My brain is a boat, filled with water and leaking. Such a strange image. I’m sure I could create a Dall-E, Dall-E2, or Midjourney generative AI image to depict this but I don’t know if I want to use some free credits for it. For now, I intend to muse on AI because I’m not sure how I feel.
Somedays, I think AI text generators (i.e., ChatGPT, Perplexity.ai...) are my new friend, mentor, educator, coworker and then I ask it a question. It spits out general information in a very clean/clear/sterile voice. I add text to clarify and its adds more generic but often commonly held views or ideas that people are using online which permeates everyday live conversations as more machine thinking shapes our minds. I know AI can hallucinate and even give biased or false information, but I like to know what is said on a topic and what the machine is culling about particular viewpoints and key terms from online.
I don’t want to use AI generators because I’ve spent years building my brain sectors of knowledge and experience. Now it seems like it won’t matter to anyone as efficiency and lowest common denominator thoughts are de rigueur. So what if I write a creative article for a website and even take into consideration SEO terms and phrasing that will push it to the top of searches. This is what many companies want if I write them an article, high search engine rankings, and who cares if there is creative insight, as long as it gets eyes which can lead to e-commerce earnings.
My one fleeting thought of hope came when Chat GPT poorly reviewed a story I was evaluating. I was elated, mentally jumping up, and thinking, yeah fucker, you’re not so smart. Then I read an article in Wired about book reviews and A.I. generators and this real person (Steven Levy) gave me hope again that my boatload of information and experiences wasn’t soon going obsolete (for now). A few quotable passages from the article were:
Is there hope that my perspectives will be listened to in the future? I don’t know. Will we all look to a machine to guide our thoughts in the future? Is it any different than a company, industry, school, government, or person shaping our way of talking and thinking? I don’t know, but my brain is filling with thoughts that will inevitably seep away and be replaced by something else. I can only hope some of my thoughts will jell into something meaningful and give me a sense of direction to better guide this human machine of molecules.
I am a fan of the Institute for the Future (IFTF). Recently the June 1, 2023 virtual conference was about reimagining learning with multiple speakers discussing alternative visions of learning.
SCENARIO BUILDING EXERCISE
Jane McGonigal offered an exercise where we imagine different future scenarios, specifically in education, where we one is asked to imagine a more purpose or challenge-driven education. The exercise begins by asking us to think about the future 10 years from now in which one thing is dramatically changed. It is an exercise that engages one to think about problems today and solutions for the future.
The video of the exercise "scenario club grand challenge" demonstrates what could be optimistic solutions for having a different type of purpose driven education in the future. It was part of the IFTF Ten-Year Forecast 2023 conference (video below)
Recently, I've listened to multiple programs about the Trans Siberian Railway and the branch off called the Trans Mongolian Railway. I love the travelogues because it gives a first person account of the experience. It is as if I'm traveling too, immersed in the sensory experience without the fatigue or expense.
I've included a few experiences below where one can dine on the tracks in a pseudo simulated way, minus haptic gloves and sensory helmet in the 20th and 21st century. Possibly not simulated at all, yet in a way, seeing it through a few different people's eyes can offer something that feels real.
David Bowie and Geoff MacCormack took the trip in April 1973, now part of exhibition at The Wende Museum in Culver City (California).
MacCormack when asked about eating on the train, he said "the dining car received eggs and yogurt" and tins of food was sold, but "the food became sparse towards end of journey." He said, there was chicken then suddenly no chicken and the food was pretty grim. This was 1973 and they were young so he said you didn't really care.
To hear the whole interview and if you want more moments with David Bowie traveling with his childhood friend, I've added the link because it's definitely a special experience hearing about them traveling on the train but also doing other things.
Photo from the Exhibition catalogue + Wende Museum video interview
Emma Fick, a watercolor illustrator, takes us on another voyage of these railways but this time adds on the Mongolian route. Throughout her voyage, it feels as if we are there with her, sitting on one of the foldout hinged beds (*berths) listening to what she did today. There is so much color in her travelogue with objects, places, and people brought to life. Below is an image from her website showing one of the dining cars, train food, and her route.
These food experiences illustrated by Fick in her book Border Crossings: A Journey on the Trans Siberian Railway bring the experience to life in a way that is different than photographs. There are details that might be overlooked in a photograph, but in the illustrations it seems as if Fick is there to guide and point out cultural details.
For example, on the Mongolian train she shows and describes having a Chinese meal where they ate tomato and egg soup, a plate of chicken, green pepper and "chicken block" with fermented bean sauce (p34), while drinking Chinese beer. Other detailed drawings show the dining car where she ate, decorated in red ruffled seats and lit by light sconces. After a train stopoff to the homes of Mongolian families and markets, we, her virtual travel companions, return to another train to continue the journey. With every stop and step, it's as if she is pointing and telling us about something she noticed.
And if you were wondering about some of the kitchenware of the train, she is here to describe and show them to you. For example, there is this interesting hot water dispenser called a "samovar" heated by coal. Then on the train leg from Irkutsk to Omsk more food is presented. A cardboard box is drawn showing the container and food delivered by train staff. The food in the boxes is illustrated and described as "soggy elbow macaroni and pale brown meat in sauce with stale bread" accompanied by a cookie with image of train on it and a water bottle (p167). Throughout the book, Fick provides explanations and details that make this a vivid experience.
What I had always wondered about was the podstakanniki, and Fick describes and shows the metal Russian tea glass holders in use. I never knew what it was called, but Fick seemed to be there will the answers, showing and telling me. Although I like to focus on the food, her book has many insights to what it would be like to travel for many days across eight time zones on the trains and stopping to visit nearby communities.
If you want to hear her talking more about this trip, here is link to KCRW's Evan Kleiman's program Good Food where she interviews Flick.
While reading the guidebook and actually making the Trans Siberian Railway trip would be ideal, for now, it's been interesting to hear and see other's experiences.
YouTube of course has many people's experiences documented in videologs. Below is one travelogue that again gave a first person experience of the trip and had lots of moments drinking from the podstakanniki, but also had some travel tips to help ease any real world train traveling in the future.
Recently I attended a virtual conference in Poland that thoughtfully explored nostalgia and food from different academic disciplines. It was titled "2nd International Interdisciplinary Conference - Food and Memory" April 21-22, 2023 organized by InMind Support and led by Professor Wojciech Owczarski – University of Gdańsk, Poland and Professor Polina Golovátina-Mora – NTNU, Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
My presentation was showing the happy side of the end of the world scenario through a few SF stories and their foodways/food systems. These were some of the SF stories examined - Don't Look Up, The Road, The Last of Us, and "Bread of Life" a short written story.
ABSTRACT from conference
Title: "Food, Nostalgia, and Survival: The Impact of Memory in Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, and Destroyed Earth Stories"
The end of the world, or Earth as we know it, does not mean we have to stop salivating over food and beverages we once enjoyed. In some science fiction storytelling where things have fallen into TEOTWAWKI times, also known in prepper lingo as the end of the world as we know it, characters often reminisce about what was once easily prepared, purchased, and consumed for sustenance and enjoyment. In this paper, I will examine a few science fiction stories in which food and beverages are a vehicle for memories in apocalypse, post-apocalypse, and post-earth living scenarios. For example, in the movie adaptation of the book by Cormac McCarthy, The Road, a can of Coke is a nostalgic reminder of life before the onset of daily climate devastation and dangerous living. In "Bread of Life," a short story by Beth Cato, bread sold on a space outpost is a reminder of one's past cultural and culinary experiences on Earth before the alien invasion. The video game adapted into a tv series, The Last of Us, is another example of foodways that reminds one of a time before quarantines and fear of humans commandeered by a mutant fungus. In these and other science fiction stories, I'll discuss familiar food and beverages that appear to reflect characters' past identities and way of life, now only accessible through memory or unexpected, surprising circumstances.
Attending "Futures from the Margins" SFRA 2022 conference in Oslo, Norway was like a dream conference literally. Waking up at midnight and listening to talks till 7 or 9 AM while half asleep was arduous but worth it. From contemporary Chinese Science Fiction to African Futurism, speculative video games, Buddhist Futurism, Norwegian SF, Visionary SF, Queer worldbuilding, speculative fiction from Bengal, disability in SF, Indian SF, cine Mexicana y ciencia ficcion, Religious Futurisms, Climaginaries, and on and on. The international SF world is incredible. I have a list of books and videos I need to read and see now. The one featured documentary at the conference is something I hope eventually to see in completion - Bangla Kalpavigyan and Indian science fiction as it explore what is Bangla SF and Indian SF as well as utopian speculative works. Here's just a few screenshots of one talk that had me wanting to understand what was climaginaries.
The Cultural Studies Association Conference in Chicago was less of a time travel jump which was helpful for me since I was zoom hosting a session. This conference was themed "Reckoning(s)" had talks discussing climate justice movements, global injustices, social movements, neo colonialism, cosmo(s)politics in science fiction worlds. Here are a few more SF themed excerpts from conference program.
I had the opportunity to participate in a conference at Cappadocia University (Turkey) presenting on foodways in SF stories: Perfect Sense (movie, U.K., 2011); The Rain (series, Denmark, 2018); Tóxico (movie, Argentina, 2020); # Alive (movie, South Korea, 2020); Severance (book, U.S., 2018); "So Much Cooking" (short story, U.S., 2015).
Many interesting talks on the pandemic topic in fiction, film, and culture in the final program. Worth it to revisit some of the keynote speaker conversations Kim Stanley Robinson and Larissa Lai / Maggie Gee.
Living in an earth bubble during these COVID-19 times reminds me of a few lost in space stories. Below are four videos to make you feel a little claustrophobic and appreciative of planet earth while waiting in your home boxes for the vaccine.
1st the Swedish movie Aniara (2018), directed by Hugo Lilja and Pella Kagerman, based on a poem by Harry Martinson, takes us on a space trip to Mars. Unexpectedly, space debris pushes the ship off track, and years pass with everyone surviving on algae. Initially, it seems okay as the people seek time with the special AI machine named Mima. Mima provides a full-body immersion into one's happy memories on Earth, but then the machine breaks. Everyone mourns the machine. It seems the human way of life is changing for the worse, but people still have a stocked bar, techno dance club, and cocktail parties with the Captain. Eventually, a cult forms, which does provide some escapism with orgies, babies, and a new sense of meaning. However, years pass, and things don't get better. Throughout the movie, we see an array of human behavior on display from capitalistic tendencies to human's capability for violence, love, depression, education, fun, survival, blind faith, and all sorts of emotions and actions when pushed into difficult situations.
Image 1: Aniara: cult on baggage cart plan to canonize Mima
Image 2: Aniara: Mima, AI machine mourned
2nd HBO tv series, Avenue 5 (2020), created by Armando Iannucci, is a humorous satire of a space ship cruiser knocked off course. It shows a funny version of how humans might react when abandoned in space. People are angry, but life goes on, and they solve their problems in funny ways. For example, after the actual Captain dies in space, they shoot him off in a gold casket. Then his casket is caught in the ship's gravitational pull, so he and other funeral crates circle them repeatedly, showing up in the windows at odd times. In another situation, a poop halo forms when excrement, said to act as a radiation shield, begins leaking. Eventually, the poop halo is lit up as a multicolored shimmer with a Pope John Paul II sighting in it. An excellent example of a pareidolia (random image becoming something significant - a phenomenon). Also, there's a moment of food scarcity when the waiter says there is only one tiramisu left, but other than that, it seems lobster and elaborate cakes are still available.
Image 3: Avenue 5 gravity problems
Image 4/5: Avenue 5 flying coffins and flying body parts
Image 6: Avenue 5 Poop halo and Pope
3rd An American movie, Passengers (2016), directed by Morten Tyldum is an idealized version of living on a space ship with a few things going wrong. In this story, thousands make the journey to colonize a distant planet. Unfortunately, to make the journey, you must sleep hibernate, and this one guy wakes up too early. Now what to do? At this point, it kind of reminds me of that childhood dream of wanting to be trapped in a mall after it closes. For the guy in the movie, well, he woke up to an empty ship. He takes advantage of all the amenities since no one is around. He lives in the best suite, plays with all the toys, yet still can't get a good coffee. The food/drink machine says, "Sorry, the mocha cappuccino extreme is reserved for Gold Class Passengers, sorry, sorry… large coffee" so there is corporate-driven class status even in dreamland for this passenger.
What we have in this story is a little love, adventure, and a robotic bartender who makes everyone feel good. It wasn't a movie I want to see again and again, but it's light entertainment for now. Possibly, a good one for COVID-19 isolation since it's less depressing than the others.
Image 7: Passengers coffee and breakfast
4th Nightflyers (2018) tv series based on George R.R. Martin is a suspenseful journey into space to investigate an alien signal. I'm focusing on the S1:E6 "The Sacred Gift" where they find what appears as an abandoned ship full of women. This episode fits the lost in space motif. These women have drifted with no contact for a decade. They were scientists and developed a cloning process for a constant food source. We eventually learn they are now a cult with a kind of ejaculation torture for men. They use men's seeds (sperm) to grow their clone food. So we have a little cult, cannibalism, and torture. Not much good there for humanity. This is an example of isolation on a space ship gone very wrong.
Image 8/9: Nightflyers food source
Learned lessons for when stuck on a space ship
And expect some unexpected sex moments, maybe with a cult or just a crazed scientist on the space ship. I guess that crazed scientist scenario would apply more to the High Life (2018) movie directed by Claire Denis. I didn't mention it cause that is literally a story about prisoners sent to live on a space ship versus paying customers accidentally becoming prisoners in space. Probably no difference in the end.
I'm feeling this COVID-19 isolation isn't half as bad as being trapped on a ship in outer space. I feel a bit cheered up now—good old Schadenfreude.
What real science-fictional themed architecture interests me?
I’ld say the buildings by Ma Yansong of MA Design (MAD) are truly otherworldly. There is the Ordos Museum located in China’ s Inner Mongolia “inspired by a desert vessel” he saw in the Star Wars movie (“The Boba Fett of Architecture” April 5, 2020 LA Times). The Lucas Museum under construction in Los Angeles is another science fictional movie looking design of MAD. The illustrations of it show a space ship or sleek slice of a hovering cloud.
Reference LA Times
Natural History Museum in Los Angeles is amazing.
In one night, I saw all this in the museum.
Then I never went outside again.
Pretend we are living in post apocalyptic conditions or a world that is fighting climate related devastation. Kind of seems one of these scenarios might be a little true. A bit dramatic sounding, but wouldn't this lead people to find ways to better nurture the environment in the present.
I thought about what technological or scientific discoveries could reduce the human impact on earth. Right now we are tremendously successful as consumers and waste creators. Sounds almost good in the way I phrased it, but what in recent years might help change these patterns.
This lead me to fruit and vegetable preservation. It is a leap to go from suffering earth with desperate people in survival mode to concerns about asparagus and berries not turning wilty, mushy, furry, and trashed. Yet, we have Apeel Sciences (Goleta, California) and Hazel Technologies (Chicago, Illinois) developing the preservation tools that could enable less waste by extending shelf life of these fresh food products. At first I thought, oh no, more preservatives in food, that's not what we need, but their innovations are different.
Apeel Sciences (LA TIMES article, Caitlin Dewey, 06/20/18) created an all-natural coating that decreases that outer fruit/veg skin spoilage. The impact of this type of technology is greater than I realized. I later read that asparagus has a short shelf life and has to be flown by air to the sellers quickly. Longer asparagus shelf life could mean less likely carbon emitting air plane travel required to travel to seller/consumer. Think of all the fruits and vegetables that require quicker delivery or are disposed of because they may appear or are spoiled due to their short shelf life.
Hazel Technologies created a sachet to toss into the shipped containers of fruits and vegetables to decrease the chemical process causing decay. What the small sachet does is "shut down the food's response to ethylene, a chemical naturally emitted by many fruit and vegetables that triggers the loss of firmness, texture, and color" (LA TIMES article, Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz,12/27/19). By emitting an ethylene inhibitor, this sachet reduces the decomposition of the fresh food, not by changing the food, just its shelf life. This is remarkable and something I could see later on a home-use basis.
Impressive food preservation innovations could mean mangoes from India, okra from Honduras, avocados and cherries from U.S. all shipped farther. I realize eating locally sourced food is a better option versus expecting it to be shipped at long distances. Though not everyone has the access. Also, even these locally grown foods can spoil quickly. Having tons of spoiled food waste in landfills is hardly beneficial to anyone, except maybe scavenging animals, insects, and birds. These new innovations could curb food waste and prevent that cinematic apocalypse that everyone oddly craves for in a religious, secular, or technological sense, or where zombies have claimed all the malls, grocery stories, and restaurants.
The AAA/CAA anthropology conference is happening soon and somehow on my search for their program I came across this wonderful site that combines SF musings with anthropology. I teach a course, Anthropology through a Science Fiction Lens, so this was fantastic to see how the blog author had pulled together the conference panels with futures/science fiction themes. I've included a screen shot, but visit the tomorrow culture blog site here.
The full anthro conference program is here. This year's theme is "Changing Climates/ Changer d'Air" scheduled for Vancouver, BC CANADA November 20-24, 2019.
Reading the obituaries reminds me of all the cool people who lived. Today, no exception, I read that Pedro Bell passed in LA Times. He created the album covers for Parliament Funkadelic's music that were like science fiction stories. Read the LA Times obit and see a few of his futuristic animated covers.
Scienceandfood.org had a panel talk about future of food in extreme environments May 7, 2019. Topics covered were: NASA astronaut food, food and culture, new tech for producing food, and diverse ways to grow or bioregenerate food, and even 3D printing food for more variety and familiarity.
Midas World by Frederik Pohl
An incredible book of robots. Each story presents a different perspective about a world where advanced robots and humans coexist due to the amazing technological advancement of cheap power.
I checked this book out in the library, then bought it because it's a book written in 1983 that unexpectedly brings to mind current concerns of A.I. and automation taking human jobs. Each story is different and a progression of what happens as robots became the dominant population.
Initially, I checked out the book for the last story "The New Neighbors" which twists the reader's expected point of view. I began reading and thinking it was about a retired Chicago man named Ralph with a dog named Cissie. Then I realized it's a retired robot named Ralph, living in the Towers, a high rise building, who lives amongst other robots. When a human couple, the Albrights moves in, Ralph chats with the wife and eventually is invited to their apartment for lunch. The differences between humans and robots are detailed, as Ralph describes to the Albrights his interchangeable accessories in which he can add a liquid and solid digestion system, thereby partake in coffee and food at times. Or he can add an enhanced communication faculties when necessary. He equates his abilities to add accessories much like humans might choose to take an umbrella or camera with them depending on the situation. It's a shifting of perspective when reading this story, since the reader is in the head of the robot and not a human. Consequently, we have an insider's perspective to the robot prejudices against humans and the underhanded tactics the robot residents employ to run out these new human residents.
After that story, I had to read the entire book to see what other intriguing details would emerge about a robots way of life and human problems in a robot world. Those irreplaceable human jobs, such as white collar positions of doctors and politicians, easily replaced by robots. The ability of robots to simply change a program and part, meant they could have new languages and skills instantly, with none of the human learning curve.
Two other stories in this book, "The Servant of the People" and "The Farmer on the Dole" suggested that humans and robots would both experience job elimination. In the "The Servant of the People" the human politician, who once fought for robot rights, now finds himself competing against a robot who can easily re-program itself/himself to fit the audiences, which is becoming more of a robot constituency. In "The Farmer on the Dole" we are introduced to a robot who is experiencing obsolescences as the farm jobs are dwindling so it/he undergoes some adaptations and moves to the city. In the urban areas, there are too many robots and not enough jobs, even with the adaptations, updates, the robots appear to live a homeless, purposeless existence, even with the odd job creations for robots, such as working as a thief.
Although, I was more interested in the robot evolution, the theme of human de-evolution is bizarre and entertaining in some ways, as mandatory shopping and playing are required, which eventually leads to furry bear dress-up therapy for one human. What an imagination Pohl had.
This image is from a review of the game, Paranoia: High Programmers
It reminds me of dystopian SF stories.
LINKS for image -- Gamer Nation News / Gord Sellar Review
South Korean Science Fiction Event - USC campus
South Korean Sci-Fi talk held on University of Southern California campus, February 20, 2019. Opportunity to buy this new translation book of South Korean science fiction (LINK) and listen to speakers read science fiction in English and Korean languages.
TED Chiang discussed his interest in broader issues-philosophical issues raised with new tech. Then he used the phrase, cognitive cyborg, to describe contemporary humans, suggesting, "our dependence on tech in daily lives may make us less human because of current reliance on smart phones and Google"
Reading things backwards offers such funny joy. ETAGSNIOL Entertainment is setting up theme parks with characters, rides, and buildings based on movies they produce. United Arab Emirates and soon South Korea will have built their own "Hunger Games" and other movie worlds for audiences to play in. I'm trying to imagine how I would create a teaching activity where students take one scene from a sci-fi movie and re-imagine it as a theme park ride, restaurant, or merch item.
LINK to LA Times article and photos
Afrofuturist, Apocalyptic, and other sorts of Science Fiction themed music work are so wildly bizarre and entertaining. While teaching the Anthropology through Science Fiction Lens course I tried to play examples of sf music from movies and music videos. I'm trying to remember all my examples now. * the grizzly bear example is a little more magic than sf but it reminded me of Melancholia apocalyptic film. And this Billy Ocean video, is just crazy unexpected sf. There are sounds of sf movies that are totally recognizable too that I should make a list of for future reference.
Tiff Graham (TiGra) experimenting with ideas