Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New Research Indicates A 'Troubled' Greenhouse Is Brewing

"'We know the gathering greenhouse will be warm, but this new information confirms that the contrast between the rainy season and the dry season will increase dramatically,' says Greg Retallack, whose study indicating that a troubled greenhouse is brewing is published in the April issue of the journal Geology."
Jason Sheets has some good ideas.

I'm reading an interesting book called "Cracks in the Great Wall: UFOs and Traditional Metaphysics." The author, Charles Upton, argues that UFO and "alien" encounters are but a new manifestation of an intelligence that has coexisted with humans since the dawn of consciousness. He likens contemporary UFO research to a "postmodern demonology," noting that the apparent technological capabilities demonstrated during "abductions" are identical to those of mythological "jinn" and other spirit entities.

Upton's metaphysical ecology (which begins with gross matter and ascends a hierarchy of progressively subtler states) is very much in keeping with John Keel's "superspectrum" and, to some extent, with the "multiverse" posited by Jacques Vallee. The most significant difference between Upton and Vallee is that Upton thinks the UFO intelligence is an active impediment to the evolution of consciousness while (the last time I checked) Vallee was less than certain what the close-encounter experience entailed; while willing to identify its effects as those of a psychosocial conditioning system a la B.F. Skinner, he wasn't sure if this was deliberate or in some sense automated (and thus irreversible).

Whitley Strieber once wondered, enigmatically, if the visitor experience was "merely" what evolution looked like to a conscious mind; ultimately, humankind's endless pageant of gods, fairies and ufonauts -- and their evident objective reality -- may be reflections of ourselves enacted on a level we have yet to define in scientific terms.

What -- if anything -- happens to the phenomenon as our instruments continue to blur the lines between empirical reality and the realm of the so-called "spirit"?

It looks like the new issue of "UFO" is out, featuring a write-up on my Martian musings and some selected Cydonian Imperative blog excerpts. A pre-emptive mission to Barnes & Noble is definitely in order.

(The irrepressible Richard Hoagland made the cover. Nice tie.)
Vast Condom Horror in Pacific

"The mass was discovered by the Australian Oceanographic Laboratory Outpost on Macquarie Island in the South Pacific. Scientists there explained that the accumulation, which consists almost exclusively of condoms, is explained by a principle of physics called 'like aggregation.' Like aggregation is caused by the massing of similar objects due to ocean currents and winds, the response of the objects to the earth's magnetic field, and other factors."

Worse still -- it's alive! (Just kidding -- although I do sense science fiction potential here.)

And I thought Brush Creek was bad . . .

Monday, May 30, 2005

Take me to the river

I met a woman from the Art Institute of Chicago on the "riverwalk" next to Brush Creek. She was videotaping an installation piece -- essentially a large, buoyant ribbon covered with photos of salmon.

Her idea was to chronicle the spread of bacteria-infested water as it played over the surface of the ribbon. She was amazed at the sheer tenacity of the filth.

Trojan holds PC files for ransom

"The program, once it installs itself unbeknown to a user, triggers the download of an encoder application which searches for common types of files on a computer and networked drives to encrypt.

"When a file is encrypted, usually for security and privacy purposes, it can only be decrypted with specific instructions."

Why can't someone create a nice computer virus?
Bioscientists: Gods or Monsters?

"In his new book, The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA . . . and Other Masterminds From the Frontiers of Biotech, journalist and author David Ewing Duncan chats with some of the most prominent and powerful life scientists in the United States about the human motivations behind their God-like endeavors."

Add another biotech tome to the to-read pile . . .

Sunday, May 29, 2005

This deserves a look:

"It's kinda trippy to stare at this image and then think about what the guys in the Apollo space program did. They went all the way over there, no really. They went that far away from the nearest McDonald's."

Now imagine how distant Mars would be on that scale!

(And for whatever it's worth, you can never be too far away from McDonald's.)
The Texas Ghost Lights Conference

"Investigators regard the lights as a little understood aspect of the earth's electromagnetic energy field. But they could be a global phenomenon of paradigm-shifting significance. They sometimes behave peculiarly, as if they are interacting with human observers like curious animals. This may be why the ancient Celtic peoples regarded the lights as fairies, and why the shamans of some cultures sought out the locations of the lights as entrances to the spirit world. Recurring ghost lights could hold clues to a dimension of Nature that is rarely even suspected in the modern age."
UFO Guru Calls in Craft for TV Crew

"The stunned television personnel watched as 'Prophet Yahweh' aka Ramon Watkins, raised his arms in prayer to Yahweh and pleaded with him, 'show them that I'm not mentally ill.' Moments later, the crew filmed an excellent UFO sighting, with the craft manuevering in an impossible manner, then heading off toward Nellis Air Force Base, then returning, only to disappear."

I find the proximity to Nellis AFB suggestive of a psy-ops operation of some sort.

As for the UFO, I wonder if it resembles the "lobed" object filmed over Nellis (above).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I saw a completely motionless, awkwardly postured guy on a bench in this park. He looked dead -- really. If he wasn't, he was doing a considerably better job at faking being inanimate than the Mute Love Goddess of a few days ago (who, incidentally, had set up shot again today to the delight of a rather large crowd).

If memory serves, there's something kind of like this guy inside the Ministry of Information from Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."

Here's the base of the terraced fountain that appears in an earlier post. The pavement was filmed with scum; I almost fell into the drainage creek. That would have been a riot.

I woke up this morning with an itchy throat and a sudden, pronounced desire to cancel my hotel reservation. I took three aspirin and went on a walk in an attempt to get some endorphins flowing. The result: more pictures of water and statues. (Wasn't that the name of a Talking Heads record?)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Not so Dumbo - elephant intelligence

"For the first time, remote-control cameras disguised as dung-heaps have infiltrated African elephant herds. Moving slowly across the plains, the 'dungcams' have shot hundreds of hours of elephant footage of the most intimate variety. On watching the footage, you start to believe that elephants may indeed be as intelligent as the great apes. 'The communication and understanding is so evident when you get inside the herd,' says film-maker John Downer. 'I know of no other species, apart from ourselves, who gather to greet a newborn and equally appear to mourn their dead relatives.'"
Note: I'll be attending a science fiction convention Saturday and Sunday, so unless the hotel has an Internet cafe I probably won't blog on Saturday. Then again, who knows?
The most dangerous idea on earth?

"According to Nick Bostrom's 'The Transhumanist FAQ', transhumanists believe 'that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase'. With the help of technology, we will be able to enhance our capacities far beyond their present state. It will be within our reach not only to live longer, but to live better.

[. . .]

"Transhumanists are utopians. They foresee a world in which our intellects will be as far above those of our current selves as we are now above chimpanzees. They dream of being impervious to disease and eternally youthful, of controlling their moods, never feeling tired or irritated, and of being able to experience pleasure, love and serenity beyond anything the human mind can currently imagine."

There's a definite thread of escapism running through transhumanist philosophy. And why shouldn't there be? "Escapism" is a loaded word, but it doesn't necessarily imply irresponsibility or naive wish-fulfillment (unless wielded by pundits with political axes to grind).

Who doesn't want to eradicate painful, debilitating (and potentially preventable) diseases? Who doesn't want to expand his or her mind? Who doesn't wish to become smarter or more capable?

A cancer patient who has a tumor removed has effectively "escaped" cancer, at least for the time-being. A person who utilizes a prosthetic device is "escaping," to a certain extent, the gross inconvenience of missing a limb. We are all escapists. If we had never chosen to escape the confines and dangers of our environment we never would have survived as a species; escapism is a virtue, and an expedient one at that.

I'm an unrepentant, unabashed transhumanist who finds nothing inherently sinister with using technology to better one's condition, be it cognitive or physical (if there is indeed a meaningful qualitative difference). The ideological barriers facing the transhumanist movement are epiphenomena, inconsequential on an evolutionary time-scale. And as we become increasingly adept at modifying that time-scale, spared the caprices of natural mutation and preventable catastrophe -- and who's to say what catastrophes aren't preventable, given sufficiently advanced intellectual and technological prowess? -- we become more a part of the Cosmos; we make the critical transition from mere inhabitants to co-conspirators.
Rise of the Plagiosphere

"The problem here is that while such rigorous and robust policing will no doubt reduce cheating, it may also give writers a sense of futility. The concept of the biosphere exposed our environmental fragility; the emergence of the plagiosphere perhaps represents our textual impasse. Copernicus may have deprived us of our centrality in the cosmos, and Darwin of our uniqueness in the biosphere, but at least they left us the illusion of the originality of our words. Soon that, too, will be gone."

Words are simply a means. If we reach a "textual impasse" then we will go about creating a new infrastructure for our ideas. Ultimately, we must "rub out the word" and graduate to a more intimate form of communication.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Oh, boy! More Seth Shostak! Thanks, "National Geographic"!
I took a quick look around a local garden. I need to come here more often.

I've discovered that most restful, scenic places are off the tour map entirely, yet not at all inaccessible if you know where -- or, more accurately, how -- to look.

The cutting edge:

Imagine the conspiracy theories just waiting to be extracted from these hermetic-looking tiles . . .

I went on an especially enjoyable walk this afternoon. Great weather. For once I wasn't thinking about much of anything -- just looking.

I encountered a female mime outside the coffeeshop. She was standing on hidden stilts and stood completely motionless, face averted. I felt oddly voyeuristic taking her picture, so I tipped her a dollar.

Occasionally she'd make slow, underwater gesticulations.

I took this next picture into the sun. My first inclination was to discard it, but I sort of like the effect; it makes her out to be angelic -- a mute love goddess enjoying a brief sabbatical on the material plane.

RFID Insights Editorial: The Ethos of Panic and Doom

"It seems as if the path to instant notoriety as a technology guru these days is to find fault -- real or imagined -- with some form of RFID. RFID is a hot topic and one that most people don't (or won't) understand, which makes it easy to misrepresent. So, for those who'd like to become an overnight celebrity, herewith, the 10 ten things you need to do to become a messenger of panic and doom."

I found this story posted on Bruce Sterling's blog and found it pretty hysterical in a geekish sense. Incidentally, I toyed with the looming specter of RFID identification not too long ago (in an ironic way, of course).

"What if the speed of light is a constant only most of the time? What if gravity sometimes pushed instead of pulled? Scientists are increasingly asking what would seem like far-out questions regarding the laws and rules of physics after discovering conditions and materials where the rules don't quite apply."
The 2020 vision of robotic assistants unveiled

"Several utility robots, including autonomous garbage collectors, vacuum cleaners and security guards, are already patrolling the wider Expo. But the Prototype Robot Exhibition gives academics and commercial researchers a chance to showcase a more distant vision of robot utopia. The exhibition features a mock-ups of homes, streets and workplaces from the year 2020 and more than sixty different types of robot will be exhibited."

By 2020, many -- if not all -- of the various critters on display here will be rendered laughably "retro" unless, of course, we're busy rebuilding a technological civilization after a no-holds-barred climate meltdown, nuclear war or biowarfare debacle . . . but that's crazy-talk, right?
Odd Spot on Titan Baffles Scientists

"'At first glance, I thought the feature looked strange, almost out of place,' said Dr. Robert H. Brown, team leader of the Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer and professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson. 'After thinking a bit, I speculated that it was a hot spot. In retrospect, that might not be the best hypothesis. But the spot is no less intriguing.'"
Paul Kimball has launched The Rense Watch, an admirable and overdue effort to track the depressingly frequent anti-Semitic vibes spread by late-night radio host Jeff Rense.

In Kimball's words: "Jeff Rense, on his radio show and at his website, www.rense.com, provides Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, and anti-Semites with a platform for their dangerous and despicable views. As a shield, Rense claims that he is merely defending their freedom of speech."

The Rense Watch is unlikely to win Kimball too many friends . . . or so it may seem. I hope I'm proven wrong.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This L-5 Society site features some fantastic concept art of self-sufficient space habitats. (I remember losing myself in some of these paintings when I was really young and naively assuming off-world colonies in my lifetime were more or less a given.)

There's a well-rounded collection of short fiction and science fact revolving around the space station theme called "Skylife," co-edited by Gregory Benford. It includes a great opener by Ray Bradbury, Greg Bear's "Wind From a Burning Woman" and others, as well as color illustrations. I highly recommend it; the last time I saw it was in Borders a couple years ago, marked down for clearance. Check your bargain rack.*

In reality, I think the first true large-scale space stations will look rather less than "cool," at least by design standards of the 1970s. I expect lunar colonies, for example, to look like plastic-shrouded refugee camps; already, Bigelow Aerospace is working on inflatable living modules for orbiting space stations. At first glance, such structures will seem markedly less substantial than Gerard K. O'Neill's famed designs. And they might, in fact, be less than glamorous compared to O'Neill's utopian visions of verdant, pastured fields and zero-gravity merry-makers. But they'll be our first true homes away from home, and as they proliferate they're bound to take on engaging new forms, like wildly mutating bacteria.

*For a good dystopian riff on O'Neill's designs, see John Shirley's "Eclipse."
I want to live here!
Solar 'Fireworks' Signal New Space Weather Mystery

"The most intense burst of solar radiation in five decades accompanied a large solar flare on January 20, shaking space weather theory and highlighting the need for new forecasting techniques. The solar flare occurred at 2 a.m. ET, tripping radiation monitors all over the planet and scrambling detectors on spacecraft within minutes. It was an extreme example of a flare with radiation storms that arrive too quickly to warn future interplanetary astronauts."
I've got the science fiction convention this weekend. I'm still not sure what my itinerary is. Truthfully, it doesn't really matter. Since I'm staying at the hotel, I'm relishing the idea of being able to sulk off to my room or hitting the pool when the costumed fans start getting to me.

I remember reading somewhere that SF conventions (or "cons," as they're generally called) are uniquely accepting of all kinds of ideologies and personalities. Maybe so, but they still make me feel like an alien.
Author/mathematician Rudy Rucker has enlarged a photo of a typical "orb," revealing internal detail and a passable (if fortuitous) face. I should point out that the only weird thing about "orbs" is the number of people who've managed to convince themselves they're somehow mysterious; this isn't simply wanting to believe -- it's flat-out desperation to believe, often facilitated by fringe personalities who should know better.

Whitley Strieber, for example, posts occasional "orb" pictures on his site with eerie commentary that suggests they're disembodied souls or earth-spirits or whatever -- no questions asked.

If pressed, Strieber and other believers will admit that some "orbs" can be explained as dust particles and lens flares, but that there's a percentage that defies explanation.

Show me one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Another doomed attempt to take a self-portrait . . .

. . . and another.

Here's a dragon I'm not sure I've consciously noticed before.

I found this obnoxious Hummer (emblazoned with the US flag and the Statue of Liberty) parked across the street. Fortunately it's some company's mobile advertisement, not a personal effort to Support Our Troops -- although the latter wouldn't surprise me for a minute.

Attitude adjustment . . .

A playful but sensible approach to possible biofutures

"Caccavale is currently showing in London myBio dolls, a series of educational dolls exploring the emergence of biological hybrids in biotechnologies, and our moral, social, cultural and personal responses to the strange and different in human biology and also 'transhuman' creatures."
Wormhole wanderers face a deadly dilemma

"So researchers had believed classical wormholes could serve as more practical portals through space-time. But in a paper recently published on an online preprint server, Buniy and Hsu show these classical objects are inherently unstable."

Personally, I think it's telling commentary on the scientific zeitgeist that we're now discussing "classical" wormholes without so much as batting an eye.

South Natomas Home Covered With Sheet Metal

"The D'Souzas said the bombardment began after the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that the radio waves have caused them health problems ranging from headaches to lupus."

And you thought your neighbors were obnoxious.

Sometimes after writing a bunch of posts I like to randomize the text with a little help from The Cut-up Machine. It's usually easy to spot a few interesting juxtapositions . . .

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An Occult Translation of the Roswell Event: Count down to 2012

"The crash and destruction of the sophisticated flying vehicle with occupants, according to reports, seemed an unplanned disaster. It is exactly because of this appearance that researchers speculated that American radar, used in missile tracking experiments at white Sands testing grounds near Roswell, some how brought the extraterrestrial vehicle down. However, if the message at Roswell is more than a strange mathematical coincidence, this would also suggest that the crash was staged and the vehicle's occupants sacrificed. By appearing as an accident, the last thing one would look for is a message deposited in the crash location itself."

As far-out as this essay is, I happen to agree that the Roswell Incident -- if it involved a nonhuman craft -- could very well have been deliberate . . . and not necessarily the work of alien suicide pilots. If a nonhuman presence wanted to draw attention to itself, the "sacrificial offering" of a UFO might have involved synthetic alien bodies. And intriguingly, some testimony suggests the aliens weren't organic in the usual sense, but (to use Dr. Robert Sarbacher's term) "instruments."

More interesting is this essay's contention that the Roswell crash conveys an esoteric message by referencing "33." I'm reminded of the declassified Air Force document that describes the crash of three flying discs -- each containing three humanoid occupants. Synchronicity or more alleged occult significance?
Naked yoga.
US military to build four giant new bases in Iraq

"US military commanders are planning to pull back their troops from Iraq's towns and cities and redeploy them in four giant bases in a strategy they say is a prelude to eventual withdrawal."

"A prelude to eventual withdrawal." In English: We're not going anywhere.
Rudy Rucker sings! And he sounds a little like Elvis Costello. (See link below the picture of the shallow eddies.) Incidentally, the first image features three (count 'em!) "orbs" -- digital artifacts thought by some to have paranormal significance.
'Pack ice' suggests frozen sea on Mars

"A frozen sea, surviving as blocks of pack ice, may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, suggest observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft. The sea is just 5° north of the Martian equator and would be the first discovery of a large body of water beyond the planet's polar ice caps."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Portugal to get world's first commercial wave farm

"OPD's Pelamis P-750 wage energy converter is an elongated metal unit that looks like a big semi-submerged sausage, with hinged segments that rock with the sea, up and down and side to side, pumping fluid to hydraulic motors that drive generators.

"The power produced by the generators is fed into underwater cables and brought to land where it enters the power grid." (Via KurzweilAI.net.)
2050 - and immortality is within our grasp

Futurist Ian Pearson: "We don't know how to do it yet but we've begun looking in the same directions, for example at the techniques we think that consciousness is based on: information comes in from the outside world but also from other parts of your brain and each part processes it on an internal sensing basis. Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that's what we're trying to design in a computer. Not everyone agrees, but it's my conclusion that it is possible to make a conscious computer with superhuman levels of intelligence before 2020." (Via The Anomalist.)

SETI guru Seth Shostak likes to quip (incorrectly) that getting here from another star system will take far too long for aliens to make the voyage. One of the many naive assumptions here is that intelligent aliens will be limited by biology -- a sentiment lifted directly from our own manned space program.

The exponential advance in computer technology is just one of the reasons I think we can expect extraterrestrials to defy SETI's quaint mold. Quite simply, they won't be alive in the familiar sense -- a prospect that threatens our ability to recognize them when we actually see them . . . and I think there's very good reason to think we already have.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

F.D.A. Considers Implant Device for Depression

"The pacemaker-like device, called a vagus nerve stimulator, is surgically implanted in the upper chest, and its wires are threaded into the neck, where it stimulates a nerve leading to the brain. It has been approved since 1997 for the treatment of some epilepsy patients, and the drug agency has told the manufacturer that it is now 'approvable' for severe depression that is resistant to other treatment.

"But in the only rigorously controlled trial so far in depressed patients, the stimulator was no more effective than surgery in which it was implanted but not turned on."
Ministry uses dinosaurs to dispute evolution

"Undaunted by considerable opponents, Ham's Answers in Genesis ministry is building a $25 million monument to creationism. The largest museum of its kind in the world, it hopes to draw 600,000 people from the Midwest and beyond in its first year.

"'When that museum is finished, it's going to be Cincinnati's No. 1 tourist attraction,' says the Rev. Jerry Falwell, nationally known Baptist evangelist and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va."

Get me the hell off this planet.
Major UFO Breakthrough in Brazil

"The nation of Brazil is relaxing its policy of UFO secrecy. It is the first among a number of countries known to be considering the idea of abandoning the secrecy mandate that has been in place worldwide since the phenomenon first began to be publicly known nearly fifty years ago."

So why am I less than excited?

Sure, the monographs about SETI and metaphysics are interesting, but it just wouldn't be Posthuman Blues without occasional barely clad women.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Heavenly . . .

(Found at Chapel Perilous.)
Fossil of Ice Age Armadillo Found in Peru

"Builders have found the fossil of a giant armadillo -- which lived up to 2 million years ago and would have been the size of a Volkswagen Beetle -- in southern Peru, an archeologist said on Thursday."

I bet it got great gas mileage, too . . .
Here's my hasty portrait of the "ShanMonster" (an insatiable blogger/bellydancer whose site typifies the "my life as novel" school of online journaling). I drew this a couple years ago and evidently she doesn't know the perpetrator.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Vanishing lake baffles Russians

"'I thought the Americans had got here,' she said, laughing." (Via The Anomalist.)

Probably The Chimp looking for more natural resources to exploit.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The end of SETI as we know it?

When I was doing radio spots promoting my book I was asked a lot of dumb questions, mostly in keeping with the David Bowie/Spiders from Mars theme. But I remember one particularly good question, I think by a DJ in Dublin. Essentially, he wanted to know what business I had writing a book on scientific subjects since I had no formal scientific background. (Unlike Richard Hoagland, who didn't graduate college, I can't claim experience as a planetarium director or advisor to Walter Conkrite, nor can I claim to have inspired NASA with the idea to include messages on deep-space probes.)

The gist of my answer was: Who exactly is qualified to assess candidate artifacts on the Martian surface? The stark truth is that there are no experts. There are no "working teams" exploring this possibility (with the exception of the Society for Planetary SETI Research, of which I'm a member). There's no grant money, no exo-archaeological funds on NASA's Mars exploration budget. Unfortunately, what we do have are lots of pseudoskeptics content to cling to dated "straw man" arguments in order to keep the status quo afloat -- even if that means misrepresenting or ignoring contradictory data.

It's not just Mars, of course. We've allowed a handful of people, foremost among them Seth Shostak and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, to become veritable ambassadors for the aliens they pretend to understand so well, despite a pronounced, utter failure to provide the hard evidence they claim is so vital. We're assured that aliens can't get here from there -- essentially because we have yet to get there from here using primitive chemically fueled rocket technology. We're treated to endless assurances that extraterrestrials will choose to communicate via radio (for a host of anthropomorphic reasons too numerable to explore in the available space).

Worse, SETI personalities tell us -- again and again -- that radio contact with ETs in inevitable, even imminent . . . and when the deadlines expire, the mainstream media dutifully forgets. Consequently, we're subjected to an intellectually vacuous false dichotomy between brash, self-proclaimed debunkers and equally brash believers, typified by the already-infamous Peter Jennings UFO special (which some commentators expected to break the UFO documentary mold for reasons still unclear to me).

But the edifice is cracking under an onslaught of fresh ideas and new discoveries. SETI's cult-like grip is slowly but certainly weakening as scientists dare to suggest alternative methods by which alien beings might contact us (assuming they want to). From messages grafted into our DNA to communiques wafted through space in the form of tangible artifacts (up to and including autonomous robots capable of building copies of themselves from raw materials), a chorus of vital new theories and revised assumptions about our role in the Cosmos has insinuated itself into the mainstream, posing a grave challenge to SETI and rocking our existential foundations.

I think the scientific community, for all its jaded self-assurance and adherence to brittle paradigms, is unconsciously tiring of SETI's charade. And who wouldn't? We've managed, against all odds, to grant a technocratic minority the right to effectively speak on our behalf, to tell us what to expect, to define the parameters of a universe we have yet to adequately map. Almost unbelievably, we've allowed the consuming question of extraterrestrial intelligence to become boring, the stuff of ha-ha sound-bites and rote dismissals of anyone inclined to dissent.

But we have reached a turning point. And the assumed "rules" have been revealed to be unexpectedly pliant, suggesting a galaxy vastly more colorful than that painted by SETI's equations.
I went to Watch Station to get a new battery. It turns out my watch contains three batteries -- one to actually power the mechanism (which is still keeping time just fine) and two to fuel the dragon animation. I could have paid an outrageous amount on the spot to have the dragon restored to its usual flame-gushing self, but since the watch is still perfectly functional I'll wait and buy the batteries at a drugstore and bear with the blank display.

The guy at the shop mentioned fancy Japanese watches with elaborate animation and graphics that could suck two nickel-sized batteries dry in as many months . . . the Hummers of time-pieces, apparently. I have yet to see one outside a William Gibson novel.
Terror! Terror everywhere!

FBI, ATF address domestic terrorism

"'The Department of Homeland Security spends over $40 billion a year to protect the home front,' Sen. Frank Lautenberg said. After listing al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, the Democrat from New Jersey wanted to know who else the law enforcement agencies considered terrorists: 'Right to Life? Sierra Club?'"
MGS Sees Mars Odyssey and Mars Express

"The MGS MOC is able to resolve features on the surface of Mars as small as a few meters across from its nominal 350 to 405 kilometers (217 to 252 miles) altitude. From a distance of 100 kilometers (62 miles), MOC would be able to resolve features substantially smaller than 1 meter across. Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL; Pasadena, California), Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC, Denver, Colorado), and Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS; San Diego, California) worked very closely together to acquire images of Mars Express and Mars Odyssey."

Last night the fire-breathing liquid crystal dragon that inhabits my wristwatch disappeared, apparently the victim of dwindling battery power. This morning he returned from the dead, but he has a faint, befittingly ghostly appearance.

I just thought you should know.
Robot swarms cloud nature

"In biology, swarming behaviours arise whenever there are large numbers of individuals that lack either the communication or computational capabilities required for centralised control. The Swarms Project brings together a cross-disciplinary team of researchers with expertise in artificial intelligence, control theory, robotics, systems engineering and biology. They will take cues from the sort of group behaviours that appear in beehives, ant colonies, wolf packs, bird flocks and fish schools. But the GRASP researchers are also working with molecular and cell biologists interested in the complicated signalling processes and group behaviours that go on inside and among cells." (Via KurzweilAI.net.)

I have a strong intuition this is the way to go if we're to eventually develop robots that think.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

End of the Wild

"Over the next 100 years or so as many as half of the Earth's species, representing a quarter of the planet's genetic stock, will either completely or functionally disappear. The land and the oceans will continue to teem with life, but it will be a peculiarly homogenized assemblage of organisms naturally and unnaturally selected for their compatibility with one fundamental force: us. Nothing -- not national or international laws, global bioreserves, local sustainability schemes, nor even 'wildlands' fantasies -- can change the current course. The path for biological evolution is now set for the next million years. And in this sense 'the extinction crisis' -- the race to save the composition, structure, and organization of biodiversity as it exists today -- is over, and we have lost."

Perhaps Michael Crichton can treat us to another heart-warming "it's all just a leftist conspiracy" novel. A little ignorance goes a long way.
Here we go with more "breaking" news from Whitley Strieber:

Google Map Mystery

"This is a confirmed unknown object in the air above a populated area in the United States, recorded sometime in 2005."

Sorry, Whitley. It's part of a map alignment grid. There are many more just like it. But hey -- if it helps sell more credulous books from your online store, go for it.
Forteans As Populist Intellectuals

"Most Forteans are decent and reasonable in their social attitudes and political instincts. However, there are also those in the Fortean community who nourish darker impulses, disquieting symptoms of the 'Ideology of Resentment', such as a weakness for anti-Semitic, anti-Masonic, anti-Jesuit, 'Illuminati', or 'New World Order' conspiracy theories. Syracuse University political scientist Michael Barkun, author of Religion and the Racist Right: Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (revised ed., 1997) and Disaster and the Millennium (1986), has described the bizarre, alarming subculture of UFO enthusiasts who also zealously believe in Jewish, Masonic, 'Illuminati', or 'New World Order' world domination conspiracy theories in A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003). He traces the print, radio, and Internet dissemination and popularization of such ufological and occult-tinged conspiracy theories by writers like David Icke, Milton William Cooper, 'Branton', and Jim Keith."

Add Jeff Rense to the list. The guy's a thinly closeted neo-Nazi with delusions of religious persecution (at the hands of "the Jews," naturally) and a porous mental barrier between political attitudes and outright anti-Semitism.

Or hadn't you noticed?
Bizarre Star Brightens Like Clockwork

"According to the researchers, there are three possible causes of WR123's habitual behavior: The star's own rotation could be to blame, although the speeds required would have the surface of WR123 moving at nearly 2,000 kilometers a second. The gravity from a closely orbiting star might cause regular fluctuations, but the object would have to be so close to WR123 that it would reside in the latter's own gas envelope. Finally, vibrations within the star's interior structure could be responsible for the variations in brightness, but if that's the case, many other theories about Wolf-Rayet stars would have to be reconsidered."

Stars artificially modified to function as beacons or stellar "landmarks"? Well, why not?

Film-maker and alarmingly level-headed UFO blogger Paul Kimball has posted an essay questioning the historical accuracy of Richard Dolan's "UFOs and the National Security State." The low-down: Dolan's a smart, likeable guy, but his book (the first volume in an exhaustive two-part study) gravitates toward unproveable and/or unwarranted conspiracy theories. Specifically, Kimball focuses on Dolan's treatment of the deaths of two prominent UFO researchers and finds it sensationalistic and academically unbecoming.

I agree -- to a point. "UFOs and the National Security State" is one of the best chronological overviews of the subject ever written. It's true, incidentally, that Dolan waxes conspiratorial; some of the deductive leaps in his book exceed the available data. Nevertheless, Dolan is honest and articulate enough to let the reader know when he indulges in speculation -- something too many writers about Weird Things are unable and/or unwilling to do. So I was able to read "Security State" without too many misgivings. For a book couched in a stew of Cold War paranoia, Dolan does a good job of avoiding most of the typical pitfalls; the conspiratorial allusions are forgivable, if imaginative -- not major impediments. Ufology is a field so rich with strangeness and tangled insider politics that there's little or no need to invent fantastic scenarios, and I think Dolan's book reflects his fundamental understanding of this.

That said, Kimball has sounded an astute word of caution for the uninitiated.
The future of the space-alien meme

Throughout history, the UFO phenomenon has been one step ahead of human capability. Our definition of the "other" has been quietly revised and reinvented in a parade of forms ranging from faerie folk to phantom airships to ghost rockets to NASA-esque flying saucers complete with alien "crew."

If we are in fact observing an unknown intelligence, it has proven remarkably adept at insinuating itself into the belief-structure of any given era, comfortably skating the razor's edge of plausibility. It implants itself in our collective unconscious, an abiding trickster that entices us with the possibility of catching up at the same time that it morphs into more fashionable disguises. The phenomenon is a constantly moving goal-post -- and we're largely amnesiac of any duplicity.

Whether we think we see an indigenous nonhuman species in our midst, as in the case of the Celtic faerie faith, or the comings and goings of eccentric aeronauts (the "impossible" airship sightings of the 1800s), we always think what we're viewing is genuine. Then, in a now-recognizable pattern, the performance changes. Since we invariably change alongside it, we fail to note that our visitors have merely upgraded their image to match prevailing notions. Thus, the most widely accepted exotic explanation for apparent alien craft in our skies -- the extraterrestrial hypothesis, with its Westernized nuts-and-bolts trappings -- is likely a facade.

If the UFO intelligence has been with the human species since prehistory, perhaps it's naive to assume the "aliens" will stick around in their present form once we've achieved their evident level of sophistication. If we can refrain from destroying ourselves, it's probable we will develop into a star-faring civilization. What then? The enigma and mythological luster of visiting space-aliens will have lost its appeal. If the UFO intelligence wants to continue interacting with us (for whatever reasons), it will be forced to adopt a new appearance; it will have to find a new mythical substrate in which to sow its memes.

That's assuming, of course, that humans a thousand years from now will still be blinkered by the capacity for belief. If we evolve into a "posthuman" state, as argued by a growing faction of thinkers in fields such as artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, there's no telling for certain how our perceptions will mutate to accommodate our new abilities. We may shed the dubious luxury of belief altogether . . . leaving the "ufonauts" stranded in the realm from which they originate, unable to continue their theatrical dialogue.

Or we may, finally, be able to discern the face behind the veil. As our technological prowess exponentiates, accompanied by a corresponding "physics of consciousness," today's perceived saucer-pilots may be rendered suddenly vulnerable. Equally disconcerting, we might find ourselves surrounded by newfound peers . . . if, of course, the phenomenon allows matters to progress that far.

Pioneering anomalist Charles Fort claimed that "we are property," a notion that seems disquietingly "Matrix"-like. But if Fort was right, we're not necessarily celestial chattel, doomed to an eternity of solipsistic antics. Our "visitors" may be our not-so-distant relatives, or even ancestors from some unimaginable future intent on nurturing their own historical time-line. (A time-travel hypothesis could help account for a variety of bizarre behavior associated with UFOs and paranormal visitation. Ultimately, it may make more sense to view the enigma as a concerted effort from the depths of time rather than an anthropological mission from deep-space; this may, in fact, be the ufonauts' most portentous secret, concealed by millennia of distraction and misinformation.)

Transhumanists speak in awed, increasingly confident tones of an imminent Singularity, beyond which forecasting the future becomes an exercise in futility. Elliptically enough, perhaps we're just now beginning to fashion the conceptual and technological tools that enable our visitors to operate in such consummate stealth.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

NASA offers prize for 'space elevator': Beams of light could propel cargo, humans

"Robot 'climber' vehicles, powered by laser-like beams of light that relay electricity from solar panels aboard the mother ship, would move up the ribbon, carrying fresh spools of nanotube ribbon up to the top. From there, smaller rockets would carry still more lengths of ribbon to a final point 62,000 miles up. At that point a massive counterweight would hold the entire ribbon in place as the earth's swift rotation keeps it taut -- much the way a rock at the end of a string stays taut when a kid whirls it around and around. The elevator could be used by relays of 'climbers' carrying entire spacecraft and supplies -- even with astronauts aboard -- that would hurtle into space, on to the moon, Mars or wherever, when they reached the top of the ribbon." (Via Beyond the Beyond.)

The cost? $10 billion. Compare that price to W's Iraq war, steadily ticking away before your very eyes on the sidebar . . . or, for that matter, the well-intentioned but next-to-useless International Space Station.
A World Without Depression

"Of course, some people romanticize depression and worry that we'll somehow lose something essential to our natures if depression is vanquished. I'd encourage those folks to read Kramer's essay, There's Nothing Deep About Depression. For myself, as someone who's seen depression utterly destroy the lives of several people I love, I'd be happy to see untreated depression made as obsolete as smallpox."

I agree . . . although there's something disquieting about a world without Morrissey.

"Each mug is covered with a map of the world. When you pour in a hot beverage, the mug shows what happens when the world heats up and the oceans begin to rise... Land mass disappears before your very eyes!"

They forgot the mushroom clouds!
Belief in sex-mad demon test nerves in Zanzibar

"Holidaymakers on the Indian Ocean islands tend to smile dismissively at accounts in guidebooks of the bat-like ogre said to prey on men, women and children. But for superstitious Zanzibaris a visit from the sodomising gremlin is no joke." (Via The Anomalist.)

I think this has the makings of a charming Disney animated movie.
On the origin of orgasms in women: Not evolution -- 'for fun,' expert says

"Rather, Lloyd says, the most convincing theory is one put forward in 1979 by Dr. Donald Symons, an anthropologist. That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts -- a byproduct of the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or nine weeks of life." (Via No Touch Monkey!)

Imagine -- as I suspect John Ashcroft has -- what society would be like if only men experienced orgasms. Ironically, I think women would be objectified much more than they are in reality, since to women sex would seem little more than a dreary necessity. Men, feeling emasculated, might retaliate by dehumanizing the opposite sex to such extremes that the misogyny and oppression found among religious extremists might appear quaint in comparison.

There might be a science fiction story here.
US scientists push for go-ahead to genetically modify smallpox virus

"One of the relaxations of the rules would allow small pieces of the virus' DNA to be distributed to laboratories around the world. Opponents say there is a serious risk that the pieces could be used in an artificial reconstruction of the virus, to be used in biological warfare."

And remember -- basement "gene hacking" is only a few years away.

Monday, May 16, 2005

This is "Mia," who I run into occasionally. Her computer has wi-fi. Mine doesn't. As luck would have it, my camera had enough memory for this shot . . . and then I chop the top of her head off. Typical.

And yes, she said I could post this. (Don't even think about asking me for her email address.)
Getting elemental . . .

Is it just me, or does that orange "pavement glyph" look a little like an early 90s crop design?

New review of "After the Martian Apocalypse" ("Mysteries" magazine):

"There has been an enormous amount of information written about the possibility that anomalies photographed on the Mars surface could be intelligently built. Mac Tonnies has taken on the unenviable task of presenting an updated look at the controversy. The result is a well-written, even-handed book that is sure to pique the interest of anyone even half-familiar with Martian anomalies.

"Besides Earth, out of all of the planets in the solar system, Mars was thought to be the most likely to harbor life. But when the first Mars probes began sending back close-up photos of the surface, scientists and dreamers alike were shocked to find a dry, crater-ridden planet, seemingly devoid of even the most rudimentary forms of life.

"However, these same photos also showed some unusual things scattered across the surface of the red planet, including formations of rocks that looked like pyramids and unusual tube-shaped features that snaked through vast canyons. As well, there were organic-looking objects that appeared to be giant trees or growths of coral. More importantly was a human face that appeared to be carved onto a hillside in an area of Mars called Cydonia.

"Since the first photos were published, there have been numerous books written about the anomalies, most of which have been either in favor of the ET hypothesis or completely skeptical. After the Martian Apocalypse, however, takes a refreshing look at these strange features and finds that a number are, indeed, natural formations or tricks of light and shadow. Life-on-Mars proponents should not despair, however, for Tonnies also finds that other Martian anomalies do appear to be intelligently constructed.

"Even though NASA has all but written off the Cydonian Face as a natural formation, Tonnies spends a great deal of time re-examining the photos and presenting evidence on why the face deserves closer inspection. Additionally, Tonnies insists that the features on Mars, if artificial, are not necessarily high-tech, as the civilization that built the Face may have been technologically equivalent to earthly Bronze Age societies. Yet there seems to be the impression that evidence of life beyond Earth is sure to plunge our society into social chaos. Maybe NASA just does not want to be the one responsible for instigating the collapse of our civilization.

"After the Martian Apocalypse makes a good point for scientific examination of the unknown, rather than presenting outright knee-jerk dismissals. As Tonnies points out, only by sending crewed missions to Mars will we be able to answer once and for all if Mars was once the home of intelligent life or simply another dead planet that is adrift in the darkness of space."
Surf's up!

Increase in 'Dead Zones' Starving the World's Seas

"It has arrived early; it's bigger than ever and it promises a summer of death and destruction. The annual 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico - starved of oxygen, and thus killing fish and underwater vegetation - has appeared earlier than usual this year." (Via Dark Planet.)
Inventing Our Evolution

"Traditionally, human technologies have been aimed outward, to control our environment, resulting in, for example, clothing, agriculture, cities and airplanes. Now, however, we have started aiming our technologies inward. We are transforming our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities and our progeny. Serious people, including some at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, consider such modification of what it means to be human to be a radical evolution -- one that we direct ourselves. They expect it to be in full flower in the next 10 to 20 years."

Of course, there's always the clown who Just Doesn't Get It:

"'Genetic engineering,' writes Michael J. Sandel, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard, is 'the ultimate expression of our resolve to see ourselves astride the world, the masters of our nature. But the promise of mastery is flawed. It threatens to banish our appreciation of life as a gift, and to leave us with nothing to affirm or behold outside our own will.'"

I beg to differ; I think precisely the opposite is likely to be true for the majority of posthumans.
China -- Environmental Leader?

"Geoffrey Lean writes in the Independent that China has stopped construction on 22 power plants and dams that were environmentally unsound. In order to decide which projects to curtail, the Chinese government asked the opinions of top scientists around the world."

Meanwhile, here in Jesusland . . .
Finally -- now's your chance to be a hero. I can't wait to get my own Sauceruney and Bsti action figures; I'll be the envy of every kid on the block!
Attack of the spambots!

I suppose it was only a matter of time; spambots have detected my blog's comments function and have begun making it difficult to create discussion threads regarding my posts. So I've been forced to enable comments only for registered Blogger users; I figure I spend enough time doing this without manually deleting ads for lord-knows-what. If you know of a better way, let me know.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

I innocently took a picture of the sidewalk this evening only to discover a luminous red mystery object in the grass! Close examination reveals an autonomous extraterrestrial drone, obviously intent on observing my activities!

Can anyone recommend a good aluminum foil wholesaler?
Damn, this looks like fun . . .
Here's the unfortunate result of taking a self-portrait in a fish-eye mirror. Check out the pensive expression and chalky skin. I look like I'm made out of dough. I think this qualifies as one of the most unrepresentative pictures of me ever taken.

(Is this what other people see? Good god!)
I walk by this entrance keypad all the time. Why not take a picture?

The requisite mannequin shot.

"There's too much caffeine in your bloodstream, and a lack of real spice in your life . . ."