Monday, October 31, 2005

Before it's too late: Happy Halloween, everybody!
Two More Moons Discovered Orbiting Pluto

While scientists had predicted there might be more moons, the newfound setup is surprising nonetheless, in part because Pluto is smaller than our own Moon.

"It's almost like a mini solar system," Weaver said. "How can something about 70 percent the size of Earth's Moon have all these satellites? How can that happen? We're going to have to explain that."
Defend yourself against the coming robot rebellion

A robot trying to find you will use thermal imaging based on the roughly 91-degree temperature of human skin, so smearing yourself in cool mud will confuse them. If being chased by an unmanned robot vehicle, flee to a rustic, unmapped area with lots of obstacles. If your robot "smart" house -- one wired with video surveillance and computer gear -- tries to trap you, chop your way out with an ax and don't take your cell phone, because the house will track you with it.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

The mystery of the eye

While watching NBC2 coverage of Hurricane Wilma about two dozen residents called the station reporting an unusual sighting. While watching a Doppler loop of Hurricane Wilma coming ashore, a number two appeared in the eye of the storm.

(Via Chapel Perilous.)

Weather-modification theorists are going to have fun with this one, assuming they haven't already.
I sense science fiction potential here . . .

(Link found at the ever-dependable Boing Boing.)
NASA report lays out the risks of exploring Mars

Top among those risks:

* Martian dust--its corrosiveness, its grittiness, its effect on electrical systems such as computer boards;
* possible Martian "replicating biohazards"--organisms dangerous either to the astronauts or for return to Earth;
* the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere, including dust storms, that might affect landing and takeoff;
* potential sources of water, especially crucial if the first astronauts were to stay on the surface longer than a month.

They left out the obvious menace posed by Bat-Rat-Spiders!
Take a look at this, ah, interesting bit on the unremarked link between oral sex and devout communism. And be sure to play the animation, all the while keeping in mind that North Korea has nuclear weapons.

Long live surreal Orwellian manifestos on sensual arousal!

I can't recommend "Song of the Greys," as I haven't yet read it, but it has a cool website.

(Speaking of which, Bob Lazar's official site is back online after a protracted hiatus.)
Bruce Sterling: The planet *is* an ark

The climate crimes we've already committed aren't much compared to what's coming down the pipe. It's pretty cynical to write off mitigation when we haven't as yet even tried it. It may well be that the roof is on fire, but that doesn't make it good policy to chop up the walls and floors and add them to the blaze.

Tell it, Bruce.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

For a "trick of light," the Face on Mars continues to look pretty damned face-like, as seen here in this new shot taken by the Mars Odyssey's THEMIS camera.
UFOs Seen All Over CA

Mars is in close opposition to earth right now, as close as it has been in 60,000 years. The fact that UFO sightings rise during Mars oppositions has been documented by the MUFON Journal. This is one of the few statistically consistent cycles in UFO observation.

This observation provokes several theories, all of them weird. In an earlier era, we might have ascribed increased UFO sightings during Mars oppositions to increased reconnaissance by Martian saucer-pilots. After all, our own Mars missions are slated to take advantage of Mars' close approaches; could the presumed Martians have a similar fixation with economy?

But the reported flight characteristics of UFOs tend to belie a Martian origin. Whatever they are, UFOs consistently defy the brute-force propulsion used to loft our probes (and eventually our astronauts) to other planets; I'd be shocked to discover that an advanced alien civilization living in our immediate solar neighborhood would rely on anything as feeble as rocket technology.

Jacques Vallee

Which leaves the enticing possibility that the intelligence behind the UFO phenomenon wants us to think it's from Mars. If researchers like Jacques Vallee are correct and UFOs are manifestations of a psychosocial conditioning system that antedates history, then we might expect all sorts of misdirection. Indeed, the annals of ufology are filled with accounts of bizarre humanoids divulging their native star systems to flummoxed witnesses. (Betty Hill's encounter with a peculiarly chatty "Gray" included a good look at a "star map," complete with galactic thoroughfares.)

The Eerie, Bizarre Sounds of the Saturnian System

Be ready for a goosebump or two as you feast your ears on some of the greatest sounds gathered during the exploration of the Saturnian system.

(Via Beyond the Beyond.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

World Wind 1.3:

Leveraging Landsat satellite imagery and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission data, World Wind lets you experience Earth terrain in visually rich 3D, just as if you were really there.

Virtually visit any place in the world. Look across the Andes, into the Grand Canyon, over the Alps, or along the African Sahara.

(Via Boing Boing.)

The Moon? You can go there, too.
Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights

Yet, what, if any, limits should be considered to human enhancement? On what grounds can citizens be prevented from modifying their own genes or brains? How far should reproductive rights be extended? Might enhancement reduce the diversity of humanity in the name of optimal health? Or, conversely, might enhancements inspire such an unprecedented diversity of human beings that they strain the limits of liberal tolerance and social solidarity? Can we exercise full freedom of thought if we can't exercise control over our own brains using safe, available technologies? Can we ensure that enhancement technologies are safe and equitably distributed? When are regulatory efforts simply covert, illiberal value judgments?

(Via Cyborg Democracy.)

Reading assignment: "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling.
Horse death mystery solved

A veterinary investigation has found that 16 horses, which were found dead and lying in a field last week, were killed by lightning.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mercury rising

The late autumn mild spell is set to deliver one of the warmest October days on record, with temperatures in some parts of the country predicted to rise to 23C on Thursday.

The trouble is, record-beating climate conditions seem to crop up with such remarkable frequency these days, it's almost easy to be blase about such things.
Meet the Sloganizer!
Woudn't it be great if your fingers had fingers? And so on?

(Link found at Grow-a-Brain.)

Hans Moravec predicts that robots with similar appendages, able to manipulate matter at the molecular level, will supersede humanity. And in "Engine City," Ken MacLeod envisions their biological counterparts.

I was scribbling notes for science fiction story ideas (on a cardboard java jacket, since nothing else was handy) and found myself meme-splicing the "zones of thought" from Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" with the homey practicality of Wi-Fi hotspots.

Basically, the idea is that different social groups -- not necessarily defined by geography -- broadcast high-bandwidth "feeds" that are automatically detected, routed and processed by the augmented brains of anyone passing through.

Take language. A non-French-speaking tourist could visit France and suddenly find him- or herself speaking the native tongue fluently. But the applications can be far more potent, even threatening entrenched notions of what constitutes "self." So it logically follows that a lot of people will set up neural firewalls to protect themselves from personality-altering networked "feeds" while continuing to enjoy Mind-Fi's limitless conveniences.

But all might not be pleasant:

The subliminal undertow of the mindfeed felt like a layer of gelatin lubricating every conscious thought; factoids and assumptions rose to the surface of awareness unbidden only to dissolve once expressed. "Like gnats," he thought, leaning into his augmented exosuit. "Digital mayflies canvassing my synapses and quietly expiring." The notion weighed on his conscience. He imagined the husks of dead insects clinging to the warm, wet lining of his skull, impervious to decay.

He shook his head as if to dislodge them; the exosuit amplified the motion and would have jarred his sense of balance had he not opted for modification prior to boarding the geosynch tether. Slowly, his limbs relaxed into their programmed routine.

Sudden bilocation racked his senses: He was a thing of temperamental flesh, head full of arcane machinery. At the same time, we was pure thought, seamlessly encased in factory-fresh piezoplastics and discreet pneumatics.
Hurricanes So Strong They Need a New Definition

Due to global warming, which heats up the surface of the tropical waters where hurricanes form, hurricanes are becoming stronger than ever -- so strong, in fact, that scientists say we need a new way to categorize them.

Imagine a not-too-distant future Earth besieged by a perpetual storm akin to Jupiter's Great Red Spot. I'm serious. Might cyclonic storms represent a form of life, however minimal? Is the Red Spot a gargantuan organelle? Admittedly, it's difficult to anthropomorphise -- let alone sympathize with -- something as unremittingly destructive as a super-hurricane; then again, we waste little time worrying about the plight of many animal species.

Life isn't a "thing"; it's a pattern. As such, a self-sustaining hurricane or tornado seems to fulfill at least the basic definition of "life." It "seeks" to persist. It "responds" to its environment. It even "reproduces," albeit asexually.

I've even started a short-story in which massive, self-aware cylcones have eclipsed humans as Earth's dominant species, forcing survivors to seek shelter deep underground amidst the remains of a once-thriving biotech industry. But I stopped writing when I realized the heroine would eventually have to confront Earth's inscrutable new overlords. After all, how exactly does one communicate with a weather pattern, however evolved?

Science fiction writers delight in crafting thoroughly nonhuman aliens, but most of the time they're at least palpably flesh-and-blood (or the xenobiological equivalent). Surprisingly, we might have more in common with sapient whirlwinds than we might think; the human form, viewed in four dimensions, is essentially an ever-changing amalgam of molecules, as fleeting and tenuous as the winds that conspire to form a funnel-cloud. The atoms in our bodies are constantly replenished, effectively "teleporting" us in to the future with every breath. We are patterns. So maybe we have some common ground with my fictional cyclones after all, and dialogue isn't as impossible as it might seem.
Jury acquits man of killing professor

Daneen Milam, a defense expert who said Ngai was insane, said the number of wounds on Martin's head, which left a deep hole in her skull, showed he was focused on something other than just killing Martin.

"He said he was getting a computer chip out," Milam testified. "He said that's what he was going to do. When he couldn't do it, he called the police to help him."

(Via Exploding Aardvark.)

As we enter a new era of "spimes" and omniscient RFID surveillance, we invite a host of new psychopathologies.

In plain English: I'm afraid we're going to be seeing more of this sort of thing.
Ice Beneath Mars Is Asking, "Can You Hear Me Now?"

In August 2003, as the twin Mars Exploration Rovers were barreling toward Mars in their flying saucers, scientists and engineers sent a radio signal disguised as the rovers' "voice" to the Odyssey orbiter at Mars. The call to Odyssey was what Dr. John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover Science Manager, defines as a "can-you-hear-me-now?" test. Scientists and engineers wanted to ensure the UHF (ultra-high frequency) radio system on Odyssey, a primary communications relay between the rovers and Earth, would work. Odyssey responded with a resounding yes, and something else from Mars responded too . . . .

The last I checked, if we melted all the ice on Mars we'd have an ankle-deep planet-wide ocean. And that's just the ice we know about.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Never-developed film yields never-before-seen images. Beautiful.

(Found at Boing Boing.)

I found this photograph,
Stashed between the old joist walls,
In a place where time is lost,
Lost behind, where all things fall
Broken books and calendars,
Letters script in careful hand,
Music too, a standard tune by
Some forgotten big brass band

--R.E.M. with Natalie Merchant, "Photograph"

I wathed Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" last night for the first time in years. What a perfectly terrifying movie.

Supernatural: Meetings With The Ancient Teachers Of Mankind (by Graham Hancock)

To have established the role of hallucinations as the inspiration for cave art is one thing [. . .] But to understand what hallucinations really are, and what part they play in the overall spectrum of human experience and behaviour, is another thing altogether, and neither Lewis-Williams nor any other scientist can yet claim to possess such knowledge, or to be anywhere near acquiring it. Gifted and experienced shamans the world over really do know more – much more – than they do. So if we were smart we would listen to what the shamans have to say about the true character and complexity of reality insteadof basking mindlessly in the overweening one-dimensional arrogance of the Western technological mindset.

Hancock goes on to ask what, to my mind, is one of the Big Questions of the human experience:

What is the significance of the astonishing similarities between the entities known as "aliens", ET's" or "greys" in modern popular culture, the entities known as "fairies", "elves" and "goblins" in the Middle Ages, and the entities that shamans in surviving tribal cultures know as "ghosts", "gods" and "spirits"? Why are such figures also depicted in prehistoric art as far afield as Africa, Europe, the Americas and Australia?

I wonder if the machinations of an interdimensional intelligence are more likely than ET contact; the closer we look, the weirder the universe gets . . .

Is there another world in the mirror, Case physicist asks

Krauss concludes the book with a discussion of something even more exotic than the possibility of six or seven extra microscopically small extra dimensions. This involves the recent theoretical discovery that some or all of these dimensions could in fact be infinitely large and still remain hidden, a discovery that was made in part by one of Krauss' former doctoral students.

I'm drawn to the possibility that we inhabit one of potentially infinite "nested" cosmologies inhabited by all manner of entities, some of which can project themselves into our own for reasons that remain obscure.

This out-take from Rudy Rucker's forthcoming SF novel "Mathematicians In Love" addresses similar suspicions:

"Your jellyfish's cable generates one after another of your parallel universes," added Tanya. "And the series of universes is what we call a hyperverse. It's like successive drafts of a novel."

"She doesn't generate universes," objected Mulvane. "She indexes regions of space. The so-called parallel universes are simply different zones of one very, very, very large shared space. Occam's Razor. There's no need to multiply the realities, no need for mysto steam. One mammoth reality has room for all the monkeys on all the typewriters."
Six-seat spacecraft top of Russian space plan

Russia's new plan also states aims to send a robotic probe to Phobos, one of Mars's moons.

Remember the last time they tried that? As it approached, the probe photographed an unknown object and quickly became space-junk.

Click here for more Phobos weirdness courtesy Efrain Palermo.
Close encounters of the mind kind

The findings were backed by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, who suggested claims of alien contact were derived from a desire to believe in extra-terrestrial life.

"It's some kind of instinctive need to link up with life outside Earth, but the experiences that are recorded by these people are factors of the imagination. They have had the sensation of an encounter, but it can not be quantified or substantiated."

I got an interesting-looking book called "Song of the Greys" in the mail yesterday. It purports to explain the origins of the diminutive, big-headed creatures synonymous with "abduction." It's probably a one-way passport to Believerville, but I wouldn't be surprised if scientists like Wickramasinghe are overlooking something critical.
Town baffled by deaths of 22 horses

Authorities are considering everything from poisonous weeds to a lightning strike to explain two incidents this month that have killed 22 horses and have residents in the ranching town of Calhan on edge.

Could have been weirder. Could have been 23 horses.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Eco-architect lays down green roots

Building rules stated that, to protect the view and space between the Victorian buildings next to his property, no building on the plot of land could exceed the six-foot wall surrounding it.

This spurred Michaelis to design a unique house, by digging down and incorporating environmentally friendly technology into the design.

Michaelis, who is a self-confessed "greenie" and drives an electric car, told CNN that while the building incorporated eco-friendly technology and design, its main purpose was to be a family home.

(Via Dr. Menlo.)
Could this thing be the nest "WWJD?" bracelet?

(Thanks to Engadget.)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oh, this is too cute:

Disaster? It's Hummer Time

And they said Felix and Oscar were an odd couple. The Red Cross, symbol of compassion, caring, and altruism, is teaming up to promote the Hummer, the symbol of capitalism, environmental insensitivity, and ostentation.
Global Storm Warning

How many killer hurricanes will it take before America gets serious about global warming? It's hard to imagine a more clear-cut wake-up call than Hurricane Katrina; environmentally speaking, it was nearly the perfect storm. In a single catastrophic event, it brought together the most urgent environmental problem of our time--global warming--with the most telling but least acknowledged environmental truth: When the bill for our collective behavior comes due, it is invariably the nonwhite, nonaffluent members of society who pay a disproportionate share. And who said Mother Nature has no sense of irony? Katrina (and then Rita) struck at a major production site for America's oil and natural gas--the two carbon-based fuels that, along with coal, help drive global warming.

Meanwhile . . .

Mega Truck Dwarfs SUVs

Now here's a truck for those who want roomy comfort and a clear sight line over the vehicles driven by mere mortals. The Dodge 2006 Ram Mega Cab has plenty of room for 6 adults, and includes amenities such as a sun roof and DVD player.

The heavy-duty version comes with a turbocharged 5.9-liter six-cylinder Cummins diesel engine providing 325 horses. At 247 inches long, the Mega Cab is about one-third longer than the Hummer H1, and it is almost as heavy.
Sensations Rise around 25-centimeter Dwarf of Kerman

"Regarding the rumors and the sensitivity of the issue of the existence of an ancient dwarf city in Kerman province, the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Kerman has asked for more anthropological studies to end the rumors," says Hossein Rashidzadeh, an official with the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Kerman.

(Via The Anomalist.)

Very Lovecraftian . . .
Hubble Gazes at the Moon

NASA has turned the Hubble Space Telescope at our closest neighbour to help scout out potential landing sites. In addition to being incredibly powerful, Hubble is sensitive to ultraviolet light, which is reflected off of surface materials on the lunar surface. This will allow scientists to identify areas abundant in titanium and iron oxides, which would provide oxygen and metals for future lunar bases. Hubble's resolution is still only 50-100 metres, so it can't reveal Apollo spacecraft still on the Moon.

Readers can be helpful, and one just wrote in to inform us of a link that we had never imagined - Donald Rumsfeld, until he resigned and joined the Bush Administration, was the chairman of something called Gilead which just happened to make something called Tamiflu.

The Bush administration appears to be filled with more diverse and eclectic links than Wikipedia.
Beyond Human

In the novel, when an acolyte witnesses a murder that, if revealed, could derail the cult's DNA experiments, the chief geneticist orders her thrown from a cliff. He feels no shame, nor does the narrator see any reason why he should. "What he was trying to do," Daniel1 writes, "was to create a new species, and this species wouldn't have any more moral obligation toward humans than humans have toward lizards."


Uh-oh: The evil, soullessly pragmatic posthuman meme makes yet another appearance. Hasn't it occurred to any naysayers that we magage to do a bang-up job of ignoring "moral obligations toward humans" without the assistance of transhumanist technology?

In fact, I'd argue that the technocratic monsters described in the excerpt above are among us right now. We call them corporate executives.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Selective logging may have doubled Amazon damage

Damage to the Amazon rain forest may be twice as large than previously thought due to undetected "selective" logging, U.S. and Brazilian forest experts reported on Thursday.

[. . .]

The report, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science, showed that the size of the damaged forest, taking into account selective logging, was between 60 percent and 128 percent higher than the officially deforested area between 1999 and 2002.

(Via No Touch Monkey!)
I've been out all day. Let's see what I've missed . . .

Britain: Bird Flu Is Deadly H5N1 Strain

While H5N1 is easily transmitted between birds, it is hard for humans to contract. But experts fear it could mutate into a form of flu that is easily transmitted between humans and cause a pandemic that could kill millions.

Strengthening Wilma Barrels Toward Florida

"I cannot emphasize enough to the folks that live in the Florida Keys: A hurricane is coming," Gov. Jeb Bush said. "Perhaps people are saying, 'I'm going to hunker down.' They shouldn't do that. They should evacuate, and there's very little time left to do so."

Looting Breaks Out in Mexico After Wilma

"It's chaos," said fire official Gregorio Vergara. "They are taking things all over the city."

Not much.

Comrade Paul Kimball (The Other Side of Truth) is in the midst of scaring up a vampire movie called "Eternal Kiss." And he's blogging the process, scene-by-scene.

That's so cool it's frightening.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

NASA shake-up part of strategy to revisit moon

"To do this, you do need to be a rocket scientist," Griffin said. "The managers we had in place were not in my judgment what we needed for the change of direction we wanted to take."

It's almost surreal to see NASA mutate -- and kind of exciting, even though I know damned well the Moon-Mars initiative is about space militarization.
These pictures have been languishing on my hard drive for a while. The first shows me taking a picture of a very expensive mirror; the second rather speaks for itself.

Eno's bells cast a spell on park life

He chose the park of the Altar of the Sun for a musical installation partly because of the old people, whom he saw dancing, exercising, singing, strolling, chatting and playing cards, and partly because it was the quietest place he had ever visited in a large city. To create music in such a tranquil spot posed particular challenges, he said. "It's very dangerous to add music to a quiet place. People like quiet places because they're quiet."

So he searched for a sound that was not exactly music, would not "break" the silence but would instead intensify it. His answer was the bell.

(Via Exploding Aardvark.)

The world needs more Brian Enos.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is Already Breaking Records!

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter set the record for interplanetary missions, sending back the most data in a single day!

An unprecedented amount of data - the equivalent of 13 CDs - was returned by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission in a single day! NASA's latest mission to Mars sent 75 gigabits of data back to Earth from millions of miles away, including beautiful pictures of the Moon.

Boy, those NASA PR boys sure like exclamation points.
My apartment feels like a fucking meat-locker. This, dear readers, is the price you pay for "All Utilities Paid."

I went to the Kemper today. The main attraction was a series of massive black suspended sculptures that reminded me of scabrous industrial jellyfish. Very dire and conceptual.

A flatscreen was hyping the computer-animated version of a new sculptural installation: something like the Hamburger Helper oven-mitt gone grotesquely awry after a run-in with David Cronenberg. I can see Kansas Citians balking at the real thing once it's completed -- and there's nothing quite as funny as art-wary Kansas Citians.

What's playing:

1.) Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (The Cure)
2.) Fables of the Reconstruction (R.E.M.)
3.) Mask (Vangelis)
4.) You Are the Quarry (Morrissey)
5.) Out of Season (Beth Gibbons of Portishead)
Storm experts make cloud vanish

"It is the moisture that gives hurricanes their strength," says Peter Cordani who runs Dyn-O-Mat, the company that makes the product. "In the case of a huge hurricane, we would not be trying to soak it up altogether. But what we would do is break it up and reduce its strength and killing potential. We think we can save lives with this product and we are very happy about that."

(Thanks to Razorsmile/Variable Gravitas Content.)

This form of "cloud-killing" involves lots and lots of moisture-absorbing particles. Supposedly they're biodegradable and non-toxic, and they probably really are. But wouldn't it be ironic if they caused, like, a pandemic or poisoned the water supply? Kind of an Kurt Vonnegut's "Ice-9" situation, in which an effort to make mud navigable to military vehicles ends up offing the planet.
I'm fiddling with the start-page at Take a look.
Out-of-this-world sex could jeopardise missions

Ellison says NASA should study the likely effects of taking couples up on long missions, as well as issues of sexual orientation and fertility. She suggests individual differences in sex drive could also be used to choose crews for Mars missions.

The last time I read anything on the sex-in-space issue, NASA was considering using some kind of anti-aphrodisiac.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Young Singers Spread Racist Hate

"We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white," said Lynx. "We want our people to stay white . . . we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."

(Via Mondolithic Sketchbook.)

Oh my god -- Zogg lives!
"Cythera," an excellent postcyberpunk novel by Richard Calder.

Outside, trees fastened with rubberized nooses as if in preparation for an impending arboreal execution.

The kids' area features this set of fairly high-powered binoculars for eavesdropping on the never-ending flow of SUVs outside. That globe-chair is pretty cool, too.

Stools in the art room.

Detail of a ring-shaped sculpture composed of lots of devalued hardback books. From a distance it looks like some unlikely molecule.

The tables are equipped with handy plug-ins for "voltage rustlers." I see a lot of laptops there, many much nicer than mine.

Window-seat. (My camera's fish-eye effect is plainly visible in this one. If anyone asks, I meant for it to look that way.)

Meeting adjourned.

Here are some pictures from the Wi-Fi-enabled library next-door.

This cow was one of many that thronged the area as part of the much-hyped "Cow Parade" a few years ago. (I heard that David Lynch had created a cow for NYC, only for residents to complain that it was "disturbing.")

I decided to leave my mark on a blackboard-table in the kids' section:

This thing looks comfortable. (You can't tell in the picture, but I could easily curl up and take a nap on it.)

Site of the day: A Brief History of the Apocalypse

(Thanks to Chapel Perilous.)
SETI and the Cosmic Quarantine Hypothesis

There may be many highly evolved civilizations in our galaxy, and some of them may even be the interstellar colonies of others. They may control technologies vastly more powerful than ours, applied to purposes we can scarcely imagine. But Harrison's regulatory mechanisms should preclude any relentless wave of colonization from overrunning and cannibalizing the Milky Way.

This essay fails to note the ways in which the UFO phenomenon appears to dovetail with a self-regulating "quarantine." My ufological working hypothesis holds that a nonhuman intelligence -- possibly but not necessarily extraterrestrial -- is waging a patient memetic campaign in order to prevent us from becoming an aggressive cosmic cancer later in our evolution.
Shadow People

But by almost any definition, shadow people are somewhat different than ghost phenomena. Whereas ghost apparitions are almost always a misty white, vaporish or have a decidedly human form and appearance (very often with discernable "clothing"), shadow beings are much darker and more shadow-like.

You know, the Grays were bad enough. Now these guys.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

How consummately steampunk!
Hoax or not, this science fiction story is pretty funny.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Just like a woman

Go ahead. Flinch at the notion of a man having sex with an imitation woman and classify him: Lonely loser. Pathological creep. Misogynist. Potential rapist. Sicko. True enough, some men who have sex with Real Dolls are creepy -- not the kind of guy you'd want to be alone with -- and many are tragically lonely. But some defend their Real Doll fetish as being no different than a 3-D version of a Playboy centerfold.

(Via Boing Boing.)

This is way too much like stashing in a corpse in my house, thanks very much. But at least it reaffirms my pet theory that recreational sexbots will play a significant role in financing the first phases of "more human than human" android technology.
Tenants Find Alien Protection Device Upon Move-In

A home in eastern Iowa no longer has the power to scare off underground aliens.

Police have taken away a device from a home in Davenport after its new tenants discovered a box containing what they thought was a bomb.

Maybe I should add this to my list of things to buy for Seth Shostak. After all, an overt appearance by extraterrestrials will be, at best, troubling to SETI dogma. Seth just might want them to go the hell back where they came from.
This engaging "op-ed" piece passed my desk today:

Intelligent Design On An Another Planet?

Imagine finding a planet where robots are programmed so that they can make other robots just like themselves from raw materials.

Now, imagine an alien visitor coming to the planet and, after many years of studying these robots, coming to the conclusion that since science can explain how these robots work and function there's no reason to believe that there was an ultimate intelligent designer behind them.

What little philosophical muster this article begins with rapidly loses steam. By the closing paragraphs, we're left with a puddle of noxious rhetoric:

Science cannot prove we are here by either design (creation) or by chance (evolution), but students should have full information available to decide which position science best supports.

An organization of highly qualified scientists, The Institute for Creation Research has published some excellent books supporting faith in intelligent design for life and the universe.

Meanwhile, the Vatican chews the metaphysics of converting extraterrestrials to Christianity. And we wonder why there has been no open contact.
Round three has begun . . .

Forecasters Fear Wilma's Effect on Fla.

Visitors were ordered out of the Florida Keys on Wednesday as Hurricane Wilma briefly exploded into the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, with meteorologists warning that it could maintain devastating power as it crosses Florida from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic.

Wilma Grows at Record Speed

Hurricane Wilma grew with unprecedented speed on Tuesday, moving from Category 2 to Category 4 in an hour, then to Category 5 in another 2 hours. This massive storm now has sustained winds of 175 miles an hour, and appears to contain the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded.

I wonder: Will we choose to fight back in a meaningful way or will "freak" weather onslaughts join the already sprawling list of cruel disorders to which we've managed to adapt?
Britain should put astronauts on Moon, Mars

The report says that human expeditions could help solve profound scientific questions such as the history of the solar system and the existence of life beyond Earth, and would also boost British industry and inspire future achievement among children.

(Via Mondolithic Sketchbook.)

The more the merrier!
Climate Model Sees Extreme Future

It's something of an article of faith among the remaining holdouts denying the existence of global warming that computerized climate models, as they abstract aspects of the climate, are essentially useless -- and (implicitly) if they had more details, they'd show that all was right with the world. Unfortunately, as our modeling methods and technologies have gotten better, quite the opposite has occurred.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cyborg cells sense humidity

"As far as we know, this is the first report of using microorganisms to make an electronic device," says Ravi Saraf, a chemist from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who developed the 'cellborg' with his student Vikas Berry.


I suppose the fact that I find this extremely cool makes me a confirmed geek.
Mission to Venus Will Help Defeat Global Warming

Steve Connor writes in the Independent that the European Space Agency (ESA) is scheduled to send the first spacecraft to Venus on October 26. Unlike Bush government scientists, climatologists in Europe are greatly concerned about global warming, which will lead to the gulf stream dropping back. The gulf stream brings warm weather to Europe, especially to the UK, which would otherwise have a climate like that of Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, the US and China are mainly interested in colonizing the moon for its valuable Helium 3 fuel.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Pictures, Part Two

Pictures, Part One

Would-be fathers pollution threat

During the periods of higher air pollution sperm quality went down significantly. When the air quality improved, so did the quality of the sperm.

The study authors said this suggested that the pollution was affecting mature sperm late in their development, damaging the DNA.

This falls firmly under my "things that are only going to get worse" list.
No Embryos Lost to New Stem Cells

Scientists and ethicists said the approaches offered a potential compromise with social conservatives who see embryonic stem cell research as an untenable trade-off that amounts to destroying life to create medical cures.

Here's the score:

The fear spawned by stem cell research has never been about bioethics; it's a simple gut-level expression of the human aversion to "playing God." The "social conservatives" in question are antithetical to human betterment and can never be placated, despite their political posturing.
This week's sampling from the Mondolithic portfolio reveals a future I'd be really comfortable living in. I just wish I could believe in it.
China's pair of spacemen land safely

Soon after the taikonauts touched down at 0433 local time (2033 GMT on Sunday), Tang Xianming, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, announced that the next crewed mission would take place in 2007 and would include a spacewalk.

Then, some time in the period between 2009 and 2012, he said, two spacecraft would dock in orbit, in preparation for establishing a permanent space station.

The new space race has started, and it's only going to get better.
Mars rover lab in Calif. to cut jobs, missions

Canceled were the Prometheus mission to explore the icy moons of Jupiter, and the 2009 launch of a Mars telecommunications orbiter.

The job losses were not related to President George W. Bush's goal of returning astronauts to the moon and setting up a moon base as a waystation for deeper space travel, Baggett said.

I think that last paragraph is bullshit. But if something has to go, maybe it's best that unmanned probes take a backseat to human exploration. Ultimately, human expansion in space will enable unmanned ventures that are quite beyond our present ability.
One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals

"It might come as a surprise to many people that in the U.S. patent system human DNA is treated like other natural chemical products," said Fiona Murray, a business and science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a co-author of the study.

Remember the Onion bit about Microsoft patenting ones and zeroes?
I must remember to buy one of these for Seth Shostak . . .

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I've decided to abandon the Cydonian Imperative's Blogger incarnation and resume posting Mars news at the original location at Please update your bookmarks accordingly.
Researcher Takes Aim at Alien Abductions

Clancy is bracing for a fresh round of hate mail once her book, "Abducted: How People Come To Believe They Were Kidnapped By Aliens," is published by Harvard University Press later this month.

Those who believe aliens are among us haven't taken kindly to her theory that abductees have created "false memories" out of, she writes, a "blend of fantasy-proneness, memory distortion, culturally available scripts, sleep hallucinations, and scientific illiteracy."

(Via The Anomalist.)

I sympathize, but I don't necessarily agree. While sleep paralysis and fantasy-prone personalities certainly account for a sizeable bulk of abduction accounts, they fail to address the complexity of the phenomenon.

For example, ufologists repeatedly tell us of inexplicable "missing" pregnancies -- ostensibly the work of alien gynecologists working to create a strain of human-ET hybrids. If something even vaguely like this is occurring, an extraordinary investigation is urgently needed. Unallied researchers should be able to peruse medical documents and "abductees" should have a means of reporting their experiences that guarantees complete anonymity. (The prospect of anonymity, while not without its share of problems, should at least help stifle bogus reports by attention-seekers.)

If otherworldly beings are indeed "kidnapping" human subjects on the scale suggested by investigators such as Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs, then we can only hope to address a slender portion of the enigma. But if abductions are much rarer, which seems likelier, it should be within our ability to mount a systematic study that integrates oral recollection with verifiable medical anomaly in an effort to seek meaningful correlations.

Thus far, this approach has been forsaken in favor of fulfilling the various belief systems that have infected the UFO "research" culture -- which has grown to encompass mainstream skeptics. Sadly, I see no obvious way out of this intellectual cul-de-sac.
Global warming on Mars?

Recently, there have been some suggestions that "global warming" has been observed on Mars [. . .] These are based on observations of regional change around the South Polar Cap, but seem to have been extended into a "global" change, and used by some to infer an external common mechanism for global warming on Earth and Mars [. . .] But this is incorrect reasoning and based on faulty understanding of the data.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I just got back from canvassing my immediate neighborhood for free wireless Internet service. To my disappointment, I discovered the "free" Wi-Fi I enjoyed yesterday from the patio at Starbucks was an accident; I actually went inside this evening and was routed to the Starbucks wireless start-page, which informed me access was pay-per-hour. No better at Barnes & Noble, where I diplomatically purchased a fruit drink and attempted to log in.

In any case, my naive vision of free wireless hotspots waiting to be tapped has been thoroughly smashed. I think the only legitimately free wireless source in my vicinity is the library across the street. And it closes at six on Saturdays.

A friendly security guard suggested that, technically, leeching Wi-Fi after-hours was frowned upon, but as long as I stayed reasonably far away from the front doors I'd be OK. So I skirted the perimeter of the building, trying to look inconspicuous. I ended up sitting on a metal bench at the roadside watching insects flit among the streetlamps and picking up sporadic service, vaingloriously determined to steal some Net access and ignoring the occasional odd glance from passing cars.
Last night I dreamed I met up with Ray Kurzweil in a bookstore, where he had reserved a copy of his own "The Singularity Is Near." He had somewhere to go, and I accompanied him in his "car," which was like some piece of minimalist abstract sculpture, or something from a Dr. Seuss book. Locomotion was accomplished by leaning into the "chairs," which changed position depending on how fast we traveled.

I don't know where we were going, or if we got there. Maybe we were on our way to a rendezvous with the Singularity . . .
Bruce Sterling discovers that Halloween decorations have gone cyberpunk.
One of my all-time favorite crop glyphs is now available in convenient wearable form.

Fascinated by aberrant physiology? Click here for a quick fix.

The number of accessory or supernumerary glands varies: three pairs in one case, five milk-secreting organs in another, and eight glands in both sexes (1-2% of females and males) have been recorded. They are often asymmetrically placed and not uniformly developed. Comparative studies of the mammae in "lower animals" and the disposition of the supernumerary organs in the human subject suggest the probability that remote human ancestors normally possessed more than two glands; the occasional occurrence of the variant mammae in positions anticipated by the milk-ridges, rudimentary organs sometimes occupy very unusual locations, including the back, lateral thorax, neck, shoulder, inner aspect of the arm, axilla, buttocks, hip, thigh and labium majus.

(Via Aberrant News.)

How very Cronenbergian. And quite possibly a foretaste of future biotech fashions; we're probably only a few years from extra nipples being all the rage.

And then comes the era of cosmetic transgenics: humans endowed with suction cups, pincers, antennae, tails, exoskeletons, extra eyes, chromatophores. Within a decade or two we may be steeped in a "biopunk" milieu -- and not all of the modifications will be pure whimsy. It's not terribly difficult to imagine a genetic caste system arising, the human race fracturing into a sort of hive society complete with scurrying worker drones and decadent posthuman overlords -- Huxley's "Brave New World" on LSD.

This is, of course, exactly what Francis Fukuyama and his ilk are trying to prevent. But genetic modification, once it matures, will be as ubiquitous as body-piercing, and equally difficult to arrest should it be deemed illegal.

Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" features commercial "mod parlors" where customers can have themselves upgraded with trendy cybernetic enhancements. Genetic modification may not be nearly so overt; a "package" could come bundled in the form of a designer virus or nanobot, invisible to society at large. It could even take the form of genetic "spam." (Imagine a population waking to the unpleasant fact that some malicious gene-hacker has deigned to gift them with a third arm or an eyestalk or two just for the unfettered surrealism of it.)

How might a society react to a rash of "mod plagues"? Maybe we'll simply go with the flow, becoming submissively polymorphic while the ruling class -- assuming there is one -- watches from a safe distance.
Bird flu virus reported to resist Tamiflu

The finding suggests that health officials - now stockpiling millions of doses of the drug to forestall a global outbreak of influenza and buy time to develop and mass produce a vaccine - should also consider other options, according to Yoshihiro Kawaoka, an international authority on influenza and the senior author of the Nature paper.

At least we saw bird flu coming. My biggest disease concern is a mystery illness that starts offing people in large numbers before researchers are able to assess what we're dealing with. And as prehistoric germs for which we have no natural immunity are released into the oceans by melting polar ice, the possibility of a crippling epidemic looms frighteningly closer.

Peter Watts develops a similarly nightmarish scenario in his Rifters novels. In his imagined near-future, overpopulation has driven humanity to leech energy from deep-sea hydrothermal vents. In the process of exploiting the ocean floor, an ancient virus is unleashed and proceeds to decimate the planet despite a last-ditch attempt to sterilize the threat with an underwater nuclear explosion.

The amazing thing about these books is that they make Stephen King's "The Stand" look almost cuddly.

Move over, Cap'n Marrrrk -- Cap'n Mac's in town!

The good Cap'n even furnished me with a nice scar on my cheekbone at no additional charge. Looks like I'm all set for the high seas!

Friday, October 14, 2005

This website, which hawks avian flu protection gear, features some rather eerie photos of workers in protection garb rounding up infected specimens and "disposing" of them.

Upon first take, they look for all the world like stills from a low-budget science fiction fright film. Then suddenly you remember that the year is 2005. The ice caps are melting. The oceans are turning to acid. The US just lost a major city to a turbo-charged hurricane.

Just as suddenly, those images start to look pretty damned quaint.
Quick note: I'm to appear in a live chat session at in the near future, probably following author/researcher Nick Redfern. Date TBA. Hope to see you there.
Here's hoping the Cap'n will turn me into a pirate.

I don't always look this stressed. Just most of the time.
Tour de Corpse

There's a lot of nudging and snickering, but for the most part, the visitors are respectful. There are no looks of repulsion, no vomiting in the decorative rock gardens. They speak in funeral-parlor whispers and stare with slack-jawed awe. These are human beings they're staring at, after all, just turned inside out.

(Via Aberrant News.)

Which reminds me: "Corpse Bride" is very good. Go see it.
Try your hand at retropsychokinesis. (Java required.)
Anomaly-hunters rejoice!

"Live" Images From Mars

Every week, THEMIS takes several hundred images of the surface of Mars, and you can see them here as they are received by mission scientists.
Elizabeth is out of town for the weekend choreographing a dance piece. I'm blogging from the patio of a Starbucks and test-driving my new portable mini-mouse (which appears to work just fine so long as I plug it into the USB jack after I turn on the machine -- otherwise I get a jittery effect and have to rely on my Synaptics touchpad, which, as I've learned from playing with other laptops, is far from state-of-the-art).

I'm still digging the novelty of Wi-Fi; for years, the act of working on the computer was confined to my apartment, so I feel strangely naked taking my show on the road. Around me, students are plugging numbers into hefty scientific calculators and thumbing through textbooks. I'm suddenly conscious of the dormant strings of bulbs mounted on the building opposite me, primed for the Plaza Lighting Ceremony this Thanksgiving. The air smells of coffee and cigarette smoke.

I need to get some reading done; maybe I'll polish off Elizabeth Bear's "Hammered." Yesterday I spent some time perusing Cory Doctorow's and downloading various free online books, including "Accelerando," which I have yet to see in hard-copy.

(Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble is the only bookstore in my part of town. I hate the selection, but the location is almost irresistibly convenient. In a futile act of protest, I've decided to buy all future books from Borders, where at least one can find my own book in stock and more-or-less correctly classified.)