Thursday, March 31, 2005

Playing With Frozen Fire

"An estimated 200,000 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates exists under the sea, and the Department of Energy has a major research program under way that could result in commercial production starting by 2015."

Oh, boy. Another non-renewable greenhouse-inducing fuel to spend billions leaching from the surface of an ecologically impoverished planet.
Film about volcanoes falls victim to creationists (by Roger Ebert)

"But what is more disturbing is that the theaters have made this decision simply because they are afraid someone might be offended. Not even a single protester needed to appear before the chilling effect of faith-based intolerance was felt."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Jupiter Moon May Have Life -- Experts Urge a Mission

"As a first step, Pappalardo said, NASA should send an orbiter to Europa to determine the characteristics of its ice shell, confirm the existence of an ocean, and analyze the chemistry of what appears to be dark organic matter on the moon's surface.

"Later missions could include landers to search for life and potentially an underwater robot that could melt through surface ice to sample water below. 'But that's hard to do, and it's a long time off,' he said."

If I recall correctly, work has already begun on a telerobotic submarine for exploring Europa's hidden ocean. I can envision "drilling" a hole in the moon's ice using some sort of orbiting particle beam -- perhaps a Space Defense Initiative knock-off. Of course, by the time we get around to such ventures -- if we survive long enough -- something like the self-assembling nanotech Mars probe described in a previous post might be a more practical option.
Ha! (Thanks, Paul.)

It's 2015. The One World Government has taken over. Electrogravitic attack saucers hover at every street corner and surveillance robots scan the retinas of passersby with unseen lasers.

Suddenly someone breaks from the herd. A shot rings out as a black-uniformed Friend of Freedom raises his weapon . . .
Shape-Shifting Robot Nanotech Swarms on Mars

(How about that headline? Wow!)

"As the engineers watched like anxious new parents, the robot pyramid traveled across the floor of a lab at NASA Goddard. Robots of this type will eventually be miniaturized and joined together to form 'autonomous nanotechnology swarms' (ANTS) that alter their shape to flow over rocky terrain or to create useful structures like communications antennae and solar sails." (Via

I love it when the boundaries between the organic and inorganic blur.

Speaking of which:

Quantum Dot Based EviTags

"EviTags are biologically inert, conjugation-ready fluorescent labels that allow the life science researcher or product developer to capitalize on the unique semiconductor optical properties with a familiar biological interface. EviTags exhibit minimal nonspecific binding; they do not agglomerate in live cells; they have a wide range of fluorescence wavelengths; they offer improved multiplexing and greater signal-to-noise ratio; they enable a variety of unique in-vivo applications; and, the newest version of EviTags (Type 2 EviTags) can be used as Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) donors with any organic dye." (Via Beyond the Beyond.)
Report: Human Damage to Earth Worsening Fast

"Humans are damaging the planet at an unprecedented rate and raising risks of abrupt collapses in nature that could spur disease, deforestation or 'dead zones' in the seas, an international report said on Wednesday."

I've developed a fairly acute sensitivity to the transience of the given moment. This is the Belle Epoque, hideous suburbs and all.
I don't track blog demographics, but if anyone reading resides in California and likes good science fiction/horror, John Shirley will be appearing at Dark Delicacies Books this Saturday at 2:00.

Says Shirley: "I'll sign 'The Crow' memorabilia, since I co-wrote the screenplay, I'll sign Blue Oyster Cult memorabilia, since I wrote 18 sets of lyrics for them (see for example their lp 'Heaven Forbid'), I'll sign scraps of paper -- I'll even sign *my own books* -- they'll have the new edition of 'In Darkness Waiting' on sale at the bookstore but I'll sign any of my books, or books I'm in. They'll also have the 'Constantine' movie novelization I wrote. And I'll talk to people, whether they have something to sign or not. We'll talk amongst ourselves. We'll have cawfee and we'll tawk."

This is none other than the guy William Gibson credits for helping establish the zeitgeist explored in "Neuromancer." He's the author of "Silicon Embrace," the best book about the uber-paranoid black-ops/UFO counterculture ever contemplated. His short-stories leave you fairly craving more. He collaborates with the likes of Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling. He authors a prolific and unusually articulate blog. I would imagine there's a hell of a lot to "tawk" about.

Dark Delicacies Books
4213 W. Burbank Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91505
818-556-6660 / 888-darkdelage

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Do You Know Where You Are? Body and Self Not the Same

"This finding suggests that 'when people are playing with computer games on a screen, that they temporarily locate their self at their location on the screen rather than within their physical body.'"

Quantum entanglement and the "holographic universe" theory indicate there may be an empirical basis for accounts of OBEs and other sensations of displacement. But what happens to the definition of "empirical" when the supposed nature of "self" is shattered?
The Long Emergency

"It has been very hard for Americans -- lost in dark raptures of nonstop infotainment, recreational shopping and compulsive motoring -- to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in our technological society. Even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, America is still sleepwalking into the future."

Pentagon invests in using robots to operate on wounded soldiers

"The Pentagon is awarding $12 million in grants on Monday to develop an unmanned 'trauma pod' designed to use robots to perform full scalpel-and-stitch surgeries on wounded soldiers in battlefield conditions."

This is the best DARPA can do? Why not a self-replicating nanobot that reanimates enemy corpses and turns them into freedom-loving androids?
Finally -- reason to take my Cydonian Imperative blog out of dry-ice storage. Only this time I have to wear my debunking hat.

Malin Space Science Systems has released a close-up of some of the Martian "tubes" (aka "glass tunnels"), showing them to be the natural -- if interesting -- features I thought they were.

Of course, the jury among Mars anomalists has yet to reach a verdict. My prediction is that it never will; unfortunately, the "tubes" have become a staple fixture among proponents of artificiality on the Red Planet, and "recalling" them at this point would do grave damage to the memetic ecology that's built up around them.

Lest I sound like a total wet blanket, I'm virtually convinced there really are ET artifacts on Mars or I never would have devoted a website and a book to the possibility.

For forthcoming commentary, see my Mars blog.
Woman recounts distaste at biting into human remain at Wendy's

I went meatless years ago, so I can really throw back my head and laugh at this. "Quality is our recipe"?

On an unrelated note, Blogger's performance has been bad the last couple days. As in really bad. Those of you who've tried posting comments may have experienced related problems. This latest dysfunction may cause me to forego posting if I get sufficiently aggravated.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Two new additions to the "Blogs I Like" list (found on the right-hand sidebar):

1.) Longtime ufologist Kevin Randle's A Different Perspective. Randle is a UFO "believer," insofar as he thinks some UFOs are alien craft; he's also one of the most visible proponents of the Roswell crash. Surprisingly, Randle is a staunch debunker of alleged alien abductions and claims of human-alien contact. His book "The Abduction Enigma" is probably the best skeptical examination of the phenomenon to date.

2.) Kenn Brown and Chris Wren have begun posting graphical outtakes and miscellaneous phantasmagoria on the Mondolithic Sketchbook. If you frequent your local news-stand, the overwhelming odds are that you've encountered their work before, notably in "Wired," "New Scientist," "Discover," and, more recently, "Maxim" (!) -- just to name a few. Awesome stuff. Kenn also supplied the photorealistic Mars mission patch for my book "After the Martian Apocalypse."
I finally caved and bought Franz Ferdinand's debut album -- the two-disc collector's edition, no less, which Target was selling for the same price as the regular version.

Enough people have recommended FF that I figured they were worth $15. I'll give 'em a chance. And if it doesn't work out, I'll always have R.E.M.
Bugs on the attack!

Global warming could trigger ant invasions

"Global warming might shrink ant workers by as much as a third, says Michael Kaspari at the University of Oklahoma, US, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who carried out the study: 'And since ant species with small workers appear to be particularly successful at invading, ant invasions - already destructive - may become more common in a warming world.'"

Bee killer imperils crops

"Under attack from a Southeast Asian parasite, vast numbers of the creatures are dying off, worried industry experts say. More than 50 percent of the bees in California, critical to the success of the Golden State's almond crop, have died during the past six months. Frantic growers there have sent out the call around the world, including Florida, for hives."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

I didn't blog on Friday because I was on a date. I had a good time, too. And get this: She'd taken a look at my website before getting together and didn't call it off. I can't help but think some kind of award is in order.
Late last night I almost had an out-of-body experience . . . or at least it felt that way at the time.

I was dog-tired and most of the sensation of leaving my body (which I never quite actually succeeded in doing) was probably due to the heightened suggestibility that comes with fatigue. Still, it was interesting: I more or less freaked when I felt the "OBE" coming on, so I centered my awareness and the sensation faded.

At no point did I feel as if I were being yanked out of my body; it was more of a subtle tropism, like a champagne bubble drawn toward the surface of a glass. And as scary as it seemed at the time -- whether it was the first stage of an OBE or not, and I tend to doubt it really was -- I never felt out of control. Just a little jarred. And then I was back asleep and dreaming.

So I remain agnostic on the reality of OBEs -- although, if pressed, I think there's something to it.

(I seem fated to a life of really lukewarm "paranormal" experiences.)
Earth Impact Effects Program

"Welcome to the Earth Impact Effects Program: an easy-to-use, interactive web site for estimating the regional environmental consequences of an impact on Earth. This program will estimate the ejecta distribution, ground shaking, atmospheric blast wave, and thermal effects of an impact as well as the size of the crater produced."


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Many Germans want Berlin Wall back

"Nearly a quarter of western Germans and 12 percent of easterners want the Berlin Wall back -- more than 15 years after the fall of the barrier that split Germany during the Cold War, according to a survey."

What a relief -- the US isn't the only country becoming more xenophobic and infantile with each passing day.

And while I'm on the subject of blogs: Jason Sheets has redesigned Busy, Busy, Busy and has renewed his attack on "intelligent design" proponents with a cerebral vengeance.

Blog of the day: Film-maker Paul Kimball's The Other Side of Truth is an exceptionally good assessment of the current state of UFO research, providing trenchant commentary from someone who's actually taken the time to examine the subject. Bookmark this -- even if your interest in UFOs is marginal.
Digital artist eWarrior has posted a great Flash animation depicting the trippy process of producing celebrity photos that were never actually taken -- in this case, Madonna.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Life on Mars not possible, Oklahoma professor says

"Scientific research so far suggests that Mars cannot sustain life as known on Earth because Mars lacks characteristics that allow for life on Earth, Dr. Gordon Emslie, associate research vice president and graduate college dean at Oklahoma State University, said in a speech last week."

Maybe it's just bad journalism (which wouldn't surprise me), but it's unclear if Emslie is attacking the possibility of an existing civilization or Martian biology in general. Does he recognize the distinction? I would agree that chances of an extant civilization are nil (although there's evidence of prior occupation), but ridiculing the possibility of "extremophiles" and other tenacious life-forms is nothing less than foolish in light of what we've learned about Mars and life here on Earth. What is this guy, a Biblical Fundamentalist?

And I'm still waiting for NASA/JPL to intelligibly address Arthur C. Clarke's "banyan trees" (instead of repeatedly confusing the features with defrosting sand dunes that happen to look tree-like from above).
Scientists Find Soft Tissue in T-Rex Bone

"A 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex fossil dug out of a hunk of sandstone has yielded soft tissue, including blood vessels and perhaps even whole cells, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday."

And yes, preliminary analysis suggests it may be cloneable. (Insert reference to best-selling Michael Crichton novel here.)
Funny in a disturbing sort of way: THE DICTATOR FASHION SHOW
Let's colonize space for fun, noted physicist says

"Part of the motive to go into space will be dictated by the need for more room on Earth and an unpolluted environment. But there will be more mundane motives, too, Dyson said." (Via

I'm glad Dyson brought this deceptively simple point to attention. Space exploration is fun, damnit. Who needs a verbose rationale for manned Mars exploration when it promises to be incredibly fun in the noblest sense of the word?
Radiation threat follows tsunami

"Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the UN Environment Program (UNEP), said: 'There are indications that hazardous waste, radioactive waste, chemical waste and other substances (in containers), which have been dumped on the Somali coastline, were damaged by the tsunami.'"

This is only going to get worse.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Conversations on Chemtrails- The truth about what is happening in America

"It's happening again . . . woke up this morning to clear blue skies here in the lower Hudson Valley . . . three hours later, the entire sky is criss-crossed with chemtrails, and there are three or four planes up there continuing to lay them down . . . these are NOT contrails . . . the patterns have no relationship to the flight paths in or out of New York airports, but literally cover the entire sky . . . someone is spraying something, and I'd sure love to know just what it is, who's doing it, and why . . ." (Via The Anomalist.)

My favorite theory is one I haven't actually heard yet: Extraterrestrials are secretly "terraforming" Earth -- beginning by tweaking our atmosphere to alien standards. (Ever seen "The Arrival"?)

A more benign -- and more plausible -- explanation for genuinely anomalous contrails is that someone is attempting to minimize global warming by spreading high-albedo particulates.
Pentagon Has Far-Reaching Defense Spacecraft in Works

"This year, the Falcon program will test a launcher for its Common Aero Vehicle (CAV), an unmanned maneuverable spacecraft that would travel at five times the speed of sound and could carry 1,000 pounds of munitions, intelligence sensors or other payloads. Among the system's strengths is that commanders could order a CAV -- an unpowered glide vehicle -- not to release its payload if they decided not to follow through with an attack."

I think it's rather terrifying that this thing's ability to abort an attack is being cited as a "strength." I think that option should be standard, personally.

By the way, this is the "Moon-Mars Initiative." But you knew that.
In Search of the Sixth Sense

Ray Kurzweil: "If you go out to 2030, say, and talk to a person of biological origin, they're going to have a lot of non-biological processes running in their brain. As you interact with them, you'll be interacting with someone who's a hybrid of non-biological and biological intelligence. We know that biological intelligence is pretty fixed in its architecture. Today, we have approximately 10^26 calculations per second in the humans species. 50 years from now, the power of our biological thinking will still be 10^26 power. [...] You get to the 2030s and 2040s, the non-biological portion of our thinking is going to be millions of times more powerful than the biological portion. So if you talk to a person of biological origin, the fast majority of their interacting is going to be non-biological."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Meet your host!

Bsti's not the only scary-looking blogger out there . . .
Rock dust grows extra-big vegetables (and might save us from global warming)

"Specialists have just met in Perth to discuss the secrets of rock dust, a quarrying by-product that is at the heart of government-sponsored scientific trials and which, it is claimed, could revitalise barren soil and reverse climate change."

There's a mummified alien corpse, presumably from a saucer crash, for sale on eBay. The guy selling it says he found it just lying around outside. Sounds like MJ-12 is getting pretty lax, if you ask me.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Dead Squid Wash Up in California Again

"'We still don't know what's killing them,' said Linda Blanchard, lab director of the Ocean Institute who has dissected about a dozen squid since they first washed up ashore in January. 'All we have right now are theories.'"

I'm not superstitious. Nevertheless, I consider this an omen.
New technology uses human body for broadband networking

"Using RedTacton-enabled devices, music from an MP3 player in your pocket would pass through your clothing and shoot over your body to headphones in your ears. Instead of fiddling around with a cable to connect your digital camera to your computer, you could transfer pictures just by touching the PC while the camera is around your neck. And since data can pass from one body to another, you could also exchange electronic business cards by shaking hands, trade music files by dancing cheek to cheek, or swap phone numbers just by kissing."

Remember the "control panels" from the "alien autopsy"? If they're real -- alien or otherwise -- they could be more than simple touch-interface panels; they might be sophisticated computers in their own right, able to "converse" by swapping massive files through the user's skin.

Given current advances in neural prosthetics, it's not impossible to foresee a complimentary device grafted to the user's brain. Using a system architecture that exploits the nervous system, thoughts themselves might be compressed and transferred like common computer files.

I'm reminded of Dr. Robert Sarbacher's allusion that bodies taken from UFO crashes were artificial. Could he have been describing cybernetic beings specifically created to pilot UFOs? If so, the "control panels" might be a vital piece of the mystery. (According to the "cameraman" who viewed the alleged crash site, the beings had emerged from their wreck clutching these things -- implying they were much more than flight instruments.)
IMAX theaters Reject Science Shows under Religious Pressure

"While the number of protests is small -- perhaps a dozen or fewer IMAX theaters -- the effect could be significant because only a few dozen IMAX theatres exhibit science documentaries, according to an article Saturday in The New York Times."

I've maintained from the beginning that the unspoken reason for the Hubble's impending demise at the hands of the Bush administration is its awkward tendency to refute Fundamentalist creation cosmology (in which, sadly, there is no cosmos). IMAX documentaries are easy prey by comparison.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I'm probably going to cave and post a classified ad online. I've done it before, with mixed results. The typical response I get goes something like this: "You're a really neat and original person! You're, like, one of the most unique people I've ever met and you're really cool! But . . ."

Heaven knows most people blanch at the very notion of weirdness or originality; I honestly think the dating "scene" has deep roots in the consumer culture that persists solely by nurturing these attitudes.

Yes, I'm introverted. I'm wary of big groups. I don't like "clubbing." And I don't have a TV, which effectively unplugs me from the mainstream in one stroke. Maybe all this comes across as some sort of elitism. If so, I simply don't have the time to care.

That said, I would like to meet someone -- and preferably not feed $20 for a chance to do it. So what the hell: I know this blog has a few readers. Possibly some of them are at least relatively local and potentially compatible. So if you're game, go ahead and email me. The odds have to be better than SETI@home . . .
I've been discussing prose style with a friend who's a science fiction writer. We both agree that simplicity in story-telling trumps gratuitous scene-setting. The problem is that I tend to write stories in a highly visual manner, with lots of metaphor and allusion that -- technically -- doesn't need to be there. Sure, I like it . . . but will readers?

For instance, I've got a line in a project I'm working on that briefly describes a futuristic motorcycle with trackballs "sprouting from the handlebars like mechanized fruit." Again, I like it. But it's likely a prospective editor would roll his or her eyes and urge me to cut to the chase, and not without some justification.

William Gibson is a wildly talented writer who knows how to create super visuals without overdoing it on word-count. There's a scene in "Pattern Recognition" where he describes a decoration made out of dried gourds that look "worryingly like human skulls." Lethal!

To date, two respected genre authors have compared my literary style to J.G. Ballard. On first take, this is seriously flattering. But the subtext of the comparison is that I'm overdoing it (if inadvertently) or trying too hard. In truth, I think I'm simply having fun . . . but possibly at the reader's expense.
Senate Votes to Allow Underwater Drilling in the Arctic

"The problem: thanks to accelerating climate change, much of the arctic refuge is now under water. According to an eight-nation report put together by 250 scientists, warmer temperatures have caused the Arctic ice cap to shrink by as much as 20%, eroding the habitat of polar bears, sending Inuit hunters plummeting through the ice and leaving huge swathes of the region under water."


"But for these endangered animals, say some drilling proponents, the arrival of offshore drilling rigs may come as something of a reprieve. 'These rigs have a lot of surface area, some of which could even take the place of the melted habitat,' says Dr. John Rodgers, founder of Arctic Watch, an organization of scientists who favor Arctic drilling. 'Some of these species were out of here. Now with the semi-submersible rigs, they've got a future too.'" (Via Busy, Busy, Busy.)

I want to know what happens when the oil people want their rigs back. And has it occurred to anyone that "surface area" is not the equivalent of "habitat"? Sure, polar bears have a future, but it's not looking too bright.
Two Years Later, Iraq War Drains Military

"The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower and gear faster than they can be fully replenished. Shortfalls in recruiting and backlogs in needed equipment are taking a toll, and growing numbers of units have been broken apart or taxed by repeated deployments, particularly in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve."

What I find truly fascinating is that the guys on right-wing radio shows think the Iraq situation is a resounding success. There's even this psychopathic "new math" they repeatedly use to "prove" that not only is "Operation Iraqi Freedom" a success, but one of the most triumphant operations in the history of modern warfare.

And you can tell who's taking these lessons to heart; they typically have cute little "W" stickers on their windshields.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Richard Hoagland's Iapetus theory keeps getting better. Whether you agree with his case or not, this qualifies as one of the most engaging speculative exercises I've had the pleasure to encounter online in a long while.
There are still many fervent believers in fictitious aerial organisms popularly dubbed "rods." If you're new to this "phenomenon," this site's all about 'em.

Recently, author Rudy Rucker posted a digital photo of identical critters on his blog, accurately identifying them as streaking gnats with apparent bumps caused by wingbeats.

Friday, March 18, 2005

New machines could turn homes into small factories

"Dr Bowyer is working on creating the 3D models needed for a rapid prototype machine to make a copy of itself. When this is complete, he will put these on a website so that all owners of an existing conventional machine can download them for free and begin making copies of his machine. The new copies can then be sold to other people, who can in turn copy the machine and sell on."

Kind of like the original Napster -- only with physical artifacts instead of downloaded files. I personally really like the idea of people making their own things instead of devoting endless hours to shopping. Couple Bowyer's hypothetical machine with computer fabrication technology and certain facets of the retail world just might find themselves in jeopardy in a not-too-distant Sterling-esque future.

(Thanks to Bill Dash for the lead.)

By the way, Blogger finally appears to be behaving itself after a period of massive constipation -- the worst performance I've experienced since I started using it in 2003.

Uncorrected version of 2002 Face image.

I was at the coffeeshop with my laptop and it occurred to me to conduct a quick experiment. I displayed one of the new images of the Face on Mars to the barista (who had never heard of the Face before) and she immediately identified it as a face, even going so far as to point out the "eye" and "mouth."

Of course, this is completely contrary to assertions in the debunking literature, which typically cite Mars Global Surveyor images of the Face as "proof" that the feature is anything but face-like.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Rochester man studies UFOs with a historian's tools

Richard Dolan: "I would hesitate to use the words 'extraterrestrial spacecraft' in describing these things. This could well be so -- but I really try to be less definitive. Call me picky, but I would simply describe them as military encounters with unconventional craft that vastly exceed our own capabilities." (Via The Anomalist.)

"New Scientist" has produced a very nice round-up of thirteen cosmological and medical anomalies -- phenomena the editors claim "don't make sense" in light of present scientific knowledge. And while the list (which includes neglected evidence for existing life on Mars, dark energy and the placebo effect) is impressive enough, it's downright tame by "fringe" standards . . .

(Thanks to Sauceruney.)
This was taken outside a Chinese restaurant behind my apartment. I was trying to get a close-up of the neon, but the notice found its way into the frame.

Another public display of digital narcissism:

Quick note: Publishing with Blogger has been wincingly slow the last few days. Until the problem is corrected, posts my be scarce.
Lab fireball 'may be black hole'

"The Brown researcher thinks the particles are disappearing into the fireball's core and reappearing as thermal radiation, just as matter is thought to fall into a black hole and come out as 'Hawking' radiation."

This reminds me of David Brin's "Earth," in which a small artificial black hole escapes a lab and begins orbiting the planet's core. Gregory Benford uses a similar premise in "Artifact."
I make a guest appearance in The Pitch's letters section this week, basically rolling my eyes at the "intelligent design" controversy in Kansas. The letter that appears before mine is especially endearing. Have a look.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Newsmashing: The new technique that will change blogging forever.

"Why is newsmashing better than today's blogging techniques? Currently, political bloggers write a post by taking a snippet from a news story, an op-ed column, or another blog post. Then, they copy, paste, and indent the most partisan, disingenuous, and inaccurate passage onto their own blog and add a bulletproof rebuttal right below. The problem with this technique is that it makes the readers do all the work. First, they need to pop the original piece open in another window to 'read the whole thing.' After that, they have to flip back and forth between the original and the rebuttal to make sure the blogger isn't getting the facts wrong, leaving out a key detail, or quoting something out of context. Wouldn't it be a whole lot easier to read blogs if you could look at the critique and the original argument at the same time?"

Imagine never seeing the words "click here" again . . .
Oh, what a shock:

US tries to sink forests plan

"Europe is strongly backing Mr Benn's initiative, and the US tactics drew a furious response from rainforest campaigners. Faith Doherty of the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK said: 'This is outrageous. US business simply doesn't want any restrictions on its own practices.'"
Need a Building? Just Add Water

"The structure is intended to improve upon two current methods of providing emergency shelter: tents, which provide only poor protection, or prefabricated, portable buildings that are expensive and difficult to transport. Dubbed the Concrete Canvas, the shelter incorporates the best aspects of both forms. It is almost as easy to transport as a tent, but is as durable and secure as a portable building."

Aside from conjuring images of organic architectural forms (like Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti), this idea sounds like something that could be tweaked for colonies on the Moon and Mars. I predict that the first off-world colonies will indeed resemble the refugee camps mentioned in this article. And in fact, that's probably what they'll be . . .

Mars Colonies Coming Soon?

"Robert Zubrin is the president of the Mars Society, a Colorado-based organization that promotes human exploration and settlement of the red planet. He said the technology exists to put humans on Mars within a decade.

"'We are much closer to being able to send humans to Mars today than we were to being able to send men to the moon in 1961, when [United States President John F. Kennedy] started the Apollo program,' Zubrin said."

Space venture has West Texas county abuzz

"Even skeptical locals, who've become wary over the years of city slickers with big ideas for their town, perked up when founder Jeff Bezos made his pitch -- a spaceport for commercial travel into the beyond."
Predictions 2005: Year of the Death Wish (by Whitley Strieber)

"That this darkness has been allowed to take hold in this free country--this place devoted by its founding fathers to hope and freedom and the extension of human happiness--is not because of a lack of environmental leadership or a failure of scientific endeavor. The leadership is crying out, increasingly, in justified terror. The science being done in this area around the world is exemplary and ferociously convincing."

Accuse Strieber of melodramatic fear-mongering if you wish, but I'm afraid his scenario is truthful and prescient. If you haven't read "Nature's End," the science fiction novel he co-authored with James Kunetka (on the heels of "Warday"), I encourage you to do so.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I couldn't help but -- belatedly -- notice a disheartening trend in "Decision 2004" campaigning: John Kerry's bumper-stickers are timid and "old-timey" while W's are all macho corporate arrogance. Kerry's stickers feature the vacuous slogan "A Stronger America"; W's stickers dispense with ideology and bypass sentiment. BUSH, CHENEY '04 -- that's it, in bold fuck-you sans-serif: the emblem of someone who knows he's got the election won (whatever exactly "winning" entails in a post-democratic society). Take a look the next time you're behind the wheel and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.
I had an extremely lame UFO sighting last night. I was in bed watching my cat on the windowsill when I noticed a small light in the sky moving roughly in the direction of my apartment. It moved just like an airplane (which it almost certainly was). As I waited for it to get closer it vanished. Or at least it turned out all its lights -- something I don't recall seeing any planes doing. I considered that maybe it had actually "vanished" behind a cloud, which is as good an explanation as any.

In any case, it didn't reappear (at least from my point of view). And bear in mind that I observed the probable aircraft without my glasses, so I can't judiciously assign a "strangeness rating." So I'm left with a lone nocturnal light; not exactly "Close Encounters" material.

There's a time machine up for sale on eBay. Although it was supposedly built in the future, it looks tantalizingly retro, like something meant to look "futuristic" to people living in the 1950s.

Actually, that's not a bad idea for aspiring time travelers: Make your time machine look as innocuous (or silly) as possible so you can enjoy your stay in the era of your choosing without arousing suspicion.
Moon Hoaxes Debunked

"There's a persistent myth, still going around the internet, that we did not really go to the moon and that the Apollo moon landing was actually staged on a movie set. When a heckler taunted late astronaut Edgar Mitchell about this, he punched him in the nose, since Mitchell actually flew on one of these missions. Now the European Space Agency has launched a spacecraft that is photographing the old Apollo landing sites, that will finally put an end to this conspiracy theory."

Put an end to a conspiracy theory? Ha!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Bad news - we are way past our 'extinct by' date

"Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice, wrote Robert Frost. But whatever is to be our fate, it is now overdue."

I'll be very honest: Stories like this cheer me up.

On a not entirely unrelated note, Christian End Times guru Tim LaHaye has embarked on -- get this -- a series of prequels to the disturbingly popular "Left Behind" series. But really, can you blame him? You write a lengthy series about the end of the world and sooner or later you reach a narrative dead-end. So you're left with a planet yet to be graced by anything even resembling the Second Coming and a legion of slavering fans who want more disasterbation tall-tales to keep them busy until the Antichrist makes his appearance. What else are you going to do but pull a George Lucas and write voluminous "prequel" shit?

Mary Buckner has posted my review of her novel "Neurolink" (albeit heavily excerpted) on her official site. (You can read the uncensored version here.) For some reason, I'm listed in the same column as Robert J. Sawyer, a writer I really respect. Besides writing good books, he maintains one of the world's largest one-man literary resources. And he blogs, too.
Are Nanobacteria Making Us Ill?

"At the heart of the debate is the question of whether nanobacteria could actually be a new form of life. To this day, critics argue that a particle just 20 to 200 nanometers in diameter can't possibly harbor the components necessary to sustain life. The particles are also incredibly resistant to heat and other methods that would normally kill bacteria, which makes some scientists wonder if they might be an unusual form of crystal rather than organisms."

Just as the nature of self-awareness is elusive, the very definition of "alive" is far from established. When we find life on Mars will we recognize it as such?
Primitive Brain Is 'Smarter' Than We Think, MIT Study Shows

"The researchers speculate that perhaps the faster learning in the basal ganglia allows us (and our primitive ancestors who lacked a prefrontal cortex) to quickly pick up important information needed for survival. The prefrontal cortex then monitors what the basal ganglia have learned. Its slower, more deliberate learning mechanisms allow it to gather a more judicious 'big picture' of what is going on by taking into account more history and thereby exert executive control over behavior, Miller said."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

"Share some grease tea with me . . ."
Portrait of the posthuman as a young man:

Today's special:

Is Reality a Simulation Game?

"While not part of this extreme, a recent argument by Dr. Nick Bostrom (Department of Philosophy, Yale University) has made modest waves in the media. According to reports, Bostrom believes that we are in fact probably living in a computer simulation.

"His reasoning is fairly simple. There will be a time when we are able to simulate sentient life on a large scale. If that is so, then there will be an enormous number of lives which will be simulated in the future. Eventually, it is not too far-fetched to think that this number will be far greater than the number of people who have ever lived." (Via Chapel Perilous.)

The author of this article dismisses Bostrom's simulation argument for reasons that seem more sentimental than objective. If artificial intelligence is possible, then its mature form may very well be quite alien.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

US report acknowledges peak-oil threat

"'World oil peaking is going to happen,' the report says. Only the 'timing is uncertain'." (Via American Samizdat.)
I ran into a college friend at the bookstore tonight. She asked me about my love life and I offered the theory that the pharmaceutical industry was beaming negative mind-control rays into potential romantic interests as part of a far-flung effort to sell me Prozac.
Among the petrified denizens of the Cancer Survivors Park

I maxed out my digicam's memory (no big feat given what I paid for it) taking shots of these and other local oddities this evening.

The camera's limitations are rampant, but the most noticeable flaw is that you can't aim -- at least not reliably. What I see through the viewfinder is a mere suggestion of what the actual picture will look like once I've downloaded it to my computer. (Oddly, I'm learning to enjoy this element of surprise.)
Rejoice! Bibleman is here!

"For the past decade, 'The Bibleman Adventure' video series has thrilled millions and set the standard for action packed family home entertainment. Bibleman's spectacular battles against the flamboyant villains of Darkness are an exciting way to introduce your children to the Bible and the power of God's Word. Here at you'll find special web discounts, exclusive DVD packages and Bibleman tour updates. Check back often for the latest on everything Bibleman." (Via Beyond the Beyond.)

Bibleman appears to be Jesus mated with the Terminator by way of the Power Rangers. Sure, the Son of God can walk on water . . . but does he wear chrome body-armor?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Richard Hoagland's Iapetus saga continues . . .
Mass extinction comes every 62 million years, UC physicists discover

"Muller and Rohde conceded that they have puzzled through every conceivable phenomenon in nature in search of an explanation: 'We've had to think about solar system dynamics, about the causes of comet showers, about how the galaxy works, and how volcanoes work, but nothing explains what we've discovered,' Muller said."

Further evidence of Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis? Perhaps the planetary brain "decides" that 62 million years is ample time for a species to evolve sufficiently to migrate into space -- and, if not, too bad.
Buy two, get one free at Barnes & Noble: I made off with Aldous Huxley's "Crome Yellow," Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" and Jules Verne's moon novel.

I've been making a point to listen to the radio lately. There are two decent local stations; between the two of them, I can usually find something listenable. I recently discovered a beautiful song called "99 Red Balloons" by a German (?) band called Nena; it's been around since the early 80s, but I'm just now hearing it. It's about a bunch of macho warhawks launching an unprovoked nuclear war. The timing seems impeccable.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

This one is irresistible:

Hello aliens, this is Earth calling

"The company is not monitoring the phone calls to space but, on its website, people are asked to be 'good Earth Ambassadors'. Knight adds: 'I think people should use common sense and judgment, too.'" (Via -- you guessed it -- The Anomalist.)

While probably little more than an exercise in vanity, I'm actually tempted to spend a few bucks to transmit my voice into space (see And to hell with being a "good Earth Ambassador"; any aliens within two light-years of us (the transmission range) are probably well aware of our presence and able to see through our charade of goodwill anyway.

I wonder what Seth Shostak thinks of this scheme. Then again, I don't particularly care.
Is a Supervolcano on the Way?

"The Journal of Petrology reports that an eruption from a supervolcano can be strong enough to cause change the world's climate enough to cause a mass extinction, due to the large amounts of ash that would be thrown up into the atmosphere. One of these temporarily dormant volcanoes lies beneath Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The last time it erupted, over 600,000 thousand years ago, half the North American continent was covered in volcanic ash."
Site of the day: The Current Mass Extinction

I can sense a sequel to "State of Fear" in the works already.
Scientists to make 'Stuart Little' mouse with the brain of a human

"In a recent article for the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, Wesley Smith, a consultant for the Centre for Bioethics and Culture warned that 'biotechnology is becoming dangerously close to raging out of control'.

"He wrote: 'Scientists are engaging in increasingly macabre experiments that threaten to mutate nature and the human condition.'"

He says this like it's a bad thing, failing to note that we've been altering "nature and the human condition" since prehistoric times. I'll concede that
genetic engineering comes with a decided "gee-whiz" factor. But, in essence, we're not doing anything we haven't done since the first human ancestor snapped a branch off a tree to use as a tool; it's simply a matter of degree.

Like fellow biotech pessimist Francis Fukuyama, Smith lives in stark fear of the prospect of an evolutionary upgrade, in which individuals cease to be discreet genetic entities and become inextricably part of the biosphere's deoxyribonucleic tapestry. As anthropologist Richard Grossinger so acutely pointed out -- in the original introduction to Richard Hoagland's "The Monuments of Mars" (!) -- genetic engineering is really nothing more than a highly intensified version of natural selection.

We can rip the branch off the biotech tree and use it to hasten our advance or we can cling to it in self-denial and fear.
Canada's Shrinking Ice Caps

"Abdalati and his colleagues say that Canada's Arctic ice is important because the wide area covered by these ice caps and the dramatic changes that have taken place in the Arctic climate in recent years. Studying this region will help researchers understand how much and in what ways Arctic glaciers and ice caps are contributing to sea level rise."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Iraq war stories play tricks on the mind

"The study also supports certain theories about the formation of false memories, says Lewandowsky.

"'The constant hinting at WMDs was sufficient to make some people believe that they have been found,' he says."

Moreover, it's been discovered that under certain stringent laboratory conditions, two plus two really do equal five!
Dawn Will Show How Different Two Asteroids Can Be

"It's called Dawn, and in a little more than a year, this spacecraft will blast off from Florida, bound for two separate asteroids: Vesta and Ceres. Visiting the two most massive asteroids in our Solar System will be an ambitious undertaking; maybe one of the most difficult and dangerous orbital missions attempted. Dawn will bring a suite of scientific instruments to these two asteroids and serve as a time machine to help scientists understand what our Solar System looked like 4.6 billion years ago."

Certain speculative writers are going to have a great time with this. Especially those with a conspiratorial bent, who will interpret the name "Dawn" as evidence of forthcoming government disclosure of our extraterrestrial heritage. You know who you are.
This blog has been shortlisted by The Anomalist, one of my all-time favorite websites, and one I unhesitatingly mine for ideas. "It ain't bragging if it's true."
US scientist wins religion prize

"Since then, the two fields, especially in areas like quantum mechanics, have been coming together in a less fractious relationship. In a statement, Mr Townes said many people did not realise that science involves faith."

I suppose the philosophically inclined can argue that science requires a sort of faith, but hardly the kind that governs religious thought. Personally, I've never understood the perceived need to wed science and religion. Politically expedient? Sure. But it's fundamentally dishonest, both to scientists and theologians.

This isn't to say that science should refrain from tackling questions thought best left to religion. Quite the opposite. But attempts like the Templeton Prize only create frail, tenuous bridges between the world of faith and the world of understanding. Just because there is a divide doesn't necessarily mean it should be crossed.
I wonder if I can put this blog to work for my fiction in the form of a serialized SF story. That might be fun.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

There's a load of science fiction potential here:

New York air to have its genes sequenced

"According to Venter, siphoning off vats of smoky New York City air each day and amplifying the DNA of the fungi, bacteria and viruses it contains is the only way to uncover the mysteries of airborne microbial life. Only 1% of the microbes in the air can be identified by growing cultures in the lab, he told the New York Times, yet 'it is important to understand this unseen world'." (Via The Anomalist.)

There's always a mass of loose change at the bottom of this fountain, and sometimes I experience a compulsion to reach in and scoop up as much as possible, or at least enough for some green tea or a paperback book.

Remarkably, local panhandlers leave this incredible resource alone. When one of them asks me for change, I want to point him or her toward the nearest fountain: "You want change? There's at least $10 worth right there! What, you're willing to stand here begging all day but don't want to get your arms wet?"

This is Brush Creek, which flows by my apartment. While Brush Creek is pleasant enough to look at, the fact remains that it's essentially a stylized sewer; I've seen all sorts of stuff down there, including medical waste and a particularly memorable bloated dead rat.

The sad irony is that the bridge where I stood to take this picture is a popular make-out spot. On weekends, I have to shoulder my way through a veritable gauntlet of glazed-eyed, lip-locked couples.

Love -- and god only knows what else -- is in the air.
Here are the two somewhat menacing Chinese warrior statues I mentioned in a long-ago post. It's something of a local tradition to make off with their heads. The thing that consistently surprises me is that there always seems to be a fresh Chinese warrior head ready to go in case of a "mishap."



*Names are spontaneous and arbitrary; I needed to name the files something. But who knows -- maybe they'll catch on.