter, in the skins and hides of animals, and in the shells of invertebrates. Zhabos for short. If you up a Zhabo into three-dimensions, you get something shaped like a mushroom cap. Zhabos are everywhere. In the swirls of water, in the shapes of beans and fetuses, in lichens, in air currents. You can find a discussion of this online in the “Flickercladding” section of my non-fiction book The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

Onward up the hill of life!

To meet the cubic-wave-equation bubbles in the sky?

Or no, maybe what I want is the real sky. Hard to decide—but, after all, I don’t have to choose. We can have both. The reality and the dream, the seek and the gnarl.

Heavy Tripping With Raymond Chandler. Full Report.

I wrote this post on Feb 7, 2017, and then I rewrote it, making it about twice as long, on Feb 11, 2017. It got longer because I learned more about Raymond Chandler.

I’ve been reading a lot of Raymond Chandler over the last few weeks. He wrote seven novels: (1) The Big Sleep, (2) Farewell My Lovely, (3) The High Window, (4) The Lady in the Lake, (5) The Little Sister, (6) The Long Goodbye, (7) Playback. I’ve read them all now, totally binged on them, couldn’t stop, kept going back to Amazon for another one-click Kindle purchase.

For what it’s worth, I think Farewell My Lovely is the best, and I’d put The Little Sister in second place, even though when it came out, it was poorly reviewed. Often the first four are viewed as the core of his work, they appeared in a short period of time,

I also read most of Tom Hiney’s Raymond Chandler biography (Atlantic Press, 1997). Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888, but spent most of his childhood in England and Europe. He moved to the US when he was about 25, and ended up on LA. He married Cissy, a woman 18 years older than him, when he was 36. From 1922 to 1932 he worked at the Dabney Oil Company. We was writing some poems for fun, but no fiction.

His alcoholism took over in this forties, and he was fired from his job when he was 44, that is, in 1932. At this point he seems to have totally given up drinking for a number of years, maybe as for as long as ten years. He spent the next six years learning how to write—by writing tales for such pulp detective magazines as Black Mask. He wrote and sold his first novel, The Big Sleep, when he was fifty.

(1) The Big Sleep (1939) has some of the jazz and glamour of being his first, and some great lines. The plot is insanely tangled. It’s sort of two plots, one after another. When they were filming the classic Bogart / Bacall version of the movie, supposedly one of the screenwriters telegraphed Chandler to ask him who actually killed the chauffer who dies right near the start..or was it a suicide. Supposedly our man’s answer was NO IDEA.

There’s this great sexy-woman description of a tough cookie named Agnes. She’s at the reception desk of a fake antiquarian bookstore which is actually a porn library. Marlowe pretends to be a nerd looking for a rare book.

She got up slowly and swayed towards me in a tight black dress that didn’t reflect any light. She had long thighs and she walked with a certain something I hadn’t often seen in bookstores. She was an ash blonde with greenish eyes, beaded lashes, hair waved smoothly back from ears in which large jet buttons glittered. Her fingernails were silvered. In spite of her get-up she looked as if she would have a hall bedroom accent.

She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a business men’s lunch and tilted her head to finger a stray, but not very stray, tendril of softly glowing hair. Her smile was tentative, but could be persuaded to be nice.

“Was it something?”” she inquired

I had my horn-rimmed sunglasses on. I put my voice high and let a bird twitter in it. “Would you happen to have a Ben Hur 1860?”

I just wonder what a “hall bedroom accent” is.

Later we meet Carmen Sternwood, a very wild girl, maybe a little crazy. She has an unsettling giggle. “The giggles got louder and ran around the corners of the room like rats behind the wainscoting.”

(2) Farewell my Lovely (1940) is dynamite, a masterpiece from beginning to end. A couple of nice quotes.

Like, Marlowe is talking to a big tough guy. The guy introduces himself: “I’m called Moose, on account of I’m large.”

A sharp woman enters Marlowe’s office. Love the fashion description. So late 1930s.

“Her hair by daylight was pure auburn and on it she wore a hat with a crown the size of a whiskey glass and a brim you could have wrapped the week’s laundry in. She wore it at an angle of approximately forty-five degrees, so that the edge of the brim just missed her shoulder. In spite of that it looked smart. Perhaps because of that.”

Marlowe examines a photo of a woman involved in the case.

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. She was wearing street clothes that looked black and white, and a hat to match and she was a little haughty, but not too much. Whatever you needed, wherever you happened to be—she had it.”

Here’s Marlowe wandering in a beachside amusement park. So classic.

“Beyond the electroliers, beyond the beat and toot of the small sidewalk cars, beyond the smell of hot fat and popcorn and the shrill children and the barkers in the peep shows, beyond everything but the smell of the ocean and the suddenly clear line of the shore and the creaming fall of the waves into the pebbled spume. I walked almost alone now. The noises died behind me, the hot dishonest light became a fumbling glare. Then the lightless finger of a black pier jutted seaward into the dark. This would be the one. I turned to go out on it.”

As I mentioned, Chandler was a very heavy drinker until the age of 44, and later on, when he began working for Hollywood around age 55, he again began drinking a lot. All along, his characters drink a lot. Up until twenty years ago, I used to drink a lot, and I’m familiar with the transfer mechanism.

You’re writing, and wishing you could have a drink, but maybe putting that off because you want to be sharp for the writing, or maybe you’ve stopped drinking entirely just in order to survive, but you really really want a drink—so you let your character have a few, or more than a few. Even now I kind of miss drinking and getting high, so it’s not that unusual for me to have some of characters catch a buzz. Letting your characters get drunk and stoned is, in a way, not so different from letting them be able to fly, or travel in time, or have sex with lots of people. Wish fulfillment.

(3) The High Window (1942) has a good neurasthenic mousy woman who thinks she murdered a man, but maybe she didn’t. She’s a secretary for a rich lady. Marlowe is grilling her about a showgirl named, wait for it, Lois Magic.

“Okay, what does Miss Lois Magic look like?”

“She’s a tall handsome blond. Very—very appealing. ”

“You mean sexy?”

“Well—” she blushed furiously, “in a nice well-bred sort of way, if you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean,” I said, “but I never got anywhere with it.”
“I can believe that,” she said tartly. .She leaned back in her chair and put her small neat hands on her desk and looked at me levelly. “I wouldn’t carry that tough-guy manner too far, if I were you, Mr. Marlowe. Not with me, at any rate.”

“I’m not tough,” I said. “Just virile.”

She picked up a pencil and made a mark on a pad. She smiled faintly up at me, all composure again. “Perhaps I don’t like virile men,” she said.”

(4)The Lady in the Lake 1943. Even though Chandler was still doing his stint as a tee-totaller, you get the feeling he’s sick of it, and alcohol is kind of taking over the plot. I think at this point Chandler is a little fed-up with his thus-far-commercially-unsuccessful novels. Marlowe is depressed. The death of one of the characters is really nauseating—she’s found decomposed under being under a dock in a lake for a month. Oook!

But there’s tons of good stuff too. One of Chandler’s strong points is description—of clothes, faces, houses, and landscape. Very concise and poetic. Like haiku almost. Here’s a lovely description of a lake resort that Marlowe drives up to. Not a single word out of place.

The road skimmed along a high granite outcrop and dropped to meadows of coarse grass in which grew what was left of the wild irises and white and purple lupine and bugle flowers and columbine and penny-royal and desert paint brush. Tall yellow pines probed at the clear blue sky. The road dropped again to lake level and the landscape began to be full of girls in gaudy slacks and snoods and peasant handkerchiefs and rat rolls and fat-soled sandals and fat white thighs. People on bicycles wobbled cautiously over the highway and now and then an anxious-looking bird thumped past on a power-scooter.

A mile from the village the highway was joined by another lesser road … I turned the Chrysler into this and crawled carefully around huge bare granite rocks and past a little waterfall and through a maze of black oak trees and ironwood and manzanita and silence. A bluejay squawked on a branch and a squirrel scolded at me and beat one paw angrily on the pine cone it was holding. A scarlet-topped woodpecker stopped probing in the dark long enough to look at me with one beady eye and then dodge behind the tree trunk to look at me with the other one.

And here’s a very cute little subroutine or mini-story threaded through a couple of chapters of The Lady in the Lake . (I should explain that an old-fashioned PBX is a “private branch exchange” with an operator and a switchboard with plugs in it.)

A neat little blonde sat off in a far corner at a small PBX, behind a railing and well out of harm’s way.

…The little blonde at the PBX cocked a shell-like ear and smiled a small fluffy smile. She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don’t care much about kittens.

…The Gillerlain Company’s reception room looked even emptier than the day before. The same fluffy little blonde was tucked in behind the PBX in the corner. She gave me a quick smile and I gave her the gunman’s salute, a stiff forefinger pointing at her, the three lower fingers tucked back under it, and the thumb wiggling up and down like a western gun fighter fanning his hammer. She laughed heartily, without making a sound. This was more fun than she had had in a week

…I walked back down the room and out. The little blonde at the PBX looked at me expectantly, her small red lips parted, waiting for more fun.

I didn’t have any more. I went on out.

Shortly after this novel, in 1944, Chandler started getting work as a screenwriter in Hollywood starting with James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. He made hundreds times as much money off his film work as off his writing. He also started drinking heavily again—there’s a famous story of his drinking writing the script for The Blue Dahlia in 1946. But I’ll post about his screenwriting career another time.

(5) In The Little Sister,(1949) Chandler’s in great form. He’s been in Hollywood for six years since Lady in the Lake. Lots of drinking in the novel , but it’s kind of funny, and it’s maybe a little more playful given that he’s no longer holding back. Great scene with a sodden gin-soaked landlady in a rooming house. And the villain, the little sister of the title, is ter4ifict. There’s some priceless dialog between her and Marlowe. She’s talking to him in his office, She’s come to LA from Manhattan, Kansas, supposedly in search of her brother. It’s clear she’s holding back on the facts.

Marlowe: “I’ll tell you what’s wrong. I’ll skip over your not telling me where you’re staying, because it might be just that you’re afraid I’ll show up with a quart of hooch under my arm and make a pass at you.”

“That’s not a very nice way to talk,” she said.

“Nothing I say is nice. I’m not nice. By your standards nobody with less than three prayer-books could be nice. But I am inquisitive…” [Marlowe then sums up the facts of the case as he sees them.]

She came to her feet with a lunge. “You’re a horrid, disgusting person,” she said angrily. “I think you’re vile. Don’t you dare say mother and I weren’t worried [about my brother.] Just don’t you dare.”

As it turns out the little sister isn’t really worried about her brother, and she’s a completely crooked person, but with a goodie-goodie façade. Like a smarmy evangelical preacher you might say, or like any number of recent cabinet appointees, not that I want to go there. Anyway, I loved this book.

(6) The Long Goodbye (1953) came four years later, shorlty after Chandler dropped his movie career, and it’s almost twice as long as the others, and reads, at times, like a parody of Chandler. Like a Guy Noir episode on Prairie Home Companion, but not in a good way. And it’s weighted down with gloomy pronouncements on what’s wrong with the world at large. Chandler is 65, and feeling a little fried. The book was, for whatever reason, reviewed more favorably than his tight, hard-core hard-boiled novels. It’s like the way critics might like some puffy wheenk-wheenk-wheenk SF novelabout feelings—more than a hardcore nihilistic cyberpunk work.

A larege proportion of The Long Goodbye revolves around alcoholism: blackouts, rehab cures, alcoholic suicides, and drinks, drinks, drinks. One of the characters is even an alcoholic author of best-selling books. Of course Philip Marlowe repeatedly claims he can control his own drinking. He’s not like the others. Naaah. Even if he’d rather drink champagne than make love to the luscious Linda Loring. Kind of sad.

Here’s Linda.

“She shut the door and turned. She had loosened her hair and she had tufted slippers on her bare feet and a silk robe the color of a sunset in a Japanese print. She came towards me slowly with a sort of unexpectedly shy smile. I held a glass out to her. She took it.”

Oh well!

She’s rich and she’s in love with Marlowe, too. But he’s not ready.

(7) Playback (1958) came shortly before Chandler died, a final novel, based on a screenplay he’d never finished. The plot of this one is pretty weak, but he has some good lines…he’s having fun with writing a “Chandler novel,” almost mocking it a times, and sticking in any old thing. The dude is seventy! His biographer Tom Hiney suggests that Chandler might have actually been drunk during the hours he worked on this book. But there’s some good stuff.

She was an outdoorsy type with shiny make-up and a horse tail of medium blond hair sticking out the back of her noodle.

Love him using the word “noodle.”

Here’s an example of Ray kind of laughing at himself, and at his imitators. A tough babe talking to him.

Then she leaned back and gave me the look.

“I’ve got friends who could cut you down so small you’d need a stepladder to put your shoes on.”

“Somebody did a lot of hard work on that one,” I said. “But hard work’s no substitute for talent.”

Suddenly we both burst out laughing.

As synchronicity would have it, just before reading Playback, I took a nice photo of a bird of paradise flower in the rain. I was using my heavy-duty Canon SRT 5D with a really long lens, and I had “film speed” set down to 100, so the lens aperture is very wide, which means I got great “bokeh,” which is the quality of having only the picture plane object be in focus. I love how alert a blossoming bird of paradise blossom looks. Like a donkey looking over a fence.]

And then in Playback I found this passage:

Very small things amuse a man of my age. A hummingbird, the extraordinary way a strellitzia bloom opens. Why at a certain point in its growth does the bud turn at right angles? Why does the bud split so gradually and why do the flowers emerge always in a certain exact order, so that the sharp unopened end of the bud looks like a bird’s beak and the blue and orange petals make a bird of paradise?

And, guess what, at the end of Playback , Phillip Marlowe decides to marry his lost love, Linda Loring of The Long Goodbye!

Here’s to you, Ray!

In 1953, Raymond Chandler wrote a little spoof of SF in a letter that’s quoted in Tom Hiney’s bio of him. Would have been cool if our man Ray had written some SF, but, hey, he was born in 1888. As William Gibson has remarked, Chandler was real influence on us cyberpunks.

And indeed my novel Wetware opens with a Chandler-like scene of my character Sta-Hi or Stahn Mooney working as a private detective out of an office on the Moon. Dealing with the doings of the intelligent robots called boppers. The guy Yukawa who phones Stahn was in fact modeled by me on Gibson himself. That long, thin, flexible head.

It was the day after Christmas, and Stahn was plugged in. With no work in sight, it seemed like the best way to pass the time . . . other than drugs, and Stahn was off drugs for good, or so he said. The twist-box took his sensory input, jazzed it, and passed it on to his cortex. A pure software high, with no somatic aftereffects. Staring out the window was almost interesting. The maggies left jagged trails, and the people looked like actors. Probably at least one of them was a meatie. Those boppers just wouldn’t let up. Time kept passing, slow and fast.

At some point the vizzy was buzzing. Stahn cut off the twist-box and thumbed on the screen. The caller’s head appeared, a skinny yellow head with a down-turned mouth. There was something strangely soft about his features.

“Hello,” said the image. “I’m Max Yukawa. Are you Mr. Mooney?”

Without the twist, Stahn’s office looked unbearably bleak. He hoped Yukawa had big problems.

“Stahn Mooney of Mooney Search. What can I do for you, Mr. Yukawa?”

“It concerns a missing person. Can you come to my office?”


It’s been raining like a mofo. I’m picking up hyperspace signals in High Martian, trying to firm up the ideas for this story called “Black Bucket” that I’m working on with Bruce Sterling.

What, him again? I never learn. This photo is from about 1995, shot a party on our deck held in the visiting Bruce’s honor. I pretty sure that in this photo I’m drunk. I’m practically choking Bruce, and he’s being patient with me.

“The Elephant Bush” acrylic on canvas, January, 2017, 24” x 20”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I finished a new painting last week, of a little boy seeing some cute little flying elephants who live in a plant they call an “elephant bush.” Rudy Jr. recently got such a bush at his local Loew’s Lumber. I started thinking about the possibilities, actualized them, and gave the painting to Rudy’s four-year-old son. Hung it right on his wall. I think he likes it

Here’s an illustration of one of the “Elder Ones” or what personally call “sea-cuke men” by Jason Thompson. These critters are in H. P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece, “At the Mountains of Madness,” which I reread in January. I’d like to work some of these creatures, or at least their vibes, into my projected next novel project, Return to the Hollow Earth. Still not quite sure how to set the book up. It could be a second journal by Mason Reynolds, from the 1890s. Or it could be a hoaxing first-person account of my own trip into the Hollow Earth, accomplished quite recently using a stolen replica of James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger. Stay tuned.

I think I’ll go down the coffee shop and try and convert this diagram I made into the next segment of my story with Bruce. “Black Bucket,” yes. And, yes, I do remember what the drawing means. Come by my Moon office and we can talk about it. Take a dip in that pouch of 4D Smeel maybe…

Still raining, still dreaming.

Rain. Art. Life After the Inauguration.

As I’ve been doing in posts of late, I’ll work my way backwards through some recent photos.

Sylvia and I went to the Women’s March in San Francisco the day after the Inauguration. A rainy day with a big crowd. It had some of that old Vietnam war protest march vibe. Reassuring to see so many like-minded people.

My son Rudy plus his wife and three kids were along as well. I like my grandson’s cheerful “Where the wild things are” type umbrella on the dim city street.

In a completely different vein, the day before the Inauguration, Sylvia and I were in town for the SF Ballet’s annual gala. Such a stark contrast with the homeless people sleeping on cardboard on the sidewalk outside. I don’t recall the social split ever being this extreme. Like one imagines the Middle Ages to have been. Terrific photo ops in the lobby crowd at the gala. I dug this guys white glasses frames, and the alert woman with him.

These two women were great, talking very intensely amid the swirling crowd. It’s good sometimes to have a blurred figure in a photo. This shot and the one before are made with my grainy iPhone…but, as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you at any given time.

This trans was at the Woman’s March, not at the gala. Very San Francisco. The crowd was so thick here that I couldn’t move for about ten minutes. I was starting to think I couldn’t stand it, but I had to stand it. No other option. Kind of like having Trump as president. The only way through it is one day at a time.

A week before we were up at Terry and Judy Bisson’s house in Oakland / Berkeley for a pussyhat knitting/crocheting party. Ten or so women making pink yarn hats—Sylvia ended up making five of them: one for her, one for a friend, one for our daughter in law, an two for our granddaughters. While the women were yarning, fellow Kentuckian SF writer Terry and I went out and showed me the East Bay port of Alameda, including a bunch of stored Navy ships. Good composition in this one. The depth numbers on ships’ hulls always intrigue me.

Terry’s writing office is a low chair in his garage, with an axle-grease stained Mac Book. Terry’s a mechanic as well as a writer.

While we were walking along the shore of Alameda island we caught this charming view of Oakland. Everything nice and green from all the rain we’ve had. You rarely see so romantic a view of Oakland.

Another shot of the Navy ships, with the rat-boarding-ramp hawser…plus the proverbial rat-blocker.

Terry’s wife Judy likes to dry their laundry in the sun. Lovely sight, with the big yucca leaves in back.

Later Sylvia and I were walking around Berkeley near the fabled Kirala sushi restaurant (waiting to get in line in time for its 5:30 opening), and saw this cool corrugated metal wall with the window grill and some old posters under the grill.

I now have nine of my novels in print from Transreal Books! Almost a uniform edition.

A week before that, we hit the DeYoung museum in SF and, as many times before, I went to look at the wonderful African masks on the second floor. This one is kind of like a Peter Bagge cartoon, with the droopy nose. It’s that old Picasso thing—the way that tribal art can cut to the same place that cartoons or modern art are trying to

Daughter Isabel here on a visit, and beside a Frank Stella painting. His color sense is so great. And Isabel was such fun to have around.

The Stella show in the DeYoung was a small retrospective, and this is one of his most recent works. They guy is now 80, and not letting up. Apparently he designs the small model for the finished work on a computer and makes an image of the model with a 3D printer. And then manufactures the big sculpture via some equally sophisticated process that falls under the new rubric “rapid prototyping“—and which may even be 3D printing as well, in resin, which is then painted with flashy automobile paint. Stella says this work is still a “painting.” To him it represents a passage of classical music, perhaps a few bars of Scarlatti. The multidimensionality of music…

This duck-like mask figure is particularly great. I have a leg up on this style of art given that I find it very difficult to make photorealistic images at all. The trick is to draw fast, from the eye. A catch is that it’s hard to draw fast with a brush. By the way, I sold some more paintings this month, bringing the total sales up to 46 paintings…not including the ones I’ve given to relatives or stashed in my permanent collection.

Fellow SF writer Greg Benford was in town and we had a posh lunch in Stanford followed by a visit to the Anderson gallery and the Cantor art museum. It can be fun talking to Greg, especially if we get onto (a) SF world gossip or (b) the mechanics of implementing various SFnal ideas. He also likes to tell me how great his career is doing, has done, and will do—and I have to sort of noodge him away from that, lest I choke in my own authorial bile. But I can just tell him this. Our maneuvering is quite open, and not a cause for tension.

Before hitting the museums, Greg and I got lost, and we came upon the tomb of the Leland Stanford family. Mysterious and Egyptian in the rain. Like Greg and I were explorers on some alien world. “My god! A statue of a sphinx on Mars?”

I also got together with my San Jose State prof colleague Jon Pearce—going out to savor the damp green hills after the rain. I insisted we bushwhack a path through a thicket and it took half an hour to go a hundred feet. Jon was like, “There are trails too, aren’t there?

Cozy in my office with my electric radiator as the rain fell.

When the storms finally start, I’m so thrilled to see the water rings on puddles. Nature such a great and wonderful analog computation, never missing a beat.

The dry gully below our house developed its seasonal (one or two weeks a year) creek. Gorgeous flows.

Biggest thrill: the Lexington Reservoir just south of Los Gatos filled and overflowed, shooting out a plume of foamy class-four chaos from its flume. One of the last times this happened was the day Bill Clinton first got elected. Different election, but the flume plume returns.

Vasona dam is overflowing as well, and here’s a spot where it looks like a great, living mound of water awaiting you at the end of a companion way. “Right this way, sir.” I’ve been rereading H. P. Lovecraft’s magnum opus, “At the Mountains of Madness,” which features some formless shoggoth monsters in Antarctica, so this image is quite apposite.

Nice big mound of foamy water. I know I’ve said this before, but the computational richness of such processes totally staggers me.

And now it’s spring, with the acid-green blades of grass like stained-glass windows lit by the One light of the Sun.

One more shot from the Cirque du Soleil.

And yet another. We’ll keep our balance, we’ll move on.

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