Saturday, January 31, 2009

"His name is Mac and I want to introduce you to him."

Some of you might remember my appearance in this 80s kid-flick. I was never satisfied with the script and spent many long evenings confined to my trailer arguing with studio execs.

I've been asked to provide a voice commentary for a forthcoming four-disc DVD edition of "Mac and Me." I'll keep you posted.


Ectoplasmosis has more.

Memories of blue

Rising Acidity Is Threatening Food Web of Oceans, Science Panel Says

The oceans have long buffered the effects of climate change by absorbing a substantial portion of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But this benefit has a catch: as the gas dissolves, it makes seawater more acidic. Now an international panel of marine scientists says this acidity is accelerating so fast it threatens the survival of coral reefs, shellfish and the marine food web generally.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Don't read this if you're prone to paranoia.

The Army's Remote-Controlled Beetle

A giant flower beetle with implanted electrodes and a radio receiver on its back can be wirelessly controlled, according to research presented this week. Scientists at the University of California developed a tiny rig that receives control signals from a nearby computer. Electrical signals delivered via the electrodes command the insect to take off, turn left or right, or hover in midflight. The research, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), could one day be used for surveillance purposes or for search-and-rescue missions.

I am an island.

The Waterpod: a Floating Eco-Habitat

Designed to test the feasibility of a fully self-sustaining, floating community, Waterpod is a triple-domed island fashioned from reclaimed wood, metal and plastic and affixed to an eighty by twenty-five-foot surplus barge. Organizers say the primary power sources will be passive and active solar systems combined with a wind turbine which together will power all on-board systems including "rotating art installations and a permanent projector illuminating the Waterpod dome each night."

As long as it comes equipped with Cartrivision, consider me sold.

"Come a little closer and I'll tell you my story."

Is there anything Cartrivision can't do?

Military engagements with UFOs

RAF 'has tried to shoot down UFOs'

UFO expert Nick Pope has revealed RAF pilots have tried to shoot down unidentified aircraft.

Mr Pope, who used to work for the Ministry of Defence investigating UFO sightings, alien abductions and other strange phenomena, said British jets have regularly been scrambled to attack flying objects but have never brought one down.

Putting science back to work

Ask Obama to Restore NASA's Home Planet Mission

It's long been one of our core principles around here that science, practiced with a full embrace of its core values of openness and service, and leavened with a dash of precaution, is one of the most important drivers of our ability to change the world for the better, and that the openness of science is part of the same societal commitment to openness in general that powers democracy, collaborative culture and transparency in politics, law and commerce.

In other words, if we wish to save the planet, we must deal with the scientific realities of living on that planet and the democratic realities of living with one another. Now it appears that we have a U.S. administration that understands this simple truth.

Here's one of the best small, free ways I can think of for America to signal that change: restore NASA's mission statement of service.

Plumbers needed

The Greenhouse Effect and the Bathtub Effect

"The erroneous belief that stabilizing emissions would quickly stabilize the climate supports wait-and-see policies but violates basic laws of physics," Dr. Sterman concluded.

[. . .]

Without greater understanding of the nature of the problem, he says, it will be hard to convince the public of the need for big, prompt, costly changes to the energy system, even when the worst impacts are projected to come later in the century.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bruce Sterling on climate engineering

We Are As (lousy) Climate Engineers, so we might as well get good at it

Geo-engineering will have to be combined with something else to make it seem modest and palatable by comparison. I'd be guessing a climate military-diplomatic crisis, like a unilateral threat by an imperilled nuclear power. "Engineer now or we blow up the top ten carbon-emitting cities, including two of our own. And to show we're not kidding, we're damming part of draining Greenland with a 50-megaton crust-cracker."


'Organic' robots to mimic primitive life

A University of Tokyo research team led by professor/computer graphic artist Yoichiro Kawaguchi is developing robots designed to imitate primitive life forms. Mockups have been put on display at a Shinto shrine in Tokyo, and working versions of the robots are scheduled for completion in two years.

According to the researchers, these robots are being developed as a way to explore artificial life and gain insights into how living things survive in a world governed by the law of the jungle.

So near, so far

Most Accurate Exoplanet Image Yet

The planet in question is HD 80606b, which circles a star about 200 light years from Earth. This is a highly interesting place, some four times the mass of Jupiter and moving within a 111-day orbit around its star. What makes it stand out is the incredible eccentricity of its orbit. We're talking about a world that for most of its orbit is at distances that would be between Venus and Earth here in our system. But then it swoops in ever closer to its primary until it closes to within 0.03 AU, an encounter it experiences for less than a day.

The good stuff

Pulp SF Book Covers That Channel Pure Id

I'm not a big io9 fan, but occasionally it surpasses itself.


I felt unaccountably prurient while watching this video, as if eavesdropping on a mating ritual or alien courtship unintended for human eyes.

(Hat tip to Sentient Developments.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The ultimate UFO intercept vehicle

Truck-mounted laser shoots down spy drone

The Laser Avenger is an infrared laser with power levels somewhere in the tens of kilowatts range mounted on a Humvee off-road vehicle. It is designed to take down the smaller variety of UAV, which are hardest for conventional air-defence weapons to target.

Bad news and good news

But mostly bad news, I'm afraid.

Climate Change Could Choke Oceans for 100,000 Years

According to a simulation of planetary warming trends, failure to drastically cut greenhouse gas pollution within the next half century could choke Earth's oceans for the next 100,000 years.

With warmer temperatures reducing its ability to absorb oxygen, much of the water would become barren and lifeless. Oceanic food chains could be profoundly disrupted.

"What mankind does for the next several decades will play a large role in climate on Earth over the next tens of thousands of years," said geochemist Gary Shaffer of the University of Copenhagen.

New Science Could Help Solve Climate Crisis

A new science that seeks to fight climate change using methods like giant space mirrors might not work on its own, but when combined with cuts in greenhouse gases it may help reverse global warming, a research report said.

In the report published on Wednesday, researchers at Britain's University of East Anglia assessed the climate cooling potential of "geoengineering" schemes that also include pumping aerosol into the atmosphere and fertilizing the oceans with nutrients.

"We found that some geoengineering options could usefully complement mitigation, and together they could cool the climate, but geoengineering alone cannot solve the climate problem," said Professor Tim Lenton, the report's lead author.

It's coming . . .

"Urban slums are the world's fastest-growing human habitat."

Take a long look . . .

Do it for J.G. Ballard.

Cardiopulmonary Spatialization

In the project's accompanying documentation, Nicollier writes that we must learn "to create spaces that provide, through their experience and material substance, enough variability in environmental effects that individual differences in reception and response can be studied and used as a part of curative regimes."

Caught in the rain

The clouds above the city blackened. Eubert Haische withdrew a collapsible umbrella from his trousers and hurried to the sidewalk, boots scattering concrete. The overcast blanketed the street in shadow. Then the rain began, sticky, fist-sized bolts that beat against the awning over his head and splashed resoundingly on the ruined tarmac. The few humans on the street ducked into gutted buildings with faded signs and labyrinthine facades of cracked neon, their umbrellas folding shut.

Eubert was almost at his apartment. He walked, rain pooling at his feet, fingers clenched on the handle of his umbrella. He felt it shuddering in his hand, a living thing governed by a Swarmer chipbrain. The parasol unfurled, a delicate amber membrane veined like a leaf from a tropical plant. Indecipherable Swarmer hieroglyphs blinked on its surface. Stung by sudden frustration, he let the umbrella fall to the ground, where it squirmed its way to the wet street. Rain sucked at his heels as he walked on, oblivious.

A man and a woman in unisex Ministry jumpers walked on the opposite sidewalk, holding hands. Eubert watched them from the corner of his eye as he reached an intersection; they turned a corner and disappeared into shadow.

A Swarmer van, long and segmented, came to a sudden stop in the middle of the intersection. The awning above hung in greasy, beaten rags, revealing the wire rungs beneath. He turned away and braced himself against a cracked concrete wall. Eubert narrowed his eyes, not daring to look into the van's single wan headlight or the thin forms of the emerging Swarmers. Rumors maintained the Swarmers killed eavesdroppers: the tainted rain, oozing through cracks in their exoskeletons, bonded with chemical receptors, inducing them to frenzy. He had watched samizdat footage of the Swarmers at their vicious worst. It was hard to judge how real it all was. Their bodies had the smooth, lean quality of twentieth century computer animation, easy to simulate onscreen.

He watched the Swarmers congregating outside their van, black armor glistening in the streetlights, which had begun to blink on one by one, throwing overlapping rungs of shadow over his hiding place beneath the awning. He heard the van's engine idling: a sloshing sound, like an enormous stomach having a particularly difficult time digesting a meal.

The Swarmers stretched their thin arms and thrust their pleated chests forward. The heavy drops clung to them like molten jewels before vanishing between the cracks in their armor, making their bodies swell. Their feet scrabbled on the tarmac, and Eubert thought he could make out the fluttering of vestigial wings.


She inspected her sac, reassured to find three lamps still remaining. In the three days since departing the small city at the shaft's base, she had found herself increasingly forgetful of what she had taken with her. Running out of light halfway up the shaft might not seal her fate, but the prospect of climbing in darkness, navigating strictly by feel, filled her with a rare dread. Sometimes climbers never came back, and she'd set off fully expecting to find their remains littering the regularly spaces balconies that lined the shaft's interior. So far her trek had been mercifully lacking in macabre thrills; her life had taken on a monochrome aloneness even more pronounced that that in the city, where her only compatriots were the whimsical bioconstructs excreted by the factories and tweaked by human workers.

In the glum light of the lamp, Dep located the ladder: a dark tracing of cast iron that stretched vertiginously up and beyond, rungs caked in scruffy moss and pebbled with insect eggs. Her hands made contact with the rungs and she experienced an unexpected surge of energy. Teeth clenched against vertigo, she resumed climbing.


She reached the next balcony much later. Dep immediately collapsed, supply sac pressed against her side like a malignancy, limbs splayed like spokes in a senseless mandala. Her breath hissed dryly in her throat as she fumbled with her water bottle, wetting her lips and tongue before snacking on a handful of edible-looking larvae she found suspended from the bottom rung of the next ladder. Still chewing, she looked up and found a disc of salmon-colored light peering down at her, cyclopean and unheeding. Almost as suddenly, she noticed that the usually smooth concrete of the balcony had become gritty, soiled with dust and bits of unusual-looking rock that shone redly in the biofluorescence of her lamp.

The skeletons of small, unfamiliar creatures littered the balcony like grim talismans. Their contours reminded her of the pseudo-organisms harvested from the reclamation tanks so perilously far below. But her inner logic told her these were genuine, relics of whatever biology persisted above. On impulse, she scooped several of them up and dropped them into her sac, hoping to sell them to gene merchants upon her return. Perhaps having something tangible to show for her unannounced exploit would take the sting out of her homecoming, or at least dull the awkwardness that typically greeted those who had transcended the shaft's depths.

Hugging her scabbed knees to her chin, Dep studied the gently curving wall. She recognized glyphs etched in the flowing, organic style of her native vocabulary and other, decidedly alien markings that might have predated her fellow travelers by millennia. She spent indeterminable minutes attempting to decipher them, frowning in disgust when her efforts met only failure.

She turned to the vast black pool and chanced a look down. The abyss wasn't as frightening as she had expected. Instead, it filled her with a perverse confidence and sense of giddy infallibility. She stood on the balls of her feet and let her face expand into a feral smile, imagining her lithe form superimposed against rapturous darkness. Dep closed her eyes, concentrating on the tickle of her lank hair and the welcome ache of her muscles.


When she awoke, the lamp had burned itself into a pile of vaguely luminous ash, which she brushed aside with her palm. She watched it descend, wraithlike, until consumed in night. For a moment she longed for the nebular lights of the city below, the familiar rhythms of the life-giving machines, the antics of the chimeras that roosted among the derelict towers and rotting gardens.

And then she was climbing, and she knew this would be the last tier. The pink light above ebbed and flickered as she ascended, toying with her shadow. Within a few hours she could feel a foreign breeze circulating. Migrant insects and pale, nameless organisms with pliant skeletons and mottled wings thrashed, shrieking, amidst tendrils of orange dust.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Run! Run for your lives!

'Immortal' jellyfish swarming across the world

Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die.

Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

(Thanks: Cliff Pickover.)

More praise for "Darklore Vol. II"

Peter Rogerson's review of the 2008 Fortean anthology can be found here.

I hate to break the news, but . . .

New Study Shows Climate Change Largely Irreversible

A new scientific study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reaches a powerful conclusion about the climate change caused by future increases of carbon dioxide: to a large extent, there’s no going back.

The pioneering study, led by NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon, shows how changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped. The findings appear during the week of January 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It's become abundantly clear that merely reducing greenhouse emissions is, at best, only half the battle. We direly need a global program to isolate and confine the C02 that's already there -- and if that entails an enormously costly and unpopular "geo-engineering" campaign then, frankly, so be it.

Personally, given the political reticence that's greeted even token efforts to address the problem scientifically, I have great difficulty imagining that we'll summon the foresight to grapple with this problem on its own terms.

Paging Seth Brundle

Quantum Teleportation Between Distant Matter Qubits: First Between Atoms 1 Meter Apart

For the first time, scientists have successfully teleported information between two separate atoms in unconnected enclosures a meter apart -- a significant milestone in the global quest for practical quantum information processing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wake-up time

The suckerpads must have retracted, because he was awake, snagged in the barrier that separated induced dream from reality. He pulled the helmet off and glanced instinctively at his watch. He had one hour to make it to work.

He shaved, cutting himself. The restorative lotion stung, turning his face into a constellation of pain.

He dressed and walked into the hallway, greeted by psychoactive mists and chirping electronics. Children had tethered utility drones to lengths of thread, leaving them to spin themselves into exhaustion. They appealed to him with silver eyes, appendages flashing in in apprehension, appraising him. Their buzzing formed an odd music: the synaptic hiss that heralds sleep. The walls offered confused visions of cracked cement, fiberglass, holographic graffiti laser-etched into a background of fading brick.

In the lobby, he donned the virtuality gear and burned time wrestling naked Amazons. Their skin had the sheen of obsidian basted with Vaseline; his reconstructed hands slipped from his lithe quarry as he ducked and stabbed and punched with delirious abandon. The Amazons retaliated with flying elbows and jabs from archaic spears that went largely unfelt; he had set the rig to minimum pain settings.

He nursed stigmatic aches as he relinquished the greasy rubber mitts and peeled the oculars from his head. He wiped ghost images from his eyes and shouldered his way through the front door. Morning traffic roared, threatening. A hearse passed, trailed by old-fashioned automated cars with porous tires and tapered stun-guns mounted on their roofs. Brown slush vomited from their dual exhaust pipes.

He began walking, quickly losing himself in unfamiliar streets. He watched a bus pass, oval windows cataract-blank. He found a gutted telephone booth and dialed up the girl's address on his watch, surprised how close he was, how far he had come simply by wandering, committing himself to the anarchy of the pavement.

Glancing periodically at his watch, he approached a stall of public bicycles: skeletal machines of lurid yellow chitin. The bike trembled as he down, odorless sap bleeding from rivets in its spindly frame. Eubert unwound a set of earbuds from the handlebars and listened to Swarmer muzak as he pedaled. The sound turned looming buildings into a psychotronic dream, offices and apartments rising and cascading like the waves and toughs on an EEG reading.

His tires hissed through shallow slush-piles where machines had died and melted under their own obsolete weight. Dirigibles scraped the overcast into a frost-colored pane.

He double-checked his watch, pedaled faster.

Now we're talking.

A Science Fictional Take on Being There

In this era of space-based observatories like CoRoT and (soon) Kepler, most Centauri Dreams readers would likely agree that exoplanetary life may be detected from nearby space (at least with next generation tools), but what gets the attention is Metzger's riff on how a truly advanced alien culture might view us. No need to land on the White House lawn -- why not stay invisible, experiencing our Earth through billions of intelligent 'motes' sent by exploration craft the size of dust grains. One mote could dock with every organic entity on the planet, recording everything it experienced and shipping the data back to the home world.

Now that's telepresence!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This is how it begins.

T-34 security 'bot shoots a web like Spidey to take down bad guys

From the "Aren't you a little short to be a Terminator?" school of design comes the squat Tmsuk T-34, which, while it won't cut you down at the ankles (nor is it a Soviet tank), packs a powerful net-launching mechanism that wraps opponents in a web like Spider-Man's.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

First-class entropy fetishism

Abandoned Amusement Parks in Asia

For a new installment in our popular "Abandoned Amusement Parks" series we look at four beautiful, enchanting and rusting away parks in Asia - South Korea, China, Laos and Japan.

Little green man

Tiny doll made of living cells

According to an announcement made on January 22, the researchers created the tiny figurine by cultivating 100,000 cell capsules -- 0.1-millimeter balls of collagen, each coated with dozens of skin cells -- together inside a doll-shaped mold for one day. After the cell capsules had coalesced to form the doll-shaped mass of tissue, it was placed in a culture solution, where it reportedly survived for more than a day.

(Via Next Nature.)

Just think: ufologists can now claim with absolute confidence that scientists have kept a humanoid life form in laboratory custody.

Take that, Seth Shostak!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The future was then.

Where can I download the soundtrack?

(Thanks: Fashioning Technology.)

Obama and "global consciousness"

Collective consciousness and the inauguration (Dean Radin)

This is an exploratory analysis, so it shouldn't be regarded as persuasive as a preplanned analysis would be. But still, the coincidence in time between what was arguably the single most anticipated moment by hundreds of millions of viewers during the inauguration, and the spike in odds at the same time, is quite striking.

Worlds without end

Dark flow: Proof of another universe?

"If this thing is confirmed and it is real, it will be incredibly important," says Aguirre, "on the same order of discovery as the realisation that those little smudges on the sky are other galaxies. The most important thing it would tell us is that the standard picture is broken in some way. And the most exciting thing it could tell us is that there are other universes."

Indulge me.

The city vanished at his periphery as sleep descended.

Abandoned suburbs eaten by moss, yards quilted with voracious Swarmer lichen. Chimneys like broken pencils holding the sky in condemnation. The Arc overhead, faintly visible in the daytime, ringed in greasy clouds.

Then came the fields, derelict and overrun. Ancient machines crouched in knee-high moss like the remnants of a prehistoric herd. Yellow, clanging metal trucking through the emptiness, a tide of soiled turbines and wheels gooey with spores. Rust-red moss creeping like melanoma across unattended dashboards . . .

Here and there, Eubert saw streets abraded into meandering canals, sluggish algal waters destined for Swarmer facilities. Limber, chitinous biomachines as large as sedans tended the flow with sieves and bacterial tinctures, unruly liquid blossoms like short-lived flowers, petals subsumed by the undertow and dragged away in shreds.

Farther. Now even the clouds had taken on mottled Swarmer color-schemes, oozing through the sky like psychedelic phlegm. Intermittent rains; sour fogs rose to engulf the twin moons.


A blimp had fallen somewhere downtown. Tenants gestured from their windows as the last of the bioluminous ash settled to the streets. The air smelled of smoldering chitin. Above, threads of exhaust traced a doomed rainbow over the skyline.

Eubert's father gripped his hand and hurried him across the street, kicking up ash as they walked. Eubert delighted in the orange-yellow plumes, brief nebulae that vanished in a mob of would-be onlookers. Someone's electronic siren howled from a rooftop, ushering people out of their buildings and into the streets, where entomobiles waited with perked antennae. A handful of tenants unclasped the doors to their decayed Twen-Cen cars, leaving trails of fecal rust as they sputtered down the main street, ringed in dormant neon and faded billboards.

Eubert's father pushed him gently into a vacant entomobile. The thin black door hissed shut and they strapped themselves intro pale, resinous seats.

The streets flashed by, a forest of mirages, gray and dripping. Eubert watched the pedestrian traffic in ill-concealed fascination, prying the ento's passenger window farther open until his fingertips were embedded in warm resin.

He wondered to himself -- though he dared not speak it aloud -- if the Swarmers staged events like this as testaments to their fallibility. Assuming they were fallible.

The glowing ash grew thicker, until at last the entomobile waded through it on its thin legs, leaving short-lived ruts on the surface of dunes.

The blimp, a gelatinous construct studded with instrumentation, had fallen into an intersection, its snub-nosed copula crashing through a storefront. Sprays of tinted plastic darkened the concrete.

A crowd had already gathered to take in the wreckage. Hovering over the mob's heads was a cloud of Swarmer utility drones, cicada wings flickering. Heedless, Eubert's father disembarked, his hands on Eubert's shoulders as they pushed through the onlookers. The drones blocked out the sun and the pale crescent of the Arc. Eubert moved closer, tromping through heaps of cooling orange ash.

A Swarmer VTOL emerged from behind the ruined store, scaly chitin turbofans scattering drones. Eubert and his father put their hands to their faces to block the sudden curtain of ash. Some of it got into Eubert's mouth anyway: it tasted sour, earthy, inexplicably delicious. His heart beat faster.

The VTOL settled onto the blimp's dying bladder. Its fans baked the downed craft's sleek veneer like twin hair-dryers held against a membrane of gelatin. Slime beaded the onlookers' faces.

Three Swarmers emerged from the VTOL's carapace, dressed in snug flannel suits and old bowler hats cinched low over faceted eyes. Eubert could make out the contours of their mouthless faces, their exterior mandibles snug around their pointed chins. His father squeezed his shoulders as if to keep him from bolting forward. Eubert resigned himself to passive observation, not daring to move closer, painfully aware of the teeming human bodies to his right and left.

The Swarmers approached the storefront, leather shoes gooey with the blimp's excretions. Then Eubert saw the body -- a human body -- lying amidst the crushed plastic: an ungainly, bulky-looking thing with skin the color of wax. Threads of paranoia and dread uncoiled in the base of his neck and spine.

The corpse's head was caked in blood and poked obscenely from behind the copula, seeming small and somehow artificial: a demented bauble.

Utility drones began descending in waves, inundating the air with piezoelectric babble. They swarmed and glinted like metallic rain, alighting on bystanders with tiny outstretched cameras and wire-thin legs. Eubert noticed with a start that they were in his hair, fussing with his scalp as they positioned themselves for on-site EEG readings. He yelled and brushed them away, his palms bloody where they had wielded microscopic scythes.

His father steered him closer to the body, though Eubert gathered this wasn't his intention. The throng had begun to shift with a kind of Brownian listlessness, taking them with it. He wondered why the Swarmers, as efficient as they supposedly were, hadn't tried to disperse the crowd -- out of simple embarrassment, if nothing else. Mechanical malfunctions were exceedingly rare, and the downed blimp seemed little more than a monument to waste.

He looked up. The sky rippled with cybernetic purpose, an unnerving tangle of beating wings. The utility drones descended upon the crumpled human body in a silver tide. In seconds the corpse had been reduced to a vague suggestion of itself, the drones feasting on its DNA, palpating the crushed limbs in an elaborately choreographed autopsy. They lifted into the sky in a noisy migration that briefly maintained human form.

In the meantime, the Swarmers had unsealed the door to the copula. Eubert caught a glimpse of crushed exoskeleton and stringy Swarmer guts thrown against uneven gunmetal walls. A single plasma screen stammered alien calligraphy.

By the time he looked up at the second VTOL, he had already started to faint. For a sick moment he stood dizzily in the balmy summer heat, looking out at a landscape of collapsed, comatose bodies. His father had landed on his back, bloodshot eyes gazing sightlessly as the second wave of pheromone rolled over the crowd. His hands, callused from endless back-engineering of Swarmer machinery, fell to his sides before Eubert could fall into them.

Crushed, wet Swarmer flesh. The air seething, displaced by chrome wings. One of the Swarmers stood looking down at him as the pheromone set to work. Eyes like dirty gemstone. Outcroppings of stiff black flesh that gave the fleeting impression of cheekbones.

The creature's suit fluttered as the last of the drones took to the sky. It extended a gloved hand that wasn't a hand -- not exactly -- and pushed his eyelids shut.

He could feel the chill from the Swarmer's fingertips even through the gloveleather.

One-way street

The car swerved madly to the left, pounding over a mossy concrete island that separated the street into two narrow lanes. The undercarriage rasped and clunked; I floundered in my seat, my seatbelt biting into my shoulder, scenery reeling outside. I stared vapidly at the partition, now alive with meaningless animated graphics. We scudded past the far side of the island, tires groping for purchase, chunks of wet asphalt and scorched metal rattling against the windows.

The woman -- it occurred to me with absurd clarity that I still didn't know her name -- was barking commands into the suddenly stuffy air and grappling with the toggle that controlled her door's germicide seal. "We've been hacked," she said, calm infusing her voice.

"But we've got a human driver . . ."

"It found a way in."

I leaned back and uncertainly elevated my legs, ready to kick the partition. The cushions had stopped their hypnotic massage; I felt them clutching at my neck like mittened hands, the metal digits beneath the fake leather poking and straining. I rocked back and kicked the display screen. The veneer of plastic cracked noisily; my boots came away bloody with liquid crystal. The car swerved, accelerated. I kicked again, tucking my head forward to avoid the seat's questing musculature.

The woman had withdrawn a wedge-shaped gun from the folds of her suit. I watched as it telescoped to its maximum length like the proboscis of some grotesquely overgrown insect. The trigger extended from the barrel with a pneumatic sigh and she squeezed it repeatedly, filling the backseat with the lethal clatter of mirror-bright shells. The door exploded, ragged flaps of metal swaying against a kinetic backdrop of decaying stackmalls and defunct machinery. I suddenly realized that the car was taking us toward the base of the nearest skyscraper. I kicked again at the partition, feeling something give. The impact sent waves of pain through my shins and knees.

The woman removed her seatbelt. "We have to jump."

I huddled, staring furiously at the partition. Rivulets of crystal formed a brackish calligraphy, mocking and ever-changing, morbidly hypnotic. I slipped out of my harness and managed a sickened nod. The sliver's graffiti-covered ramparts swelled outside my window.

With insect-like swiftness, she poised herself at the edge of the ruined door, suddenly ominous against the flux of pitted concrete. As an afterthought, she leveled the gun at the partition in front of her, roughly where the head of the driver would be. She fired, jumped; I caught a glimpse of her lithe body hitting the pavement and rolling as the partition dissolved into plastic ash and fissured circuitboard. Through the chest-sized hole left by the blast, I saw something vaguely suggesting humanity hovering, headless, over a luminous dashboard. Then I was on the ground, tumbling, arms smacking against the street in painful rhythm, the roar of the car's engine dopplering like something heard in a dream.

Stillness. And then the visceral slam as the car impacted the building, engine imploding into an indecipherable knot of metal and plastic, hood springing open and detaching like a crumpled sail, gleaming silver through the haze of rain and smoke. A figure dropped from the wreck, limbs scrabbling weakly, the fibrous stump where its head had been wavering like a blunt antenna. Its skin was a uniform flow of dark rain and even darker blood.

The view from above

I'm continually on the lookout for examples of speculative architecture that challenge our sense of selfhood. The designs of Takis Zenetos are weirdly oracular: hyper-realized dreamscapes that straddle the abyss between pragmatism and whimsy.

Sagan and the Hill encounter

Sagan's pervasive condescension notwithstanding, I agree with him that the Hill abduction is far from the definitive case claimed by some UFO researchers (or, as Sagan would have it, "enthusiasts"). But perhaps more troubling are the numerous liberties taken with the Hills' account in the dramatization. To the best of my knowledge, the Hills never described the UFO landing directly in front of their car; rather, they recalled a "roadblock" where they were accosted by beings assumed to be members of the UFO's crew. (Before their abduction, Barney had stopped the car to observe the airborne object through binoculars, shattering his previous conviction that the odd light that had been trailing them was a satellite or other mundane phenomenon.)

Sagan's fanciful depiction of the alleged UFO occupants is at least as disconcerting. Why, for instance, the spooky glowing eyes? While they may have a desirable cinematic effect, the Hills described nothing of the sort. Neither did they recall walking dazedly toward the landed craft without being accompanied by the occupants.

Perhaps these are minor points, and I might not bother complaining had "Cosmos" not been a science miniseries. But if a dramatization's purpose is to reconstruct an event, Sagan's effort falls conspicuously short. And while I tend to agree with Sagan's breakdown of the "star map" controversy, I fail to understand why Betty Hill's possibly garbled recollection undermines the overall validity of her testimony. Sagan appears to delight in using the star map as a straw man. While his specific points are well-made, he effectively ignores the purported abduction itself.

To my mind, the Hill encounter -- whatever it represents -- constitutes a single stitch in a tapestry of claims of extraterrestrial contact. To regard it without the benefit of context, both folkloric and contemporary, is to purposefully misunderstand its significance.

A phobia just waiting to happen

No obstacle too high for climbing snakebots

Among the growing menagerie of crawling, scuttling, swimming and slithering robots, researchers have developed a collection of articulated snakebots that reach beyond the usual repertoire of biological motion by literally rolling up or down obstacles.

(Via The Keyhoe Report.)


Space elevator may be possible thanks to revolutionary new material

The idea of a space elevator to allow for quick and easy transport to a space base is not new, but we may be getting closer to it becoming a practical reality. That's because a new form of carbon ribbon that's ultra-flexible and super-strong could be just what is needed to construct the first working model.

It seems likely to me that the material needed to build a working space elevator could be developed within a few decades. If so, will we aggressively pursue the concept?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Supernatural Investigator

Me staring wistfully at an observatory.

Canada's Vision TV has posted a video teaser for "Supernatural Investigator." Take a look!

Paul Kimball: a haunted man

In Ghost Investigating, Vol. I, film-maker and comrade Paul Kimball writes:

As the hour went along, Holly and I were joking about Hutchings (well, mostly I was joking), and I was "challenging" him to appear if he really was there as a ghost. For several minutes, I had even hung a real noose around my neck as I sat there. Then, all of sudden, in one of those moments when Holly and I were being quiet, I had this feeling that the air around my throat had gotten noticeably colder - much colder than the room even. It was as if, to borrow an old song lyric of mine, the night wrapped around my throat. There was no choking sensation, but it was definitely an abnormal feeling.

I must admit: I had Paul all wrong. Once a seemingly rational and articulate proponent of serious UFO research, Kimball has obviously descended into a mire of sheerest lunacy.

But seriously -- I'm intrigued that Paul's intrigued. I could wax theoretical for many paragraphs -- and perhaps I will later -- but "ghost" hunting suddenly becomes much more interesting when someone trustworthy reports anomalous experiences (regardless whether or not they emanate from the realm of the departed).

Even better, perhaps there's a valuable ufological lesson to be learned as well.

Dystopian interlude

Eubert slouched in his chair. Its thin organic frame accordion deftly, adapting to the curve of his back. "I don't dream," he said. "I use an enceph."

He got up and crossed the room to his mattress. The enceph lay padlocked to a titanium ringlet sealed to the floor. He picked it up, hefted it on its length of tarnished chain. The enceph was flexible, barely; he pressed against its top until the electrodes inside caught the light like so many octopus sucker-pads.

"But that's not dreaming," Sterope said. "It's artificial. Like playing a game." She shook her head, disgusted with herself. "Well, that's not right either. You're not playing it; it plays you."

Eubert dropped the enceph to the mattress and walked back onto the dead lawn, grinding a weed under his heel. The sunlamps fixed to the ceiling threw his face into relief: thinning brown hair, large ears, a nearly lipless mouth touched by a congenital half-smile. He scratched mold from his cheek. "You're awfully cynical," he said.

"I'm not sure I know what that means."

Eubert shrugged. "I'm not sure you do either." He sat back down on the collapsible chair. "You mean to tell me you don't use an enceph?"

Sterope smiled awkwardly and hugged her knees to her chest. "That's what I'm saying."

"And the Ministry lets you get by with it."

Her smile faded. "They don't ask, I don't tell."

"Dreaming," Eubert said wonderingly.

"Maybe you should try it."

"I've tried it," he said.

"When you were a kid. Before you were fitted." She laughed dryly. "You're such a prude. Such a square. It's almost endearing." She stared into her empty vial and extended it to the robot.

"Thank you, madam," the robot said, plucking the vial from her fingers. It trudged off through the ankle-high grass. Weeds caught in its treads and dripped yellow spores that made both of them sneeze. It crossed the shallow fiberglass bunker that separated the garden from the rest of the apartment. Eubert almost hurried after it, decided not to at the last second.

"You think I live by the book," he said.

"I know you do."

He shook his head. "We all have vices. Even the Swarmers. Even me."

Sterope looked skeptical and watched the sun set through the apartment's panorama window. The city, crumbled and dirty, welcomed the night. In minutes the only outlines left were those of the Swarmer office towers, glowing blue in vigil. Scattered dirigibles coasted above, tentacles dangling like the legs of airborne wasps.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cosmic holography

Whitley Strieber remarks on the implications of recent evidence suggesting our universe might be a giant hologram:

Hogan says that there "could still be a mundane source of the noise," and until all possible sources are ruled out, we cannot be certain that we are detecting the grains that make up a hologram that comprises reality.

However, if that's true, it might explain a lot to those of us who have found ourselves living at the indeterminate edge of experience. The reason is that the very graininess of reality may be drawn into consciousness in the form of perceptions that reflect reality in unique ways. And the issue of how individual 'grains' of the holographic universe may relate to the whole will need to be addressed by physics, and it is possible that the attempt to do so itself will affect our place in, and perception of, reality in ways that we can scarcely now imagine.

Cherished heirloom or landfill-bound grotesquery?

Print Your Baby!

The London Ultrasound Centre in the UK offers the ability to take a 3D scan of your offspring - before birth - and produce a 3D print of the child. Actually, the 3D Print is simply used to create a mold for subsequent bronze casting.

(Via Beyond the Beyond.)

Operative word: "inevitable"

Bullet Flight 1.0.0 -- the US$15 iPhone app for snipers

Bullet Flight turns the iPhone into a handy, touch screen, ballistics computer using the iPhone's accelerometer to calculate angles, providing highly detailed, very quick solutions out to 2000 metres. The KAC mounting attaches an off-the-shelf Otterbox ruggedising case. You can also download different weapon and ammunition profiles (it comes with three) and even subscribe to highly detailed weather and forecast information, not to mention listen to music whilst you await your quarry.

It doesn't get much better.

Pink Tentacle has more deliciously kitschy credit card advertisements to show you.

As above, so below

Earth-mass Exoplanets and Their Uses

Will the discovery of an Earth-analog elsewhere in the galaxy be a one-day event, to be eclipsed by still more 'breaking news' in the perpetually overheated reporting cycle? Chances are it will, but my hope is that each intriguing exoplanet discovery will give us a brief window to work on public awareness of Earth's place in the cosmos. If we choose to become a star-faring species, it will be because on the broadest possible level we will have placed ourselves in the context of a galaxy that may well be aswarm with living worlds. The key is to get people thinking, one story, one idea, one planet at a time.

EERIE Radio appearance

My latest discussion with the hosts of EERIE Radio has been posted. Download or listen to the show here.

To gaze upon it is to be humbled.

The Entire Terrifying Heap of Neal Stephenson's Handwritten BAROQUE CYCLE

Yet another exoplanet

Transit Search Finds Super-Neptune

HAT-P-11b was discovered because it passes directly in front of (transits) its parent star, thereby blocking about 0.4 percent of the star's light. This periodic dimming was detected by a network of small, automated telescopes known as "HATNet," which is operated by the Center in Arizona and Hawaii. HAT-P-11b is the 11th extrasolar planet found by HATNet, and the smallest yet discovered by any of the several transit search projects underway around the world.

It seems like a new exoplanet is discovered roughly as often as I receive a new Windows software update.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Terminal dissolution" indeed

The Beauty Of Urban Decay

Across the tracks, away from the dazzle of downtown, lies a darker imagination, this one looking to grunge-ridden, dilapidated architecture for inspiration. There is a beauty that pervades this kind of urban decay and captured wonderfully through a photographer's well-trained eye. These industrial city scenes are wonderfully dark and offer a glimpse of the weathered face beneath the city facade.

(Via Grinding.)

Feast your eyes.

I'm not sure if I've ever seen this much post-apocalyptic art in one place before.

Isn't it time you read them all?

Evidently, some people actually read this blog.

Here's the proof.

The synopsis for Peter Watts' new novel . . .

. . . is about as mouth-watering as they come.

Megascale interstellar artifacts?

Russia's Millimetron Space Observatory - The Search for Astro-engineering in the Universe

Russia has a new space mission in preparation that can be used for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The project Millimetron is a millimeter and sub-millimeter space observatory with a 10 meter diameter mirror, very sensitive receivers for single dish mode and will be used for orbiting VLBI (Very Long Base Interferometer). This telescope would be convenient for a very sensitive all sky survey with the possibility of constructing images of sources with a very high angular resolution. The mission will be useful for the search for astro-engineering constructions in the universe.

Guess what? Titled posts!

Some of you have requested titled posts for easy RSS navigability. Unfortunately, I didn't realize post titles were accessible with the template I'm using. I'm going to give them a try; with any luck I can tone down that unsightly brick-red . . .

Update: Ignore that last comment about the "unsightly brick red." Turns out it was easily remedied.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Easily the funniest find of the day:

Krispy Kreme Versus US Right To Lifers

The vigilant Chris Wren weighs in here.
Behold the future of trompe l'oeil:

More here.

(Hat tip to Grinding.)
Antarctic Ice Shelf Set To Collapse Due To Warming

"We've come to the Wilkins Ice Shelf to see its final death throes," David Vaughan, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), told Reuters after the first -- and probably last -- plane landed near the narrowest part of the ice.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

650 Million Years In 1:20 min

(Thanks to Cliff Pickover's Twitter feed.)
Please welcome Symbol Interface and The Human Condition to the sidebar.
Massive 10ft Spinning Ice Circle Discovered in the UK

It's no secret that people in the UK are forever complaining about the weather, but it seems this week they were well within their rights. For the first time ever a rare phenomenon usually only seen in extremely cold countries was spotted on the River Otten in Devon.

A massive spinning ice circle caught the attention of Roy Jefferies as he was walking his dog by the river last Wednesday morning. Measuring a whopping 10 ft in diameter, the rotating disc sat stationary in the river where two currents merge.
Found while rummaging my hard-drive for abortive original fiction:

The lobby was cramped and sad with decay, a fungal museum of twentieth century architectural tropes. The ceiling leaked slime and the overhead lights had been replaced with bare 40-watt bulbs. Ancient fans set them swaying; the room throbbed and writhed in misplaced shadow.

The elevator had been scavenged for its electronics. In its stead, the ad-hoc building administration had installed a frail spiral staircase, perennially wet, the grilled steps carpeted with gene-hacked Swarmer mold. Sensing body heat, the mold would light a psychedelic green that, though faint, left painful afterimages. Swarmer biotech asserted itself with belligerent intensity, borne on the air, taking up residence wherever possible until all that was terrestrial about a place -- all that was normal -- had been leeched, an implacable dampness left in its place.

Sterope Graff stood playing an arcade game in the corner, hands locked into mitts of rotting black rubber, a bowl-shaped virtuality helmet flattening her long black dreadlocks. She had pressed earbuds deep into her aural canals.

Eubert watched her as she gesticulated blindly, hips stiffening as she braced herself against unseen foes, head bobbing and weaving. Her 'locks thrashed behind her like the wake of a dark comet. Eubert found her movement funky and dreamily erotic. He sat down on a circular sofa with sagging acrylic cushions, aware of the stink of Nourishment clinging to his Bureau-issued worksuit. His skinny bar-coded necktie lay creased in his lap.

He looked at his watch, one of the awkward black affairs mandated by the Swarmers. He put it to his ear and listened to the malevolent clicking of its transponder. He nodded in rhythm, and saw with elation that Sterope moved in time. Somehow, the storm of electrons pouring from her rig corresponded to the device that invisibly governed his life.

Our lives intersect, he thought. At least on some level.
The global infrastructure had been in free-fall for over two decades, transforming the surface of the planet, eroding the fragile allegiances that kept the animate from mingling too intimately with the inanimate. Early 21st century academics had referred to it as the Singularity. Now we called it the Plague, the Spasm, the Big Malf. I supposed there was something transcendental beneath all of the leprous confusion, but it remained elusive, like the thin chemical smoke left after a defoliation attempt.

As an anthropologist, part of me had welcomed the Malf. It had shattered the distribution curve that comprised the human race, warping and bending it into uncanny new shapes, some recognizable, others less so. And some -- the ones I sought out among the malleable, twitching guts of what had once been a populated human city, wreathed in smog and enlivened by the whirr of thousands of engines -- far beyond anything imagined.
Anime stepped from the recessed bed, cool recycled air playing against her bare skin. She glanced down into the shallow contoured basin that held the gel mattress; the man's sleeping body had curled into a fetal position beneath the randomly flickering translucent sheets. She was reminded of insect pupae, snug in cocoons of dried slime while the world progressed around them as if in time-lapse.

The buoyant lunar gravity seemed to caress her as she navigated the darkened bedroom. She had ever known the torturous pull of Earth or the chest-constricting push of take-off. Her bones, though augmented by supplements and periodically refreshed by nanomachines, were as temperamental as so many glass sticks.

The bedroom was cavernous: faceted walls, dormant flatscreens, polished lunar regolith that absorbed shadow like some vampirish sponge. Silicates extracted from lunar soil had been turned into walls of opaque glass inset with palm-sized newsfeeds and free-form holography. The screens bled light, illuminating transparent furniture, scattered components of virtuality workstations. A brain-link lay coiled on the floor between her feet, nasal studs encrusted with blood and mucus. The man she had slept with had used it before they had gone to bed, his eyes staring at nothing.

One side of the room featured a louvered window, shut to block the unfiltered glare of the Sun across the ash-gray plain. Invisible retinal scanners sensed the intent in her eyes and the louvers parted with a quick whispering sound. The man continued sleeping, chest heaving beneath the sheets. Mossy-green light played across his closed eyelids.

Standing naked in the dark, she wondered if she was something more than the moonbase's AI, a mere extension of its sensory embrace. She knew she was artificial; she had seen her own skin lifted from a frothing vat like a pinkish wetsuit, hands like empty gloves, facial features deflated into a thoroughly demeaning caricature. The techs had installed her sense of body-identity before adding the actual body; her abrupt adolescence had been spent in a grueling immersive dialogue with Turing auditors.

Her first vision of the world -- the real world, as opposed to the auditors' cybernetic fictions – had come when her body had achieved a semblance of womanhood. She remembered awakening in a scalding foam of nanomachines, gloved hands drawing her up into a haze of disembodied eyes and fluorescent strips that left rungs of purple light on her newborn retinas. She knew intuitively why the techs were wearing rebreather masks; she was an infestation in the form of a woman, to be handled with obsessive care.

Shortly thereafter, the first of her implanted memories had risen to the surface, as silently and impersonally as newsfeeds. She knew they weren't true memories -- her designers hadn't wanted to deceive her into adopting some phantom past. Not for her convenience, but for theirs: her sudden emergence on the Moon would have taxed any fictitious past, breaking its own narrative stability and quite likely her psyche in the process.

The Moon appeared behind the polarized glass: a tortured yet somehow peaceful surface of petrified dunes and hulking rocks that gleamed near-silver in the light from the landing beacons. The Earth was an anonymous crescent, defining features veiled by cloud.

Memories: episodic flashes of oceans overgrown with a gray, fibrous substrate, hordes of metal insects dripping their armored eggs over quarantined cities. A mushroom cloud seen from a great distance: as insubstantial as a cheap hologram -- not the incandescent orange she would have expected had the memory actually been hers, but a sickly luminous gray-brown . . . the unassuming color of a camouflaged moth.

She walked away from the window, a chill creeping up her legs as she headed for the bathroom and donned a thin white robe. Above the toilet -- little more than a streamlined bulge emerging from the yielding dun-colored tile -- was a mirror. She looked into it wincingly, bothered by the quizzical stare, lank black hair, pursed lips.

Anime wondered whose DNA was incubating beneath the unassuming olive of her custom-crafted skin. For some reason it seemed to matter, as acutely as if she carried some potent and uncategorized virus. Again, memories of Earth, leaving a taste like cheap plastic in her mouth.
Armageddon fetishists take note: the allure of oblivion pervades this moody photo retrospective.

Nuage Vert "Green Cloud" Illuminates Emissions

We are seeing some significant achievements in environmental change -- and we hope that with public art works like this large-scale environmental art installation by French art duo HeHe (Helen Evans and Heiki Hansen) that greater eco-consciousness will characterize 2009.


Sky TV

Photographer Blake Gordon has been documenting the geometric effects of light pollution in Austin, Texas, capturing thinly defined shapes in the clouds, projected upward from the tops of buildings.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nerves took root as the liquid flesh congealed on her body, bonding with exposed muscle and stifling the flow of pus and blood that had persisted despite the application of bandages. Fresh nerves -- better than the charred originals and duly patented -- brought with them a sensory clarity that reminded her of purchasing her first HDTV flatscreen and quietly marveling at the resolution.

For long hours she immersed herself in the sheer amniotic newness of her body, aware of its patient coagulation, its inexorable stiffening into something that, ultimately, would serve her in her new life. The gloved hands of the biotechnicians slowly receded and she found herself in succulent darkness, a creature of transition.
Another work-in-progress:


The creatures appeared during the summer. We'd already managed to acclimate ourselves to the Object that had coincided with the first sightings. Their eventual mass appearance shouldn't have been a surprise; some, privileged with hindsight, would doubtlessly argue that we should have been expecting them.

The Object -- no one had ever coined a more satisfying alternative to the term heard so often in those initial newscasts three years ago -- had seemed innocuous, a skyborne bauble that almost could have passed for some natural phenomenon if not for its conspicuous, burnished surface. Or the circular pits -- dubbed "portals" by the backyard astronomers who had posted the original images to the Web. I suppose we'd secretly expected the Object to remain as mute and implacable as it had since it had appeared in orbit.

The creatures shocked everyone. Not necessarily because of their appearance, about which little or nothing could be determined at first, but because of their numbers. They took to our streets like a tide of insects, a crush of unyielding alien flesh. It took all of three days for infrastructure to succumb; we knew people were dying even before the telecom grid crashed.

The Web shuddered and fell silent. And then they came for us in earnest.


The abrupt isolation came as a welcome respite. Most Midwesterners had vanished in the first wave of attacks, although I now wondered if the visitors' bid for supremacy qualified as an "attack" in the normal sense. What little I'd seen firsthand resembled nothing less that a serial execution, bodies fastidiously cremated in the invasion's wake.
Behold the frogfish.
This window stain is actually being cited as evidence of alien visitation.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The fun continues at

The Semantics of Alien Visitation

In addition, both Keel and Vallee share a pronounced distaste for tales of crashed alien hardware a la Roswell; according to Keel's take, a physical event as pronounced as a crippled UFO is effectively impossible, as his "aliens" are largely immune to dangers posed by the world of gross matter.

Some speculators make the mistake of thinking that the revisionist, postmodern cosmology advanced by Vallee and Keel is incompatible with the hallowed ETH. But in truth both models are anything but mutually exclusive. It's even possible to imagine technological aliens from some distant star developing the ability to access Keel's "superspectrum" for reasons we can only guess.
Mars strategy shift eyed as methane boosts odds for life

The Mars Science Laboratory rover may be retargeted to land near a methane vent on Mars to specifically seek direct evidence of current Martian life.

Yeah, that might be a good idea. Better have some committees look into it.

Planet of the Apes Font by Filmfonts

Just think of the great condolence missives you could make with this.

(Thanks: Boing Boing.)
The film festival continues with this surrealistic gem:

(Hat tip: Uncertain Times.)
An ambiguous short (as in really short) film in which William Burroughs scrutinizes a parrot:

Don't try adjusting the volume; the clip is silent.
A story fragment from my fiction blog, which I'm considering deleting:

The device looked like a pitchfork, and served the same basic function. Only the keypad -- contoured to fit the bright red ergonomic handle -- gave it away. In the dim evening light, Kris couldn't help but keep her eyes on the steady lambent green of its readout. Unmistakable verdant clusters showed her where the next bodies were, already scoped out and tagged by the sleek, cheerfully stickered aerostats that had arrived yesterday in a blur of skyborne polymer. She walked slowly through the thickening marsh, anonymous chemicals leaving scabrous rings on her haz-mat boots. The reflected glow from the pitchfork's keyboard regarded her from below, a strange second moon that swelled and rippled in synch with her movements.

She saw the next body a moment later. A civilian, just as the tags had indicated. Face-down, arms splayed like spokes in a senseless mandala. Just barely visible through a tangle of weeds and styrofoam.

She gritted her teeth and raised the pitchfork. Icons blinked like eager green eyes. Visored face averted, she lowered the fork's tines in a single practiced movement, only vaguely aware of the sudden yielding of flesh as the device swarmed into the corpse's increasingly porous confines. The tines extruded sensors and barely visible nanotech spores: gear beyond the carrying capacity of the aerostats, the tutorials had made a point to remind her, lest she yield to the sense of obsolescence that had characterized her stay in Florida. Over the last three months her initial paranoid suspicion that she was redundant -- a human face amidst the coastal blight -- had festered into an equally paranoid certainty. She'd come to view the omnipresent drones, airborne and otherwise, with ill-defined suspicion.

It was the clean-up, of course. The bodies. Especially the bodies. She tried not to look anymore; the pitchfork (she'd already tried and failed to quit calling it that, and it didn't help that the other members of her crew insisted on the same grisly anachronism) did most of the work, after all. The Consortium needed volunteers because it needed muscle to bear its gear -- to say nothing of the PR benefit of dispatching flesh-and-bone humans when sending in robotic surrogates couldn't have been that much more difficult.

A timer chimed. She withdrew the fork with a wince of mingled reluctance and nausea. She'd taken her day's dose of neuroinhibitors, of course; medically speaking, she shouldn't be able to conscience nausea, let alone feel it stirring in her gut.

Some things never changed.
Found Image #33

I couldn't resist.
They Entered Gamespace to Refill Their Neuro-Drives

No it's not a spaceship, or a game show set, or even the backdrop to a J-pop music video. It's an immersive advertisement for gaming.

Called the flatflat store, the space was created in a very long, narrow space by Sako Architects to sell game products from NHN Japan. Visitors to the store get instant access to hangame, an online games portal, and, a games portal for mobiles. Walk in and use one of the store's big-screen interfaces to the portal, or just open up your mobile device and start playing.

All well and good, but I don't see an espresso machine anywhere . . .

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Morphing gel display puts images at your fingertips

A tactile display made from a watery gel that changes shape to show objects on its surface has been developed by German electrical engineers.

It uses a hydrogel, the type of material used to make soft contact lenses, which consists mainly of water bound up within a polymer. Some hydrogels can swell or shrink in response to changing conditions like temperature or acidity.

I'm reminded of the squishy insectile typewriters from Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch."
Coffee-induced hallucinations? Caffeinated co-eds hear voices, study says

Java is known to give some people the jitters if they drink too much of it. But can it also trigger hallucinations?

It may if you consume enough of it, say British psychologists, who report in the journal Personality and Individual Differences this week that college students they studied said they sometimes heard faux voices after chugging at least seven cups of coffee daily.

Oh, this explains a lot.
Obituary for Dr. Thomas C Van Flandern

In his book "Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets", Dr. Van Flandern presented the case for several controversial theories, most notably that the speed of gravity must propagate significantly faster than the speed of light; both comets and asteroids are remnants of an exploded planet; back-ground radiation is not caused by an expanding universe and therefore the big bang is invalid; Mars is an escaped moon of an exploded planet formerly located in the asteroid belt; and that some structures on Mars are artificial.

Mars Methane: Geology or Biology?

My money's on biology.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From a work-in-progress:

A journeyman ufologist's introduction to the abduction phenomenon usually begins with a recounting of the capture of Betty and Barney Hill in New Hampshire in 1961. Believed at the time to be the first kidnapping of humans by UFO occupants, the Hills' account contains virtually all of the elements contained in later narratives (which reached a near-fever pitch in the mid-1990s, stoked by an obliging media and the success of several influential books).

There's little doubt that something unusual happened to the Hills. At the very least, both Betty and Barney recalled seeing an unidentified object apparently trailing their car. The account becomes more explicit upon Barney's attempt to view the object through binoculars; upon magnification, he witnessed a "pancake"-shaped vehicle sporting triangular fins and red lights. More startling yet, he could discern occupants behind a row of windows, including one raptly staring humanoid he found especially threatening. The ensuing abduction has become the stuff of ufological legend, as has the Hills bout with "missing time," an element that recurs throughout later accounts.

Under hypnosis by Boston psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon, Betty recalled a conspicuously chatty alien "leader" whose human demeanor was only slightly less outlandish than his bizarre questions. (Ironically, the Hill abduction -- widely cited as one of the best cases to suggest an extraterrestrial origin for UFOs -- is at least as amenable to indigenous beings engaged in deliberate psychodrama. The "leader's" presentation, complete with 3-D star map showing alien trade routes -- seems staged, his queries sampled from "B"-movie science fiction.

Nevertheless, one comes away from the Hill episode forced to confront what was almost certainly a "real" encounter. But the reigning interpretation -- that the Hills were the victims of a chance run-in with ET interlopers -- owes more of its appeal to the mythological syntax at our disposal than any particular piece of evidence. (Barney's testimony, while deemed sincere by Simon, is notably less explicit than Betty's, and may well betray unwitting contamination from his wife.)

Inquiry into the nascent abduction phenomenon was forced to adapt to the now-familiar reproductive overtones upon the rediscovery of the Antonio Villas Boas case of 1957. Boas, a farmer, claimed a forcible encounter with a UFO in which he had sex with a fair-skinned female. Like today's "Grays," Boas described his seductress as short and large-eyed, with a lipless mouth and pointed chin that suggest the cover painting for Whitley Strieber's best-selling "Communion," not published until 1987. Though exotic, she was far from the specimen expected from mere erotic fantasy; Boas himself described her as paradoxically repellent and desirable. Reading his account (initially censored by the UFO community), one wonders in what ways Boas might have been coerced into his sexual encounter: an ordeal that left him oddly emasculated, resigned to having served as mere breeding stock. (Although critics are quick to point out his possibly self-aggrandizing reference to himself as a "prize stud.")

Before Boas was escorted off the "spaceship," the woman pointed significantly to her abdomen and in the direction of the sky. Advocates of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis have interpreted this as a reference to the woman's ET heritage, but at the same time they've effectively ignored the troublesome prospect of genetic compatibility. Granted that Boas had intercourse with an extraterrestrial, what are the chances that two independently evolved humanoid species could "mate" in any viable sense?

In "Revelations," Jacques Vallee compares the feasibility of conceiving a human-alien hybrid to that of a human attempting to breed with an insect. Certainly, if Boas encountered a genuine ET, then "they" have achieved a most remarkable degree of impersonation -- not an altogether impossible achievement for a civilization capable of traveling between stars but one that arouses substantial skepticism. The law of parsimony begs the speculation that the beings who abducted Boas were human in at least some essential respects.

Contemporary abduction reports are fraught with much of the same ambiguity. While an abductee's surroundings may seem bizarre enough to an addled witness, evidence of extrasolar origin is at best superficial. Occasionally an abductee reports visionary episodes (apparently instigated by the abductors with the assistance of audio-visual technology that recalls Betty Hill's famous star map). Abduction researchers like Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs are forever on the lookout for hypnotically derived alien symbols, perhaps glimpsed on walls or uniforms, in hopes of finding validating tools for future research.

But what too often passes unmentioned is the relative dearth of reports involving transport from the abductee's normal environment to that of the supposed ETs. In many cases, no mention is made of a UFO or "spaceship"; the transition from "here" to "there" proceeds with unnerving haste, often accompanied by partial amnesia and a wordless certainty of having been taken vast distances. (Reports of actually visiting otherworldly locales, common fare in the heyday of the contactees, are seldom encountered in the abduction literature.)

The quintessential alien environment is spartan, unencumbered by decor. The aliens are characterized as colorless, dispassionate creatures whose behavior resembles that of hive-dwelling insects or even machines. As in the Hill case, there's sometimes a "leader" in attendance, although the tone of the abduction is far from conversational. Any "wisdom" imparted by the aliens is predominantly vague or philosophically obstinate. And while the beings can seem terrifically unearthly in the flesh, they avoid explicit references that might shed light on their origin or purpose.

Debunkers have pounced on the endlessly elusive nature of the abduction experience in order to expediently dismiss it. In "The Demon-Haunted World," for example, Carl Sagan laments the fact that abductees have yet to emerge with artifacts that would demonstrate the physical reality of their experiences.
First glimpse of exoplanet atmosphere from Earth

Two separate teams of scientists reported Wednesday the first-ever detection from Earth of the atmosphere of planets outside our solar system.

Taken together, the studies open a new frontier in the study of exoplanets, hard-to-detect celestial bodies circling stars beyond our own solar system.
Top 5 Bets for Extraterrestrial Life in the Solar System
Three structures I wouldn't mind seeing escape the confines of CGI:

(Thanks: Future Blogger.)
Cliff Pickover:

I tend to be skeptical about the paranormal. However, I do feel that there are facets of the universe we can never understand, just as a monkey can never understand calculus, black holes, symbolic logic, and poetry. There are thoughts we can never think, visions we can only glimpse. It is at this filmy, veiled interface between human reality and a reality beyond that we may find the numinous, which some may liken to God.
Greg Bishop with legendary Fortean John Keel, author of "The Mothman Prophecies" and "Our Haunted Planet." Keel is clearly miserable and wishing Bishop would leave him alone.
Brazil Intelligence Agency Investigated UFOs in 1970s

The operation was launched after newspapers in those states reported the sighting of "mysterious lights that caused deaths and hallucinations" among those who saw them, Folha de Sao Paulo said, adding that some eyewitnesses suffered from "symptoms of paralysis, superficial burns, intense heat, trembling and tiny holes in the skin."

Some reports filed by intelligence officers, who slept by day and worked at night, described "bluish lights" that traveled at a high rate of speed across the sky.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Life As We Know It Nearly Created in Lab

Now scientists have created something in the lab that is tantalizingly close to what might have happened. It's not life, they stress, but it certainly gives the science community a whole new data set to chew on.

The researchers, at the Scripps Research Institute, created molecules that self-replicate and even evolve and compete to win or lose. If that sounds exactly like life, read on to learn the controversial and thin distinction.
OK, I'm sold. Where do I send the check?
Japan researchers unveil robot suit for farmers

The 25-kilogramme (55-pound) device is designed to assist elderly farmers who need support for their leg muscles and joints when they keep a crouching position or lift their arms high.

In a demonstration, a person wearing the suit pulled radishes from the ground and picked oranges from high branches like a robot.

Just what the hell is it with robots and farmers lately anyway?
My blog's got a radio station (see sidebar).

More songs are on the way. Enjoy!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chinese farmer builds 'bot to lug him around, loves it a bit too much

A Chinese farmer by the name of Wu Yulu travels around his hometown exclusively by rickshaw -- and one pulled by a robot, no less. It's his own creation that he calls the "30 Second Son" for its operating time. Yulu controls it with a steering wheel, and it even talks, saying, "I'm a rickshaw-pulling robot. Wu Yulu is my Dad, I take him out about town."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Yasufuku 2.0: Prize bull cloned 13 yrs after death

Japanese scientists have successfully cloned a prize beef cow more than 13 years after it died, it was announced on January 6. The legendary steer -- named "Yasufuku" in his first life (1980-1993) -- is regarded as the father of Hida beef, a high-quality meat from Gifu prefecture famous for its marbled texture and rich flavor.
The latest at

Intelligence and the Cosmos: Some Barely Restrained Musings

Maybe the reason we don't hear the incessant chatter of extraterrestrial radio transmissions or see megascale engineering works etched onto the dome of the night sky isn't because alien intelligences have uploaded themselves into addictive virtual environments; perhaps they've shed their physical forms, but in an altogether different fashion. They might inhabit a previously undetected cosmological substrate, enmeshed in the universe's deep structure as we twitch feebly on the surface, so many bacteria in an intergalactic Petri dish.
The burgeoning research culture of synthetic biology demystified:

(Hat tip to Grinding.)
CES 2009: Flexible OLED Wrist Display Unveiled

This thing packs some serious cyberpunk cache.

See also: HP Announces Flexible Computer Screens On the Horizon
U.S. scientists learn how to levitate tiny objects

"By reducing the friction that hinders motion and contributes to wear and tear, the new technique provides a theoretical means for improving machinery at the microscopic and even molecular level," Dr. Duane Alexander of the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said.

"The emerging technology of nanomechanics has the potential to improve medicine and other fields," he said in a statement.

The discovery involves quantum mechanics, the principles that govern nature's smallest particles.

(Via The Keyhoe Report.)
Portishead perform "Machine Gun" live in Berlin:

Is a 'Katrina-Like' Space Storm Brewing?

U.S. scientists worry we aren't ready for a solar space storm that could knock out our electricity, our cell phones, even our water supply.

The chances of that happening are small, but it is a possibility as we move into an active period of solar storms.

How do they know? Well, it's happened before. Back in 1859, a solar eruption resulted in telegraph wires burning up.

Dare to imagine a world without Twitter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I acquired the footage below only at great difficulty, as NASA is inexplicably intent on denying its existence (if not outright destruction of the original film stock). Make of it what you will.

Sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer hosts VisionTV's Supernatural Investigator

These investigators - among them futurist Mac Tonnies, archaeologist Joel Palka, science writer and adventurer Jeff Warren, magician Jeremy Bennett, and musician Tara Slone - confront unearthly mysteries with a clear and critical eye: Have extraterrestrials visited this planet? Did vengeful demons hound a Canadian journalist to his death? Why did the U.S. government experiment with ESP during the Cold War? And did the world's greatest escape artist somehow slip the bonds of death?

My DVD is in the mail.
My favorite proposed explanation for the recent "wind turbine UFO":

Unidentified Flying Octopoid: Return of the Sky Squid?

Now, this new description of the UFO seen over Lincolnshire, England, has been described as something very similar to a "real" Sky-Squid; or perhaps more appropriately in this case, an "Unidentified Flying Octopus". Could this object have been something bizarre along the lines of Trevor James Constable's "critters", which he long ago supposed might inhabit our atmosphere?

(Via UFOMystic.)
Bright Flash in Heavens Has No Earthly Explanation

The time scale of brightening, as well as the particular characteristics of the colors of light seen, do not match any known astronomical phenomena.

"So far it's unlike anything previously observed," said Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory astronomer Kyle Barbary during a press briefing Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, California.

[. . .]

Since the object has completely faded away from sight by now, options for getting to the bottom of the mystery are slim.

Another reminder that we know so much, yet remain staggeringly ignorant.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Cheap Solution for Getting to Mars?

Knight's proposal, which he calls "Mars on a Shoestring," outlines two shuttles going into Earth orbit, hooking them together with a truss and strapping on a powerful enough propulsion system. And that's pretty much it. A pressurized inflatable conduit would connect the two orbiters so the astronauts could go back and forth between the two shuttles.

Then comes the really cool part; a way to provide artificial gravity during the trip to Mars.

More on this inspiring idea here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

New photos . . .

More here.
Some great cosmological eye-candy:

Black Hole from 360angles on Vimeo.
Stonehenge Beneath the Waters of Lake Michigan

So is there a North American version of Stonehenge just sitting up there beneath the glacial waters of a small northern bay in Lake Michigan? If so, are there other submerged prehistoric megaliths waiting to be discovered by some rogue archaeologist armed with a sonar scanner?
The Biodegradable Grass Cell Phone

Appearing for all the world like a brick of sod outfitted with a keypad, Je-Hyun Kim’s Natural Year Phone concept carefully considers the life cycle of cellular phones, which are all too frequently disposed of due to obsolescence and the constant cycling of two-year contracts. Designed to last only for the length of its functional life cycle, the grassy green phone biodegrades and pieces apart for easy recycling after two years are up.

See also: Millions of gadgets unused in Britain
Mesmerizing time-lapse:

túrána hott kurdís by hasta la otra méxico! from Till Credner on Vimeo.