The Here & Now of the Long Now

The Long Now Foundation, San FranciscoPhoto: PK Read

The Long Now Foundation, San Francisco
Photo: PK Read

My goal yesterday was to visit the headquarters and museum of the Long Now Foundation, a project intended to extend the time perception of a global culture with ever foreshortening horizons. For those who think in terms of quarterly or even annual goals, this is not for the faint of heart.

I had expected a museum with models of the Long Now Clock, a pr0ject to build what is billed as the ‘slowest computer on the planet’, a 10,000 year clock that “ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium”. There is a prototype of the clock in London’s Science Museum, and I did indeed find small models and tooled versions of clock mechanisms at the small museum in the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, right on the Bay.

But what I also found were two employees packing everything into boxes, some empty shelves and a place in transition for the long-term. The clock design phase, started back in the late 1990s, is over. The new phase – a phase of increased discussion and context-building – is underway. The museum will become a salon, the salon will serve drinks, all aged long-term. Potential salon patrons can buy their own named whiskies, gin, wines, all kept at the salon for evenings of timely discussions, all aged for long-term commitment. My kind of place.

They will be open until June 2013, close for remodeling, and reopen in Fall 2013.

The Long Now Foundation site.

Raising a glass to Revive & Restore

I recently came across yet another project of Stewart Brand’s which I find worthy of mention. I’ve been a fan of Brand’s since he was kind enough to publish my first letter-to-the-editor contribution back in 1976, when I was a teenager eager to go into space.

It seems one of his many projects with a forward gaze is the Revive and Restore initiative to bring extinct species back to life, starting with the passenger pigeon. There are so many different aspects of this project worthy of discussion, from the ethics of ‘de-extinction’ to the hope it might offer for current species under pressure (quite literally, too many to name). This is not some warm-blooded version of Jurassic Park.

So I raise my Sunday champagne glass, again, to Mr. Brand – thank you for this most recent addition to a lifetime of interesting discussions and projects.

There will be a TEDx discussion on DeExtinction on 15 March 2013 – check the Revive and Restore website for details.

As for the passenger pigeon, a brief excerpt from Wikipedia should suffice to show how a species with a large population can be decimated within a very short time – and vice-versa:

“The Passenger Pigeon or Wild Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is an extinct North American bird. The species lived in enormous migratory flocks until the early 20th century, when hunting and habitat destruction led to its demise. One flock in 1866 in southern Ontario was described as being 1 mi (1.5 km) wide and 300 mi (500 km) long, took 14 hours to pass, and held in excess of 3.5 billion birds. That number, if accurate, would likely represent a large fraction of the entire population at the time.

Some estimate 3 to 5 billion Passenger Pigeons were in the United States when Europeans arrived in North America. Others argue the species had not been common in the pre-Columbian period, but their numbers grew when devastation of the American Indian population by European diseases led to reduced competition for food. The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century.”

Another informative article on the pigeon and the flux of animal populations in relation to human impact can be found here.

Old magazine illustration of hunters shooting Passenger Pigeons. Note the density of the flight.(From copy in Schorger, 1955.)Image via:

Old magazine illustration of hunters shooting Passenger Pigeons. Note the density of the flight.(From copy in Schorger, 1955.)
Image via: