Friday, September 30, 2005

Looks like I'll be in St. Louis for the weekend, so I can't promise any new posts for the next few days. But you never know.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Arctic ice 'disappearing quickly'

The new data shows that on 19 September, the area covered by ice fell to 5.35 million sq km (2.01 million sq miles), the lowest recorded since 1978, when satellite records became available; it is now 20% less than the 1978-2000 average.

The current rate of shrinkage they calculate at 8% per decade; at this rate there may be no ice at all during the summer of 2060.

An NSIDC analysis of historical records also suggests that ice cover is less this year than during the low periods of the 1930s and 40s.

(Via American Samizdat.)
NASA administrator says space shuttle was a mistake

The space shuttle and International Space Station -- nearly the whole of the U.S. manned space program for the past three decades -- were mistakes, NASA chief Michael Griffin said Tuesday.

[. . .]

"It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path," Griffin said. "We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sweden's new funeral rite - bodies freeze-dried, powdered and made into tree mulch

A town in Sweden plans to become the first place in the world where corpses will be disposed of by freeze-drying, as an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation or burial.

And they do this by dunking you in liquid nitrogen, thereby turning you into glass, and then smashing you into powder. Actually, if you're not into immortality, this isn't a bad way to go.
Manchester develops new wave energy device: The Manchester Bobber

The Manchester Bobber's inventive features utilise the rise and fall (or 'bobbing') of the water surface. This movement transmits energy, which is then extracted by the mechanics to drive a generator and produce electricity.

The vision is to have a series of Bobbers working together to generate electricity. One concept which is currently being explored is the use of decommissioned offshore rigs as platforms for the devices.

(Via WorldChanging.)

Take a moment to savor the irony of that last paragraph.
Classic Kimball:

Today's Majic Number is 74

Here's the thing (and a good clue why no-one takes ufology seriously anymore, including more than a few ufologists): the aliens are supposedly smart enough to travel all the way here from there - even pro-ETH ufologists admit that this would require a pretty advanced civilization, with technological capabilities significantly beyond our own - and yet they get here and then proceed to crash all over the place.
Glamorgan launches ET degree

Course leader, Mark Brake, said there was a massive interest in the topic. Around half a dozen people had enrolled to take part on campus, but about 100 people in the local community are studying aspects of the subject, he said.

The three-year degree will encompass popular culture, such as films like K-Pax starring Kevin Spacey, alongside studying more obscure texts, laboratory-based study and stargazing.

(Via The Anomalist.)

Man, I'd love to see a syllabus for this. I bet there's a whole unit devoted to UFO-bashing. Have to keep that torch burning.
Today Rudy Rucker solicits reader comments for a story he's working on:

So suppose we have a superintelligent web of tiny machines with an enormous net RAM and flop, with tons of data, and with smart agents living inside it. The Web, in other words, but more so. And now suppose that we plug into it and get smarter. How will this feel?

My comment:

I think communing with your future Web would almost certainly be a psychedelic experience. If rapprochement with the Web is via nano-arphids, then it might make sense to augment your brain with arphids of its own; these could serve as "ambassadors" to the invasive Web arphids. Maybe the act of ingesting nanobots could be a sort of mystical rite.

I don't know what sort of society you're imagining, but it could be really pastoral and the inhabitants might know next to nothing about technology -- after all, if the Web is superhumanly intelligent, it could take care of itself without human assistance.

Sailing the planets

Floating just several kilometers above the surface of Mars, the guided Mars balloons can observe rock formations, layerings in canyon walls and polar caps, and other features - at very high resolution using relatively small cameras.

The Mars-balloon idea has been making the rounds for year; perhaps the success of the rovers will spur someone -- such as the European Space Agency -- to finally go for it. Imagine one of these automated jellyfish hovering over the Face or dipping its guide-ropes into Valles Marineris.

(There's always the risk of getting snagged on one of Arthur C. Clarke's "banyan trees," but I think it would be worth the sacrifice.)
Mirror, mirror on the wall, is there anyone there at all?

The grey, materialistic picture I have painted of the brain as vacant machine merely provides the backdrop to the real stuff of the self, which is storytelling and imagination. We are not that soggy mass of robotic cells, although we depend on them. We are, rather, the tales they tell.
Gibsonian cyberspace lurches ever-closer:

Computer users move themselves with the mind

"Just thinking about movement activates the same neurons as actually moving," explains Gert Pfurtscheller of Graz University of Technology in Austria, who has been working on the device for around four years. By picking up on these bursts of nerve activity, the computer can decide whether you are thinking about moving your hands or feet, and react accordingly.

Global warming: Death in the deep-freeze

Some scientists believe that climate change could unleash ancient illnesses as ice sheets drip away and bacteria and viruses defrost. Illnesses we thought we had eradicated, like polio, could reappear, while common viruses like human influenza could have a devastating effect if melting glaciers release a bygone strain to which we have no resistance. What is more, new species unknown to science may re-emerge. And it is not just humans who are at risk: animals, plants and marine creatures could also suffer as ancient microbes thaw out.

Yikes. I hadn't even thought of that . . .

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cassini spots huge "spear" on Saturn moon

The first close-up images of Saturn's moon Tethys have been sent to Earth from the Cassini spacecraft, which flew past the moon on Saturday. As well as the expected craters and chasms, one image reveals a peculiar, spear-shaped feature.

If you enlarge the image and look closely, you can make out several narrow linear features like the hilt of the so-called "spear."
Mars: A History of False Impressions

With Mars set to be closer to Earth in 2005 than anytime until the year 2018, skywatchers are gearing up for a great view. As the world prepares to gaze yet again at the red planet, it's a good time to reflect on the incredible history of false impressions surrounding the most Earth-like planet we know of.

Some quick background: This is from a article. So you think you know what's coming. Or at least I did. It went something like:

"In 1976 the Viking mission photographed what vaguely resembled a humanoid face staring up from the Martian surface. Although conclusively dismissed as an illusion by NASA scientists, the so-called 'Face' on Mars was championed by conspiracy theorists such as Richard Hoagland, who maintained the visage was a monument built by little green men in the remote past."

But wait! This article includes no mention of the Face! What the hell is going on here? After dousing myself in cold water and rereading the article, I'm left with two alternatives:

1.) The usual suspects at succumbed to the will to believe. They're now devout Face enthusiasts and are now, as I type, probably doting over copies of "After the Martian Apocalypse" and scanning the evening sky for UFOs.

Or, more likely:

2.) The writers at are so besieged with angry email every time they attempt to scotch the Face that they've thrown in the towel. Sure, they still think it's baloney that deserves to be righteously smeared at every available opportunity, but why bother? After all, there's no arguing with True Believers. Better to pretend the Face simply doesn't exist; citing it as evidence of anything -- even "debunked" evidence -- just isn't worth the time.

Besides, Seth Shostak's on the phone and he's threatening not to submit anymore anti-UFO articles until a sizeable donation is made to the SETI Institute.

(Thanks to Peter A. Gersten.)
Add another UFO book to the to-read pile . . .

I'm endlessly fascinated by stories of crashed alien vehicles and the recovery of their occupants, partly because I think there's reason to think it's actually happened and partly because I find it weirdly empowering to be front-row to an electrifying modern myth-in-the-making.

I've blogged about my gnawing hunch that the morbid scenario put forth in Nick Redfern's "Body Snatchers in the Desert" contains at least a kernel of truth. But even if Redfern is right and the so-called Roswell Incident was due to the aftermath of an human aeronautical/radiation experiment, it doesn't logically follow that no UFOs have crashed.

Of course, one can't prove a negative. But there's certainly a mass of data that awaits scrutiny. Pursuing the truth behind the dancing veil of "crashed saucer" tales is worth the effort even -- and perhaps especially -- if we're ultimately confronted with our own sublimated longings and fears.
I'll probably see "Corpse Bride" sometime this week. I thoroughly liked "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"; Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka elicited some of the affinity I experienced for "Edward Scissorhands'" title character.

I'm fascinated by Tim Burton's cinematic vocabulary; he shamelessly reuses old tricks but manages to infuse them with novelty. I particularly liked the scene in "Charlie" when Wonka is cutting the ribbon to his Gothic-looking factory with a pair of giant scissors in what has to be a deliberate homage to "Edward." And the CGI opening sequence, with its eccentric chocolate bar assembly line, recalls both the automated cookie factory from "Edward" and the armada of brushed-steel flying saucers from the beginning of "Mars Attacks!"

(Burton can fail -- the first two "Batman" movies and "Planet of the Apes," while fun to look at, are essentially pretty vapid. Burton's vision is best conveyed by simple storylines, and the Mervyn Peake-like surrealism of "Edward Scissorhands" and the inspired whimsy of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" are, in my opinion, among his best offerings.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Here are some books I'm currently recommending. No particular order.

1.) The Wind from Nowhere (J.G. Ballard)
2.) Tower of Glass (Robert Silverberg)
3.) Caught in a Still Place (Jonathan Lerner)
4.) Walk to the End of the World (Suzy McKee Charnas)
5.) Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke)
6.) Distraction (Bruce Sterling)
7.) Darkness Divided* (John Shirley)
8.) Random Acts of Senseless Violence (Jack Womack)
9.) Galapagos (Kurt Vonnegut)
10.) Gnarl!* (Rudy Rucker)


Ready? Start shopping!

Cydonia in color -- is this the best the ESA can do?
I need new bookshelves!

Here's my cherished glass head next to a Styrofoam-backed stand-up display from a book signing at Borders. I got the Art Deco flying saucer (with retractable tripod landing gear) for $5.00 several years ago; looking back, I wish I'd splurged and bought a whole fleet.

I try to keep things tacky around here -- but intelligently tacky.
3 plague-infected lab mice missing

Officials said the animals could have been stolen from the center, one of the top-level biocontainment labs in New Jersey -- or simply misplaced. The discovery occurred more than two weeks ago and was confirmed Wednesday after questions were raised by The Star-Ledger newspaper.

State Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs said mice infected with plague bacteria die "very fast," so "the risk to the public ... is probably slim to none."

So far no one has been reported dead from bubonic plague, so it looks like we lucked out. Emphasis on "luck."
NASA's Griffin: 'Humans Will Colonize the Solar System'

But the goal isn't just scientific exploration . . . it's also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time. . . . In the long run a single-planet species will not survive. We have ample evidence of that . . . [Species have] been wiped out in mass extinctions on an average of every 30 million years.

Meanwhile . . .

Apocalypse Now

Floods, storms, and droughts. Melting polar ice, shrinking glaciers, oceans turning to acid. Scientists from the fields of glaciology, biology, meteorology, oceanography, and ecology reported seeing a dramatic rise over the last 50 years of all the indicators of climate change: increase in average world temperatures, extreme weather events, in the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and in the level of the oceans.

[. . .]

Quite a few climate "skeptics", fossil fuel executives, and members of the Bush administration are still denying that there is such a thing as human-caused global warming. Many of them claim that the sun has just grown hotter. However, a warmer sun would have heated the stratosphere as well. In contrast, the stratosphere is cooling -- suggesting a blanket of greenhouse gases that prevents the earth’s heat from radiating back into space.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Kate Wilhelm's must-read writerly advice/history of Clarion

Teaching writing is a balancing act between compassionate encouragement and firm, blunt criticism. Kate is a master of it. The book uses reminisces about the founding, development and running of Clarion to frame a series of practical, plainly stated lessons for the beginning (and professional) writer. I learned a great deal reading it -- something that can be accomplished in a deceptively short time, for Kate is also a master of simply and clearly setting out complicated, muddy issues, a skill honed both in her award-winning fiction (Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is a personal favorite) and in her long years of teaching.

I'll probably read this; I figure it will be worth its price if it proves half as good as Stephen King's "On Writing."
Asteroids May Influence Global Warming

Dust from asteroids entering the atmosphere may influence Earth's weather more than previously believed, according to an article in the journal Nature. Researchers have found evidence that dust from an asteroid burning up as it passed through Earth's atmosphere formed a cloud of micron-sized particles large enough to influence local weather in Antarctica, where glaciers are rapidly melting. Particles this size are large enough to reflect sunlight, causing local cooling and playing a major role in cloud formation. The dust can even have a negative effect on the ozone layer. This may temporarily help reverse the rapid melting of the Antarctic.

I like the idea that some of this infalling dust contains "extremophile" microbes that we've ignorantly assumed to be native to Earth.
Pssst! Cool new stuff posted at The Electric Warrior (which gets my bid for one of the most graphically appealing sites on the Web). Having spent the day checking out artwork in meatspace, it's nice to see what the cyber-set is up to.

I am here.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Earthquakes, Solar Flares, Hurricanes, War, & The Coming Of An E.T. Savior!

Many religions have at least one apocalyptic myth describing the end of the world accompanied by a "savior" who appears in the sky at the last minute to rescue the "chosen" from annihilation or wrath. Mayans, Assyrians, Egyptians and Greeks held similar beliefs. Hopi prophecy talks of a time of great destruction, when their lands will be preserved as "a blue star, far off and invisible, makes its appearance." Today, even factions of the New Age look for a techno-savior to appear in the clouds to save mankind from itself.

My fear is that we've allowed ourselves to be manipulated into believing in imminent salvation, either independently or perhaps assisted by the psychosocial "control system" suggested by Jacques Vallee. As someone who thinks we are indeed interacting with some form of nonhuman intelligence (which in all likelihood transcends the scope of ufology), I don't find the idea repellent -- just appallingly unlikely and childish.

Either we make the evolutionary cut on our own terms -- an achievement that will probably redefine our identity as sentient beings -- or we do not. Both possibilities are fraught with an almost vertiginous sense of displacement and the gnawing specter of transience.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Deadly plague hits Warcraft world

In his death throes Hakkar hits foes with a "corrupted blood" infection that can instantly kill weaker characters.

The infection was only supposed to affect those in the immediate vicinity of Hakkar's corpse but some players found a way to transfer it to other areas of the game by infecting an in-game virtual pet with it.

This pet was then unleashed in the orc capital city of Ogrimmar and proved hugely effective as the Corrupted Blood plague spread from player to player.

(Via Betterhumans.)

A compelling metaphor. If we're inhabiting a simulation, could degenerative diseases be the equivalent to corrupt code or even "bit rot"?

Perhaps when scientists search for the cure for illnesses like cancer and AIDS they're in truth groping for a software patch. Our computational substrate may be diseased or senile, and using our world as a sort of virtual Petri dish in an effort to combat "architect level" decay. Buddhism holds that "life is suffering." If so, maybe the fruits of our suffering are harvested for the greater good of whatever created us; meanwhile, we're lulled into complacency like so many lab rats awaiting the next round of experimental injections.

There's a vein a Judeo-Christian metalogic in this scenario, as it implies that the entity or entities in the "real" universe have a legitimate reason to care about our plight, much like the deities of Western mythology. (Now that I think of it, this strikes me as a plot for some never-written Philip K. Dick novel.)

Personally, I'm not sure I like the idea of existing solely to spawn code for some unseen hierarchical intelligence. I'd like to think we could ultimately transcend to the next level, regardless if it represents "true" reality. (As philosopher Nick Bostrom has noted, we could inhabit a simulation within a simulation -- the total number of spurious realities dependent on the computational might of original reality, assuming such exists.)
This is global warming, says environmental chief

Asked what conclusion the Bush administration should draw from two hurricanes of such high intensity hitting the US in quick succession, Sir John said: "If what looks like is going to be a horrible mess causes the extreme sceptics about climate change in the US to reconsider their opinion, that would be an extremely valuable outcome."
Dermal Display

This pixelbot array could be programmed to form any of many thousands of displays. Each display would be capable of two functions: (1) presenting to the user data received from the large population of medical bots that roam the user's body; (2) conveying instructions from the user to that same large population of bots. The display could be activated or deactivated by finger tapping on the skin.


This is a step toward "e-glyphic" communication, an idea for Burroughsian nonverbal dialogue I've toyed with in several science fiction sketches. For a graphic depiction of dermal skin projection and its erotic potential, see my story "One-Hundred Years."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita Interactive Map: Let's just say you don't want to know.

On a similar note:

Hello Rita - Goodbye Oil Production

In the coming weeks we may be called upon to drastically alter portions of our traditional way of life or stand up to preserve other portions.

On from the face on Mars

The "face" on Mars seems to have disappeared, which must come as a great relief to NASA. In 1993 we reported that Mike Malin, principal investigator on NASA's Mars Observer camera, complained that he was spending a quarter of his valuable time responding to conspiracy theorists. Publication of high-resolution photos of what turned out to be a very ordinary hill obviously helped free up his time. But where have those conspiracy theorists gone?

(Via The Anomalist.)

The Face isn't just a hill anymore, folks. It's an ordinary hill. And not only is it ordinary, it's very ordinary. (Is it just me, or is this protesting just a bit too much?)

This mini-article goes on to get down and dirty with the usual "debunking" tricks, wiping out claims of ruins on Mars and the possibility of intelligent handiwork on Iapetus by skewering Richard Hoagland. Which leads to the rather surprising insight that Hoagland, far from being an enemy of orthodox science, is actually extraordinarily useful to mainstream skeptics.

Critics of exo-archaeology and planetary SETI need a bad guy to attack when the evidence itself is ambiguous, and Hoagland's all-too-frequent wackiness lends him to lifetime "straw man" status; any mystery he's addressed -- no matter how genuinely compelling -- can be discarded because he's dared to sell copies of "The Monuments of Mars."

It's a wonderfully efficient system. It works. Of course, it's based on a tissue of misconceptions and falsehoods, but who has time for details?
The Rita situation isn't improving . . .

(Link found at WorldChanging.)
Rita Unleashes Category 5 Fury Over Gulf

Forecasters said Rita could be the most intense hurricane on record ever to hit Texas, and easily one of the most powerful ever to plow into the U.S. mainland. Category 5 is the highest on the scale, and only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the U.S. mainland -- most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992.

Wait a second. Christian Fundamentalists declared that Katrina was an act of God designed to punish a hotbed of immorality. Now Rita's poised to take Texas, home state of Our Leader, both an eminent Fundamentalist and one of the political world's most vehement denouncers of global warming, which is the root of this mayhem.

Whatever. Call Michael Crichton. Maybe the climate is in collusion with leftist conspirators.
Hey, is it my fault alien women like to visit me? Paul Kimball seems to think so.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Remember HyperCard? I actually took a HyperCard class in high school. While I was tinkering with it, others were producing astute pre-Web multimedia like Beyond Cyberpunk!, dedicated to one of my favorite literary subjects.

(Found at -- you guessed it -- Boing Boing.)
I established physical contact with aliens last night. Luckily I had my cheap digicam with me and was able to take these two photos before the damned thing's memory expired.

The first photo clearly shows the aliens' spacecraft. It was at least as big as a football field, and triangular in shape.

The next photo shows the lozenge-shaped craft that detached from the "mothership" to land next to me. Fortunately, no abduction ensued. Rather, I enjoyed a relaxing stroll through the mothership's corridors and sampled exotic foods from distant planets.

To my surprise, all of the aliens were human-looking. Moreover, all were female and quite beautiful. They told me, via telepathy, that they reproduced through parthogenesis and that their typical lifespan was 5,000 years. Then they lectured me about global warming and stuck a suction cup-like device into my left nostril.

What a great time. Maybe they'll come back.
Reading Boing Boing is positively narcotic. So many weird, engaging "news" items and so little time.

But what's galling is that my semi-daily pilgrimages to Boing Boing can make my own blog seem comparatively inadequate; Boing Boing has the undisputed monopoly on cool-hunting, and I know perfectly well that I have neither the time nor the stamina to compete with it on its own terms. Not that out-boinging the mother of all esoteric blogs is my life's (or even my week's) goal, but you know what I mean.

In my defense, Boing Boing draws on a no-kidding team of contributors . . . and, judging from the advertisements on its dual sidebars, isn't exactly lacking in funds.
NASA Revives Apollo - While Starving Space Life Science

NASA's plan seeks to pick up where Apollo left off. The Apollo program was killed in the early 1970's just as it was moving from a sequence of engineering and political stunts to a program of full blown planetary expeditions. The last three landings, Apollos 18-20 would have featured some spectacular locations including the center or [sic] the crater Copernicus. Plans for even more expansive human exploration were also developed which could have led to a permanent human base in perhaps a decade or so. They were never realized.


Perhaps Mike Griffin will come to see that the life science upon which so much of the ISS was justified - often as enabling technology for human planetary exploration - has value as well. Many have learned that when NASA says that something is "science driven" what it really means is "if we can afford it".

GSFC Center Director and former AA for Space Science Ed Weiler is often quoted as saying that "exploration without science is just tourism". So far all we have seen of Mike Griffin's moon plans is the tourism brochure.

I would argue that science and exploration, far from being incompatible, are in fact symbiotic. NASA's internal war will, of course, continue unabated. But I can't help but think that a robust plan for lunar exploration -- one carried out in the spirit of discovery and unburdened by military imperatives -- will by nature tell us much about our immediate solar neighborhood. And none too soon.
Global warming 'past the point of no return'

A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.

We're in for quite a ride.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

We will devise a ritual to transcend the double-standard of grief, to transform their dead into our dead, and our dead into theirs. And then we will challenge those around us to do the same.
OrganicHTML illustrates the Web's role as a living system by rendering URLs into stalks of digital foliage. Pretty fascinating, and proof that I can make it a day without posting nothing but dire ecological forecasts.

(Found at Technoccult.)
Air pollution: Worse than you thought

Among participants, for each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) of fine particles in the neighborhood's air, the risk of death from any cause rose by 11 to 17 percent, according to Michael Jerrett, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the paper's lead author. Fine particle levels can differ by about 20 µg/m3 from the cleanest parts of Los Angeles to the most polluted.

"By looking at the effects of pollution within communities, not only did we observe pollution's influence on overall mortality, but we saw specific links between particulate matter and death from ischemic heart disease, such as heart attack, as well as lung cancers," Jerrett says. Ischemic heart disease mortality risks rose by 25 to 39 percent for the 10 µg/m3increase in air pollution.
World has slim chance to stop bird flu pandemic

The initial outbreak of a bird flu pandemic may not be very contagious, affecting only a few people, giving the world just weeks to contain the deadly virus before it spreads and kills millions.


First SARS -- now this. It seems we're ducking (no pun intended) new plagues right and left. So far we've been extremely lucky.

The Gaia Hypothesis posits that our planet is a collective living organism whose major function is to maintain homeostasis. If this is the case, it's easy to interpret new disease outbreaks as attempts to wipe us out, or maybe just test our defenses before launching a bacteriological "shock and awe" attack.

I think the first tentative shots in this new world war are being fired.
Cognitive radios like "living creatures"

"The new cognitive radios are similar to living creatures in that they are aware of their surroundings and understand their own and their user's capabilities and the governing social constraints," according to Center director Charles W. Bostian.

At what point does "inanimate" become animate -- or, for that matter, the other way around? And will our transhuman descendants have a predilection for such koans?
I just ordered a copy of "Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits." Perhaps you should, too.
Boing Boing puts to rest convoluted rumors regarding "Blade Runner's" ambiguous unicorn footage.

Shame on me for not having read "Future Noir." On the other hand, the urban future of "Blade Runner" is so richly believable that I feel I live there every time I watch it; part of me doesn't want to know how it was done.
What must it be like to have no sight and run your hands over these ingenious tactile photographs?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Today I had a root canal. I was surprised at how quickly they did it. One second I'm lying on a dental chair perusing "Architectural Digest" and the next someone -- evidently a trained dentist -- is inserting a fat needle into my palate and stuffing my mouth with latex.

The numbness is wearing off as I write; time for some Motrin and an antibiotic.
UN warns on ozone depletion

"Furthermore, because of the historic use of ozone-depleting compounds, the ozone layer has become thinner in most places in the world," he added. "It is essential that we remain alert to this hazard to avoid an increase in skin cancers, cataracts and other health threats."

I hope "health threats" encompasses consequences such as crop failure. Humanity can survive increased skin cancer rates if need be, but will have a far more difficult time in the face of global starvation.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I've been pondering launching some kind of spoken-word project to compliment this blog and my website (which is due for a revamp, although I haven't decided how extensive it should be . . . or can be, given my limited Web design abilities). Anyway, this Loudblog thing might prove useful.

(Thanks to CP.)
I almost hate to admit it, but some of these interiors have potential . . .
New Company Sets Enormous Goal: Settling Mars

All companies set goals, but newly formed 4Frontiers Corp. is eyeing some expansive horizons. The company's mission: to open a small human settlement on Mars within 20 years or so.

Sure, it may sound far-fetched. And the company's initial plans are a lot more terrestrial than ethereal, like developing a 25,000-square-foot replica of a Mars settlement here on Earth, then charging tourists admission.

But the people behind the venture are quite serious -- as serious as the $25 million they want to raise from investors.

I wonder if they're looking for an "author-in-residence."
Sorry for not posting yesterday. Did I miss anything? Did the Singularity happen without me? Instead of logging on, I visited Kansas City's engagingly necrotic old-time industrial district to scout for costume ideas with Elizabeth. Then it was off to Lawrence, Kansas, former home of the late William S. Burroughs and current home of the enigmatic Mr. Jason Sheets. Despite its being a scant half-hour away, I hadn't been to Lawrence since 1996, when I saw Allen Ginsberg, Kathy Acker, Richard Hell, and -- to the audience's notable surprise -- the Great Man himself, decked out in a fedora and wielding a cane the way a inquisitive insect might flex an antenna.

I ate seafood enchiladas and watched college students massing the sidewalks. After some window-shopping, I zeroed in on a neat used-book store called "The Dusty Bookshelf," where I found a couple science fiction treasures packaged in plastic envelopes. (I had no idea Kobo Abe had penned a climate disaster novel.)

This evening I visited my aunt from Chicago, who's in town for the week. My family used to drive to Illinois every summer to spend a few days lounging by her pool; ever since, public pools haven't seemed nearly as inviting.

I'm having a persistent problem with a molar, which was doing swell until my dentist decided to drill for a shallow cavity. I've got a prescription for pain medication that's doing very little, so I'm basically snacking on ibuprofin and avoiding cold drinks in the hope that I can sleep. The whole right side of my face feels on the verge of splitting open; I have half a mind to yank the goddamned thing myself.

There's some sort of high-budget private party/charity event taking place down the street: big screens flashing corporate logos, darting spotlights and pain-in-the-ass valet parking attendants, one of whom accosted my car as I attempted to enter my parking garage, apparently deeming my Chrysler unfit.

Now playing:

1.) Blue Wonder Power Milk (Hooverphonic)
2.) Us (Peter Gabriel)
3.) The Cure (The Cure)
4.) Roseland NYC Live (Portishead)
5.) Little Wonder (David Bowie)

Friday, September 16, 2005

DIY satellites reinvent the space race

The satellites are tiny--they weigh a kilogram and generally measure about 10 centimeters on each side--but they cost far less than conventional commercial satellites. A CubeSat unit costs roughly $40,000 to build and only $40,000 to launch. As part of the program, Cal Poly takes care of the bureaucratic and logistical hurdles.

(Via Future Feeder.)

Now I'm itching for an excuse to have my very own satellite. How about the world's first Smiths/Morrissey-only satellite radio station?
Catholic Church recruits more student exorcists

Students also attend classes in psychology so that priests can distinguish between "real cases" of satanic possession and illnesses such as schizophrenia.

The recruitment drive comes amid growing Vatican concern about a rise in Satanism. Pope Benedict XVI this week praised 180 of the students gathered at a secret location outside Rome.

(Via The Anomalist.)

Once again: No words.
No kidding -- Hummer laptops.

Just as tough, reliable, and go anywhere as a HUMMER, this laptop is the perfect addition to your HUMMER lifestyle!

(Via Boing Boing.)

What's next? Uber-manly blenders and coffee presses? Fume-belching can openers? Toasters the size of microwave ovens?

Can satire survive? Stay tuned!
NASA to unveil plans for 2018 moon mission

NASA's plan envisions being able to land four-person human crews anywhere on the moon's surface and to eventually use the system to transport crew members to and from a lunar outpost that it would consider building on the lunar south pole, according to the charts, because of the regions elevated quantities of hydrogen and possibly water ice.

Not appalling, but not terribly inspiring either. Apollo never should have been dismantled. We should have landed on Mars in the 1980s, and there should be lunar outposts at least as sophisticated as that depicted in Kubrick's "2001." In an ideal universe, the first crewed missions to Jupiter and Saturn -- if not a neighboring star -- would be underway.
Here's a picture of "Elizabeth" (on the left) looking sultry. I think the picture's a year old or so; I found it in a Google search.

Last weekend I took in her new show, which was totally enjoyable. Her next "gig" is choreographing a piece for the Plaza Art Fair. I like the deliberately ambiguous titles she gives her performances. And the offbeat costuming. From what little original material I've seen (on tape), her vision is similar to that of David Lynch: understated, ghostly, quietly eccentric without parodying itself.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Earth Asteroid Bombardment Mystery Solved?

Scientists turned planetary detectives say they may have solved a solar system whodunit: What caused a cataclysmic asteroid assault on Earth and neighboring planets some 3.9 billion years ago?

Researchers suspect that the devastating bombardment, which lasted between 20 and 200 million years, originated in the main asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.

(Via The Anomalist.)
Inventor: I never used dead cats for fuel

"It's an alternative fuel that is friendly for the environment. But it's complete nonsense to suggest dead cats. I've never used cats and would never think of that. At most the odd toad may have jumped in."

OK. Now we can all sleep better.
I'm a big Kim Stanley Robinson fan. This interview with him made me want to cheer.

"I think the US is in a terrible state of denial," he says firmly. "Worse than that, we seem to be caught in a kind of Gotterdammerung response: we'd rather have the world go down in flames than change our lifestyle or admit we're wrong. Even here in California, 50% of cars on the freeway are SUVs, and they're political statements: they say, we're going to take the rest of the world down with us because we don't give a damn. Essentially they're Republican vehicles: when you see an SUV go by, you know the driver voted for Bush. I do think the world has larger global warming problems, but if the US were actually engaged in dealing with them, there'd be a sense that the worst abuser had seen the light and the whole world was on the same page. There's a really sizeable minority here who back measures to reduce emissions, but the political process is controlled by the Republican administration, which is basically in thrall to the oil industry. So it'll come down to another election - and with the last two elections both in their different ways perhaps having been stolen, we can't even really count on democracy anymore. It's pretty scary here."

Science fiction is one of the best instruments for progressive political and ideological change in our arsenal. In the end, books like Robinson's will triumph. Long after Michael Crichton and the "Left Behind" series have been deservedly forgotten, we'll be able to look back and chart the genre's impact on our social and technological trajectory. And the world will be a better place.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, here's the text of a never-used email interview I've had on file for over a year. Enjoy.

How did you get interested in the Face on Mars controversy?

I've always had an innate interest in the prospect of extraterrestrial life. When I realized that there was an actual scientific inquiry regarding the Face and associated formations, I realized that this was a potential chance to lift SETI from the theoretical arena; it's within our ability to visit Mars in person. This was incredibly exciting, and it inspired an interest in Mars itself -- its geological history, climate, et cetera.

What is your background?

I have a BA in Creative Writing. So of course there are those who will happily disregard my book because I'm not "qualified." I suppose my question is "Who *is* qualified to address potential extraterrestrial artifacts?" Certainly not JPL, whose Mars exploration timetable is entirely geology-driven.

We direly need to rethink how we practice SETI; in that spirit, "After the Martian Apocalypse" can be read as an editorial or manifesto.

For readers unfamiliar with the story of the Face and Mars and associated structures, what is the background to it, how was the face first identified, when, and who by?

The first two objects to attract attention were the Face and the "D&M Pyramid," both unearthed by digital imaging specialists Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar. Their research was published in "Unusual Martian Surface Features"; shortly after, Richard Hoagland pointed out a collection of features near the Face which he termed the "City."

NASA itself discovered the Face and even showed it at a press conference after it had been photographed by the Viking mission in the 1970s. Of course, it was written off as a curiosity. Scientific analysis would have to await independent researchers.

When and how did the controversy really start?

When NASA dismissed the Face as a "trick of light," they cited a second, discomfirming photo allegedly taken at a different sun-angle. This photo never existed.

DiPietro and Molenaar had to dig through NASA archives to find a second image of the Face -- and, far from disputing the face-like appearance, it strengthened the argument that the Face remained face-like from multiple viewing angles.

What were/are the primary theories of the leading independent researchers?

The prevailing alternative to NASA's geological explanation -- that the Face and other formations are natural landforms -- is that we're seeing extremely ancient artificial structures built by an unknown civilization.

What does NASA say about the controversy?

NASA chooses to ignore that there is a controversy, or at least a controversy in the scientific sense. Since making the Face public in the 1970s, NASA has made vague allusions to humans' ability to "see faces" (e.g. the "Man in the Moon") and has made lofty dismissals, but it has yet to launch any sort of methodical study of the objects under investigation. Collectively, NASA frowns on the whole endeavor. Mainstream SETI theorists are equally hostile.

Basically, the Face -- if artificial -- doesn't fall into academically palatable models of how extraterrestrial intelligence will reveal itself, if it is in fact "out there." Searching for radio signals is well and good, but scanning the surface of a neighboring planet for signs of prior occupation is met with a very carefully cultivated institutionalized scorn. And of course it doesn't help that some of the proponents of the Face have indulged in more than a little baseless "investigation."

What are your views/conclusions?

I think some of the objects in the Cydonia region of Mars are probably artificial. And I think the only way this controversy will end is to send a manned mission. The features under investigation are extremely old and warrant on-site archaeological analysis. We've learned -- painfully -- that images from orbiting satellites won't answer the fundamental questions raised by the Artificiality Hypothesis.

Do you believe all the perceived anomalous structures are indeed that or do you feel some are of natural origin while some are of unnatural origin?

I suspect that we're seeing a fusion of natural geology and megascale engineering. For example, the Face is likely a modified natural mesa, not entirely unlike some rock sculptures on Earth but on a vastly larger and more technically challenging scale.

What are your views on the idea that some more recent images appear to show signs of vegetation?

The Mars Global Surveyor has taken images of anomalous branching objects that look for all the world like organic phenomena. Arthur C. Clarke, for one, is sold on the prospect of large forms of life on Mars, and has been highly critical of JPL's silence.

Can you expand on this - theories as to what sort of vegetation (if indeed that is what it is), the areas it has been seen in, implications.

Clarke's most impressive candidates are what he has termed "banyan trees" near the planet's south pole. And he collaborated with Mars researcher Greg Orme in a study of similar features NASA has termed "black spiders" -- root-like formations that suggest tenacious macroscopic life.

Is there a relationship between the face and the pyramids and similar in Egypt? What does the research community think of this perceived connection?

There's a superficial similarity between some of the alleged pyramids in the vicinity of the Face and the better-known ones here on Earth. This has become the stuff of endless arcane theorizing, and I agree with esoteric researchers that some sort of link between intelligence on Mars and Earth deserves to be taken seriously.

But the formations on Mars are much, much larger than terrestrial architecture. This suggests a significantly different purpose, assuming they're intelligently designed. Richard Hoagland, to my knowledge, was the first to propose that the features in Cydonia might be "arcologies" -- architectural ecologies -- built to house a civilization that might have retreated underground for environmental reasons.

If these things are artificial, who built them? Martians? Someone visiting Mars? Ancient earth civilizations now forgotten/lost to history?

It's just possible that the complex in Cydonia (and potential edifices elsewhere on Mars) were constructed by indigenous Martians. Mars was once extremely Earth-like. We know it had liquid water. It's perfectly conceivable that a civilization arose on Mars and managed to build structures within our ability to investigate.

Or the anomalies might be evidence of interstellar visitation -- perhaps the remains of a colony of some sort. But why a humanoid face? That's the disquieting aspect of the whole inquiry; it suggests that the human race has something to do with Mars, that our history is woefully incomplete, that our understanding of biology and evolution might be in store for a violent upheaval.

In retrospect, I regret not spending more time in the book addressing the possibility that the Face was built by a vanished terrestrial civilization that had achieved spaceflight. That was a tough notion to swallow, even as speculation, as it raises as many questions as it answers.

Is there any way to determine when they were built (if they were built)?

We need to bring archaeological tools to bear on this enigma. When that is done, we can begin reconstructing Martian history. Until we visit in person, all we can do is take better pictures and continue to speculate.

What are your theories as to how Mars - if it once was home to intelligent life - was transformed into a dead world?

Astronomer Tom Van Flandern has proposed that Mars was once the moon of a tenth planet that literally exploded in the distant past. If so, then the explosion would have had severe effects on Mars, probably rendering it uninhabitable. That's once rather apocalyptic scenario. Another is that Mars' atmosphere was destroyed by the impact that produced the immense Hellas Basin.

Both ideas are fairly heretical by current standards; mainstream planetary science is much more comfortable with Mars dying a slow, prolonged death. Pyrotechnic collisions simply aren't intellectually fashionable -- despite evidence that such things are much more commonplace than we'd prefer.

What is the truth behind the questions about the amount of water that might be present on Mars?

Simply: Mars has water. It's been found underground, frozen. If we melted all of it we'd have an ankle-deep ocean enveloping the entire planet. I predict we will find more of it.

Is it possible that anything of substance still lives there beyond some vegetation?

Vegetation implies herbivores . . .

What prompted you to write the book?

Anger. I was frankly fed up with bringing the subject of the Face on Mars up in online discussion and finding myself transformed into a straw man for self-professed experts. It was ludicrous. The book is a thought experiment, a mosaic of questions. We don't have all of the answers, but the answers are within our reach.

Is the research community open-minded or biased as to what the face may be? For example, are the believers open to the idea that they could be wrong and vice versa with NASA etc?

Frustratingly, this has become very much an "us vs. them" issue, and I blame both sides. The debunkers have ignored solid research that would undermine their assessment, and believers are typically quite pompous that NASA et al are simply wrong or, worse, actively covering up.

What do you hope the book will achieve?

I hope "After the Martian Apocalypse" will loosen the conceptual restraints that have blinkered radio-based SETI by showing that the Face on Mars is more than collective delusion or wishful thinking. This is a perfectly valid scientific inquiry and demands to be treated as such.

What surprised you most of all when doing the research?

Our attitudes toward the form extraterrestrial intelligence will take are painfully narrow. This is exciting intellectual territory, and too many of us have allowed ourselves to be told what to expect by an academically palatable elite. I find this massively frustrating.

Do you feel there is a conspiracy within Govt/Nasa re the Face and the associated structures to either hide data, confuse the truth, or actively destroy pictures etc? If yes even remotely, why?

When NASA/JPL released the first Mars Global Surveyor image of the Face in 1998, they chose to subject the image to a high-pass filter that made the Face look hopelessly vague. This was almost certainly done as a deliberate attempt to nullify public interest in a feature that the space agency is determined to ignore.

So yes, there is a cover-up of sorts. But it's in plain view for anyone who cares to look into the matter objectively. I could speculate endlessly on the forms a more nefarious cover-up might take -- and I come pretty close in the book -- but the fact remains that the Surveyor continues to return high-resolution images.

Speculation -- and even some healthy paranoia -- are useful tools. But we need to stay within the bounds of verifiable fact lest we become the very conspiracy-mongering caricatures painted by the mainstream media.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Scientists Reconsider Habitability of Saturn's Moon

Grinspoon speculated that life on Titan, if there is any, might be able to produce energy by mixing acetylene, a hydrocarbon abundant in Titan's atmosphere, with hydrogen. The energy could then be harnessed to power metabolism or to heat their surroundings.

"In environments that are energy-rich but liquid-poor, like near the surface of Titan, natural selection may favor organisms that use their metabolic heat to melt their own watering holes," Grinspoon said.

Which reminds me: Why the hell did I set aside Grinspoon's "Lonely Planets"? He had enough smart things to say about exobiology that I was willing to forgive his rote Face on Mars dismissal.
Hurricanes -- Can We Move Them Somewhere Else?

Justin Mullins writes in New Scientist that Moshe Alamaro of MIT tried floating jet engines on the ocean ahead of an approaching hurricane. They triggered tiny cyclones in the atmosphere. The idea was to drain the atmosphere of energy before the actual hurricane arrived. But it didn't work because it would be impossible to assemble enough jet engines to inject enough energy into the atmosphere to even trigger a small storm.

I'm mulling over a prospective short-story in which massive storms achieve sentience and decide to move us out of the way! (It's almost as plausible as the alternative.)

Researchers build world's smallest mobile robot

The future applications for micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS, include ensuring information security, such as assisting with network authentication and authorization; inspecting and making repairs to an integrated circuit; exploring hazardous environments, perhaps after a hazardous chemical explosion; or involving biotechnology, say to manipulate cells or tissues.

I can foresee nanotech resulting in not a few pathological nanophobes, constantly ill-at-ease knowing their bodies are being routinely penetrated by invisible machines. Some of us already have a debilitating fear of germs and contaminants (real or imaginary); wait until the "germs" become intelligent and subject to corruption.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Meet "Elektro" . . .

The future never happened.
Cosmic 'cigar' spins at astonishing pace

A recently discovered planetoid on the outskirts of our Solar System is turning so fast that it seems to have been squeezed into the shape of a cigar. And this cigar looks as if it is spinning not around its long axis, but around its middle.

This is such a bizarre situation that some refuse to believe it. "It's a really cool result... if it's true," says Tommy Grav, a sceptical astronomer from the University of Hawaii.
The beauty products from the skin of executed Chinese prisoners

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by the Guardian has discovered.

(Via Mondolithic Sketchbook.)


Whoa. Sorry; for a moment I thought I was a character in "Neuromancer."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ant logic makes sense in space

A spacecraft skin is being developed that assesses the severity of any damage it suffers from space debris and other impacts. The project, which is inspired by the behaviour of ants, is seen as the first step towards a self-repairing craft.

Shades of the organic "bitek" spacecraft in Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy. I suspect spacecraft two-hundred years from now will more closely resemble hives than machines as we're used to them.
Elevator Going Up!

An Earth-to-orbit elevator (sometimes called a "Beanstalk," a "space bridge," or an "orbital tether") is one of those ideas that, at first blush, sounds almost too ludicrous to be real. After all, we're accustomed to thinking of rockets as our only way into space, mixing danger and adventure; taking an elevator into space sounds almost boring. It turns out, however, that a space elevator is not only plausible, it's potentially revolutionary. Perhaps more importantly, given all that has happened in recent days and weeks, the notion of a space elevator can provide a bit of almost giggly optimism about the future.

We're already cranking out ribbons of carbon nanotubes. No, they're not quite strong enough for the job and we can only produce a few feet per hour, but we're getting there. In fact, I'd argue that we're making more actual progress toward a functioning space elevator than we are toward sending humans back to the Moon.

It's a quiet revolution, which makes it all the more interesting to watch.
Exosingularities, pancyberspermia, and SETI@home

If the advent of a technological Singularity on Earth is inevitable and if more than one technological civilization exists in the universe, it follows that there must be more than one Singularity. If some of these plural Singularities involve the uploading of sentience, then sentience may be broadcast as a "file" on light. Earth may be bathed in this modulated light which passes by with no effect until such time as the Cybereon we are building develops sufficiently to act as a substrate for the sentience encoded in the light. A file of sentience, able to recognize the sufficiency of an emergent cybersubstrate, inserts itself into it as if an interstellar computer virus.

(Via Variable Gravitas Content.)

You know what would be really cool? If these luminal viruses carried plans to build devices by which they could migrate to the nervous systems of a host species -- a sort of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" upgraded for the cyber age. And wouldn't it be hilarious if the first recipient of an interstellar information virus was one of SETI's "can't get here from there" crowd? (Oh, to have Seth Shostak carted off to Area 51 where we'd be spared his insufferable wit.)

Rudy Rucker addresses a similar scenario for galactic travel in his novel "Saucer Wisdom," in which Fermi's "paradox" is resolved when an eccentric UFO contactee learns to decrypt omnipresent encoded aliens.
Looking for a summer read? Norman Spinrad (author of the protocyberpunk masterpiece "Bug Jack Barron") is giving away "He Walked Among Us." He'll email it to you; all you have to do is ask. (Take that, Charles Stross!)

See Spinrad's website for details.
Hip new buses have descended on Kansas City like the vanguard of a vehicular invasion.

Called "the MAX," the sleeker-than-usual buses ply the pot-holed streets like blue-and-silver troop carriers. I can generally see at least two MAX buses from my window at any given time.

The bus-stops are chunks of Plexiglas that could pass for props from forgotten science fiction movies: booths with jutting canopies set next to scrolling electronic signs that erupt from the pavement like the steeples of subterranean churches. And the benches are surprisingly comfortable.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

While in New Mexico, I was quite disillusioned to discover that the Mars Exploration Rover mission is a hoax. I never really thought of myself as a "conspiracy theorist," but you can't ignore the evidence.

Here's me on "Mars." As you can see, the air is quite breathable. And I didn't even need a jacket.
Astronomers discover 2 more oddball objects

Although the peculiar orbits of all three could shed fresh light on the earliest epochs of the solar system's formation, the astronomers now concede that maybe it's best not to think of them as planets at all.


"Santa is crazy, and it's my favorite -- by far the weirdest of the three," Brown said. It is significantly larger than Pluto, it's shaped like a huge cigar, and it rotates end-over-end every four hours; it also has a single tiny moon about 60 miles in diameter orbiting around it.

(Via The Anomalist.)

Good lord -- they've found the mothership!
Cover-up: toxic waters 'will make New Orleans unsafe for a decade'

Toxic chemicals in the New Orleans flood waters will make the city unsafe for full human habitation for a decade, a US government official has told The Independent on Sunday. And, he added, the Bush administration is covering up the danger.

In an exclusive interview, Hugh Kaufman, an expert on toxic waste and responses to environmental disasters at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the way the polluted water was being pumped out was increasing the danger to health.

Perfect. Just fucking perfect.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Human brain still evolving

The human brain is continuing to evolve, apparently moving towards ever-greater intelligence.

I can't help but wonder what the Fundamentalist -- er, "Intelligent Design" -- contingent has to say about this. As I understand it, creationism holds that human beings are pretty much perfect the way they are, having been created instantaneously by God.

In two related papers published in the journal Science, University of Chicago researchers report that two genes linked to brain size are rapidly evolving in humans.

"Our studies indicate that the trend that is the defining characteristic of human evolution -- the growth of brain size and complexity -- is likely still going on," says Bruce Lahn, lead researcher for both papers and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "Meanwhile, our environment and the skills we need to survive in it are changing faster then we ever imagined. I would expect the human brain, which has done well by us so far, will continue to adapt to those changes."

I'm especially interested in the neurological demands that -- according to Lahn -- come as part of a richer, information-oriented future. When does current human wetware reach its limits? Could a human as we know him/her pass for functional in a society four- or five-hundred years more advanced than our own?

Ironically, I think the future may be a substantially easier place in certain day-to-day respects. For instance, today it's simpler than ever to interface with computers thanks to intuitive, graphical interfaces. Democratized computing and access to electronic media entail dramatically revved-up usability; simply compare today's information ecology, with its ubiquitous wi-fi hotspots, to the era of behemoths like ENIAC.

Perhaps we're in the midst of a species-wide upgrade, soon to be usurped by a redefinition of intelligence itself if something like the "Singularity" comes to pass. Of course, there's also the possibility of a massive intellectual decline along the lines of the Eloi in H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine"; the aforementioned Fundamentalists certainly don't bode well.
The Walrus: the US Army contemplates building an aircraft the size of a football field

Moving an elephant atom by atom costs a lot more than moving the elephant in one pre-assembled lump. And that is what the US Army's Project Walrus is about - putting together an entire action unit of war machinery, with all the wiring and plumbing preinstalled, and placing it in the most strategic place. Whilst this would completely rewrite the way that war is conducted, the Walrus - a massive lozenge-shaped blimp the size of a football field capable of transporting 500 tons at a time - could offer solutions to myriad peacetime problems, opening land-locked countries to trade, enabling heavy construction materials to be delivered into urban centres with minimum disruption, freeing our highways of high volume, heavy loads, offering a more robust and agile air transportation network capable of absorbing disruptions due to weather or attack.

(Via The Anomalist.)

Of course, the Walrus invites comparison to the "flying triangle" phenomenon. I think it's likely that if the military is openly contemplating such an airborne monster now, then it's almost certainly pre-tested the idea with various prototypes.

The Walrus doesn't seem to account for all FT sightings, but perhaps it can help explain some of them. For example, the FTs' alarming tendency to hover over busy highways and even suburbs might make sense if the Air Force is assessing a flying platform's merit as a roving supply base for use in heavily populated areas (such as post-war Iraq or ground zero of the next big natural disaster).
Living with aliens

There is a Nasa project in the Atacama Desert. Here, the soil is so dry conditions are as close as you can get to those on Mars. To test for signs of life, the scientists soak the desert soil with nutrient soup to see if they get a reaction. Then they repeat with anti-soup - the same stuff, but made from mirror molecules. If the soil reacts the same way to both, biology can be ruled out as the cause.

So Pauline suggested we do an experiment with a bowl of anti-soup, dropping in various microbes to see whether some of them multiply. Known life would find anti-soup unpalatable, but it might be manna to a mirror microbe. The experiment is now under way at Nasa's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Huntsville is a start. But if NASA is serious about its "search for life" on Mars and other planetary bodies, it would seem this elegant experiment would have found its way aboard a rover or lander by now.

JPL's next-generation Mars rovers are as big as minivans -- certainly room enough to accommodate the space agency's mission statement. But, strangely enough, they aren't equipped with the simplest life-detection equipment. This oversight demands revision, if for no other reason than to determine what exactly the Viking landers detected in the 1970s.
'Islamic Trojan' disrupts smut surfing

"Virus writers have created a Trojan horse which tries to disrupt visits the pornographic websites by displaying messages from the Koran."

(Via Beyond the Beyond.)

Hmmm. I'm thinking of a virus that targets Big Oil websites and displays images of major American cities underwater.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Petite green cars tempt tourists

Alfredo Romeo has been taken with the idea of blobjects ever since he heard technology guru Bruce Sterling discuss them in a speech.

"Sterling said something that I really love," says Mr Romeo. "He said, 'Blobjects are going to float our world.'"

The Spanish entrepreneur loved the name. He felt it matched his vision for what personal transportation might be like in the future.

Only 20 MPH, but I like 'em anyway.
Shoe Leather As A Renewable Resource: Penn Biologists Invent Power-Generating Backpack

If you already have a little spring in your step, a team of biologists at the University of Pennsylvania would like to put it to good use by adding a few more springs in the form of a power-generating backpack. Details of their prototype "Suspended-load Backpack" were announced today in the journal Science. The device converts mechanical energy from walking into electricity up to 7.4 Watts more than enough energy to power a number of portable electronic devices at once.

(Via Future Feeder.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Presidents and the Hard Evidence (interview with Grant Cameron)

There were a number of attempts. "Close Encounters" was one, "Project UFO" a TV series was another, produced by Colonel Coleman from Blue Book, that ran for two years. This was rumoured to be one of the schemes to drag the truth out without disclosing the cover up. Walt Disney was offered footage in 1956 and it was pulled back at the last moment. Mike Malloney, a British photo journalist talks about going to Disney and being shown some footage in 1972 by a guy called Kimball.

In 1980 Linda Howe was offered the Holloman film. She was working on a documentary for HBO at the time. She was contacted by Richard Dowey [sic] and people in the DIA and she was made the same offer. The Holloman clip was to go into the HBO documentary and they dragged it out and dragged it out. She didn't get the footage and in the end, they tried to get her to go to PBS as they felt they could control the Public Broadcasting better than they could HBO.

I think covert government agencies are interested in the UFO phenomenon for two main reasons. The first is data collection. With a bizarre, potentially nonhuman spectacle unfolding in our skies, it's logical to enlist the efforts of private researchers, even if their perceptions have been muddied by disinformation and the distortions of belief.

Secondly, it makes sense to keep the public in "standby" mode in the event of an unexpected breakthrough -- which may not have anything at all to do with extraterrestrials. UFOs, while real enough, make wonderful scapegoats for "black ops" aerospace projects because our culture is impregnated with filmic visions of alien contact.

Whether movies like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" play a semi-official indoctrination role, as argued by Cameron, is an entirely secondary issue and, in my opinion, camouflages the central dilemma by fostering a false sense of imminent disclosure. For if we are indeed being visited by humanoid aliens with comprehensible motives (itself a dubious proposition), I can't help but think that revelations of any meaningful sort will only be forthcoming from "them."
Tunguska event half as likely

One of the most famous recent cases of a devastating visit from space is the huge fireball that hit the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908.

Trees within about a 14 kilometre radius were incinerated and those within a 40 kilometre radius were knocked down.

Many scientists believe the fireball was caused by an exploding comet, around 100 metres wide, says Francis. Others believe a meteor caused the devastation.

Still others have made a case that the Tunguska explosion was due to a crippled alien spacecraft, a possibility that -- while remote -- shouldn't be abandoned. I recommend "The Fire Came By," a speculative interpretation of the Tunguska mystery with a foreword by none other than arch-UFO skeptic Isaac Asimov.

(Some readers will have noted the "block quote" format above. I'm thinking of using this from now on when citing others' writing. Hard-to-read? Let me know.)
Nuclear stockpiles could create 300,000 bombs

"An updated global nuclear inventory, published by ISIS on Wednesday, reveals that there were 1830 tonnes of plutonium in 35 countries at the end of 2003. That is enough to make 225,000 nuclear bombs.

"The total amount of plutonium, which is created in nuclear reactors, is increasing by 70 tonnes per year, the report says. Most of it is combined with radioactive waste in spent fuel, and is hence relatively difficult to access."
Moms Battle Genetic Engineering

"'Just because science can, should science? And how far will they go?' said Currie, who is a former member of pop group the Thompson Twins.

"MAdGE has posted five ads in Auckland and two in Wellington. The billboards will stay up until the end of October.

"The public response has been mixed. MAdGE has gotten some complaints from people who find the billboards offensive.

"'It is definitely degrading to women, but more degrading to women is putting human genes in milk,' Currie said. 'It's punk art.'" (Via Cyborg Democracy.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wouldn't you know?

Martian methane probe in trouble

"Without nailing the methane numbers, it will be hard for all scientists to agree on a source for the gas. For now, many say it is probably due to heating of water and carbon dioxide with a mineral called olivine, rather than life, says Sushil Atreya, a member of the PFS team from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor."

First the Beagle 2 crashes. Now this.
Truth, Magic, and the Internet

"The BlackBerry incorporates both e-mail and an addictive mechanism. That mechanism is the click-reward system that works with slot machines and pigeon feeders. It's highly addictive to humans. This is exacerbated by its ritualistic nature -- and ritualism is often found with addictions. I have never known a BlackBerry user who has not pulled out the device numerous times in my presence, almost like a cigarette smoker fiddling with a pack."

I'm reminded of Rudy Rucker's recent trip to Europe. His laptop had died, and he confessed to making the journey feeling like he was missing a part of his brain. This is because, like it or not, electronic devices have become extensions of our nervous system, filling largely subliminal needs. Revealingly, we have yet to develop a mature vocabulary for the Internet; online mavens continue to write about the Web as if it's some magical parallel universe.

Exotic-sounding neologisms from the hacker/gaming counterculture have become commonplace; the Web is home to countless "daemons" and "avatars." But despite our casual relationship with them, they're still limited to an abstracted existence between the wires.

We might expect them to become more palpable in the not-so-distant future. Soon, in a reversal of our daily pilgrimages to "cyberspace," our mind children will make the evolutionary transition to "meatspace," clad in increasingly agile robotic bodies. The Internet is the new primordial soup.
Boy, Espresso Porn puts my own caffeinated photography to shame . . .

(Thanks to Coffee and Caffeine Blog.)
Good news: Another publisher has expressed interest in my unfinished nonfiction book "The Postbiological Cosmos" and wants to see a sample chapter and outline before committing to an advance. (The working title might have to bite the dust, but I can live with that.)
Kevin Randle sticks to his guns: Roswell was the crash of an extraterrestrial vehicle. (Nick Redfern's response to Randle's review is posted below.)

The debate triggered by Redfern's "Body Snatchers in the Desert" promises to be unusually civil, at least by ufological standards; the dissenting researchers (including Paul Kimball, Karl Pflock and Stan Friedman) are a refreshingly mature bunch with considerable evidential standards.

The undisputed truth about Roswell in our lifetime? It's not impossible.
Earth Departure Movie

"The Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft captured several stunning images of Earth during a gravity assist swingby of its home planet on Aug. 2, 2005. Several hundred images, taken with the wide-angle camera in MESSENGER's Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS), were sequenced into a movie documenting the view from MESSENGER as it departed Earth.

"Comprising 358 frames taken over 24 hours, the movie follows Earth through one complete rotation. The spacecraft was 40,761 miles (65,598 kilometers) above South America when the camera started rolling on Aug. 2. It was 270,847 miles (435,885 kilometers) away from Earth -- farther than the Moon's orbit -- when it snapped the last image on Aug. 3." (Via Boing Boing.)

This footage is genuinely beautiful and awe-inspiring. Absolutely worth the download, even if -- like me -- you're stuck with dial-up.

Deep Impact spewed the stuff of life

"According to A'Hearn, one of the more interesting findings may be the huge increase in carbon-containing molecules detected in spectral analysis of the ejection plume. This finding indicates comets contain a substantial amount of organic material, so they could have brought such material to Earth early in the planet's history when strikes by asteroids and meteors were common."

Ultimately, could we be unwitting immigrants from the Oort Cloud?
It's brightly colored!

It's aesthetically diverting!

It's ideal for climate refugees!

It's Electroland's Urban Nomad Shelter! (Select "Urban Nomad" under the main "Projects" menu.)

"The 'Urban Nomad' inflatable shelter is conceived as both a social and humanitarian act. As a social act, the intention is to distribute thousands of these brightly colored structures in order to foster a dialog about the invisibility and marginalization of the homeless."

Hey, Electroland! I've got New Orleans on the phone; they want to buy in bulk!
Scientists pursue system to explain facts that slip through the cracks

"In each of these areas -- physics, biochemistry and social science -- the theories are mature and largely uncontroversial. Each discipline has its own language and its own separate machinery. Rarely is a scientist an expert in more than one area, because the worlds and languages are so different.

"This means that we can't answer complex questions that depend on more than one field." (Via The Anomalist.)

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence is a textbook victim of specialization. In the case of seeking out ETs, we've forfeited the search to a highly specified and rigidly defined group that wields the political might to tell us what is and what is not possible for reasons more political than scientific. In exchange, we're served up hypothetical alien civilizations that are little more than high-tech caricatures of our own, burdened by the same trivialities and condemned to a planet-bound existence because of the presumed expense of space travel.

The idea that we're being visited now, or have been visited in the remote past, is subject to particularly stringent scrutiny; if SETI were a nation-state and not a research effort, it would almost certainly be totalitarian, its populace communicating aberrant ideas through ill-financed samizdats and subject to humiliating public trial if discovered.

Seth Shostak is watching you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Submerged solar robots to assess water safety

"According to Sanderson, the SAUVs communicate and network with one another in real time to assess a water body as a whole in measuring how it changes over space and time. Key technologies used in SAUVs include integrated sensor microsystems, pervasive computing, wireless communications, and sensor mobility with robotics. Sanderson notes that the underwater vehicles have captured the attention of the U.S. Navy, which will evaluate their use for coastal surveillance applications."

I can imagine a fleet of similar bots plying the concealed waters of Jupiter's Europa and returning constant images much like the Mars Exploration Rovers.

"In 1996, a group of seven U.S. Air Force officers, who had prepared a research paper about weather warfare, issued a report, which concluded that there was technology under development that would provide 'warriors of the future' with the means to control the course of military conflicts, including through the use of weather modification."

A Response to Kevin Randle (by Nick Redfern)

"Randle says that the book provides a 'nice theory' for the allegations that there was more than one crash site for the Roswell vehicle. It does. And we could argue that the reason why the theory is so 'nice' is because it is the literal truth."

Monday, September 05, 2005

I'm pondering what to do with my Cydonian Imperative blog, which presently exists semi-independently of the original CI site.

Blogger's templates are convenient but limiting, and I'm considering grafting new Mars content back onto the domain, continuing the blog "manually" (and keeping it distinct from the one you're reading now). This should be welcomed by readers who liked my Mars site "the old way," and it might have the added benefit of forcing me to follow current and forthcoming Mars missions more closely and carefully.

A sequel to "After the Martian Apocalypse" is doubtful -- but hey, I've got the Web.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fractal World Gallery -- wow!

(Thanks to Scarab Dreamer.)
Katrina's real name

"The hurricane that struck Louisiana yesterday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming."


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Vacation is Over... an open letter from Michael Moore to George W. Bush

"Dear Mr. Bush:

"Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? Do you need help finding them? I once lost my car in a Sears parking lot. Man, was that a drag."

I don't typically find Michael Moore all that clever or funny -- or at least not as clever and funny as he obviously thinks he is. But I liked this one.
Brace for more Katrinas, say experts

"For all its numbing ferocity, Hurricane Katrina will not be a unique event, say scientists, who say that global warming appears to be pumping up the power of big Atlantic storms.

"2005 is on track to be the worst-ever year for hurricanes, according to experts measuring ocean temperatures and trade winds -- the two big factors that breed these storms in the Caribbean and tropical North Atlantic.

"Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Risk, a London-based consortium of experts, predicted that the region would see 22 tropical storms during the six-month June-November season, the most ever recorded and more than twice the average annual tally since records began in 1851."
The speakerphone in my apartment lobby:

"Ruth," one of the better-known Plaza sculptures. She's biblical, so I suppose there's a moral of some sort lurking behind that ashen, unassuming face.

I see this guy about every week. He sets up shop outside the Cheesecake Factory and plays keyboard and electric guitar. I'd kill for one millionth of his musical ability.

After indeterminable months of construction, I've finally got an electronic crosswalk. No more dodging across the street only to circumnavigate traffic cones and gaping holes in the ground.

A robot trying to look human or a human trying to look like a robot?