Why do we ask: are we alone?

Whilst camping recently I was staring up at the night sky and asked this: Are we alone? Fuelled partly by alcohol and due to the beauty and fascination of the universe of stars I could see. The question seemed to unravel for me in it’s complexity.

I came across a strain of thought that seemed to offer a faint hope of understanding.

Why do we ask, are we alone?

Why is it that so many minds have been dedicated to this idea of finding other life in the universe. The question itself seems a ‘Normative’ way to consider this problem. We are making a statement on how the universe ought to be. It is a consideration of one species without enough information.

What is it about the universe that we think it unfathomable that we might actually be alone? What is the thing that motivates us to WANT to have other life out there on other planets.

In the morning I observed a very small finch bouncing around exploring for food. The birds precise mathematical dance filled me with fascination. The bird took a second to stop very close to where I was sitting, for a long time it considered me and then darted off far into the distance looking for food in the bark of a tree. It was part of that creatures biology to search for food in new areas, to seek new foraging grounds to be curious, to look for mates to expand it’s world and survive and to be curious.

Humans are like this, we left Africa for new fertile lands in exploration to colonise every continent on this planet.  It is built within our psychology  to ask “Are we alone”  to explore the next valley, next river, next continent and eventually the next planet and again to be curious.

Humans have developed to be hugely social beings our co-dependency and collaboration is one stratagem for survival. It is most likely why the idea of being alone in the universe terrifies us. Simply because it threatens our views so ingrained to how we survived and survive as a species. Just think as a species one of our worst punishments is solitary confinement, essentially for one human to feel totally alone is a punishment close to death.

We seek to not be alone, however not being alone in the universe would imply that we are in reality looking for species very much like ourselves. What happens if we find sentient life and they are not like us? (A possibility). Or  finding that the only life out there are just micro-organisms?  Micro-organisms will only temporarily give us the impression we are less alone, after all we cannot communicate with a lump of goo. We may continue the search for sentient life regardless of results forever searching for it.

It is interesting to me this question ‘why do we ask, why are we alone’?  It supplied me with hours of contemplation while I sat around the campfire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading by the Torch Light

 

 

Reading by the torch light

Decades of debris

All along the roadside

Three weeks, dying grass & bee stings

….

Air bag then a white pause

Once a grey cloud

Looking out the long window

Incremental buffalo grass

….

Caladan indigo ocean

Concentric ripples

People strolling outside

Conversation mist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fallout 4: Review

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I got really caught up in the anticipation for this game, I had an odd feeling like being a kid again and really wanting a toy and being reliant on things outside my means to get it.

I had a yearning feeling like I was missing out on something big. Friends where posting screenshots of their adventures on Facebook, while I moped around playing Fallout shelter game for the the tablet (Which turned out to be quite entertaining and enjoyable)

My best buddy had worked on the in-game animations, and many months before it was released we had had talked at length about the Fallout series, this and some of my friends also anticipating it’s release had me totally amped to play.

I was patient and eventually things turned around in my life and work and I figured a way to get a decent new PC, the moment finally arrived after the long 25 gb download.

The start of the game was great, the feel of the world unblemished, actually witnessing the most fascinating part of the game: Why was there a war,  what actually happened.(Small bits of padding are added to the main story) Then you submerge into the vault, as a bomb goes off you see the mushroom cloud: You were there!

Cryogenics, Frozen for 200 years, awesome!

Stepping out of the vault into the world is where some of the problems in the mechanics of the game started to appear. My computer went into overdrive, the CPU sounding like a Harrier jump jet taking off. This is a high spec brand new computer; I lowered the settings and game still ate up huge amount of resources.

I soldiered on, and worked my way through the main quest lines going back and retracing my steps and completing other quest lines: Minutemen, Railroad and the Institute (I didn’t get around to the brotherhood)

I enjoyed the main quests, although it is a bit usual in that what you choose doesn’t always work flawlessly or make a great deal of sense. (I guess that is the fallout series)

For example in the main mission for the railroad you have to complete nearly all the main missions for the institute to unlock the last missions for the Railroad, so you go to a huge amount of effort to get a reactor working only to flip over and then blow it up.

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Unfinished graphics are a problem throughout the game

There are plenty of things that make you overlook some of the issues  in the game, the feel of the game is a huge factor, the dialog and companions are great, Deacon and Codsworth especially.

Some of the side quests are so interesting and fun. I wasn’t so much a fan of the settlement building side of the game. It’s fun but it doesn’t feel like it is going anywhere. It is quite clunky time consuming and you start to understand how the game makers made the fallout 4 world, which ruins it a little for the player.

Fallout 4 and the series as a whole are good but mysterious games, they all have odd issues that other games don’t. The feel is great but things are unfinished or very roughly made, the characters and story line is strong but the mechanics of the game work very badly. Some things look great but others look fairly bad (Water for example).

I love the series, but can you imagine this game if they ironed out some of these bugs?

It is a great game and series but it could be the BEST game and series if they worked a bit harder fixing small problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throsby Bridge: Oil on Masonite

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I started this painting 5 years ago, I have never really painted a landscape in oils before this was my first.

The idea was to create something like a Jeffery Smart, Edward hopper or a Tony Peters…I wanted to see if I could paint like a landscape like those artists do.  I wasn’t interested in painting somewhere ‘nice’ or ‘beautiful’ I wanted an abandoned place a place nobody cares about…a place that is silent but dominated by man.

It is a iron built bridge spanning over a railway line that leads to a coal terminal near the old BHP works in Newcastle, it handles car traffic going over and underneath is usually coal trains going in and out every day and night 24 hours 7 days a week.

The bridge itself is very old, it looks like it was built in the 1940’s or even earlier. There is scattered garbage and weeds everywhere…nobody really goes on the road that goes underneath, not very often. When I took the photos the cars that came by looked at me like I was selling drugs or up to no good. It is that kind of place.

The painting wasn’t technically hard, it could realistically be completed in one or two weeks by a good painter, yet I struggled and was at pains with it. I left it untouched for so long just because I got caught on certain aspects and had no idea how to solve it. Painting never feels like a ‘hobby’ for me.

I started by painting a piece of Masonite with a couple of layers of white backing paint let it dry then rubbed in red oil to bring out red highlights while painting (that’s why the first panel is red) It was a trick that I found in an oil painting guide.

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I traced out my image from a photo, in charcoal then started to paint it in very lightly using lots of turps and just black, that first bit is always the fastest. I was constantly thinking what it could ‘mean’ I totally overthought the whole process.I painted and repainted whole sections, scrubbed out and redid parts over and over. Yesterday my wife asked me if I would ever finish it, it occurred to me then something that was supposed to be fun was turning out to be a symbolic burden of my life. Countless friends and relatives had asked when I would finish it over the years.

The truth is I really struggled,  maybe next painting will be easier. I am sort of happy with it..I am not sure what it means or what it is exactly to anyone.

But I completed it..that’s what is important.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914

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I remember when I was in primary school I was fascinated by a book my father gave me about the world wars, in the first chapters I would stare at the comic like pictures of the Kaiser taking a bite out of the globe, I remember the little picture of the car in which Franz Ferdinand was killed, the whole thing just seemed odd, just one person the killing of Franz Ferdinand lead to the events that kicked off a massive world war costing millions of lives, how?

The book starts with an excellent introduction, detailing why the book is worthy of some contemplation, with philosophical points raised by Clarke, namely “Is any war really inevitable”  in the conclusion Clarke also cleverly distances himFeatured imageself from pointing fingers at any one party and generates some philosophical contemplation about the broader problem:

The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in a conservatory with a smoking pistol. There is no smoking gun this story; or rather, there is one in the hands of every major character.

It is a curious way to think about things, that each party seemed to blame each other, hence mutually assuring its own destruction, a sort of ‘Mexican stand off’ of nations.

Yet standing back, from Clarkes rather ambivalent conclusions, I felt that he often set to point out something else entirely.

From the very beginning Clarke sets to outline how violent and turbulent the Serbians could be even to their own monarchy, how violent nationalist elements inside their own country were actively supported by the Serbian government, how the country never really attempted to hide its contempt for Austria for annexing Bosnia Herzegovina in 1908.

In today’s world, these kind of things are called terrorist activities and are looked on very dimly indeed. Entertain for a second that a nationalist element somewhere in the world assassinated Prince Charles, if a country was found to be clearly behind the actions there would be massive ramifications and investigations to who was behind it, if it was certain to be linked to a nation then there would be a proper independent investigation and then action taken against by the UN and then other nations.

But back in 1914 there seemed to be little interest in following up the links between the Black Hand and the Serbian nationalists.  Many knew they had links to senior military leaders and politicians but never really put any effort into proving it as true. If they had done this logical thing then the cause for the war would of been extinguished, or at least the alliance may have even sought to punish Serbia or let Austria just take its revenge and keep the dispute local. It was this simple following through that could of made so much difference.

Yet in the situation that unfolded, Russia, France and England all came in defending Serbia against an Austrian invasion. This was something of a revelation to me, I had never really thought that the so called ‘good guys’ of the war could of potentially been defending a country that had essentially poured petrol on and lit the fuse to start it.

During the slow lead up to the war the mind begins to boggle at the many possibilities for peace, it seems all parties, France, Germany, England and Austria all tried but failed to secure any effort at peace, individuals had a good go at it, but all seemed to sort of give up powerless at the bureaucratic mess that unfolded.

It is also confusing that histories nominated bad guy – Germany seemed to want to avoid the war altogether right up to the very last moments and clearly thought it could be localized to the Balkan region, this is not the history that we are taught in school.

As a history book, this was tedious but rewarding, there is no doubt I have a much deeper understanding of prewar conditions including a very detailed account of the assassination itself and the events leading up the court case afterwards which made fascinating reading.

This book was a mammoth undertaking just one page of the in depth analysis of pre-war European political landscape had the effect of setting me off to a good nights sleep. There were a few times I nearly gave up, but then out of the blue an astonishing episode in history that I was previously unaware of would keep me glued to the page.

As for understanding of why it happened, I think this is a task that historians and thinkers will have difficulty really understanding for a very long time, however I am glad this book exists because there are plenty of unexpected events that unfolded that just don’t fit into any nationalistic history of the war.

Morrissey Autobiography

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A thought bubble appeared in the hours after finishing the Morrissey autobiography.  ‘Is Morrissey the world’s best salesman?’

It’s not an obvious reaction to the book, nor have many other people come to anything close to this conclusion about Morrissey, and yet I still have that feeling as if I have been hoodwinked.

Morrissey’s autobiography is like Morrissey himself -in no way typical, I felt cautious while reading it, in that being a fan that I was being lured into forgetting that he is a superstar, forgetting that the book is now a Penguin classic.

I have always seen myself as a Morrissey, Smiths fan, his music has been a huge part of my life. I never have gotten sick of his music, it never becomes dated and has an uncanny property to transpire trends, he is a musician and a writer on the level of intellectual that many other popular artists never even come close to.

There are certain things that as a fan I just take for granted (and love) about Morrissey, and I found those things in his Autobiography, his narrative setting starting in Manchester was so masterfully written that I had to put the book down for a week or so, it had that sort of hard emotional impact. It was so intense that I had to go back reassess Morrissey and his music, I felt for years that much of his lyrics were him being…well lyrical. But it turns out in a song like ‘The Headmaster Ritual” it seems to actually worse than the song permits.

There is something powerful underpinning this Autobiography that kept my mind ticking over while reading this, here is someone who everyone thought would fail, who record companies failed to sign up, who’s personality did not play into the business model of the recording industry, who’s talent was underestimated by the press, who’s demeanour did not fit comfortably to what people class as a successful artist, yet he was a success…he overcame all odds.

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His years with the Smiths which recordings people still listen to every single day, he admits where short, and I was surprised how little detail we have about Marr or his friendship with him. In many ways Morrissey is a closed book, forever an enigma, always a labyrinth to navigate, this struck me as being odd as we are invited to learn everything in his autobiography.Many things where missing from his his narrative, like how his family reacted to him becoming a superstar for example, or about  his battles with depression which we know with all respect that he has had, or how success had changed him from that innocent Manchester kid who showed up backstage at Roxy music concerts,  to multi mega-star whisked away to the sounds of adoring fans.

In his modest way he seems to be amused by his success befuddled, surprised by it.

Morrissey, spends a huge amount of time clearing the decks and attempting to set the record straight, he takes myriad swipes at people never forgetting anything, it is one of his many indulgences that as fans we forgive him for. Yet in this format it does become very tiresome, especially when we encounter his trial with Mike Joyce that goes into the intimate legal details for many pages.

Morrissey has a terrific turn of phrase, some of his passages are pure poetry, yet it is fragmented, a hotch potch recalling of his career, he lingers far from things we want access to, the last quarter of the book reads more like his touring diary with notes rather than a sophisticated wrap up of his whole working career.

The autobiography was intoxicating at times yet I was left with my face pressed against the glass window watching him walk by from afar.

 

If you don’t love it…breathe

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There has been much ink split about this t-shirt which was pulled from a Cairns Woolworths, both 2GB shock jock Ray Hadley and Clive Palmer party Jacqui Lambie came out in support of it staying on shelves.

Many times have I been in a traffic jam behind a Ute or 4WD with bumper bar covered in the bogan holy trinity:  ‘I fish and I vote’ or “Fuck off we’re full’ and ‘If you don’t love it LEAVE’

The slogan is an effective piece of propaganda, as good as ‘Loose lips sink ships’ or ‘Keep calm and carry on”. The slogan condenses larger complex issues into a smaller and easy to digest bundle. It is intentionally vague, the sort of people who wear it have a particular message they want to send to new immigrants to this country. It is intimidating, aggressive but in its vagueness a little bizarre.

It attempts to appeal to the reader’s raw emotional state, asking you to love your country or leave it, an all or nothing scenario. Australia takes out the position of someone you are in a relationship with and you have any doubts about that person, then its over.

Every time I see the slogan I get a little angry: Why is this bumper sticker even threatening me anyways? Maybe I don’t love parts of Australia maybe I think parts of Australia are a total shithole, isn’t Australia a free place, why can’t I not love it sometimes?

Where does forcing someone to love something become what is to be Australian? I was under the impression the moment the convicts landed they were sitting around bitching about being sent to a hot, dry island full of insects and reptiles that bite and kill, forced to carve out some kind of meager existence from what was then a very harsh landscape.

When you love something you nurture and look after it, cherish it, wrap it up in cotton wool. How does cutting down thousands of hectares of native bush-land, wiping out flora and fauna, digging massive holes in the ground for mineral resources and killing aboriginal people, destroying thousands of years worth of culture fit in to loving your country.

Why do the very vocal spruikers of this slogan feel it is their personal responsibility to remind people how much everyone should love this country?

It should read “If you don’t love it, Breathe” just chill out a bit-nobody has to love every bit of their country! Have a beer, go for a surf; enjoy life!

 

Typical excuses for being dumb about politics

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I have just trudged through a state by-election, in Newcastle. I discovered that many people are totally apathetic about politics, many act like anyone who is holding a political pamphlet just came down with a case of ebola. After a while I began to hear all the same old tired excuses from voters, there wasn’t much behind how they felt just a thin veneer of an opinion.

The most common excuses I heard include:

1. They are all the same as each other, why bother

The crying call of the apathetic voter, they are right but in only a superficial way. Pry further and discover that these voters don’t know the difference between left and right politics, nor any of the major issues, party policies or why exactly they feel this way.

Often I feel as if they have overheard someone they know in a conversation who was exasperated with politics and felt like giving up, and just took on that opinion without ever actually having to form an opinion of their own.

2. This is a safe seat, my vote won’t count or make any difference so why bother

It’s just a monumentally stupid opinion, but many have it, the idea that their vote won’t count because the seat is held by the same party every year, they usually see minor parties as a ‘wasted vote’.

They seem to express it in a Marvin the robot type way, the world, democracy everything is a giant effort to take part in, and they can’t be bothered.

I am not sure how these people end up voting, maybe they pick the party opposite or put in a informal vote, either way the idea that their vote doesn’t count just astounds me:- if they have a problem with the party that keeps winning that seat, show it by voting for someone else, isn’t it obvious?

3. If I vote for party (a) then that will bring more money to our city, because we always vote in party (b)

So that’s all you care about, a bit of pork barreling for your area?

This is similar to 2, but held by a different sort of person; usually it’s a contrary conservative, who is bitter that the left always wins their seat.

These people have this odd idea that swinging seats bring in all the goods for that seat, they think by gaming it they can change their city or state.

However imagine if every voter thinks they live in a ‘safe‘ seat and starts voting like this, does every safe seat get extra funding?  The outcome is that instead of one or two screaming children asking for money there will be many and not enough to feed them all.

But come to think of it, when you vote like this you get exactly what you asked for: candidates that only care about money, so don’t be surprised when they have to resign for accepting bribes off developers.

Hell if Adolf Hitler was the candidate and threw a bit of money around I am pretty sure these people would of voted for him.

4. I am not qualified to vote, I don’t know enough

This is the domain of younger timid people, mostly quite intelligent they seem to have the Russell Brand disdain to voting, they have this opinion and don’t even vote at all.

Funnily their opinion is educated, they are being modest. However we are not living in the age of modesty just take a look around.

People who you don’t like and are way dumber and ignorant than you are having their voice heard…you are WAY smarter than them…so just vote, you don’t need a degree in politics to take part in the system.

5. I don’t know anything about politics, help!!!

This is similar to ‘I am not qualified to vote ‘ but just slightly different and is representative of a huge chunk of the population who seem to want to care but have literally no connection to politics in their life.

This opinion reminds me of people at university who should of studied the night before a big test, but couldn’t be arsed and start whinging just hours before the exam.

The papers are packed full of information for you before elections, you have the internet and there is basically no excuse why you don’t have any idea, just put in a little bit of time and read the paper watch television and pick a party that best represents how you feel about the world.

6. I don’t care, I don’t vote …go away

A surprising number of people are like this, and are proud of it, the question is can they afford to be.

These people are not Russel brand, they are not writing an anarchist manifesto, they are not planning to pull democracy apart and replace it with something better, nor have they had anything taken away from them to force them to rethink their position. They treat election day as a chore, and electioneers as spam and a giant pain in the arse.

They just, don’t care, that’s it, but here lies the existential question of democracy in your right NOT to care, you are extinguishing your right to care and potentially you will be told what to care about and you will have no say in it.

These people concern me the most, the  more of these the more chance we have of heading into an idiocracy or worse.

 

The standard doorbell

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Sometimes I have a sort of philosophical thought bubble, I spend weeks going over a certain subject that fascinates me, mostly the ideas thought of long before my time, covered by science or philosophy. However there is a joy in this process of personal discovery, Buckminster Fuller did this sort of thing in the 1960’s there is value in exploring old ideas, covering well trodden ground just for the sake of it from a modern perspective.

My journey starts with the humble doorbell, I was knocking doors for an upcoming by-election and I started to take note how many people have doorbells. There are a bewildering array of different doorbells, most had a simple functionality: – You pressed the button and the chime went off, that seemed to dictate the overall ‘look’ of a doorbell button. However the particulars of the doorbell seemed to wildly deviate; different colours, chimes, material and design.

The functional played a part for the position of the doorbell, it had to be available for the person at the door to simply press, it was common that people had their doorbell placed at exactly the same height and on the right hand side.  The electric doorbell was invented around 1831, before that people had all sorts of ornate and ingenious ways to tell the homeowner there was someone at the door, these are still around and used, the twisty ringer, the actual bell with a rope on it and the metal fixed knocker are some examples.

At first glance all this seems obvious, humans have a sort of standard for doorbells, I mean there isn’t a huge amount to think about there. But there also seemed a standard for where to ‘place’ the doorbell and a standard for the way the doorbell was actually presented. As I went to each house I started to realise there was a standard and functionality for everything on a house, for the letterbox, the gutters the driveway for the whole house even. Give a child a pen and paper and ask them to draw a house..they draw a roof to windows and a front garden our mental picture of a house is universally standardised from a very young age.

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In Bill Brysons book At Home, he covers briefly the history of many domestic objects, in the beginning of his book he discusses the salt and pepper shaker, Bryson asks an interesting question about the nature of the salt and pepper shaker: Why salt and pepper, why not say salt and cinnamon? What led to them being those particular spices becoming standardised? (He does in fact go into detail to explain the historical reasons why) but his original questioning fascinated me,  you could ask the same question for doorbells, why a door ‘bell’ and not a door ‘buzzer’, why a ‘button’ not a ‘switch’.

 

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Hand outlines found on a cave wall in Indonesia are at least 39,900 years old

I left my ideas about the doorbell for a few weeks until something in the media re-ignited my thinking on the door bell and the concept of standardisation. Some human cave paintings from the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi were dated to about 43, 000 years ago much earlier than any other human art, the striking thing about them is not just their age but their similarity in style and application to paintings from northern Australia from a much later date.

There seems to be a cultural and artistic standardisation going right back almost as far as we can find human artifacts, however the concept of standardisation itself, seems to be framed as a recent discovery mainly confined to the industrial revolution.

Historians and archaeologists sometimes point to a little earlier to weights, coins and measures as examples of standardisation. But here we have on this very ancient wall, painted so long ago signs people culturally had a very precise standard, a form that had to be taught and shared culturally through communication the look and feel of these hand paintings was to persist for thousands of years.

Back to the doorbell, the odd thing about the door bell is that in today’s world it is largely a mass manufactured item something that for 100 years or so people could purchase and place on their door, like in star wars with all the outdated robots hanging around to go to the incinerator there are just a stupid array of different makes and models of doorbells that exist however we can all identify them as standard doorbells.

Philosophy bubbles to the surface here, and I am reminded of the ‘idea’ we have of something, like a Platonic and objects we imagine a perfect doorbell in our minds and a perfect place to place or to think about the object or idea,  this is reinforced by seeing it in existence, in similar places on other houses making or forming a kind of standard of doorbells in our minds.

This standarisation, applies to literally everything we do and create, standardisation is only something we apply to the real world, the actual time and outcome of these material objects is not secured unless a similar idea is imposed on them for the whole duration of their existence, this is where the complexity of the longevity of the hand paintings comes into view.

Psychologically, we can apply standarisation to things like behavior, our behavior can be split up into ideas that require a certain level of standarisiation so it can be communicated, it is here that life itself is included, because like us many species communicate to survive.

Bee’s must standarise how they collect honey or a beaver must standardise how he builds a dam, life must also have the facitlity to create door bells.

I  am not sure how I got so far away from my original thinking about doorbells, but I feel we are linked to this mental formation of standarisiation and the more you look around, the more you start to see it, in objects we create, in our ideas we think about  and in people and their personalities,  even in animals and insects and their behavior.

Yet I can’t see a reason for it other than mere survival, there are objects on our planet like a volcano that are not crafted by standards, but by physical inhert interactions only, yet it is only our minds that form categories and standards for these things.