Monday, February 28, 2005

A book devoted to the wit and wisdom of J.G. Ballard! I'm not making this up!

"A pocket-size compendium of culturally clairvoyant quotations culled from impossible-to-find articles, interviews, and fiction. Grouped by topic for easy and enjoyable navigation, it includes commentary on the future, the past, 9-11, death of reality, celebrity, writing, art, music, cities, suburbs, relationships, death and violence, and more."

(This hot meme via Technoccult by way of Boing Boing.)

To see my own J.G. Ballard page -- and possibly get an idea why this guy is so important -- click here.
SpaceShipOne: Headed for Air and Space Museum

"By winning the X Prize it clearly represents a next generation of space travel, possibly one that opens the doors to your average person making it into space, as opposed to trained astronauts and cosmonauts, NASM's Golkin told"
Greenland witnesses record winter high temperature

"Temperatures on the island, a Danish overseas territory, reached 16 degrees on Saturday, making it warmer than places such as Algarve, Malorca, and northern Tunisia."

Ice Melting Everywhere

"Ice is melting everywhere -- and at an accelerating rate. Rising global temperatures are lengthening melting seasons, thawing frozen ground, and thinning ice caps and glaciers that in some cases have existed for millennia. These changes are raising sea level faster than earlier projected by scientists, and threatening both human and wildlife populations."

You get the idea.
Breakthrough in solar photovoltaics

"THE HOLY Grail of researchers in the field of solar photovoltaic (SPV) electricity is to generate it at a lower cost than that of grid electricity. The goal now seems to be within reach.

"A Palo Alto (California) start-up, named Nanosolar Inc., founded in 2002, claims that it has developed a commercial scale technology that can deliver solar electricity at 5 cents per kilowatt-hour."
I made two great purchases yesterday. Barnes & Noble was selling full-color coffee-table quality books devoted to science fiction and fantasy book-jacket art for $10 each. I bought the SF volume and pored over it, then rushed back for the fantasy edition. Both feature tons of wonderfully zonked imagery from the 1930s to the 1990s.

As fun as this stuff is to look at, it's also sort of depressing. Where are the moon cities so convincingly depicted in the 50s? Where are the flying cars? The domestic androids? What about the giant vacuum trains linking the world's major cities or the ubiquitous gun-metal phallic rocket-ships?

Of course, if it's easy to feel cheated about what the real world failed to actualize, it's equally easy to feel a bit smug about all the cool stuff the artists never came close to envisioning. Cellphones. The Internet. Nanotech. (OK, so we're not quite there yet, but we're palpably close.)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

How to destroy the Earth

"This is not a guide for wusses whose aim is merely to wipe out humanity. I can in no way guarantee the complete extinction of the human race via any of these methods, real or imaginary. Humanity is wily and resourceful, and many of the methods outlined below will take many years to even become available, let alone implement, by which time mankind may well have spread to other planets; indeed, other star systems. If total human genocide is your ultimate goal, you are reading the wrong document. There are far more efficient ways of doing this, many which are available and feasible RIGHT NOW. Nor is this a guide for those wanting to annihilate everything from single-celled life upwards, render Earth uninhabitable or simply conquer it. These are trivial goals in comparison.

"This is a guide for those who do not want the Earth to be there anymore."

Let the fun begin!
I realized shortly after I heard about Hunter Thompson's death that it would probably take a while for it to sink in. I really liked and respected Thompson, even though I'm furious at myself for only having read two of his books: the obligatory "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "The Rum Diary" (pehaps the best first novel I've ever read). It was hard to avoid the intuitive certainty that Thompson was one of the "good guys." Ditto for William Burroughs, whose death almost a decade ago (!) certainly came as an unwanted surprise, but didn't quite register until years later.

I didn't actually know either of these guys, of course. Nevertheless, their presence was reassuring. I felt a little safer in this world knowing that they were out there. Now that Thompson is gone, the zeitgeist is all the more menacing and unwelcome.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

I got a new chair for my "office"/living room today. It's big and black and intimidates my cats, who are used to napping on my old, less-impressive chair (which I've relegated to the bedroom for their exclusive use). I was watching Ebe, my tabby, warily explore the chair's perimeter and was reminded of the protohumans in the first part of "2001," who tentatively circle the alien Monolith until one of them musters the courage to actually touch it. Cue "Thus Spake Zarathrusta."

I'm reading Paul Von Ward's "Gods, Genes, and Consciousness." I have the feeling it's going to be a fairly excruciating experience, intellectually, but at least Ward is a good writer. And of course it helps that I can digest "fringe" lit without falling victim to the desire to unconditionally believe (or categorically refute) every bizarre meme lobbed my way.

Yesterday I finished Greg Bishop's "Project Beta," an up-close look at the role of disinformation in the UFO community: fascinating subject; awkward execution. Even so, I recommend it. (For my review, click here.)
Richard Dolan's essential commentary on the Jennings UFO special:

Peter Jennings and UFOs: Spinning and Deceiving

"That was essentially the first hour. The balloon was expanding, albeit in a conventional and sanitized manner. Still, for much of America, I would bet that even this was pretty strong stuff.

"So, it was time to let some air out.

"Thus we get the SETI people. We get to hear about Jill Tarter's UFO sighting, which was actually the moon. (Seemingly implying that all UFO sightings are conventional objects). We get Frank Drake and Seth Shostak. Why?"
RedTacton: An innovative Human Area Networking technology that uses the surface of the human body as a transmission path

"Using a RedTacton electro-optic sensor, two-way communication is supported between any two points on the body at a throughput of up to 10 Mbps. Communication is not just confined to the surface of the body, but can travel through the user's clothing to a RedTacton device in a pocket or through shoes to communicate with a RedTacton device embedded in the floor. Unlike wireless technologies, the transmission speed does not deteriorate even in the presence of large crowds of people all communicating at the same time in meeting rooms, auditoriums or stores. Because the body surface is the transmission path, increasing the number of connected users directly increases the available number of individual communication channels."

Viva ubicomp!

Friday, February 25, 2005

Whitley Strieber weighs in on the Jennings UFO special:

"The much heralded ABC special on UFOs has come and gone. Predictably, it was more of the same, a large number of lies sprinkled with a few truths."

I should probably point out here that Strieber's sensationalist alter-ego was merrily predicting that Jennings' treatment would be the real thing -- but consistency has never been one of Whitley's hallmarks.

But I have to agree with the following:

"At least it wasn't as relentlessly negative as such programs have generally been in the past. But people like Peter Jennings and his producers are cursed with the belief that they can understand -- or already do understand -- what they are looking at. The reality is that the UFO phenomenon is the most complex event in history, and a cursory examination of its surface by a few overworked and ill-informed television producers is not going to succeed in any way whatsoever to come to any truth about it."

For the entirety of Strieber's recap, click here. He makes some good points, but embeds them in so much impassioned rhetoric that he sounds a bit like one of the enamored cultists he criticizes. This is Strieber's central failing as an online writer. (His books, on the other hand, demonstrate a fair degree of editorial restraint.)
Last night I had a dream of a future inspired, in part, by the stills I've seen from the forthcoming "A Scanner Darkly." In the dream, every inch of space was enlivened with entertainment technology. All walls doubled as screens or projectors. One of the people I "met" had an ongoing love-affair with a person who materialized only as a photo-realistic animated persona in the decor of his apartment.

I watched surreal holographic cartoon characters entertain children. And in a strange twist, it seemed that flesh-and-blood humans could commingle with the neon-lit virtual world so seemingly out-of-reach by becoming virtual themselves, their humanness somehow uploaded into the very architecture.

Blogger/friend Sauceruney made a guest appearance. He was sitting at a bar of some sort, making passive remarks about the ubiquitous tech I was exploring. I remember wondering if it would actually be cheaper to simulate the gaudy yet sophisticated environment as a direct neural uplink rather than construct it in "meatspace." Sauceruney, or someone, seemed certain awesomely endowed broadband computation (taking place in real space, as opposed to cyberspace) was responsible.

I experienced not a little relief knowing that what I was seeing wasn't an illusion. I estimated the world I found myself in was roughly one-hundred years in advance of our own, in which case the human race (or at least the small portion of it that I saw) was doing essentially OK. No ecological collapse. No thermonuclear spasm -- or at least none that I could infer.

Maybe that was the point of this fantastic display of future media prowess: to banish transgressive thoughts, to cauterize pessimism in the womb.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Pope Calls Gay Marriage Part of 'Ideology of Evil'

"Homosexual marriages are part of 'a new ideology of evil' that is insidiously threatening society, Pope John Paul says in a new book published Tuesday." (Via CP.)

Boy, I must be missing something. It seems to me that if there's an "ideology of evil" at work in the world, it's behind our unheeding destruction of our atmosphere.

Or the mentality that allows corporations to fling their pollutants into the water supply without fear of reprisal.

Or the thoughtless use of depleted uranium that threatens to haunt war survivors with generations of deformed offspring.

Take your goddamned pick.

Our planet is experiencing a near-exponential rise in temperature due to anthropogenic climate change. Whole communities are being uprooted as the environment inexorably worsens.

The United States, while lambasting the use of fictional weapons of mass destruction in the Persian Gulf, stealthily upgrades its bioweapons arsenal with a genetically altered smallpox virus.

Mass extinction, genocide . . . and John Paul has the gall to pick on gay marriage?

It probably goes without saying that I don't find any fault whatsoever with gay marriage. I don't think there's anything vaguely objectionable about it, and suspect those who do harbor issues they'd rather not discuss (openly, at least). So when an "authority" like the Pope regurgitates this xenophobic shit, words like "senility" and even "delusional" come to mind.

I've never been a fan of religion; the Vatican is no exception. I'm reminded of Timothy Leary's observation that the Catholic Church arguably kills more human beings than it saves through its missionary work in Africa: What good is coming to the aid of victims of famine and grinding poverty if you preach the evils of birth control, thereby ensuring a new crop of the homeless and starving?

The Pope is trafficking memes just like everyone else. But there's no wisdom here, no empathy, no attempt to address the psychopathology of imminent cataclysm. His condemnation of gay marriage is a feeble bit of nastiness from an old man who doesn't seem to realize our time is running out. If we're to make the evolutionary cut, we need to dispense with our adoration for leaders -- religious, political and otherwise -- and to hell with offending others with inconvenient truths.
Physically, I'm not an outgoing person -- especially for someone with "weird" interests. I dress pretty conservatively; my only possible concessions to fashion are Dr. Marten's and reasonably stylish prescription glasses. No tattoos -- although I've been considering having a small ink sketch by Franz Kafka memorialized on my forearm -- and no piercings. Even my hair is worryingly normal, although years ago I experimented with shaving it (with unencouraging results).

But the idea of "implanted" lenses appeals to me. I wish I'd thought of this.
New organism raises Mars questions

"When he looked at a small sample of this bacteria-laden ice under a microscope, Hoover said, 'These bacteria that had just thawed out of the ice . . . were swimming around. The instant the ice melted, they started swimming. They were alive . . . but they had been frozen for over 30,000 years.'

"This discovery, coupled with research released this week by the European Space Agency, makes it more likely that life could be found on Mars, Hoover said." (Via Weird Events.)

I like the idea that Mars' biosphere is in temporary cold-storage. An attempt to terraform the Red Planet might unleash all sorts of exotic alien life as ancient spores thaw and resume their life-cycle. As a matter of fact, I read a juvenile science fiction novel in elementary school with a similar premise -- but what I remember most was the fictional astronauts using helicopters to navigate the Martian globe . . .
The much-anticipated (although not by me) Peter Jennings UFO special is on tonight. Those of you with television might want to catch it.

I'm predicting the usual stew of condescending references, misinformation by obligatory "skeptics," sensationalism, hokey animation, and outright journalistic incompetence that has plagued every prime-time UFO special to date.

But it would be nice to be wrong.
Hydroelectric power's dirty secret revealed

"[P]lant matter settling on the reservoir's bottom decomposes without oxygen, resulting in a build-up of dissolved methane. This is released into the atmosphere when water passes through the dam's turbines.

"Seasonal changes in water depth mean there is a continuous supply of decaying material. In the dry season plants colonise the banks of the reservoir only to be engulfed when the water level rises. For shallow-shelving reservoirs these 'drawdown' regions can account for several thousand square kilometres."

If problems like these prove insurmountable, perhaps "fringe" energy sources like fusion and (gasp!) Zero Point Energy are the way to go. Although I'm still not ready to write off Gerard K. O'Neill's orbital solar farm concept. Neither, it seems, is SF writer Ben Bova, whose new novel "Powersat" delves into the physics and politics of beaming energy to Earth from space.

Add another book to my "to-read" list . . .

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

UFO Secrecy and the Death of the American Republic (by Richard Dolan)

"Americans have lived on a mental autopilot for long enough. Every day, millions of children mindlessly recite a pledge of allegiance to the flag 'and to the republic for which it stands.' Do they know what a republic is? Do the adults who teach them know? Do you? The word once had meaning for all Americans, but those days are long gone. Today, we hear nothing about such things as republican institutions, and even less discussion about what structures of real power have actually evolved in the United States, and indeed throughout the world. I am not sure what exactly we should be calling this new government, but it isn't a republic, nor is it particularly democratic."
Triangle UFOs are Everywhere

"One theory holds that the black triangles are experimental military blimps or balloons, perhaps equipped with electrokinetic propulsion systems, which would make them silent. The military has never confirmed the existence of such balloons, but according to many UFO websites, Lockheed Martin did begin work on a triangular stealth blimp in 1982. NIDS issued a report in August 2004 suggesting that the black triangles may be some kind of military aircraft, though the truth about them is not known."

It's no real secret that "black ops" defense projects revel in sensational claims if it means averting public eyes from sensitive projects . . . but could the military be brazen enough to openly test something as potentially radical as the "black triangles"? How certain is it that sightings will continue to be chalked up to alien activity and quietly dismissed by the media? Even the ufological "laughter curtain" will fall, given enough witnesses.

Flying triangles, unlike secret aerospace projects, often behave like they want to be seen, appearing over highways and houses. Even if the craft in question are "merely" stealth blimps, why risk a mishap near a suburb when test flights could be just as easily be conducted in the Nevada desert?

Or maybe we're not seeing "test flights" at all; maybe the triangles are on active duty. It's where they're on duty that concerns me, regardless who they belong to.

"Scientists are already working on new ways to keep humans alive for long periods, far from the Earth. Sue Nelson explores how in order to travel in space we will need to become human aliens."

Of course, some of us are already there . . . ;-)
Seeing the invisible - first dark galaxy discovered?

"A British-led team of astronomers have discovered an object that appears to be an invisible galaxy made almost entirely of dark matter -- the first ever detected. A dark galaxy is an area in the universe containing a large amount of mass that rotates like a galaxy, but contains no stars. Without any stars to give light, it could only be found using radio telescopes."
Visionary writer tells what he sees (by Lewis Shiner, who happens to be a damned good SF writer)

"With public figures from George Bush to Michael Crichton claiming that global warming is a myth, Sterling does feel a little frustration.

'It's fun to go around denying absolute reality, but I'm sorry, it's like denying evolution or denying the germ theory. It's exactly like denying the Holocaust,' Sterling says. 'The problem with that is that physical reality is not loyal to political ideology.'

"But Sterling doesn't single out President Bush for blame. 'If the U.S. vaporized tomorrow, the world would still be in big climate trouble.'

"To solve these problems, Sterling says, 'we've got to come up with a method where we don't design for landfills. The future of objects is cradle to cradle. We're going to have to fold them back into the production stream and make new objects out of the same material that we made old objects out of. Because otherwise you run out, eventually.'"

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Pollutants cause huge rise in brain diseases

"'This has really scared me,' said Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University, one of the report's authors. 'These are nasty diseases: people are getting more of them and they are starting earlier. We have to look at the environment and ask ourselves what we are doing.'"

Someone, somewhere, should reprint John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" in an extremely inexpensive "thrift" edition and put copies on every street-corner . . .
Mars may have subterranean frozen sea

"A frozen sea surviving as blocks of pack ice may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, New Scientist magazine says, citing observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft.

"Images from the high-resolution stereo camera on Mars Express show off structures called plates that look similar to ice formations near earth's poles.

"These plates could indicate the first discovery of a large body of water beyond Mars' polar ice caps, the review says."

I think we've reached the rather surreal point where contemplating a Mars without some form of life has become borderline silly.

Sick and tired of devoting your computer's downtime to SETI@home? Try the newly unveiled Einstein@home, "a program that uses your computer's idle time to search for spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO and GEO gravitational wave detectors."
Yes, I'm tinkering with the layout. Don't panic; all is well.

I've decided to go without Haloscan. You can, of course, still leave comments -- and I think Blogger's revamped commenting system is an arguable improvement (with the bonus that it presumably retains comments indefinitely instead of letting them "fade" after a few months).

As for the actual template: I think I'm going to stick with what I have now. This is the third or fourth design change I've made since starting this blog in January, 2003; longtime readers who remember the black-and-white "robot" motif are sure to find the present incarnation a decided improvement. I predict those of you who really liked the previous look will come to like this one, if only grudgingly, but if you have any major complaints please let me know.
Writer Hunter S. Thompson Commits Suicide

"Hunter S. Thompson, the hard-living writer who inserted himself into his accounts of America's underbelly and popularized a first-person form of journalism in books such as 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' has committed suicide.

"Thompson was found dead Sunday in his Aspen-area home of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, sheriff's officials said. He was 67. Thompson's wife, Anita, had gone out before the shooting and was not home at the time. His son, Juan, found the body."

Monday, February 21, 2005

This is sublime . . .

(Discovered at Chapel Perilous.)
Flirting with Armageddon: welcome to a new arms race

"A new nuclear arms race is gripping the world. Many experts believe the likelihood of such an attack is greater now than it was during the Cold War. North Korea has already claimed it has nuclear weapons, Iran could be on the brink of building them. Both nations could trigger arms races among their neighbours. The international system set up to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons has sprung a series of leaks. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned of a 'cascade' of states going nuclear.

"But that might not even be the biggest threat. Behind the ambitions and fears of nations lurk terrorist networks bent on acquiring weapons. Few doubt the most extreme groups would love to use them. It is a bleak picture that makes the Cold War look almost safe. 'We are in an extremely dangerous time right now,' said Natalie Goldring, a proliferation expert at the University of Maryland."

It's not all bad. Just most of it.
Terminator Genes

"Of course, all political administrations seek to control public opinion. But the Bush White House has taken repetition to a whole new level. It has even sought to turn media coverage into an echo chamber, filtering out any noise that might interfere with the administration's iterations.

[. . .]

"A century ago, Freud argued that the compulsion to repeat is a symptom of psychological disarray: One keeps re-enacting the same thing over and over rather than confronting new ideas, new feelings, new experiences. That same repetition compulsion defines our media culture, but what old Sigmund once diagnosed as a neurotic tie to the death instinct is now seen as the very height of acumen -- a way of selling your product, be it Viagra or war in Iraq."
For temporary lack of anything better to do, I just took a cursory look at Michael Crichton's official website. I was thrilled to come across a Q&A prepared (pretty obviously by the C-Man himself) expressly for "younger readers."

The following gem immediately caught my eye:

"Where do you get your ideas for your books? I wish I knew. They just seem to come from nowhere."

Oh, for Christ's sake! If you don't know how you get ideas for your books, I'll tell you: You take a cliched B-movie SF concept -- typically the one about a futuristic amusement park run amok -- and throw in some nominally related concept you've just encountered in "Discover" magazine. Thus the "Jurassic Park" books (with the first volume's inexplicable preoccupation with chaos theory), "Westworld," and other "cutting-edge" novels and screenplays.

You're a hack, Michael. You always have been. Of your own admission, you cranked out shitty books to pay your way through medical school. (All right, so maybe you didn't volunteer the word "shitty," but I'm taking the liberty.)

And if you thought that was so much self-congratulatory BS, get a load of this one:

"How did you become such a good writer? Plenty of writing! I began writing really diligently when I was in high school, and I kept at it."

Forget for the moment that Michael utterly fails to answer the question in a way that his presumed flock of "younger readers" might actually take to heart; it's the way he phrases the question that's a real hoot. "Good" writer? I simply can't shake the image of Crichton, alone in front of his flatscreen, committing these words to disk with a dreadfully serious expression stamped on his face.

OK. Enough ragging on Michael Crichton for the moment. In fact, no more ragging on Crichton, period. I'll even concede that it's tempting to brag about yourself when conducting online self-interviews. I'm probably guilty of it. The publishing industry effectively forces you to revel in your (assumed) literary/intellectual prowess, as I relearned the other day while drafting a formal proposal for a new book.

But don't let me stop you -- by all means peruse Crichton's website. It's vastly more entertaining than all his novels/movies combined.
Panelists decry Bush science policies

"The voice of science is being stifled in the Bush administration, with fewer scientists heard in policy discussions and money for research and advanced training being cut, according to panelists at a national science meeting.

"Speakers at the national meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science expressed concern Sunday that some scientists in key federal agencies are being ignored or even pressured to change study conclusions that don't support policy positions.

"The speakers also said that Bush's proposed 2005 federal budget is slashing spending for basic research and reducing investments in education designed to produce the nation's future scientists."

There's a definite (albeit deranged) logic to these decisions. After all, who needs "future scientists" when Armageddon is nigh? Plus, scientists have a certain manner of getting in the way when you're trying to promote absurdities such as Creationism.

In a way, you have to hand it to W -- he's thinking long-term.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Oh, yes -- Richard Hoagland has posted Part Three of his "Iapetus Proposal." (Add George Lucas to the ever-growing list of "insiders" . . .)
Today I went walking; the usual crowd of Sunday protestors had gathered next to the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain -- geriatric hippies, amiable pamphleteers and assorted dissidents in patriotic anti-war costume. I spoke briefly with a guy toting two "conspiracy" books on 9/11: the usual banter about nonexistent planes and sequestered videotape.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Glaciers shrinking in a warming world

"In east Africa, the storied snows of Mount Kilimanjaro are vanishing. In the icebound Alps and Himalayas of Europe and Asia, the change has been stunning. From South America to south Asia, new glacial lakes threaten to overflow and drown villages below."

Fiddling while the Earth melts

"In fact, we don't know what the long-term effects of global climate change will include. On a worst-case basis, humans will continue to breathe dirty air and get sick from it but live in denial. Sea levels could rise and cover existing residential and commercial developments on the coasts; wipe out protective barrier islands; and change forever the shape of our countries."
NASA has issued the following statement regarding recent independent studies of potential biomarkers in the Martian atmosphere. Is it just me, or does the first paragraph read like Japlish?

"News reports on February 16, 2005, that NASA scientists from Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., have found strong evidence that life may exist on Mars are incorrect.

"NASA does not have any observational data from any current Mars missions that supports this claim. The work by the scientists mentioned in the reports cannot be used to directly infer anything about life on Mars, but may help formulate the strategy for how to search for martian life. Their research concerns extreme environments on Earth as analogs of possible environments on Mars. No research paper has been submitted by them to any scientific journal asserting martian life."

ESA Says Life Likely on Mars--NASA Says No

"In a stunning press release distributed by NASA today, the Space Agency claims that its scientists are not, in fact, preparing any report that suggests that there may be life on Mars."

Well, of course. Life on Mars doesn't exactly agree with NASA's mission timetable; we're still supposed to be marveling at rocks. The US space agency will announce life on Mars only when it is politically expedient to do so.
Ocean warming, fossil fuel gases linked

"The research was conducted by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California. It showed that temperature readings in the oceans during the past 40 years matched computer models simulating how higher levels of human-generated greenhouse gases were expected to heat the oceans.

"'We were stunned by the degree of similarity between the observations and the models,' said Tim Barnett, a marine physicist who wrote the study with fellow Scripps scientist David Pierce."

Of course, for everyone who reads this study there a several thousand who are dutifully enamored of Crichton's best-selling "State of Fear."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Bruce Sterling is up to some cool hypothetical product design:

Innovative packaging

"Apple-juice gelatin drops are for the elderly or medical shut-ins who have trouble pouring and decanting conventional juices.

"Small shots of apple-juice can be sold in disposable, rapidly decaying plastic bags. These cheap, genetically altered juices are '120 percent apple juice.'"

I wonder . . . could Sterling be the guy to rescue HOOT! from vaporware limbo?

I just registered a Gmail account. Why? Because I could, I guess; I certainly don't need it. Then again, I'm curious to see what the hype's about. Hang in there, Yahoo.
Immortality Through Google

"'The vanity of death memorials parallels in some ways the use of the internet as a vanity mirror, as shown by the practice of Googling your own name, or accumulating links to your website,' said Sullivan. 'And a lot of geeky interests, like robots, artificial intelligence, and DNA replication or cloning all speak to the urge for immortality that drives so much of technology.'

"Sullivan said he wanted to create an urn that was visually interesting, allowed some user interactivity and referenced the physical body. He decided that his remains will be integrated into a computer processor. A virtual agent running on the computer that contains his ashes will scour the web for mentions of his name. As the mentions increase, an on-screen image of Sullivan will morph into an image of his younger self. But if the mentions decline, Sullivan's image will age, deteriorate and eventually fade away."

Rudy Rucker has a new book on the way that describes a hypothetical device he calls a "lifebox" -- an interactive personal database that can simulate conversation with an individual, whether alive or dead. While the "lifebox" isn't a true "upload" or artificial intelligence, it promises to do a good job of faking it, and may prove to be a popular archival tool for those with the requisite hardware and bandwidth.

In the meantime, we have blogs. Will Rucker's "lifebox" turn out to be the logical outgrowth of online self-publishing? Imagine a near-future Internet populated by thousands or millions of digital doppelgangers able to converse in real-time, sharing information with a warm, seemingly human delivery.

A future incarnation of Posthuman Blues might be able to imitate me so effectively that casual users are unable to distinguish the blog's persona from the actual author. If we reach that level of complexity, there will doubtless be those (possibly including blogs themselves) who maintain that the Web has achieved a sort of sentience, with constituent archived personae vying for human rights . . .

Information wants to be self-aware.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Math skills evolved independent of language

"NOAM CHOMSKY'S theory that the evolution of language provided the portal to all higher thought has taken another knock. A study of people with language difficulties suggests that mathematical skill evolved independently.

"A team led by Rosemary Varley at the University of Sheffield, UK, studied three people with extensive damage to the brain's left hemisphere, including language areas. Two could not speak at all, and the third only in fragmentary sentences. All were competent calculators, though, able to solve simple subtraction, division and multiplication problems..."

I, for one, am not remotely surprised. I'm a typical "cultural creative" right-brainer with atrocious math skills. I hate linear thought. Things like calendars and spread-sheets give me the chills. On the other hand, I'm almost constantly drawing, writing and trafficking weird ideas.

Not long ago "Wired" predicted that the 21st century media landscape was the rightful turf of right-brained intuitives. I'm not convinced. But the idea is definitely appealing; I'd like nothing more than to leave the all-or-nothing empiricism of the left hemisphere behind, like making the transition from fossil fuel to solar.

Of course, in reality, we need both halves of the brain in more or less equal measure. But I'm selfish.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

My desktop bit the dust. Again. But it's under warranty, so I guess I'm going to sacrifice it to the caprices of the Radio Shack (yes, you read that correctly) "repair" center. The good news is that my files are backed up on CD-ROM, so they can completely wipe the hard-drive for all I care. I don't know how this situation will affect my posting. Probably not much.

Oh, yeah -- Blogger has finally upgraded its comments feature, allowing non-Blogger-users to post responses with relatively little fuss. I like the look of it and think I might do away with Haloscan; if you find that your feedback has suddenly vanished, that's what's going on. Keep in mind that if you don't like Blogger's comments software, I can always bring Haloscan back, so feel free to let me know what you think.
Revenge of the Science Fiction Writers!

"Here's a quick rule of thumb: Don't annoy science fiction writers. These are people who destroy entire planets before lunch. Think of what they'll do to you."

And don't you forget it.

Exclusive: NASA Researchers Claim Evidence of Present Life on Mars

"Stoker told her private audience Sunday evening that by comparing discoveries made at Rio Tinto with data collected by ground-based telescopes and orbiting spacecraft, including the European Space Agency's Mars Express, she and Lemke have made a very a strong case that life exists below Mars' surface.

"The two scientists, according to sources at the Sunday meeting, based their case in part on Mars' fluctuating methane signatures that could be a sign of an active underground biosphere and nearby surface concentrations of the sulfate jarosite, a mineral salt found on Earth in hot springs and other acidic bodies of water like Rio Tinto that have been found to harbor life despite their inhospitable environments."

But that's not all:

A whiff of life on the Red Planet

"Now Formisano is saying that there is much more methane on Mars. He bases this on the detection of a different gas, formaldehyde, by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS), an instrument on Mars Express that he runs. Formisano averaged thousands of measurements taken by the PFS and calculated that the Martian atmosphere has formaldehyde in concentrations of 130 parts per billion.

"He thinks that the gas is being produced by the oxidation of methane and estimates that 2.5 million tonnes of methane per year are needed to produce it. 'I believe that until it is demonstrated that non-biological processes can produce this, possibly the only way to produce so much methane is life,' he says. 'My conclusion is there must be life in the soil of Mars.'"

Decidedly speculative but no less relevant:

Under martian ice (by Stephen Baxter)

"I'm sure you're familiar with the question Enrico Fermi asked in 1950: 'Where is everybody?' If extraterrestrial aliens exist, they should have spread everywhere by now. So how come we don't see them? Our vision of the Universe has expanded greatly since 1950, but we've still turned up no incontrovertible evidence of intelligence away from Earth. Until now.

"In retrospect, we should have expected to find traces of long-gone travellers. Interstellar visits were actually more likely in ancient times than now. The Galaxy's peak star-formation rate seems to have been some five billion years ago -- just before the birth of the Sun -- so most stars and planetary systems must be older than our own. The Galaxy's climax as an arena for nurturing civilization was deep in the past.

"And if they did come to the Solar System so long ago, where would they have visited?

"Early Mars was more hospitable to life than Earth. Being smaller, Mars cooled quicker, and life made an earlier start. Mars was less of a target for the planet-sterilizing impactors that roamed the young Solar System. Young Mars even enjoyed an atmosphere rich in oxygen. Indeed, as everybody knows by now, we've confirmed that the original source of life on Earth was in fact Mars, transmitted by impact-detached meteorites."
Cool site of the day: Which Science Fiction Writer Are You?

(I'm Olaf Stapledon.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I've been experiencing technical difficulty. Regularly scheduled blogging to resume shortly.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Congratulations to Herbie Brennan, whose "Faerie Wars" books are enjoying uncommon commercial and critical success. Herbie is also a prolific author of the paranormal and occult, and was gracious enough to read the uncorrected manuscript of "After the Martian Apocalypse" (and submit a damned catchy blurb).
Deja vu? Scientists have the answer

"While the person experiencing deja vu begins to doubt his grasp on reality for a moment, neuro-scientists believe this 'little mistake' perpetrated by our consciousness allows them an unaccustomed window onto the processes of the consciousness.

"'Perhaps continuing research into deja vu will explain not only how memory errors occur, but also how the brain is able to establish a continuous image of reality at all,' Wolfradt says."

My first experience with deja vu -- a series of about six "jolts" of intimate familiarity within the space of an hour or so -- left me queasy with fear; I'd never experienced anything like it, and honestly suspected something was seriously amiss with my brain.

I'm inclined to think deja vu is a processing error in the brain -- maybe even a minor seizure. But if time is asymmetrical (as indicated by the Global Consciousness Project), it might be something more . . . a shadow of hyperconsciousness; a sporadic all-at-onceness that we can only endure in small doses without succumbing to vegetable-hood.

What's playing:

1.) The Smiths (The Smiths)
2.) Violator (Depeche Mode)
3.) Around the Sun (R.E.M.)
4.) Hours (David Bowie)
5.) Medulla (Bjork)
Snubbing Kyoto: Our Monumental Shame

"And what's Michael Crichton's excuse? His latest best-selling novel, 'State of Fear,' offers up the delusional notion that global warming is the creation of environmental groups looking to boost their profile and fill their coffers. This is like arguing that the link between smoking and cancer was dreamed up by oncologists, radiologists and funeral home directors. Unfortunately, Crichton's sophomoric fiction may be the only thing many Americans read on global warming." (Via CP.)

And the politicians and industrialists who deny global warming would be stupid not to know this. I can't prove it, but I think Crichton was, at the very least, "encouraged" by certain people to write "State of Fear."
Five and a half hours till Valentine's Day is officially over. But who's counting?
US denies patent for part-human hybrid

"But in an age in which science is increasingly melding human and animal components for research -- already the government has allowed many patents on 'humanized' animals, including a mouse with a human immune system -- the decision leaves a crucial question unanswered: At what point is something too human to patent?"

Have you read H.G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau"? You should; it's right up there with "The War of the Worlds."
Invisible tiny UFO caught on chemical-imaging camera

A hypothetical cell-repair nanobot.

"According to some of these scientists, the group is now investigating if invisible UFOs are all around us. The IR camera cannot pick these up because they are not only stealth, they are non-heat producing crafts. Many of these crafts are remote controlled without any life forms inside the same. As a result, naked eyes, the most sophisticated radar systems and even the IR cameras cannot see them."

If true -- which I sincerely doubt -- this would seem to suggest a large-scale surveillance program carried out by alien "nanoprobes." If aliens wanted to eavesdrop on us, Big Brother would have nothing on them.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Scientists gravitate toward E.T. notions

"But what will happen next isn't clear, although one thing is: There won't be any manned visits to these planets anytime soon, as they probably are tens or thousands of light-years away.

"Berkley's Marcy ran through a series of calculations suggesting there could easily be thousands of advanced civilizations in the Milky Way.

"'There's only one problem: Where are they? Why haven't we seen them?' Marcy said.

"Researchers have found no writing on the moon, no crashed spaceships on Mars, no messages floating through space."

Here we go with Fermi's so-called "paradox" again. Firstly, we know next to nothing about the Moon and Mars; it's perfectly conceivable -- even probable -- that we will discover conclusive evidence of intelligence if we ever get serious about planetary exploration. Already, we've seen tantalizing hints, as I attempt to summarize in "After the Martian Apocalypse."

Secondly, the problems with conventional SETI sky-searches are innumerable. We're just discovering that our planet possesses a collective unconscious and toying with the prospects of quantum entanglement . . . yet we naively assume advanced aliens will be playing with radio transmitters and infrared lasers.

To make matters even more interesting, a new scientific paper has come to the defense of the UFO evidence, seriously proposing that we're sharing our niche of the galaxy -- and our airspace -- with at least one other intelligence (vastly more capable than our own, yet apparently benign).

"Why haven't we seen them?" My retort, as distressing as it may be to vested academic interests, is that it's very likely we already have.
When Freeman speaks, I listen:

The Darwinian Interlude (by Freeman Dyson)

"In the post-Darwinian era, biotechnology will be domesticated. There will be do-it-yourself kits for gardeners, who will use gene transfer to breed new varieties of roses and orchids. Also, biotech games for children, played with real eggs and seeds rather than with images on a screen. Genetic engineering, once it gets into the hands of the general public, will give us an explosion of biodiversity. Designing genomes will be a new art form, as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but all will bring joy to their creators and diversity to our fauna and flora."
Here's a wacky slide-show devoted to "climate change." (Crazy Photoshop artists!)
Drug-resistant HIV strain found

"Health officials in New York say they have found a new strain of highly drug-resistant HIV in a city resident."

In "Eclipse," a science fiction novel by John Shirley, there's an offhand reference to something called "AIDS 3" -- evidently a form of the disease even worse than the first two . . .
Can This Black Box See Into the Future?

"'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.' Dr Nelson's investigations, called the Global Consciousness Project, were originally hosted by Princeton University and are centred on one of the most extraordinary experiments of all time. Its aim is to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can all tap into without realising."

This may very well be the most fascinating science news item I've posted here. My head's bursting. More later . . .

Saturday, February 12, 2005

UFO sighted over Washington DC

"Take notice that the headlights of autos are showing exposure trails from the headlights, but the object in the air is not, thus implying it is stationary or hovering."
The Chimp will not be deterred:

U.S. Scientists Say They Are Told to Alter Findings

"More than half of the biologists and other researchers who responded to the survey said they knew of cases in which commercial interests, including timber, grazing, development and energy companies, had applied political pressure to reverse scientific conclusions deemed harmful to their business.

"Bush administration officials, including Craig Manson, an assistant secretary of the Interior who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, have been critical of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, contending that its implementation has imposed hardships on developers and others while failing to restore healthy populations of wildlife.

"Along with Republican leaders in Congress, the administration is pushing to revamp the act. The president's proposed budget calls for a $3-million reduction in funding of Fish and Wildlife's endangered species programs.

"'The pressure to alter scientific reports for political reasons has become pervasive at Fish and Wildlife offices around the country,' said Lexi Shultz of the Union of Concerned Scientists."
Columnist Jon Carroll on the "Rapture Index":

"Let us consider the Rapture Index. This is a real thing prepared by serious people. If it makes you laugh, you have not gotten the memo. You probably have not read any of the 12 volumes of the 'Left Behind' series, the best-selling books in America today.

"Those Left Behind are those who did not experience the Rapture, which is an instant in time when all the truly holy people are taken directly to heaven, leaving their clothes in small neat piles behind them. The rest of the ungodly losers are left to deal with natural disasters and wars and the armies of the Antichrist, after which they die in various colorful ways while the ranks of the saved watch with compassion tempered with an understandable sense of satisfaction."

I wonder if a time traveler from 2005 could convince someone living in, say, 1955 that the above story is an accurate reflection of the 21st century American zeitgeist . . .

I doubt it.
True story: Today I had a distressing dream about blogging too much . . . then awoke with the urge to write a post about it.

This is sick, folks. I've developed a real jones for this medium -- which isn't necessarily bad, since I consider it potentially worthwhile. At the very least, it's a nice way to commit random thoughts to "paper." Even so, I may have to cut back if I'm to complete my novel (or short-story collection, depending on where it takes me).

"The Executive Board of the American Physical Society (APS) believes that servicing the Hubble should be one of NASA's highest priorities and concurs with the National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on the Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope that Hubble is 'the most powerful optical astronomical facility in history,' that 'has clearly been one of NASA's most noticed science projects, garnering sustained public attention over its entire lifetime.' In accord with a recent American Astronomical Society statement, the APS Board believes that Hubble's scientific potential is as promising as the remarkable past record it has achieved. It further believes that this potential provides a compelling, persuasive reason for adding money to the NASA science program to carry out the necessary servicing mission, without which, according to the NRC report, Hubble will cease science operations in mid to late 2007."

Do I really need to explain what's going on here? While Bush is perceived as a "space president" because of his so-called "Moon-Mars Initiative," he doesn't really give a fuck about exploring our universe; if anything, images of far-flung nebulae and exploded stars from the Hubble make his Fundamentalist cohorts uneasy because they're in obvious conflict with the six-day biblical Creation model.

No, Bush has set his beady eyes on the stars because he wants to populate the sky with guns. This lack of vision is beyond limited -- it's psychopathic.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Shostak in the news -- again . . .

It must be very nice to have an intellectual monopoly on the question of ET intelligence.

Scientists are willing to wager that ET will call

"Given that astronomer Frank Drake launched the first SETI search about 40 years ago and nobody has thus far been heard from, when will Shostak and his colleagues make contact? 'The answer is some time close to the year 2025,' he says. 'I'll bet you a flat white on that!'"

What to tell the aliens

"[Shostak] laid out yet another potential strategy for interstellar contact: The aliens might set up their transmitters so that they shoot out tightly focused signals, in a direction exactly opposite from that of an interesting cosmic object such as a pulsar. That way, another civilization studying the pulsar would pick up E.T.'s signal as well.

"For that reason, pulsars could be among the first targets for observation when the initial group of antennas in the Allen Telescope Array begins operations later this year, Shostak said. 'You know that the aliens will be studying pulsars, too,' Shostak said."

No, Seth, I don't "know" that. ETs might find pulsars consummately uninteresting; they might have bigger fish to fry.
Wow. Take a look at this object of beauty.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Director James Cameron Works with NASA on Future Mars Mission

"Most notably, Cameron said NASA does not do a great job telling its story. The focus is on hardware instead of people, partly because the agency shields its people from the public. Instead, in an era when American kids and adults need inspiration, NASA needs to do a better job of selling its astronauts and scientists as people."

Someone finally said it. I'm suddenly a James Cameron fan.

North Korea admits to nuclear weapons

"North Korea has declared for the first time it possesses nuclear weapons and has pulled out indefinitely from six-party talks on its atomic ambitions, saying it needs a defence against a hostile United States."
An Architect's Wet-Cement Dream (by Bruce Sterling)

"A viab would produce structures that are not set and specific, but impermanent and malleable - merely viable - made of a uniform, recyclable substance like adobe. The automaton's output would have no innate design, boundaries, or service life. It would take whatever form was called for at the moment - a great rotting blooming stony bubble of a building that, unlike all previous forms of human habitation, would be unplanned, responsive, densely monitored, massively customized, and rock-solid, with all modern conveniences.

"The closest thing to a viab today is a small, modest mud-working robot invented by Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California. Khoshnevis' 'contour crafter' works more or less like a 3-D printer, but it's meant to assemble whole buildings. Its nozzle spits wet cement while a programmable trowel smoothes the goo into place. Roche encountered Khoshnevis, and his agile imagination immediately started pushing the idea toward its limits."

One obvious application: self-assembling communities -- on Earth and elsewhere. The "great rotting blooming stony bubble" described by Sterling reminds me of a habitat idea I've played with in science fiction vignettes; I imagined organic-looking structures similar in basic appearance to the abstract statuary of Henry Moore and dubbed them "moorephologies" in his honor. It looks like a "viab" is the perfect instrument to actually build (or, more accurately, grow) one.

"We're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

--Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Man Finds Mystery Nail in His Neck

"Yun said there is no way Villagomez could have swallowed the nail and also has no explanation for how it may have gotten in his neck. 'I hadn't seen anything like that before,' he said." (Via The Anomalist.)

As the editor of The Anomalist notes, this case is reminiscent of the "alien implant" phenomenon, in which suspected "abductees" discover foreign objects embedded in their bodies. The few "implants" that have been removed -- by a rather gullible podiatrist -- share some interesting compositional similarities but have left the issue naggingly open to dismissal. (Of course, in theory, that could be an integral part of the alien plot. Villagomez's case suggests "they" might have decided to ramp up the absurdity that accompanies abductions by disguising their implants as common objects.)

"Implants" -- whatever they are -- are outnumbered by "scoop marks" and shallow craters similar to those left by punch biopsies. Pressed for an explanation, abductees recall -- typically under hypnosis -- alien beings taking tissue samples, apparently for a far-reaching genetic/tracking program.

Scoop marks and related blemishes are intriguing but don't fare well as evidence of anything in particular; almost anyone can find an anomalous scar on her body if she looks carefully enough. For example, I have a series of parallel grooves near my shoulder; they appeared suddenly, but I don't know how. Aliens? I can't prove ETs aren't the cause, but I strongly doubt it. In a similar vein, I once had a hard spherical object removed from my earlobe; the dermatologist who did the cutting didn't find it at all remarkable (although I do wish I'd thought to have him keep it for me).

But I'm genuinely puzzled about the nail in Villagomez's neck. Coincidentally, generations of archaeologists and miners have (unwittingly) found a plethora of tooled metal objects embedded in solid rock, forcefully implying the artifacts are millions of years old. Some researchers, notably Michael Cremo, have cited such anachronisms as evidence of a remarkably ancient civilization.

But the nail in Villagomez' neck suggests another (equally weird) explanation: Maybe, for unknown reasons, small metal objects are uniquely susceptible to random teleportation. Perhaps there's an ongoing, invisible traffic of nails, ball bearings and occasional jewelry (see Cremo and Thompson's "Forbidden Archaeology") that we notice only seldomly . . . if at all. Alternatively, "impossible" archaeological finds might signal flaws in the universe's causal structure, indicating that our reality is in fact a simulation or some sort of consensual dream.

Humans are quite adept at ignoring the "impossible." Comically enough, we deign to acknowledge it only when it happens to manifest in a man's neck -- metaphorically stuffed down our collective throat.
Jason Sheets (Busy, Busy, Busy) has thrown in the blogging towel (at least temporarily) under the mistaken impression that other bloggers are rendering him redundant. As one of the very best commentators on the malignant ascent of "Creation Science," Jason needs a good talking to by members of the blogosphere who value informed protest.* So here's Jason's email address (courteously disguised to duck spambots): zinnite at gmail dot com. Let him have it.

On the subject of email: Please, whoever you are, stop signing me up for vacuous mass mailings devoted to the merits and perils of politically inclined entertainer-commentators. I don't care. Not one bit. Ann Coulter can be as "shocking" as she wants, and that's fine, but I could honestly care less. Same for left-leaning spokesmen like Michael Moore, who refuses my requests to be removed from his mailing list and continues to plague my in-box with oh-so-ironic "open letters" to W and others.

Like professional wrestling, the arena populated by the likes of Coulter, Limbaugh, Moore et al should be properly labeled political "entertainment." It certainly isn't discourse. It's contrived, degenerate banter, and I'm sick of it.

*Plus, Rudy Rucker is on hiatus; I'm running out of daily reads, folks!

I was almost a victim of a traffic pile-up this evening on the way home from work when the car in front of me, having missed its exit, came to an abrupt stop in the middle of a busy road. Much honking ensued. But at least I got a chance to see a thoroughly predictable menagerie of bumper-stickers and decorations commemorating:

a.) Hooters

b.) Jesus


and, of course, our beloved troops. All on one car, mind you; evidently the driver was a bit too busy praising the Lord and Supporting Our Troops to pay any attention to what he was doing. That's patriotism.
Triangular UFOs Seen Over Paris

"On June 30, 2004, another witness in Paris observed a triangular object, lit with a white light at each corner and a red one in the center, passing silently overhead. Shortly thereafter a second triangle appeared, this one brightly lit, and remained visible for a few seconds."
Another photo from Sedona, Arizona, taken from the balcony of Peter's apartment. Check out the moon above those rock spires.

This picture actually reminds me of old-school planetary landscape paintings, such as the one that graces the top of Hoagland's latest. A little retouching and -- voila -- Desert Planet, especially if you add a few extra moons. Even the unfinished buildings in the foreground have an appealingly alien look to them if you squint.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

--George Washington

"I've heard the call. I believe God wants me to run for president."

--George Bush

We've come a long way, baby. But wait! There's more!

I especially like this one:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage."

--Sir Alex Fraser Tytler
Area 51 in hi-rez! (Why do I anticipate Photoshop artists having a field day with this?)

Here's an interesting Flash interpretation of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Note: My cat, Ebe, was particularly interested in the ape noises during the "Dawn of Man" sequence.

Iapetus: Elliptical and faceted?

Is Saturn's moon Iapetus a gargantuan alien artifact? As usual, Richard Hoagland presents some interesting evidence as well as a dose of his patented masturbatory pixel-chewing.

(Keep an eye on the Cydonian Imperative for further commentary.)
Every morning as I drive to work I'm assailed by a scrolling illuminated sign near the curb of a large church. Here are some typical messages:

"The Best Vitamin for a Christian is B1!"

"Prevent Truth Decay -- Brush Up on Your Bible!"

And my favorite to date:

"God Answers KNEEMAIL!"

(Personally, I think "God" is actually a spambot.)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cool site of the day: EPIC 2014
The Ascent of the Robotic Attack Jet

"Already, lone unmanned planes -- with humans at the remote controls -- are widely used for surveillance. But the next crop of planes will fly in coordinated groups, with more autonomy. They'll tackle jobs such as attacking enemy air defenses, identifying new targets, and releasing precision bombs. 'The long-range vision is that the president will wake up some day and decide he doesn't like the cut of someone's jib and send thither infinite numbers of myrmidons -- robotic warriors -- and that we could wage a war in which we wouldn't put at risk our precious skins' is how John Pike, director of, a leading defense policy website, puts it." (Via

From the press release for "Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures" by Lester Brown:

"Since 1970, the earth's average temperature has risen nearly 0.7 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit). The five warmest years during 124 years of recordkeeping began in 1880 occurred in the last seven years.

"In 2002, record-high temperatures and drought lowered grain harvests in both India and the United States. These reduced harvests helped pull world grain production some 90 million tons below consumption, a shortfall of more than 4 percent.

"In 2003, it was Europe that bore the brunt of rising temperatures. The record-breaking heat wave that claimed 35,000 lives in eight countries withered grain harvests in virtually every country from France in the west through the Ukraine in the east. The resulting reduction in Europe's grain production of some 30 million tons was equal to half the U.S. wheat harvest.

"Although climate change is now widely discussed, we are slow to grasp its full meaning for food security. Everyone knows that the earth's temperature is rising, but commodity analysts often condition their projections on weather returning to 'normal,' failing to realize that with climate now in flux there is no 'normal' to return to."
I ate meat for lunch today: "chicken tenders" at Target. My only other options were anemic nachos (served with a glutinous dollop of something tantalizingly similar to cheese) or a half-baked pretzel. I figured I'd suffered through the latter two menu choices enough -- and I certainly wasn't going to eat a hotdog.

The "tenders" proved slippery and flaccid. The guy behind the counter told me he was doing me a favor by giving me five of them instead of the usual three, due to their unusually small size. I made it through the meal by dunking the tenders in a cup of synthetic-tasting honey-mustard sauce, then browsed the aisles.

Why is everything in Target painted vivid red? Psychologists have shown that bright colors like red and orange trigger unease, even violence. Maybe Target is attempting to elicit a potent neurochemical reaction in customers' brains in hopes of exploiting it for retail gain. It wouldn't surprise me; I spent 45 minutes gazing at wall-clocks, lava lamps, collapsible chairs, and cat toys, inexplicably entranced.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Houston says devil made him poke out his eye

"The devil made him do it, representatives for R&B singer Houston said in a statement explaining how his eye was seriously gouged.

"Houston's publicist issued a statement Thursday night denying reports he tried to take his life by jumping from a London hotel window last week. The statement said Houston 'found himself in the midst of a spiritual battle against the evil that runs rampant in the entertainment industry.'" (Via The Anomalist.)

If only more R&B "artists" would self-destruct . . .

Now playing:

1.) Out of Time (R.E.M.)
2.) Fables of the Reconstruction (R.E.M.)
3.) Bona Drag (Morrissey)
4.) Kid A (Radiohead)
5.) Natalie Merchant Live in Concert
Active SETI Is Not Scientific Research

"An Active SETI signal much more powerful than the normal background emitted by the Earth might call us to the attention of a technological civilization that had not known of our existence. We can not assume that such a civilization would be benign, nor can we assume that interstellar flight is impossible for a species more technologically advanced than our own."

WTF? One of SETI's central tenets is that "you can't get there from here," yet this article frets over the possibility of invoking an interstellar attack. If SETI wonks are willing to entertain the idea of interstellar spaceships, then they should rightfully take scientific interest in the possibility that some UFO sightings are evidence of ET visitation . . . but somehow I don't see this happening.

The rest of this is laughably anthropocentric; it implicitly "congratulates" humanity by assuming we have something a technologically superior civilization might want (which I personally find pretty doubtful). Secondly, it assumes that a space-faring ET civilization isn't likely to know we're here unless we send them an unmistakable signal; little mention is made of the radio leakage we've been emitting for decades. Both notions are, at the very least, rather profound pats on our collective back.

And of course there's the obvious: If working up the courage to send a directed signal is "not active research," then who's to say aliens (who, according to SETI dogma, seem to think just like us in all other essential respects) don't share this viewpoint? In this case, no one in the galaxy is transmitting because everyone's waiting to receive a signal first.

So what are we listening for?
Apocalypse now: how mankind is sleepwalking to the end of the Earth

"Future historians, looking back from a much hotter and less hospitable world, are likely to play special attention to the first few weeks of 2005. As they puzzle over how a whole generation could have sleepwalked into disaster - destroying the climate that has allowed human civilisation to flourish over the past 11,000 years - they may well identify the past weeks as the time when the last alarms sounded."

Shut up, man -- the Superbowl is on!
It's gray and rainy and everyone is at home watching the goddamned Superbowl. And I feel very alone indeed.
We are Zogg

"You cannot imagine my horror, however, when my eyes met pages filled with saccharine, pastel artwork depicting cold-eyed androids that were clearly not of our realm. In a Beautiful Mind moment of schizophrenic clarity I saw the book for what it was: not a gentle introduction to life's most profound curiosity, but a primer for the parasitic offspring of an invisible invasion!" (Via Rudy Rucker and Chapel Perilous.)

This is the funniest thing I've seen on the Web in a long time.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I started a new schedule this week. As a result, my biorythms are out-of-kilter and my physical energy is lagging behind my creative drive, which is excruciating.

Yesterday I was reading a design magazine with David Byrne on the cover. I'm in awe of this guy. Not only is he brilliant, he's prolific. He makes me feel like a fumbling dope. I think the only medium he hasn't conquered is blogging -- and probably because he's wise enough to see it as the potential time-sink it is.
Global warming: scientists reveal timetable

"But when the temperature moves up to the 3C level, expected in the early part of the second half of the century, these effects will become critical. There is likely to be irreversible damage to the Amazon rainforest, leading to its collapse, and the complete destruction of coral reefs is likely to be widespread.

"The alpine flora of Europe, Australia and New Zealand will probably disappear completely, with increasing numbers of extinctions of other plant species. There will be severe losses of China's broadleaved forests, and in South Africa the flora of the Succulent Karoo will be destroyed, and the flora of the Fynbos will be hugely damaged.

"There will be a rapid increase in populations exposed to hunger, with up to 5.5 billion people living in regions with large losses in crop production, while another 3 billion people will have increased risk of water shortages."
Down a Dark Road

"Talk-radio has expanded to talk-television and the corporate media controls the microphone. News is packaged like luncheon meat, sandwiched between the bread of entertainment and advertising. Politics has been safely removed from American elections and we no longer concern ourselves with issues of poverty, declining incomes, lack of health care and good education for our children. No, we are presented with the likability of our candidates and their ever important 'beer appeal' and 'everyday John Doe' qualities, regardless of their wealth and privileged upbringing. War heroes become cowards, and draft dodgers become heroic defenders. We may no longer have a free press, but it is reasonably priced."

Friday, February 04, 2005

The revised edition of John Shirley's "In Darkness Waiting" is out in hardcover from Infrapress. I read the advance proof a couple months ago and was flattered to discover my review on the novel's authorized website. This is good reading -- creepy and topical. Get to it. Also, William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" is now available as a mass-market paperback. No excuses: Buy it now.
Augmented-reality machine works in real time

"Researchers Andrew Davison and Ian Reid say the augmented-reality system could also in the longer term enable robots to navigate more effectively. Or it could be used to virtually decorate a real house or plan engineering work. It allows a computer to build an accurate three dimensional model of the world using only a video camera feed. It can also keep track of the camera's movement within its environment - all in real time."

A speculative form of augmented reality forms the basis of the science fiction novel I'm writing. (Sorry; that's as specific as I'm going to get. I actually think I've happened across a genuine science-fictional New Idea*, and I'm keeping it in laboratory custody for the time being.)

*Of course, I could be mistaken.
Dream: In a flying car with an Asian girl, watching a ruinous semi-rural landscape scroll by below. I'm shyly quizzing her about my likeability and she's being elliptical and evasive, never quite answering me. The brooding hills and dilapidated buildings are weirdly familiar.
A few of you have expressed enthusiasm for my whorishly patriotic "must-have" bumper-sticker concept, so I thought I'd share another of my lucrative business ideas.

I've been telling people about this one for a long time (at the risk of getting weird looks). Dig it: Expensive coffee drinks are big money, right? And pop machines are everywhere. So why not retain the essential aspects of both and create a new kind of beverage? A beverage that's sophisticated yet sweet . . . A drink that's wincingly hot yet oh-so-cool . . . I call it "HOOT!: The Cola Served Hot!"

True to its motto, HOOT! is a cola-based drink that comes hot straight from the dispenser in its own disposable thermos. It's not coffee. It's not soda. It's HOOT! And I envision yuppies everywhere drinking it. At work, at home -- there's no wrong place to drink HOOT!

The only logistical problem is that vending machines, designed for conventional metal cans rather than trendy new HOOT! thermoses, are poorly suited for HOOT! dissemination. But I'm not letting that stop me.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

MoD's alien files are out of this world

"Following a request under the Freedom of Information Act by the Financial Times, the Ministry of Defence has revealed it remains 'totally open-minded' about the possibility that life exists beyond Earth."
Marine General's Blunt Comments Draw Fire

"'You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for 5 years because they didn't wear a veil,' Mattis continued. 'You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.'"

Be all that you can be.
Mirror that reflects your future self

"Illsey hopes to have a prototype mirror completed by the middle of this year, providing the behaviour recognition and image processing software can be finished in time. The Accenture team wants the system to work in real time, to give the user a genuine sense of looking into a mirror and seeing the ghosts of today's excesses being projected into the future." (Via
I think I've come up with a way to milk the people of this dysfunctional soon-to-be theocratic police-state for money. Here's how it works:

By now you've very likely seen hundreds of "Support Our Troops" and "God Bless America" stickers/magnets on the backs of vehicles. There's an obvious market for this gratuitous sentimentality.

I've noticed many drivers given to patriotic/religious bumper iconography aren't content to commit themselves to one sticker; they've usually got two clashing ribbons right next to each other. The by-now obligatory urine-yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbons share car-space with red, white and blue "God Bless America" ribbons.

The challenge for aspiring venture capitalists is to create a new perceived "must-have" decal for freedom-loving patriots, and, if I do say so myself, I think I've come up with a damned good one . . . one that everyone will feel obliged to purchase for fear of being labeled "freedom-hating" or "anti-American."

Here it is: A teal ribbon-shaped decal that reads, with heart-felt conviction, "Remember Those Who Have Lost Their Lives." I figure this will prove irresistible. No one whose vehicle currently flaunts the two dominant God and country stickers will be able to live comfortably knowing that others are bedecking their Hummers and SUVs with such tender -- yet pro-America -- misgivings about the violence in Iraq.

The motorists enamored of these gaudy stickers think they're making a statement. Creatively deprived and intellectually neutered, turning their cars into motorized billboards for the State is their sole recourse to personal expression.

Not that we'll actually tell them that, of course. Instead, we'll happily fuel their craving. We'll give them what they want. And I think a brand-new sentiment, easily and cheaply reproducible in conventional sticker or magnet form, is precisely that. Moreover, it will rake in the cash.

Soon the highways will be teeming not only with the ubiquitous (and quite boring) yellow, red, white, and blue, but with teal -- surefire evidence of this nation's emotional resolve and capitalistic spirit.

Do you want in on this? You bet you do!

Thanks, and God Bless.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Sex and the single robot

"Kim Jong-Hwan, the director of the ITRC-Intelligent Robot Research Centre, has developed a series of artificial chromosomes that, he says, will allow robots to feel lusty, and could eventually lead to them reproducing. He says the software, which will be installed in a robot within the next three months, will give the machines the ability to feel, reason and desire."

I'm fighting the urge to quote Dr. Tyrell from "Blade Runner."
Spacewalking astronauts find goo on station's vents

"During their 225-mile-high excursion, the spacewalkers also inspected the station's vents and found a large patch of dark, oily residue and a white, honeycombed substance. It was not immediately known what the substances were."

It's obviously some kind of alien secretion!
Profile: Margaret Atwood

"Atwood, a Canadian author with more than 30 books of fiction, short stories, poetry and literary critiques to her credit, has created a chilling vision. Even the precatastrophic world in Oryx and Crake is bleak -- fixated on physical perfection and longevity, with economic and intellectual disparities reminiscent of our own. Biotech is the tool of the elite, who live in tightly protected compounds. Everyone else remains on the outside."

Atwood is good. She can write science fiction better than many career SF writers. "Oryx" is on my list.

Antarctic's ice 'melting faster'

"A team of UK researchers claims to have new evidence that global warming is melting the ice in Antarctica faster than had previously been thought."

Home PCs Predict Hotter Earth

"Global warming may ramp up average temperatures by 20 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 50 years, according to the first climate prediction experiment relying on the distributed computer power of 90,000 personal computers. The startling results were published this week in the journal Nature."

Climate crisis near 'in 10 years'

"Stephen Byers said: 'Our planet is at risk. With climate change, there is an ecological time-bomb ticking away, and people are becoming increasingly concerned by the changes and extreme weather events they are already seeing.'"

Scientists to re-measure Everest amid concerns it may be shrinking

"News reports out of China yesterday said that there is official concern that the top of the world's tallest mountain is getting lower - and melting glaciers caused by global warming may be to blame."
Birds rise in intellectual pecking order

"Birds, until now, have been thought to have only basal ganglia. But the avian nomenclature consortium - an international team of 29 neuroscientists led by Erich Jarvis of Duke University medical centre in North Carolina - argue today in Nature Reviews Neuroscience that it is time for a change."

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"Fuck this shit." Really, I'm a little angry at myself for stooping so low; I try to rise above that sort of stuff here. But I was pressed for time and exasperated -- a mental state not too conducive to articulate discourse even in the best of circumstances.

What I should have said: Religion is killing us. We've nurtured it and allowed it to fester to the point of malignancy. Arthur C. Clarke said it best when he likened it to a "disease of infancy."

I'm especially troubled because even though we're thoroughly infected, our collective immune system doesn't seem to be paying attention. We've actually reached the point where the end of the world as we know it (in the worst possible sense) has ceased to be a potential wake-up call; instead, we're welcoming it with outspread arms, eager for a terminal fix.

On the other hand, why do I care? Why can't I share George Carlin's attitude and enjoy humanity's fading hour as the bizarre spectacle it is? What stake do I have in this mess? I'm unmarried. No children. Consciously, at least, I have no abiding urge to reproduce, so I have little or no genetic imperative for wishing the world well. Perhaps I'm yearning for the opportunity to achieve technological immortality and hate seeing the rug whisked out from beneath me for no good reason. Or maybe it's simply a matter of principle.

Then again, I'm not totally without hope. Not quite yet. This species is doing some cool things. But will it be enough? Can we counteract the damage we've already inflicted? Barring that, can we gather the might to move elsewhere, leaving Earth to rebalance, spared the present burden of lethally superstitious humanity?

If so, will we have learned anything? Do we have the luxury of assuming the Cosmos has room for us?
Lunar probe's amazing new images

"The European-built Smart-1 spacecraft has sent back its first close-up images of the Moon, showing the cratered landscape in glorious detail."
By now, some friend or co-worker has probably emailed you the funny Flash movie about the worryingly plausible future of pizza delivery in an act of doomed originality. But here it is in case you missed it.
There Is No Tomorrow (by Bill Moyers)

"So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist Glenn Scherer -- 'The Road to Environmental Apocalypse.' Read it and you will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming apocalypse."

OK. I'll say it. Democracy has failed. We are living a grotesque farce. The idiots are in control; we're rocketing toward ecocaust at a rate that would have seemed unthinkable only ten years ago. Fuck this shit.
More Than 1 in 3 Students Want Gov't Control of Press, Knight Survey Finds

"A new survey of 112,003 students released today finds that one in three say the press ought to be more restricted -- and 36% think newspapers should get 'government approval' before stories are published."

No comment.