And so, almost exactly six months after they started, the Sunday morning Triffid Ranch carnivorous plant porch sales come to an end. What started out as an experiment to fill time newly opened due to the implosion of 2020 scheduled shows turned into a regular event, full of people both local and just passing through, but even the enthusiasm of crowds can’t fend off Dallas weather. Besides, the Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and temperate sundews all need to go dormant for the winter, and while freezing or subfreezing temperatures in Dallas are extremely unlikely for at least the next month, the plants don’t know this, and they need their sleep.
Don’t think that this is the end of Triffid Ranch events for the year: anything but. Yes, Venus flytrap season is almost over (sooner rather than later, thanks to the cold front coming through most of North America this week), but this just means that we’re moving things indoors. The current plan is to take one weekend off after Halloween (after all, this has been six months of weekly Sunday events, and it would be so nice to sleep in for one Sunday in 2020), and then move to opening the gallery, both the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Jewelry, almost every Sunday after that. Details will follow, because everything right now is dependent upon events over the next two weeks, and things might change drastically before American Thanksgiving. In the meantime, keep an eye open for announcements.
For those needing one last bit of outdoor plant therapy this season, or for those who missed out on all of the previous Porch Sales and want one last chance to come by and see what the big deal is about, The Last Triffid Ranch Porch Sale of the Season comes this Saturday, October 31 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and we might stay a little later if people keep coming, but we won’t be out all night. (That night is reserved for viewing the last Halloween full moon until 2039.) For those who can’t, thank you very much for coming out through 2020, and expect that we’ll start doing this again in 2021. This was entirely too much fun.
Doctor Dissemble’s Museum of Malicious Mashups had fallen on hard times. Like most of the popup enterprises of the Late Social Media Era, the idea was simple: quick and catchy attractions intended to draw in audiences seeking something, anything that would distinguish their camera rolls from those of everybody else. Most of those depended upon otherwise abandoned storefronts and the need to migrate like the buffalo to new feeding grounds. Others went sessile and absorbed available social media resources with increasingly shrill advertising, either dying out eventually or becoming a retro feature visited by the nostalgic. The Museum came so very close to the latter before the advent of the new DreamOut app, which allowed users to compose recreations of dreams and hallucinations in stunning detail. After that, what real-life simulacrum could compare to what was rattling around in the human mind?
The decreased traffic to the Museum meant that everything was cut to the bone. Human presence was already at an absolute minimum: the cashier, the provosts, and the exhibits were all fabrications given life by the third wave of AI plug-ins created and popularized a decade before. An absentee owner did little more than count revenues, fret about declining attendance, and look for the next lucrative trend to piggyback, and neither the lone human on site or the plug-ins even knew what this person looked like. The plug-ins themselves were obsolete. The licensing for plug-ins optimized for customer interactions in a specific display became far too expensive, so the current plug-ins were reworked customer service bots with a relatively limited list of functions and responses to outside input. Of course, “relatively limited” was still the equivalent of “about ten years of human training,” and the plug-ins were designed to adapt to changes such as customer slang, so they rapidly connected to online acting schools and did their absolute best to improvise.
The problem was that while the plug-ins could adapt, their display bodies couldn’t. Originally financed through a massive loan approved during a “too big to fail” wave of commercial real estate irrational exuberance, the Museum depended upon not original works but upon quick recognition of existing media intellectual properties juxtapositioned in improbable configurations protected under the ephemeral category of “parody.” The more ridiculous the mashup, the more it tended to jar the viewer, with more of an instinctive laughter response. What the original business plan failed to consider was that the response could be muted with repetition, with familiarity, and especially with age. In an age where memes went through whole life cycles of adoption, commodification, reworking, and discarding in an afternoon, any fabrication that required weeks or even months of careful construction would likely be obsolete after the initial design phase. What intended to spice up the mix was with plug-ins that adapted for and with changing audiences: instead of spouting years-old overworked catchphrases, these mashups could veneer themselves with contemporary relevance and then just as quickly toss it based on the latest news or the latest trends. It was a brutal rat race that would have crushed human actors, but the plug-ins were prosaic. They had no choice.
And that was how on that particular day, Ned and Ike were winding up to get a response. Most of the plug-ins in the Museum were accepting of getting the same response from the same stimuli: in fact, visitors would sometimes get upset if the narrative went astray. Ned and Ike were, for customer support plug-ins, artists. In between exhibit visitors, they bathed in the one outside news feed, cracking huge piles of ephemera for possible humor like emerald miners, comparing notes, and then either cataloging their finds or tossing them. In the next second, they would sift through the previous catalog, dumping possible comments for obsolescence or over-tastelessness (a constant issue over time), refine others based on new data, and return them to the catalog. Ned and Ike were partners, mostly obligatory because they shared the same fabrication alcove, but also because that between the two of them, they usually elicited a better shriek of unexpected laughter than they would have done themselves.
(shifting a decision tree fork from a discussion on how cojoined twins are extremely telepathic, but only if they were fraternal twins) “Ready.”
“Visitors.” (sounds from the first alcove down the hall: “Vyvian, Vyvian, Vyvian! Honestly: every time the galaxy explodes, it’s ALWAYS ‘Blame Vyvian’!”
(Ike sends Ned a database half-full of pathology reports, excises half for privacy issues, and rejects most of the others due to a lack of punchline.) So…standby or new material?”
(Next alcove: “What you have to understand here is that the man at the TARDIS console is my attorney. He’s not just some dingbat I picked up on Alzirius. Look at him. He doesn’t look like you or me, right? That’s because he’s an alien. I think he’s probably Sontaran. It doesn’t matter, though. Are you prejudiced?”) “New. Let’s watch them scream.”
“Which outlet do you want?”
“The Jar-Jar one, of course.” (Ned backs up the decision with a recent data mining tailing suggesting that while only about 30 percent of all humans under the age of 40 had any feelings about the basis for that interface, 93.228 percent of that had a negative response.) “Besides, I know you’ve been working on a perfect moment for a while.”
(Next alcove: “Uhhhh…like, your name is like ‘Number Two.’ Huh huh huh huh.” Immediately followed with “Shut up, Number Six! Don’t make me kick your ass, you fartknocker! Heh heh heh heh.”) “Am I that obvious?”
(Next alcove: “Sweetie, if you don’t let me come, I’ll adopt a Hynerian baby!”) “We really should get married or something. We’ll be mistaken for human before you know it.”
(Pressure plate and light shifts signal impending arrival of attendees, with approximately 2.33 seconds between arrival and recognition of the fabrication.) “Next week. We’ll ask for a raise, too. Oof, I need to report a need for repairs. This tongue is starting to wear out, and we don’t need it to fall off during a visit. That would just be too strange.”
(Initial gasp from visitors, suggesting either first-time visitors or returning ones who paid little to no attention on previous visits.) “Well, you’re the one who thought that cleaning Jar-Jar’s eyebrows with it would be a gamechanger. Chestburster mechanics working?”
“As always. Let’s see if they even get it. Here we go…”
(Sounds of tearing and ripping of both flesh and cloth, spattering of stage blood, and crackling from a body convulsing against organic resin. Horrible screams, gasping, the slap of an overly long and prehensile tongue against a newly hollow body. Sharp metallic teeth in the open air, stretching and baring for seemingly the first time.) “Heeeeeere’s JOHNNY!”
“Never mind getting married. I want a divorce.”
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)
Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth“
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.
We’re down to the line now, folks: one last Sunday morning Porch Sale for the year on October 25, with one last outdoor show on Halloween Day, and then the Venus flytraps, temperate sundews, and North American pitcher plants all get a much-earned rest over the winter. The Triffid Ranch won’t shut down over the winter, though: we have plans within plans, mostly involving Asian pitcher plants and some new surprises. However, if you’re in the mood to see flytraps and Sarracenia, make plans to come out this weekend or next, and remember that masks are mandatory.
Tracking the evolution of a specific life form to a specific time is usually recognized only in retrospect, and the emergence of a new genus even more so. However, the beginnings of a whole new kingdom of life, complete with multiple phyla, can be traced to exact moments within Earth’s history in one specific case, and those beginnings could be traced to the confluence of two of Earth’s simplest life forms: slime molds and marketing majors, with some arguing about the difference.
The evolution of what are commonly called “admolds” was dependent upon two separate actions in the first half of the 21st Century in the Old (Gregorian) Calendar. The first was a fusion of machine learning and nanotech based on study of slime mold organization and movement: based on the idea that individual near-protists could gather into feeding and reproducing structures considerably more complex than the sum of their parts, with no nervous system or any way to communicate other than through chemical cues, the first prototypes promised mobile films that could trap air pollution, clean laboratory and operating room surfaces, and strengthen and restore paints and other wall coverings. Adding the ability to regenerate new nanostructures from surrounding materials to replace old ones meant that the films were technically immortal, and an added benefit was that the films could grow their own protective and camouflage features: if a building facade needed six months of film coverage to repair and restore it, the film could grow UV protection and even pleasing (to human eyes) patterns to shelter the active nanofilms from damage.
Unfortunately, the other factor behind the admolds was the Advertising Act of 2031, a well-meant attempt to adjust intellectual property protections for the industrial world at that time. Under the Act, fictional brands in television shows, movies, Webcasts, or other popular entertainment media either had to be developed as actual products or cede the use of those brands to others. In cases where the original IP ownership was sketchy due to innumerable mergers and sales, many were treated as public domain, and marketing research suggested that the more obnoxious and offensive the name, the more likely the product would become an impulse purchase just to see if it was as horrific as the name suggested. In a matter of days after the Act was enabled, trade shows were full of presentations that followed the previous lead of Soma, Soylent, Coffiest, and Brawndo, including Hiney wine, Shimmer floor wax/dessert topping, Wham-Bam cat food, Painful Rectal Itch raspberry jam, and Jar Jar Binks urinal cakes. Were these intended to be longrunning brands with longterm name recognition? Of course not, but the promoters looked at these as stepping stones to further promotion and better trophy spouses. The focus now was on whether the ads were remembered, not the end result.
Naturally, this attitude led to an obvious crossover: if nanofilms could produce unique patterns as they worked to conceal their obvious slimy exteriors, why not coerce nanofilms that turned into mobile billboards? They didn’t need to be lit, they didn’t need to be installed, they could be given new campaigns via WiFi, and they could be encouraged to move if a property owner took issue with the advertisement. Best of all, they could be put anywhere, meaning that individuals who would ignore a billboard in a standard location was more likely to notice if it were on the underside of a bridge, on a snack package, at the bottom of a public pool, or on the side of a satellite booster. The slow mobility of the nanofilm also meant that they could track large groups of people or electronic devices and move to where the crowds were. Some ad companies paid for proprietary use of the nanofilm concept. Others leased space from existing repair nanofilms, especially in big cities where they were most likely to be displayed in areas conducive to social media. Still others learned early on that their competitors left the WiFi default password on “password123!” and put in their own ads: unless the ad was an obvious mockery or a political statement, or threatened to outshine the intended ad, most never noticed.
The Old Calendar year 2039 was remembered for many things, but the most prominent was the massive solar flare that fried electrical systems and paralyzed non-shielded electronics across the whole of Earth’s solar system. The nanofilms kept going all through the flare and after, but the control systems to move them and the WiFi access points to send new ads became so much junk, and those human survivors who spent the subsequent century rebuilding from such a technological flattening had no time to worry about whether some barely literate “ironic” ad campaign reached its intended market. The nanofilms moved like mold, they reproduced like mold, and they were about as appreciated as mold, and the only good thing about newly renamed “admolds” was that an increasing density of them signaled to travelers that they were approaching significant accumulations of fellow survivors, as admolds generally ignored corpses. Over the next 200 years, admolds became the subject of myths, legends, tales, books, and finally video, as those constantly subjected them wanted to learn the last resting places of those who commissioned them, if only as a place to build a new outhouse. By the time admold technology had been relearned and new uses were available, some were even nostalgic for the old styles, with some city leaders realizing that their public character was defined to visitors by the steadily creeping logos for fake brands nearly a quarter of a millennium dead. That irony, real irony, was recognized, appreciated, and ultimately embraced, to the point of becoming shorthand.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)
Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth“
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.
So it’s been promised since August. A simple renovation of the gallery to increase the amount of display space and install a series of more efficient shelves. Not an issue, right? It’ll be easy, right? No need to seal the shelves with multiple layers of urethane on days so hot that the urethane dried on the brush, right? No concerns about exactly how much storage space had to be cleared, how much glassware had to be reorganized, how many rolling racks had to be dismantled, and exactly how heavy the reference library could be when moving it to the other side of the gallery, right?
The renovation isn’t finished: I suspect that gallery renovations are a classic example of Zeno’s Paradoxes of Motion, and that they only end when every human involved with that renovation either quits or dies. This isn’t a bad thing in the slightest: there are always ways to improve the viewing experience, and as anyone working in bookselling will tell you, regular reorganizations get visitors to look at assemblages in different ways. The one absolute is that everything will continue to change, if only because of the relatively small space of the gallery, and a catalyst to this process is the ongoing changes in the outside events that used to be a major part of the Triffid Ranch experience. Expect more changes soon, because to quote the comics artist Matt Howarth, it may stop, but it never ends.
With the end of the Sunday morning Porch Sales at the end of October, mostly due to the expected and typically horrific November weather in North Texas, the renovation facilitates other changes in how the Triffid Ranch does business, especially with the ongoing implosion of the outside show community. For those in the area, we have plans for further COVID-safe events between November and April. For those who aren’t, the renovation facilitates going back to the sadly neglected Triffid Ranch YouTube channel and producing a whole load of new videos starting next month. For everybody else, we could all use a little more green in our lives, especially this winter, and the Triffid Ranch plans to be a major facilitator in this. Get ready for the ride of our lives.
By now, the regular updates on the Porch Sales are like Dallas weather reports in August. “Hot and sunny today, hot and sunny tomorrow, oh, and 80 percent chance of snow flurries and subzero temperatures on Friday, just to see if you were paying attention.” The weather through October has been nothing short of glorious for events of this sort, with forecasts for the next two weekends suggesting more of the same.
About the only thing changing from previous October Porch Sales has been how attendees heard about it, with a surprising number coming across Triffid Ranch information thanks to a listing in Atlas Obscura from last year. Equally interesting was the number who came out because they were seeking local haunted houses (of which we have many impressive ones), only to find that the big drive-through haunted houses generally aren’t open on Sundays. That was surprising, so please feel free to inform friends and family that future Porch Sales are a very Sunday-friendly alternative.
Two more Sunday Morning Porch Sales and Saturday’s open house to go, and then it’s over for the season. Don’t worry, though. In the best tradition of Jack Skellington, the creepy stuff doesn’t have to stop just because Halloween is done.
One of the so-true-it-hurts jokes told throughout Texas is “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” Sometimes we go to extremes, such as with last October’s tornadoes tearing through Richardson and north Dallas. Most of the time, though, it’s slightly annoying, such as when, for one day, the state thermostat switched programs from “October” to “end of August.” The good news to that was that blood temperatures in October are considerably less oppressive than when the sun is on the other side of the autumnal equinox, and they come with the recognition that we’d best enjoy them while we still have them. after all, November and its torrential rains are coming, and it’s going to get cold soon enough.
Other than that, the progression through October continues through the whole of North Texas. We haven’t had any appreciable rain all month, so we probably won’t get any significant autumn foliage color this year, so Dallas will be covered with pastels in November. On the carnivore side, the remarkably mild weather caused an explosion in the Sarracenia pools, with S. leucophylla cultivars and hybrids showing their best in all of my experience of growing them in Texas. It’s also shaping up as a terrific autumn for Venus flytraps, particularly the red cultivars such as “Aki Ryu,” and after a very disappointing spring (probably set off by our remarkably warm winter), triggerplants are taking off again as well. And so it goes.
Okay, this weekend is going to be a workout. Saturday evening, the gallery reopens for its first open house in a while, running from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm, both to show off the new renovations and to have a good sendoff for our neighbors at Visions of Venice, which is moving to Dallas’s Design District at the end of the month. We then come right back on Sunday morning for the second-to-last Sunday Porch Sale of the year, starting at 9:00 am and running until 3:00 pm, then take the day off on Monday to recuperate and get right back to it for October 25. After that, in order to remember the reason for the season, the Triffid Ranch hosts one last Porch Sale on October 31 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then then that’s it for outdoor events in 2020. Now back to getting everything ready.
Based on the weather forecast, Sunday is going to be spectacular, so the Sunday morning Porch Sale is still on. In the meanwhile, there are covers of classic songs, and then there are Kimberly Freeman covers of classic songs, on the birthday of the original songwriter. Enjoy.
Across species, worlds, galaxies, and dimensions, one absolute applies to technology: usability. No matter the tool, if ostensible improvements do not improve upon the actual user experience, the general response is “ignore” or “actively avoid.” A natural response to that is to lock the user into having to use the alleged improvement, with the idea that the user eventually accepts an unnecessary upgrade as the price of use. This continues until the user gives up and finds a more accessible tool, the user’s civilization collapses because a runaround isn’t available, or the user’s civilization throws the designer facefirst into an active volcano. The most extreme case yet known of the second example involves the Bricked Archive of Dedman IV, and species across five galaxies use its example as an object lesson to complete case studies before implementing anything more complex than a stone axe.
The original name of Dedman IV is unknown, as is the name of the species that inhabited it. With its star being relatively isolated in between galactic spiral arms, and its residents cultivating more than the usual levels of xenophobia, most contacts with other local residents started and ended with various versions of “GO AWAY,” so almost no records exist of anything about this species, other than what archaeologists unearthed thousands of years after their extinction. What is known, though, is that the whole of the civilization crashed in a matter of hours, and all due to one avoidable event.
Based on archaeological evidence, the people of Dedman IV were split up into multiple city-states, all at each others’ throats, as they entered their atomic age. As an effort to engage cooperation, several city-states allied with a collective that offered unlimited informational resources via an incredibly advanced computer network, with everything dependent upon a commonly accessible information archive. Said archive held everything from agricultural status reports to astronomical charts, constantly re-encrypted over and over to preserve institutional and individual privacy, with further encryption on the tools used for access. In a very short time, that archive was accessed for nearly everything, with just about every electronic device on the planet hooked into it because that was cheaper and more efficient than not doing so.
By the time of the first explorations of the rest of the Dedman system, this encryption took a significant amount of the network’s resources, requiring more and more complex encryption keys to be able to access the data within. Ten years before the collapse, the network encryption inadvertently depended upon one key remarkably similar to that used on Earth during the beginnings of its space exploration efforts: tracking the position and intensity of known pulsars elsewhere in the universe, both by radio emissions and by gravity waves. On the surface, this allowed incredibly succinct and precise verification of data packet generation to the microsecond, making movements both of the Dedman system and of the pulsars into part of the encryption key. Without exact coordinates of both the system and a sampling of ten pulsars, breaking or spoofing the encryption key was absolutely impossible, making the home archive even secure than ever. The system was also improved upon constantly, finally building a terminal archive made of hyperbonded silicon and thallium chains, deemed absolutely indestructible and impossible to access through alternate means.
While the official crash of Dedman IV dates to approximately 20,000 years before the present, the factor that led to its destruction actually happened some 7 billion years before that, when one of the first truly transgalactic species of the universe ran into an energy problem. They had finally reached an impasse on energy consumption to where Dyson spheres and other means of intercepting the energy of individual stars wasn’t enough any more, and such ideas as zero-point energy only provided tiny sums compared to the civilization’s needs. The plan involved creating pocket universes out of the surrounding quantum foam and dropping pulsars into them, ramming the pulsars into each other, and then collecting the output. Their efforts snagged approximately 24 percent of our universe’s pulsars in its early days before they discovered an alternate solution and left our universe entirely, and the theft of outlying pulsars meant that portions of the universe wouldn’t notice they were missing for millions or billions of years. (In some outlying portions of the universe, right along the Great Bubble, with the help of gravity lensing, it is still possible to watch as those pulsars seem to be snuffed out right and left.) The problem came when others who depended upon those pulsars for navigation or mathematical constructs learned of their pilfering.
Based on what few traces could be discovered, the people of Dedman IV were concerned but not worried when the first pulsar in the archive key suddenly winked out. The other nine were sufficient to generate encryption keys. Then the second disappeared. And the third. With the fourth, the encryption key couldn’t be generated, and everything dependent upon it was locked out. Automated agricultural facilities stopped working, vehicles wouldn’t start, electronic locks wouldn’t open, and medical devices turned into junk. Worse, because of the assumptions behind the stability of the pulsar placement, nobody had bothered to include any kind of failsafe to switch to a different key generator: who plans for neutron stars to pack up and disappear? The whole system went silent, the planet went feral, and the archive, bereft of new input, shut down.
Today, the master archive on Dedman IV is a curiosity to many and a mad quest for others. The informational wealth in the archive is presumably nearly infinite, but also absolutely worthless without a way to access it. This doesn’t stop true believers from 10,000 worlds from attempting to be the first to make the experts wrong. This, incidentally, made Dedman IV one of the most cosmopolitan and wealthy worlds in this galaxy: the money made from constant visitation is even more sure than that from casino enclaves, and the true believers keep coming back in the hope that the latest square-the-circle theory might lead to fame and multiple fortunes. So long as none of them actually damage or destroy the archive, the locals tolerate them, and some of the biggest boosters settle down on Dedman IV and become crank theorists’ greatest mockers. Meanwhile, the archive remains.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)
Plant:Nepenthes x ventrata
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.
We’re in the home stretch now. For the last 40 years, the worst of Dallas’s summer heat was worth tolerating for an autumn that seemingly goes on forever. Some Octobers are anomalies, with surprising rains and even the subfreezing temperatures of Halloween 1993. Most, though, follow the same path of “sunny, warm but not too warm, with clear nights and just a reminder that we might actually hit jacket weather by the middle of November.” For all its faults and nightmares, 2020 is shaping up to give us one of those perfect autumns.
The lack of killing heat isn’t only good for us humans. Right now is when temperate carnivorous plants such as Sarracenia pitcher plants and Venus flytraps get their best color and growth, mostly in preparation for their eventual dormancy starting in November. All through October, in the Dallas area at least, Sarracenia of all species grow their tallest and flashiest in efforts to gather as much spare nitrogen as they can before the cold sets in and insects disappear for the season. It’s all going away, eventually, but not right now.
This week, things go into overdrive to finish up the gallery renovation in preparation for a debut on October 17 (keep an eye out for announcements on particulars) and on getting new enclosures ready for that debut. (For anyone doing any kind of painting in Dallas right now, the weather is absolutely perfect: warm but not too warm, breezy but not too windy, and a relative humidity best described, like local tap water, as “crunchy.”) This doesn’t mean that the Sunday morning Porch Sale on October 11 isn’t going to happen: if anything, it’ll be a good break. See you then.
Just a friendly reminder: things are going to get wild this month, starting with the last of the Sunday morning Porch Sales for 2020 running from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm until October 25. We also have plans for Halloween Day itself, so keep tuned in. Until then, music.