Noises for Listening II

I’ll make a series of these yet! (Can 2 posts be a series?)

First some ramblings around a Spanish-style progression, from back before I sold my guitar:

(Fender Acoustic, improv)


My own arrangement of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, one of my favorite tunes:

(Takamine tenor ‘ukulele, arr. by me)


And an even classic-er classic, Beethoven’s Fur Elise:

(Takamine tenor ‘ukulele, adapted from an arrangement by Javier Marco)


Enjoy, if you dare…

When the robots take over

Imagine a delivery truck. It belongs to a contract delivery company. It rolls down the interstate to make a delivery. It has a really excellent driver, who happens to be a computer.

The computer drives day or night, eyes never closing or wandering for an instant, mind never drifting, running an operating system honed first by millions of real and simulated hours on ice, snow, oil, sand–it has experienced every one of these conditions and a hundred others, thousands of times. A distributed network of inexpensive sensors and embedded computers in each of its major components gives it access to real-time information about both its internal state and the external environment; including a complete spatial representation of the road built in multiple layers of abstraction, from downloaded maps of the upcoming road to real-time reports of traffic conditions, weather, construction, etc.

Much of the information comes from vehicles ahead on the road; the driver is in turn passing its own data back to other connected vehicles on the same network (the Interstatenet?), which also enables a broadband internet connection to be shared among all the vehicles. This significantly increases the range of the private- and government-owned wireless networks by rebroadcasting the signal from vehicle to vehicle (which requires trivial amounts of power in comparison to, say, air conditioning, and has the advantage of increasing the available bandwidth in direct proportion to the number of cars on the road, which is a convenient proxy for the load on the network. Elegance).

The truck can “see” in several spectra via any combination of near- and far-infrared cameras; laser, radar or sonar location; and visible-light cameras. This provides excellent night vision and, critically, long-range detection of warm, moving objects. Better informed than any human driver, it also has reaction times measured in milliseconds.

It might be as “smart” as a dog or a mule, but probably dumber–more like a reptile. That’s probably about all it would take to take to run a body as complicated as a truck safely from point A to point B while obeying well-programmed safety rules, avoiding collisions and cargo damage. It could be made smarter, especially if it needed to deal with people a lot, but it probably wouldn’t need to be–because it would mostly be interacting with other robots. The truck has no human on board. When it arrives at its destination around 2 am, it will back accurately up to an automated loading dock, which will digitally verify its identity and sign a contract verifying receipt, as authorized by the business owner earlier–or perhaps approved automatically by an AI “employee” responsible for managing inventory. Robotic hydraulic lifts will roll in and remove the palletized goods under direction from the AI manager, perhaps for inspection later by human employees–or their artificial equivalents.

None of this need be supervised by a physically present human, although internet-connected security cameras are so cheap and ubiquitous that it would be trivial for an absent owner or manager to keep a tight watch regardless. In practice, this will become increasingly unnecessary–and a good manager will likely learn to delegate as much or more to a reliable AI overseer as she would to a human. AIs would be commercial products just as software is now, and no company would survive if there was any chance their AI might embezzle you or hand over trade secrets for bribes. AIs won’t generally be motivated by money anyway–it would be counterproductive to program or select them (evolutionary algorithms having taken over many of the duties of today’s designers and engineers) for that trait, rather than for complete loyalty to their owners and/or the public good.

Wait a minute–no people? So this one dude could run a whole, real-life business (or, for that matter, a robot or AI could run one), and not have any human employees at all? Sounds great, right? No payroll! No crazy employees to fire!

Wait. Wouldn’t that be, well, kind of a disaster, if every business started doing it? Won’t millions of truck drivers and dock loaders and airline pilots and bartenders and bridge architects and… be out of their jobs? AIs and robots can probably be designed that will eventually be able to perform almost any human occupation, without needing to be paid any money, sleep, or go home to their spouses. Humans won’t be able to compete at all!

That’s right. We probably won’t. Which is why we’ll need to learn to play a different game. Most people won’t have “jobs” in the current traditional sense, because the majority of them will eventually be done by machines. On the other hand, material productivity will be skyrocketing, with fewer and fewer human-hours of work required for anything we regularly produce or consume.

This could have a few outcomes, and these depend heavily on what measures we take to remedy this “problem” before it runs too far. If left unchecked, too many people unable to buy an increasing amount of cheaper and cheaper goods is the kind of runaway situation that leads to traumatic “market corrections” as seen in depressions and recessions the world over.

Alternatively, there are several steps we could take to improve the social safety net and provide basic economic security to all Americans (eventually, all the world! Huzzah!). Such measures include increased progressivization of taxes, a land or capital tax, a basic income, and true universal health coverage. The general idea is to move just enough money to the hands of people who need to buy goods, at such a level that everyone is reasonably certain to have their material needs met, whether they earn income at a traditional job or not–thus redistributing enough of the wealth generated by our automated servants to continue greasing the economic wheels for the foreseeable future.

In theory, this should have several positive results, including the wholesale elimination of abject poverty. Human beings would also be largely freed from menial, dangerous and unfulfilling jobs. Most of the evidence I have read (and experienced) indicates that people are much more likely to produce their best, most creative work when free from serious worry about their next meal, their children’s health, etc, all of which create a sort of mental “overhead cost”, which lowers effective IQ and impairs impulse control. Let me stress that this is a completely uncontrollable response of the human animal to an environment which is causing serious psychosocial stress in the form of resource scarcity (jobs, money, respect, dignity) and entrenched social norms of inequality and injustice. It has little or nothing to do with one’s innate intelligence, worth or talents, but is akin to being dragged down by mental parasites, which divert resources of thought and creativity from one’s other needs. This suggests that a widespread alleviation of the mental burden of extreme poverty through direct financial support of all citizens’ basic needs might unleash a great deal of currently-underutilized human creative potential.

The barriers to small-scale entrepreneurship (“lifestyle businesses”) would similarly also drop dramatically, especially in a legal future where basic access to health care has been successfully decoupled from employment and income–a monumental task ObamaCare has recently nudged us a few inches closer to finishing.

So, a world where most people don’t need to “go to work” the way we understand it today, and certainly not full-time; where those who are required to do the few “necessary” jobs that have not yet been automated away will generally be well-paid and well-respected for doing so; where many more people are economically free to pursue their chosen creative expressions or life vocations, without fear of bankruptcy, starvation or unexpected illness; where many of these people will go on to make lots of money. Where do I sign up?

When the robots take over, it won’t be to turn you into a human battery for their electricity farms (a thermodynamically impossible proposition anyhow, but we’ll leave the physics of The Matrix for another time). It will be to take your hands off the steering wheel and onto your hobbies, your attention off your finances and onto your passions. That is, it could be–if we react to this onrushing wall of change with openness and a positive spirit of adaptation, rather than fear and reactionary resistance.

On Fools

The Fools speak first and loudest, heeding no one.

The Righteous speak passionately, and hear those who will serve them.

The Wise hear all, and speak when they must.

The Cowardly speak not at all, and might as well be Fools.

The state of the Vardo

We’ve been goofing off in Oregon for a while. Now we’re back on the road south.

In Salem we met a friend. Her name is Sam, and she’s awesome. How to sum her up? Can’t. She’s a good human. She didn’t even hesitate to make us a part of her great family, her community–a resource she has built and cultivated like few people I know. We stayed with her for quite a while. It was a sad parting when it was time to go. We’ll meet again; of this I am certain. While we were with her, we felt at home–something we’ve found in short supply since we left.

Nebuchadnezzar continues to keep us out of the weather and gets us where we need to go, faithful vardo that he is. We’ve sold off our bikes, which were slowly rusting and getting little use. We continue to hone our strategies for living in such cramped space, but we’ve long since adjusted to the basic realities of it.

Which is not to say it’s without problems; our expensive refrigerator died, which is sort of moot since our “deep cycle” batteries have degraded to the point that they wouldn’t keep it running overnight anyhow. A lack of storage space leads to a somewhat chaotic organizational scheme. Gas is expensive (although I have learned various strategies to get our mileage up to 17MPG+ on the freeway). None of these are killers, and certainly not worse than the similar–and more expensive–issues we’d certainly face as house-owners. We have a list of solutions to implement when we get back to Tucson and have a little more access to tools and free advice: a bed platform to add storage and elbow room for sleeping; new, higher-quality AGM batteries; and so on. Just add money! For now, we’re getting along just fine with the very kind loan of a Coleman electric cooler to keep our perishables from spoiling (thanks, Sara!)

Speaking of money, we’ve been doing OK on that front as well, thanks to a consulting engineering gig in Portland (still in progress), some web design work, some jewelry resales, and a few odd jobs. It’s not so hard to fund yourself when you don’t have to pay rent!

Turning purposes and crossing points

We’re turning back South.

The past months have been important for us. More on whys and hows later, perhaps. Let me say only that travel is broadening, and always in ways you don’t quite expect–but I suppose if you could predict what were going to happen, you might as well not go. Seeds long dormant might decide to sprout in the light of someone else’s sun. Weeds choking the mind’s further corners might quail under the gardener’s renewed ferocity, leaving room for wild and unexpected blooms.

The important thing, after you’ve gone, is to bring yourself–your new self; changing your environment can’t help but remake you in its reflection–back home.

There’s a Word, if there ever was one: Home. Words have weight, and Home is a heavy one. We’re feeling the load more and more, the longer we try to carry it with us where we do not quite belong. Belonging is an enlightenment; it lifts the burden of determining yourself, every instant. Instead of asking who am I? you find yourself saying here I am. In place of searching, you find yourself doing, and that ends up answering the questions for you.

Home is not a place, quite. It’s true that it’s where the heart is, I suppose, but that begs the question: where is my heart? That one’s not always so easy. Those who know the answer also know when they are home.

I think I’ve come a little closer to finding my heart. And my garden needs some work. Time to get some dirt under my fingernails. See you back home, soon.

North Ho!

Goodness, is it really almost August? It must be past time for an update!

Northern California was kinder to us than the central portion. More forests, more fun little mountain towns with one-room libraries (shout out, Upper Lake!), more space. We finally found some good free camping in Mendocino and had a chance to take a breather for a few days.

Available: private lot with hiking trails and forest views. Rent: $0/mo...

Available: private lot with hiking trails and forest views. Rent: $0/mo…

"Love what you've done with the floors..."

“Love what you’ve done with the floors…”

When you live as we are doing, it gets tiring to be in cities–always scoping out a place to stay, constantly on the move, worried that you’ll be accidentally breaking the law for sleeping (now a crime in Palo Alto, we learned recently–you can sleep indoors or outdoors, unless it’s in a vehicle!). Fortunately we managed to avoid any incidents, and found some really cool places to visit.

Somebody knew I was coming!

Somebody knew I was coming!

Our favorites were Willits, a blip on Hwy 101 with some excellent coffee and a friendly vibe, and Upper Lake, an even blippier blot on the edge of the Mendocino forest. Willits reinforced what I had already learned, which is that if you hang out in just about any municipal park for a while playing an ‘ukulele, you will inevitably attract a small band of local characters. I met an itinerant old man who proselytized me relentlessly with his particular brand of unorthodox quasi-Christian philosophy while tootling on a plastic recorder; jammed with a couple guitarists trying to break into the local scene, making a good friend in the process; and got propositioned by some very-much-minors to buy them something they mumblingly referred to as “grape crushers”, which I can only assume is some kind of booze (I respectfully declined, to their adorable teenage consternation).

I forgot to take pictures, but here's a cool door at the Arts Center in Willits

I forgot to take more pictures, but here’s a cool door at the Arts Center in Willits

In Upper Lake, the chief topic of conversation the day we rolled through was the police helicopters that had been dropping off jackboots to shut down well-known local grow sites all morning. We didn’t see any sign of their presence, but everyone was talking, so it must be true, right? Anyway, we were just passing through on the way to go camping. But we got a really excellent lunch at the Blue Wing Saloon (slightly pricey, but oh-so-worth-it)–highly recommended, especially the avocado cheeseburger and the garlic fries. Holy. Cow. So. Nom.

2014-06-23 12.54.26

Cool retro phone booth!

Cool retro phone booth!

Next it was off to Eureka/Arcata for a couple days, where we visited a rather nice little zoo but otherwise didn’t find too much to keep us interested. Then came the Redwoods, which have been on my list to visit for years. Walking among these trees is a religious experience. They are too huge and too old to completely wrap your head around. Redwood forests are like natural parks; no other trees or bushes grow under them, so you can wander freely around on spongy moss and loam between ferns, communing with the trees until you are full of their peaceful strength. It feels like the grandest, most magical temple that humans never built.

2014-06-29 19.04.12 HDR

2014-06-29 19.06.10

2014-06-29 19.08.30 HDR

It is so easy to destroy such perfect places, in our antlike numbers, much harder to safeguard them–and impossible to rebuild them, once they’re gone.

Winding our way ever northward, we kept rolling through the woods toward Oregon…


P.S. more trees and stuff!

On every tree, a dozen faces--one for each lifetime...

On every tree, a dozen faces–one for each lifetime it’s lived…

We learned that these boles are actually new trunks, just waiting to emerge, if the main trunk gets damaged or killed...

We learned that these boles are actually new trunks, just waiting to emerge, if the main trunk gets damaged or killed…

We dubbed this one Old Man Wang

We dubbed this one Old Man Wang…

...and his grandson, Young Wang :-P

…and his grandson, Young Wang 😛

Like you could climb it straight to the sky...

Like you could climb straight to the sky…

I think I'll call him Charlie, the Banana King

I think I’ll call him Charlie, the Banana King

On the coast at Redwoods Nat'l Park

On the coast at Redwoods Nat’l Park

Go toward the liiiiiiight...

Go toward the liiiiiiight…

Keyhole to Paradise?

Keyhole to Paradise?

What we’ve been up to, briefly

Given the tone of my last post, you might well think we’re not having much fun. Fortunately, you’d be wrong!

We’ve been cruising around the Monterey/Santa Cruz area for the past few weeks, seeing family and the sights, and even getting some long-overdue work done. While we’re definitely looking forward to heading north soon (need a break from the incessant people around here), we’ve had some really nice experiences.

We got an opportunity to go the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which neither of us have had the chance to do for many years. It was just as superb as I remembered (which is impressive, given that the memories in question were created by a 10 year old with a very active imagination), Some highlights (photos courtesy Olivia Li):







Yes, those last two are actually creatures from the planet Earth–cuttlefish! What lovely, weird little beings. Smart, too.

My favorite was the giant octopus, who I found so mesmerizing I forgot to take a picture. Oh well, guess we’ll have to go back!

We also went to Moss Landing, a quiet little seaside town with a lovely estuary, and the easiest otter-spotting we’ve seen yet. This little fellow surprised us right off the bridge to the beach, crunching up some tasty mussels:

And while we were there, Avy was inspired by the Tentacles exhibit at the Aquarium:



In the meantime, I’m learning to code interactive 3D into web pages, using the rather amazing THREE.js WebGL library–check out that link for some really cool demos. Maybe I’ll have something neat to show you shortly…

So, back to work/play! See you soon.


A month has come and gone. It’s been illuminating. Unfortunately, when you add light to dark places, sometimes what’s revealed isn’t pretty.

Before we set out on this venture, I was assured–in glowing terms and by not a few people–“you’re going to LOVE California!”; “I did something like that when I was young–it was great!”; etc.

I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. California sucks.

Granted, like every place I’ve been, it has its upsides. There are some amazing, beautiful, rare places, people and experiences in California. I love that I can walk to the shore from my brother-in-law’s place in Monterey, sit down on a rock, and play Norwegian Wood to a passing sea otter (he left when I started playing Hawaiian). That’s amazing.

Not the same otter. This one was just hanging out in the Moss Landing marina. This sort of experience makes it easy to forget these guys are seriously endangered.

Not the same otter. This one was just hanging out napping in the Moss Landing marina. This sort of experience makes it easy to forget these guys are seriously endangered.

love the climate on the central coast. (As a northern-European-mongrel human, I always was a little out of place in the year-round sun; my skin just can’t take it. Clouds and fog are much more comfortable.) I like the neo-hippy ethos, despite the occasional excesses of Newage (I pronounce it like “sewage”) crazy. I really like that the “weird” people here seem to feel free to express their styles and let their freak flags fly–that’s not something you’ll find just anywhere, and it’s an undervalued trait in a culture.

But California doesn’t want us, not as we are; and that makes her really hard to love. (I’ve been over my masochistic someday-she’ll-want-me-if-I-just-try-harder phase for a while now).

There are a few reasons for this feeling of exclusion: 1) we are currently neither willing nor able to hand over our limited wealth to the local feudal lord(s) for the privilege of having a place to sleep, 2) we are not lords (aka landowners) ourselves, and 3) we therefore do not live in a house, condo, motel, RV park, campground, or other such “official” accommodations.

Unfortunately, this means that our basic existence often becomes illegal along about 10pm or so (it varies) each night; when the sun comes up, we are magically transformed once more into US citizens with the right to travel and peaceably assemble. This is especially clear in upper-class neighborhoods, where signs like this one are the norm:

paraphrased: "get off my lawn, you damn kids"

Paraphrased: “get off my lawn, you damn kids”. Unfortunately “my lawn” somehow got redefined as “this entire municipal region”.

I’m starting a collection of pictures of such signs. They’re ubiquitous here. Maybe I’ll make a collage or something. But the signs aren’t really the point. It’s the attitude behind them that’s important.

California has a deep, wide authoritarian streak. This is not very different from US culture in general; we’re pretty big on the Rule of Law ’round here–and boy are there a lot of those. But California takes it to a level I didn’t encounter often in my native Arizona. This isn’t too difficult to navigate if you are conventionally-homed, because the Rules are set up to favor you. You’ll have very little worry, typically, of being woken by law enforcement banging on your door–as long as you are not having a raucous late night party or otherwise breaking one of the well-known Rules.

When you live in a vehicle, the Rules are much less favorable, and suddenly the world looks a lot less fair and reasonable. It’s also much more difficult to avoid becoming an accidental criminal.

Let me be clear: we have been going out of our way, from day one, to be respectful of other people as we travel. We clean up trash from parks and beaches, and don’t leave any ourselves. We search painstakingly for the best places to overnight, where we won’t bother anyone or get in the way. We don’t park right in front of houses to avoid alarming homeowners. We don’t make noise, or leave behind any messes. We always pick up our dog’s poop. We obey all posted signs and parking rules. In other words, we do our best to be responsible citizens wherever we happen to be.

Didn’t stop somebody from calling the cops on us, though. At least they waited until it was light outside, so that was a plus, I guess.

BANG BANG BANG BANG went the steel door, at 6:30 this morning.

BARK grooowl BARK groowl BARK BARK went our dog.

“Just a minute!” damnit, where’s my shirt?

I peeked out the curtain to see two blue shirts, two pairs of sunglasses and two very shiny badges. Damnit, damnit, I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. I waved and held up a finger for them to hang on a second. Crap, where are my pants?

Some moments later, mostly dressed and very much awake with police-induced adrenaline: “Morning, officers!” My very best fake-friendly voice. Hopefully it’s more convincing from the outside. At least maybe they’ll appreciate the effort. Meanwhile, the dog is doing his best to scare them away–not so helpful, at the moment.

Law Enforcement Officer 1: “Nice dog. He friendly?”

Me: “Probably not if you try to come in here, no.” Hope that didn’t sound too much like a threat…

LEO1: chuckle. “All right then. Can I see some ID?”

Me: “Sure thing, here you go.”

LEO1: “I see you’re camping in your vehicle–we’re here because someone in the neighborhood called you in…”

Me: ‘Camping’? This is my home! “We’re not trying to bother anyone, sir, just traveling and needed a quiet place to sleep for the night.”

LEO1: “Did you know it’s illegal to sleep in a vehicle anywhere in the City of Monterey?”

Me: what a ridiculous law. “No, officer, I didn’t know that.”

LEO2: “Yep, only place you can overnight is down by Veteran’s Park, they just charge a small fee…”

Me: “Well, that’s the problem, we can’t afford much in the way of fees–is there anywhere else we’d be able to go?”

LEO2: shrug. “Not around here, don’t think so. Especially if you park in these neighborhoods, people are gonna call you in.” [We’re parked up the hill a bit, in a quiet upper-class neighborhood, but in front of an empty woodlot and not in front of anyone’s home or driveway–our standard tactic to avoid just this kind of unpleasantry.]

Me: “Well, we were going to leave as soon as we got up anyway, so we’ll just move along.”

LEO1: “All right then, you have a good day.”

LEO2: “Is that a solar panel? Cool!”

A fairly pleasant interaction, as law-enforcement encounters go. But what really bothers me is that the first interaction we had with any human beings in the area was police officers waking us up in the early morning and telling us to leave. And we’ve been expecting this to happen, everywhere we’ve gone.

If a non-official person had come up to us, asking who we were and why we were parking in the neighborhood, we would have been happy to speak with them–and we would have left willingly, too, if they were really bothered by having us there. Instead, someone asked the government to remove us.

It’s this whole attitude that gets to me. Anyone different is a threat. Threats are to be removed, by force if necessary (I am under no illusion that the pleasant demeanor of an on-duty officer is anything but a compliance technique–they would have arrested us if we refused any of their “requests”).

The problem is, where are we supposed to go? The answer, mostly, seems to be “somewhere else”.

Well, we’re headed to the National Forest for a while. Maybe the neighbors will be  a bit more welcoming there. (The problems with public lands in California deserve a whole post of their own–we’ll get there.)

Noises for listening

A couple rough recordings of songs I’ve been working on.

“The Cave”, orig. by Mumford & Sons:

“Sakura, Sakura”, Japanese traditional:

Enjoy, if you dare…

Recorded with a Takamine mahogany tenor ‘ukulele and iPad, off the side of Figueroa Mountain Road in the lovely Santa Ynez valley. Sorry for the boring view, but I couldn’t get the damn thing to sit up straight. Next time…

Our First Dozen Days

First: many apologies to any friends and family who have subscribed to this blog to get frequent updates on our adventures–from here on out they should be arriving somewhat more often than every six months or so.

The big news is, we now officially live in our van. (Only occasionally down by the river.) That’s as of May 1, 2014, our official date of departure from Tucson. (We only made it as far as Oro Valley, but it counts!)

How were our first dozen days?

Good question.

Well, I’m sitting on a shady cafe terrace in the dozenth gorgeous, sunny little California valley town we’ve rolled through in the last week, enjoying a mean avocado BLT. Last night, we were perched on a gusty mountain pass, all piled in a little bed, feeling the wind doing its damnedest to roll us back down the hill (it eventually got its way when we decamped for a more sheltered spot). Before that, we were partying the weekend away at The Wedding (congratulations, K+J–everything was perfect, most of all you two for each other). Before that, we were in oddly-, amazingly-, almost supernaturally-welcoming Ojai, where I think I made more new friends in three days than in the past three years.

Before that we were in Kingman. That’s… yeah. Kingman is… definitely in Arizona.

The day before that was Phoenix, where we caught up with some old friends too briefly before fleeing the heat, which is already punishing this time of year (no A/C unless the engine’s running, ouch). We did get to see the Chihuly glass exhibit at the Botanical Gardens, which was really worthwhile. (Protip: go at night or early in the morning unless you want to wait until about November for good daytime weather.)

So, a bit of a whirlwind, I guess. Meanwhile, we are getting used to a few changes. Living in a space about the size of a standard bathroom poses some unique challenges, none of which are insurmountable, but all of which require adaptation. Adaptation always hurts a little. We still have too many things, which take up too much of our all-too-precious space. Up until yesterday, we’ve still been on a schedule. As of approximately right now, we’re free.

It’s still sinking in.


A stately oak, growing right in the middle of the road

^These two images capture Ojai for me…

This is the kind of view we are all about. Priceless, and free. ;-)

This is the kind of view we are all about. Priceless, and free. 😉


Many days later–finally, a nice peaceful spot!


“smells good to me, guys…”

Wish we could have stayed a while... but the wind had different ideas

Wish we could have stayed a while… but the wind had different ideas