Craig Childs: Apocalyptic Planet, Field Guide to the Everending Earth — A Seminar Flashback

Posted on July 2nd, 02014 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Seminars, The Big Here   chat 0 Comments

In July 02013 author Craig Childs spoke to Long Now about his travels around the world. One of the world’s great intrepid travelers and story-tellers, Childs finds the places on Earth that are most geologically or climatically dangerous and hangs out, observing closely, then documents them from a personal as well as scientific perspective. Twice a month we highlight a Seminar About Long-term Thinking (SALT) from our archives.

Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is free for all to view. Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth is a recent SALT talk, free for public viewing until August 02014. SALT audio is free for everyone on our Seminar pages and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD.

From Stewart Brand’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):

This Earth is a story teller, Childs began. And it is not a stable place to live. It is always ending. We think of endings as sudden, but it is always a process. [...]

I would like to backpack on Mars, said Childs. For the local equivalent he hiked across the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, where it never rains. It’s been a desert for 150 million years. You walk across nothing but salt so hard it pings like steel. The sun blasts you all day and at night the water in your pack freezes solid. You walk for days and you don’t see a single living thing, you’re on a dead planet, and then it gets really strange because pink flamingoes come flying in over your head. They’re there to strain brine shrimp out of water sources. You’re at the end of the world and there are flamingoes! You think, ‘Yeah, that’s what this planet is about.’

Craig Childs’ books include House of Rain, Finders Keepers, and Apocalyptic Planet. He is a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition and contributing editor at High Country News.

Craig Childs and Cactus

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Everyone can watch full video of the last 12 Long Now Seminars (including this Seminar video until late June 02014). Long Now members can watch the full ten years of Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.

Long Now’s Orrery Prototype For The 10,000 Year Clock

Posted on June 27th, 02014 by Austin Brown
link   Categories: Clock of the Long Now, The Interval   chat 2 Comments

The Long Now's Orrery prototype

One of the first things that visitors see when they walk into The Interval, Long Now’s new public space, is the Orrery–a prototype for part of the 10,000 Year Clock now under construction. The Orrery is a simplified mechanical model of our solar system, a precise and durable computer, and an eight-foot-tall kinetic sculpture.

This is our 21st century interpretation of an ancient device: the first record of a planetary model dates back two millennia. While the modern design, the direct ancestor of Long Now’s Orrery, was first built in England three centuries ago.

The Orrery at The Interval

Our Orrery’s display features the six planets that can be seen with the naked eye (Mercury through Saturn). The “bit adder” gears below the planetary display each drives a planet. The prototype is designed to update each planet’s position twice a day, so this model of the solar system can show their positions in orbit around the Sun accurately.

A kinetic sculpture of the Long Now: Mercury completes one revolution in about 88 days; the Earth takes exactly one solar year; Saturn makes it around the Sun in just under thirty years. So in the time since this prototype was first completed in 02005, Saturn would have traveled only a third of its year.

Each of the Orrery’s planets is ground from a stone that resembles the actual celestial body:

Untitled

  • Sun: Yellow Calcite
  • Mercury: Meteorite
  • Venus: Lemon Yellow Mexican Calcite
  • Earth: Chilean Lapis
  • Mars: Red Namibian Jasper
  • Jupiter: Banded Sandstone
  • Saturn: Banded Utah Onyx

Because we can look back and see that the way time has been measured throughout history has changed, it’s reasonable to imagine when looking forward that it will continue to change – our current use of hours, minutes, weeks and months may be as obscure and forgotten as the nundina, the akhet, or the gesh several millennia from now. The day, the year, and the movements of the other planets in our solar system, on the other hand, aren’t at the whim of the powers that be or of passing cultural trends. The 10,000 Year Clock, therefore, keeps track of these robust and durable units of time. The Clock’s main dial keeps track of the Sun, Moon and stars while The Orrery models our solar system.

Also robust and durable is The Orrery’s mechanical system for calculating the planets’ movements. A large and complicated gear system could do the job, but would wear down and lose accuracy over the millennia. To avoid this problem, Danny Hillis invented a device called a serial bit adder – a simple mechanical binary computer. The bit adders calculate how much to move the planets in the display based on the known input of two rotations per day by the Orrery’s central shaft. As that shaft rotates it also turns the 6 bit adder disks: one for each planet.

A bit adder consists of a rotating disk and two sets of 27mechanical pins. Each individual pin can be in one of two states and each set of pins taken altogether represents a 27 bit number. One set of pins is immovable – these are set based on the calculation that particular bit adder must perform; they are the program. The other set of pins can move between the two possible states; they represent an accumulator.

As the bit adder’s disk rotates, a portion of the disk reads the program from the unmoving bits and is moved by them. Its movements cause the other set of bits to be flipped as necessary. Each time the adder rotates, it adds the number encoded in the static pins into the number encoded by the moveable ones. That number is a fraction between zero and one. As the outer pins accumulate the value represented by the inner pins, their value grows towards one. When they surpass a value of one, the adder produces an output that adjusts its corresponding planet by way of engaging a 6-sided Geneva wheel. In this way, a precise ratio can be calculated based on the two daily rotations of the central shaft and applied to the planets in the display.

Untitled

The crucial mathematical logic for the bit adders is represented in the positions of the pins, which can only ever be in one of two states even if they become significantly worn. This is a digital representation. Most traditional clocks, on the other hand, perform their mathematics in the orientation of gears around an axis. A gear measured this way can be in an infinite number of states. This is an analog representation. As the gear’s teeth become worn, its position can shift and slip, allowing inaccuracy to build up within the system over long periods of time.

The Orrery was conceptualized by Danny Hillis, with project management and additional design by Alexander Rose. Lead engineer was Paolo Salvagione, and lead machinist and fabricator was Christopher Rand. Other machinists include Erio Brown, Brian Roe, Mark Ribaud, Reason Bradley, General Precision, Oakland Machine Works, Jim Johnson, Brian Ford, Ebin Stromquist, and the base was fabricated by Seattle Solstice.

Almost a decade after its completion, the Orrery has become an iconic image for Long Now and a fixture of our public space. Many first visit The Interval because they notice the unusual 8-foot tall structure through our window, and they have to know more. For Long Now members and staff it’s an inspiring reminder of the full-scale Clock, whose Orrery will be four times the size of our prototype. In the future the Sun and six planets may be the first clue to a visitor to the Clock site as to the nature of the device they’ve just discovered.

And others are inspired to reproduce the Orrery themselves:

Orrery sketched by Dan Bransfield

The Orrery is just one of many unique features of The Interval at Long Now. Come visit us and see the Orrery in person, have a delicious beverage, and enjoy all The Interval’s many pleasures. We are open 10AM to Midnight every day in San Francisco.

Stefan Kroepelin Seminar Media

Posted on June 25th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Long Term Science, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Civilization’s Mysterious Desert Cradle: Rediscovering the Deep Sahara

Tuesday June 10, 02014 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Kroepelin Seminar page.

*********************

Audio is up on the Kroepelin Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

*********************

The Sahara and civilization – a summary by Stewart Brand

“Almost everything breaks in the desert,” Kröpelin began. He showed trucks mired in sand, one vehicle blown up by a land mine, and a Unimog with an impossibly, hopelessly broken axle. (Using the attached backhoe, it hunched its way 50 miles back to civilization.)

The eastern Sahara remains one of the least explored places on Earth, and it is full of wonders. Every year for 40 years Kröpelin has made multi-month expeditions to figure out the paleoclimatological changes and human saga in the region over the last 17,000 years. There are no guides, no roads. When you find something—astonishing rock art (there are thousands of sites), an amazing geological feature—you know you’re the first human to see it in thousands of years.

A great river, 7 miles wide, 650 miles long, once flowed into the Nile from the desert. Now called Wadi Howar, its rich, still unstudied archeological sites show it used to be a thoroughfare from the deep desert. A vast spectacular plateau called the Ennedi Highlands, as big as Switzerland, has exquisite rock art detailing pastoral herds of cattle and even dress and hair styles. Mouflon (wild sheep) and crocodiles still survive there.

Most remarkable of all are the remote Ounianga Lakes, some of them kept charged with ancient deep-aquifer fresh water because of the draw of intense evaporation from the hypersaline central Lake Yoa. In 1999 Kröpelin began a stratigraphic study of the lake’s sediment, eventually collecting a treasure for climate study—a 52-foot core sample which shows every season for the last 11,000 years.

For Kröpelin, many strands of evidence spell out the sequence of events in the eastern Sahara. From 17,000 to 10,500 BP (before the present), there were no human settlements along the Nile. But the Sahara was gradually getting wetter in the period 10,500 to 9,000 BP, and people moved in from the south. The peak of the African Humid Period, when the Sahara was green and widely occupied, was 9,000 to 7,300 years ago. Then a gradual desiccation from 7,300 to 5,500 BP drove people to the Nile, and the first farms appeared there. From 5,500 BP on, the Nile’s pharaonic civilization got going and lasted 3,000 years.

Unique artifacts such black-rimmed pots and asymmetric stone knives, once used in the far desert, turn up in the settlements that created Egypt. Kröpelin concluded: “Egypt was a gift of the Nile, but it was also a gift of the desert.”

And of climate change.

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

Ecological Anachronisms

Posted on June 24th, 02014 by Austin Brown
link   Categories: Long Term Thinking, Revive & Restore   chat 0 Comments

450px-Maclura_pomifera2

Evolution is a diligent innovator and the diversity it has achieved offers the curious seemingly unending marvels. In some cases, though, a particular innovation might not make much sense on initial consideration. In those cases, zooming out in time can be instructive.

Whit Bronaugh, writing for American Forests, demonstrates this using the concept of ecological anachronisms:

An ecological anachronism is an adaptation that is chronologically out of place, making its purpose more or less obsolete.

The concept was developed by ecologist Daniel Janzen (a former SALT speaker) and Bronaugh calls on the Osage-orange to bring it into focus.

The Osage-orange is a North American tree that produces large, lumpy fruit. Those fruit fall to the ground and rot, ignored rather than ingested and spread (along with their seeds), every fall. Other parts of the tree feature long thorns that do little to discourage deer from eating their foliage. These adaptations, it would seem, aren’t adaptive at all, but rather strange, pointless wastes of energy. The tree’s range across North America is known to have contracted over the last few millennia, so this view isn’t entirely unfounded.

The fruit and the thorns, however, were adaptive when megafauna such as mammoths and gound sloths roamed the continent. The large fruit were a common part of the mammoth diet and the thorns were just the right size to discourage creatures much larger than deer from chewing up the leaves and branches. As Bronaugh explains,

It’s true that such adaptations are now anachronistic; they have lost their relevance. But the trees have been slow to catch on; a natural consequence of the pace of evolution. For a tree that lives, say, 250 years, 13,000 years represents only 52 generations. In an evolutionary sense, the trees don’t yet realize that the megafauna are gone.

Though in our lifetime, mammoths and ground sloths may seem long gone, the evolutionary moment in which we live still resonates with their presence. Perhaps a reprise is possible?

(Read: The Trees That Miss The Mammoths – American Forests)

Mapping the Long Walk – An Out of Eden Update

Posted on June 20th, 02014 by Chia Evers
link   Categories: Long News, Long Term Thinking, The Big Here   chat 0 Comments

In January 02013, we introduced you to slow journalist Paul Salopek, who is retracing the steps of our earliest human ancestors in a seven-year journey Out of Eden. Since then, Salopek has covered more than 4,000 kilometers (nearly 2,500 miles), from in Eastern Ethiopia to East Jerusalem. His route was, intentionally, sketched in broad strokes, but each of his Milestones and Dispatches have been pinned to a digital map that captures the sights, sounds, and stories of his long road from Africa to Patagonia.

The first map pin, at Herto Bouri, marks a dense archaeological site, where Australopithecus garhi, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens idaltu made their homes 2.5 million to 160,000 years ago. Several of the Homo sapiens idaltu fossils bear the marks of (possibly cannibalistic) mortuary practices that included scraping the flesh from the skulls of the dead.

A map-within-the map in Djibouti, on the edge of the Red Sea, illustrates the ancient land bridges that carried our ancestors across the Red Sea into the Levant, and eventually into Southeast Asia and the Americas.

At Petra, the ancient stone city that is now Jordan’s most popular tourist attraction, Salopek recorded a timeless dirge about the the ingratitude of children and the pain of old age. The singer, Qasim Ali, accompanied himself on the rababa, a 1200-year-old ancestor of the violin.

Four thousand kilometers from the ambiguously marked remains at Herto Bouri, Salopek reached Qafzeh Cave, on the slopes of Mount Carmel. This is the site of the first ceremonial human burial in the archaeological record—a teenaged boy with a red deer’s antlers held fast against his chest.

As of June 02014, Salopek is in Jerusalem, the subject of another thematic map—one which covers a two-day, 23-mile trek around the ancient city. His most recent Dispatch, from the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, tells the story of a traditional judge who negotiates settlements between families when a wrong has been done.

From Israel, Salopek will continue on to the Silk Road. We will continue to post updates on his progress, and have asked him to speak with us when his route brings him through the Bay Area in a few years. In the meantime, you can follow Salopek and the Out of Eden Walk on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, Vimeo, and Google+—or visit OutOfEden.com and the Out of Eden Walk site at NationalGeographic.com.

Adrian Hon Seminar Tickets

Posted on June 19th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

 

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Adrian Hon presents A History of the Future in 100 Objects

Adrian Hon presents

“A History of the Future in 100 Objects”

TICKETS

Wednesday July 16, 02014 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

Thinking about the future is so hard and so important that any trick to get some traction is a boon. Adrian Hon’s trick is to particularize. What thing would manifest a whole future trend the way museum objects manifest important past trends?

Building on the pattern set by the British Museum’s great book, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Hon imagines 100 future objects that would illuminate transformative events in technology, politics, sports, justice, war, science, entertainment, religion, and exploration over the course of this century. The javelin that won victory for the last baseline human to compete successfully in the Paralympic Games for prosthetically enhanced athletes. The “Contrapuntal Hack” of 02031 that massively and consequentially altered computerized records so subtly that the changes were undetected. The empathy drug and targeted virus treatment that set off the Christian Consummation Movement.

Adrian Hon is author of the new book, A History of the Future in 100 Objects, and CEO and founder of Six to Start, creators of the hugely successful smartphone fitness game “Zombies, Run!” His background is in neuroscience at Oxford and Cambridge.

Ed Lu: Thwarting Dangerous Asteroids — A Seminar Flashback

Posted on June 19th, 02014 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Seminars, Technology   chat 0 Comments

“How do you deflect an asteroid? Simple…”

In June 02013 former astronaut Ed Lu discussed the very real future threat of asteroids striking the Earth and efforts by himself and the B612 Foundation to keep the planet safe. It turns out that detecting them is the hard part. Twice a month we highlight a Seminar About Long-term Thinking (SALT) from our archives.

Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is free for all to view. Anthropocene Astronomy: Thwarting Dangerous Asteroids Begins with Finding Them is a recent SALT talk, free for public viewing until late July 02014. SALT audio is free for everyone on our Seminar pages and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD.

From Kevin Kelly’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):

What are we looking for? Asteroids that Lu calls “city killers” are about the size of a theater—an airburst of one could destroy the whole San Francisco Bay Area. In our children’s lifetime the chance of impact from one of these is about 30 percent. In the same period there is a 1 percent chance of an asteroid impact equivalent to all the bombs in World War II times 5; it could kill 100 million people.

We buy fire insurance against risk with lower probability than that. Then there’s a kilometer-size asteroid, which would destroy all of humanity permanently. The chance of collision with one in our children’s lifetime—.001 percent.

Ed Lu is CEO and co-founder of the B612 Foundation. As an astronaut he earned NASA’s highest honor: The Distinguished Service Medal and in his 3 missions logged 206 days in space while constructing and living aboard the International Space Station. From 02007 to 02010, he led the Advanced Projects group at Google developing imaging technology for Google Earth/Maps and Google Street View amongst other projects.

Ed Lu, image by Space.com

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Everyone can watch full video of the last 12 Long Now Seminars (including this Seminar video until late June 02014). Long Now members can watch the full ten years of Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.

Science Fiction to Science Fabrication Talk at The Interval July 1, 02014

Posted on June 16th, 02014 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Events, Long Now salon (Interval), Manual for Civilization, The Interval   chat 0 Comments

Novysan speaks 7/1/02014 at The Interval

Tickets are on sale for Science Fiction to Science Fabrication July 1, 02014 at The Interval

Artist/maker/hacker Dan Novy (Novysan) is an Emmy award-winning transmedia storyteller with a background in theater, a host of film and television credits, and a research/PHD-candidate position at the MIT Media Lab. Last fall he and his colleague Sophia Bruckner taught Science Fiction to Science Fabrication (aka “Pulp to Prototype”) at the Lab; their students read classic and contemporary science fiction and then built prototypes based on the worlds they’d read about.

The authors they read included J. G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, Warren Ellis, Daniel Suarez and William Gibson. The point was that the fantastic future worlds of speculative fiction are often essential precursors to real world technology. Novy’s own work in Immersive Display technologies and Non-Invasive Narrative Neurostimulation has drawn inspiration directly from the works of Neal Stephenson and Ray Bradbury. He’ll tell us more about the class and share some thoughts about the Manual for Civilization as well.

This event is part of a new series of salon talks at The Interval. Next up in the series is Violet Blue on Tuesday, June 17 discussing long-term online privacy models and her latest book The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy. Tickets are still available.

Violet Blue at The Interval
The Interval at Long Now is Long Now’s new home which is now open seven-days-a-week. A cafe and museum by day and with a cocktail, beer, and wine menu after 5pm, The Interval features art designed by Brian Eno and artifacts from our 10,000-year Clock. Several Tuesday nights a month The Interval hosts salon events.

The Interval at Long Now Opens June 15th and TheInterval.org is live

Posted on June 9th, 02014 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Announcements, Long Now salon (Interval), The Interval   chat 0 Comments

photo by Catherine Borgeson
photo by Catherine Borgeson

After years of planning and a full year under construction, we are proud to announce our new venue The Interval at Long Now opens its doors to the public this Sunday, June 15th 02014. Come visit us soon. We’ll be open daily from 10AM to midnight at our location in historic Fort Mason Center on San Francisco’s north shore.

photo by Because We Can
Photo by Because We Can

The Interval is full of artifacts of Long Now’s projects including the 10,000-year Clock and Rosetta Project. We serve fine tea from Samovar Tea Lounge and Sightglass coffee during the day. At night our drink menu designed by Jennifer Colliau is inspired by time and the history of the cocktail.

We’re also proud to feature an ambient painting and sound designed by Brian Eno who is one of the co-founders of Long Now. Our ever-growing Manual for Civilization now includes more than a thousand books on floor-to-ceiling shelves throughout the space. And more are being added as we acquire them with the help of our partners at Borderlands Books and Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.

We’ve launched TheInterval.org with more details about our new venue including the lineup of upcoming salon talks and other ticketed events. Next up is a special pre-opening talk by Rachel Sussman about her book The Oldest Living Things in the World this Friday. Talks will typically be on Tuesday nights and we recommend purchasing tickets in advance.

We’ve given you a virtual tour of our new bar, cafe, and event venue earlier, but here are more recent photos from pre-opening events at The Interval. It looks even better with people in it.

Photo by William McLeod

photo by William McLeod

Photo by William McLeod

Photo by William McLeod

Photo by William McLeod

Photo by William McLeod

Photo by William McLeod

Photo by William McLeod

photos by William McLeod (unless otherwise noted)

As we open we are also completing the crowdfunded ‘brickstarter’ to support the costs of this renovation. Donations are tax-deductible and help us complete the final details of The Interval including acquiring all the books for the Manual for Civilization library.

Please consider a donation–we have many gifts to thank you for your generosity including Challenge Coins, Long Now flasks, and specially hand-crafted gin and whiskey from St George Spirits.

Violet Blue Talks Privacy at The Interval: June 17, 02014

Posted on June 8th, 02014 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Events, The Interval   chat 0 Comments

Violet Blue speaks about privacy at The Interval on June 17

Next up in Long Now’s newly launched series of salon talks is author/blogger Violet Blue who will use her latest book The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy as a starting point to talk about tech, gender and long-term sustainable privacy models on Tuesday, June 17 at The Interval, our new public space at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy is a guidebook for how to keep your online personal life under your own control with advice for reducing vulnerability to identity theft, being smarter about social media, and how to keep from being hacked. Plus what to do if you are hacked (or worse). It covers fundamental and advanced privacy topics with a focus on the privacy needs of women. It has been recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Written in plain, user-friendly language and covering everything from revenge porn to identity theft to online dating, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy is specifically geared toward women and other vulnerable members of the online population, who need guidance navigating the murky, often treacherous waters of the Internet.
The Daily Dot

The beauty of Blue’s book is that its useful for readers with varying levels of online privacy knowledge. It doesn’t gloss over the small stuff, like why giving out your name and phone number poses a threat, yet it speaks to more complex issues, like navigating the legal system and the internet when you need photos taken down from a site. The result is an engaging, timely, and instructive read that gets women up to speed on the privacy measure they need to take.
Online Privacy Blog, from Abine.com

author and blogger Violet Blue

Violet Blue writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBSNews (previously Oprah Magazine, MacLife, SF Appeal and the San Francisco Chronicle). She has written 40+ books and her sexuality blog TinyNibbles is awarded, infamous, and Not Safe For most Works. She took part in Long Now’s Long Conversation in 02010 and recommended books for the Manual for Civilization.

Interval donors hear about our events first: there’s still time to become a charter donor.