Planetary Computing


I am meeting with some fellows this week and we are discussing Benjamin Bratton’s Black Stack article in eflux.  So what the heck is going on here.

I’ll give you my (mis)interpretation.

We are transforming from being influenced (or controlled) or shaped by the Stack to the Black Stack.

In my analysis, there are six layers to this Stack: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, and User….The Black Stack, then, is to the Stack what the shadow of the future is to the form of the present.

Where traditional nation states had physical domains of control (the sea, the air), cyberspace does not divide into these topologies.  Cyberspace, the realm of the stack is vertical, with interchangeable pieces for each layer. This is what Bratton probably means when he calls the stack a schema.

But along with the stack, there comes another entity – the black stack. These are the unintended consequences of the stack. Perhaps it could refer to the unintended consequences of all dynamic system. But for now lets just say it is the stack. What is the unintended consequence of the nation state? Probably the state of exception.  That would be the black state, where the citizen is reduced to bare life.

What is the black stack? In Jungian psychology we talk about the shadow.  This refers to  all the issues that an individual’s ego has not integrated into their conscious mind.

The Black Stack is less the anarchist stack, or the death-metal stack, or the utterly opaque stack, than the computational totality-to-come, defined at this moment by what it is not, by the empty content fields of its framework, and by its dire inevitability. It is not the platform we have, but the platform that might be.

So at first we had to deal with the direct implications of the stack, and now we have to deal with the black stack, consequences of the stack that we did not plan and perhaps cannot understand and debug.

For the stack we have the cloud and the user – these are just two layers of the stack. And like the thought of Ken Wilber, one contains the other in some respect.  The cloud is related to the nation state (or laws), the user, to the citizen. When I was in college there was a class called – I think – the human being and the citizen. It was part of a humanities requirement. Perhaps they have since renamed the class: “the human being, the citizen and the user”, or perhaps “the citizen and the user”, or “the human being and the user”. We can play this game all the day.

The cloud demarcates access. It is the realm of the virtual firewall not the physical great wall (or wall that Trump wants to build on the US/Mexico border).  Services provided by the cloud (like google login), is as useful (if not more useful) as services provided by states (like garbage collection).

In the long run, that may still be the outcome, with modern liberal states taking their place next to ceremonial monarchs and stripped of all but symbolic authority, not necessarily replaced but displaced and misplaced to one side…Between the state, the market, and the platform, which is better designed to tax the interfaces of everyday life and draw sovereignty thereby? …Looking toward the Black Stack, we observe that new forms of governmentality arise through new capacities to tax flows

This is an interesting analogy and an interesting interpretation of sovereignty.  What is the role of the traditional state in concert with this new type of access control.  A social contract no longer creates (or protects) our freedoms, rather it is the protocols of the cloud – the legislative layer of the stack.  How do we engage in price discovery when there is no place called the market but only bots (vectors) constantly testing price resistance?

The user is analogous to the citizen. Similar to bare life it is stripped of certain things, although what the user is stripped of is nuance, whereby the citizen is stripped of protection. The user is reduced to only those things that can be quantifiable or discrete. That can be interfaces with the stack – that can interface with other layers of the stack.  The human dies to be replaced by users (sensors, bots, or aggregates of other users, or avatars/digizens). The black stack has unplanned requirements for user interaction that dictate the way we interact in a way that is beyond the protocol or api requirements for how users interact in the first place. This is why we are talking about the black stack. The hidden requirements of interactions among layers of the stack and within a layer of the stack.

We come from the age of enlightenment and the scientific revolution. Our governments are experiments. And even if they fail, their unplanned consequences (the darkness), is easy to interpret. The unplanned consequences of the black stack may be unintelligible to human reason.

Instead of tabula rasa, this tabula plenus allows for creativity and figuration only by subtraction, like scratching paint from a canvas—only by carving away, by death, by replacement.

It is the ultimate resistance to hermeneutics – we cannot interpret it, we can only see its actions and consequences.

Bratton ends with:

The Black Stack may also be black because we cannot see our own reflection in it. In the last instance, its accelerationist geopolitics is less eschatological than chemical, because its grounding of time is based less on the promise of historical dialectics than on the rot of isotope decay. It is drawn, I believe, by an inhuman and inhumanist molecular form-finding: pre-Cambrian flora changed into peat oil changed into children’s toys, dinosaurs changed into birds changed into ceremonial headdresses, computation itself converted into whatever meta-machine comes next, and Stack into Black Stack.

I think this is interesting – eschatological vs chemical as the grounding of time. What does this mean? There is no history to the stack since history means a point of view or a journey. The stack only gathers information and connects,  a sort of metastasis instead of a chemical reaction.  Perhaps the stack is biological and not chemical – although it is biological organs without bodies.

Rules and Consciousness


I was having a conversation with my shrink (ie I was in therapy) and he said in the past there were rules that govern how we act. Now with the advent of psychology, we have consciousness, personal decisions dictate how we act.  I do not live my life according to the book of Leviticus (some people do and that is ok). However I live my live according to my consciousness.  My shrink said that this is what is meant by a Nietzsche transvaluation of values.  I was never a big fan of Nietzsche, although perhaps I should reconsider that stance.

What is the transvaluation of values? It is NOT the adoption of unethical behaviors. It is NOT like a Kantian radical evil where I act in exact opposite to the moral imperative. Rather, as I see it, in a transvaluation of values that there is no more moral imperative.  The moral imperative is relative to your own value system, everyone is free to make their own value system. Does this mean relativism. No. There are some value systems better than others, I believe.  And here I am influenced by Ken Wilber who says something like the more depth (wholistic/encompassing) a system has the more correct it is.

With transvaluation of values there is no more blind acceptance of rules, instead there is conscious decision making on a day by day basis. This is not unethical or antithetical to ethics, it is about a personal ethics based on consciousness and interiority. We can all think of countless examples of unethical behavior carried out in the name of “following orders”.

If we look at the history of religion or society they are all structured by rules. And if we look at the social contract theorists like Hobbes and Locke, some how we leave the state of nature  (either bad or good),  because we create a set of rules that allows us all to live together.  The transvaluation of value is one of many things: rejection of these values as ethical, a creation of a personal set of values, a recognition that desires do not have ethics (in my interpretation only actions do).

I have been binge reading Ken Wilber and Claire Graves and so I wonder perhaps it is unwise to undergo a transvaluation of value unless your values are in some sense transpersonal (ie honor another individual’s sovereignty).  If your transvaluation of values are based in your ego or id (these are Freudian terms not Wilber or Graves terms but I am just mashing it all up),  then I can imagine some nasty antisocial behavior.

So now I can imagine what are my values, and then I can act in according with my values. What do I desire? Do they reenforce or contradict my values? Then I can decide how to act?

But what are my values, this is a hard question. For now I have come up with this: freedom, poetry, sovereignty.

Relationships: Lists and Test


I just wrote this post and it was not saved. So I am going to try and recreate it. I am super bummed.

A few months ago my shrink pulled out a piece of paper and started reading it. It was a list of qualities one of his patients was looking for in a partner.  It had things like intelligence and humor. I asked, what about love? He said, she has chosen to fall in love with the person who has these qualities.

I never had a list. I had a constellation of qualities I valued: cosmopolitan, likes poetry but not too emo, aesthetic, nice hair.  It was never anything I wrote down or was really very aware of other sort of comparing it with other partners and people in my life and thinking I want someone like this, or the opposite of that.  In all of us, qualities are a constellation, sometimes a value is exalted in Taurus and sometimes it is in its detriment in Scorpio.

It was not very conscious, that I suppose is the point of the list. Make your desires and your intentions conscious. Figure out what you want.  My mother used to say don’t test people, no one passes the test. I took this advice to heart. Having a list is sort of like having a test.  Was my mother really saying don’t have a list no one matches the list or was it something else?

Lately I started to wonder if this was wrong advice. Should I have had tests? There are a lot of tests in life of the Joseph Campbell variety.  I think of these as life milestones: having a pet, or a plant or joining a community, or committing to a partner. These are tests, but of a different type than the list test.  You have to do certain things to successfully care for a plant, or get a partner to commit. If you cannot navigate these tests perhaps you should not reap their rewards. If you cannot care for a plant you should not have plant.

But back to the list meditation, the one thing I have on my list, and my partner probably has too, is flexibility. That is the value, like hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box, that makes everything possible.

My original post was much better, but it is lost. I have recreated some of my thoughts. But they are not as fresh as I thought this morning. I ended that post mentioning the relationship guru Esther Perel.  She says something like you will have many partners in your lifetime, and if you are lucky with the same person. It seems like constellations rather than lists are more flexible

Kriya of the Month: Kirtan Kriya


I have been practicing Kundalini Yoga on and off for almost two decades. I started because I heard Madonna did it – so I figured if I did Kundalini Yoga I too would have rock hard abs. Over the years I have done a number of other yoga practices. I also practiced Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Ba Gua. My favorite practice (and the one that gave me rock hard abs) became the now disgraced Bikram Yoga. It fully exhausted me, and every day I was thrilled to leave the studio alive.

In Q3 of 2018 I started obsessively practicing Kundalini Yoga at a place near my office in Union Square. I was sick the entire time, but I forced myself to go. I loved the teachers, the practitioners, it seemed somewhat diverse relative to other practices, and I felt qualitatively different after each class.

When I went to visit my in-laws in winter, I continued to practice a daily Kriya – ie a yoga posture.  I started contemplating doing the kundalini yoga teacher training.  I am a systems thinker, and kundalini for me was another type of system.  Often times the instructors refer to particular breaths or kriyas as ‘tech’- this could be technique or technology.  I am slightly cynical about credentialing and yoga teacher training in general.  I am concerned that I would not be able to devote myself fully to a yoga teacher training.  I have a lot on my plate (family, kids, work, side hustles, classical guitar, conscious computation, getting conscious in general). However, I would want to teach, or integrate this into my larger work on conscious computation, or perhaps education in general regarding breath and body work.

So it happened I was in Union Square this weekend with some free time after a meeting fell.  This gave me the chance to attend the  kundalini yoga teacher training open house. I expressed my concerns: that if I made a commitment I would want to be able to honor it. I said that I gave myself a test – I had to do one kriya every day for 30 days (really it should be 40 – i think that is what resets your something or other). The other folks chuckled knowingly and then the teacher said – well we know what we have to do – give you a 3 min kriya!  Once of the graduates suggested Kirtan – and so here I am.

I am a few days in to the Kirtan Kriya. It is really about 12 min total. If I can commit to 12 minutes a day to do yoga then I can commit to a teacher training.

Git Ontology


Last Friday at end of the day and I was attempting to push my changes to our team repo when I was hit with a ton of merge conflicts. I shut down my computer and went home, although thoughts of the merge haunted me over the weekend.

So when I got in today I sat with one of my coworkers, who is a git magician, and we did some trouble shooting. What I learned was that my git conception was completely wrong.

So what is git? As I understood it, it was a repository which stored ONLY FILE CHANGES tagged by a hash (a long string of numbers and letters.  This makes it useful when you work, either alone, or with a team, to change documents or code.  You have a clean audit trail of the list of changes. This, I think, is even more valuable than the ability to roll back changes.

On git there is a notion of a branch. I always thought that a branch was an organized list of commits. That branches did not know about each others commits and that branches were the fundamental unit of git.


The commit is the fundamental unit of git – the change.  Git could be conceived as a linked list. With each commit pointing to its parent. The hash of a commit, in fact, encodes the parent of the commit.  The branch is just a pointer to a particular commit.

Since the basic unit in git is the commit, you have a lot of flexibility to re organize the commits either within a branch or between branches.  When you rebase two branches in git, two lists of linked lists, git tries to preserve the timeline (the dates) of each commit.

My hairy git nightmare started with a rebase. The parent I was trying to rebase on two was missing my commit as well as three other commits and this caused git to think I needed to merge files since it detected changes in these 3 intermediary files.  In order to fix this what I did was move the one  commit I wanted to add on the parent branch and then move the branch name pointer to this new commit so this was now the head of the linked list.   I did this via the cherry pick command.

It is good that we keep our commits small at my company, and that we keep commits on individual branches. It makes it easy to move around individual commits.  But it also gives me a lot of confidence that even if I want to rebase (or re order ) a list of commits I can do this since each commit is its own atomic unit.

Porras-Kim Whitney Biennial

Whitney Biennial – Art Etc


Yesterday Lian and I went to the Whitney Biennial.  We did not discuss much of the work after, and I asked Lian why he did not want to talk about it.

He said that most of the works did not resonate with him (my words not his). That he can understand modern or contemporary art within the context of art history, but most of these works did not seem to be in dialogue with that history.

This to me was an interesting statement. It made me think about concepts like fracture, fragmentation, and order. In “The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World” , James Hillman talks about the greek word kosmos as meaning order, arrangement, and adornment. He connects the greek kosmos with the English word cosmetic, a word that keeps this etymological sense more than the English word cosmos.

There is something in art or beauty that is about adornment and arrangement. This is both the surface arrangement for our sense perception, but also I also think we can talk about adornment and arrangement in terms of a lineage.   How does an artwork fall into an order or arrangement of other artworks.   We talk about a great work as a ‘crowning’ achievement – a description about adornment. What is a crowning achievement for an artwork as standing in its lineage.

A lot of the work was conceptual in nature in that the idea in many respects drove the production and was perhaps more important than the production. The work was an index into the idea, rather than an idea that could only be expressed through matter, adornment, or what we would call art.  My favorite pieces were the works that seemed to create a new material language: the sculptural works of Ragen Moss and Daniel Lind-Ramos and installation of Gala Porras-Kim(who i saw last year talk at the Guggenheim and blogged about as well).  These were pieces that created worlds of their own that did not have analogs in simple conceptual descriptions.  There was a generative power to these works, a certain aliveness, that perhaps all creations have but the richness of the material representation makes it easier to construct more (and more intense) sites of communion.

A lot of the work reminded me of the Duchamp ready made, the act of an artist that disintegrated the category of art, like Wittgenstein removed the category of metaphysics from philosophy (and Kant before him did as well).

But we still have art – although this sort of cynical capitalist consumerist art is something I think about in relationship to the image of the Magician. It is a trick. The art of the Renaissance I think about in terms of the Priest or the Church – a mode of devotion.  The art of the industrial age (impressionism, cubeism, dada, everything upto the readymade) I think of in terms of the sun, as illumination, art as science, as an alternate mode of perception. What is next art after its ready made turn, once it has been valorized at the cost of content?

When I ask this question I imagine the wheel of fortune. A monte carlo simulation, an engine, or a mechanism that powers possible choices.  It is the creation of domain spaces from which we can build our reality.  Hopefully it is not a bunch of junk that we buy from cvs.

The Unconscious and Space of Consciousness


I was going to write on an indie game we discussed during lunch, but during dinner with Lian we decided to do a book swap. I said I would read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and he would read the Creation of Consciousness. As you can tell we are both becoming more consciousness  – insert crazy face emoji here.

But as we were talking, we started talking about the unconscious. If we are trying to live as conscious a life as possible what is the point of the unconscious?

As I wrote the other day, it is about be intentional.  In this sense we can think about the unconscious as urges and motivations that the individual is unaware of in the conscious mind. But this is an impoverished explanation.

If I am intentional about every choice, then that means I options to choose from.  But where do these options come from? If this option space is small what does it mean to even have choice.  So, it is the unconscious that fills out the possible options from which I can choose how to live my life.   Through dreams, active imagination, analysis, prayer, or other means to facilitate communication with ‘that which is not the ego’ (ie the unconscious). This is what provides the options for the conscious to choose from.

As we become more conscious, perhaps we also cultivate our unconscious and the space of possible options from which to make our choices.

Earlier I was thinking of consciousness as different sorts of transcendental idealism grids. Like bats perhaps dont think in terms of space time, but magnetism or something. Building out the space of all possible consciousnesses in this sense is building out different matrices for processing and parsing perception.

With this notion of the unconscious as perhaps the source of categories or perhaps the source of reification, then what does building out all possible consciousnesses mean if it also involves building out the correlate – the unconscious (the source of the options available to consciousness).

The Creation of Consciousness


I read this thin book, like 100ish pages, over the weekend and it BLEW MY MIND. Yes I had to put it in all capital letters.  It is about the creation of a new myth, the role of consciousness in the creation of that myth, and Jung.

Ever since childhood I have been obsessed with mythology, and more broadly, with stories that ground our lives.  (I also listened to a lot of  Joseph Campbell and the power of myth as a young girl.) When I applied to grad school, before iphones, my application essay was about the lack of mythology in our age and the need for a new myth.  I used the example of multiple listserves as sort of multiple consciousnesses that pulled my attention, as multiple myths if you will.  Today it is even worse. The mythology of instagram is different from the mythology of github, or the mythology of daybreakers.

Even the new myths, like detective stories or westerns are unsatisfactory. They no longer satisfy a wide range of people who are excluded by this mythology (Like in the case of westerns, non white males, first nations people, non-americans). In the past there would be no choice but to submit to this mythology, but today there is an ability to exercise freedom of thought, if not freedom of action (although many places do have freedom of action as well).

There is a popular conception that our new age will not have one overriding myth, but instead we will have multiple myths that will accommodate the myriad possible freedoms that many people in liberal democracies can enjoy with how they choose to live their lives.  Although I wonder if that is the case.  Is there still not an overarching myth?

In this book the myth positied is the myth of consciousness. That the goal of every individual life is the creation of a fully conscious Self. That would mean, that I no longer act out of habit, or instinct, that every single moment, every move I make is the product of intention.  The book also posits that Jung has lead the most conscious life ever – for what its worth.

If this is our new myth, to become conscious, it coincides well with the current focus on the self, and self improvement (perhaps narcissism). There is also an eternal return aspect to this myth.  We are able to deposit moments of consciousness into the collective unconscious. This is what great art/literature/etc is supposed to represent.  We can live forever, perhaps not in heaven, but in the collective unconscious. It is a bit out there. I would ask my shrink what he thinks, but he is on vacation.

To me this is fascinating.  That our goal in life is to be as conscious as possible, and through this we can get that elusive metaphysical dream: everlasting life.  This is not a myth of our past, of where we come from, but a myth of our future.








Shaders in Elm


This morning I sat down to draw and develop an intuitive sense of rgb/time (think sin/cos), and shaders. I was promptly hit by a massive anxiety attack (which is not my go to form of mental illness), and after two podcasts, two books, a nap, I still had the residual effects hours later.

I decided to pour a half bottle of Guinness into a nice mason jar and refocus.

So what do I mean by time and what the hell am I doing anyway, and why is this blog post entitled shaders in elm??? It will all come together –but perhaps not in one blog post.

As a recap, I think I write about this elsewhere, a shader is a piece of code that renders all pixels in parallel because it runs on the GPU. So if you have code that says something like

color_of_pixel = rgb(sin(current-time),sin(current-time),0)

it will be executed on all the pixels at the same time.

Great we can set colors, how can we make this animate, or how can we make the colors change.

This is where time comes in because animation is change over time and the way that we can change the pixel colors is by using current time as a variable.

A common way to use time to create an abstract animation is to use sine and cosine with the current time as the input. The reason this works so well is that these functions follow a regular pattern and are bounded. If you want to quickly create a shader animation set the color to something generated by a trigonometric function based on the current time. I realize that this is perhaps not the best explanation so I did some googling and found this great article.

So what I want to investigate is how does a continuous cyclical number (which i am calling time), when used as an input for generating a color, work on an intuitive level?

How does the color change when it is the format rgba? When you use time to alter r,g,b,and the alpha layer, one at a time, or all together, or staggered.

To answer this question i thought that instead of doing sketches maybe i should study functions in R. But then I thought – just do shader studies – but in ELM (because why use a language I actually am familiar with?).

So that is where I am now. I just installed elm-webgl, as well as the linear-algebra package, I took the shader example code and ran elm react and  I am all set running shaders on elm.  Tomorrow shader studies begin:

shader screenshot

shader screenshot


Another level of complexity I think about is the pixel location.  What happens when we use the current pixel location a variable, and how we can develop intuition about that.. Some thing like:

color_of_pixel = rgb(sin(current-time mod pixelx),sin(current-time mod pixely),0)

or something equally nuts, hopefully I can tackle it in my shader studies.

Meditations on blit


So I’m teaching a python game development class and I am using the pygame library.  There are so many options these days to develop games – unity, unreal, twine, phaser. I was thinking why am I using pygame??

Well I am teaching a “python” class, so there is that, and we can publish our game to the steam store, so that is cool. But pygame is a pretty easy to use and robust. For the class we are using the pygame book at Invent with python.

The core of pygame is a loop that monitors events and updates the screen. It is a while True loop that monitors events, updates the display object and then updates the display.  To draw an image, like a jpg, on the surface you use the blit method:

DISPLAYSURF.blit(img, (x,y))

Blit is an ancient command, as I tell my students You look in all sorts of graphics frameworks and languages and you see blit!  Blit originally stood for bitmap graphics terminal and it was a different type of computer terminal that could draw bitmap graphics.   In graphics programming it also refers to  “bit-boundary block transfer”, this is where you transfer a block of memory from one location to another.

In graphics programming you can optimize your library by having a sheet of sprites of graphics that you then draw (blit) to the screen. This is an example of one of the sprite maps from the legend of zelda 1:

First we blit the image from the spritemap, then we blit that image to the pygame surface:

import pygame

spritesheet = pygame.image.load(filename).convert()
rect = pygame.Rect(rectangle)
image = pygame.Surface(rect.size).convert()
image.blit(spritesheet, (0, 0), rect)

DISPLAYSURF.blit(image, (x,y))

With this sort of framework I think there is interesting work to be done to sort of remix and reinvent existing games. What would a mashup between zelda and mario look like? What would a game version of fan fiction look like? We are playing with the graphical elements but we can use new different game mechanics and create a new story.