Saturday, April 30, 2005


"'All these locations are generally in the same reservation as Groom Lake/Area 51,' says JA, who, along with DS, was nice enough to take a gander at the pics for me. 'Given that this was the location for a lot of the testing for the F117s and various other black craft, it makes sense to have local targets -- keeps you from having to fly over unsecure ground. But the lack of an identifiable golf course is highly suspicious for a supposed USAF facility.'"

I think the guys at Area 51 should have drawn a giant "Gray" alien face out in the desert -- just to mess with people. Have they no sense of humor?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Malaysian achieves success in artificial intelligence research

"A young Malaysian PhD student has achieved a major breakthrough in artificial intelligence which can lead to the creation of 'thinking robots' in five to 10 years."

I'm skeptical. This article makes expansive claims, and I get the impression the student-inventor -- as bright as he is -- doesn't grasp the enormous leaps a computer must make before being able to "think" in the sense described.

Then again, maybe we're overdue for this. As one who thinks we will most likely need artificial intelligence to survive the next century, I hope this is for real.
NASA Confirms Unexplained "Pull" on Spacecraft

"NASA has confirmed an extremely mysterious and unaccounted acceleration of their spacecraft towards the sun. The unexplained acceleration is persistent yet tiny -- the result of a pull 10 billion times smaller than the force of gravity we feel on earth. The phenomenon was confirmed with the help of the Aerospace Corporation through detailed analyses of radio data from Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11 and Ulysses spacecrafts."

Peter Gersten's theory remains my favorite: Our solar system is a computer simulation, and the "pull" experienced by our probes is a sign that they've reached the edge of our virtual reality.

Or maybe we're encapsulated in some kind of selectively permeable membrane emplaced by ETs in the distant past.

Or maybe we just think we know what gravity is.
Rowan Williams: A planet on the brink

"Ecological fallout from economic development is in no way an 'externality' as the economic jargon has it; it is a positive depletion of real wealth, of human and natural capital. To seek to have economy without ecology is to try to manage an environment with no knowledge or concern about how it works in itself - to try to formulate human laws in abstraction from or ignorance of the laws of nature.

"It is time to look seriously at the full implications of this. We need to start by recognising that social collapse is a real possibility. When we speak about environmental crisis, we are not to think only of spiralling poverty and mortality, but about brutal and uncontainable conflict. An economics that ignores environmental degradation invites social degradation - in plain terms, violence."

Tell it, Rowan.
Sport genetics could make Superman fantasy a reality

"As scientists come to truly understand, and therefore be able to alter, the genetic structure of human beings, the 'Six Million-Dollar Man' will no longer be a television fantasy but will instead become a near-term reality,' Tagliabue said.

"'When that happens, the issues that our society is discussing today... will be as irrelevant as the blacksmith in the automobile age. These genetic alterations are likely to be undetectable and far more effective at enhancing performance.'"

Tagliabue's talking about professional athletes. Hopefully this isn't the limit of our vision; we could just as easily harness genetic engineering to create humans specially adapted for space travel or undersea exploration. I'll be interested to see if bio-augmented athletes will be a spin-off of more worthy endeavors or if our transhuman offspring will owe their enhancements to sports-entertainment.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

FYI: A favorable review of "After the Martian Apocalypse" appears in the new issue of "Mysteries" magazine, on newsstands now.
I got a Weird Look for taking this one:

Window-shopping at the Apple store:

I ducked into the newly remodeled LatteLand this evening and found myself jarringly transported to the Bizarro World. Gone are the tasteful stools, framed artwork and quasi-European motif. The interior has been transmogrified into an anemically lit "retro" hell with tables separated by confining partitions. Worse, the new furniture has an unfortunate resemblance to cafeteria decor.

The up-side of this metamorphosis is that the redesign puts me in mind of Edward Hopper's more existential paintings, notably "Automat." I had my picture taken sitting in one of the newly minted, claustrophobic "seating modules" and was amused to note that my camera, crippled by the dim light, seemed to render me in Hopper-esque brushstrokes.

Thanks to the barista who took this.
D.C. Alert Triggered By Clouds

"After vanishing from radar, the target then reappeared several minutes later -- this time just seven miles from National Airport, stirring serious concern among Customs and Border Protection officials, Bracken said. The agency dispatched a Black Hawk helicopter to the scene. A U.S. Park Police helicopter and another from a local law enforcement agency, which were already airborne, also scanned the area."

It probably really was a weather anomaly. But the government has such an infamous habit of explaining away genuine UFOs that you can't really blame sky-watchers for accepting the official verdict with a hint of skepticism.

Skeptics of alleged UFO crashes like to wonder why, if visiting ETs are vastly superior to us, they seem to crash their vehicles so alarmingly often. It's a fair question, and one that defenders of crash-retrieval cases have yet to adequately address. This is partly due to the prevalent tendency to assume that "flying saucers," given their existence, are necessarily extraterrestrial craft thousands of years in advance of earthly aircraft.

It's generally assumed UFO crashes are grievous accidents. I'm not so sure. Deliberately offering a crashed saucer (and its technological bounty) to an emerging civilization might be a rather artful form of misdirection. "UFO lawyer" Peter Gersten likens the so-called Roswell Incident to a viral infection introduced by an entity he terms "Silog" ("silicon organism"), whose role is to supplant carbon-based life with its cybernetic equivalent. He cites the rise of brain-machine interfaces as possible evidence that we're slowly but certainly merging with Silog -- perhaps recklessly.

A less malign reason to stage saucer crashes might be to inject terrestrial science with vital new ideas without the risk of (potentially disastrous) open contact. Purposefully crashed UFOs could also serve as a sort of invitation to officialdom, allowing the decision for open contact (or simply official acknowledgement) to be made by terrestrial leaders, an idea explored by Whitley Strieber in his fiction book "Majestic."

But there's a more esoteric consideration to explore. If UFOs represent a paranormal intelligence of the sort proposed by Jacques Vallee and John Keel, then operating within the confines of our universe may be surprisingly difficult, even clumsy; the aliens of close-encounter lore may be rather like astronauts forced to wear cumbersome spacesuits. Our familiar world of atoms and molecules may be decidedly foreign to our visitors, who may hail from higher-dimensional space. In their native environment, ufonauts may consist of pure thought; visiting Earth could entail "downshifting" to a gross level in which accidents can and do happen -- up to and including Roswell Incidents.

Additionally, throughout the history of the UFO phenomenon, one finds "aliens" behaving in bizarre fashion. Some "abductees" report alien beings wearing human clothes in an apparent attempt to fit in. Enduring Men In Black sightings, as recounted in Keel's "The Mothman Prophecies," indicate that unearthly intelligences have a limited understanding of human culture, revealed through anachronistic dress or evident incomprehension when faced with trivial activities.

One is forced to conclude that either the controlling intelligence/s wants to draw attention to itself or else it really is impaired in some way; either scenario could help provide a plausible explanation for saucer crashes, which seem all-too-frequent when viewed as nuts-and-bolts navigation errors.
Dig it -- a whole site devoted to Tatciana, complete with stunning photo gallery!

Amazing what a little Google can do.
Scientists Say Everyone Can Read Minds

"Gallese contends that when we interact with someone, we do more than just observe the other person's behavior. He believes we create internal representations of their actions, sensations and emotions within ourselves, as if we are the ones that are moving, sensing and feeling."

In "Blade Runner" (and Philip K. Dick's novel), the most economical way of determining whether someone was human or android was to conduct an "empathy test." In the film version, at least, the capacity for empathy hinged (at least partly) on remembered experience. The "replicant" played by Sean Young, for example, passed abnormally high on the empathy test because she'd been equipped with implanted memories.

I foresee a future in which memories -- real and simulated -- are routinely swapped between consenting (and not-so-consenting) parties. What will this do to the concept of empathy? Will we become more or less "human"?
Palmtop Nuclear Fusion Device Invented

"The nuclear reaction that powers the Sun has been reproduced in a pocket-sized device, scientists announced today."

It's probably too early to tell how momentous this might be. But that's the crux of pure research -- you never know when a relatively trivial discovery will explode into a bona-fide paradigm shift. Unfortunately, pure scientific research is becoming increasingly difficult to fund; people expect science to cough up a never-ending stream of tangible marvels like cellphones and digicams. And there is historical evidence that truly marvelous discoveries were terminated because they conflicted with entrenched industrial interests. I fully expect more such casualties.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Explaining How Depleted Uranium Is Killing Civilians, Soldiers, Land

"DU is harmful in three ways, according to Fulk: 'Chemical toxicity, radiological toxicity and particle toxicity.'

"Particles in the nano-meter (one billionth of a meter) range are a 'new breed of cat,' Moret wrote. Because the size of the nano-particles allows them to pass freely throughout the organism and into the nucleus of its cells, exposure to nano-particles causes different symptoms than exposure to larger particles of the same substance."

The level of resistance to rational discussion of the DU problem is staggering. Firstly, anyone who dares broach the subject has his or her patriotism questioned. Secondly, it's assumed that discussion of DU's toxic effects is meant to hold the Pentagon responsible for actively wanting to harm troops in Iraq when the real problem is the military's abhorrently cavalier "out of sight, out of mind" attitude.

In short: Shut up and Support Our Troops. Just as long as that means holding their commanders beyond reproach.
I got an email from my literary agent; an editor has passed on my new book, "The Postbiological Cosmos," because, apparently, he didn't think the subject matter (cybernetics, nanotechnology, AI, and posthuman philosophy) was "fresh" enough. Whatever. The good news is that she's taking my proposal to another (possibly bigger) publisher. I'm actually pretty confident someone will pick this up eventually and I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and do justice to it. Give me a green light, somebody.
I recently bought "Fear of Music," the 1979 Talking Heads album. I've been letting it play in the background as I work on the computer. Three or four spins later, I'm hooked; contrary to my expectations, I like the Heads' earlier records even more than their later ones -- not that any of their songs are less-than-intelligent.

What an awesome band. And I'm just now "discovering" them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Google "Tonnies" and you get this guy. I'm willing to bet I'm related.
The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord

(Pretty much self-explanatory.)
'Termite Guts Can Save The Planet,' Says Nobel Laureate

"A billion years of evolution have produced a highly efficient factory for turning cellulose into ethanol, unlike anything which humans can yet design. By exploiting these tricks, says Chu, we can use biology as a solution to a pressing world problem.

"Nuclear fission [sic] may be the holy grail, but in the 50 years since it was first proposed, the predicted time-to-market has grown ever more distant. Solar and wind power look appealing, but mankind has not yet discovered how to store electricity on a large scale. Ethanol, a chemical fuel which would release no more carbon than it took to produce, would be the solution."

Reading this, I had a funky vision of massive, genetically manufactured termite abdomens suspended over a futuristic cityscape, translucent guts churning and spitting plumes of fragrant ethanol into a labyrinthine network of tubes and hoses . . .
Christian T-Shirts Carry Extreme Messages

"But there are edgier shirts for sale. Extreme Christian Clothing stores in Topeka, Kan., and Lawrence sell T-shirts with messages like 'Satan Sucks,' 'My God can kick your god's butt,' and 'To Hell with the Devil.'"

Yep -- Kansas.

Hey, this is flattering: Technorgasmic has linked to my recent post about sexbots and artificial intelligence. Can a lecture tour be next? Stay tuned!

Monday, April 25, 2005

I figure I better post this before Bruce Sterling does . . .

(Found at Chapel Perilous.)
Mind-reading machine knows what you see

"It is possible to read someone's mind by remotely measuring their brain activity, researchers have shown. The technique can even extract information from subjects that they are not aware of themselves.

"So far, it has only been used to identify visual patterns a subject can see or has chosen to focus on. But the researchers speculate the approach might be extended to probe a person's awareness, focus of attention, memory and movement intention. In the meantime, it could help doctors work out if patients apparently in a coma are actually conscious."

Let's hope it can't detect one's Patriotism(tm) level.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

More photos of nature and statuary

I tried to snap this without getting a damned car in the background . . .

The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain is pretty much taken for granted by Kansas Citians, although if you look closely at its constituent elements it's actually pretty bizarre. Even disturbing, I suppose, if you're squeamish about writhing crocodiles, frantic horses, overgrown water-spewing fish, and naked sea-elves.

I thought the face on this easily missable sphinx was eerily lifelike . . .

Some readers of this blog may have noticed my interest in synchronistic occurrences of the number 23. As reported in a much earlier post, there's a hideous mock-NASCAR limo emblazoned with "23" I see around my part of town; I first saw it with Jason Sheets (who had come to see the director's cut of "Donnie Darko" -- a movie about synchronicity, among other things -- at the local theater) a day or two after mutually blogging about the 23 enigma. (Interestingly, "Donnie Darko's" nationwide debut was on the 23rd.)

Today I was walking in a park near a clot of particularly vapid war protesters when the NASCAR limo pulled up to let off some teenagers who looked only slightly more with it than the aging hippies lining the sidewalk. I managed to get one shot, which I readily admit could have been a lot better. Nevertheless, there's "23" in fluorescent green glory:

One of the reasons I like packing a camera is that it engages the part of my brain that processes "random," acausal events. I literally see things I've never noticed before; a sort of secret world opens up, if fleetingly, bringing to mind multiple transparencies stacked atop one another and brought to life by a projector. (Rudy Rucker, who's written on similar themes, thinks the universe is filled with "paracomputations" that take the form of natural processes. His trained awareness of relevant phenomena, such as the intricate geometric patterns on seashells and the interplay of wave-fronts in a pool of water, might help account for some of his acutely observant photographs.)

In my case, after seeing the "23" limo, I found myself inside a bus-stop with brown-tinted plastic windows. Someone had written "23" there, bedecking the number with a halo as if to memorialize it. (The recurring trumpet design from Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" came to mind . . . as well as the sense of inhabiting a rather smug and mocking paracomputation.)

Later on the same walk I recalled a dream I had last night, in which I was playing with a sheet of aluminum foil that returned to its uncrumpled original state whenever I unballed my fist (the "memory metal" described by witnesses to the Roswell debris.) Moments later I found a sheet of foil on the sidewalk -- nothing remotely dramatic, but nonetheless a bit like some sort of retrocognitive memento. It's becoming steadily easier for me to imagine reality as a composite of overlapping possibilities -- a VR-like realm that creates itself from moment to moment rather than patiently awaiting discovery.
Pictures of water

There were a bunch of gorgeous naked women sunning themselves on this terrace when I took the picture. Oddly, they didn't show up when I downloaded the photo to my computer. Must be JPG compression or something . . .

Pictures of statues

This guy's face isn't quite symmetrical. By NASA's logic, that would make him a natural formation. (Note the obvious trick of light.)

Exploding toads baffle experts

"According to reports from animal welfare workers and veterinarians as many as a thousand of the amphibians have perished after their bodies swelled to bursting point and their entrails were propelled for up to a metre." (Via The Anomalist.)

Wait . . . This isn't in Revelations . . .

Saturday, April 23, 2005

By popular demand. I think.
Close Encounters of Diverse Kinds (PDF)

"The fable I want to construct out of the Abduction Reports for our further reflection is one of singularity and diversity. While the genre of the fable requires relative brevity, this very characteristic often compels its exegesis and application to take the 'long way round.' In this case, the detour is necessarily historical, an element in the histories of the western imaginations of difference which will lead us to isolate the intellectual moment that made the invention of 'race' necessary -- the first, new, influential anthropological theory since the classical period, and one that made urgent the emergence of the human sciences."
Cool site of the day: Xefirontarch
A Remarkable Orb Photo

"Skeptics assume that orbs, which have been photographed more and more frequently in recent years, but rarely with anything except digital cameras, must be distortions of some kind caused by the photographic process. Many orbs are photographed during periods when the air is humid, and probably are process effects.

"However, this particular object appeared inside a house and happened by coincidence to be photographed through the window. This means that the size of the object and its appoximate [sic] distance from the camera lens can be determined."

Somehow, "remarkable" is the last word that comes to mind. It appears "inside" the house because the partition in the windows are white, drowning out the "orb's" edges.

I'm getting really tired of attempts to create an aura of mystery out of digital camera artifacts when there is so much authentic weirdness begging exploration.
Emails 'pose threat to IQ'

"Doziness, lethargy and an increasing inability to focus reached 'startling' levels in the trials by 1,100 people, who also demonstrated that emails in particular have an addictive, drug-like grip."

Oh, yeah? Well, uh . . . What was I going to say?

(Thanks to the ever-alert Bill Dash.)
Photoblogger at large

Friday, April 22, 2005

These concept-art items caught my eye at Bruce Sterling's Beyond the Beyond . . .

First, here's a high-tech musical instrument called a "Kosmophone" that produces a sort of MIDI fugue when struck by passing cosmic rays. Sterling says it best: "It's not what I'd call catchy toonage, but let me put it this way: if that baby starts laying down some heavy riffs, our planet's goose is cooked."

Secondly, here's an exhibit for which I would happily kill to experience firsthand:

"'Subtitled Public' consists of an empty exhibition space where visitors are tracked with a computerized infrared surveillance system. As people enter the installation, texts are projected onto their bodies: these 'subtitles' consist of thousands of verbs conjugated in third person and they follow each individual everywhere they go. The only way to get rid of a subtitle is to touch someone else: the words then are exchanged between them."

(Maybe if I bug the folks at the Kemper . . .)
Growth in biomass could put U.S. on road to energy independence

"The recently completed Oak Ridge National Laboratory report outlines a national strategy in which 1 billion dry tons of biomass -- any organic matter that is available on a renewable or recurring basis -- would displace 30 percent of the nation's petroleum consumption for transportation. Supplying more than 3 percent of the nation's energy, biomass already has surpassed hydropower as the largest domestic source of renewable energy, and researchers believe much potential remains."
Robot sex dolls

"They are almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing, but I am still developing improvements and I will only be happy when what I have is better than the real thing."

I've been meaning to post some thoughts on sexbots for some time, and this article gives me the perfect excuse.

My theory is that the sex-android industry -- now in its infancy -- will be nothing less than a driving force behind the race to true artificial intelligence (AI), just as the entertainment industry has fueled exponentially complex computer-generated imagery/animation.

In the case of anthropomorphic sex dolls (think Daryl Hannah's Pris from "Blade Runner"), the market is conceivably limitless -- and by no means confined to a male demographic, as illustrated by Jude Law's character in "A.I.". Wily advertising and improving technology have the potential to ensure a future in which recreational sex with simulated humans is not merely tolerated by the majority of "straights," but relatively ubiquitous. After all, is it really "cheating" on a human partner if the object of one's affections is a (presumably) nonsentient machine? Intimate relationships with simulacra will bend the parameters of the "acceptable," perhaps irrevocably.

Roboticist Hans Moravec argues that AI will reach fruition only if robots can be mainstreamed, much how home computers have evolved from eccentric gadgets in the 1980s to near-essential personal assistants in the early 21st century. In a similar manner, candidate sexbots must reach a certain critical market-appeal if they're to become more human -- or, to quote Dr. Eldon Tyrell from "Blade Runner," "more human than human."

Continuing consumer demand will entail better, more realistic sexbots until, eventually, a sort of cyber-erotic singularity is reached. In this final stage of sexbot evolution, our creations will be endowed with intelligence: a dramatic contrast to today's fumbling attempts.
Rich Zurek And The Mystery Of The Disappearing Spacecraft

"In fact, two-thirds of all international missions to the red planet have failed. It isn't trivial getting spacecraft safely to a planet that is hundreds of thousands of miles away, and solving some of the mysteries surrounding those that were lost will help future missions be successful."
Retreat of Antarctic ice gathers pace

"Most of the glaciers on the Antarctic peninsula, near the southernmost tip of South America, have retreated over the past 50 years as temperatures have warmed, according to a study from the British Antarctic Survey and US Geological Survey. Inland glaciers appear to be accelerating their descent to the ocean, threatening to raise the sea level."

Thursday, April 21, 2005


"After exposing the story, those responsible for the perpetration of the hoax quickly and quietly slithered back under the rocks they came out from under and those supporting the tale (Jaime Maussan, Dan Iarai, Daniel McEvoy, Art Bell, and others) suddenly didn't have very much to say about all the supposed evidence they had promoted. In fact, no scientifically verifiable evidence was ever presented to the public, though sensationalistic claims of extraterrestrial nanotechnology were made. Most of those believers blindly following the story also jumped ship...well, most of them..."

And UFO "researchers" have the nerve to complain that they're not taken seriously.
Scientific and Historical Anomalies - The Engineered Moon

"The storyline for this 'Anomalies' article might begin: Long ago on a planet called Earth, orbiting around a medium sized star located on the outer edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, a civilization capable of planetary type engineering designed and built a huge titanium alloy sphere, a moon, to orbit the Earth. Over untold millions of years cosmic dust and debris collected on the sphere until, in recent times, people had the strange notion that this 'moon' was the result of 'natural forces at work'."

The "Artificial Moon" hypothesis is one of my favorite far-out ideas. Anthropic philosophers like to point out that life as we know it would be impossible without the presence of our moon, which they interpret as evidence that the universe was somehow designed to facilitate human consciousness. Maybe. Could it be more likely that the Moon is a manufactured or modified object designed to hasten the evolution of intelligent life?

Numerous anomalies on the lunar surface suggest we weren't the first to go there. If artificial, they don't prove the Moon is artificial, only that it was visited . . . unless, of course, we're seeing occasional remnants of some dilapidated super-structure poking through a mantle of accreted dust . . .

Oh, my. I just realized I'm sounding an awful lot like Richard Hoagland.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

NASA Scientist: 'Mars Could be Biologically Alive'

"Scientific teams around the globe are on the trail of methane seeping out of Mars. And for good reason: The methane could be the result of biological processes. It could also be an 'abiotic' geochemical process, however, or the result of volcanic or hydrothermal activity on the red planet."

Moreover, they've detected gobs of it over Valles Marineris -- a deep chasm that's a logical site for life because of its relatively high air pressure.
Discovery of brain's first known 'safety circuit' gives new perspective on anxiety disorders

"Yet the neurobiology of happiness, which has generally been ignored by researchers as well as physicians, may be equally important in the disorders. 'The missing part of our picture of anxiety is the good feelings associated with being safe and secure,' Dr. Rogan says. 'But positive emotions are harder to study in the lab than negative emotions like fear. How do you know when you've made a mouse feel safe and secure?'"

The thing that sometimes worries me about emotions is that they're basically a matter of unruly molecules. This is, of course, the same sort of reductionism that sends Fundamentalists running for their bibles in a vain effort to convince themselves the Self is endowed with a soul or spirit. (And just maybe it really is . . . although I'd venture to say the nature of the "soul," if there is such a thing, is massively stranger than anything encountered in religious texts.)

Unlike the religiously inclined, I don't have any grave existential problem with the concept that my emotions -- which constitute a great deal of who I am -- can be chalked up to neurochemical activity. What does trouble me is the sanctified role we allow emotions to play in our lives when, on a fundamental level, they're so easily subject to manipulation. I'm not proposing that we all become "intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic" -- but I think we should strive to become acutely aware what's going on inside our heads so we can practice preventive maintenance.

Emotions seem to operate, at least partly, like viruses, hopping from mind to mind like invisible puppeteers. This isn't inherently bad. But like the "word virus" explored by William Burroughs, I think it's limiting. Perhaps future technologies can create a more insightful arena for emotions, allowing us a wide degree of flexibility and conscious volition where once was mere chemistry. Some of us may even choose to turn off emotional reactions for specific periods, for reasons too varied to accurately anticipate.
I've added Cyn's Lil Drop o' Crazy Glue to the "Blogs I Like" sidebar. She refers to me as "dashingly erudite," hence the inclusion. The rest of the blog ain't bad, either.
SWM Seeking Alien Hottie

"All of this has provided much amusement for founder Newmark, who notes that most of the interest has been concentrated in the personals section. 'A lot of people are interested in interspecies dating,' he muses. 'Of course, we're no stranger to that in the Bay Area. There have been specialized items in which people expressed their desires in terms of tentacles and that kind of thing.'" (Via The Anomalist.)

Yes, I'm approaching desperation -- but at least I'm limiting my search to fellow terrestrials.
The Face on Mars in David Bowie's "area"? I'm not seeing it.
Asteroid Warnings Toned Down

"Like the Department of Homeland Security's terror alert system, the Torino scale uses five different colors that correspond to the severity of a potential impact. The colors haven't changed from the old system, but the explanation of what each color means has. Asteroids in the green section used to be deemed 'events meriting careful monitoring,' but now are considered "normal." And a level 6 object was described as capable of causing 'global catastrophe.' Now these, too, only merit the concern of astronomers."

Give me a break. Must everything in our gutless consumer society be "toned down"? Must everything -- even the prospect of planetary destruction -- be couched in lamely reassuring language lest the glassy-eyed masses experience a shade of genuine fear?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

'Super volcano' warning for Indonesia

"The scientist said super volcanoes represent the greatest potential hazard on Earth, 'the only greater threat being an asteroid impact from space'."

The Fundamentalist "End Times" meme knows no bounds. There's a new science fiction book out called "Judgment Day." It's all about -- you guessed it -- Armageddon (or its genre equivalent). The book's cover is so obnoxiously unsubtle that you can easily trace it to the "Left Behind" series (as well as the "Star Wars" movies, from which it takes its major cues).

Recently the "Left Behind" authors took a televised End Times drama to task for being inaccurate and "weird." They're sure to find "Judgment Day" vastly more so, if for no other reason than it postpones the Rapture to an era when human civilization has colonized the galaxy.
Russian Astrologist Plans to Crash NASA's Independence Day

"'The actions of NASA infringe upon my system of spiritual and life values, in particular on the values of every element of creation, upon the unacceptability of barbarically interfering with the natural life of the universe, and the violation of the natural balance of the Universe,' Bai said in her claim."

It was inevitable. We finally go about seriously researching comets -- immense chunks of celestial shrapnel that could speedily extinguish life on Earth -- and someone whines about her "spiritual values" being desecrated.

I think NASA's next Deep Impact mission should observe the effects of a Russian astrologer's body as it smacks into a cometary nucleus -- for purely scientific reasons, of course.
Spontaneous ignition discovery has ORNL researcher fired up

"In a paper scheduled to appear in the May 18 print issue of the American Chemical Society's Energy & Fuels, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Hu describes a novel method to achieve spontaneous ignition and sustained combustion at room temperature. He achieves this 'nano-catalytic reaction' with nothing but nanometer-sized particles of platinum stuck to fibers of glass wool in a small jar with methanol and air - with no source of external ignition."

Monday, April 18, 2005

Confession: I've developed a time-consuming addiction to the 3-D pinball game included with many PCs (check your "Games" menu to see if you have it). Can't stop playing. Got to keep playing . . .
Here's an exclusive view from the front porch of my apartment.

An here's none other than Winston Churchill, who can be made to recite his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at the touch of a button. That bench has "make-out spot" written all over it. It's not billed as "the best place to piss away your time on the Internet" for nothing.
Mystery of asteroid orbit baffles experts

"Dr Benny Peiser, an anthropologist and asteroid hazard expert from Liverpool's John Moore's University, said: 'In all likelihood it will produce an orbit that will not intercept the Earth, but we don't know, and that's the problem.'" (Via The Anomalist.)
This year's ConQuest science fiction convention, at which I'm a featured guest, is Memorial Day weekend. I'll be speaking on panels, hawking books and possibly reading an excerpt or two from whatever I happen to scavenge from my hard-drive. I've made hotel reservations at the Kansas City Airport Hilton so I can relax on-site. My room has two double beds, one of which I won't be needing. If anyone reading plans to be in the area and is up to a day or two of consummate nerdishness, let me know.
Here's a great way to start the week:

What a way to go

"According to Sir Martin Rees, author of Our Final Century, astronomer royal and professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, humans only have a 50-50 chance of making it through the 21st century without serious setback."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

I noticed this cherub on the way back from the coffeeshop. You can't tell from this picture, but the statue is positively caked in birdshit . . .

Back in 2001 I paid special attention to this lion statue in hopes of assessing Richard Hoagland's "feline hypothesis." Hoagland's idea, proposed ten years before the first high-resolution frontal image of the Face on Mars had been taken, is that the Face's eastern half was intentionally designed to resemble the head of a terrestrial cat.

After taking a look at feline statuary, I realized there is indeed a vague resemblance. But is the correspondence intentional or a fortuitous trick of erosion? Although I lean heavily toward the latter explanation, I devoted a sub-chapter in my book to the possibility of deliberate design and what a split-image motif might imply in aesthetic terms.

I don't especially like this next one, but since I walk by it so often I figured I'd include it in my "walking tour" of Plaza statuary. Truthfully, I've always been a bit bothered by the monkey perched on the guy's shoulder -- it looks way too human, like a chimera escaped from a genetics lab. And I suppose you can argue there's something implacably unwholesome in the organ-grinder's smile. Maybe it's just me.

This anonymous deity appears to be oozing vomit. (Probably been spending too much time with that Dionysus fellow . . .)

This is Pomona, goddess of something or other, eternally offering bronze grapes to passersby.

The weather was nice today. I took pictures.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Expert gives UFO presentation Monday

"For some reason, aliens seem to have an interest in the nuclear weapons of the United States."

Aliens? Maybe. UFOs? Certainly.

I really wish I'd thought of this. Too bad all the really cool stuff's underground.
Thousands of Salmon Missing

"More than 200,000 salmon should have shown up in the Columbia river to spawn by now, but only a few hundred have been seen. The absence of the wild Chinook salmon is a disturbing environmental mystery. The best case scenario is that they're being kept away by low water and high sediment levels due to the drought in the Pacific Northwest. The worst is that there has been a shortage of the krill that is essential to their diet, and they have starved while wintering out at sea."

Occam's Razor would suggest the former possibility, but the latter wouldn't surprise me one bit. I think we're due for an ecological 9/11, and I suspect it will take place at sea.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Why is it that people accused of being "liberals" have a condescending tendency to want to "prove" their patriotism to the warhawk contingent? There's this creeping need to assure the world that hey, just because we don't support W's pet war doesn't mean we're wimps; as a matter of fact, we're even more patriotic than you macho guys in ribbon-festooned SUVs!

I imagine the inner monologue goes something like this:

"Just take a look at my bumperstickers, you rednecks. See, that one says 'Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.' Get it? Since you don't have a dissenting bone in your body, you're actually less of a patriot than I am! And if that doesn't cement my commitment to my beloved country -- which just happens to be turning to a theocratic dung-heap -- why don't you look at that sticker, the one that says 'Just because I don't support our president doesn't mean I don't love America.' How much clearer can you get? I'm more patriotic than you!"

I opt out of this mania. Nationalism, in any form, is extremely dangerous -- not to mention tedious. Happily, I'm not patriotic. I have no desire to be patriotic. More relevantly, it doesn't bother me in the least that this sentiment might enrage people on both sides of the "liberal/conservative" fence the media has so dotingly concocted for our entertainment pleasure.

At its best, patriotism is an illusory excuse for siphoning "pride" from the accomplishments of others. At its worst, it manifests as delusional self-parodies like the Presidential Prayer Team, spawning self-righteous idiocy in its wake.

So leave me out. Hoard your bumperstickers, wave your flags, scrawl dumb slogans on signs and have a good time at your ineffectual "protests." I'm not watching.
Climate change wreaking havoc with seasons

"The findings were submitted to scientists at the UK Phenology Network by hundreds of paid observers across the country and have been combined with environmental data over three centuries. The study is bound to intensify calls for tighter controls on environmental pollution linked to climate change."
Why am I suddenly insanely fucking jealous of Bruce Sterling?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I just found out there will be a substantial article about my Mars book and online writings in a forthcoming issue of "UFO Magazine." Apparently it will have Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" movie on the cover, so Mars -- and the prospect of real Martians faced with a disintegrating biosphere -- is a natural tie-in.

I've read the first draft of the article and am relieved to note it's the best print coverage I've received since "After the Martian Apocalypse" came out: no mock-serious pontificating about astronaut-eating Martian spiders or David Bowie allusions. Keep an eye on your newsstand. Borders and Barnes & Noble typically have "UFO" in stock.
The ever-engaging Rudy Rucker (whose book "Master of Space and Time" has just been reissued) gives me a nod for identifying supposedly mysterious aerial critters (known as "rods") in his time-lapse photo of gnats. Readers of his Micronesia blog entries might have noticed that he unwittingly photographed a fair share of so-called "orbs" as well. All in one trip!

Sometimes I really wish I had a TV.

But not very often.
Execution by injection far from painless

"The authors of the new study argue that it is simplistic to assume that 2 to 3 grams of sodium thiopental will assure loss of sensation, especially when the people administering it are unskilled and the execution could last up to 10 minutes. They also point out that people on death row are extremely anxious and their bodies are flooded with adrenaline - so would be expected to need more of the drug to render them unconscious.

"Without adequate anaesthesia, the authors say, the person being executed would experience asphyxiation, a severe burning sensation, massive muscle cramping and cardiac arrest - which would constitute the 'cruel and unusual' punishment expressly forbidden by the US constitution's Eighth Amendment."

Oh, well. Since we're busy scrapping the Constitution anyway . . .
Scientists use manufacturing methods to reconstruct mastodon

"Combining 13,000-year-old bones with 21st century auto manufacturing techniques, scientists and exhibit preparators at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural history are reconstructing a male mastodon skeleton for an exhibit that opens to the public May 21."

Personally, I think the "fabbing" process is at least as interesting as the mastodons themselves.
US rolls out robotic broadband airship

"Sanswire has almost completed a prototype of the Stratellite, but is awaiting a green light from NASA and the FAA to conduct tests over Edwards Air Force base - hopefully within the next three or four months. All being well, the Stratellite will then go into production next year."

There's something enticingly "Blade Runner"-ish about an automated blimp drifting overhead. Only in this case we won't be hearing any rousing calls for America to make the move to off-world colonies (along with custom-tailored, genetically engineered replicants).

On another note, I predict Stratellite test flights will result in not a few spurious UFO sightings.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Researches [sic] find ideal spot for moon base

"Equally important, in the permanently shadowed depths of craters around the lunar north pole, water ice may lurk, according to previous but unconfirmed observations."

A UFO researcher who believes that the truth is really out there

"Perhaps surprisingly, he is unconvinced that the innumerable sightings are evidence of alien beings: he thinks they may be rooted more in the paranormal. 'There's so much hype about the extra-terrestrial hypothesis,' he said."

And right he is. I think there's certainly room for the ET hypothesis, but a lot of other equally intriguing -- and perhaps more likely -- hypotheses have been excluded in order to keep it alive and kicking. As Jacques Vallee has said, there's a very American need to "kick the tires" when it comes to the UFO problem. 21st century UFO researchers need to move away from "Newtonian" ufology and embrace the quantum.
Dubai tower to be world's tallest building

"'We're going to records never approached before. Not only will it be the tallest building, it will be the tallest manmade tower,' said Robert Booth, a director at Emaar Properties, the Dubai construction firm developing the spire-shaped, stainless-steel-skinned tower."

I wonder if the top floor has room for the Posthuman Blues editorial staff . . .
Interestingly, the author of this commendable article doesn't even mention the looming demise of the Hubble Space Telescope:

Our Incredible Shrinking Curiosity

"It would be less disheartening if the move to kill the Voyager program were an isolated example. But the U.S. scientific enterprise is riddled with evidence that Americans have lost sight of the value of non-applied, curiosity-driven research -- the open-ended sort of exploration that doesn't know exactly where it's going but so often leads to big payoffs. In discipline after discipline, the demand for specific products, profits or outcomes -- 'deliverables,' in the parlance of government -- has become the dominant force driving research agendas. Instead of being exploratory and expansive, science -- especially in the wake of 9/11 -- seems increasingly delimited and defensive."

As much as I agree with the body of the story, I have to take issue with the title; I don't think there's anything "incredible" (or even anomalous) about the wasting away of scientific curiosity. Rome fell, in part, due to apathy toward scientific research. We seem to be trapped in a similar intellectual malaise, a disorder that has infected our politics and geographic self-hood just as it has the way we go about asking fundamental questions about reality.

We've become solipsistic and greedy, addicted to the bread-and-circus routine of impulse spending and mass-marketed entertainment; we celebrate the fallacy of our ruling class with fascistic logos; we balm our wounded sense of the future with visions of an impending "Rapture," in which the world ends in a spectacle of uninspired special effects.

Lamentable, yes. Incredible, no; this has been in the works for a surprisingly long time.
Blab about Mars

Since Mars anomaly news seems to be heating up, I've decided to enable comments at the Cydonian Imperative, beginning with "Emphatically Still a Face."
Labs scramble to destroy pandemic flu strain

"Nearly 5,000 labs in 18 countries, mostly in the United States, were urged by the World Health Organization to destroy samples of the dangerous virus because of the slight risk it could trigger a global outbreak. The labs received the virus from a U.S. company that supplies kits used for quality control tests."
Al Qaeda Preparing for Another Attack in U.S., WMD Use Probable

"Additional efforts to detect, prevent and limit the fallout-effects of a WMD attack continue to progress. Sometime between March 7 and March 21, New York City's Office of Emergency Management (OEM) will release a series of benign gasses around Madison Square Garden to study how air might flow through the city in the event of a terrorist attack with chemical, biological, or radiological agents. Mounting wind-sampling devices throughout the rooftops and sidewalks of midtown Manhattan, the OEM hopes to develop accurate models capable of tracking and forecasting the likely path a wind-driven toxic plume would take should a WMD device be detonated in New York."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Yet another media meme

1.) You're stuck inside "Fahrenheit 451," which book do you want to be?

Maybe "Neuromancer" or "Burning Chrome." (I'm partial to William Gibson.) Or maybe Jack Womack's "Elvissey" or "The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard"; that would be an honor indeed.

2.) Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Sure, although I can't exactly come up with a list at the moment. Probably one of Philip K. Dick's femmes fatales. "Neuromancer's" Molly was also quite fetching in a cyber-noir kind of way. Geez, here we go with my Gibson fetish again . . .

3.) The last book you bought is?

Salinger's "Nine Stories."

4.) What are you currently reading?

I'm finally polishing off Rudy Rucker's "Frek and the Elixir" -- and enjoying every page -- and sort of ambling my way through Paul Von Ward's "Gods, Genes, and Consciousness" (nonfiction).

5.) Five books you would take to a deserted island?

Oh, man. Taking the question at face value (and excluding William Gibson's books for the sake of well-roundedness):

1. "Naked Lunch" (William S. Burroughs)
2. "Breakfast of Champions" (Kurt Vonnegut)
3. "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Childhood's End" (Arthur C. Clarke)
4. "The Martian Chronicles" (Ray Bradbury)
5. "Memories of the Space Age" (J.G. Ballard)

(Encountered at Busy, Busy Busy.)
One of those meme things that's all the rage

1.) What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

I used to have a slew of rare stuff back when Napster was young and hip. Unfortunately, I had (and still have) a dial-up connection, so my cache of MP3s was never as impressive as it could have been. That was back in 2000. Since then, I've downloaded precisely one MP3: Gary Jules' acoustic remake of "Mad World."

2.) The CD you last bought was:

"Franz Ferdinand" by Franz Ferdinand. Before that, "Lovers Rock" by Sade.

3.) What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

Uh . . . I think "Big-Time Sensuality" by Bjork, on my car cassette player.

4.) Write down five songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you:

1. "I Wanted to Be Wrong" (R.E.M.)
2. "Last Night I Dreampt That Somebody Loved Me" (The Smiths)
3. "Jumping Someone Else's Train" (The Cure)
4. "Human Behavior" (Bjork)
5. "Space Oddity" (David Bowie)

5.) To whom (three people) are you going to pass this stick? And why?

No one in particular, although I suppose I'd be interested to see what Jason, Sauceruney and Bsti have to say.

(First encountered at Jasmine Cola.)

Yeah, that's Spook and I. (Sort of.) Make your own storTrooper here.

(This webtoy brought to my attention by Beyond the Beyond.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Just trying to keep up with Chapel Perilous . . .
Asteroid on the Way

"An asteroid the size of three football fields is scheduled to zoom past Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029, coming closer to us than many telecommunications satellites in orbit. It will be visible to the naked eye in several countries, but it's not likely that a large space rock like this one will actually hit the Earth, acccording [sic] to astronomer Perry Gerakines, who says, 'The odds that an asteroid of this magnitude would impact the Earth are in the millions to one . . .'"

Nevertheless, it happens. The Earth is nothing if not patient. There's no huge hurry -- but sooner or later we're toast.