Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nothing says "2009" like the prospect of cyborg cockroaches . . .

Cyborg cockroaches could power own electric 'brains'

Instead, Morishima suggests that the insects themselves could power the slave-driving chips. As a proof of concept, he glued a piezoelectric fibre - 4 centimetres in length but just 200 micrometres across - to the back of a Madagascar hissing cockroach. As the cockroach walked, each step stretched and squeezed the piezoelectric fibre, generating electricity via mechanical stress.

Rudy Rucker on writing UFO-related science fiction. With links to not one, but two of my essays.

Crashed UFOs and . . . David Bowie?
Martin Rees, author of the excellent "Our Cosmic Habitat," on the existential threats facing humanity in the next hundred years:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Physicist David Deutsch ("The Fabric of Reality") delivers a rousing -- and witty -- lecture on preserving the human legacy in a Cosmos that's at once mercilessly alien and deceptively cozy.

Penelope Boston bypasses NASA's elliptical PR and arrives at a portentous conclusion: there's probably life on Mars, and we should be trying to determine where it is and where it originated.

Artist of the day: James Paick.

Paick's enchanting blog can be found here.
Found Image #32

2009 To Be One Of Warmest Years On Record: Researchers

Next year is set to be one of the top-five warmest on record, British climate scientists said on Tuesday.

The average global temperature for 2009 is expected to be more than 0.4 degrees celsius above the long-term average, despite the continued cooling of huge areas of the Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon known as La Nina.

That would make it the warmest year since 2005, according to researchers at the Met Office, who say there is also a growing probability of record temperatures after next year.
The 50 Best Albums of 2008

Portishead's stellar comeback, "Third," deservedly grabs the #2 spot.
Ice on the Moon? Debate Resumes

If water ice is actually there, it should be stable for billions of years on the moon provided that it receives no sunlight.

"If the hydrogen is present as water ice then our results imply that the top meter of the moon holds about 200 billion litres of water," Teodoro added.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Does finding this image oddly arousing make me strange?

This creature and many more right here.

(Thanks: The Keyhoe Report.)
Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible

Contrary to Kahnneman and Tversky's research, Alex Pouget, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has shown that people do indeed make optimal decisions -- but only when their unconscious brain makes the choice.

"A lot of the early work in this field was on conscious decision making, but most of the decisions you make aren't based on conscious reasoning," says Pouget. "You don't consciously decide to stop at a red light or steer around an obstacle in the road. Once we started looking at the decisions our brains make without our knowledge, we found that they almost always reach the right decision, given the information they had to work with."

See also:

Blind Man Sees With Subconscious Eye

TN has what is known as blind sight, according to de Gelder. Even though the primary part of his brain that processes visual information is destroyed, he still has more primitive parts of his brain intact, and these are capable of doing some visual processing. After all, one of the most basic functions of the visual system is to help an animal avoid obstacles or predators. TN still has some visual abilities -- he's just not aware he has them.

Oh, by the way, there's this book you should read . . .

"At long last, WE ARE MARTIANS!"
Found Image #31

Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star

In the spring, a team will begin attempts to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and trigger a thermonuclear reaction.

Its goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius and pressures billions of times higher than those found anywhere else on earth, from a speck of fuel little bigger than a pinhead. If successful, the experiment will mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station and a source of almost limitless energy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beware of the freaky fractal felines!
Nick Redfern lays the smack down regarding the infamous "Men in Black." Nick's delightful to listen to, possessed of both a nuanced appreciation and respect for his subject matter and an unapologetic willingness to skewer cherished illusions.

Of course, he could be working for them . . .

For more, click here.
Is this what Lonnie Zamora saw?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

This year I've written a monthly column for Futurismic called "Loving the Alien." Here's a retrospective:

On UFOs:

We transhuman ufologists are a witheringly small bunch; although I've come across provocative discussions about nanotechnology and machine intelligence within the more intelligent corridors of ufology, committed transhumanists approach the subject of UFOs and the "paranormal" with pronounced disdain. The very definition of "skeptic," for instance, is summarily forgotten; among the more strident and vocal proponents of transhumanism, the very prospect of extraterrestrial visitation via UFO is considered naïve fantasy good for little more than placating true believers with elusive promises of galactic altruism. Certainly, they argue, we're better off parroting the so-called Fermi Paradox.

On sexuality:

Assuming our species ultimately graduates to some enhanced level of existence, I think we'll probably take sex with us, if only as a souvenir. But our current version seems certain to fall by the wayside eventually; if we take the effort to improve our somatic operating systems, it's doubtful we'll continue running the same programs for the sake of simple nostalgia. Instead, we'll want something better, more meaningful, more in keeping with how we define ourselves as individuals and as a species -- if indeed we remain a single distinct species at all. In reality, the human future might be a bit like the scenario from contemporary space opera, splintered into factions that regard each other with more than a little sense of incomprehension.

On dreams:

As familiar as they've become, there's nothing overtly pleasant about them. Rather, they seem more than slightly ominous: jaundiced psychic postcards from the near-future landscapes of Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard. My very identity is relegated to that of a confused tourist; my itinerary, if there is one, seems limited to so much queasy sight-seeing. I can't plot a meaningful course of action, so I merely watch -- and awake with my mind's eye awash in fragments.

On consciousness:

Perhaps I'm wary of any would-be neurological hackers. After all, a sufficiently capable technology (human or otherwise) might choose to exploit the gulf between "now" and the processed version accessed by our minds. (The rogue AIs of The Matrix certainly weren't above such devilish tricks.) Conversely, maybe we need that gulf -- maybe it's a kind of buffer that's evolved, in part, to keep us from drinking too deeply at the well of the Real (where literally unimaginable horrors might lurk, eager to hijack our sense of self and partake of the slippery phenomenon we call "consciousness").

On contemporary mythology:

Whoever they once were and wherever they're from, the Grays have suffered a cataclysmic schism between body and mind. Like the replicants of Blade Runner, they're largely immune to empathy and look to us with a mixture of fascination and sadness. They've lost something pivotal and will stop at nothing to get it back -- if, indeed, they remember what they've misplaced.

We boldly speculate about the potential of mind-uploading and the promise of designer bodies. We plunge forever deeper in to the resplendent weave of our own genome, shuffling molecules with Frankensteinian resolve. The Grays might be projections from our own future: imaginal constructs so heavily freighted with our own unresolved anxieties that they've become effectively palpable.

On virtual reality:

Not that SL is wholly without charm or promise. It possesses an agreeably anarchic flavor and its locales -- many flaunting ersatz cultures culled from fashion, history and science fiction novels -- betray an endearing alliance of geekdom. Endlessly fetishistic, venturing forth in SL is a bit like stumbling across a mall from the future of Blade Runner: an infestation of capitalistic frenzy so pronounced the billboards often ooze more personality than the inhabitants themselves. Much of SL's real-estate mirrors the progression of a lucid dream; upon returning to reality, you may find yourself waxing philosophical at inconvenient moments.

On dubious claims:

"You know, I have this sneaking suspicion you're not from another planet at all," I said as the coffee began percolating. "Maybe you’ve read some of my essays. I think you're real, but not necessarily the kind of 'real' we're used to. John Mack once used the term 'reified metaphor.' But a metaphor for what?"

I poured two mugs and offered one to the alien, who'd already started up Firefox and was busily scanning my RSS feeds. "Thanks," it said, wrapping a colorless finger around the handle. I sat on the living room's other chair, vaguely aware that my cats had begun congregating around the newcomer.

On science fiction:

None of this is to suggest that UFOs are mere kitsch, ripe for the literary harvest. Extraterrestrial spacecraft or something else, I'm convinced that we're dealing with a very real phenomenon. However, I tend to think a true understanding will occur only when we take stock of our own neurological constraints; perhaps the devastating weirdness of the UFO spectacle needs our imagination in order to give voice to the inconceivable.
I was considering writing something pithy and appropriately outraged by the Pope's recent concerns about sexuality, but Futurismic's Paul Raven has beaten me to the punch:

So, let's see: a very rich man wearing a gaudy dress at the head of an organisation which shelters and hence implicitly condones child abuse says that saving humanity from transsexual or homosexual behaviour is as important as saving the environment.

Pope Benedict has been dubbed "God's Rottweiler" -- in my view, a totally unwarranted comparison. At least Rottweilers serve a useful purpose, far more than can be said for the Pope's painfully distorted interpretation of reality.
Augmented reality meets the iPhone:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Books to read in 2009:

The Zorgy Awards are back and Posthuman Blues is in the running as best blog. Don't let those ass-kissing bastards Nick Redfern and Greg Bishop win!

Sick of Christmas music as I am? That's what Morrissey's here for.

Catch the live version here.
"And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die . . ."
Amateurs are trying genetic engineering at home

The Apple computer was invented in a garage. Same with the Google search engine. Now, tinkerers are working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself.

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering -- a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.

Somehow, this image comes to mind:

Binnall of America has posted a new interview with me:

I think Kurzweil's overly optimistic -- and naive in a sort of endearingly infectious way. Specifically, I don't think the post-biological future will arrive as abruptly as Kurzweil suspects. While I think many of his forecasts will indeed happen more or less as advertised, I foresee a more gradual -- and markedly less utopian -- transition. On the other hand, we might direly need the technologies Kurzweil describes in order to survive the excesses and hazards of the next century, and necessity is often the mother of invention.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Enjoying Nature in the Cave

Today the walls of Plato's cave are so full of projectors, disco balls, plasma screens and halogen spotlights that we do not even see the shadows on the wall anymore.

The "CARET" drones are back.

(Thanks to UFOMystic for the lead.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Blind, Yet Seeing: The Brain's Subconscious Visual Sense

Scientists have previously reported cases of blindsight in people with partial damage to their visual lobes. The new report is the first to show it in a person whose visual lobes -- one in each hemisphere, under the skull at the back of the head -- were completely destroyed. The finding suggests that people with similar injuries may be able to recover some crude visual sense with practice.

I rather suspect Peter Watts will weigh in on this shortly.
Storms on Mars!

More here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Whitley Strieber returns to the enigmatic "Communion" encounter in his latest journal entry:

I started out thinking that I'd been attacked in some way, but I'm not so sure now that my rape was really that, any more than surgery on a little dog at the veterinary clinic is assault. I surely felt assaulted, and so must the little dog. But the anger and fear could come, in both cases not from understanding of what happened, but from ignorance about it. The dog has no idea that the man who inflicted pain on him actually prolonged his life, and I wonder if those of us who have had rough experiences with the visitors are not in the same boat?

okdeluxe XMAS card 2008 from okdeluxe on Vimeo.

Pink Tentacle explains what we're seeing:

Here is some terrific video of a bioluminescent deep-sea siphonophore -- an eerily fantastic creature that appears to be a single, large organism, but which is actually a colony of numerous individual jellyfish-like animals that behave and function together as a single entity. The individual units, called zooids, all share the same genetic material and each perform a specialized role within the colony.

In other words, it's a undersea Borg.

The interior of this capsulized home . . .

. . . is intriguingly reminiscent of the flight deck of Bob Lazar's "sport model" flying saucer.

Monday, December 22, 2008

NASA Study Links Severe Storm Increases, Global Warming

The frequency of extremely high clouds in Earth's tropics -- the type associated with severe storms and rainfall -- is increasing as a result of global warming, according to a study by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Someone please tell me this is a farce inspired by the empathy boxes in Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Product information right here.
Found Image #30

'Sex chip' will have us wired, Oxford University researcher Morten Kringelbach says

The wiring remains a hurdle: Dr Aziz says current technology, which requires surgery to connect a wire from a heart pacemaker into the brain, causes bleeding in some patients and is "intrusive and crude".

By 2015, he predicts, micro-computers in the brain with a range of applications could be self-powered and controlled by hand-held transmitters.

And just think of the iPhone applications!
Punch Hole Clouds & Other Rarely Seen Cloud Formations

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cities in the Flood Zone

One of very many interesting points made by Jan Zalasiewicz in his new book The Earth After Us is that rising sea levels in an era of global climate change might actually -- ironically -- increase humanity's long-term chances of urban fossilization.

"If we and our children are very unlucky over the next few decades," he writes, "and the waters rise swiftly, then many of our cities may be as well preserved as Pompeii, as though in aspic."

Whether sensual or disturbing (or both), Benedict Campbell's futuristic images are never less than captivating.

(Second hat tip of the day to Sentient Developments.)


Alyson Hannigan Secretly Replaced With Robot!
Dashboard Tree

What is that growing on my car dashboard? Is that a tree? Indeed, Ford and Honda's next-generation dashboard instrument clusters feature trees (a vine in Ford's case) that grow more lush as drivers maximize their fuel economy. Leaves grow like crabgrass in springtime if you use a light touch on the accelerator and go easy on the brakes.
'Hobbit' Fossils Represent A New Species, Concludes Anthropologist

University of Minnesota anthropology professor Kieran McNulty (along with colleague Karen Baab of Stony Brook University in New York) has made an important contribution toward solving one of the greatest paleoanthropological mysteries in recent history -- that fossilized skeletons resembling a mythical "hobbit" creature represent an entirely new species in humanity's evolutionary chain.

. . . and around and around we go.

Tangentially related:

La Planete des Singes: Human-Ape Hybrids and the Future of Chumanity

One of the leading activists to speak out against experiments that might involve inter-species breeding with humans and apes is Dr. Calum MacKellar, director of research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, who this past April warned of a "controversial draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill" which did not specifically place restrictions on human sperm being inseminated into animals. MacKellar argues "if a female chimpanzee was inseminated with human sperm the two species would be closely enough related that a hybrid could be born."

Indeed, there are many instances throughout the last century where experiments were planned which may have proven conclusively whether creation of a "humanzee" were possible, though according to public records, none were seen through to completion. However, does this mean that there couldn't have been other instances where interbreeding took place at other times?
The mother of all swarmbot videos?

Part of me expected the bots to begin tearing chunks of flesh from the girl's body. Fortunately the demonstration proceeds in an orderly fashion.

Remember, kids: There's no "I" in "swarmbot."

(Found at Sentient Developments.)

Artist of the day: Alex Sandwell Kliszynski.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, the wonderfully delirious art of R.S. Connett.
The Five Most Miserable Christmas Songs

Among other things, Christmas is a great time for being maudlin and suicidal. If your Christmas depression isn't sufficiently aggravated by rampant commercialism and insincere offers of Good Will Toward Men, there's always some miserable Christmas song playing in a public place to add a pang to your holidays. To facilitate your seasonal affective disorder, we have identified five of the most down-bringing.

(Via Chris Wren.)
I just discovered that science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer will be hosting "Supernatural Investigator," a Canadian TV series that features the "Life on Other Planets" episode in which I "starred" this year. (And yes, I'm aware there's nothing exactly "supernatural" about extraterrestrial life; I didn't have anything to do with the title.) The series will air on Vision, unavailable here in the States.
Who needs ancient astronauts when the ancient Greeks were capable of crafting marvels like this?

Needless to say, io9's Buildings That Look Like Famous Spaceships has been duly blogged on my own Things That Look Like Flying Saucers.
Just a quick post to thank everyone who reads this blog for stopping by and to wish everyone the best of holidays.
Wingless Electromagnetic Air Vehicle - WEAV (Mondolithic Studios)

One of the most revolutionary aspects of Roy's use of magnetohydrodynamics is that the vehicle will have no moving parts. The lack of traditional mechanical aircraft parts, such as propellers or jet engines, should provide tremendous reliability, Roy said. Such a design also will allow the WEAV to hover and take off vertically. Pretty amazing stuff.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Replicating Milgram: Researcher finds most will administer shocks when prodded by 'authority figure'

"People learning about Milgram's work often wonder whether results would be any different today," said Burger, a professor at Santa Clara University. "Many point to the lessons of the Holocaust and argue that there is greater societal awareness of the dangers of blind obedience. But what I found is the same situational factors that affected obedience in Milgram's experiments still operate today."

One I missed a month ago:

Sun shines on future Mars colonies

It was generally thought that the sun's rays would be too weak on Mars to supply a significant amount of energy. However, the MIT team concludes that with a careful choice of location, solar energy can provide all the power a colony would need - even in the teeth of the Red Planet's infamous dust storms.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pink Tentacle draws our attention to some fascinating imagined futures.

Terence McKenna: "I think if it's out of control then our side is winning."

(Thanks: The Teleomorph.)

My new piece is a Posthuman Blues reprint I forgot to include in my recent end-of-the-year wrap-up.
Report urges timetable for human mission to Mars

While the new report stops short of endorsing the Planetary Society's plan, it does urge a rethink of where and when to send astronauts. "The Obama administration and Congress should examine the Bush vision, assess its limitations . . . [and provide] clarification of the moon/Mars strategy with a timetable for the Mars component," it says.

"Even if it means somewhat easing the 2020 deadline for lunar return, NASA must ensure that the new architecture provides a solid foundation for the next generation of human spaceflight," it adds.

Spaceport America Closer to Reality

If you're thinking about booking flight on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two, launching a payload with UP Aerospace or Armadillo Aerospace, or can't wait to watch the Rocket Racing League, you'll be happy to know New Mexico's Spaceport America is two steps closer to becoming a reality and not just a dream.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Bermuda Triangle in the news.
Rock varnish: A promising habitat for Martian bacteria

As scientists search for life on Mars, they should take a close look at rock varnish, according to a paper in the current issue of the "Journal of Geophysical Research."

The paper describes how a research team led by Kimberly R. Kuhlman, of the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute, found bacteria associated with rock varnish in an area where the surrounding soils were essentially devoid of life. The study suggests that rock varnish could provide a niche habitat for microbial life on Mars and in other extraterrestrial environments devoid of liquid water.

Greg Bishop: "What would you do if someone gave you a couple of pieces of a crashed UFO?"
Wheel in the sky wows local residents

Locals who phoned and e-mailed the Daily Comet and The Courier this weekend about the strange cloud formation did agree on one thing: "It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen," said Raceland resident Sandra Ledet, who shared some spectacular photos with the Daily Comet.

Shawn O'Neil, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Slidell, identified the phenomenon as a hole-punch cloud.

"They don't occur all that often, and they are usually caused when an aircraft intersects altocumulus or cirrocumulus clouds," he said.
An uncommonly thoughtful article on Near-Death Experiences:

The living dead

On top of that, quantum non-locality could mean the mind is capable of being non-local to the brain, of floating to the ceiling of the room. It can become, as Stapp puts it, "unglued". His words "certain choices not specified by the physical dynamics" are world-changing. This idea would, if widely accepted, end the reign of scientific materialism, replacing it with a new dualism. It would mean the universe is not a "causally closed" system, locked down since the big bang, as mainstream science has always insisted it is, but open to freedom of choice by the autonomous, floating, matter-altering mind. We would have regained our souls.
Urban Farming: architectural conceptualism abounds.

(Thanks: Grinding.)
Military prototype or captured extraterrestrial reconnaissance drone?

(Hat tip: Sentient Developments.)

Wow -- this looks almost CGI.

Related thoughts from 2005:

Seeing an eddy up close produces a curious form of kinship, as if in the presence of something animate. It's somehow sacred and thrilling to have an eddy spin its fragile life away in your midst; the wind suddenly becomes an entity, distinct and defined, its machinations made visible like an organ saturated with dye and viewed on a medical scanner.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Epic Collection of Sci-Fi Ray Guns

(Thanks to Conspiraporn!)
Commuters to Generate Electricity From Walking Into Train Station

The greatest thing about this demo is its sheer practicality in the real world. So many have been talking about solar panel highways or body-heat generating mobile devices, but not so much about kinetic energy. The energy-generating springboard has the additional benefit of being comfortable on the feet and back, something cement and pavement clearly lack.
DELHI PUBLIC ART: 48 Degrees Celsius

Delhi is a city choked in climate change. Mostly unregulated by urban planning, the city has colored the Yamuna river with an untold amount of sewage, darkened its skies with the particulate matter of thousands of commuters, and expanded its borders with illegal developments. Every monsoon season scrubs the skies clean, and recent developments, such as the conversion of public buses to CNG, have improved conditions, but 40% of its residents still live in virtual slums. Facing this landscape head-on is the festival 48 degrees Celsius, an exhibition of art at the intersection of urban planning, ecological rescue and aesthetic glory, which opened yesterday.
Kevin Randle has been diligently deflecting the rather shrill anti-UFO arguments offered up by would-be skeptic Phil Plait. Here's the latest.
Europa: Tides of Life?

We've speculated that Europa experiences enough tidal flex from Jupiter to create possible energy sources for life. What Tyler is saying is that the moon may experience not just internal pressures but large waves pushing through the submerged ocean. These waves, of course, could be a way of distributing heat and dissipating tidal energies.
Here's an outdoor art installation that should instinctively appeal to anyone who shares my addiction for a certain lo-fi video game.

The above is a mere sample of the wonders in store at

Whitley Strieber waxes alarmingly maudlin in his latest "journal" entry.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A few moments from Posthuman Blues' sixth year:

On ufology:

Sometime in 2007 I realized I was sick of hearing about "ufology."

The politics, the incessant clashes with an apathetic mainstream media, the endless discussion about inventing a research paradigm that actually works . . . not to say those aren't worthy subjects and noble goals, but they're not necessarily my goals.

On narrative:

To some, Strieber's online sensationalism negates his testimony as an "abductee." But in our rush to pigeonhole "Communion's" author as a metaphysical huckster (thus erasing the bothersome -- if tantalizing -- specter of the "visitors" in a single stroke), we miss out on a potentially rich understanding of how the UFO phenomenon interacts with us on an individual level.

Strieber himself has emphasized the emphatically personal nature of the contact experience, suggesting that its operative intelligence has chosen to bypass bureaucratic authority in favor of a deeper, more pervasive dialogue with our species. Even if Strieber is wrong about everything else, I suspect he's struck a vitally important vein -- with or without the assistance of the diminutive humanoids that populate his books.

On memes:

If it's easy to underestimate the success that greeted "Communion" in 1987, it's even more difficult to appreciate its multiplex impact on our culture. The cover painting alone almost single-handedly defined the "alien" to many thousands of readers. Strieber even devotes a section of the book to a hologram-like mental image that allowed him to describe the cover's iconic alien to artist Ted Jacobs, offering the possibility that "they" were complicit in the portrait's creation. (Even if their abductions are clumsy, the visitors seem to be consummate self-promoters.)


I've always maintained that the content of a bona-fide SETI signal will dictate whether it's deemed fit for public dissemination. A series of prime numbers might be acceptable for relatively immediate disclosure, but what about plans for a super-weapon? Are we to accept that the SETI Institute (a privately funded enterprise) possesses the jurisdiction to divulge any and all potential ET transmissions with impunity?

On perceptual conditioning:

And so we remain inoculated to the presence of the truly mysterious. The recent "Martian" found in a 2004 rover image has garnered surprisingly intense (if generally dismissive) attention from both independent bloggers and a condescending mainstream media. Meanwhile, the enigmas in Cydonia go conspicuously unremarked, dismissed as the stuff of wishful thinking or the stalwart dreams of conspiracy-mongers.

On interior landscapes:

Recurring dreams of strange vehicles, inexplicably depopulated suburbs, labyrinthine interiors, forgotten monuments, amnesiac voyages between transitory cities, exquisite squalor, the bittersweet promise of decay.

On transhumanism:

I've sometimes found myself in the preposterous position of "defending" my desire to live, if not forever, then as long as scientifically possible.

So, why do I want to live forever?

Easy -- for the same reason that I want to wake up tomorrow. There's nothing especially disturbing about negligible senescence unless one approaches the idea with at least some degree of emotional bias. And to be fair, we've been forced to grow used to the seeming inevitability of death in much the same way that our ancestors were forced to accommodate plagues instigated by an inability to understand germs.

On depression:

We scoff at Mr. Spock's clinical mind-set; passion, we argue, is vital to our humanity. But who said "humanity" is the standard upon which we must judge our future selves?

On cosmology:

I want to keep gazing into the void even if doing so invites the void to gaze back. Indeed, provoking a rapport with the emptiness may prove to be part of our duty as a species.

On extraterrestrial visitation:

More to the point, I wouldn't expect alien visitation to be readily understood as such. Like Carl Sagan, I expect contact to be lavishly strange (and can't refrain from noting that, in an interesting twist of logic, the UFO phenomenon has been dismissed by many Sagan disciples precisely because it's strange).

But if we're dealing with an extraterrestrial presence of the sort generally espoused by ufology's old guard, the fact that UFO behavior seems at least partly comprehensible veritably shouts at researchers to address the phenomenon anew. Hence my recent speculation about interstellar AI: certainly a more exotic prospect than "mere" aliens in fancy spaceships, and one more in keeping with contemporary technological futurism.

On the will to believe:

There's a tired quip that those interested in UFOs draw their enthusiasm from an unacknowledged need to experience the numinous without the antiquated baggage of conventional religion. To be sure, it would be amazing to learn that we're being visited by beings from elsewhere; then again, the Cosmos is certainly awe-inspiring enough without the need for interlopers, regardless how sophisticated.

On dissolution:

And we're not necessarily blind to the brick wall bearing down on us; on the contrary, I think we see it all too well. The gestures and symbols are intended to be useless in precisely the same way that last month's cellphones are intended to be thrown out when the fake chrome starts to chip.

On selfhood:

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?

On transience:

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.

On the Fermi Paradox:

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.

[. . .]

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.

On consciousness:

Could Gaia be sentient in some unrecognized sense? If so, how might it communicate (assuming it wanted to)? In David Brin's "Earth," Gaia achieves self-awareness via the electronic nervous system we call the Internet, but perhaps it doesn't need anything so fragile or human-friendly. A global consciousness might manifest in the planet's ambient EM field, in its chemicals, in the molecular architecture of its organisms.

On metaphysics:

Ultimately, do we really need a God to inject our existence with meaning? Even if humanity eventually discards the vengeful, anthropomorphic deities that haunt our religious texts, we might never give up asserting our desire to seek reassurance in the "divine," blinded by the rash, unspoken certainty that the Cosmos must yield to human conceptions of fairness and justice.

But the universe gives every indication of being truly unforgiving -- unless, of course, spacetime was "tuned" to allow life and sentience, a scenario that implies that our presence was, in some unknown fashion, anticipated. I personally lean to the distinctly less flattering notion that all outcomes are realized somewhere in the quantum abyss, rendering our existence (and that of hypothetical ETs) inevitable.

On Roswell:

I know certain readers won't believe this, but I don't especially care what happened. To me, Roswell has never been a matter of "wanting to believe" that aliens are visiting us in fallible metal ships -- because when you really stop to consider it, the idea that we're presumably at the mercy of secretive creatures in fantastical craft comes burdened with its share of existential disquiet.

Certainly it would be nice to know we're not alone in the interstellar dark. But if Roswell was an extraterrestrial event, it leaves the ET motive murky at best. Perhaps, as argued by Stan Friedman, the aliens were busily monitoring our military installations at the dawn of the Cold War in order to assess any threat we might pose. Friedman's scenario is fundamentally peaceable; his alien visitors -- as opposed to the meddling Grays of Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs -- are likable enough, even if they're content to remain encapsulated in their iconic saucers instead of approaching us as openly.

On cinema:

The UFO phenomenon seems to deliberately engage us in a dialogue of images culled from memories both personal and collective. What's to prevent it from recasting alien invaders from a "B" movie if it furthers its attempts to communicate with us, if that is indeed its ultimate goal?
Ah-ha! So it wasn't just me!
Giant Asteroids and International Security

A panel of international scientists has suggested that the UN start preparing for a global defense against the threat of asteroids on collision courses with Earth. Though a large asteroid collision is extremely unlikely (the panel calculate a likelihood of two or three events every 1,000 years), the consequences of such an occurrence could be catastrophic, with potential to threaten all life on the planet.

Skeptologists Attack Ufologists

Skeptics on the other hand, take on a heavy burden in giving themselves that name - it means they're imposing themselves as guardians or gatekeepers to science and the collective body of human knowledge. As such, when they fail to uphold fairness, and fail to understand something when criticising it, they deserve every bit of blowback that they get.

Bear in mind "Skeptologists" is actually the name of the show, not a condescending slur. Is it unreasonable to hope that another fringe group ending with "ology" might decide to sue?

Did our cosmos exist before the big bang?

[Loop Quantum Cosmology] has been tantalising physicists since 2003 with the idea that our universe could conceivably have emerged from the collapse of a previous universe. Now the theory is poised to make predictions we can actually test. If they are verified, the big bang will give way to a big bounce and we will finally know the quantum structure of space-time. Instead of a universe that emerged from a point of infinite density, we will have one that recycles, possibly through an eternal series of expansions and contractions, with no beginning and no end.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tesla Burglar Alarm

A stunning marriage of beauty and function.
Survive the downturn - rent out your swimming pool

If you're looking for a way to make some extra income in the coming years, you could always consider turning that swimming pool in your back yard into a miniature subterranean apartment and renting it out to the recently-foreclosed-upon.

I'm sure J.G. Ballard would approve.
Could coffee be the alternative fuel of the future?

Nevertheless, more than 16 billion pounds of coffee are produced globally every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Misra estimates that the grounds from that haul could be used to make as much as 340 million gallons of biodiesel. For their part, the researchers turned grounds donated by Starbucks into biodiesel that had the added advantage of smelling like a fresh cup o' Joe.

(Via The Keyhoe Report.)

Scientists extract images directly from brain

Pink Tentacle reports that researchers at Japan's ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have developed a system that can "reconstruct the images inside a person's mind and display them on a computer monitor."

This is incredibly exciting news. I'm reminded of the "Until the End of the World," a powerful science fiction film that anticipates a technology that can extract images from dreams.

Bettie Page dies at 85; pinup queen played a key role in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and later became a cult figure

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beyond Any Reasonable Doubt: A Supermassive Black Hole Lives in Centre of Our Galaxy

By tracking individual stars orbiting a common point, ESO researchers have derived the best empirical evidence yet for the existence of a 4 million solar mass black hole. All the stars are moving rapidly, one star even completed a full orbit within those 16 years, allowing astronomers to indirectly study the mysterious beast driving our galaxy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Scientists back brain drugs for healthy people

College students are already illegally taking prescription stimulants like Ritalin to help them study, and demand for such drugs is likely to grow elsewhere, they say.

"We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function," and doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night's sleep, these experts wrote in an opinion piece published online Sunday by the journal Nature.

The commentary calls for more research and a variety of steps for managing the risks.
Here we go again . . .

Virgin Mary in Fort Pierce woman's brain scan; next stop: eBay

A 42-year-old woman without insurance and mounting medical bills plans to sell an MRI scan of her brain in which the image of the Virgin Mary seems to appear.

(Via Boing Boing.)
William Gibson's "Agrippa" revisited.
It's amazing what you can do with mirrors and poultry.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Great Sphinx of Giza reborn as a lion in the desert

The Sphinx in Egypt might have originally had the face of a lion, it is claimed.

And it could be much older than previously thought, investigations led by a British geologist suggest.
More cyborg erotica . . .
Ten Ways the World Could End

Despite what you may think, the universe is not necessarily a friendly place. Sure, things here on Earth have been pretty stable over the past few millennia, allowing human civilization to gain a foothold. But that could change at any time.

Quite honestly, I've never thought the universe was especially "friendly." But carry on!
This sleeping sphinx kitten looks deceptively extraterrestrial.

Religious 'shun nanotechnology'

The researchers compared attitudes to nanotechnology in 12 European countries and the US.

They then rated each country on a scale of what they called "religiosity" - a measure of how religious each country was.

They found that countries where religious belief was strong, such as Ireland and Italy, tended to be the least accepting of nanotechnology, whereas those where religion was less significant such as Belgium or the Netherlands were more accepting of the technology.

Does this really surprise anyone?

Pink Tentacle has more!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Simulation Shows Bacteria Could Live on Mars

Now, building on a tradition of ground-based simulation that extends back to 1958, a new series of experiments, conducted by an interdisciplinary research team from the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, suggests that indeed bacteria could survive beneath the martian soil.

Why I Hope There's No Life on Mars

Why am I such a spoilsport? Because life on Mars would make life on Earth a lot more complicated. First, imagine that there’s no life on Mars. That means we can go there, as we did on lunar missions, with no serious worries about bringing back deadly germs. (We initially quarantined Apollo astronauts upon their return to Earth. But by Apollo 15 NASA had concluded that the moon was as lifeless as, well, the moon.) No concerns about bringing deadly bacteria home, and none about contaminating the moon with earthly bacteria that might mess up its biospheric ecology.

(Both items sighted at The Keyhoe Report.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Oh, what the hell. Take a look at these alleged alien photos.

And for anyone wondering: no, I don't think they're real.

(Significantly or not, the "being" in the photos looks rather similar to the one here.)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

For my fellow entropy fetishists:

The (WU)ltimate 33-Part Guide to Abandoned Places
Options for a Red Giant Future

Planetary engineering on the largest scale might one day reveal itself to us through the observation of a Dyson sphere or other vast object created by an advanced civilization. But it's interesting to think about alternative strategies for using celestial energies, strategies that assume vast powers at the disposal of mankind as projected into the distant future. Thus an interesting proposal from the Swiss theorists M. Taube and W. Seifritz, who consider what to do about the Sun's eventual evolution into a planet-swallowing red giant.

Or do what I did in my short-story "One Hundred Years."

Sign me up.
Examining these technological relics -- and realizing just how quickly they became relics -- I'm almost tempted to adopt Ray Kurzweil's just-around-the-corner brand of Singularitarianism.

(Thanks to Reality Carnival.)
K. Eric Drexler ("Engines of Creation") blogs!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wood Plank Found on Mars?

"What you're seeing is a piece of flat, platy, layered sulfur-rich outcrop rock like we've seen almost everywhere the Opportunity rover has been in Meridiani Planum," said Bell. "Sometimes, like in this case, those flat, platy rocks have been tilted or dislodged, this one probably from the forces associated with the huge impact crater that formed nearby."

I'm with NASA on this one. The "wood plank" has always struck me as one of the lamer Martian "anomalies"; weirdly, its defenders are disproportionately shrill. None of which is to say the "plank" doesn't look like wood. But when seen in context, the sense of mystery vanishes -- which is more than I can say for other, more insistent surface mysteries.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Word of the day: "atompunk."
None of these creatures are exactly cute, but I find the giant coconut crab positively horrifying.

Yep, that's Facebook all right.

(Thanks: Next Nature.)
One I managed to miss:

Giant amoebas found rolling on sea floor

Using a research submarine, marine biologists in the Bahamas have discovered large numbers of an unknown, grape-sized, single-celled animal slowly rolling across the sea floor.

"[It's] huge for a single cell. If I had cells that big I'd be six kilometres tall and weigh three trillion kilograms," said Sönke Johnsen, a biologist at Duke University in North Carolina, and the expedition's chief scientist.

(Via Futurismic.)
Soot Darkens Ice, Stokes Runaway Arctic Melt-Study

Soot or black carbon darkens the ice and makes it soak up more heat, accelerating a melt compared to reflective snow and ice. Methane comes sources including oil and gas and agriculture while ozone is formed from industrial pollutants.

"Reductions in these pollutants would have a greater impact" in the next two decades than curbing emissions of the main greenhouse gas -- carbon dioxide -- according to scientists on the sidelines of 187-nation UN climate talks in Poland.

But have climate scientists properly assessed the threat posed by plastic breasts?

Storm in a C-cup - 130,000 boobs lost at sea

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Kevin Randle responds to the demands of self-appointed UFO expert Phil Plait here and here.
If you're jonesing for Armageddon, you're bound to love Christmas in Kansas City.
Books that breathe. (Watch for the cat!)

(Thanks: Elan.)
Panel warns biological attack likely by 2013

"The United States should be less concerned that terrorists will become biologists and far more concerned that biologists will become terrorists," the report states.

The commission believes biological weapons are more likely to be obtained and used before nuclear or radioactive weapons because nuclear facilities are more carefully guarded. Civilian laboratories with potentially dangerous pathogens abound, however, and could easily be compromised.
The Onion at its best:

NASA Simulator Prepares Astronauts For Rigors Of An Interview With Larry King
A startling video of a meteor over Edmonton, Canada:

Hey, could have been worse:

(Thanks: Centauri Dreams.)
Ross Lovegrove's Solar-Powered Alpine Capsule

The Alpine Capsule is an 8-meter wide structure with a double-glass skin that is covered with a special reflective coating. The coating meant to reflect the structure's surroundings and blend in with the environment. The capsule is straight out of a sci-fi novel and looks more like a bead of mercury than an alpine retreat, but Lovegrove is by no means traditional.

Nice. Now if only it could fit inside that secret tunnel in London . . .
Bizarre absence of acorns in parts of the United States

In some parts of the US, there's been reports that trees aren't bearing acorns this year. "We're talking zero. Not a single acorn. It's really bizarre," said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington.

Monday, December 01, 2008

World's first wave farm up and running

The world's first commercial wave farm in Portugal is now operational. Three 750kW Pelamis Wave Energy Converters (PWEC) have been installed in the first stage of a project which, when complete, will provide enough clean energy to meet the needs of 15,000 households.
Facebook Aims to Extend Its Reach Across the Web

Facebook Connect, as the company's new feature is called, allows its members to log onto other Web sites using their Facebook identification and see their friends’ activities on those sites. Like Beacon, the controversial advertising program that Facebook introduced and then withdrew last year after it raised a hullabaloo over privacy, Connect also gives members the opportunity to broadcast their actions on those sites to their friends on Facebook.

I used to be an intermittent Facebook user -- until I realized I could enjoy most of its worthy elements more quickly and efficiently with Twitter. There's nothing exactly wrong with Facebook, but it's cluttered and inordinately time-consuming.

Patricia Piccinini's disquieting visions of genetic manipulation are cautionary yet strangely endearing. More here.