Monday, March 31, 2008

Merging Man and Machine to Reach the Stars

Human spaceflight advocates who want to see people get off Earth have a legitimate cause, according to the authors, but need to openly discuss that rationale instead of masking it.

"If objective is to become multi-planetary species, then we have to fly people," Launius noted. "I wish we were a bit more honest about that."

Funding human spaceflight based on survival of the species would be a hard sell, though, and may just get harder. Several national and online surveys have shown a trend where 18-24 year-olds largely oppose sending humans to Mars, citing reasons such as "too far and too much money" and the risks to astronauts.

"Too much money"? "Risks to astronauts"? Sadly, these are exactly the kinds of cynical, self-indulgent, intellectually unadventurous arguments I've come to expect from a generation that spends its time racking up "friends" on MySpace and playing Wii.
Russian doomsday cult in cave

Seven members of a Christian cult in Russia have left the cave they had holed up in since Novemeber. Apparently more than two dozen cult members are still inside the cave, located 400 miles southeast of Moscow, waiting for the world to end next month. Part of the cave's roof has already collapsed.

I often find myself wishing religious people would hole up in caves. (Collapsing roofs are a nice extra.)

Random snapshot.

The fifth issue of FLURB is live. Dig in!
Blog of the day: Kitsune Noir

Six Earth Cities That Will Provide Blueprints for Martian Settlers

If humans land on Mars by 2037 as NASA hopes, they'll need cities modeled on ones that already exist in extreme climates on Earth. Here are six high-tech (and a few low-tech) cities that would have a passing shot at survival in the Martian climate. Of course there are the obvious choices, like research stations in Antarctica. But there are other possibilities, like the instant city model developed at Black Rock City, home to arts festival Burning Man, which you can see here nestled in a Martian crater.
Major Food Source Threatened by Climate Change

Rice is arguably the world's most important food source and helps feed about half the globe's people. But yields in many areas will drop as the globe warms in future years, a review of studies on rice and climate change suggests.

The poorest parts of the world, including Africa, will probably be hardest hit, the study says. Rice harvests already need to increase by about a third just to keep up with global population growth.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Religion -- now in convenient pill form!
Dezeen's top ten skyscrapers
Oh, wow.
Mondolithic Studios relocates to Guadalajara!

Best wishes, guys.
The Rock and Roll Monster (David Byrne)

Here it comes from around the corner. It's twisting and turning, snaking down the central aisle, like a giant serpent. It seems to be an endless tube of clear plastic, about four feet in diameter, and filled with giant versions of either those translucent cups you get at a water cooler, or the ones you get when giving a urine sample. Only these cups are so large they almost fill the writhing plastic tube, arrayed one behind the other. It's as if it is some weird, enormous intestine made for a school science project, but on a too-large scale. It has that homemade, ad hoc, do it yourself vibe. But it wriggles and slithers as if it is alive.

I think Byrne and I must tune into the same station when we dream. One of my last dreams involved giant airborne amoeba -- yellow and oddly grainy-looking, like a stain on an old photograph -- that persistently tried to encapsulate my head. When it did, I felt a distinct sense of strangeness, indescribable in words. Of course, no one could see it but me. The dream took place inside some timeless building that might have been a museum or a church or a mortuary. Images covered the walls: demented bric-a-brac, the leavings of psychical vagrants.
Oh, what the hell. I can't resist this one.

Man said 'wombat rape' led to accent change

Arthur Cradock, 48, from the South Island town of Motueka, called police last month to tell them he was being raped by the marsupial at his home and needed urgent assistance.

(Via Aberrant News.)

Futurist Ray Kurzweil Pulls Out All the Stops (and Pills) to Live to Witness the Singularity

But the crucial thing that Kurzweil did was to make the end of the human era seem actionable: He argues that while artificial intelligence will render biological humans obsolete, it will not make human consciousness irrelevant. The first AIs will be created, he says, as add-ons to human intelligence, modeled on our actual brains and used to extend our human reach. AIs will help us see and hear better. They will give us better memories and help us fight disease. Eventually, AIs will allow us to conquer death itself. The singularity won't destroy us, Kurzweil says. Instead, it will immortalize us.

I'll say this for Kurzweil: the man has enough optimism to power a small city. (I think he's wrong, mind you, but wrong in an engaging way.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour. Because the World Isn't Worth a Whole Day. (Peter Watts)

There was never a time when things could be turned around with such petty gestures. You want to effect real change? You've got to address the root of the problem: human psychology. We evolved in the moment, we evolved to recognize imminent and proximate threats: pestilence, predators, an alpha male coming at us with murder in his eyes. The site of a rotting corpse or a deformed child makes us squirm; the toothy smile of a great white freezes our blood. But we never evolved to internalize graphs and columns of statistics. They may be real; they just don't feel that way.

Watts' essay puts me in mind of an experience at Starbucks not long ago. The corporation was hawking the soundtrack for "Arctic Tale," a movie about Cute Polar Bears. The in-store advertising boasted a list of things potential "Arctic Tale" viewers could do to help Save the Planet, none of them significantly more useful than "Earth Hour" and, worse, tainted by the condescension corporations are so uncannily good at crafting when faced with the dilemma of selling overpriced crap to people who can scarcely afford it. (Especially big corporations who welcome the delusion that they're in it for the good of humanity. In Starbucks' case, it's "not about the coffee," but forging bonds within the community.)

One of Starbucks' main suggestions was to reduce electrical consumption by switching to low-power light-bulbs. So I looked up -- and realized that Starbucks uses roughly enough high-intensity lights to illuminate a modest stadium, all so that the handful of customers who actually enter the store instead of idling for fifteen minutes in the drive-thru can examine ranks of cheap plastic merchandise without having to squint.

It's not that I don't try to be optimistic. It's that I've become aware that I'm living in a society that's about to end in a most unceremonious manner. And we're not necessarily blind to the brick wall bearing down on us; on the contrary, I think we see it all too well. The gestures and symbols are intended to be useless in precisely the same way that last month's cellphones are intended to be thrown out when the fake chrome starts to chip.

If the future seems to be bullying us it's because we've forced its hand. Self-indulgent and media-blinded, we've chosen not to care. And with self-proclaimed planetary stewards like Starbucks here to show us the light, why should we?
Simroid (a.k.a. 'Pain Girl') on TV

According to the interview, Simroid is modeled after a 28-year-old woman, and her fear of dentists and sensitivity to pain have earned her the nickname "Pain Girl" (Ita-gaaru). Asked why Simroid is female, Shibui explains that female patients must be treated with more sensitivity than male patients.

A perpetually open-mouthed female bot nicknamed "Pain Girl" who spends most of her time with her head level with the genitals of uniformed geeks? Why does this strike me as a veiled attempt at cybernetic kink?

Sometimes the weirdness is almost palpable.

It appears "Doing Time" is on its way to Denver.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Vintage Syd Mead. Click "View as slideshow," sit back and enjoy.
Doomsday fears spark lawsuit

The builders of the world's biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet.

Representatives at Fermilab in Illinois and at Europe's CERN laboratory, two of the defendants in the case, say there's no chance that the Large Hadron Collider would cause such cosmic catastrophes. Nevertheless, they're bracing to defend themselves in the courtroom as well as the court of public opinion.
New SETI post . . .

Ultrathin, Rubbery Circuits Bring Us One Step Closer to Google Brain Implants

A new kind of computer circuit printed on ultrathin rubber would make the perfect "brain wrapper," says its inventor. Usually computer circuits are etched on rigid, plastic boards, but University of Illinois researcher John Rogers has successfully placed circuits on a rubbery material that can bend and stretch. Many groups have been working on developing this technology, but Rogers is the first to demonstrate that his bendy circuits actually work.

"Brain wrapper": so many techno-dystopian memes from so few syllables.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pseudoskepticism: same shit, different era.
Boltzmann Brain Paradox

A Boltzmann brain is a hypothesized self-aware entity which arises due to random fluctuations out of a state of chaos. The idea is named for physicist Ludwig Boltzmann (1844 - 1906), who had advanced an idea that the known universe arose as a random fluctuation, similar to process through which Boltzmann brains might arise.

The concept arises from the need to explain why we observe such a large degree of organization in the universe. The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy in the universe will always increase. We may think of the most likely state of the universe as one of high entropy, closer to uniform and without order. So why is the observed entropy so low?

I guess I'm just a sucker for theories involving random quantum fluctuations and disembodied brains.
Medicine's Cutting Edge: Re-Growing Organs

That powder is a substance made from pig bladders called extracellular matrix. It is a mix of protein and connective tissue surgeons often use to repair tendons and it holds some of the secrets behind the emerging new science of regenerative medicine.

"It tells the body, start that process of tissue regrowth," said Badylak.

Badlayk is one of the many scientists who now believe every tissue in the body has cells which are capable of regeneration. All scientists have to do is find enough of those cells and "direct" them to grow.

"Somehow the matrix summons the cells and tell them what to do," Badylak explained. "It helps instruct them in terms of where they need to go, how they need to differentiate - should I become a blood vessel, a nerve, a muscle cell or whatever."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

MUFON journals. Online. All of 'em.
Dark Roasted Blend has posted a grab-bag of tacky Christian merchandising. The good news is that much of it is ironic. The bad news is that the rest of it isn't.
Sewer-gas-induced suspended animation is rapid and reversible

Low doses of the toxic gas responsible for the unpleasant odor of rotten eggs can safely and reversibly depress both metabolism and aspects of cardiovascular function in mice, producing a suspended-animation-like state. In the April 2008 issue of the journal Anesthesiology, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reseachers report that effects seen in earlier studies of hydrogen sulfide do not depend on a reduction in body temperature and include a substantial decrease in heart rate without a drop in blood pressure.


I seem to remember this "discovery" cropping up a few years ago. Fortean researchers were quick to note the presence of sulfurous odors in the vicinity of UFOs and perceived aliens, offering the possibility that "abductions" were accomplished with the assistance of hydrogen sulfide "anesthesia." It strikes me as a messy way for members of a presumably advanced civilization to go about immobilizing witnesses, but it can't be immediately discounted. Perhaps a more likely explanation is that exposure to strong EM fields can trip hallucinatory triggers in the brain, as argued by Michael Persinger and Albert Budden.

An engaging question then arises: are the "aliens" (and their craft) the source of the EM radiation or a by-product?

Avatar Mimics You in Real Time

The system can recognize a set of 66 parameters that define facial expression, and it also contains a set of high-level facial expressions (such as joy, sadness, surprise, and disgust). Users can also press buttons to manually activate these expressions. The system also recognizes "visemes," which move the lips in accordance with the phoneme being spoken based on voice analysis. A set of 15 visemes can represent all phonemes. The system also recognizes a set of 186 body motion parameters that define joint rotation in the arms and upper body.

Human ancestor fossil found in Europe

The researchers said the fossil found last year at Atapuerca in northern Spain, along with stone tools and animal bones, is up to 1.3 million years old. That would be 500,000 years older than remains from a 1997 find that prompted the naming of a new species: Homo antecessor, or Pioneer Man, possibly a common ancestor to Neanderthals and modern humans.
Ingredients For Life Found On Strange Saturn Moon

"Water vapour was the major constituent. There was methane present. There was carbon dioxide. There was carbon monoxide. There were simple organics and there were more complex organics," Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, told reporters.
My new SETI post might be familiar to regular PB readers. Nevertheless, here it is.
At UFOMystic, Greg Bishop relates some intriguing strangeness coincident with his friendship with the late UFO researcher Karla Turner.
Walmart Growth Video

The other day at work, I made this video showing the opening of Wal-mart retail locations over time. It's pretty fun to watch how it starts very slowly with the first location in Arkansas in 1962 and then spreads into different regions over time.

(Via Boing Boing.)

I'm not sure "fun" is the operative word.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How intelligent dinosaurs conquered the world

A brief citation doesn't do this one justice. Incidentally, the biped dinosaur discussed in the article has been oft-cited by various ufologists as a candidate "Gray" alien, even if the similarities are ultimately unconvincing. After all, dinosaurs didn't make the evolutionary cut. And even if they had, there's certainly no guarantee they'd evolve into dome-headed humanoids.

The "reptilian" crowd will likely propose that scientific speculation about intelligent dinosaurs -- even purely hypothetical dinosaurs -- bolsters their beliefs, which leaves one wondering why such a decidedly nonhuman species would take to meddling with human politics. Maybe a consultation with David Icke is in order . . .
Western Antarctic ice chunk collapses

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said Tuesday.

Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 160-square-mile chunk in western Antarctica, which started Feb. 28. It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and has been there for hundreds, maybe 1,500 years.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A concise and visually engaging illustration of the famous quantum "double slit" experiment:

From my cameraphone to you:

Molecular Cloud Barnard 68

Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe.
Giant marine life found in Antarctica

Scientists who conducted the most comprehensive survey to date of New Zealand's Antarctic waters were surprised by the size of some specimens found, including jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles and 2-foot-wide starfish.

(Via There's Something in the Woods . . .)

Wow, take a look at those facehuggers -- er, I mean starfish.
Radiation Kitty

Yesterday I visited the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. I spotted this little fellow just outside the 10km exclusion zone, where we stopped for lunch. He looked happy and healthy, and was certainly very friendly (and yes, I know he's not strictly a kitten, but I thought you'd like to see him anyway). Animal life in the area, after originally suffering terribly (all small mammals were dead within a couple of years) has actually flourished since the accident, and the absence of humans for two decades has done more to benefit wildlife than radiation has damaged it.
Transgender man is pregnant

Thomas Beattie lives in Oregon and is married to a woman named Nancy. He's pregnant.


Postgenderism: Beyond the Gender Binary
The Other Side of Truth Announces the 2007 Zorgy Awards.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Borders is on its way out? Leaving us with the Goliath of mediocrity that is Barnes & Noble? I don't like this one bit.
Here's yet another perfectly decent science article marred by a last-minute reference to "conspiracy theories about UFO abductions."

(Thanks: The Anomalist.)
Emotion Map of San Francisco

How do you feel in different places? The precise correlation of location and emotional arousal is the topic of Christan Nold's long running biomapping project. The project used a simple galvanic skin response meter, which gives a reading of how excited you are.
I must admit: this video forced to to reexamine everything I thought I knew about "Space Invaders." I always assumed they started it.

(Big thanks to Pink Tentacle.)
Blown Glass Spaceships Scatter Seeds to the Stars

Made of glass and recycled metals, these spaceships look like they were torn from the pages of rocket magazines in the 1930s. They're the battered but delicate stars of Rik Allen's show "Innersphere" at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, which runs through April 27. Allen, a master glass blower, said he wanted to pay homage to the science fiction he loved as a kid.

Although I have an unofficial ban on all things "steampunk" in effect, these easily transcend subgenre.
If, like me, you've aways wondered what teddy bears look like in utero, a visit to Stephanie Metz's online portfolio is definitely in order.

(Hat tip: Next Nature.)
Since I don't typically get a lot of Sunday traffic, I have relatively few qualms about linking to this ridiculous post. Make of it what you will. I suspect this is an attempt to "provoke" me. Or something. Whatever the case, it's good for a pensive chuckle.
Salt Deposits on Mars Might Be the Right Place to Search for Life

Researchers announced today that they have discovered large salt deposits on the surface of Mars. These deposits point to places where large quantities of water existed on the surface of the Red Planet, perhaps for millions of years. And this might be some of the best places to go looking for evidence of life, past and present.
Here's a lofty conceptual piece that actually looks really cool:

Lampshade that knits itself

Nadine Sterk's Sleeping Beauty lamp is on exhibition at a show of design school projects, on display at the Design Huis in Eindhoven, The Netherlands -- it's "a lamp that develops like a living organism: switch it on and it slowly starts growing by knitting its own lampshade at a speed of three rotations per hour."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oh, dear -- Paul Kimball's blogging about politics, religion and UFOs!

This is why I have some sympathy for the exopolitics types, even though, as with people who believe in God, I think they have it wrong. They look around and see a world where in most countries religion goes hand in hand with political power, none more so in the democratic world than in the supposedly secular American republic (somewhere Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave). And yet they sit at the fringes of polite society, despite the fact that they can make a stronger case for their belief system than the religious people can.

While I think UFOs are undeniably real -- I'd go so far as to claim they show every sign of being physical and indicative of some form of intelligence -- I don't profess to know where they're from. They could very well be extraterrestrial craft or even components of an immersive virtual reality that's coexisted with us for millennia (whether ET or indigenous).

My religious agnosticism is more nuanced. I don't dismiss the possibility of some kind of cosmological creative intelligence, but I do dismiss the God of the Christian tradition, making me (according to some definitions) an "atheist." I consider the God of the Old Testament an obvious literary device, a fabrication that might once have wielded some positive cultural influence (although even a passing glance at the bloodshed chronicled in the Bible is enough to shake one's certainty).

There's a tired quip that those interested in UFOs draw their enthusiasm from an unacknowledged need to experience the numinous without the antiquated baggage of conventional religion. To be sure, it would be amazing to learn that we're being visited by beings from elsewhere; then again, the Cosmos is certainly awe-inspiring enough without the need for interlopers, regardless how sophisticated. While this is abundantly evident in the case of various cults that exist on the margins of ufology -- notably the Raelians, Heaven's Gate and perhaps even the devoutly "expolitical" -- it fails more often than not. I suspect even ufologists who approach the subject burdened with misconceptions usually owe their interest to simple curiosity rather than an attempt to slake some existential thirst.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Captain Disillusion! We need you!
Meet the First Realistic Martian Woman

What would we have to do to our bodies if we wanted to live on Mars? io9 consulted scientists, our imaginations, and a designer, and came up with the most realistic-possible portrait of a Martian colonist who might truly exist on the Red Planet in 100 years. She's really tall, doesn't have to wear a bra, and has some pretty awesome photosynthesis and water-reclaiming implants in her exosuit.
Distinguishing Artificial From Natural Is Possible, for Now

We like to tell ourselves that it's easy to distinguish between the natural and the artificial, but they have a knack for fooling us. When European colonists traveled through the patchwork of forests and meadows of New England, they thought they were exploring primeval nature. In fact, Native Americans had been tending it carefully with fires for centuries. When the Viking probe snapped a fuzzy picture of a mountain on Mars in 1976, some people were sure it showed a giant face carved by Martians. When another probe took a sharper picture in 2001, all trace of the face had vanished.

"All trace"? Hardly.

"Eyes"? Check.

"Mouth"? Check.

Rectilinear framing mesa? Still there.

And while "some people" were indeed "sure" that the feature was created by Martians, a lot of others were -- and are -- rightfully agnostic.
Universe's most powerful blast visible to the naked eye

The most powerful blast ever observed in the universe detonated on Wednesday.

Well, ever observed by us, anyway.
A latte bearing a passing resemblance to Jupiter!

It was just as delicious as it looks.
Paul Kimball has written a fine post about the argument presented in my latest SETI column:

UFOs: Too Weird to be Extraterrestrials?

But that weirdness is not a reason for rejecting the ETH, unless one is viewing possible alien life and through the prism of human understanding. By doing so, both Tonnies and Vallee evince a very 1950s / 1960s sci-fi outlook of what alien life would be like. In short when they state that the weird behaviour of some UFO cases seems to rule out ET as the cause, they are assuming that aliens will more or less act like us, or at least in ways that we can understand.

Although I think Paul's reasoning is sound enough, I don't think it addresses the sort of weirdness I had in mind. (Or, more likely, I simply didn't make myself clear.) Rather than seeking an alternative to the conventional version of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis because I find UFO behavior too weird, I feel compelled to seek out alternatives because I find UFOs too normal (in the sense that many credible sightings conform to Space Age pop mythology of the 1950s and 60s).

More to the point, I wouldn't expect alien visitation to be readily understood as such. Like Carl Sagan, I expect contact to be lavishly strange (and can't refrain from noting that, in an interesting twist of logic, the UFO phenomenon has been dismissed by many Sagan disciples precisely because it's strange).

But if we're dealing with an extraterrestrial presence of the sort generally espoused by ufology's old guard, the fact that UFO behavior seems at least partly comprehensible veritably shouts at researchers to address the phenomenon anew. Hence my recent speculation about interstellar AI: certainly a more exotic prospect than "mere" aliens in fancy spaceships, and one more in keeping with contemporary technological futurism.

Elliptically enough, Paul's critique would seem to compliment my own musings. (I think.) In any case, it appears I potentially have a welcome dialogue on my hands.
Private Eyes Investigate UFO Drone Story (Greg Bishop)

Two former Northern California law enforcement employees have been hired by a woman representing the Open Minds Forum to investigate the people behind the famous UFO "drone" photos and stories which heated up the internet and late night radio last year.

They are treating the case as a whodunnit rather than a UFO case, which is perhaps the only way to reasonably go about it.
"We were talking about this in the human section of the bus on the way to the studio. We agreed. I don't think robots pose any danger to us at all."

Named: 25 environmental threats of the future

In addition to well-publicised risks such as toxic nanomaterials, the acidification of the ocean and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the list includes some more outlandish possibilities.
New Anti-Gravity Helicopter

This looks pretty cool. The FPS on the video camera are exactly in sync with the rotation of the blades so it appears that they are not moving.

No, no, no! The helicopter really is antigravity! It was developed using back-engineered alien technology! The link above is disinformation!

The gnome-hunt is on, baby!
Reconciling UFOs and the "Singularity": Part One

The UFO puzzle certainly represents an intelligence of some kind. Once we exclude the fashionable notion that all "good" sightings must invariably be the result of misinterpretation or hoax, it becomes apparent that we're dealing with an extremely adaptable form of technology (or at least compelled to think we are). If the UFO intelligence is ET in origin, it's conceivable that the enigmatic "flying disks" and apparent "occupants" that have come to populate 21st century mythology are so much theater designed to appeal to our sense of planetary selfhood. (It bears mentioning that the UFO phenomenon has never been exclusively American. Nor did it begin in the 1940s, as often assumed by ufologists and committed skeptics alike.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

France rejects right-to-die plea

A French woman with a severely disfiguring and incurable facial tumour has been refused the right to die.

Chantal Sebire, a 52-year-old former schoolteacher and mother of three, had asked a court in Dijon, eastern France, to allow doctors to help her die.

But while the French have liberalised legislation governing euthanasia, the court ruled the law still did not allow doctors to actively end a life.

(Via Next Nature.)
Machine Vends Roasted Coffee (Sep, 1949)

When you get your coffee out of this machine, you're sure it's fresh -- roasted right before your eyes while you wait. The Infra Roast holds 150 pounds of green coffee and dispenses it, freshly roasted, at the rate of a pound a minute.

Shades of the much-hyped Clover machine.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"BigDog" doing its thing:

(Surely I'm not the only one reminded of the training sequence in "Rocky IV.")
It's not an arcology, but it's close:

The tower seeks to reduce movement across the city by condensing facilities - living, working and entertainment within a single location. Its position near to existing transport infrastructure would allow goods to be delivered more easily and the proximity of public transport links would reduce the need for car travel between work and home.

(Via Dark Roasted Blend.)
Astrium Unveils New Spaceship Plans (Video Simulation & Pictures)

Europe's leading spacecraft manufacturer EADS Astrium, the builders of the Ariane rocket (that launches many of Europe's space missions), has announced plans to mass produce the next generation of space planes. Developing the design of a single-stage "rocket plane", the company believes there will be a demand for 10 spacecraft per year when the space tourism idea "takes off".
Come for the military allegory, stay for the self-propelled cheeseburgers!

(Thanks: Information Aesthetics.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Want to see some clever UFO graffiti? Sure you do!

(Hat tip: BB.)
Some late-breaking goodness from UFOMystic:

First off, Greg Bishop on the perils of belief:

When applied to the space outside our heads, belief systems tend to block progress towards understanding. Futher noise is introduced when emotions are tied to beliefs, which puts up a mental filter on information, some of which may threaten the belief system. Primate territorialism rears its de-evolutionary head. Suspension of belief and disbelief, at least in areas that have not been proven (like UFOs) seems like a more fruitful and enjoyable course.

Secondly, Nick Redfern on (gulp!) me:

I first became acquainted with the work of this intense, yet fun, thirty-something coffee-fiend in 2004 when Patrick Huyghe sent me a copy of Mac's newly-published book After the Martian Apocalypse - a detailed study of the controversy surrounding the so-called "Face on Mars" and other, seemingly anomalous structures on the red planet.

(For anyone wondering, I'm 32.)

Unknown Country once again attempts to breathe life into the "drone" fiasco . . .
Thickest, oldest Arctic ice is melting

The thickest, oldest and toughest sea ice around the North Pole is melting, a bad sign for the future of the Arctic ice cap, NASA satellite data showed on Tuesday.

"Thickness is an indicator of long-term health of sea ice, and that's not looking good at the moment," Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center told reporters in a telephone briefing.

This adds to the litany of disturbing news about Arctic sea ice, which has been retreating over the last three decades, especially last year, when it ebbed to its lowest level.
More cameraphone mania . . .

First Pictures of Completed Dextre Giant Space Robot

I must admit it's more impressive than I'd expected. And agreeably insectile.

Arthur C. Clarke has died. I can't even begin to think of a fitting tribute at the moment. Suffice it to say that "2001" was the first book to send actual chills down my spine.

Monday, March 17, 2008

More images from David Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch" right here, boys and girls. Step right up!
Dr. Steven Greer (of "Disclosure Project" fame) is involved in something called the Orion Project. It might prove interesting to see if this amounts to anything, especially given speculation that Greer's interest in UFOs has been manipulated in order to undermine serious "green" energy initiatives.

Hedonia on visionary SF artist Richard Powers:

What would a Martian's dreams be like? Well, if there were (are, will be) Martians and assuming that they could dream, their dreams would most likely be like Richard Powers' paintings and illustrations for science fiction publications. Powers' illustrations introduced the subconscious fantasies and dream-states of the surrealist art movement to its ultimate partner, science fiction. In doing so, he revolutionized the entire field of science fiction illustration, spurring record sales for his first steady client, Ballantine Press, and spawning countless imitators.

Powers is one of my all-time favorites; I consider him at least the equal of Dali and Ernst.

(Hat tip: Boing Boing.)
Haute Couture Spaceship Travels From City to City in Segments

In order to send a spaceship-like pavilion on a journey across the world, Zaha Hadid architects created this Chanel Pavilion, a portable 7500 square foot art venue that will travel from Hong Kong to New York to Moscow to Paris over the next year. The steel structure breaks apart into segments that are no more than seven feet each, and the whole thing can be built like Legos in less than a week.

More weird architecture news:

UFO home sold at auction

The delightful "Space House" in Chattanooga, Tennessee sold at auction this weekend for just $135,000. The 38-year-old, three-bedroom home was expected to go for much more, according to the auctioneer.

My new SETI post has "gone live." As you've probably noticed, I'm gently easing my way into a deeper discussion of the UFO phenomenon by way of contemporary SETI thought. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ozone Case Shows Bush Meddling In Science - Watchdogs

Asked why the president intervened, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "What we were trying to do on the smog decision was try to have a decision that was consistent with our interpretation of the statute. This was not a weakening of regulations or standards governing ozone, but it was an effort to make those standards consistent."

Environmental and scientific groups disagreed, saying the decision benefits coal-fired power plants and other industries that emit ground-level ozone. In addition to harming plants, ozone smog endangers human health, especially the young, the elderly and those with respiratory problems.

"This is a pattern unfortunately that extends across the Environmental Protection Agency, across pretty much every science based agency in the federal government," said Tim Donaghy of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Human Outcomes Among the Stars

Do we have a human, biological future in interstellar space? If so, it surely must involve one of two things. Either we do develop a breakthrough technology for single-lifetime travel between the stars, or we take a lead from transhumanism by finding out just how far people can be altered to make potentially millennial journeys bearable.
Hubble Detects Organic Molecule on an Extrasolar Planet

NASA will hold a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 19, to report on the first-ever detection of the organic molecule methane in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star.

Though the planet is too hot to support life as we know it, the finding demonstrates the ability to detect organic molecules spectroscopically around Earth-like planets in habitable zones around stars.
Here's a compelling UFO case from 2007 that I must have missed. Whenever two or more pilots independently report something highly unusual, I pay attention.

Check out the silverware. I suspect the designer is a fan of a certain David Cronenberg movie . . .
Mystery in the Sky

In this small video clip taken from one of Genesis I's exterior cameras on March 3, a bright spot of some kind can be seen in the lower-middle portion of the images. The bright spot doesn't stay in the same position, neither does it correlate with the same locations above the Earth based on the cloud formations below. Each picture is separated by 20 to 30 seconds.

Care to make an educated guess on what the bright spot might be?

Announcing Loving the Alien, a regular column I'll be writing for Futurismic. Click here for the inaugural post.

(And yes, I stole the column's title from a David Bowie song.)
Bill Hicks on UFOs:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kenji Yanobe builds nightmare future one robot at a time

The works of Kenji Yanobe are renowned in the Japanese art world for their nightmarish takes on the future. But peeling through Yanobe's portfolio of work reveals a particular obsession with man-meets-machine contraptions. From the fire breathing Giant Torayan (created as a child's toy, it actually breathes fire), to the erotic bug-like Radiation Suit Atom to the Dune-esque features of the Mini Tanking Machine, Yanobe's work hints at a future many of us would be afraid of, and others would revel in.
Chinese security forces swarm Tibet

Soldiers on foot and in armored carriers swarmed Tibet's capital Saturday, enforcing a strict curfew a day after protesters burned shops and cars to vent their anger against Chinese rule. In another western city, police clashed with hundreds of Buddhist monks leading a sympathy demonstration.

The beginning of the end.
Mythical 16th-century disease critters

Long ago in Japan, human illness was commonly believed to be the work of tiny malevolent creatures inside the body. Harikikigaki, a book of medical knowledge written in 1568 by a now-unknown resident of Osaka, introduces 63 of these creepy-crawlies and describes how to fight them with acupuncture and herbal remedies.

Oddly, the disease-causing critters are more cute than frightening. I was half-expecting to stumble across a depiction of Hello Kitty.

Just doing my bit to promote R.E.M.'s forthcoming album.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Emotion-Tracking Wearable Device Lets Your Boss Monitor Your Feelings

Suggested uses are for medical patients who need to be monitored for health reasons. But obviously emotional monitoring extends way beyond cardiac care and blurs into the world of psychological regulation. Don't be surprised when you start seeing customer service jobs being monitored for emotional quality.

Word has it Starbucks wants in . . .
The woman who spent two years on the toilet

She's from Kansas, of course -- no doubt packing a well-thumbed bible. And we Missourians dare to wonder why the world laughs at the Midwest.
Plans for a "Doomsday Ark" on the Moon are in the Works

Having a backup of your computer is handy, but having a backup of the entire progress of human civilization is even more practical. If a major catastrophic event like nuclear war or an asteroid strike wipes out most of the humans on the planet, it would be helpful for the survivors to have a record of all the accomplishments we've made in the past few thousands of years to help rebuild and repopulate the Earth.

The closest off-world place to store such a structure and ensure its safety would be the Moon. The construction of such a "doomsday ark" was presented last month by William Burrough and Jim Burke at a symposium on "Space Solutions to Earth's Global Challenges" at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.
UFO captured on tape in Pasco

An unidentified flying object caught the attention of some Pasco County residents early Friday.

Many described the object -- a rotating triangle of three white lights plus a flashing red light that stayed put -- as a UFO.

Includes a mildly intriguing -- but woefully unattributed -- video.
I just discovered BreathingEarth. It's a bit like manning the control panel in some James Bond villain's lair.

(Thanks: Elan.)
What is it with gnomes lately, anyway?
Blog of the day: Kosmic Tom

"Take your protein pills and put your helmet on . . ."

io9 covers the Argentinian UFO flap. The pictures look overwhelmingly bogus to me; then again, what makes me think I'd know a real flying saucer if I saw it?

Japan marvels at its Moon movies

The very latest footage was unveiled at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas.

It includes amazing pictures of "Earth rise" over the lunar horizon and of the "terminator", the boundary between the Moon's day side and night side.

"It is quite a spectacular view," said Dr Rie Honda, from Japan's Kochi University, a collaborator on the Selene mission.

Take a few moments to soak up the jaw-dropping, vertiginous beauty of Earth rising above the lunar surface. All that's missing is a Vangelis soundtrack.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

This one's from February. I found it at Unknown Country (surprise!) and have no idea if it's legit or so much fear-mongering. Frankly, I've always attributed talk of Nazi-esque railcars and massive secret prisons to paranoid delusion. Comments welcome.

Rule by fear or rule by law?

Beginning in 1999, the government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States. The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.

According to diplomat and author Peter Dale Scott, the KBR contract is part of a Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of "all removable aliens" and "potential terrorists."

Fraud-busters such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, have complained about these contracts, saying that more taxpayer dollars should not go to taxpayer-gouging Halliburton. But the real question is: What kind of "new programs" require the construction and refurbishment of detention facilities in nearly every state of the union with the capacity to house perhaps millions of people?
Repeat after Futurismic's Paul Raven: "Everything can and will be hacked."
Mysterious Craters Seen on Mercury

"The halos are really exceptional," said MESSENGER science team member Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "We've never seen anything like them on Mercury before and their formation is a mystery."

Because the only thing more fun than a mystery is a mystery on another planet.

(Thanks to Nick Redfern!)
Chemical brain controls nanobots

A tiny chemical "brain" which could one day act as a remote control for swarms of nano-machines has been invented.

The molecular device - just two billionths of a metre across - was able to control eight of the microscopic machines simultaneously in a test.

In high school I became intensely interested in cryonic suspension, which led to a fascination with nanotechnology and its potential for repairing damaged tissue. If I'd read this article in 1992, I probably would have been overjoyed.
I'm quickly becoming a fan of Captain Disillusion. He's clever, thorough and entertaining, as I think this clip exposing the "Haiti UFO" demonstrates:

There's just one thing about this post that annoys the hell out of me: the fearless Captain repeatedly misuses the word "skeptic," assuming it's synonymous with "debunker." (And even this would be a mistake, as legitimate debunking entails exposing hoaxes and misconceptions that really are bogus, not subscribing to the convenient fiction that anything "weird" must invariably yield to mundane explanations.) In any case, authentic skeptics aren't automatically "anti-UFO," as Captain Disillusion seems to think.

Sure, pop skepticism has been hijacked by thinly veiled zealots like the SETI Institute's Seth Shostak and the Skeptic Society's Michael Shermer. But just because you proclaim yourself a skeptic doesn't necessarily make UFOs go away -- or "ghosts," for that matter. Despite the efforts of committed would-be debunkers, there are scads of UFO cases that remain not only unsolved but stubbornly bizarre -- one reason I like Paul Kimball's recent "Best Evidence," a UFO documentary that presents ten such cases for the viewer to puzzle over (or ignore, depending on one's bias).

I'll leave you with links to Dan Drasin's "Zen and the Art of Debunkery" and my own "Skeptics, Debunkers and Believers." You make the call.

In the meantime, let's hope Captain Disillusion learns the difference -- and continues to make great videos.
Rem Koolhaas is Dezeen's featured architect. His structures are as eye-opening and otherworldly as any science fiction novel I've read.
They haven't actually discovered it yet, but . . .

Earth-like planet that supports life could be circling Sun's nearest neighbour

"I think the planets are there, and it's worth a try to have a look," said Professor Gregory Laughlin, one of the scientists from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Most of the more than 200 planets already discovered orbiting stars other than the Sun have been huge gas giants, similar to Jupiter.

Confirming the presence of small, Earth-like rocky planets around one of the Alpha Centauri stars will not be easy. Prof Laughlin said it would probably require five years of observation using a dedicated telescope.
The Sombrero Galaxy remixed!
AP Probe Finds Drugs in Drinking Water

A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

(Via Variable Gravitas Content.)

You know, this article actually had me concerned. Then I came to the part about the utilities insisting that everything's OK and abruptly realized my foolishness. I'm not even sure why I'm posting this.

Of course, we also thought dumping garbage in the oceans was "safe," but I'm sure that was just a bad call.

"Accidents happen."

"This sort of thing is inevitable."

"We sincerely regret this incident."
Iraq: US military says it killed child

U.S. soldiers fired a warning shot near a woman who "appeared to be signaling to someone" along a dangerous stretch of road north of Baghdad, but the bullet killed a young Iraqi girl, a military official said early Thursday.

The shooting took place Wednesday where several roadside bombs had recently been found in the volatile Diyala province. An exact location was not given in a military statement.

The girl appeared to be "around 10 years old," said Maj. Brad Leighton, a military spokesman.

There has been an increase in the use of women as suicide bombers in Iraq. But Leighton said preliminary reports indicated that soldiers didn't believe the woman posed a threat of being a bomber. Rather "they were afraid she was signaling to someone that the convoy was going by."

Yeah, I know what I'm getting into by posting this latest morsel:

"Accidents happen."

"This sort of thing is inevitable."

"We sincerely regret this incident."

You know what? Fuck that.

Sometime during the last year I've abandoned the anti-war crowd in favor of the Genuinely Frightened crowd. It's not nearly as much fun, incidentally: no protests, no sociable gatherings, no documentary film festivals, no guest speakers, and no petitions to help dull the pain. Just depression and the jarring sense of one's own uselessness.
The world's turning to shit. Might as well watch David Sedaris read about catheters.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

James Lovelock lays the smack down: the Earth is running a morbid fever and there's not much we can do about it. It's a perfectly appalling vision of the human future that elicits either nervous laughter or curt dismissals. Lovelock points in a direction we dare not acknowledge; he prophecies nothing less than the imminent end of the human race.

Alas, he's probably right.

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

[. . .]

What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan."

Rudy Rucker discusses his lifelong appreciation of William Burroughs. I like it when writers write about writers.
New SETI post. Right this way, folks.

Instead, Bracewell probes could very well outsmart their own makers and transform themselves into machines quite unlike the quaint transponders imagined in "The Galactic Club." Once the potential of nanotechnology and self-replication are accounted for, the potential for visiting ET craft appears nearly limitless. Not only could such emissaries engage an emerging technical civilization in an excruciatingly patient dialogue before alerting others, they could choose to remain chameleon-like, perhaps operating in the background like stealthy computer viruses.

Elsewhere in the post I misspell "devices." This is undoubtedly the result of writing immediately after drinking a Heineken at the bar down the street at 1:00 in the morning.
The intro to "Contact" is one of my favorite scenes of all time; when the film was in theaters I made a point to catch four or five late-night showings so that I could enjoy it on the big-screen. Watching it on YouTube isn't quite as affecting, but the sheer sense of scale is undiminished.

The sequence's stupefying rush of planets, galaxies and galactic clusters leaves me with an agreeable sense of vertigo. I want to keep gazing into the void even if doing so invites the void to gaze back. Indeed, provoking a rapport with the emptiness may prove to be part of our duty as a species.

TV-chandelier hybrid adds a cyberpunk touch to any room

If Big Brother had a chandelier, this would be it. "End of an Era" is an art project created by Ian Burns that attaches 16 small black-and-white TVs to a chandelier-ish frame. Each screen displays a live video feed (presumably received via the extended antennas in the pic), and from the looks of the screens, it's the same one on each.

(Via The Keyhoe Report.)
Make Solar Lamps Not War - Nobel Scientist

One billion people can get electricity for the first time for little more than the cost of one month's war in Iraq, said Rajendra Pachauri, the head of a Nobel peace prize-winning UN panel of climate scientists.

[. . .]

Pachauri compared the $15 billion cost of providing solar-powered lights to a billion people with a reported cost of the US-led military campaign in Iraq of $12 billion a month.

He described that perceived mis-match in resources as "one of the biggest tragedies that the world can be guilty of".

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Isamu Noguchi sculpture or alien artifact?
I genuinely liked the first half of "I Am Legend." I thought the second was gratuitous and condescending.

Fortunately, this alternate ending does much to redeem the sense of loss that the first half so meticulously cements in the viewer's subconscious. No more sentimental "God makes everything OK" bullshit.

The film still ends on a hopeful note, but it's no longer a whorish appeal to the emotional lowest common denominator. In fact, it's the kind of hope I'm willing to live with (although I reserve the right to protest).
UK top cop who led CIA probe found dead

A city police chief who led an investigation into charges that Britain cooperated with secret CIA flights to transport terrorism suspects without formal proceedings has been found dead, his deputy said Tuesday.

Nothing suspicious here, folks. Move on . . .
Another reason to like Peter Watts. And I had the audacity to think I was a pretty good writer.
Microscopic 'astronauts' to go back in orbit

"Wherever people go, germs will follow," said Nickerson, who is also an associate professor at ASU's School of Life Sciences. Last fall, she completed a multi-institutional study that showed for the first time that microbes could be affected by spaceflight, making them more infectious pathogens. The results were from a payload flown onboard space shuttle Atlantis in 2006.

Spaceflight not only altered bacterial gene expression but also increased the ability of these organisms to cause disease, or virulence, and did so in novel ways. Compared to identical bacteria that remained on earth, the space-traveling Salmonella, a leading cause of food-borne illness, had changed expression of 167 genes. In addition, bacteria that were flown in space were almost three times as likely to cause disease when compared with control bacteria grown on the ground.

Oh boy, plastic aliens!

This high quality collection is based entirely upon actual documented encounters. Ten different hand-painted replicas sure to spark the curiosity of every E.T. enthusiast.

(I actually found the buxom "Nordic" in a dollar shop.)
Marie Claire robot fetish editorial (March issue). Thought you should know.

(Thanks to BB.)

Tiny Palau skeletons suggest "hobbits" were dwarfs

Tiny skeletons found in the caves of the Pacific islands of Palau undercut the theory that similar remains found in Indonesia might be a unique new species of humans, researchers reported on Monday.

The Palau skeletons, which date to between 900 and 2,800 years ago, appear to have belonged to so-called insular dwarfs -- humans who grew smaller as a result of living on an island, the researchers said.

Marginally related (albeit lame):

'Creepy Gnome' terrorises town

A town in South America is living in fear after several sightings of a 'creepy gnome' that locals claim stalks the streets at night.

The midget - which wears a pointy hat and has a distinctive sideways walk - was caught on video last week by a terrified group of youngsters.

(Via The Anomalist.)
Check out this gorgeous Flickr pool devoted to digital fabrication. I can't wait till the maturated "Diamond Age" version.

(Thanks: Beyond the Beyond.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Forgetomori (a blog you should bookmark if you haven't already) just turned me on to this excellent video trashing the "little man on Mars" I railed about not too long ago:

And don't miss this oddly disturbing clip of a CGI Gray speaking in an appropriately alien tongue.

(By the way, you're reading this blog's 7,000th post.

Not impressed? I didn't think so.)
Konarka Announces First-Ever Demonstration of Inkjet Printed Solar Cells

Inkjet printing is a commonly used technique for controlled deposition of solutions of functional materials in specific locations on a substrate and can provide easy and fast deposition of polymer films over a large area. The demonstration confirms that organic solar cells can be processed with printing technologies with little or no loss compared to "clean room" semiconductor technologies such as spin coating. The most popular printing tool for organic electronics, inkjet printing could become a smart tool to manufacturer solar cells with multiple colors and patterns for lower power requirement products, like indoor or sensor applications.

Bogus Bigfoot footage leads to rediscovery of fascinating "humanzee" documentary.
Augmented reality graffiti. I should have seen this coming.

And just think of the interior decorating apps . . .

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Lesbian vampire jailed for sex killing

Judge Peter Blaxell said the murder, in Perth, Western Australia, was "sexually perverse" and "evil", after the court was told the two lesbian lovers became aroused as they battered the teenage girl and then kissed while standing over her body as she lay dying.

Dude, that is so totally goth.
Could Arctic Ice Melt Spawn New Kind Of Cold War?

Unlike the first Cold War, dominated by tensions between the two late-20th century superpowers, this century's model could pit countries that border the Arctic Ocean against each other to claim mineral rights. The Arctic powers include the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway.

The irony is that the burning of fossil fuels is at least in part responsible for the Arctic melt -- due to climate change -- and the Arctic melt could pave the way for a 21st century rush to exploit even more fossil fuels.

The stakes are enormous, according to Scott Borgerson of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former US Coast Guard lieutenant commander.

The Arctic could hold as much as one-quarter of the world's remaining undiscovered oil and gas deposits, Borgerson wrote in the current issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.
Portishead. New album. April 28.

I'm excited.

Peter Watts on no-kidding mind-reading technology:

Now here comes Kendrick Kay and his buddies in Nature with "Identifying natural images from human brain activity", and if they haven't actually vindicated all those cheesy narrative gimmicks, they've made a damn good first pass at it. They used fMRI scans to infer which one of 120 possible novel images a subject was looking at. "Novel" is important: the system trained up front on a set of nearly 2,000 images to localize the receptive fields, but none of those were used in the actual mind-reading test. So we're not talking about simply recognizing a simple replay of a previously-recorded pattern here. Also, the images were natural -- landscapes and still-lifes and snuff porn, none of this simplified star/circle/wavey-lines bullshit.

The system looked into the minds of its subjects, and figured out what they were looking at with accuracies ranging from 32% to 92%. While the lower end of that range may not look especially impressive, remember that random chance would yield an accuracy of 0.8%. These guys are on to something.
I've been refining my blog tags. I've still got some work to do, but eventually surfing Posthuman Blues should be a smoother process.

In the meantime, here are a few tags worth checking out if you want to look around:










Climate change




Saturday, March 08, 2008

Power Shortage in the Outer Solar System?

As if we didn’t have enough trouble getting to the outer Solar System, now comes word that the US inventory of plutonium-238 is diminishing. That's what NASA administrator Mike Griffin told a House appropriations subcommittee this past week, pointing out that after the Mars Science Laboratory launches in 2009, the agency will find itself running out of the plutonium needed to fuel radioisotope power systems. Even New Horizons, on the way to Pluto/Charon, is using Russian plutonium, the periodic purchase of which has been forced by NASA's dwindling supplies.
Masdar: ecotopia or pipe-dream?

(Thanx: Communist Robot.)
It was probably inevitable: io9 discovers "Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity." (By some cosmic fluke I've never actually seen this particular quintessence of "B"-grade science fiction, but the clips are quite, um, "revealing.")
Another book for the Posthuman Blues reading pile. (Hey Trevor! How about a review copy?)
Simulated Environments for Animals

But why do we only build zoos like this? Why not suburbs or college campuses? You mold landforms out of reinforced concrete, and you install artificial waterfalls and fake rivers, and you grow rare orchids under the cover of geodesic domes. And then your grandkids can grow up in a savannah-themed suburb outside Orlando. The next town over, kids run around through giant fern trees, chasing parrots.

Perhaps themed biozones are the future of suburban design?
I went gallery-browsing today in an effort to rouse myself from what's becoming a most unwelcome bout of depression. (Lately my life has been defined by attempts to combat the petty machinations of fuckwits and the usual grinding loneliness.) It was no magic cure, but at least I filled my cellphone with pictures.

I totally neglected to get the artists' names. The sculptures can be found at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins, respectively. If you're ever in Kansas City, I unreservedly recommend both of them.
Another cat video. Featuring aliens! Don't miss it!

(Thanks, Brent!)
UFO Meeting Did NOT Take Place

Therefore, Mr. Lorant has left the FEA, and the president of that organization, Michel Ribardiere, has issued a statement to the effect that the visit was probably "fiction." Michael Salla's report of the event also came from Gilles Lorant, and has no independent source. In France, such misrepresentations are illegal, and Michel Ribardiere has issued the following additional statement, "Considering the infiltration of many foreign UFO organizations by unscrupulous individuals, who have sometimes attempted to sabotage their operations, the F.E.A reserves the right to bring this whole affair before the courts."

The only thing more shocking than if this meeting had actually occurred as described is that that the story's being retracted by Unknown Country.
Worth a look:

March Military Campaign - now that's what I call ground clearance

Okay, I'm done. I've reached the apex of pure awesomeness. Nothing I ever post from here on out will match the German NK-101 Minenraumer rolling mine exploder (which the guys cataloging the odd vehicles of the Third Reich must have missed).

Unfortunately, little seems known about it. It currently resides in the Kubinka, Russia tank museum, and the Russians captured it from the Germans after World War II.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

3-D Modeling Advance

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a Web service called Make3D that lets users turn a single two-dimensional image of an outdoor scene into an immersive 3-D model. This gives users the ability to easily create a more realistic visual representation of a photo--one that lets viewers fly around the scene.


This could yield some fantastic applications for satellite space imagery; who could resist an immersive tour of Iapetus' equatorial "wall" or a close-up look at the Cydonia region of Mars?

Update: Bruce Sterling's posted some interesting YouTube demos. The technique is limited but still cool.
UK astronomers to broadcast adverts to aliens

Although each and every television advert already broadcast has leaked into the heavens, the caper marks the first time one is to be targetted at an other worldly market, a zone in the constellation Ursa Major that could harbour alien worlds, the snack manufacturer Doritos announces today.

Today's biomimetic fix:

Floppy when wet: Sea cucumber inspires new plastic

Sea cucumbers' skin is usually supple, allowing them to slide through narrow spaces between rocks and corals. But when touched a defensive reaction makes their skin go rigid in seconds, thanks to enzymes that binds protein fibres together. A second set of enzymes can break those bonds to make the skin soft again.

Sea cucumber skin can become more than 10 times stiffer in this way, but the new material can go further -- softening by more than 2500 times. Simply soaking the transparent material in warm water for 15 minutes is all it takes to complete the transformation. After drying out it is identical to its original rigid state.

New SETI post right here.
I'm puzzling over what, exactly, prompted me to post the preceding cat cartoon. Not that it was unfunny or that I don't like cats; it just wasn't usual PB fare -- insofar as anything that winds up here conforms to a theme.

Anyway, I just noticed Greg Bishop's latest post (about the enigmatic UFO "aviary") and thought I'd pass it along. Aside from offering a valuable "who's who" among ufological spookdom, it fits.

And now, since I'm exhausted, I'm going to bed -- perchance to dream of animated felines and anonymous saucer-spies.
It's come to this. I'm posting cat cartoons.

(Thanks: LiLeLa.)

Click to see the Earth and Moon from the vantage-point of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Author Peter Watts cites a scientific paper that suggests consciousness -- that ephemeral psychic narrator we equate with self-awareness and the "soul" -- doesn't have any adaptive value. Watts originally turned me onto this proposterous-seeming (yet perversely seductive) idea in "Blindsight," a dark novel of posthumanity and first contact that spawned the following meditation on alien saucer-pilots:

If we're dealing with aliens -- regardless whether or not they originate in space or on Earth -- maybe their clumsy, oblique interactions with us can be explained if they're endowed with intelligence but devoid of sentience. They could have taken an evolutionary route that bypassed awareness entirely, or they could have achieved a form of sentience only to lose it, perhaps by recklessly merging with their machines.

"Ufonauts" are often described as behaving in a military or insect-like manner, even moving in lockstep. Maybe they're interested in us because we're aware in a way they aren't, and they're determined to acquire our capacity for self-reflective thought in order to communicate with us. In essence, our interaction with the UFO intelligence could be a dialogue with a complex but myopic machine. Maybe "they" have never encountered a species like us and are genuinely baffled -- insofar as a distributed computer can be "baffled."

(Have you noticed how I've spent the last two posts quoting myself? Must be something in the air.)

Sentient Developments' recent discussion of von Neumann machines and Bracewell probes puts me in mind of an essay I wrote in response to a Centauri Dreams post on the "Fermi Paradox":

Instead of relatively limited Bracewell probes, for instance, imagine an intelligent technology capable of engaging emerging civilizations in an excruciatingly patient (by human standards) form of theater. Many UFO encounters seem less like chance sightings of extraterrestrial hardware than staged events conceived by an overarching intelligence that may have little to do with the will of perceived "occupants." Just as a Bracewell probe's agenda involves instigating a simple dialogue with an emergent civilization (or at least its technological ambassadors), the more robust capabilities and resources at the disposal of a galaxy-spanning post-"Singularity" intelligence should be more than up to the task of communicating with us.

But are we confident that such communication will be limited to electromagnetic exchanges? In light of Ray Kurzweil's amply demonstrated law of accelerating returns, perhaps it's just as likely that our first conversation with extraterrestrials will take the form of a complex psychosocial experiment (in which unconventional flying objects may play only a partial role). Although undoubtedly physical, it's an open question whether "real" UFOs are metallic spacecraft in the familiar sense (although in the early days of the phenomenon researchers quickly fastened to the idea, sensing appealing parallels with our own aerospace ventures). Dispensing with the conventional notion of "mere" ET craft allows us to view the UFO problem as a manifestation of technologies ranging from von Neumann machines to "utility fog."

If the ET intent is to test our reactions to its presence (or something more profound, as the phenomenon's impact on our mythology might indicate), quickly assembling "ships" and even "aliens" from raw materials would enable the disparity of forms seen in the sky. The flexibility of nanotech construction would allow the UFO intelligence to respond to our preconceptions in "real time," thereby ensuring a permanent foothold in the collective unconscious while maintaining plausible deniability -- at least among those tasked with policing potentially subversive memes.
I'm not much of a "Star Wars" fan. Regardless, I manage to laugh aloud every time I view the delightful alternate-universe Saul Bass intro below.

I hope "Blade Runner" gets the next faux-Bass treatment. (Any animators reading this?)
Mug! For! Aggressive! Caffeine! Addicts!

This Mug! is a mix between coffee mug and a knuckleduster. Comes in two models: Big Mug for guys, decorated with gore, and Girlie Mug, decorated with butterflies.

Recommended reading: Paul Kimball on Edward Condon.
A One-Way, One-Person Mission to Mars: Who Wants In?

Would you go on a mission to Mars? What about if it was a one-way mission? And you were by yourself? Yeah, that changes things a bit. Well, that's exactly what former NASA engineer Jim McClane suggests, saying that it's worth considering and removes many of the hurdles keeping us from the red planet now.

Dubbed "Spirit of the Lone Eagle," his plan would eliminate the hardest aspect of any potential Mars mission: the need to launch off of Mars to return to Earth.

Ahem. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind readers that I proposed the same idea back in 2006:

In idle moments I like to imagine ways I might get off the planet in the near-future. So far, none of them are especially probable. One idea that continues to tantalize (despite its fatalistic implications) is convincing NASA to send a one-man "experimental" mission to Mars, ostensibly to study the effects of prolonged microgravity and radiation on human physiology.

The subject? Me, of course.

I'm not asking that much, really. Just a modest capsule with life support and a way of navigating the Martian surface, even if it's just an augmented spacesuit and an inflatable tent. Once on Mars, I could continue sending NASA data on my condition, not to mention carry out geological and exobiological investigations. Given the tools and a minimum of scientific training, I figure my efforts could eclipse those of the current Mars Exploration Rovers within weeks.

Potentially suicidal? Yes.

Fun? You bet!
I'd never pegged myself for much of a "Japanese hiphop" kind of guy, but I really like this video.

(Thanks to alert reader Steve S. for the tip.)