Canberra – Cooma – South Coast


Seems the new aesthetic for Canberra hotels is “auspol shitpost”, I got into it after a while




I ran past the intersection of Polo Flat Road and Geebung St in Cooma, bit of a bush poetry reference going on here


Cooma was very quiet but the pub had Kosciuszko Pale Ale on tap and the clouds were good


Perisher was even quieter than Cooma, but they still had snow. Beard status: unpopular progressive album


Tathra is really beautiful. “Imagine being in the snow then driving 300 km to a beach like this” -some Australians


A wallaby and joey at Arugunnu in Mimosa Rocks National Park.


I haven’t been to Mystery Bay since I was a kid, when I thought these rocks were petrified wood, which apparently they aren’t. The geological term for Mystery Bay is a ‘kink zone’ so I was probably too young for it at the time.


It was surprisingly hard to find fresh oysters but driving to Pambula was worth it. There are some who would find oysters for morning tea, two days in a row, to be excessive, but they are weak.


The fattest, fluffiest, laziest cat in the world lives at the heritage village of Central Tilba, where they also have great cheese and scones.


The mouth of the Bega River at the north end of Tathra Beach.


Silvery gibbon at Mogo Zoo. These are Indonesian animals but I think it’s picked up some gestures from the locals.


Near Pretty Beach. I used to come on family holidays a few beaches north from here when I was a kid but never noticed how insanely lovely it is.


This isn’t a culture war: although it’s become a long-exhausted joke, the phrase implies some kind of commitment to values above mere partisan loyalty. With the exception of a few idiots, the Liberals and the News Limited hacks are not fighting to impose their personal morality, or that of their own communities, on the rest of the electorate. (I’m sure Tony Abbott has not cut off social contact with his sister, as an earlier form of conservative would have done. Some of my best friends are, etc.)

This isn’t even about ideology, it’s about the end. Complete exhaustion of the ability to articulate a political program which is not about brutality. Battles which are not tactical moves but the clonic twitches in the limbs of an organism which has already undergone brain death.

It isn’t an accident that one of the focuses of this is the bullying of queer kids in school. It seems too obvious to put into words. If you grew up here, you know this. A political system whose only successful policy on either side is the torture of people who can’t vote either side out of office is reduced here to the elements at the core of white male Australian identity: indifference to suffering, contempt for difference, panic fear of tenderness, the schoolyard taunt. The last pathetic tatters to which an idiotic culture clings as it dissolves.

Don’t pay the journalists who peddle this stuff the compliment of reading them, and don’t link to or screen-cap their gibberish, even to mock at it. They’re well-paid careerists who’ve found comfortable posts in the dying print leviathans of the last century, like the bone-eating worms which mysteriously find their way to whale carcasses on the ocean floor. But look, even the worms have courage and perhaps even personalities.

Materiality: FAKE

DD4_layersI’ve got two short articles in MATERIALITY: FAKE, now online at Pinknantucket Press:

An uncanny valley in reverse is a brief illustrated attempt to explain the computational underpinning of deepdreams for a lay audience.

Vermiculation, on the use of fake rustic textures in classical architecture and its colonial domestic descendants.

Human, All Too Human

Megastructures Revisited


As metaphor, megastructures have the potential to be powerful: as explanations for real phenomena, they are petty, motivated by the same impulse which makes journalists always refer to Star Wars when writing a story about a planet with two suns, or crack feeble Doctor Who jokes when writing about the theory of time travel.

Tabby’s Star is a genuinely exciting mystery, and to read articles which rush through the halting attempts by scientists to provide an astrophysical explanation in order to get to the part where they can write about megastructures is to watch the scientific be eclipsed by the merely science-fictional.

The objects supposed to be eclipsing Tabby’s Star are always referred to as “alien megastructures”, an adjective which on first glance is redundant – the star is thousands of light years away, and humans don’t know how to build megastructures. As I argued in my megastructure post from last year, in science fiction we project the ability to construct artefacts on the scale of solar systems onto aliens or our own machine descendants to avoid the uncomfortable fact that even if we had the technology to build such monstrosities, we lack, or believe that we lack, the ability to muster the social and economic resources which they require. All megastructures are alien.

Considered in the light of what we actually know, however, the opposite is true. We don’t know if aliens exist, and we don’t know anything about what their societies and psychologies might be like. And the ability to imagine megastructures is not even a human universal: it arises from a very specific time and place, from the triumph and downfall of the dream of an ever-expanding rationalist civilisation. The megastructure is born in the communist galactic epics of Olaf Stapledon and the manic space operas of E E Doc Smith, takes flight on the dreams of Cold War theorists like Dyson and Kardashev, and begins to collapse under its own ironic weight in the middle of Larry Niven’s Ringworld series in the seventies and eighties.

When we start speculating about Dyson spheres as the explanation for astrophysical effects, rather that using them as metaphors in fiction, it’s worth listing the assumptions which underly them:

  • once a civilisation becomes industrial, it will remain in a state when energy capture and expansion are its absolute priorities;
  • the most plentiful source of energy in a typical solar system is the radiation from its star;
  • somehow, the economic and technical means to build a Dyson sphere or swarm are achievable;
  • our current knowledge of stellar astrophysics is total: in other words, there are no factors, unknown to us today, which would make building a Dyson sphere or swarm harmful or impossible

The shakiest of these assumptions seems to me to be the first. We can’t imagine alien psychology, by definition: in general, the aliens in sf are projections of racial stereotypes, whether they are warlike Hun/Klingons or austere, contemplative Vulcans. Even contemporary efforts to imagine truly inhuman aliens – the eusocial galaxy-spanning civilisation of Charles Stross’ novella “Missile Gap”, or the terrifying and asentient “scramblers” in Peter Watts’ Blindsight – are specific to the culture which created them: arising from a very early-twenty-first-century pessimism about human consciousness and society as fallible and weak, at the mercy of creatures who are better equipped to follow a biological imperative which is simply another version of the grow-expand-maximise-capture drumbeat.

The common failure in all of these dreams is the idea that we can know what aliens would do, what a civilisation with better technology or organisational skills or more ruthlessness could accomplish: this line of speculation leads to aliens who are insane caricatures or nightmarish parodies of the worst excesses of the industrial civilisation that gave birth to them.

The star AR Scorpii appears to be a binary pair of a red and white dwarf: the latter is blasting beams of electrons travelling very close to the speed of light, which, when they impact upon its companion’s surface on the side visible to Earth, cause its brightness to fluctuate violently. This explanation is only an hypothesis, like all of our ideas about the stars. I think that it’s better to contemplate the strangeness of what might be out there than to merely use these remote and strange lights as projector bulbs for the shadows cast by our human, all-too-human megastructures.

Sixth Street Pale Ale 2

Back in April I blogged about making pale ale with fresh hops: I got a very decent-tasting beer with an unexpectedly low alcohol content. I tried the recipe again, with two different ingredients: instead of light dry malt extract I used Hop + Grain’s flavour booster, which is a mix of DME and dextrose, to up the fermentable sugar. And because I didn’t have as many hops from Peter’s place, I got some Galaxy to add late in the boil and dry-hop with. I figured Australian heritage bittering hops and modern aroma hops would be a good combination, and Galaxy is in a lot of my favourite contemporary beers  like Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale and Kosciuszko Pale Ale. Here’s the recipe:

  • One tin Coopers Light Malt Extract
  • 1kg of Hop + Grain Flavour Booster
  • hops: Galaxy and Peter’s backyard
  • Mangrove Jacks M44 US West Coast yeast

The local hops went in at the start of the boil, and I added 20g of Galaxy at 45m and another 20g at 55m.

And I also discovered the real reason for the missing alcohol. When you boil a bag of fresh hops in wort for an hour, the flowers soak up a lot of the liquid: the same thing happened with the leftover hops, which I’d dried and kept in the freezer. When I had made the first batch, I hadn’t wrung any of the liquid out of the big mass of soggy hops. I chucked them in the bin, along with an unknown quantity of fermentable wort. I didn’t realise this until removing the hop sock from the boiler at the end of the boil: when I noticed how heavy the bag was, I sterilised a strainer so that I could squeeze out as much of the wort from the hops as possible.

The other problem I’d had with Batch I was leakage. A lot of the bottles got hairline cracks and leaked into the plastic bins, which is a problem I’ve had with previous beers. The Mangrove Jack’s M44 has a reputation as a slow starter, so my guess about the leakage was that there was still fermentable sugar in the beer, on top of the priming sugar I added at bottling. I decided to leave the beer in the fermenter for three weeks. Towards the end, I chucked in the rest of the Galaxy.

The result is the best beer I’ve made: ABV of about 4.5%, lovely Galaxy bouquet and the same clean bitterness I got from the first batch. It tastes like a really modern Australian pale ale on the high end of the hoppiness scale – if I were to change anything about it, I’d maybe use less Galaxy to dry-hop.

This is the first time I’ve made a beer that’s so good that I’ve kept  buying beer for regular drinking and only cracking the home brew occasionally, because I want it to last.

Why The Left Should

Why The Left Should Applaud Brexit
A Tankie Writes

Why The Left Should Shout Huzzah For People Who Literally Want To Stab Them To Death
A blog post in 10,000 words, by V. I. Rationalist

Why The Left Should Have Done The Same Kind Of Degree That I Did

Why The Left Should Read My Blog Posts In Good Faith And Understand Exactly Why They Are Very Wrong

Why The Left Should Do Something That’s Quite Implausible, Psychologically Speaking, And Would  Startle The Shit Out Of Everyone If It Actually Happened, Except Me, Who Would Nod Sagely

Why The Left Should Cease Their Infighting and Unite Against the Common Enemy: My Balls


Instead of my usual blog post, this Bloomsday I made a Twitter bot, @usylessly, which posts the output of a neural net trained on the text of Ulysses. There’s a bit more information about it on the bot’s website.