Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blog of the day: Madonna of the Toast
John Shirley explains why he's not a Libertarian.
Urban Security Suit, body armor for the jet set

Trendsetters like [Paris Hilton] might eschew duct tape and Cipro for the Urban Security Suit. Designed by Tim Smit, the USS is made of neoprene, though it's also lined with body-molded Kevlar to ensure you can stop bullets while turning heads.

But does it have a keyboard molded into the pants?
If this reminds you of this, you're not the only one.
My latest SETI.com post introduces Terence McKenna's ideas regarding panspermia:

Boldly venturing away from conventional evolutionary narratives, McKenna speculated that homo sapiens might owe its unique cognitive abilities to exposure to psilocybin, a mushroom-derived substance with pronounced neurochemical effects. In McKenna's scenario, the medium is the message: the bizarre worlds encountered by people under the influence of psilocybin are components of an "invisible landscape" with which we share a profound and unacknowledged symbiosis. (McKenna credited the advent of language, among other phenomena, to chemically altered states.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Orangutang Goes Spear-Fishing

Those of us who have watched The Planet of the Apes are probably concerned about where this is going: a male orangutang was photographed on Borneo using a pole to try to spear fish in a river.
"Machine Gun" (Portishead):

I somehow missed this one:

Meat futures redux - just leave the brains out

Livestock without brains? Go for it!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Where Are They? Why I hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing.

Philosopher Nick Bostrom considers the discovery of life on Mars bad news. As in really bad news -- so bad, in fact, that finding even relatively primitive organisms eking out an existence among the ice would entail nothing less than our ultimate doom.

Bostrom sets the theoretical stage this way:

The more complex the life-form we found, the more depressing the news would be. I would find it interesting, certainly--but a bad omen for the future of the human race.

How do I arrive at this conclusion? I begin by reflecting on a well-known fact. UFO spotters, Raëlian cultists, and self-­certified alien abductees notwithstanding, humans have, to date, seen no sign of any extraterrestrial civilization.

By dismissing a significant body of evidence suggestive of some form of nonhuman contact, Bostrom manipulates the playing field in such a way that he can argue essentially anything he likes. Evidently Bostrom expects the lay reader will buy into his daft notion that the UFO phenomenon has something to do with Raëlians. And his smearing of "self-­certified alien abductees" is the stuff of rabid pseudo-debunkery.

Bostrom goes on to illustrate the concept of a "Great Filter" -- a kind of evolutionary black hole through which a potential extraterrestrial intelligence must pass in order to fulfill its destiny. (Bostrom's hypothetical ETs are a conspicuously anthropomorphic lot, but I'll cut him some slack; given the vastness of the observable universe, is it that bizarre to expect that a relatively tiny number will possess traits in keeping with our own?)

Pondering the sort of threat necessary to silence a candidate ET civilization, Bostrom writes:

The Great Filter, then, would have to be something more dramatic than run-of-the mill societal collapse: it would have to be a terminal global cataclysm, an existential catastrophe. An existential risk is one that threatens to annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential for future development. In our own case, we can identify a number of potential existential risks: a nuclear war fought with arms stockpiles much larger than today's (perhaps resulting from future arms races); a genetically engineered superbug; environmental disaster; an asteroid impact; wars or terrorist acts committed with powerful future weapons; super­intelligent general artificial intelligence with destructive goals; or high-energy physics experiments. These are just some of the existential risks that have been discussed in the literature, and considering that many of these have been proposed only in recent decades, it is plausible to assume that there are further existential risks we have not yet thought of.

A bit later, Bostrom cuts to the chase:

If the Great Filter is ahead of us, we have still to confront it. If it is true that almost all intelligent species go extinct before they master the technology for space colonization, then we must expect that our own species will, too, since we have no reason to think that we will be any luckier than other species. If the Great Filter is ahead of us, we must relinquish all hope of ever colonizing the galaxy, and we must fear that our adventure will end soon--or, at any rate, prematurely. Therefore, we had better hope that the Great Filter is behind us.

I must admit that I'm taken aback by Bostrom's assumption that "colonizing the galaxy" is necessarily the raison d'etre of a technologically robust ETI. Although he cites the possibility of less aggressively materialistic aliens early in his piece, it's almost as if he wishes we'd forget about them.

What has all this got to do with finding life on Mars? Consider the implications of discovering that life had evolved independently on Mars (or some other planet in our solar system). That discovery would suggest that the emergence of life is not very improbable. If it happened independently twice here in our own backyard, it must surely have happened millions of times across the galaxy. This would mean that the Great Filter is less likely to be confronted during the early life of planets and therefore, for us, more likely still to come.

By now you get the idea: if life is commonplace, we can expect to encounter an insurmountable existential hurdle at some point in the future -- specifically, before we're able to announce our presence to the galaxy (assuming we'd want to, and there are a host of arguments suggesting that it might not be the bright idea we're tacitly assured it is). Bostrom's argument is tantalizing and, on first glance, impressive. But it hinges on so many anthropocentric conceits that it reduces itself from a legitimate "either/or" to a merely interesting philosophical conjecture.

It's equally clear that Bostrom is most likely in for a dose of ennui; our solar system abounds with the ingredients for life, from Mars to Europa and beyond. Indeed, we may have already found it.

But none of this bothers me nearly so much as the fatalism at the core of Bostrom's thesis, which purports to reveal the role of intelligence in the universe but delivers little more than litany of uncertainties dressed in racy new clothes.

Bostrom is, of course, perfectly free to quake with dread when we finally confirm the existence of extraterrestrial life. Meanwhile, I'll be breaking open the champagne.

Cheers, Nick.
Urban Miners Look For Precious Metals In Cell Phones

It's called "urban mining", scavenging through the scrap metal in old electronic products in search of such gems as iridium and gold, and it is a growth industry around the world as metal prices skyrocket.

The materials recovered are reused in new electronics parts and the gold and other precious metals are melted down and sold as ingots to jewellers and investors as well as back to manufacturers who use gold in the circuit boards of mobile phones because gold conducts electricity even better than copper.
If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you know who Alex Grey is. If not . . .

(Thanks: Reality Carnival.)
The First MRO Images of the Cydonia Suburbs

As for a possible artificial explanation for the suburbs, the Cydonia Quest theory is that they may represent a kind of horizontal arcology. In other words an underground city may have once been tunnelled out below the Cydonia surface. Where the chambers of this underground city have collapsed their geometric shapes and arrangements have been imperfectly transferred to the surface in the appearance of the resulting subsidence pits.
I encountered this cryptozoological stencil graffiti on a walk today.

Any examples of this in your hometown?
Humans nearly wiped out 70,000 years ago, study says

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated that the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.

Two-thousand people? Hell, we humans now routinely kill each other in much larger quantities.

My, have we come a long way.

Russia to Send Monkeys to Mars

I must admit, I had to read the story twice before I believed it. Russia wants to send monkeys not only into space, but to Mars. I had an idea that monkeys (or more specifically macaques) were used in space missions in the past, but in my mind this was in the past and would be considered cruel in this day and age. But hold on, aren't macaques used in medical experiments the world over anyway? Why is it so shocking that macaques should be chosen to pioneer interplanetary travel before mankind?

It's late and perhaps I'm not thinking clearly, but right now I'm positively envying the macaque who gets to make the trip.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lest you underestimate our species' ability to pollute . . .
File under "Suitable for Framing":

Watercolors of irradiated mutant bugs

Science painter Cornelia Hesse-Honegger collects and paints mutant bugs in the vicinity of irradiated wastelands like Chernorbyl, around nuclear plants, and nuclear refining sites.
Robotic jellyfish in action!

Ectoplasmosis comments here.
The Cryptic Cosmology of Synchromysticism

Says Jake Kotze:

"My idea about the significance of meaningful coincidences in movies with mystical connotation is not that it points towards real truths, but that they point towards possible realities that might emerge from the collective psyche into consensus reality. We vie and jostle for acceptable limits of consensus reality through our art and philosophy. Our ideas and concepts about reality are the very fabric of reality itself. We try to sell each other beliefs in a creative effort to allow new 'things' to emerge into the accepted matrix of the now. I don't fundamentally fret about what 'is' real; I care about checking the zeitgeists' temperature in order to project future possibilities of acceptable norms and find hidden pockets of knowledge embedded in the pattern of 'AUM'."

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Color of Plants on Other Worlds

If it isn't easy being green on Earth, where chlorophyll is well tuned to absorb most of the energy in our sun's yellow light, imagine the difficulties elsewhere in the galaxy. Plants growing on worlds around cooler, brighter or more tempestuous stars would need to rely on red, blue or even black pigments to survive. That insight offers astronomers new clues about what to look for in their search for extraterrestrial life.

Features a killer slideshow courtesy of Mondolithic Studios.
Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears

At a time when the world's top climate experts agree that carbon emissions must be rapidly reduced to hold down global warming, Italy's major electricity producer, Enel, is converting its massive power plant here from oil to coal, generally the dirtiest fuel on earth.

At this point we're pretty much begging for it. The shotgun barrel is in our collective mouth and our finger has started to twitch.
A teaser from my new SETI.com offering, "Fermi's Legacy":

Today, Fermi's query has attained the status of a cosmic statute, especially among theorists convinced that intelligent life is witheringly rare. Proponents of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, for instance, believe the universe shows unmistakable evidence of existential "fine tuning," presumably to allow the existence of human life. (An engaging alternative is that the universe is as we perceive it because, if it were otherwise, its history would have precluded our evolution and we simply wouldn't be here. More recently, cosmologists have speculated that we might inhabit a "multiverse" comprised of an infinite number of universes, all governed by variations of the laws of physics as we know them. If such is the case, we shouldn't be especially surprised to find that physical laws seem "fine-tuned" for our existence, as our universe would be one of many: a cosmic jackpot well within the realm of probability.)
'Planetary sunshade' could strip ozone layer by 76%

Pumping tiny sulphate particles into the atmosphere to create a sunshield that would keep the planet cool was first suggested as a solution to global warming by Edward Teller, a physicist was best known for his involvement in the development of the hydrogen bomb.

Simone Tilmes of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, US, used computer models to see how a sulphate sunshade would affect the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful UV rays. She says it could have "a drastic impact".
Just finished reading:

Now reading:

It's been a long time since I've seen "Dr. Strangelove." Too long.

(Thanks: Gerry Canavan.)
Species loss 'bad for our health'

"While extinction is alarming in its own right, the book demonstrates that many species can help human lives," said co-author Jeffrey McNeely, chief scientist at IUCN (formerly known as the World Conservation Union).

"If we needed more justification for action to conserve species, it offers dozens of dramatic examples of both why and how citizens can act in ways that will conserve, rather than destroy, the species that enrich our lives."
Unfortunately, UFO artist Jim Nichols appears to have been taken in by the Billy Meier saga -- but at least that makes for some interesting "what if" paintings.

I actually used to have one of his works on a T-shirt (purchased by a friend in -- where else? -- Sedona, AZ).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Universal 'babelfish' could translate alien tongues

Deacon argues that no matter how abstract a symbol becomes, it is still grounded in physical reality because it refers to "indexical" words -- words we use to point directly to objects in the real world. That limits the number of relationships it can have with other symbol words. In turn, this defines the grammatical structure that emerges from stringing words together.

If that is true, then in the distant future it might be possible to invent a gadget that uses complex software to decode alien languages on the spot, Deacon said.

What if William Burroughs was right and language is an organism independent of the human nervous system? What if we're merely hosts?

Lately I've been almost painfully aware of thinking in words. How strange consciousness must have been before the invention of language; indeed, there's a theory that humans were effectively self-less zombies until the advent of words. Maybe we exist in a symbiotic relationship with the Word Virus, in which case my fear is that we've allowed language to eclipse more intuitive methods of imparting and extracting information. Nick Herbert's rather romantic notion of "quantum tantra" would seem to be an alternative worth investigating . . .
New masthead!

Huge thanks to Denny Unger of WorldWorks Games for his considerable help in giving PB an overdue facelift. If you'll pardon the narcissism (yes, that's me looking angsty over on the right), I think it's dead-on.

I had hair then.

My only complaint rests with Blogger itself, whose template obstinately refuses to let me replace the generic masthead but does let me resize a graphic and post it on top of the default graphic. For example, I was unable to erase the blue "chiclets" you see on the left-hand side. Not that they necessarily look bad, but I would have preferred to post Denny's graphic in its original full-size glory. (He actually sent me two of them, one blue; I thought the gray version contrasted better with the background.)

Thanks again, Denny!
Solar Sail Space Travel One Step Closer to Reality

Using a fan of very long, electrically charged cables (stretching many kilometres from the central spacecraft), the similarly charged solar wind particles (mainly positively-charged protons) will hit the fan of positively-charged cables (generating a repulsive electric field), giving the cables a small proton-sized "kick", exchanging their momentum into spacecraft thrust. Cable charge is maintained by a solar-powered electron gun, using two conventional solar panels as an energy source.
I strolled by a Sony store tonight. A high-definition screen had been hooked to a video camera. Unable to resist, I paused to take this self-portrait.

Air Traffic Controllers Who Saw UFO Muzzled by FAA

Ian Gregor, FAA regional spokesman, says the agency's policy won't allow controllers to comment even if they want to relate their experience.

Gregor confirmed that "several" air traffic controllers in the tower saw the staggered formation of mysterious lights moving in the sky, apparently over North Phoenix. He says he heard that second-hand, though -- the tower's manager told him about it.

The controllers didn't consider the source of the lights to be a hazard, because nothing was popping up on radar, Gregor says.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hawking and the Long Result

Hawking spoke at George Washington University on Monday, where the bulk of the audience may have found a two to five-hundred year time frame uncomfortable. After all, we're not used to thinking in such terms, and in an era that demands fast turn-arounds, wouldn’t it be grand to simply come up with a star drive tomorrow? Indeed, do we have the patience to embark on a project that might last five centuries, whose outcome will always remain in doubt, and whose funding will have to be continually extracted from reluctant governments or, more likely, drawn from the philanthropic donations of a small number of visionaries?

But there's an even more pressing question lurking in the subtext: Supposing we value the continuity of our species, do we really have a choice?

The idea that technological civilizations almost universally snuff themselves has become understandably fashionable among those convinced the Fermi Paradox qualifies as a genuine conundrum. If I chose to play along, I'd argue that the sort of full-immersion VR technology represented in the above "commercial" would pose at least as great a threat to emerging civilizations, neatly accounting for the alleged absence of ET visitors.

(Personally, I don't think Enrico Fermi ever intended his eponymous "paradox" to be taken literally; I think he was posing a thought experiment -- but I could be mistaken. If anyone knows more about Fermi's famous question, leave a comment.)

(Video found at Sentient Developments.)

I've grown incredibly skeptical of online dating -- so much so that, at my most cynical, I'm tempted to suggest it's a failed concept best abandoned. But the interface portrayed in the video is so conceptually interesting that I'm willing to suspend my grudges. Will it revolutionize algorithm-based match-making? Probably not. But I've seen much clunkier attempts to reinvent the user's relationship with the Net.

Learn more here.

(Found at Information Aeshetics.)
Swamp gas over Phoenix

Predictably, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said that even though air traffic controllers saw the UFO(s) from their posts at Sky Harbor Airport, "There's nothing to look into."

Other witnesses also reported seeing or hearing jet fighters in the sky, but an official from Luke Air Force Base denied it had planes in the air.

That sounds suspiciously like the scenario in Stephenville, Texas, in January, when the military initially repudiated eyewitness accounts of seeing jet aircraft chasing an enormous UFO, only to later admit it had nearly a dozen F-16s in flight that night.

Part of me is looking forward to the obligatory cascade of press this sighting is already generating; that same part of me is also quite convinced that none of the ensuing fuss will leave us the least bit more knowledgable about the UFO phenomenon (regardless whether the new Phoenix sighting can be attributed to a genuine unknown, which I doubt).
Gadget Watch: Keyboard Pants

Just the thing to go with those augmented reality contact lenses.
The future of DIY transhumanism is now!


LucyandBart is a collaboration between Lucy McRae and Bart Hess described as an instinctual stalking of fashion, architecture, performance and the body. They share a fascination with genetic manipulation and beauty expression. [. . .] They work in a primitive and limitless way creating future human shapes, blindly discovering low-tech prosthetic ways for human enhancement.

(Via Next Nature.)

I found these images a refreshing change from the dreary cyber-fetishism that often passes for "transhuman" art. Quirkily lo-fi, LucyandBart's imaginings are like bondage kitsch from a world ruled by an iron-fisted Dr. Seuss.
Blog of the day: Tomorrow Museum
Ghost luxury hotels, half-built and rotting in the desert

I hate "borrowing" items from Boing Boing, but I couldn't pass this one up. I mean, wow. If UFO researchers can relocate to abandoned missile silos, why can't misanthropic bloggers take up residence in the carcasses of abandoned dreams?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Groovy, man:

Your Very Own Meditator (Nov, 1970)

This project was conceived to make it easier for all of us to satisfy our need for occasional moments of private contemplation. Enter the Meditator and surround yourself with the graphics which cover its walls, and something begins to happen to you almost at once.

It's difficult to predict, but you may find the sensation akin to that mystical communion with nature that you experience when alone in a forest -- or the sense of peace you feel in an empty cathedral. Or you may develop sudden insights as you study the picture-fragments of your world -- and be swept by the conviction that you're "getting it all together" at last.

(Via Boing Boing.)
Sometimes I agree with Stephen Hawking and sometimes I don't.

I'm experimenting with a new look. Comments? Yes, please.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The best simulacrum I've seen in a long while:

Alien lands his UFO in Weston?

The little yellow man was spotted setting up home in Earlham Grove and has been seen two days in a row.

David and Ann Lawrence saw their new neighbour and decided to get snap of the creature.

Ann said: "The house has had an extension built and since then, the sun shining on the window has created this image on the wall opposite."

(Via The Keyhoe Report.)
Oh, for Christ's sake . . .

Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. [. . .] Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive.

Dare I ask what, exactly, are the "characteristics" my blog shares with spam?
PETA offers $1 million prize for vat-grown meat

James Randi comes to mind. I hope my cynicism is unfounded.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bees under threat as pollution means flowers are losing their natural scent

Researchers claim pollution is dramatically cutting the distance travelled by the scent molecules of plants.

This is preventing flowers from attracting bees and other insects needed to pollinate them.

As a consequence, the numbers of insects are dramatically dwindling as they struggle to located the nectar off which they feed.

(Thanks: Nick Redfern.)
Life Before Death

This sombre series of portraits taken of people before and after they had died is a challenging and poignant study. The work by German photographer Walter Schels and his partner Beate Lakotta, who recorded interviews with the subjects in their final days, reveals much about dying - and living.
Exclusive! R2-D2 enters US presidential race!
Scientists Flesh Out Plans to Grow (and Sell) Test Tube Meat

"We're looking to see if there are other technologies which can produce food for all the people on the planet," said Anthony Bennett of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. "Not only today but over the next 10, 20, 30 years."

Rapidly evolving technology and increasing concern about the environmental impact of meat production are signs that vat-grown meat is moving from scientific curiosity to consumer option.

(Via Communist Robot.)

Of course, some complain that test-tube meat is "gross." I wonder if they've ever so much as considered the realities underlying the alternative.

Forget about CERN -- a wormhole has just appeared in Milan!
Behold the latte printer: an idea whose time has come.

My only grievance is the inventor's choice to commemorate an otherwise respectable latte with the logo of a corporation whose relevance to well-made espresso drinks ranks a negative 10.

(Sighted at Boing Boing.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The 5 Most Disturbing Plague-Related Passover Children's Gifts

Death and mayhem in a convenient travel tote! The real charm of these items is in how they go about representing the plagues that don't easily lend themselves to plush form. There's the adorable drop of blood with cartoon eyes, for instance, or the Shard of Darkness (peeking out of the bag, lower right), with its black eyes calling to your children from its cheerful yellow prison. If you've ever wanted your kids to embrace the darkness, now's your chance -- literally!

(Via Pharyngula.)
There are concept cars. And then there are concept cars.

(Thanks: Uncertain Times.)

I took this picture in an art museum today (er, yesterday.) The painting in the foreground is titled "Mars."

Speaking of photos: how I'd dearly love to get my hands on one of these cameras.
Recognize Everyone You've Ever Met With Smart Goggles

So how do Smart Goggles work? It's pretty simple. You have a camera attached to the front, and a super-powerful tiny computer in back, which scans people and runs them through a face-recognition database. It then pulls up any notes you've made, including the person's name and other details. You'll appear to be the master of your social circle. They may also be able to feed you info from the Internet. They're being developed by Tokyo University, which just showed off a prototype.

Readers of Bruce Sterling's novels and stories will immediately recognize these as a primitive version of the interactive "spex" sported by his characters. Sterling has more to say about spex (among other topics) right here.
I've (reluctantly) restricted commenting on this blog to registered users. (You don't have to have a Google ID, incidentally, so don't panic.)

If you encounter any trouble drop me a line. Sorry about the hassle.

Update: Rejoice! I've revoked my decision to restrict comments. If that means I have to endure a few obnoxious anonymous remarks, I suppose that's a small price to pay. Carry on as usual.

Is the strident buzzing from that flying saucer grating on your nerves? Are you sick and tired of the annoying blue glow coming from above your backyard?

The UFO Response Team can help.

Make the call.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Greg Bishop poses a question I bet you've never considered before:

Why Don't UFOs Stall Airplane Engines?

Greg assumes for sake of argument that the force that repeatedly stalls cars must be electromagnetic -- but that's not necessarily the case. Marc Davenport, in "Visitors from Time," suggests that UFOs bend the spacetime in their immediate vicinity, thus accounting for all manner of strangeness ranging from "missing time" to perceived changes in color.

Davenport also argues that the kind of vehicle shut-downs immortalized in "Close Encounters" are inconsistent with EM effects, noting that a field powerful enough to disable a car engine would permanently cripple the afflicted car. Consequently, documented cases of car engines spontaneously starting up once the UFO has left the vicinity would seem to be due to some other phenomenon -- possibly in keeping with "anti-gravity."

The speculative upshot of Davenport's book is that UFOs could be literal time machines, perhaps from our own future.
Two new UFO photos for your consideration:

Argentina: UFO Wasn't Photographed on Purpose, They Say

Gaston Damia and Patricio Pereyra are facing the hard task of convincing everyone that the photo is real, that it is not a product of trickery, that they have no intentions of profiting from it and were never aware of what appeared there until they noticed it on the computer screen. Yet there it was, out of focus and in the distance: an unidentified flying object (UFO).

Saginaw, Michigan, man discovers UFOs do exist; and he has a picture

Mook first thought the UFO was a smudge in the lens or a defect in the camera. He changed his mind when he noticed video footage he took at the same time of a flock of flying geese showed the UFO maintaining its original position, though the camera jostles around.

I recently posted a clip of Michael Stipe voicing his disillusionment with the 21st century. Specifically, he wonders why his metaphorical jetpack didn't arrive on schedule.

I'm not sure, but that clip might have inspired Chris Wren's indispensable retort:

You're Never Getting Your Damn Jetpack. Shut Up.

What, did they pass a law forbidding research into personal jetpack technology? The reason we don't have jetpacks is because the people who are whining about not having them were content to spend their 20's and 30's sitting around on their asses waiting for other people to invent them. And if someone had delivered jetpacks to these heartbroken dears on schedule, these same whiners would be screaming their lungs out about the carbon footprint of selfish, Gaia-hating jetpack users. You want the future you were promised in your innocent wide-eyed youths? Stop blubbering and invent it yourselves.
Pope Benedict prays with victims of clergy sex abuse scandal

One of the victims, Bernie McDaid, told The Associated Press that he shook the pope's hand, told him he was an altar boy and had been abused by a priest in the sacristy of his parish. The abuse, he told Benedict, was not only sexual but spiritual.

"I said, 'Holy Father, you need to know you have a cancer in your flock and I hope you will do something for this problem; you have to fix this,'" McDaid said. "He looked down at the floor and back at me, like, 'I know what you mean.' He took it in emotionally. We looked eye to eye."

Oh, wow. Eye to eye, no less. That's some serious problem-solving.
Indian baby born with two faces

The child apparently has an extremely rare condition known as craniofacial duplication, where a single head has two faces. All of Lali's facial features are duplicated with the exception of her ears, she has two. Lali's parents say she feeds through one mouth and sucks her thumb with the other, otherwise "She is just like any other child".

This kid has four eyes. Can she see through all of them? Is the brain even capable of parsing that sort of input (assuming the eyes are intact and functional)?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I've deliberately avoided blogging about the Big Election. Not merely because it's a colossal bore, but because it's one of a handful of subjects with the potential to make me almost physically ill when I try too hard to make sense of its appeal ("Dancing with the Stars" ranking a close second).

At least there's the cold comfort of knowing I'm not alone. Novelist Peter Watts has the following to say:

Fuck all of them. May drug-resistant syphilis saturate their bloodlines, may their genitals wither and drop off. You especially, Obama. You alone offered hope for real change, you alone made the unrepentant realists among us think Hell, if that guy is making it work, maybe we can turn this thing around after all. You actually made an optimist out of me, for a little while. And because of that, you suck harder than all the rest.

Lest you think Watts is overreacting, I implore you to take a closer look. A political system that shuns science and reason in favor of sound-bites and faith suffers a defect with no cure short of meltdown and subsequent reinvention. But the even bigger problem is that we're running out of time in which to invent a system relevant to our era; instead we're content to remain shackled to a dead Goliath.

Watts also points out an op-ed piece that dares to question the obscene spectacle of the Pope's friendly chat with the Decider:

Sanctimonious monsters

Yesterday, two great pious leaders of the world met in Washington DC. President Bush has immense temporal power, leading one of the richest countries on the planet with the most potent military force. Pope Benedict is a spiritual leader to a billion people, with immense influence and the responsibility of a long religious legacy. What could they have talked about? Mostly, they seem to have patted each other on the back and congratulated each other on their commitment to superstition.

I, for one, honestly wonder why Americans feel obliged to let the Pope within our national borders. In theory, the United States is predicated on equality, justice and freedom from religion. The Pope stands for nothing of the sort. He's a raging bigot who condemns homosexuals and has the audacity to demonize birth control in world already reeling from human excess. This is the sort of medieval pathology one might expect to find among the very Islamic extremists we take such costly pains to torture and kill, yet we welcome this costumed fuck into our country out of the oh-so-pressing need to address our nation's "spiritual" needs.

Maybe it's time we put the spiritual needs the media assures us we have on the back-burner for a while. Perhaps there are other subjects more demanding of our attention at this particular moment in history. But hey, "Dancing with the Stars" is on. We'll have to talk later.
From Whitley Strieber's latest online journal entry, "The Nye Incidents: the Scariest Story I Know":

Then, in 2001, I began to hear of a large number of mutilation murders taking place in northern New Jersey -- in fact, within about forty miles of my old cabin. These were absolutely terrifying stories, to say the least. At first, I thought they must be a hoax, but subsequently was forced to place them in the realm of the unknown.

These stories involved the remains of street people being found mutilated like cattle, on the roofs of buildings. Worse, they had been drowned by being taken to such a depth in the ocean that their lungs showed pressure damage.

So these street people were being taken, having their genitals and tongues and eyes and lips cut off, then being plunged into the sea a hundred miles away and drowned, then dropped back on the roofs of buildings.

At first, it appeared that I had a direct line to the coroner involved. Then that collapsed, and I was left unsure about what had happened. I could not believe that the murders were done by some sort of serial killer, because how could a serial killer mutilate people, then drown them by taking them down in the ocean, then bring them back and put them on roofs? It just struck me as impossible.

Careful readers will notice additional detail that could, in theory, be corroborated. Unfortunately, Strieber doesn't treat us to any particulars.
New SETI post:

Are We A Simulation?

Novelists and philosophers alike have devised myriad reasons why an advanced intelligence might create a simulated world. Arbitrarily capable scientists might want to tinker with physics, recreating the "real" world while incorporating experimental content: an endeavor to which our own scientific community aspires, often aided by advanced computational models. Or maybe we're an anthropological experiment set loose in an agar of code; somewhere, overseers could be watching our plight with keen interest.

Occult symbolism . . . or just a latte?

More pictures here.

Heineken and androids. What's not to like? For a more arresting example of fembots infiltrating popular culture, click here.

(Hat tip: Sentient Developments.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This curvy sculpture can be found on the grounds of a biomedical research facility here in Kansas City. Seen from a distance, it looks something like a DNA molecule; up close, it's rather more tentacular, as if to commemorate a Lovecraft novel.
We now pause for a message from our sponsors . . .

How Scientists Visualize the REAL Flying Saucer Men (Jun, 1951)

The only thing funnier than the illustrations (dig the Venusian "beast man") is the name of the article's author, one "I. B. Neer."
Is it a bird? A plane? No, it's a Flogo!

As kids, most of us spent time lying in the grass, watching clouds roll by and imagining the shapes we could see in the fluffy white masses.

Now, one company aims to indulge those flights of fancy by actually making "clouds" in the shapes of, well, anything, from the Atlanta Braves' tomahawk to Mickey Mouse's iconic head.

What happens when someone's Flogo ad campaign demands the sky be filled with flying saucers?
So have I stopped blogging or not? Since I've continued to post since announcing indefinite "retirement," I can't help but feel a little guilty for sounding a premature alarm. It reeks of a self-indulgent publicity stunt, albeit not a very imaginative one.

So I'll leave it at this (for now): PB will likely cease to be the daily blog it's been for the last few years. But -- as I should have learned by now -- these things have a way of defying my own forecasts, however sincerely felt at the time.

So don't write me off quite yet; I still have things I want to share. But if I miss a few days now and then I can't say I didn't warn you.

Wait -- that sounded like a publicity stunt, didn't it?

My second Futurismic column, Loving the Alien, is "live." Talking points: neuro-hacking, orgasms, ET contact, and suicide bombers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Behold! A new SETI post:

UFOs: Why No "Open Contact"?

Assuming that UFOs represent extraterrestrial visitors (whether humanoid aliens in spacecraft or something stranger), there's no denying the secretive way in which the phenomenon has unfolded since the dawn of the "modern" UFO era in 1947. Strident debunkers have seized on the "ufonauts'" seeming desire to remain unseen as evidence that they don't exist -- and maintain that studying evidence that might suggest the contrary can only be a waste of resources. Although I think the debunking argument is steeped in anthropocentric baggage, it's a fair enough question, at least in principle: Why would aliens go to the trouble of crossing interstellar distances if they possessed no interest in revealing themselves?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ever wonder what mannequins do at 2:00 in the morning?

This one would have almost certainly earned me some Weird Looks had anyone actually been present.
Peter Watts on why what we dotingly refer to as self-awareness is a neurological con.

By the way, I did promise to go away for a while. But this is important.
R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe: "Where's my jetpack?"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Due to time constraints posed by various "meatspace" commitments, I've decided to take a while off from blogging, so I'm putting Posthuman Blues on standby status until further notice. (I'll continue to post at SETI.com.)

I'll continue to check my email, but don't take it personally if my replies are less than prompt.
This image appeared at Dark Roasted Blend and was duly amalgamated by Ectoplasmosis before crossing my radar.

The Photoshop Beauties: Before and After

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cthulhu In Love: The Fetish Art Of Richard Kadrey [NSFW]

I had no idea the author of "Metrophage" and "Kamikaza L'Amour" took such amazing photographs. If there's such a thing as "Ballardian kink," Kadrey is its most informed proponent.

More: Kaos Beauty Klinic.
Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, NRA hired 'black ops' company that targeted environmental groups

Documents obtained by James Ridgeway, a Mother Jones correspondent formerly with the Village Voice, reveals the contractor collected confidential internal records -- donor lists, financial statements -- even Social Security numbers, for public relations outfits and "corporations involved in environmental controversies."

Beckett Brown International also offered "intelligence" services to the Carlyle Group, the controversial DC-based investment company; "protective services" for the National Rifle Association; "crisis management" for the Gallo wine company and for Pirelli; "information collection" for Wal-Mart.

"Also listed as clients in BBI records," Ridgeway reveals: "Halliburton and Monsanto."

(Via Dr. Menlo.)
Science fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling delivers a scathing and delightfully opinionated speech on the emergence of "spimes," the ubiquity of cellphones and the relevance of speculative literature.

Galaxy Boy Troop: '60s anime-style sci-fi puppetry

Osamu Tezuka's "Galaxy Boy Troop," a 92-episode children's space opera that aired on NHK from 1963 to 1965, featured a unique blend of animation (Mushi Production) and puppetry (Takeda Puppet Troupe). The series also aired in France, where it was known as "Le Commando De La Voie Lactee" (lit. "Commando Of The Milky Way"). The original Japanese masters and films are believed to have been lost or destroyed, and the few known surviving fragments are from French sources.

Pink Tentacle invites you to watch a clip.
Life as Rarity in the Cosmos

A linguist at heart, I was't surprised with the notion that the introduction of language marks a crucial transition as intelligence develops. But what are the other steps, and how do they feed into the possibility of life elsewhere? These interesting questions relate to how long the biosphere will be tenable for life as we know it. If, as was thought until relatively recently, Earth might support life for another five billion years, we would have emerged early in the history of our biosphere. But it is now believed that in perhaps a billion years, the era of complex macroscopic life will be ending, the victim of decreasing CO2 and increasing temperatures.

Startlingly, we're faced with the fact that the Earth's biosphere is even now in its old age.

Charles Hickson describes his 1973 UFO encounter.
Blog of the day: Print is Dead

(It's not that I necessarily endorse the idea that print is dead. Because it isn't. But its role has shifted along fault lines we have yet to properly distinguish.)
Rudy Rucker on death.
Oh, this is good:

'Cosmic Message' Prompts US-EU Crackdown On Religious Cults

A most curious report is circulating in the Kremlin today, submitted by Colonel Boris Sokolov of the Ministry of Defense, one of Russia's top UFO investigators, and wherein he states that 'embedded' within last months largest ever recorded Cosmic Blast was a '40 megahertz radio wave coded signal' that could 'stimulate' the electromagnetic activity of religiously devout people by 'substantially altering' their brain frequencies.

(Via The Anomalist.)

Hell of a premise for a zombie flick if you ask me.

A Visual History of NASA's Project Constellation

Project Constellation is NASA's spacecraft system which replaces the space shuttle, with flights beginning in 2015 with the Orion capsule and Ares I rocket. This site is a visual record of the concept and design phases.

Awesome stuff, but be warned: the image files are exceptionally massive.

The photostream grows . . .
Orlando-area pet owners go ape over their primate 'monkids'

She said the young and the old get excited about monkeys because of their humanlike features, intelligence and range of emotions. Owners network through online forums and share photos of their primates dolled up in frilly dresses, Superman capes and sports jerseys.

[. . .]

Many owners say they adore their hairy companions and give them the best of care. Animal-rights groups, however, are fighting hard to ban primate pets. Congress is discussing a bill that would prohibit interstate travel for monkeys, a move that would hamper sales.

(Via Boing Boing.)
Dangerous animal virus on US mainland?

The Bush administration is likely to move its research on one of the most contagious animal diseases from an isolated island laboratory to the U.S. mainland near herds of livestock, raising concerns about a catastrophic outbreak.

In Kansas, no less; I won't be far from ground zero.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Solar Balloons To Power Remote Areas?

"The idea is to take advantage of the height dimension. When you do that, you save a lot of land resources and can get to places otherwise hard to reach," said Pini Gurfil, the concept's developer.

The helium-filled balloons, covered with thin solar panels, hover as high as a few hundred metres in the air, and are connected via a wire cable to an inverter, which converts the electricity into a form households can use.

It will be about a year before the system is ready, Gurfil said. But initial research, both computerised and using a crude prototype, showed a balloon with a three metre (10 ft) diameter could provide about one kilowatt of energy, the same as 25 square metres (269 square feet) of traditional solar panels.
I finally got around to creating a rudimentary Flickr photostream. More to come.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dick Cheney's shades reflect a strange being

The White House website hosts a photo of Dick Cheney "fly-fishing on the Snake River in Idaho," wearing a pair of reflective glasses. Eagle-eyed William Gibson noticed that there's something awfully weird reflected in them: mutant hybrid sex-slave? Tentacle creature? Elder god?

Hey, why must "mutant hybrid sex slave," "tentacle creature" and "elder god" be mutually exclusive?
Today's SETI post takes the form of a list of ten "first contact" novels.
Amazing Image of the Martian Moon Phobos

"Phobos is of great interest because it may be rich in water ice and carbon-rich materials," said Alfred McEwen, HiRISE principal investigator at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Previous spacecraft, like Mars Global Surveyor, have actually flown closer to Phobos, and taken higher resolution images, but according to the researchers, "the HiRISE images are higher quality, making the new data some of the best ever for Phobos."

This is probably the best image yet of the moonlet's odd (and, to the best of my knowledge, unexplained) "grooves."
Most Beautiful Fractals

Fractals are infinite, possessing infinite beauty.

Be careful when exploring the linked galleries on this page - they just might suck you in, and you'll be gladly lost to the world for some blissful time. But this is exactly what fractals do best - make you explore and gasp from discovering new vistas of harmony, turn after turn, step after step.
Automaton by Vichy - Clockwork Mechanism Inside

This is the repaired inner mechanism of a Vichy automaton made in France in 1875. The complete automaton depicts a lady who breathes, closes her eyes, turns her head, fans herself, and lifts her glasses to her eyes.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Indescribably poignant.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Chris Wren writes:

So it's not that I'm not interested in the futurism, just that I tend to be much more skeptical of futurist thought than I used to be. I find myself less interested in whether Ray Kurzweil is "right" or "wrong" about the future, than I am in the psychology underlying his vision. Why does he want to live forever? Why does he want to upload his consciousness into a machine? How does that psychology differ from the frame of mind that inspired Walt Disney or Gene Roddenberry's visions? Once you get past the obsession with whether this or that prediction is accurate, you get into the really interesting meat and potatoes of why that particular prediction was made by that particular person in the first place.

Chris also makes an on-the-money observation about io9, a blog whose geeky preoccupations are quickly losing my own interest:

I thought io9 was a pretty decent site at the beginning, but how quickly I tire these days of the "We're all so zany and ironic" schtick. I want more out of a site that purports to be dedicated to science fiction than geek technofetishism and the latest buzz and gossip about TV shows and comic books.

Indeed. io9's chief virtue is the sheer quantity of items on display. Transform some of that mass into energy and you just might have the best science fiction blog in the world.

I have seen the future.

(Thanks: The Keyhoe Report.)
Milestone for Aeroscraft ML866 project

Along with a range of more than 3000 miles and a top speed of 138mph, it boasts some unique properties for a craft of its size including the ability to hover, take-off and land vertically, complete autonomy from airports, not to mention incredible aerial views.

The mammoth 5000ft square cabin area also opens up a range of possible applications for the aircraft, from cargo transport and mining to use as a luxurious private sky yacht or a fully functional conference center.
One Avatar, Many Worlds

DAZ 3D, a company based in Draper, UT, that makes software and models for creating 3-D art, recently announced the MogBox, a program that would allow users to design a high-resolution 3-D character and transport it as an avatar to multiple virtual worlds. MogBox is designed to maintain the same look and feel for the character from one location to another, while adjusting for the graphics capabilities and styles of different virtual worlds. This typically means scaling down the high-resolution image, simplifying the textures on the surface of the character, and adjusting the figure's polygonal building blocks to follow the rules of different digital worlds.

(Via KurzweilAI.net.)

India-Pakistan Nuclear War Would Cause Ozone Hole

Nuclear war between India and Pakistan would cause more than slaughter and destruction -- it would knock a big hole in the ozone layer, affecting crops, animals and people worldwide, US researchers said on Monday.
Solar System's 'look-alike' found

Astronomers have discovered a planetary system orbiting a distant star which looks much like our own.

They found two planets that were close matches for Jupiter and Saturn orbiting a star about half the size of our Sun.

Martin Dominik, from St Andrews University in the UK, said the finding suggested systems like our own could be much more common than we thought.

And he told a major meeting that astronomers were on the brink of finding many more of them.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

SETI Is For Chumps (And Other Reasons Why We Have Yet To Hear From Aliens)

(Yet another SETI.com post.)

Here it is: the most devastating and articulate summary of Whitley Strieber and his works that I've ever read. Neither facile dismissal nor endorsement, Rigorous Intuition's analysis is propelled by a sincere interest in Strieber's writings that illuminates the often schizophrenic nature of his alleged experiences.

A sample:

When it comes to understanding the question of Ufos and alien abductions -- and specifically that of "the Grays" -- the essential thing to remember is that none of this is what it seems. And although I am quite sure Strieber would be the very first person to admit this (at least on a good day) -- has been at pains for years to convey this very idea -- for all of that he seems unable to resist the urge to talk and write about the phenomena as if it were, finally, apprehensible to reason. As a result, Strieber spends half his time arguing against simplistic, literal-minded, "good or evil, angel or devil" interpretations, and the other half either damning the beings as demons or advocating them as angels. Apparently, this is all part of the aliens' chosen method of presentation: a positive perspective, a negative one, and finally a synthesis of both. Yet Strieber follows this approach in such a haphazard, slipshod fashion that at times he seems unaware of doing so. It is almost as if he has been programmed by his "visitors," and that, in order to be effective, he must remain in the dark himself, at least until he reaches the third perspective, and achieves synthesis of his various, fragmented selves (assuming he ever does).
Repo Man Delivers One of the Best Scientology Parodies Ever

Actually, this is more of a New Age send-up, complete with references to Bermuda Triangles [sic], UFOs and time machines. Heavy, dude.
Meteorites delivered the 'seeds' of Earth's left-hand life

Breslow simulated what occurred after the dust settled following a meteor bombardment, when the amino acids on the meteor mixed with the primordial soup. Under "credible prebiotic conditions" -- desert-like temperatures and a little bit of water -- he exposed amino acid chemical precursors to those amino acids found on meteorites.

Breslow and Columbia chemistry grad student Mindy Levine found that these cosmic amino acids could directly transfer their chirality to simple amino acids found in living things. Thus far, Breslow's team is the first to demonstrate that this kind of handedness transfer is possible under these conditions.
Universe Today, a blog I've always enjoyed, does a piece on my recent SETI post:

If ET Calls, Would We Be Told?

If a verified message from aliens is ever received, would the public be told about it? SETI -- the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence -- does have an international protocol that if an alien signal is ever received, it would be disseminated among the astronomical community and made public. And of course, says Mac Tonnies at the SETI Blog, "international cooperation might be necessary in order to distinguish a legitimate alien signal from any number of phenomena capable of generating false alarms." But what if the signal is more than just extra-terrestrials saying hello? Tonnies believes SETI's plans for full disclosure only makes sense if the message is fairly benign. If the signal was a notice of impending doom from a black hole, supernova, or alien invasion -- something we on Earth had little power to do anything about -- Tonnies questions whether governments would choose to make such information public. But could something of this magnitude really be kept under wraps?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Just one reason Centauri Dreams deserves to be bookmarked:

Dyson Spheres: Hoping to Be Surprised

In trying to understand hypothetical alien cultures, we're assuming we can extrapolate forward from our own technology to what we would do if we had the necessary tools. Thus Dyson's sphere, maybe 150 million kilometers in radius, a meters-thick shell rotating around its star. We can see this as a desirable outcome, so we assume aliens would as well. But would they? Perhaps a Type II society would have made breakthroughs in energy management that would render a Dyson sphere a historical curiosity, like some early 19th Century idea of a flying machine powered by flapping wings and a steam engine.

No, I can't imagine what those breakthroughs would be, but then, that's the point. How accurate can we be about predicting what science will find down the road?
Time-Lapse Video: Retreating Glacier

This remarkable image sequence captures a series of massive calving events at Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska. Composed of 436 frames taken between May and September of 2007, it shows the glacier rapidly retreating by about half a mile (1.6 kilometers), a volume loss of some 0.4 cubic miles (1.67 cubic kilometers) of ice or 400 billion gallons (1.5 trillion liters) of water.

This just might make your jaw drop a bit.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Blog of the day: Mars in the Morning

(Don't miss Carol's take on io9's "First Realistic Martian Woman.")
Blast-Door Art: Cave Paintings of the Nuclear Era

Welcome to the mordant, jingoistic and occasionally crude -- but rarely before seen world -- of "blast-door art."

Like the garish and cheeky illustrations etched across the noses of World War II aircraft, these images in launch control centers across the United States testify to the bravado of the men (and, from the mid-1980s onward, women) of what has been called "America's Underground Air Force." But they also reflect the sometimes surreal pressures faced by two-person missile crews on 24-hour duty alerts, waiting for a call to turn their missile launch keys and perhaps end civilization as we know it.

Once again we encounter the inevitable pairing of robot and housewife, a staple of retro-futuristic media purporting to herald the Next Big Thing.

Is it just me or is there a certain veiled eroticism at work here?
Will advanced humanoid robots be (gulp!) made out of meat?

Peter Watts offers this observation:

It seems that snot is essential to trap and distribute airborne molecules so they can be properly parsed by olfactory sensors. And that in turn reminds me of this earlier article from Science, which reports that sweat might also be an integral part of robot makeup, since evaporative cooling can double the power output of robot servos. The same paper reviews current research in the development of artificial muscles. I wonder how many more wet and sticky and downright organismal traits are going to prove desirable and efficient for our robot overlords. Is it possible that fleshy terminators and death-fetish replicants and even hot Cylon chicks look and taste and feel like us not merely for infiltration purposes, but because form follows function?

There's something strangely wonderful about the prospect of "robot sweat." I have a very real desire to smell the stuff.
Film legend Charlton Heston dead at 84

Charlton Heston, who won the 1959 best actor Oscar as the chariot-racing "Ben-Hur" and portrayed Moses, Michelangelo, El Cid and other heroic figures in movie epics of the '50s and '60s, has died. He was 84.

Forget that biblical drek. Here's the moment that cements Heston in my memory:

Robot aliens? Space opera gets it right

And for once I find myself in general agreement with Seth Shostak.
Blog of the day: Intangible Materiality

Saturday, April 05, 2008

USC's Superbot, modular robot systems

USC's ISI's Polymorphic Robotics Laboratory's Superbot is a new type of robots that are modular, multifunctional, and easily reconfigurable. Its modules can be dynamically configured into different robots to fit the user's needs.

For example, it can crawl, walk, roll, climb, carry, fetch, or survey. The reconfiguration and module exchanges are easy and do not require any special knowledge or training.
The best UFO photos of 2007?

(Thanks to UFOMystic.)
Not familiar with RepRap? Take a look:

Look at your computer setup and imagine that you hooked up a 3D printer. Instead of printing on bits of paper this 3D printer makes real, robust, mechanical parts. To give you an idea of how robust, think Lego bricks and you're in the right area. You could make lots of useful stuff, but interestingly you could also make most of the parts to make another 3D printer. That would be a machine that could copy itself.

Humanizing Animals: Is it wrong to make intelligent animal slaves?

Setting aside the fact that no one has any idea of how to actually uplift, that is, to dramatically boost the intelligence of animals, would it be moral to do it? How would a dumb animal give its consent to being uplifted? Since no human being gives his or her consent to being born with whatever level of intelligence or health he or she has, why should prior consent be required for uplifting animals? Dvorsky actually thinks that it is more moral to uplift already born animals so that we can ask them before-and-after questions. Perhaps they would recall their pre-sapient state and tell us if it were preferable to the anxieties of self-awareness. But what if uplifted chimps and dolphins told us that self-aware intelligent language using is not all that it's cracked up to be and that they'd rather go back to their state of natural innocence?

(Via Sentient Developments.)

I snapped this photo of a latte a few days ago. I'm not sure, but I think I might have received a couple Weird Looks.
'No Sun link' to climate change

Scientists have produced further compelling evidence showing that modern-day climate change is not caused by changes in the Sun's activity.

The research contradicts a favoured theory of climate "sceptics", that changes in cosmic rays coming to Earth determine cloudiness and temperature.

Kudos to the BBC for putting quotes around "sceptics." In this case it's wholly deserved.
"Australian Bigfoot" or yet another "blobsquatch"?

Sweat ducts may act as giveaway 'antennas'

Our skin may contain millions of tiny "antennas" in the form of microscopic sweat ducts, say researchers in Israel. In experiments, they found evidence that signals produced by bouncing electromagnetic waves off the tiny tubes might reveal a person's physical and emotional state from a distance.

The research might eventually result in lie detectors that require no physical contact with the subject.

In other words: "Voight-Kampff 2.0."
Why the demise of civilisation may be inevitable

Then when the climate changes or barbarians invade, overstretched institutions break down and civil order collapses, aggravated by tightly coupled networks that create the potential for propagating failure across many critical industries.

What emerges is a less complex society, organized on a smaller scale or that has been taken over by another group, and loss of our hard-earned knowledge.

Possible solutions include distributed and decentralized production of vital goods like energy and food and adding redundancy to the electrical grid and other networks.

I've never considered civilization anything more than a passing phase. It seems essential because it's all we know, but when we look at it squarely we find at least as many inherent flaws as benefits. I say it's time to venture out of the womb and look around.

Friday, April 04, 2008

From my new SETI post:

Lest my concerns seem like so much "X-Files" paranoia, it's worth considering some of the reasons an ET intelligence might send us a message in the first place. Perhaps, as noted, we're due to experience an unforeseen "existential threat" via gamma radiation or the close approach of an uncharted black hole. Or we may be in the line of fire of someone else's war. More extravagantly, we might discover that our section of the galaxy is scheduled for demolition in order to make room for an astro-engineering project -- in which case our stellar landlords could be sending out a most unwelcome eviction notice (albeit one we can postpone heeding for a few thousand years).

Thursday, April 03, 2008

How to transform your arm into a wing

Daedalus used feathers and wax -- and we all know what happened to his son when he flew too close to the sun. Instead, you could try surgery, says Samuel Poore, a reconstructive surgeon at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who has now described the steps that would be needed to transform human arms into wings.

It sounds like an idea that might come from the underground world of body-modders, who go in for filing teeth to points, implanting horns -- and even more extreme modifications. But Poore studied the mechanisms of bird flight under Ted Goslow of Brown University, Rhode Island, before he began medical school and became interested in hand surgery.

(Via Aberrant News.)
Little monkeys ride tiny motorcycles

Check out these adorable uniformed monkeys zipping along the streets of Thailand on tiny motorcycles.

Cute but strangely menacing . . .
Daily caffeine 'protects brain'

Coffee may cut the risk of dementia by blocking the damage cholesterol can inflict on the body, research suggests.

The drink has already been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer's Disease, and a study by a US team for the Journal of Neuroinflammation may explain why.

A vital barrier between the brain and the main blood supply of rabbits fed a fat-rich diet was protected in those given a caffeine supplement.

UK experts said it was the "best evidence yet" of coffee's benefits.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cliff Pickover strikes again!
UK's first hybrid embryos created

The Catholic Church describes it as "monstrous".

Then it can't be that bad, can it?
From my new SETI post:

I've always been frustrated by the prevailing assumption that aliens will eschew interstellar travel in favor of radio transmission due to the presumed cost of space travel. While aliens might suffer from constraints posed by limited access to resources, the notion of "cost" is rooted in our own brief, limited experience as social primates. We humans might bemoan the seemingly prohibitive price of manned spaceflight, but a more far-sighted intelligence might possess vastly different priorities. Spared the hurdle of terrestrial economic imperatives, I would expect aliens to prove surprisingly resourceful.
Science fiction megablog io9 has been fretting over the "drone" images, all the while laboring under the assumption that they must be the spawn of a viral marketing campaign (although it doesn't pretend to know for what):

This leaves us with the still-burning question: Whose viral marketing campaign is this? And what are they trying to sell us?

Here's my take: there is no fucking "viral marketing campaign." Like so many other recent CGI hoaxes (remember the Haiti footage?), this was done for the sheer fun of it.
Microscopic Fuzz May Be Best Evidence of Martians

If Martian life existed a few billion years ago, scientists think any plant-like microbes would have left behind a stringy fuzz of fibers.

That's because here on Earth, researchers now say they have found such ancient fuzz, called cellulose, preserved in chunks of salt deposited more than 250 million years ago -- making it the oldest biological substance yet recovered. The announcement comes about a week after a team of planetary scientists announced discovering evaporated salt deposits on Mars and adds another element of hope to the search for alien life or signs of its past biology.

Time travellers from the future 'could be here in weeks'

Prof Irina Aref'eva and Dr Igor Volovich, mathematical physicists at the Steklov Mathematical Institute in Moscow believe that the vast experiment at CERN, the European particle physics centre near Geneva in Switzerland, may turn out to be the world's first time machine, reports New Scientist.

The debut in early summer could provide a landmark because travelling into the past is only possible - if it is possible at all - as far back as the point of creation of the first time machine.

That means 2008 could become "Year Zero" for temporal travel, they argue.
'They're here': The mechanism of poltergeist activity

Brovetto and Maxia hypothesise that the changes in the brain that occur at puberty involve fluctuations in electron activity that, in rare cases, can create disturbances up to a few metres around the outside of the brain.

These disturbances would be similar in character to the quantum mechanical fluctuations that physicists believe occur in the vacuum, in which "virtual" particle and antiparticle pairs pop up for a fleeting moment, before they annihilate each other and disappear again.

Brovetto and Maxia believe that the extra fluctuations triggered by the pubescent brain would substantially enhance the presence of the virtual particles surrounding the person. This could slowly increase the pressure of air around them, moving objects and even sending them hurtling across the room.

A few off-the-cuff thoughts:

1.) I'm convinced poltergeist phenomena are real and ultimately amenable to science.

2.) I'm automatically wary of attempts to invoke quantum mechanics to explain "the unknown."

3.) Despite my reservations about unwarranted use of the "Q"-word, Brovetto and Maxia could very well be onto something. Assuming they're not pilloried for advancing what can only be an unpopular hypothesis, it's not entirely unreasonable to expect some form of laboratory confirmation.
Ladies and gentlemen, another "alien autopsy" for your consideration:

Personally, I welcome this clip. The diminutive being under the knife is an unsettlingly fine piece of work. I don't think it's real, but the level of technical achievement shouldn't go unnoted just because the video fails to advance the case for crashed humanoids.

Click here for Nick Redfern's commentary.

Elsewhere, Paul Kimball ponders the merits of hoaxing a UFO event. (All for the best purposes, of course.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

R.E.M.'s "Accelerate" comes out today. I have a strange feeling I might buy a copy. In the meantime, here's a live performance of "Until the Day is Done."

Another astonishingly good "fiblet" from Peter Watts. If this isn't the way to get readers to seek out your next novel I don't know what is.
The Keyhoe Report notes an apparent contradiction between Whitley Strieber's "Communion" and "Breakthrough." Take a look.

It seems clear that Strieber is either confabulating or else chose not to include the "juicier" story in "Communion" for whatever reason (which I concede is entirely possible).

Strieber relates the latter version of the story in a recent interview with Dave Navarro. I'm inclined to think the account related in "Communion" was censored by the author, but I'm certainly open to less flattering possibilities.
"I am happy being who I am. If I was cured, I wouldn't be who I am."

I'm not autistic. Not by a long shot. But as an extreme introvert, I'm well aware of the mainstream's sensibility toward anyone who deviates from the "norm" -- and I don't find it remotely encouraging.

I'm especially troubled by the assumption that depression is necessarily a disease to be "treated" with barrages of pharmaceuticals. Is it conceivable that melancholy offers the experiencer a window on reality just as valid as those embraced by the mainstream?

I'm not negating the reality of extreme, incapacitating depression. But the governing medical paradigm, in collusion with consumer society, has spawned a binary that perhaps owes more to economic and social imperatives than actual wellness. And it usually comes in three innocuous-seeming words: "ask your doctor . . ."
I was just about to buy a Quantum Sleeper. Then I clicked to this page and read the bad news:

Presently seeking investors to build new prototypes to test and develop. A working model (made of wood not polycarbonate) is available for demonstration. Venders have provided quotes to produce and assemble the various parts. Fabrication drawings and parts list are also available for anyone interested in investing or buying the Patent (Patent # US 7,137,881 B2).

To the hardware store!

(Thanks to Ectoplasmosis!)