## 20110728

### Why Cities Keep Growing, Corporations Die, and Life Gets Faster

Kevin Kelly and Bruce Sterling have taken their whacks at the latest from the Long Now foundation. Now only a few days late is my commentary.

There's an old adage that if you can describe a problem mathematically, it's 80% solved, and if you can't describe it mathematically, you're never going to get it right. The second modern risks that the world faces today, climate change, political paralysis, financial collapse, obesity, and anomie all are closely tied together by industrialization and urbanization. At the same time, the creative and innovative solutions that might help solve these problems also originate in cities and corporations. In an increasingly urban world, cities and corporations are the keys to the future, and Geoffrey West believes that he has the mathematical tools to understand them.

## 20110721

### Fractals on the Master Boot Record

WeAlone contributor Keegan has adapted the video feedback method of rendering Julia sets to fit in 512 bytes of Intel machine code that runs from the master boot record. This program was created for the IO MBR demo competition.

When a computer starts up, a very small program begins the process of loading and booting up progressively more complex programs, until an entire modern operating system is loaded. With some cleverness and optimization, we were able to make a program that fits in this space, and rather than booting the machine, renders animated Julia set fractals.

If you're running Linux, you can try this out yourself using the qemu machine emulator, which can be retrieved from the package manager ( menu → system → administration → synaptic package manager, search for and install 'qemu-kvm' ). Once installed, simply typing "qemu phosphene.mbr" in a terminal should suffice.

You can also create a USB thumb drive that can boot most Intel architecture machines into this fractal rendering mode. Once booted, it is possible to remove the USB stick and leave the machine in a fractal-rendering coma until it is power cycled. Be careful here, if you overwrite the MBR on your own machine, you will trash your partition table and leave your system only able to boot as a fractal.

Assuming your USB thumb drive is /dev/sdb, the following commands will create a bootable USB stick. For the love of humanity do not write to /dev/sda, since this is probably your system boot partition.

$: sudo dd if=phosphene.mbr of=/dev/sdb$: sync
( wait until IO lights stop blinking and remove the drive )

In one instance, we found that writing to /dev/sdb1 worked while writing to /dev/sdb did not. I'm not sure if this was a fluke, but you can try this if it doesn't seem to work on the first try.

These programs are so small, they can be distributed as plaintext in base64.

with a more flickery, rapidly changing colorscheme :

McCO2I7AuOAHjtC8ABC4EwDNELsPALQOvpl9rM0QhMB1+R5oAKAfMfa/AJ65AArzpR8xwM0QuAFP
uQEBvwB+zRCwQDHS93UEULgCT7sBAc0QusgDMMDuQrkAAVDuiNjuiPjuWAQCgcMDBeLv2+PHBYUA
3wXGBbHfBb0AAWgAEA+hFh+M4IDEEI7AvgAgv8B4sRCs0OgmAAVH4veBxjABgcfwAYH/AJhy5zH2
Mf+M4ID0UI7AiSzfBNjy2cDZ/9nJ2ereydn/2ejYwNz63vnZ7d7puoABuQACYNnqiRTfBNj12OGJ
DN8E2PXY4t3S3MrZwdjI3uveydjA2MPZwt7C2ercwt7B2M3fHIsU2MvfHIscgOcBieiB+oABcxXR
MdLoNgAx9r9AeLuAAbkAAqSF/3UKNgIW/g9T6B0AW+LvgceAAEv2w391CYzYgMQQjtgx9oXbddXp
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////Vao=

A nice colorscheme with a black background :

McCO2I7AuOAHjtC8ABC4EwDNELsPALQOvp99rM0QhMB1+R5oAKAfMfa/AJ65AArzpR8xwM0QuAFP
uQEBvwB+zRCwQDHS93UEULgCT7sBAc0QusgDMMDuQrkAAVDuiNjuiPjuWAQCgcMDBeLv2+PHBYUA
3wXGBbHfBb0AAWgAEA+hFh+M4IDEEI7AvgAgv8B4sRCs0OgmAAVH4veBxjABgcfwAYH/AJhy5zH2
Mf+M4ID0UI7AiSzfBNjy2cDZ/9nJ2ereydn/2ejYwNz63vnZ7d7puoABuQACYNnqiRTfBNj12OGJ
DN8E2PXY4t3S3MrZwdjI3uveydjA2MPZwt7C2ercwt7B2M3fHIsU2MvfHIscgOcBMMCB+oABcxvR
jthoAKAHMdLoNgAx9r9AeLuAAbkAAqSF/3UKNgIW/g9T6B0AW+LvgceAAEv2w391CYzYgMQQjtgx
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////Vao=

To convert these strings into a usable program, in Linux, use the base64 command. Type "base64 -d > phosphene.mbr" in the terminal, and press enter. Then, paste one of the base 64 encoded programs in the terminal. Press enter, and then control+D ( end of file ). This will convert the text into the compiled machine code for phosphene.mbr. Run it as explained above using qemu or making a bootable USB drive.

$: base64 -d > foo.mbr McCO2I7AuOAHjtC8ABC4EwDNELsPALQOvp99rM0QhMB1+R5oAKAfMfa/AJ65AArzpR8xwM0QuAFP uQEBvwB+zRCwQDHS93UEULgCT7sBAc0QusgDMMDuQrkAAVDuiNjuiPjuWAQCgcMDBeLv2+PHBYUA 3wXGBbHfBb0AAWgAEA+hFh+M4IDEEI7AvgAgv8B4sRCs0OgmAAVH4veBxjABgcfwAYH/AJhy5zH2 Mf+M4ID0UI7AiSzfBNjy2cDZ/9nJ2ereydn/2ejYwNz63vnZ7d7puoABuQACYNnqiRTfBNj12OGJ DN8E2PXY4t3S3MrZwdjI3uveydjA2MPZwt7C2ercwt7B2M3fHIsU2MvfHIscgOcBMMCB+oABcxvR 4sDmBIzgAPSO6DD2weIIAdNligc8/3QC/sAmiAVhR+Kahf91B4zAgMQQjsBKdYlF3tmM4ID0UI7g jthoAKAHMdLoNgAx9r9AeLuAAbkAAqSF/3UKNgIW/g9T6B0AW+LvgceAAEv2w391CYzYgMQQjtgx 9oXbddXp6v64BU8x280Qw0kDDQppbwAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD///////////// ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////Vao=$: qemu foo.mbr

## 20110715

### Planting the Seeds

Today, I was catching up on my news, reading about the Clock of the Long Now, when I heard a little story about roof beams at Oxford's New College (really, you should just watch Stewart Brand's clip). Five hundred years ago, at the same time as the college was built, the founders planted oak trees, because they knew that long after they were all dead, the beams would become beetley and eventually need replacing. Their foresight floored me; to plan that far ahead, to ensure a legacy for their successors deep in the future. And it got me thinking about our energy system, which underpins every other part of the economy, and about the seeds we should be planting now. Read the rest.

## 20110713

### Two more from Breakthrough

The last two mandatory blogs from my time at Breakthrough are up. Click the links for the full thing.

Technological Mojo
Liberalism as it exists today isn't so much an ideology as a flag of convenience. The progressive position on policies promoting the welfare state and cultural attitudes towards abortion, gun control, and gay marriage unites a solid minority coalition, but one without big ideas except for a vague notion of 'play nice' and 'be yourself.' As Michael Lind of the New America Foundation put it, the Democratic Party is about checking off the wish-lists of its constituent interests groups. "What is the liberal position on the environment? It's what the Sierra Club wants." Rather discuss values, liberals have retreated to policy literalism, appealing to a slew of "scientific" and "rational" policies to achieve narrow, tactical ends: price carbon dioxide, extend healthcare to the uninsured, stop the war, decrease classroom sizes. Liberals have ceded values and emotion to conservatives, with disastrous electoral and policy results at every level of government. Liberal scientism is a rhetoric of failure.

It's Dangerous Being Modern
The Breakthrough Dialog began with a very interesting idea, that of second modern risk, which was not fully fleshed out. At the heart of second modernity is the idea that humanity has become responsible for its own fate. Thanks to the power of science and technology, we have banished the ancient gods and forces of nature. Food, shelter, and physical security are all assured in the first world, and so humanity has directed its efforts to fulfilling post-material needs for status, power, and a moral society. In many ways, this is a zero-sum game; unlike material goods, status and power cannot be increased, only redistributed. Different cultures have profoundly different concepts of morality. For all our efforts to improve the second modern condition, it seems that the best we can do is run to stay in place. Post-material failure is one kind of second modern risk.

But while people worry about their job security, and their child's chances of getting into Harvard, and what their neighbors are up too, second modernity has its own apocalyptic horsemen. Flood, famine, fire and plague are primitive problems. In their place, we have substituted the business cycle, anthropogenic climate change, and total war. Second modern risks are more worrying, not just because they are bigger, mankind finally has the power to wipe itself out, but because they are human in origin, and therefore, in some sense, are our responsibility. My fear is that decades or centuries from now, the weary, broken survivors of whatever ended our technological civilization will look back and say, "But why didn't they change?" How then, can we as individuals and as a collective, come to grips with both kinds of second modern risks?