Hello again, it’s me.
Here’s another reminder that this newsletter will be going paid from Monday 23 September, which is counts on fingers like, just over a week way.
Let’s do the situation report first, and then we’ll do the guff about subscribing.
It’s let’s-not-talk-about-the-time on Friday, 13 September 2019. I’m in a Holiday Inn & Suites in Sacramento and it is very low budget business travel hotel.
I am listening to a gentleman called “DJ Shadow”.
On my way to the hotel from the office I had a very pleasant conversation with my Lyft driver who has driven over forty thousand people, and they had a lot of opinions about the recent State of California legislation that will classify them as an employee. They were against the legislation in no uncertain terms but it’s okay because I disarmed them with my English accent, which they adored and implored me to never lose. I do not think I have ever received a tip for my English accent, but I did tip my driver for frankly and honestly conveying their anti-union views.
I did not watch the Democratic debates because I’ve already seen one tired format video event this week and it was the iPhone launch. Anyone but Trump, etc, please get out and get everyone you know to goddamn vote.
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Two things today.
The first, as teased earlier, is about an Audi concept car video and for which I apologize profusely in advance.
The second is a genuine honest-to-god small list of things that actually caught my attention because I feel like if I don’t share these things with you, I have failed on my end of the bargain rather spectacularly.
Just look at this Audi concept video for an electric off-road car. (Sorry, it’s a 1m48s Youtube video. Just watch it. I’ll wait.)
I think I found this via coverage in The Verge the other day, and let’s just accept that this was definitely a thing that caught my attention. Longtime subscribers will recognize that every so often a video comes out and I can’t resist doing a scene-by-scene breakdown and commentary, so, here we go!
We open with some drone-type photography of an ur-forest. It’s not quite a rainforest, I guess? Anyway, as far as I’m concerned it looks like an establishing shot for a movie in the Jurassic Park franchise or, if we’re going full-on dystopia and stereotypical reference, like the imagined inside of one of the greenhouse domes of the Valley Forge, the American Airlines freighter parked outside Saturn, with the last of Earth’s plants.
There’s lots of nature sounds, the likes of which have really unnerved me whenever I’ve experienced them in real life because it turns out nature is REALLY LOUD and there is no mute switch for nature other than cleansing nuclear fire.
There are actual sunlight rays of god peeking through what is either library footage from something like the BBC’s Natural History department, or otherwise a bunch of creative people at Audi got to go on a worldwide jaunt.
There is a car here. It drives past.
~$: Examine car
I mean, is it really a car? It is moving around very quietly, like some sort of large, low-poly electric cat.
We pause, as the camera takes the opportunity to look up toward the sky from the base of some trees because, just in case you didn’t notice, we are in Nature and Nature is Good and relaxing and peaceful and the bugs won’t shut up. Did I mention we’re in Nature? Nature is great. I feel all my stress and anxiety melting away already.
~$: Keep watching
OK, so we’re still in the forest and the car is coming toward us.
(People, we are only 14 seconds into the 1m48s video. We may be here for a while.)
Let us note some things about the Car now that we’ve gotten a proper chance to look at it.
Item: Jesus Christ look at the size of the wheels on that! They’re, like, giant wheels that you’d expect to see on a giant 3 row Mars rover, like the kind the Robinson family has in that Netflix show!
The car has a ridiculously large windscreen which in my opinion can only be reasonably described as a cockpit, and the car has a big carbon-fiber-y fruitbasket on top. I can only assume that the fruitbasket is to carry the dead carcass of the genetically re-engineered dinosaurs that have inexplicably populated this space settlement.
Oh, right. There are two women inside the car. And, if you’re paying attention, the car appears to have no headlights.
(Shot of a bridge; overhead shot of the car, no really, it’s a real car, not a CG car driving over the bridge)
Right. 23 seconds in we get our first glimpse of the interior of the car, in which we learn that the rear passenger section has been outfitted in such a fashion that there are not “seats” as you and I mere 2019 mortals might describe them, but some sort of fastened “hammock seats” and look, I get this is a concept car and I get that I’m going to sound curmudgeonly and that is only about 86% my intention, but really. Really.
This is a special off-road crewed Mars Excursion Rover and instead of having Really Sturdy Seats in the back, it has these kind of floppy things that appear to be held taught by tension and they unclip and then you can use them… as hammocks?
These carseat-hammocks… Chammocks? Shammocks? Carseocks? Are hung up on a tree by one of the car’s inhabitants, who then proceeds to sit down on her own and look at her tablet. I think she’s using proxnet or farnet to communicate with the SpaceX constellation before it deorbits, which is why they’re going camping: they want to see the comsats burn. Tablet-user (she has a ponytail: let’s call her ponytail) is joined by her companion, also-safari-outfit woman (let’s call her baseball cap because, well, you get it), who… has a yoga mat with her?
In any event, ponytail and baseball cap look very happy together. There appear to be no supplies in the car. Maybe they’ve come out here to die together. Maybe they used the tablet to figure out where the comsats are going to hit, and they’ve decided to just give up together, the last two humans on this desolate not-planet, with their awesome Audi off-road crewed Mars Excursion Rover.
And now, (37 seconds in! Only about a minute left to go!) it’s dusk (the artificial sunline is on the fritz again) and as we cut back inside the car, our first woman, ponytail, appears to grab an I swear-to-god Star Trek Next Generation phaser (neatly labeled AUDI DESIGN) that was clipped to the side of one of the front seats as the synthwave swells, flips out its tripod base and… it’s a fire? Or a small red light? Regardless, our two mute women, ponytail and baseball cap, are bathed in the warm orange glow of some sort of futuristic electronic heating/lighting device and in a MASSIVE PLOT DEVELOPMENT are joined by two other people! Ponytail and baseball cap were not the last two humans on this settlement! Also it looks like their friends bought some more yoga mats.
I am beginning to think that this is a dystopian future in an alternate reality where the Fyre Festival didn’t crash and burn, but AT WHAT COST, PEOPLE. AT WHAT COST.
Now, I’m not saying that some sort of post-apocalyptic orgy/tryst was organized but let’s just say that we immediately cut to two buzzing drones in an overhead shot, softly glowing with white lights at their fronts and red lights at their rear (at least, in the way in which they’re oriented toward our camera) and can I just say, oh I see what they did there. They made the drones like cars. With the lights.
Anyway, these two little drones, let’s call them oh I don’t know, Huey and Duey, they’ve got nice bright lights that they throw down on to the ground so Ponytail and baseball cap can find their way back to their mars rover which now looks like it was parked in an abandoned quarry. Although in other shots, there are what look like brick ruins. So as far as I’m concerned, the post-apocalyptic Fyre Festival alternate future is still a viable hypothesis.
One of the women opens their door by gently touching a seam and the door just kind of opens up on its own which I guess would be amazing, but it’s a door and we have doors now. There’s nothing very concept-y about it.
Things start to get very confusing as ponytail and baseball cap get into the car because baseball cap takes off her baseball cap. While all of this is happening, both women are sort of grinning inanely at each other? They have also not said a word to each other at all. Again, this may be because they’re posthuman and telepathically communicating with each other over something more reliable than Bluetooth, but honestly, even if they were, the smiles are really just too creepy. The two women share a grin (what did they do with their friends? Are their friends still alive? Did they eat them?) and ponytail turns on the car, by tapping the “on” button on the steering wheel which isn’t a wheel, a sure sign of it being the future. Oh, and ponytail slides her phone into a dock connector in front of the steering wheel.
And now we get to the kicker. Because you see in a world where the Fyre Festival didn’t collapse, car designers have clearly taken leave of their senses. I said on Twitter that it looked like the production designer from the 2013 movie Oblivion had escaped containment and started designing cars and yes it does kind of look like that, but I am burying the lede here because:
THE DRONES ARE THE HEADLIGHTS.
The car has no headlights. It relies exclusively on two small flying drones to bathe the car itself in white light, and also a scout drone to light up the road ahead. The drones are impressively tracking the car, almost as if they were added in post, and seriously, we cut to an overhead shot which definitely doesn’t have any CG in it at all of the car driving along a long winding road in the forest/mountains.
I don’t know what this post Fyre Festival world is like. Maybe in their timeline someone who was at the festival turned out to be the battery and energy engineer the world needed and they got to meet a charismatic yet law-abiding elderly man who was able to fund their work. Because in that world, tiny drones have enough power for you to drive through the night and for them to act as your car headlights.
As if that isn’t enough insult to injury, I want to point out that in this concept video of the future, of which we are one minute in to at this point, we’ve seen no screens displaying anything at all. Sure, ponytail was looking at a tablet earlier, but we don’t know whether that tablet had a screen! The women are clearly post verbal, so maybe they don’t even look at things anymore either.
Actually, I tell a lie. You can faintly make something out on the screen of the phone that’s in the iPod dock. It looks like it’s showing a graphical depiction of the road they’re driving on, but in not as high fidelity as they can see through the cockpit.
Hard cut to… daytime? And the women have changed outfits? Into wetsuits? And they have these sort of surfboard type things, that — and I may be showing my ignorance here of things that exist here and now in our dismal Fyre Failure timeline and oh god I just realized maybe in the Fyre Future timeline just maybe Trump isn’t President and is that the Faustian bargain these women had to make because if so I can understand why they don’t talk. The risk of them talking about what happened is just too high.
Anyway: they have these surfboard things that are a bit like “what if e-scooters but water and kind of funkily somewhat dazzle camouflage decorated” and they are still not talking, the surfboard thing goes on the roofbasket, and at 1:07 there is a closeup of a foot.
I am not sure what this means. I mean, there is one reading where in this Fyre Future world (Fyreworld?) our leading women are actually robots or clones and it’s all a bit Stepford White Supremacisty, but I do not understand what the foot shot is for. The only car-related bit here is that there’s a bit of a rail or a step for a foot to use when disembarking from the crewed Mars Rover, and it’s not like I can notice anything out of the ordinary about the foot, it’s just a human looking foot. Which, to be fair, could be commentary on exactly how lifelike robots are in Fyreworld, or an admiring shot of how flash clone technology has progressed. Anyway. There’s a foot!
By 1:11, we’re back following the car which has an AUDI sign on the back and honestly I’m not sure if people can read in this future. Cut to: nice looking lake, forests and mountain in the distance; car going up a hill in the mountains; someone steering; a booted foot gently and carefully depressing an accelerator push-button (not a pedal! Because future!); baseball cap gazing lovingly at ponytail who’s driving, as if to say: “Ponytail, I didn’t really thank you enough for leading us to the campsite the other night where we met the other two humans and, in accordance with the teachings of the Failed Fyreworld, ate them”; cut to an exterior shot of the car; cut to another shot of the AUDI logo in red on the black surrounded by RED TRIANGLES and then…
Oh my goodness we’re in the desert.
I have many questions about the range of this vehicle.
They’re driving in the desert, ponytail has taken her hands off the wheel - I guess autonomous driving is okay when the landscape is flat and there’s nothing around for hundreds of miles? - to take the conveniently located AUDI binoculars mounted about where you’d expect the sun visor to be and uses them to look out the window.
I am imagining some sort of super high-tech display that is showing Ponytail where her prey is, but because they’re post-literate, instead of all the milspec readouts there’s just a bunch of emoji and #blessed.
Cut to: a bunch of climbing gear in the back of the car. I am guessing it has been there all along, just in case they needed to climb somewhere. Or maybe the car also has a climbing gear printer. WHO KNOWS. I feel like I’ve written over two thousands words about this concept video already.
Anyway, they climb, because sure why not, it’s a concept car video and how better to get across the feeling of freedom and flexibility to explore and go wherever you want to go and lure people to their deaths so you can feast on them in your desolate, mute Fyreworld and anyway, narratively speaking, if there isn’t a shot of someone climbing up a cliff-face, how are you going to end with an aerial shot of the car parked on top of a giant rock formation?
And that’s the end.
Here’s some of the smaller things that caught my attention recently, and a short note about why. See if you can figure out what patterns my stressed brain is trying to find, because I’m not sure I can.
A paper from May 2008, titled “Feasibility of Artificial Geomagnetic Field Generation by a Superconducting Ring Network” (PDF) by Osamu Motojima and Nagato Yanagi at the National Institute for Fusion Science in Japan. Weirdly, I’m skim-re-reading Stephen Baxter’s Manifold trilogy at the moment, and in one of the books Venus gets de-spun by… using superconducting rings circling the planet.
If you live in the UK, then you might want to know what Dominic Cummings thought about SciFoo in 2014, which is a reminder in case you think everyone who goes to those sort of events is progressive and socially liberal. (Narrator: they are not).
I tweeted about this earlier: a project by Dori Tunstall to rebrand anthropology textbooks. There are so many things I love about this: first, it’s on typepad(!), second, do click through and have a look - the covers of anthropology textbooks have been replaced / photoshopped with the equivalent of white women eating salad.
This piece in RockPaperShotgun about the audio logs in System Shock 2 is mainly a reminder for me to write about how well Return of the Obra Dinn hangs together, and why it was my pick for Best Game Of 2018 (it’s coming out on PS4, Xbox One and Switch in the next month or so, so if you haven’t played it yet, please do. It’s… well, wait for the newsletter about it.)
We think we know how the brain does approximate counting now (you know, how you just know there are four pens on the table without consciously counting them out), and we also think we know
Jeffrey Lewis (the arms control wonk who wrote the terrifying and gripping 2020 Commision Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States) wrote in 2008 about FOGBANK, a classified material used in the production of nuclear warheads that the U.S. forgot how to make, and then had to re-learn how to make after it decided to make sure those warheads still worked. FOGBANK, which is likely an aerogel-like material (and thus… not one blessed with a particularly obfuscated codename) used as an “interstage material”. One of the general manager of the government contractor involved in the re-engineering effort is said to have said: “The material is classified. Its composition is classified. Its use in the weapon is classified, and the process itself is classified.”
Hey look, I found Mitchell Stuart, who did the concept artwork for Elysium (2013) (waves at Fred Scharmen and the rest of the space cadet crowd). If you like reading this, then there’s a good chance you’ll be into Fred’s book, Space Settlements and you’ll get all excited if I type “O’Neill Colony”.
Following the last episode about bureaucracy, a good friend recommended Anthony Downs’ Inside Bureaucracy, a high-res scanned copy of which you can borrow from the Internet Archive. RAND, the think tank, also has a shorter PDF copy available for free.
After a good 15 years or so of drawing not-very-good diagrams of things in the course of my day job, I finally decided I may as well learn how to draw. If I accept that I’m not so bad at words, then it might be fun to get better at pictures, too. I started the exercises in Christina Wodtke’s book Pencil Me In and the great news is I’m not terrified of drawing anymore and I’m having fun. So nyah.
I was never that good at maths, but I have a much better understanding now of Fourier transforms than I did a week ago, which is to say: none at all.
Ha, I cheated. I wrote most of this episode last night, and I’m sending it this morning! You can’t escape atemporal timelines even in newsletters! Not even this content was produced linearly!
Thank you for everyone who’s sent a note so far. I have replied to most of you.
And thank you also (but not any more than everyone else!) to those of you who have subscribed.
How are you?