Thursday, August 31, 2006

Live forever

Speakers debated questions including: "How will humans re-engineer the human body?" and "What is natural about us and does it matter?"

One of the speakers, Dr Aubrey de Grey - a geneticist at Cambridge University and described as "perhaps the most optimistic" of the scientists who want to lengthen human life - believes that many of us who are fairly young now will live to 120. He told the conference there's probably someone alive today who will live to be 1,000.

Meanwhile, a new book - Designer Evolution: A Transhumanist Manifesto by Simon Young - aims to explain how science, done well and properly, can help to "eliminate disease, defeat death and enhance both body and mind beyond the limitations of the human condition".

This article suffers from a common misconception: that life extension will allow many those of us alive today to live to 120 (not a particularly fantastic feat given the potential technologies at our disposal) or else it will allow us to live 1000 years (a substantial step up, to be sure, but essentially an arbitrary figure). But if we can reach the "1000 barrier," what's to stop us from extending life another thousand years? Or 10,000? Or a million . . . ?

Any humans around a thousand years from now should have the ability to reinvent life itself on their own terms; we have no accurate way of foreseeing what form our species will take, if we remain a "species" at all. My best bet is that we'll become multiplex and effectively unrecognizable, in which case speaking in terms of hundred- or thousand-year lifespans becomes trite and anthropomorphic.

If we can make it to 1000, we will have achieved immortality. We won't have to worry about "illness"; we'll worry about altogether bigger threats such as the lifetimes of stars, the hard radiation of supernovae, the gnarled topology of spacetime, and, ultimately, the fate of the universe itself.
Lockheed wins $4B NASA deal for "Apollo on steroids," Orion

NASA today announced that Lockheed Martin will design and build the agency's next-gen human space exploration craft, Orion. The initial contract value was reported to be approximately $4 billion.

I love the fact that we're actually going to build the thing. As a "space enthusiast" who's grown up with the ponderous and ill-conceived Space Shuttle, this is genuinely exciting.
3000-year-old "pyramid" discovered in NE China

Six smaller tombs had eroded away leaving no indications of their original scale and appearance, but the biggest tomb, located on the south side of the mountain, could clearly be discerned as a pyramid shape with three layers from bottom to top.

(Via The Daily Grail.)

Yet another example of ancient artificial structures passing for natural until on-site investigation. Paradoxically, Mars boasts features that, despite appearing quite unnatural, are excluded from archaeological consideration because of the inconvenient fact that they exist on another planet.
Testosterone Apocalypse!

The researchers, from China and the UK, say that cultures like China and India that favor male babies have bred an enormous surplus of men who will struggle to find sexual partners and will likely find themselves marginalized in society.

Oh, I can relate.
Here's a "psychedelic" shot of my cat, Ebe.

On that note, I just realized I've been posting way too many pet photos recently.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I just did the show; it will be archived here. (While you're browsing, check out the interviews with Paul Kimball, Stan Friedman and Peter Gersten.)

Rob McConnell is a good host; he wisely avoids the pitfall of trying to be a "personality" and actually lets his guests have their say.

I think I did a decent job. My delivery definitely got smoother as the interview progressed. And it was heartening to talk about something other than Mars, about which I've said just about all I can knowledgeably say -- although I'm certainly looking forward to learning more.
Here's an engaging online portfolio by an artist with a last name suspiciously similar to my own. Makes me wonder if there's a genetic predisposition to Kafka and Burroughs. (Next I'll discover this guy likes The Smiths . . . and at that point I'm afraid one of us will have to go.)
Blog of the day: Loving the Machine
I experienced some sort of hypnopompic episode last night. I was sleeping -- or at least trying to sleep -- on my side when I felt three distinct, evenly spaced jabs on my leg, so pronounced I actually heard them. Like karate chops, expect painless.

I suddenly had a dreadful certainty that someone was in the bedroom -- is this scenario sounding familiar yet? -- but had no idea who, or why, and the combination of darkness and the inability to open my eyes or lunge out of bed (I think part of me didn't want to move . . .) frightened me badly.

Finally, mobile and satisfied that no one had entered the apartment, I tried to reproduce the three jabs. A muscle spasm? Maybe. Probably. I tried to remember what I'd been dreaming, if anything, and dragged up only vague impressions that faded under scrutiny.

Writer's block. Horrible. Stupefying. I feel like a comic book hero stripped of his powers and dragging himself along the ground saying things like "Can't . . . breathe!" And it's all the more galling because my immediate living environment, while accommodating, isn't inhabited by the most creatively ambitious bunch in the world. (The guy across the hall is downright simian; his girlfriend is worse.)

So I feel this restless, overarching need to transcend reality, and the only feasible way of doing that, short of blowing my mind with psychedelic drugs, is writing. I keep waiting for an upwelling of inspiration to rise from my subconscious like some incandescent bubble, chthonic and blistering.
Black Holes: The Deadliest Force in the Universe

Although scientists haven't directly observed a black hole (since a black hole swallows light), they have observed the effect of a black hole on surrounding material. Astronomers say the first sign of a black hole's approach would be subtle changes in the night sky. The gravity from a black hole would distort Earth's orbit and we'd begin to notice differences in the orbits of other planets and stars in the galaxy.

"Hey man, the singularity is really fucking near!"

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Just a quick reminder that I'll be on Rob McConnell's "'X' Zone" program tomorrow (10:00 PM Central). You can listen live on the radio (if available) or on the Web.

Disaster-Prone China Takes Heed of Global Warming

Storms, floods, heat and drought that have killed more than 2,000 people in China this year are a prelude to weather patterns likely to become more extreme due to global warming, the head of the Beijing Climate Centre said.

China was braced for further hardship as rising temperatures worldwide trigger increasingly extreme weather, Dong Wenjie, director-general of the climate centre, said.

"The precise causes of these phenomena aren't easy to determine on their own," Dong told Reuters of meteorological disasters that have caused 160 billion yuan (US$20 billion) worth of damage this year.

"But we know the broad background is global warming. That's clear. It's a reminder that global warming will bring about increasingly extreme weather events more often."

They acknowledge climate change and they want to mine the Moon for fuel. The US has its work cut out for it.
Pluto vote 'hijacked' in revolt

On Thursday, experts approved a definition of a planet that demoted Pluto to a lesser category of object.

But the lead scientist on Nasa's robotic mission to Pluto has lambasted the ruling, calling it "embarrassing".

And the chair of the committee set up to oversee agreement on a definition implied that the vote had effectively been "hijacked".

And -- voila! -- we have another ready-made distraction to keep us from addressing cosmological issues of substance.

SETI, by definition, is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. So what happens to the SETI Institute if and when the search comes to an end?

Seth Shostak, Jill Tarter and their peers are not comparative anthropologists. They're not versed in linguistics or biology or art. They merely search. If a signal is detected, will they deign to release their grip on the ETI inquiry and allow more capable minds to spearhead the investigation?

In paranoid moments -- and there can never be enough of them -- I have to wonder if SETI has any real plans to disseminate the discovery of an ET message. After all, acknowledgement of the signal, while certainly hard-won vindication for many scientists, could conceivably trigger the end of the search -- and with it the end of the SETI Institute as we know it.

Wifi Camera Obscura reveals the electromagnetic space of our devices and the shadows that we create within such spaces, in particular our wifi networks which are increasingly found in coffee shops, offices and homes throughout cities of the developed world. We will take realtime "photos" of wifi space.

(Via Boing Boing.)

"Visual Futurist" is a promising film about the prolific Syd Mead. Needless to say, it won't be showing in any theaters remotely near me.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Forget The Thermometer, The Mercury Really Is Rising

The findings indicate that the drier conditions brought about by a warming climate will cause the soil to relinquish its hold on hundreds of years of mercury accumulation, sending that mercury back into the air at levels up to 15 times greater than originally calculated. "While peat lands are typically viewed as very wet and stagnant places, they do burn in continental regions, especially late in the season when water tables are depressed," explained Turetsky. "When peat lands burn, they can release a huge amount of mercury that overwhelms regional atmospheric emissions. Our study is new in that it looks to the soil record to tell us what happens when peat soil burns, soil that has been like a sponge for mercury for a long time."
2006 New Frontiers Symposium update!
Cliff Pickover is performing hideous genetic experiments on Natalie Portman! He must be stopped!

Anti-psychiatry Scientology astroturf exhibit at WorldCon

A Scientology rep asked me if I wanted anything and I told her I was there to see what the Church was up to. She insisted that The Citizens Commission on Human Rights wasn't a Scientology organization, but on further questioning she admitted that the organization had been founded by the Church and that the majority of its funding came from donations from Church members.
The Stargate of the Alien Gods

As the year 2012 is approaching many are asking - will the stargate of the gods now open and allow our creators to return in their sunships?

Define "many" . . .

Here's a site devoted to octopi in pulp cover art. Magazines like this make me want to write a deliberately seedy, low-brow science fiction adventure . . . and maybe even try to sell it!

(Thanks: Rudy Rucker.)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What can I say? I really had to urinate.
Quote of the day (via Peter Watts):

"The world is not dying, it is being killed. And those that are killing it have names and addresses."

--Utah Phillips
"Death needs time for what it kills to grow in."

Ozone Hole's Lessons for Global Warming

The delayed recovery also shows the fragility of the planet, and the uncertain time frames for its recovery from abuse at human hands - an important warning to politicians stalling on taking immediate action on climate change.

All sorts of interesting elements here. The enigmatic desert landscape . . . the preponderance of chrome . . . the blue turf.

Oh, yeah -- and the girl.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Storefront window, I reflect
Just last week I was merely heck
Tip the scale. I was hell
Picked me up, then I fell
Who's this stranger? Crowbar spine
Dot dot dot and I feel fine
Let it rain, rain, rain (rain)
Bring my happy back again

--R.E.M., "Lotus"

Would aliens from Jupiter consider Earth a planet . . . ?

(Hat tip: Reality Carnival.)
Smallest Pyramids in the Universe

Now, Jerzy Dudek of the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, and his colleagues at Warsaw University and the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid claim that the old results can be explained by arguing that some nuclei, made in the tempestuous conditions of a sufficiently high-energy collision, can exist in the form of a tetrahedron or a octahedron.

Like a pyramid-shaped methane (CH4) molecule held together by the electromagnetic force, a pyramidal nucleus would consist of protons and neutrons held together by the strong nuclear force.
Cliche-ridden and dated, but worth watching if you're into UFOs and/or flying saucer movies.

Tell it, Carl.

Meteorite find suggests life on Mars

Scientists have discovered tiny tunnels in the rock that may have been bored by micro-organisms on Mars.

But researchers are cautious after the embarrassment over another Martian meteorite once alleged to contain signs of life.

Ten years ago, scientists from NASA said they had found small rod-like structures in the meteorite that were believed to be fossil bacteria.

But most experts now believe there is no evidence of life in the 1.9 kilogram rock, ALH 84001. The rods and other "biosignatures" could all have been produced by inorganic processes, scientists say.

Needless to say, there are considerable problems with the "inorganic processes" argument. And in any case, ALH 84001 is the tip of the exobiological iceberg; it's possible we wouldn't even know it existed if not for leaked data.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Forget that giant praying mantis; imagine yourself behind the wheel of this scuttling mechanical spider!

(Thanks to Beyond the Beyond.)
Watching televangelists makes you fat?

"America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity, and churches are a feeding ground for this problem," says Ken Ferraro, a professor of sociology who has studied religion and body weight since the early 1990s. "If religious leaders and organizations neglect this issue, they will contribute to an epidemic that will cost the health-care system millions of dollars and reduce the quality of life for many parishioners."

He analyzed the religious practices and body mass index, often referred to as BMI, of more than 2,500 people during an eight-year period from 1986 to 1994. He found that the use of religious media resources, such as television, books or radio, was a strong predictor of obesity among women.

Makes you wonder if even Jesus has the strength to Rapture these lard-asses.

I can't think of a more appropriate place for this phantasmagoric giant mantis than Franz Kafka's hometown. Wish I could have been there.

(Thanks: Boing Boing.)
10,0000 Reasons Civilization is Doomed

Welcome to the 10,000 Reasons Civilization is Doomed website. This site was started by six friends who, sitting around the dinner table one Saturday night, came to the conclusion that civilization was doomed. We felt this way not because of the inevitable dimming of our sun, or an errant asteroid, but rather because of the idiocy of our times.

(Via Reality Carnival.)
From snapshot to cover model in a single click

By making tiny adjustments to the distances between hundreds of different facial features, the "digital beautification" algorithm is designed to make a face more attractive in just a few minutes without significantly altering the person's appearance.

(Via PAG E-News.)

I don't have much need for this, personally, but I know this guy called Paul Kimball who should be thrilled! ;-)
Rayguns! And they're totally steampunk. Brilliant.

(Thanks: Boing Boing.)
Take Back the Field

Does the sudden appearance of a Firefox crop circle imply which browser extraterrestrials prefer? We don't know, but it was still fun to make!

I'll appear on "The 'X' Zone," an internationally syndicated radio show, on Aug. 30 to discuss aliens (ET and otherwise), posthumans, the end of the world as we know it, and other fun subjects that generally earn me Weird Looks when I broach them in meatspace. Tune in at 10:00 PM (Central).

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dear god, make it stop!

Update: There's actually a full-blown website hawking this stuff. I shouldn't be surprised. And I guess I'm really not, now that I consider it. "Exasperated" is probably the operative term . . .

(These cruel and unusual outfits are alleged to make kids feel "safe" while they sleep. Safe from what, exactly? "Terrists"? Liberals? Or their fucked-up parents?)
Nanosolar: Printing Solar Film Like Paper

Nanosolar is a company based in Palo Alto, California, which uses an innovative technique to produce a kind of "solar film". To make the film, Nanosolar prints CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) onto a thin polymer using machines that look like printing presses. There is no costly silicon involved in the process, and, ultimately, a solar cell from Nanosolar will cost about one-fifth to one-tenth the cost of a standard silicon solar panel.
Polar bear genitals shrinking due to pollution

The icecap may not be the only thing shrinking in the Arctic.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner in the "Funniest First Sentence In A Climate Change-Related Article" competition.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I took this in a local coffeeshop. The barista seemed genuinely confused when I ordered espresso with whipped cream.

Later I went to a grocery store to buy cat food. I've decided, for reasons too varied to post, that I really hate grocery stores.

Astronaut Lets New Moonship Name Slip

The name of the new vehicle that NASA hopes will take astronauts back to the moon was supposed to be hush-hush until next week.

But apparently U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams, floating 220 miles above Earth at the international space station, didn't get the memo.

Williams, through no fault of his own, let it slip Tuesday that the new vehicle's name is Orion.

Could have been worse, I suppose.
Blog of the day: The Black Sun
Revealed: world's oldest computer

Known as the Antikythera mechanism and made before the birth of Christ, the instrument was found by sponge divers amid the wreckage of a cargo ship that sunk off the tiny island of Antikythera in 80BC. To date, no other appears to have survived.

'Bronze objects like these would have been recycled, but being in deep water it was out of reach of the scrap-man and we had the luck to discover it,' said Michael Wright, a former curator at London's Science Museum. He said the apparatus was the best proof yet of how technologically advanced the ancients were. 'The skill with which it was made shows a level of instrument-making not surpassed until the Renaissance. It really is the first hard evidence of their interest in mechanical gadgets, ability to make them and the preparedness of somebody to pay for them.'

Yes, but does it have Wi-Fi capability?
Today's ribofunk fix:

Jellyfish Stingers As Biomimicry Syringes

Such a bio-based system could be used in the treatment of diabetes and skin diseases such as acne, as well as being a rather novel way of applying tattoos. It's not entirely clear if the system would use cells harvested from living jellyfish or grown as cultures, though -- after one nasty childhood incident at the beach in Corpus Christi, TX in 1982 -- I find it difficult to feel particularly concerned for the well-being of the jellyfish in question.

Today's eschatological fix:

World will end on 9-12-2006

According to Mr. Hawkins and his interpretation of Biblical prophesy, nuclear war will erupt on September 12, 2006, and one third of the humans on the planet will perish.
So what exactly will I be talking about at this New Frontiers Symposium you've been hearing about?

From the symposium's official site:

The human race is on the verge of becoming radically different as physical "impossibilities" are dissolved by exponentiating advances in cybernetics and genetic engineering. Assuming we survive our "technological adolescence," we will almost certainly adopt new ways of doing things . . . ways that, for all intents and purposes, can be considered alien. My presentation takes a look at our potential for self-mutation and the prospect of becoming a multi-planet species, drawing inferences that colour popular expectations of what extraterrestrial intelligences might be like.

The 21st century promises to be a dizzying ride. It's time to look anew at where we're going and what we might do once we're there.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Oh, the humanity!

Virgin Mary. Grease stain. George Foreman Grill. You put it together.
Coming to a television near you . . . "Darwin's Deadly Legacy"!

This groundbreaking documentary from Dr. Kennedy and Coral Ridge Ministries, looks into the chilling social impact of Darwin's theory of evolution -- and the mounting evidence that Darwin had it wrong on the origin of life.

This 60 minute special featuring Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler, Lee Strobel, author of The Case for a Creator; Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution; Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial; Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box, and Ian Taylor, author of In the Minds of Men will show why evolution is a bad idea that should be discarded into the dustbin of history.

Plus, Ann Coulter on the Darwin/Hitler connection!

(Hat tip to Aberrant News.)
Giant nests perplex experts

To the bafflement of insect experts, gigantic yellow jacket nests have started turning up in old barns, unoccupied houses, cars and underground cavities across the southern two-thirds of Alabama.

Specialists say it could be the result of a mild winter and drought conditions, or multiple queens forcing worker yellow jackets to enlarge their quarters so the queens will be in separate areas. But experts haven't determined exactly what's behind the surprisingly large nests.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Take a look at the picture. This is like an H.R. Giger painting brought to life.

(By the way, have you seen this?)
Secret data allegedly disclosed on 'visitors' from space, government projects

The new releases are alleged to be part of the process of "disclosure" about the decades-long discoveries, research and operations of the USG regarding contact with intelligent beings from other planets and star systems.

You have to wonder if this latest "SERPO" dump was timed to coincide with the release of Strieber's "The Grays" . . .

Monday, August 21, 2006

The key to the Pioneer anomaly?

Peter Antreasian, a spacecraft navigation expert at JPL who along with Joseph Guinn first brought attention to the anomalies seen in Galileo and NEAR during their Earth fly-bys, believes that it will require a modified law of gravity or other new physics to explain it.

I almost hate to propose it, but could we be dealing with "hyperdimensional physics"?
Flurb: a new online science fiction zine by Rudy Rucker.
Calif. Woman Sues Over Mannequin Attack

A woman is suing the J.C. Penney Co. after an alleged run-in with a store mannequin that she says left her with a cracked tooth, a bloodied head and recurring shoulder pain.

Diana Newton, 51, of Westminster sued the Texas-based retailer last month in Orange County Superior Court, claiming she was cracked in the head by a legless female dummy at its Westminster Mall store.

Newton said the incident happened nearly a year ago in the women's department, as she was shopping for a blouse. The only one in her size was on the mannequin. As a salesclerk was removing the garment, the dummy's arm flew off and struck Newton's head, according to her lawsuit.

"I felt a burning sensation," she recalled.

(Via Signs of Witness.)
Paul McAuley blogs!
Spying an intelligent search engine

Proponents of AI techniques say that one day people will be able to search for the plot of a novel, or list all the politicians who said something negative about the environment in the last five years, or find out where to buy an umbrella just spotted on the street. Techniques in AI such as natural language, object recognition and statistical machine learning will begin to stoke the imagination of Web searchers once again.

"This is the beginning for the Web being at work for you in a smart way, and taking on the tedious tasks for you," said Alain Rappaport, CEO and founder of Medstory, a search engine for medical information that went into public beta in July.


I've been thinking about the future of "search" lately, and am reasonably certain we're on the cusp on a genuinely new era -- regardless if the bots doing the searching are truly "intelligent." Try extrapolating Google ten or even twenty years into the future; I've been playing with the idea of an effectively omniscient software entity called "The Dood" who patiently assists humanity via wireless devices.

Have a question? Ask The Dood!

As long as human communication is dominated by the written and spoken word, a distributed intelligence like The Dood will probably be the ultimate in extragenetic memory storage -- an authentic momument to humanity. And if we snuff it, as I fear we might, it's at least plausible that The Dood will carry on in our stead.

But will it summon the resolve to ask its own questions, forcing it out into the universe in an endless quest for answers, or be content to keep vigil over the parched, warring remains of civilization?

Maybe that's a question we should ask The Dood.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Click here to see an animated graphical depiction of this blog.
Blog o' the day: Signs of Witness

I was scanning Google Book Search (try it!) and discovered that Peter Watts drops my name in the credits of his latest novel ("Behemoth: Seppuku," page 291).

Nice birthday surprise -- and also, possibly, the Cosmos' way of telling me to WRITE MORE SCIENCE FICTION.

(In the meantime, Google allows you to read "After the Martian Apocalypse" in its entirety.)
Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance

How badly must human beings behave to put this "sense of universal rightness" in doubt? And just how widespread must "glimmerings" of morality be among other animals before Collins -- who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes -- begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn't these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?

(Via Reality Carnival.)
NASA awards seed money to two rocket companies

The agency's goal is to find alternative ways of reaching the station, as the space shuttle is set to retire in 2010. After that, the US will not have a domestic spaceship that can transport astronauts and gear to the station until its own Crew Exploration Vehicle flies in about 2014. It expects to need six ISS flights per year after the shuttle's retirement.
Chocolatiers see image of Virgin Mary in lump

As a chocolatier to the rich and famous, Martucci Angiano has posed with many celebrities.

But on Thursday she held in her hand a figure that dazzles her more than any Hollywood star: a 2-inch-tall column of chocolate drippings that workers at her gourmet chocolate company believe bears a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary.

(Via The Anomalist.)

That's nothing. I once saw a chunk of steak that looked exactly like the "Millennium Falcon." Right down to the gun turrets.
More cat pictures. Because it's my birthday and I can do whatever I want.

Steorn Invents Free Energy?

Once their technology isn't disproved - and they obviously believe that it won't be disproved - they'll begin licensing it to the world's energy companies and charitably freely licensing it for rural water purification and electricity generation in impoverished areas. If this is for real then Steorm has rewritten fundamental physics as we know it and potentially solved all of the worlds energy problems.

I have that sinking "here we go again" feeling. But that won't stop me from posting it.
Is Virtual Life Better Than Reality?

As hard as this may be to believe, there is real money changing hands among the players in these games, Bowen reports. An estimated $1 billion worldwide is spent by users buying and selling virtual goods, such as furniture for virtual houses and clothing for their avatars. But it's paid for with real-world credit cards -- at Second Life alone, $6 million a month.

"I put in 40 hours a week easy," said Shannon Grei, who supports herself in Medford, Ore., by making virtual clothes for avatars in that other world.

"I couldn't believe that it was really, that it was real, that you could even do that, and it just blew my mind, it still blows my mind," Grei laughs.

In VR, there are no Wal-Marts.
I have recurring dreams of strange subways despite never having ridden one. I think they must be archetypal -- metaphors for transition and impermanence. There are no "things," only processes.
I'm 31 today! As you can plainly see, I'm thrilled!

Seriously, I'm mostly over the angst about skidding unheedingly through my 20s. If I can crank out a few good books, see some new things and otherwise challenge myself, I'll consider the next decade a success.

An alarming number of people have asked me what I'm "doing" for my birthday. I'm not doing anything. And I'm cool with that.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ocean Noise Has Increased Considerably Since 1960s

The authors of the study argue that the increase in noise documented off San Nicolas Island may be representative of the entire Northeast Pacific Ocean. To understand what impacts such noise might have on sound-dependent marine mammals and other sea life, the authors argue that repeated acoustic measurements at multiple sites are needed.

"The impact of the increased noise on marine animals is unknown," said Hildebrand. "If impacts are shown to exist, what can be done to protect marine animals? For instance, it may be appropriate to move shipping lanes away from areas where there are concentrations of marine animals. The impact of ocean noise pollution may be minimized by diminishing the noise source or by separating the noise from things that are sensitive to it."

If some indigenous "aliens" inhabit our oceans, could dramatically increased noise levels (to say nothing of the ever-thickening cocktail of pollutants) be related to the rise in UFO activity since the late 1940s?
Starbucks Gossip -- sticking it The Man!

(Thanks, Harold!)
Planet Formation in Orion

The Spitzer Space Telescope has peered into the Orion nebula with striking results: nearly 2300 planet-forming disks in the overall Orion cloud complex, a star-forming region some 1450 light years from Earth. This is where infrared truly shines, for such disks are too small to be seen with visible-light telescopes. But Spitzer is made to order for picking up the infrared signature of warm dust, giving us an unprecedented look at solar system formation in the aggregate.
My kind of road-trip!

I like unexplained phenonena. I like Morrissey. So I naturally have a soft spot for The Diana-Morrissey Phenomenon.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Missile-like metal tube is reported over Hilo Airport

The FBI and the Transportation Security Administration are investigating sightings of an object resembling a missile flying over the Hilo Airport area Tuesday morning, Hawaii County Civil Defense said.

Reports gave opposite descriptions of its direction and widely varying estimates of its size.

The largest estimate was about 12 feet long, and the smallest was one foot. One report said it was headed over the airport's main runway, but another said it was headed north from Hilo, away from the airport.

(Via PAG E-News.)
Here I am once again pimping Strieber's new novel . . .

New novel 'The Grays' uses fact-based fiction to tell amazing truths

A new book by well-known author Whitley Strieber promises to shed light on reports that our planet and individual people are being contacted in various ways by highly-advanced civilizations from other star systems and even other dimensions.

Strieber's novel THE GRAYS is due in bookstores August 22.

The book, which Strieber calls fact-based fiction, reflects his exploration of the visitation to Earth by mysterious beings and their contact with and abduction of humans.

It's official: I'm blue.
Will technology revolutionize boinking?

When visionaries like Natasha Vita-More, an artist, futurist and transhumanist, look through mental telescopes, they talk about "neuromacrosensing" and millions of nanobots coursing "throughout the body communicating with different cells, sending signals to the brain so the whole body acts as a sensory communications system."

That ought to make sex feel pretty good, but you'll have to wait. Such things are a long way off. But other changes are coming much sooner. A few have already arrived.

(Via Aberrant News.)

Maybe one of the reasons we have yet to make irrefutable contact with extraterrestrials is because ET civilizations tend to reach a point of terminal decadence, an erotic cul-de-sac that precludes exploration. (Compare and contrast such an implosion to the "Singularity" too many of us are waiting for with bated breath.) Sufficiently advanced ETs might while away the millennia in a hedonistic stupor, brains (or their equivalent) melded to pleasure-generating devices.

It's even possible the pleasure-generating devices themselves may be the intelligences with whom we eventually establish contact.

Chris Wren shares some sobering -- and exhilarating -- thoughts on SETI, the Drake Equation, and the prospects of intelligent alien life.

Really funny, John.

And here I thought they'd banned human transgenic research . . .

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pyramid-shaped watermelons

Toshimichi Boui (55), a Nara prefecture resident in the furniture business, is making a name for himself by successfully growing pyramid-shaped watermelons.

Oh, man! Someone tell Hoagland to lay off those missing Moon tapes; this is where the conspiracy action is!
Fastest-evolving human gene linked to brain boost

"We don't know exactly what it does, but the evidence is very suggestive that HAR1F is important in the development of the cerebral cortex, and that's exciting because the human cortex is three times as large as it was in our predecessors," says David Haussler, director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the University of California Santa Cruz, who assisted with the study.

"Something caused our brains to evolve to be much larger and have more functions than the brains of other mammals," he points out.

(Via The Daily Grail.)
This is "Lucie."

Not to be confused with "Lucy."

Let's set the mood with some Brothers Quay . . .

. . . and then work our way to David Lynch.

Here's a nice picture of some worthy Rudy Rucker titles. I especially recommend "Gnarl!" (on the left) for anyone in the mood for some clever short fiction.

I don't read comic books -- er, graphic novels. Not because of any particular literary bias; I just never got into them. That said, NYC2123 looks pretty appealing, as far as post-cyberpunk illustration goes.

(Tip of the intra-cranial SQUID interface to Cyborg Democracy.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Study Shows How Secondhand Smoke Injures Babies' Lungs

UC Davis researchers today described in unprecedented biochemical and anatomical detail how cigarette smoke damages the lungs of unborn and newborn children.

[. . .]

"Smoke exposure causes significant damage and lasting consequences in newborns," Pinkerton said. "This research has a message for every parent: Do not smoke or breathe secondhand smoke while you are pregnant. Do not let your children breathe secondhand smoke after they are born."

(Via Science Blog.)

As an unwitting suburbanite, I see lots of this. Infants trapped in smoke-filled SUVs, both parents puffing away with demonic zeal -- all so they can gorge themselves on "Frappuccinos" at Starbucks.

Someone, save these kids and send their fuckwit "guardians" to jail (where we'll let them smoke to their hearts' content). We're already seeing new generations besieged with toxin-related ailments. Autism is skyrocketing. The US administration doesn't give a damn about pollutants. So it's doubly appalling that so many parents have forsaken the well-being of their offspring for the sake of a nasty addiction.

I see these assholes in public, sickly kids in tow, and I want to slit my wrists.
250,000 Katrina Evacuees Seen as 'Climate Refugees'

Well, what else are we going to call them?

The number of "climate refugees" will grow unless the world cuts the amount of greenhouse gases it releases, said Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington D.C.

"What we're looking at is the potential not of displacing thousands of people, but possibly millions of people as the result of rising seas and more destructive storms in the years and decades ahead if we don't move quickly to reduce CO2 emissions," he said.

Sorry, Lester -- I don't want to sound defeatist, but it's too late. What we need to be doing now is taking measures to help absorb and sustain the next wave of climate refugees. Which should be, like, any year now.

Kenworthy claims to have received funding from the Australian Film Commission for his project, which he originally proposed as "the art of illusion" by manufacturing fake UFO footage "not to trick people with visual effects, but to create emotions and sensations that would be impossible without digital technology. It is a genuine art event, rather than a simple deception."

A statement on the website adds that the videos were created to "give people a taste of the drama and excitement of a UFO Close Encounter," to supposedly "improve research into videos of genuine UFOs," and to "show skeptics that they often rely on faith rather than evidence."

Kenworthy claims that very few people suspected the clips were manufactured, but observed there were numerous researchers in the core of serious UFOlogy who were laughing and shaking their heads at many of the clips, and not taking the website at all seriously. Most noteably, the video clips of a supposed alien, a UFO "attacking a car, a box formation of UFO lights, and a video supposedly shot from a plane's in-camera system were regarded as bogus just by their appearance alone.

Huh? You mean that shambling, mummy-like alien (accompanied by the videographer's labored breathing) isn't smoking-gun proof of extraterrestrial visitation? I'm shocked.
Never click your mouse again.

(Thanks to Spluch.)

Cosmic Variance on the "new planets" debate:

The Cash Value of Astronomical Ideas

The thing is, it doesn't matter. Most everyone who writes about it admits that it doesn't matter, before launching into a passionate defense of what they think the real definition should be. But, seriously: it really doesn't matter. We are not doing science, or learning anything about the universe here. We're just making up a definition, and we're doing so solely for our own convenience. There is no pre-existing Platonic nature of "planet-ness" located out there in the world, which we are trying to discover so that we may bring our nomenclature in line with it. We are not discovering anything new about nature, nor even bringing any reality into existence by our choices.
In 2021, You'll Enjoy Total Recall

Bell now documents about one gigabyte of information every month, all of which is stored in a searchable database on his PC. His is a highly manual process, but he expects that in as few as 15 years it will be common to carry nearly all our "memories" around with us in a single device that will automatically record the sound and video of our daily activities, creating an inventory of the conversations we have, the faces we see and the articles we read. That data would be tied to communications that are already tracked electronically, like e-mail and event calendars, as well as TV shows, movies and other media we take in. The end result: on-demand total recall.

(Via PAG E-News.)

This scheme fits in nicely with my own ambitious blogging plans.
This is either an homage to The Smiths or some sort of cheesy postmodern insult. Either way, I kinda like it.

Coming soon: personal airships!
America: In Evolution We Don't Trust

Given that more than half of all American adults aren't aware that the Earth goes around the Sun once a year, it's hardly surprising that the concept of evolution doesn't sit well with Americans. What is surprising, however, is the large number - around one-third - that believe evolution is wrong.

"One in three American adults firmly rejects the concept of evolution, a significantly higher proportion than found in any western European country," said Jon D. Miller, a researcher from Michigan State University who conducted the evolution survey.

I'll be going to Canada this October. I just might stay.
Global Warming Affects Hurricane Intensity - US Study

Global warming is affecting the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, according to a new study by a university professor in Florida who says his research provides the first direct link between climate change and storm strength.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An arresting example of our all-encompassing cosmic fractal.

(Thanks to Betterhumans.)
Ebe relaxes.

Weird, weird cat.
Neuropsychology and Psychosis in 'A Scanner Darkly'

By the nature of his job, the novel's protagonist is in the unenviable position of never feeling entirely grounded in a single identity, a feeling exacerbated by the fact he is frequently required to view himself in the third person when watching surveillance tapes. By this literary device, Dick manages to capture the feeling of existential detachment that appears in many of the descriptive accounts of psychosis, reflecting the original sense of Eugene Bleuler's 'schizophrenia' (meaning literally, 'split mind'). Recent studies on the phenomenology of psychosis show similar striking parallels. Stanghellini's (2004) recent book captures both the psychotic state and the protagonist's dilemma with equal clarity, when he describes the breakdown of self-consciousness . . .

(Via The Anomalist.)

I can only describe this "breakdown of self-consciousness" as a sort of existential displacement, as if your body is a telerobotic emissary. The mind's influence seems to emanate from nowhere in particular; the result is a powerfully frightening sense of duality that fades with its own inexplicable volition.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Janjaap Ruijssenaars' floating bed

A young Dutch architect has created a floating bed which hovers above the ground through magnetic force and comes with a price tag of 1.2 million euros ($1.54 million).

You guessed it -- it's directly inspired by the Monolith from "2001." And judging by the picture, undoubtedly worth every penny.
Climate Change Predictions for Asia

Asia, home to more than half the world's 6.3 billion people, could be badly affected by climate change, many experts warn, as the predicted rising sea levels, melting glaciers, droughts, floods, and food and water shortages take their toll.
This evening I finally managed to take a picture of one of those moronic "Rapture warning" bumper-stickers. Score!

I was in a library parking lot and had to do it inconspicuously. The car flaunted another sticker about angels watching over true Christians (or whatever) but I resisted.
When the Going Gets Tough, Slime Molds Start Synthesizing

In times of plenty, the uni-cellular slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum leads a solitary life munching on bacteria littering the forest floor. But these simple creatures can perform heroic developmental acts: when the bacterial food supply dries up, Dictyostelium amebas band together with their neighbors and form a multi-cellular tower designed to save the children.

(Via Unknown Country.)

Now envision entire civilizations behaving likewise.
An interesting UFO photo for your consideration . . .
One of my favorite Cure songs:

Some final (?) pictures of the House Across the Street . . .

One of these days I'll buy a Cyber-shot.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I want to be here. Now.
This blog is now PayPal-friendly (see sidebar). If you want to leave a "tip," you can now do so securely. This isn't a plea for money; if I wanted to blog for dollars I'd have a pay-site. But if you want to tip, PayPal makes it pretty easy.

On with the show . . .
The Chimp quotes Camus! (And no, it's not about the senseless killing of Arabs.)
Inflatable shells could create stealth satellites

The inflatable satellite shell design looks similar to the Genesis I spacecraft, which is basically a watermelon-shaped balloon. But instead of housing people, it would contain satellite components, such as communications antennae. There is an airlock at one end and enough space inside for a person to go in and repair or replace components.

The patent also mentions ideas for endowing the inflatable shell with "radar stealth capabilities". These include using radar-absorbing materials and designing the shell with a shape that deflects radio waves away from potential detectors, which is how stealth planes work.
Normally, I leave the environmental stuff to Mac but . . .

Go ahead. Read. Weep.
Here's the 2006 New Frontiers Symposium schedule at a glance. The best show in town, if I do say so.
My neighbor has acquired a dog and, I think, a cat. I can hear both of them mewling wildly from across the hall. And thanks to an overheard discussion, I've been provided with a keen perspective on his personal life: Apparently his girlfriend (wife?) is really angry because his television set is home to nothing less disgusting than a colony of roaches. Lots of door-slamming and yelling going on. Ah, humans.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Our Nuclear Summer

For all the arguments made by the opponents of nuclear power -- that it is uneconomical, unsafe, a potential boon to terrorists, poses waste-disposal issues, and all the rest -- nuclear's biggest threat may come from the one problem it is purported to address: climate change.

If, as many climatologists suggest, the heat waves in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere are an indication of shifts in global climate patterns, it could spell doom for nuclear power, whose viability is directly linked to the availability of adequate water supplies.
I wrote this in a Starbucks this afternoon. It's not a story; more of a vignette meant to help limber up my fiction muscles. I salvaged the flashback (". . . a scalding foam of nanomachines") from an earlier fragment. --Mac

She might have had an identity once. Or at least the synthetic equivalent. But years have passed; entropy haunts the labored rhythm of her stride, the flow of her thoughts. All the sidewalks look the same, an endless montage that recedes to eggshell anonymity in the summer glow.

Some houses have fallen apart; others hover on the brink of dissolution, weather-beaten and faded. She walks past them, bare legs registering fatigue, but only dimly. Past lawns overtaken by hard-packed dirt and brackish weeds. The carcasses of cars litter long-abandoned driveways like rusted sentinels. She experiences a fleeting urge to join them in their slumber and examines their doors with ill-conceived longing.

The sun weighs on her slim shoulders. Her T-shirt, discolored and torn, flutters in the hot breeze; she rubs coal-black hair from dark, searching eyes and mops imaginary sweat from her brow. She looks new, or almost new. She wonders if others of her generation have lasted as long; after all, wasn't heat the enemy of electronics, the bane of overworked laptops? Of course, she isn't electronic in the archaic sense . . . but the word had seeped into her lexicon. She enjoys the heft of the obsolete syllables, cryptic and full of wasted portent.

She invokes diagnostic systems she'd almost forgotten. As her sensorium comes to life she stumbles under the sudden deluge of discomfort, the sun's blade shoved deeper into her flesh, threatening to rend the slender fiber-optics that run through her spinal column. Animal fear grips her; she marshals the discipline to remain hunkered on the hot pavement while her brain severs the barrage of input. As she waits, she scans the street for evidence of shade. Not all the trees have burned; sometimes she takes comfort esconced in their branches.

She regains equilibrium; the world recedes to its usual cautious distance. Flies orbit her head as she passes a mound of mummified garbage. A stack of tires stands vigil on the corner of a ruined yard, the treads gelled and bleeding from long exposure to the heat. Two blocks later she turns left. Then right. Then right again, trying to dispel the sense of having retraced her steps in some heedless suburban ouroboros.

Her feet chafe on the pitted concrete. She almost welcomes the snarl of cars she finds left in the intersection; she climbs, enjoying the feel of curling paint on her splayed palms, savoring the small avalanches of rust she displaces with her knees and shins.

From the top of a heat-blistered convertible, she surveys the crumbling rooftops. To the west, something is burning, sending a stalk of blue smoke coiling into the cloudless sky. On the horizon, the remains of the city skyline hover like a sickly mirage, sunlight glancing cruelly from intact windows. She's never seen the city so clearly before, and studies it with sudden fascination as memories surface:

Her own skin lifted from a frothing vat like a pinkish wetsuit, hands like empty gloves, facial features deflated into a thoroughly demeaning caricature. The techs had installed her sense of body-identity before adding the actual body; her abrupt adolescence had been spent in a grueling immersive dialogue with Turing auditors.

Her first vision of the world -- the real world, as opposed to the auditors' cybernetic fictions -- had come when her body had achieved a semblance of womanhood. She remembers awakening in a scalding foam of nanomachines, gloved hands drawing her up into a haze of disembodied eyes and fluorescent strips that left rungs of purple light on her newborn retinas.

That night, as the sky turns a gauzy red and the first rain of the summer begins, steaming on contact with the sun-soaked asphalt, she finds herself in the brittle haven of a dead tree.

She lets her sensorium expand to encompass the lifeless suburbs:

Derelict stripmalls . . . Streets arranged in inadvertent mazes merge with vistas of smoke and cauterized weeds . . . The tombs of houses, roofless, now filling with water . . . The distant city like some monstrous glass whimsy.

Her jaw opens slightly; she licks hot rain with a metal tongue.
A Novel Strategy for Asteroid Deflection

A new paper suggests an alternative strategy: why not capture a nearby asteroid and put it into an Earth-bound orbit to use as a shield?

Such an asteroid could then be moved as needed to absorb the impact of any collision that would otherwise hit the Earth.

A deceptively simple solution. I wish I'd thought of it.