Tuesday, May 31, 2005

New Research Indicates A 'Troubled' Greenhouse Is Brewing

"'We know the gathering greenhouse will be warm, but this new information confirms that the contrast between the rainy season and the dry season will increase dramatically,' says Greg Retallack, whose study indicating that a troubled greenhouse is brewing is published in the April issue of the journal Geology."
Jason Sheets has some good ideas.

I'm reading an interesting book called "Cracks in the Great Wall: UFOs and Traditional Metaphysics." The author, Charles Upton, argues that UFO and "alien" encounters are but a new manifestation of an intelligence that has coexisted with humans since the dawn of consciousness. He likens contemporary UFO research to a "postmodern demonology," noting that the apparent technological capabilities demonstrated during "abductions" are identical to those of mythological "jinn" and other spirit entities.

Upton's metaphysical ecology (which begins with gross matter and ascends a hierarchy of progressively subtler states) is very much in keeping with John Keel's "superspectrum" and, to some extent, with the "multiverse" posited by Jacques Vallee. The most significant difference between Upton and Vallee is that Upton thinks the UFO intelligence is an active impediment to the evolution of consciousness while (the last time I checked) Vallee was less than certain what the close-encounter experience entailed; while willing to identify its effects as those of a psychosocial conditioning system a la B.F. Skinner, he wasn't sure if this was deliberate or in some sense automated (and thus irreversible).

Whitley Strieber once wondered, enigmatically, if the visitor experience was "merely" what evolution looked like to a conscious mind; ultimately, humankind's endless pageant of gods, fairies and ufonauts -- and their evident objective reality -- may be reflections of ourselves enacted on a level we have yet to define in scientific terms.

What -- if anything -- happens to the phenomenon as our instruments continue to blur the lines between empirical reality and the realm of the so-called "spirit"?

It looks like the new issue of "UFO" is out, featuring a write-up on my Martian musings and some selected Cydonian Imperative blog excerpts. A pre-emptive mission to Barnes & Noble is definitely in order.

(The irrepressible Richard Hoagland made the cover. Nice tie.)
Vast Condom Horror in Pacific

"The mass was discovered by the Australian Oceanographic Laboratory Outpost on Macquarie Island in the South Pacific. Scientists there explained that the accumulation, which consists almost exclusively of condoms, is explained by a principle of physics called 'like aggregation.' Like aggregation is caused by the massing of similar objects due to ocean currents and winds, the response of the objects to the earth's magnetic field, and other factors."

Worse still -- it's alive! (Just kidding -- although I do sense science fiction potential here.)

And I thought Brush Creek was bad . . .

Monday, May 30, 2005

Take me to the river

I met a woman from the Art Institute of Chicago on the "riverwalk" next to Brush Creek. She was videotaping an installation piece -- essentially a large, buoyant ribbon covered with photos of salmon.

Her idea was to chronicle the spread of bacteria-infested water as it played over the surface of the ribbon. She was amazed at the sheer tenacity of the filth.

Trojan holds PC files for ransom

"The program, once it installs itself unbeknown to a user, triggers the download of an encoder application which searches for common types of files on a computer and networked drives to encrypt.

"When a file is encrypted, usually for security and privacy purposes, it can only be decrypted with specific instructions."

Why can't someone create a nice computer virus?
Bioscientists: Gods or Monsters?

"In his new book, The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA . . . and Other Masterminds From the Frontiers of Biotech, journalist and author David Ewing Duncan chats with some of the most prominent and powerful life scientists in the United States about the human motivations behind their God-like endeavors."

Add another biotech tome to the to-read pile . . .

Sunday, May 29, 2005

This deserves a look:

"It's kinda trippy to stare at this image and then think about what the guys in the Apollo space program did. They went all the way over there, no really. They went that far away from the nearest McDonald's."

Now imagine how distant Mars would be on that scale!

(And for whatever it's worth, you can never be too far away from McDonald's.)
The Texas Ghost Lights Conference

"Investigators regard the lights as a little understood aspect of the earth's electromagnetic energy field. But they could be a global phenomenon of paradigm-shifting significance. They sometimes behave peculiarly, as if they are interacting with human observers like curious animals. This may be why the ancient Celtic peoples regarded the lights as fairies, and why the shamans of some cultures sought out the locations of the lights as entrances to the spirit world. Recurring ghost lights could hold clues to a dimension of Nature that is rarely even suspected in the modern age."
UFO Guru Calls in Craft for TV Crew

"The stunned television personnel watched as 'Prophet Yahweh' aka Ramon Watkins, raised his arms in prayer to Yahweh and pleaded with him, 'show them that I'm not mentally ill.' Moments later, the crew filmed an excellent UFO sighting, with the craft manuevering in an impossible manner, then heading off toward Nellis Air Force Base, then returning, only to disappear."

I find the proximity to Nellis AFB suggestive of a psy-ops operation of some sort.

As for the UFO, I wonder if it resembles the "lobed" object filmed over Nellis (above).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I saw a completely motionless, awkwardly postured guy on a bench in this park. He looked dead -- really. If he wasn't, he was doing a considerably better job at faking being inanimate than the Mute Love Goddess of a few days ago (who, incidentally, had set up shot again today to the delight of a rather large crowd).

If memory serves, there's something kind of like this guy inside the Ministry of Information from Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."

Here's the base of the terraced fountain that appears in an earlier post. The pavement was filmed with scum; I almost fell into the drainage creek. That would have been a riot.

I woke up this morning with an itchy throat and a sudden, pronounced desire to cancel my hotel reservation. I took three aspirin and went on a walk in an attempt to get some endorphins flowing. The result: more pictures of water and statues. (Wasn't that the name of a Talking Heads record?)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Not so Dumbo - elephant intelligence

"For the first time, remote-control cameras disguised as dung-heaps have infiltrated African elephant herds. Moving slowly across the plains, the 'dungcams' have shot hundreds of hours of elephant footage of the most intimate variety. On watching the footage, you start to believe that elephants may indeed be as intelligent as the great apes. 'The communication and understanding is so evident when you get inside the herd,' says film-maker John Downer. 'I know of no other species, apart from ourselves, who gather to greet a newborn and equally appear to mourn their dead relatives.'"
Note: I'll be attending a science fiction convention Saturday and Sunday, so unless the hotel has an Internet cafe I probably won't blog on Saturday. Then again, who knows?
The most dangerous idea on earth?

"According to Nick Bostrom's 'The Transhumanist FAQ', transhumanists believe 'that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase'. With the help of technology, we will be able to enhance our capacities far beyond their present state. It will be within our reach not only to live longer, but to live better.

[. . .]

"Transhumanists are utopians. They foresee a world in which our intellects will be as far above those of our current selves as we are now above chimpanzees. They dream of being impervious to disease and eternally youthful, of controlling their moods, never feeling tired or irritated, and of being able to experience pleasure, love and serenity beyond anything the human mind can currently imagine."

There's a definite thread of escapism running through transhumanist philosophy. And why shouldn't there be? "Escapism" is a loaded word, but it doesn't necessarily imply irresponsibility or naive wish-fulfillment (unless wielded by pundits with political axes to grind).

Who doesn't want to eradicate painful, debilitating (and potentially preventable) diseases? Who doesn't want to expand his or her mind? Who doesn't wish to become smarter or more capable?

A cancer patient who has a tumor removed has effectively "escaped" cancer, at least for the time-being. A person who utilizes a prosthetic device is "escaping," to a certain extent, the gross inconvenience of missing a limb. We are all escapists. If we had never chosen to escape the confines and dangers of our environment we never would have survived as a species; escapism is a virtue, and an expedient one at that.

I'm an unrepentant, unabashed transhumanist who finds nothing inherently sinister with using technology to better one's condition, be it cognitive or physical (if there is indeed a meaningful qualitative difference). The ideological barriers facing the transhumanist movement are epiphenomena, inconsequential on an evolutionary time-scale. And as we become increasingly adept at modifying that time-scale, spared the caprices of natural mutation and preventable catastrophe -- and who's to say what catastrophes aren't preventable, given sufficiently advanced intellectual and technological prowess? -- we become more a part of the Cosmos; we make the critical transition from mere inhabitants to co-conspirators.
Rise of the Plagiosphere

"The problem here is that while such rigorous and robust policing will no doubt reduce cheating, it may also give writers a sense of futility. The concept of the biosphere exposed our environmental fragility; the emergence of the plagiosphere perhaps represents our textual impasse. Copernicus may have deprived us of our centrality in the cosmos, and Darwin of our uniqueness in the biosphere, but at least they left us the illusion of the originality of our words. Soon that, too, will be gone."

Words are simply a means. If we reach a "textual impasse" then we will go about creating a new infrastructure for our ideas. Ultimately, we must "rub out the word" and graduate to a more intimate form of communication.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Oh, boy! More Seth Shostak! Thanks, "National Geographic"!
I took a quick look around a local garden. I need to come here more often.

I've discovered that most restful, scenic places are off the tour map entirely, yet not at all inaccessible if you know where -- or, more accurately, how -- to look.

The cutting edge:

Imagine the conspiracy theories just waiting to be extracted from these hermetic-looking tiles . . .

I went on an especially enjoyable walk this afternoon. Great weather. For once I wasn't thinking about much of anything -- just looking.

I encountered a female mime outside the coffeeshop. She was standing on hidden stilts and stood completely motionless, face averted. I felt oddly voyeuristic taking her picture, so I tipped her a dollar.

Occasionally she'd make slow, underwater gesticulations.

I took this next picture into the sun. My first inclination was to discard it, but I sort of like the effect; it makes her out to be angelic -- a mute love goddess enjoying a brief sabbatical on the material plane.

RFID Insights Editorial: The Ethos of Panic and Doom

"It seems as if the path to instant notoriety as a technology guru these days is to find fault -- real or imagined -- with some form of RFID. RFID is a hot topic and one that most people don't (or won't) understand, which makes it easy to misrepresent. So, for those who'd like to become an overnight celebrity, herewith, the 10 ten things you need to do to become a messenger of panic and doom."

I found this story posted on Bruce Sterling's blog and found it pretty hysterical in a geekish sense. Incidentally, I toyed with the looming specter of RFID identification not too long ago (in an ironic way, of course).

"What if the speed of light is a constant only most of the time? What if gravity sometimes pushed instead of pulled? Scientists are increasingly asking what would seem like far-out questions regarding the laws and rules of physics after discovering conditions and materials where the rules don't quite apply."
The 2020 vision of robotic assistants unveiled

"Several utility robots, including autonomous garbage collectors, vacuum cleaners and security guards, are already patrolling the wider Expo. But the Prototype Robot Exhibition gives academics and commercial researchers a chance to showcase a more distant vision of robot utopia. The exhibition features a mock-ups of homes, streets and workplaces from the year 2020 and more than sixty different types of robot will be exhibited."

By 2020, many -- if not all -- of the various critters on display here will be rendered laughably "retro" unless, of course, we're busy rebuilding a technological civilization after a no-holds-barred climate meltdown, nuclear war or biowarfare debacle . . . but that's crazy-talk, right?
Odd Spot on Titan Baffles Scientists

"'At first glance, I thought the feature looked strange, almost out of place,' said Dr. Robert H. Brown, team leader of the Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer and professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson. 'After thinking a bit, I speculated that it was a hot spot. In retrospect, that might not be the best hypothesis. But the spot is no less intriguing.'"
Paul Kimball has launched The Rense Watch, an admirable and overdue effort to track the depressingly frequent anti-Semitic vibes spread by late-night radio host Jeff Rense.

In Kimball's words: "Jeff Rense, on his radio show and at his website, www.rense.com, provides Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, and anti-Semites with a platform for their dangerous and despicable views. As a shield, Rense claims that he is merely defending their freedom of speech."

The Rense Watch is unlikely to win Kimball too many friends . . . or so it may seem. I hope I'm proven wrong.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This L-5 Society site features some fantastic concept art of self-sufficient space habitats. (I remember losing myself in some of these paintings when I was really young and naively assuming off-world colonies in my lifetime were more or less a given.)

There's a well-rounded collection of short fiction and science fact revolving around the space station theme called "Skylife," co-edited by Gregory Benford. It includes a great opener by Ray Bradbury, Greg Bear's "Wind From a Burning Woman" and others, as well as color illustrations. I highly recommend it; the last time I saw it was in Borders a couple years ago, marked down for clearance. Check your bargain rack.*

In reality, I think the first true large-scale space stations will look rather less than "cool," at least by design standards of the 1970s. I expect lunar colonies, for example, to look like plastic-shrouded refugee camps; already, Bigelow Aerospace is working on inflatable living modules for orbiting space stations. At first glance, such structures will seem markedly less substantial than Gerard K. O'Neill's famed designs. And they might, in fact, be less than glamorous compared to O'Neill's utopian visions of verdant, pastured fields and zero-gravity merry-makers. But they'll be our first true homes away from home, and as they proliferate they're bound to take on engaging new forms, like wildly mutating bacteria.

*For a good dystopian riff on O'Neill's designs, see John Shirley's "Eclipse."
I want to live here!
Solar 'Fireworks' Signal New Space Weather Mystery

"The most intense burst of solar radiation in five decades accompanied a large solar flare on January 20, shaking space weather theory and highlighting the need for new forecasting techniques. The solar flare occurred at 2 a.m. ET, tripping radiation monitors all over the planet and scrambling detectors on spacecraft within minutes. It was an extreme example of a flare with radiation storms that arrive too quickly to warn future interplanetary astronauts."
I've got the science fiction convention this weekend. I'm still not sure what my itinerary is. Truthfully, it doesn't really matter. Since I'm staying at the hotel, I'm relishing the idea of being able to sulk off to my room or hitting the pool when the costumed fans start getting to me.

I remember reading somewhere that SF conventions (or "cons," as they're generally called) are uniquely accepting of all kinds of ideologies and personalities. Maybe so, but they still make me feel like an alien.
Author/mathematician Rudy Rucker has enlarged a photo of a typical "orb," revealing internal detail and a passable (if fortuitous) face. I should point out that the only weird thing about "orbs" is the number of people who've managed to convince themselves they're somehow mysterious; this isn't simply wanting to believe -- it's flat-out desperation to believe, often facilitated by fringe personalities who should know better.

Whitley Strieber, for example, posts occasional "orb" pictures on his site with eerie commentary that suggests they're disembodied souls or earth-spirits or whatever -- no questions asked.

If pressed, Strieber and other believers will admit that some "orbs" can be explained as dust particles and lens flares, but that there's a percentage that defies explanation.

Show me one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Another doomed attempt to take a self-portrait . . .

. . . and another.

Here's a dragon I'm not sure I've consciously noticed before.

I found this obnoxious Hummer (emblazoned with the US flag and the Statue of Liberty) parked across the street. Fortunately it's some company's mobile advertisement, not a personal effort to Support Our Troops -- although the latter wouldn't surprise me for a minute.

Attitude adjustment . . .

A playful but sensible approach to possible biofutures

"Caccavale is currently showing in London myBio dolls, a series of educational dolls exploring the emergence of biological hybrids in biotechnologies, and our moral, social, cultural and personal responses to the strange and different in human biology and also 'transhuman' creatures."
Wormhole wanderers face a deadly dilemma

"So researchers had believed classical wormholes could serve as more practical portals through space-time. But in a paper recently published on an online preprint server, Buniy and Hsu show these classical objects are inherently unstable."

Personally, I think it's telling commentary on the scientific zeitgeist that we're now discussing "classical" wormholes without so much as batting an eye.

South Natomas Home Covered With Sheet Metal

"The D'Souzas said the bombardment began after the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that the radio waves have caused them health problems ranging from headaches to lupus."

And you thought your neighbors were obnoxious.

Sometimes after writing a bunch of posts I like to randomize the text with a little help from The Cut-up Machine. It's usually easy to spot a few interesting juxtapositions . . .

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An Occult Translation of the Roswell Event: Count down to 2012

"The crash and destruction of the sophisticated flying vehicle with occupants, according to reports, seemed an unplanned disaster. It is exactly because of this appearance that researchers speculated that American radar, used in missile tracking experiments at white Sands testing grounds near Roswell, some how brought the extraterrestrial vehicle down. However, if the message at Roswell is more than a strange mathematical coincidence, this would also suggest that the crash was staged and the vehicle's occupants sacrificed. By appearing as an accident, the last thing one would look for is a message deposited in the crash location itself."

As far-out as this essay is, I happen to agree that the Roswell Incident -- if it involved a nonhuman craft -- could very well have been deliberate . . . and not necessarily the work of alien suicide pilots. If a nonhuman presence wanted to draw attention to itself, the "sacrificial offering" of a UFO might have involved synthetic alien bodies. And intriguingly, some testimony suggests the aliens weren't organic in the usual sense, but (to use Dr. Robert Sarbacher's term) "instruments."

More interesting is this essay's contention that the Roswell crash conveys an esoteric message by referencing "33." I'm reminded of the declassified Air Force document that describes the crash of three flying discs -- each containing three humanoid occupants. Synchronicity or more alleged occult significance?
Naked yoga.
US military to build four giant new bases in Iraq

"US military commanders are planning to pull back their troops from Iraq's towns and cities and redeploy them in four giant bases in a strategy they say is a prelude to eventual withdrawal."

"A prelude to eventual withdrawal." In English: We're not going anywhere.
Rudy Rucker sings! And he sounds a little like Elvis Costello. (See link below the picture of the shallow eddies.) Incidentally, the first image features three (count 'em!) "orbs" -- digital artifacts thought by some to have paranormal significance.
'Pack ice' suggests frozen sea on Mars

"A frozen sea, surviving as blocks of pack ice, may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, suggest observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft. The sea is just 5° north of the Martian equator and would be the first discovery of a large body of water beyond the planet's polar ice caps."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Portugal to get world's first commercial wave farm

"OPD's Pelamis P-750 wage energy converter is an elongated metal unit that looks like a big semi-submerged sausage, with hinged segments that rock with the sea, up and down and side to side, pumping fluid to hydraulic motors that drive generators.

"The power produced by the generators is fed into underwater cables and brought to land where it enters the power grid." (Via KurzweilAI.net.)
2050 - and immortality is within our grasp

Futurist Ian Pearson: "We don't know how to do it yet but we've begun looking in the same directions, for example at the techniques we think that consciousness is based on: information comes in from the outside world but also from other parts of your brain and each part processes it on an internal sensing basis. Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that's what we're trying to design in a computer. Not everyone agrees, but it's my conclusion that it is possible to make a conscious computer with superhuman levels of intelligence before 2020." (Via The Anomalist.)

SETI guru Seth Shostak likes to quip (incorrectly) that getting here from another star system will take far too long for aliens to make the voyage. One of the many naive assumptions here is that intelligent aliens will be limited by biology -- a sentiment lifted directly from our own manned space program.

The exponential advance in computer technology is just one of the reasons I think we can expect extraterrestrials to defy SETI's quaint mold. Quite simply, they won't be alive in the familiar sense -- a prospect that threatens our ability to recognize them when we actually see them . . . and I think there's very good reason to think we already have.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

F.D.A. Considers Implant Device for Depression

"The pacemaker-like device, called a vagus nerve stimulator, is surgically implanted in the upper chest, and its wires are threaded into the neck, where it stimulates a nerve leading to the brain. It has been approved since 1997 for the treatment of some epilepsy patients, and the drug agency has told the manufacturer that it is now 'approvable' for severe depression that is resistant to other treatment.

"But in the only rigorously controlled trial so far in depressed patients, the stimulator was no more effective than surgery in which it was implanted but not turned on."
Ministry uses dinosaurs to dispute evolution

"Undaunted by considerable opponents, Ham's Answers in Genesis ministry is building a $25 million monument to creationism. The largest museum of its kind in the world, it hopes to draw 600,000 people from the Midwest and beyond in its first year.

"'When that museum is finished, it's going to be Cincinnati's No. 1 tourist attraction,' says the Rev. Jerry Falwell, nationally known Baptist evangelist and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va."

Get me the hell off this planet.
Major UFO Breakthrough in Brazil

"The nation of Brazil is relaxing its policy of UFO secrecy. It is the first among a number of countries known to be considering the idea of abandoning the secrecy mandate that has been in place worldwide since the phenomenon first began to be publicly known nearly fifty years ago."

So why am I less than excited?

Sure, the monographs about SETI and metaphysics are interesting, but it just wouldn't be Posthuman Blues without occasional barely clad women.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Heavenly . . .

(Found at Chapel Perilous.)
Fossil of Ice Age Armadillo Found in Peru

"Builders have found the fossil of a giant armadillo -- which lived up to 2 million years ago and would have been the size of a Volkswagen Beetle -- in southern Peru, an archeologist said on Thursday."

I bet it got great gas mileage, too . . .
Here's my hasty portrait of the "ShanMonster" (an insatiable blogger/bellydancer whose site typifies the "my life as novel" school of online journaling). I drew this a couple years ago and evidently she doesn't know the perpetrator.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Vanishing lake baffles Russians

"'I thought the Americans had got here,' she said, laughing." (Via The Anomalist.)

Probably The Chimp looking for more natural resources to exploit.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The end of SETI as we know it?

When I was doing radio spots promoting my book I was asked a lot of dumb questions, mostly in keeping with the David Bowie/Spiders from Mars theme. But I remember one particularly good question, I think by a DJ in Dublin. Essentially, he wanted to know what business I had writing a book on scientific subjects since I had no formal scientific background. (Unlike Richard Hoagland, who didn't graduate college, I can't claim experience as a planetarium director or advisor to Walter Conkrite, nor can I claim to have inspired NASA with the idea to include messages on deep-space probes.)

The gist of my answer was: Who exactly is qualified to assess candidate artifacts on the Martian surface? The stark truth is that there are no experts. There are no "working teams" exploring this possibility (with the exception of the Society for Planetary SETI Research, of which I'm a member). There's no grant money, no exo-archaeological funds on NASA's Mars exploration budget. Unfortunately, what we do have are lots of pseudoskeptics content to cling to dated "straw man" arguments in order to keep the status quo afloat -- even if that means misrepresenting or ignoring contradictory data.

It's not just Mars, of course. We've allowed a handful of people, foremost among them Seth Shostak and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, to become veritable ambassadors for the aliens they pretend to understand so well, despite a pronounced, utter failure to provide the hard evidence they claim is so vital. We're assured that aliens can't get here from there -- essentially because we have yet to get there from here using primitive chemically fueled rocket technology. We're treated to endless assurances that extraterrestrials will choose to communicate via radio (for a host of anthropomorphic reasons too numerable to explore in the available space).

Worse, SETI personalities tell us -- again and again -- that radio contact with ETs in inevitable, even imminent . . . and when the deadlines expire, the mainstream media dutifully forgets. Consequently, we're subjected to an intellectually vacuous false dichotomy between brash, self-proclaimed debunkers and equally brash believers, typified by the already-infamous Peter Jennings UFO special (which some commentators expected to break the UFO documentary mold for reasons still unclear to me).

But the edifice is cracking under an onslaught of fresh ideas and new discoveries. SETI's cult-like grip is slowly but certainly weakening as scientists dare to suggest alternative methods by which alien beings might contact us (assuming they want to). From messages grafted into our DNA to communiques wafted through space in the form of tangible artifacts (up to and including autonomous robots capable of building copies of themselves from raw materials), a chorus of vital new theories and revised assumptions about our role in the Cosmos has insinuated itself into the mainstream, posing a grave challenge to SETI and rocking our existential foundations.

I think the scientific community, for all its jaded self-assurance and adherence to brittle paradigms, is unconsciously tiring of SETI's charade. And who wouldn't? We've managed, against all odds, to grant a technocratic minority the right to effectively speak on our behalf, to tell us what to expect, to define the parameters of a universe we have yet to adequately map. Almost unbelievably, we've allowed the consuming question of extraterrestrial intelligence to become boring, the stuff of ha-ha sound-bites and rote dismissals of anyone inclined to dissent.

But we have reached a turning point. And the assumed "rules" have been revealed to be unexpectedly pliant, suggesting a galaxy vastly more colorful than that painted by SETI's equations.
I went to Watch Station to get a new battery. It turns out my watch contains three batteries -- one to actually power the mechanism (which is still keeping time just fine) and two to fuel the dragon animation. I could have paid an outrageous amount on the spot to have the dragon restored to its usual flame-gushing self, but since the watch is still perfectly functional I'll wait and buy the batteries at a drugstore and bear with the blank display.

The guy at the shop mentioned fancy Japanese watches with elaborate animation and graphics that could suck two nickel-sized batteries dry in as many months . . . the Hummers of time-pieces, apparently. I have yet to see one outside a William Gibson novel.
Terror! Terror everywhere!

FBI, ATF address domestic terrorism

"'The Department of Homeland Security spends over $40 billion a year to protect the home front,' Sen. Frank Lautenberg said. After listing al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, the Democrat from New Jersey wanted to know who else the law enforcement agencies considered terrorists: 'Right to Life? Sierra Club?'"
MGS Sees Mars Odyssey and Mars Express

"The MGS MOC is able to resolve features on the surface of Mars as small as a few meters across from its nominal 350 to 405 kilometers (217 to 252 miles) altitude. From a distance of 100 kilometers (62 miles), MOC would be able to resolve features substantially smaller than 1 meter across. Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL; Pasadena, California), Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC, Denver, Colorado), and Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS; San Diego, California) worked very closely together to acquire images of Mars Express and Mars Odyssey."

Last night the fire-breathing liquid crystal dragon that inhabits my wristwatch disappeared, apparently the victim of dwindling battery power. This morning he returned from the dead, but he has a faint, befittingly ghostly appearance.

I just thought you should know.
Robot swarms cloud nature

"In biology, swarming behaviours arise whenever there are large numbers of individuals that lack either the communication or computational capabilities required for centralised control. The Swarms Project brings together a cross-disciplinary team of researchers with expertise in artificial intelligence, control theory, robotics, systems engineering and biology. They will take cues from the sort of group behaviours that appear in beehives, ant colonies, wolf packs, bird flocks and fish schools. But the GRASP researchers are also working with molecular and cell biologists interested in the complicated signalling processes and group behaviours that go on inside and among cells." (Via KurzweilAI.net.)

I have a strong intuition this is the way to go if we're to eventually develop robots that think.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

End of the Wild

"Over the next 100 years or so as many as half of the Earth's species, representing a quarter of the planet's genetic stock, will either completely or functionally disappear. The land and the oceans will continue to teem with life, but it will be a peculiarly homogenized assemblage of organisms naturally and unnaturally selected for their compatibility with one fundamental force: us. Nothing -- not national or international laws, global bioreserves, local sustainability schemes, nor even 'wildlands' fantasies -- can change the current course. The path for biological evolution is now set for the next million years. And in this sense 'the extinction crisis' -- the race to save the composition, structure, and organization of biodiversity as it exists today -- is over, and we have lost."

Perhaps Michael Crichton can treat us to another heart-warming "it's all just a leftist conspiracy" novel. A little ignorance goes a long way.
Here we go with more "breaking" news from Whitley Strieber:

Google Map Mystery

"This is a confirmed unknown object in the air above a populated area in the United States, recorded sometime in 2005."

Sorry, Whitley. It's part of a map alignment grid. There are many more just like it. But hey -- if it helps sell more credulous books from your online store, go for it.
Forteans As Populist Intellectuals

"Most Forteans are decent and reasonable in their social attitudes and political instincts. However, there are also those in the Fortean community who nourish darker impulses, disquieting symptoms of the 'Ideology of Resentment', such as a weakness for anti-Semitic, anti-Masonic, anti-Jesuit, 'Illuminati', or 'New World Order' conspiracy theories. Syracuse University political scientist Michael Barkun, author of Religion and the Racist Right: Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (revised ed., 1997) and Disaster and the Millennium (1986), has described the bizarre, alarming subculture of UFO enthusiasts who also zealously believe in Jewish, Masonic, 'Illuminati', or 'New World Order' world domination conspiracy theories in A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003). He traces the print, radio, and Internet dissemination and popularization of such ufological and occult-tinged conspiracy theories by writers like David Icke, Milton William Cooper, 'Branton', and Jim Keith."

Add Jeff Rense to the list. The guy's a thinly closeted neo-Nazi with delusions of religious persecution (at the hands of "the Jews," naturally) and a porous mental barrier between political attitudes and outright anti-Semitism.

Or hadn't you noticed?
Bizarre Star Brightens Like Clockwork

"According to the researchers, there are three possible causes of WR123's habitual behavior: The star's own rotation could be to blame, although the speeds required would have the surface of WR123 moving at nearly 2,000 kilometers a second. The gravity from a closely orbiting star might cause regular fluctuations, but the object would have to be so close to WR123 that it would reside in the latter's own gas envelope. Finally, vibrations within the star's interior structure could be responsible for the variations in brightness, but if that's the case, many other theories about Wolf-Rayet stars would have to be reconsidered."

Stars artificially modified to function as beacons or stellar "landmarks"? Well, why not?

Film-maker and alarmingly level-headed UFO blogger Paul Kimball has posted an essay questioning the historical accuracy of Richard Dolan's "UFOs and the National Security State." The low-down: Dolan's a smart, likeable guy, but his book (the first volume in an exhaustive two-part study) gravitates toward unproveable and/or unwarranted conspiracy theories. Specifically, Kimball focuses on Dolan's treatment of the deaths of two prominent UFO researchers and finds it sensationalistic and academically unbecoming.

I agree -- to a point. "UFOs and the National Security State" is one of the best chronological overviews of the subject ever written. It's true, incidentally, that Dolan waxes conspiratorial; some of the deductive leaps in his book exceed the available data. Nevertheless, Dolan is honest and articulate enough to let the reader know when he indulges in speculation -- something too many writers about Weird Things are unable and/or unwilling to do. So I was able to read "Security State" without too many misgivings. For a book couched in a stew of Cold War paranoia, Dolan does a good job of avoiding most of the typical pitfalls; the conspiratorial allusions are forgivable, if imaginative -- not major impediments. Ufology is a field so rich with strangeness and tangled insider politics that there's little or no need to invent fantastic scenarios, and I think Dolan's book reflects his fundamental understanding of this.

That said, Kimball has sounded an astute word of caution for the uninitiated.
The future of the space-alien meme

Throughout history, the UFO phenomenon has been one step ahead of human capability. Our definition of the "other" has been quietly revised and reinvented in a parade of forms ranging from faerie folk to phantom airships to ghost rockets to NASA-esque flying saucers complete with alien "crew."

If we are in fact observing an unknown intelligence, it has proven remarkably adept at insinuating itself into the belief-structure of any given era, comfortably skating the razor's edge of plausibility. It implants itself in our collective unconscious, an abiding trickster that entices us with the possibility of catching up at the same time that it morphs into more fashionable disguises. The phenomenon is a constantly moving goal-post -- and we're largely amnesiac of any duplicity.

Whether we think we see an indigenous nonhuman species in our midst, as in the case of the Celtic faerie faith, or the comings and goings of eccentric aeronauts (the "impossible" airship sightings of the 1800s), we always think what we're viewing is genuine. Then, in a now-recognizable pattern, the performance changes. Since we invariably change alongside it, we fail to note that our visitors have merely upgraded their image to match prevailing notions. Thus, the most widely accepted exotic explanation for apparent alien craft in our skies -- the extraterrestrial hypothesis, with its Westernized nuts-and-bolts trappings -- is likely a facade.

If the UFO intelligence has been with the human species since prehistory, perhaps it's naive to assume the "aliens" will stick around in their present form once we've achieved their evident level of sophistication. If we can refrain from destroying ourselves, it's probable we will develop into a star-faring civilization. What then? The enigma and mythological luster of visiting space-aliens will have lost its appeal. If the UFO intelligence wants to continue interacting with us (for whatever reasons), it will be forced to adopt a new appearance; it will have to find a new mythical substrate in which to sow its memes.

That's assuming, of course, that humans a thousand years from now will still be blinkered by the capacity for belief. If we evolve into a "posthuman" state, as argued by a growing faction of thinkers in fields such as artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, there's no telling for certain how our perceptions will mutate to accommodate our new abilities. We may shed the dubious luxury of belief altogether . . . leaving the "ufonauts" stranded in the realm from which they originate, unable to continue their theatrical dialogue.

Or we may, finally, be able to discern the face behind the veil. As our technological prowess exponentiates, accompanied by a corresponding "physics of consciousness," today's perceived saucer-pilots may be rendered suddenly vulnerable. Equally disconcerting, we might find ourselves surrounded by newfound peers . . . if, of course, the phenomenon allows matters to progress that far.

Pioneering anomalist Charles Fort claimed that "we are property," a notion that seems disquietingly "Matrix"-like. But if Fort was right, we're not necessarily celestial chattel, doomed to an eternity of solipsistic antics. Our "visitors" may be our not-so-distant relatives, or even ancestors from some unimaginable future intent on nurturing their own historical time-line. (A time-travel hypothesis could help account for a variety of bizarre behavior associated with UFOs and paranormal visitation. Ultimately, it may make more sense to view the enigma as a concerted effort from the depths of time rather than an anthropological mission from deep-space; this may, in fact, be the ufonauts' most portentous secret, concealed by millennia of distraction and misinformation.)

Transhumanists speak in awed, increasingly confident tones of an imminent Singularity, beyond which forecasting the future becomes an exercise in futility. Elliptically enough, perhaps we're just now beginning to fashion the conceptual and technological tools that enable our visitors to operate in such consummate stealth.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

NASA offers prize for 'space elevator': Beams of light could propel cargo, humans

"Robot 'climber' vehicles, powered by laser-like beams of light that relay electricity from solar panels aboard the mother ship, would move up the ribbon, carrying fresh spools of nanotube ribbon up to the top. From there, smaller rockets would carry still more lengths of ribbon to a final point 62,000 miles up. At that point a massive counterweight would hold the entire ribbon in place as the earth's swift rotation keeps it taut -- much the way a rock at the end of a string stays taut when a kid whirls it around and around. The elevator could be used by relays of 'climbers' carrying entire spacecraft and supplies -- even with astronauts aboard -- that would hurtle into space, on to the moon, Mars or wherever, when they reached the top of the ribbon." (Via Beyond the Beyond.)

The cost? $10 billion. Compare that price to W's Iraq war, steadily ticking away before your very eyes on the sidebar . . . or, for that matter, the well-intentioned but next-to-useless International Space Station.
A World Without Depression

"Of course, some people romanticize depression and worry that we'll somehow lose something essential to our natures if depression is vanquished. I'd encourage those folks to read Kramer's essay, There's Nothing Deep About Depression. For myself, as someone who's seen depression utterly destroy the lives of several people I love, I'd be happy to see untreated depression made as obsolete as smallpox."

I agree . . . although there's something disquieting about a world without Morrissey.

"Each mug is covered with a map of the world. When you pour in a hot beverage, the mug shows what happens when the world heats up and the oceans begin to rise... Land mass disappears before your very eyes!"

They forgot the mushroom clouds!
Belief in sex-mad demon test nerves in Zanzibar

"Holidaymakers on the Indian Ocean islands tend to smile dismissively at accounts in guidebooks of the bat-like ogre said to prey on men, women and children. But for superstitious Zanzibaris a visit from the sodomising gremlin is no joke." (Via The Anomalist.)

I think this has the makings of a charming Disney animated movie.
On the origin of orgasms in women: Not evolution -- 'for fun,' expert says

"Rather, Lloyd says, the most convincing theory is one put forward in 1979 by Dr. Donald Symons, an anthropologist. That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts -- a byproduct of the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or nine weeks of life." (Via No Touch Monkey!)

Imagine -- as I suspect John Ashcroft has -- what society would be like if only men experienced orgasms. Ironically, I think women would be objectified much more than they are in reality, since to women sex would seem little more than a dreary necessity. Men, feeling emasculated, might retaliate by dehumanizing the opposite sex to such extremes that the misogyny and oppression found among religious extremists might appear quaint in comparison.

There might be a science fiction story here.
US scientists push for go-ahead to genetically modify smallpox virus

"One of the relaxations of the rules would allow small pieces of the virus' DNA to be distributed to laboratories around the world. Opponents say there is a serious risk that the pieces could be used in an artificial reconstruction of the virus, to be used in biological warfare."

And remember -- basement "gene hacking" is only a few years away.

Monday, May 16, 2005

This is "Mia," who I run into occasionally. Her computer has wi-fi. Mine doesn't. As luck would have it, my camera had enough memory for this shot . . . and then I chop the top of her head off. Typical.

And yes, she said I could post this. (Don't even think about asking me for her email address.)
Getting elemental . . .

Is it just me, or does that orange "pavement glyph" look a little like an early 90s crop design?

New review of "After the Martian Apocalypse" ("Mysteries" magazine):

"There has been an enormous amount of information written about the possibility that anomalies photographed on the Mars surface could be intelligently built. Mac Tonnies has taken on the unenviable task of presenting an updated look at the controversy. The result is a well-written, even-handed book that is sure to pique the interest of anyone even half-familiar with Martian anomalies.

"Besides Earth, out of all of the planets in the solar system, Mars was thought to be the most likely to harbor life. But when the first Mars probes began sending back close-up photos of the surface, scientists and dreamers alike were shocked to find a dry, crater-ridden planet, seemingly devoid of even the most rudimentary forms of life.

"However, these same photos also showed some unusual things scattered across the surface of the red planet, including formations of rocks that looked like pyramids and unusual tube-shaped features that snaked through vast canyons. As well, there were organic-looking objects that appeared to be giant trees or growths of coral. More importantly was a human face that appeared to be carved onto a hillside in an area of Mars called Cydonia.

"Since the first photos were published, there have been numerous books written about the anomalies, most of which have been either in favor of the ET hypothesis or completely skeptical. After the Martian Apocalypse, however, takes a refreshing look at these strange features and finds that a number are, indeed, natural formations or tricks of light and shadow. Life-on-Mars proponents should not despair, however, for Tonnies also finds that other Martian anomalies do appear to be intelligently constructed.

"Even though NASA has all but written off the Cydonian Face as a natural formation, Tonnies spends a great deal of time re-examining the photos and presenting evidence on why the face deserves closer inspection. Additionally, Tonnies insists that the features on Mars, if artificial, are not necessarily high-tech, as the civilization that built the Face may have been technologically equivalent to earthly Bronze Age societies. Yet there seems to be the impression that evidence of life beyond Earth is sure to plunge our society into social chaos. Maybe NASA just does not want to be the one responsible for instigating the collapse of our civilization.

"After the Martian Apocalypse makes a good point for scientific examination of the unknown, rather than presenting outright knee-jerk dismissals. As Tonnies points out, only by sending crewed missions to Mars will we be able to answer once and for all if Mars was once the home of intelligent life or simply another dead planet that is adrift in the darkness of space."
Surf's up!

Increase in 'Dead Zones' Starving the World's Seas

"It has arrived early; it's bigger than ever and it promises a summer of death and destruction. The annual 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico - starved of oxygen, and thus killing fish and underwater vegetation - has appeared earlier than usual this year." (Via Dark Planet.)
Inventing Our Evolution

"Traditionally, human technologies have been aimed outward, to control our environment, resulting in, for example, clothing, agriculture, cities and airplanes. Now, however, we have started aiming our technologies inward. We are transforming our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities and our progeny. Serious people, including some at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, consider such modification of what it means to be human to be a radical evolution -- one that we direct ourselves. They expect it to be in full flower in the next 10 to 20 years."

Of course, there's always the clown who Just Doesn't Get It:

"'Genetic engineering,' writes Michael J. Sandel, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard, is 'the ultimate expression of our resolve to see ourselves astride the world, the masters of our nature. But the promise of mastery is flawed. It threatens to banish our appreciation of life as a gift, and to leave us with nothing to affirm or behold outside our own will.'"

I beg to differ; I think precisely the opposite is likely to be true for the majority of posthumans.
China -- Environmental Leader?

"Geoffrey Lean writes in the Independent that China has stopped construction on 22 power plants and dams that were environmentally unsound. In order to decide which projects to curtail, the Chinese government asked the opinions of top scientists around the world."

Meanwhile, here in Jesusland . . .
Finally -- now's your chance to be a hero. I can't wait to get my own Sauceruney and Bsti action figures; I'll be the envy of every kid on the block!
Attack of the spambots!

I suppose it was only a matter of time; spambots have detected my blog's comments function and have begun making it difficult to create discussion threads regarding my posts. So I've been forced to enable comments only for registered Blogger users; I figure I spend enough time doing this without manually deleting ads for lord-knows-what. If you know of a better way, let me know.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

I innocently took a picture of the sidewalk this evening only to discover a luminous red mystery object in the grass! Close examination reveals an autonomous extraterrestrial drone, obviously intent on observing my activities!

Can anyone recommend a good aluminum foil wholesaler?
Damn, this looks like fun . . .
Here's the unfortunate result of taking a self-portrait in a fish-eye mirror. Check out the pensive expression and chalky skin. I look like I'm made out of dough. I think this qualifies as one of the most unrepresentative pictures of me ever taken.

(Is this what other people see? Good god!)
I walk by this entrance keypad all the time. Why not take a picture?

The requisite mannequin shot.

"There's too much caffeine in your bloodstream, and a lack of real spice in your life . . ."

Here's an intriguing response to my post on aliens attempting to breach the "consciousness barrier," submitted to the UFO UpDates list.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I had another fantastically lucid dream a couple nights ago. I was inside a menacing, labyrinthine mental institution: endless decaying corridors and stuffy reception rooms. Bizarre decor on the walls. Terry Gilliam would have loved this place.

I "went lucid" while looking at macabre knick-knacks in what appeared to be a hospital gift-shop. I'd been frightened and claustrophobic, but the realization that I was dreaming had an instantly invigorating effect, and I strolled purposefully among the decrepit exhibits feeling like a transdimensional tourist. I still had no real idea where I was (the institution was devoid of landmarks or windows), but the building must have been immense -- an amalgam of rambling architecture grafted into a horrific, confining whole.

Last night I dreampt I lived in a lavishly Art Deco apartment with room-sized high-speed elevators. To get to a given floor, a "stewardess" in a glittery black body-suit would escort tenants into large chrome-walled chambers with recessed padded areas in the walls. The operation was carried out with exacting precision, especially since there were at least three or four elevator-rooms shuttling from ground level to the upper floors at any given moment, each full of jaded passengers.
SETI: the early years

"The Cosmophonic Observation Apparatus nears completion, commander! Contact with the all-powerful space-beings is virtually inevitable!"
I might have to get some of this way-cool Viridian-wear. Or at least a button to, you know, support the Movement.

Friday, May 13, 2005

This Month In UFO History

"When the beings smiled, the mouth twisted to one side with the effect of a grimace. Their speech was rapid and delicate. They had a polite, gentle demeanor and Wolski felt no fear in their presence. The beings indicated to Wolski that he should take off his clothes, and one of them helped him undo his shirt buttons. Facing him less than two meters away, one of the beings held in each hand a gray disc shaped object that seemed to be attached to the hand by something like a suction pad. The discs were vibrating and emitting a dull humming sound. Wolski was positioned with one side facing towards the entity holding the discs, then with his back towards him, and finally with the other side. Wolski's arms were raised alternately by the entities, whose fingers were very cold. During the process he smelled an odor similar to that of burning sulfur; a smell that lingered in his clothing for days afterwards." [Italics mine.]
Have we cracked Saturn's walnut?

"According to Freire, debris from the ring smashed into a narrow region along the moon's equator, piling up to create the ridge. Consistent with his claim that the moon only grazed the ring is the fact that the ridge does not extend over the entire hemisphere. If the moon had fully entered the ring, a ridge would have formed over a 180-degree arc of the equator, he argues."

Good point. However:

"But Larry Esposito, a specialist on planetary rings at the University of Colorado in Boulder, points to a major flaw in Freire's idea. Today, Iapetus's orbit is far outside Saturn's rings and not even in the same plane as they are, making it unlikely that Iapetus ever collided with a ring, he says."

I'm quite positive Richard Hoagland will have this cleared up in no time ;-)
Have Scientists Just Proven Bob Lazar Right on Alien Antigravity Systems?

(The short answer is "no." But I love this transcript; even if Lazar is completely pulling this out of his ass, his ideas have an internal consistency seldom encountered among "UFO whistleblower" narratives.)

Knapp: Well, what is it? What have you learned about what gravity is?

Lazar: Gravity is a wave. There are many different theories, wave included. It's been theorized that gravity is also particles, gravitons, which is also incorrect. But gravity is a wave. The basic wave they can actually tap off of an element: why that is I' m not exactly sure.

Knapp: So you can produce your own gravity. What does that mean? What does that allow you to do?

Lazar: It allows you to do virtually anything. Gravity distorts time and space. By doing that, now you're into a different mode of travel, where instead of traveling in a linear method going from Point A to B, now you can distort time and space to where you essentially bring the mountain to Mohammad, you almost bring your destination to you without moving. And since you're distorting time, all this takes place in between moments of time.
Liminal UFOs and the alien raison d'etre

Why don't aliens make open contact? Why do they seem content with taunting our aircraft and haunting lonely night roads? Why the elusiveness that's characterized the UFO phenomenon since the modern era of sightings began in the late 1940s?

There are a multitude of reasons a visiting civilization would refrain from "landing on the White House lawn," foremost among them the potentially debilitating effect open contact might wreak on terrestrials. History shows that relatively advanced sea-faring cultures topple less developed cultures, in part by collapsing defining assumptions and rendering cultural self-hood obsolete. If we're of any research value to a visiting civilization then interfering at the macro-sociological level might threaten to destroy thousands of years of patient work. The paradox is that UFOs do exhibit an interest in our activities. But it's a cryptic, behind-the-scenes sort of interest: clandestine-seeming at first take but, on closer inspection, almost alarmingly conspicuous, like a silent plea for attention.

One idea to account for this behavior is that the UFO intelligence somehow hinges on our belief in it (a notion that assumes an esoteric origin instead of the more common "nuts and bolts" extraterrestrial hypothesis). In this scenario, the UFOs are engaged in an elaborate act of psychic propaganda, preparing our collective unconscious for the idea of "others," ET or otherwise. It's well worth remembering that humanity's interaction with apparent visitors is hardly limited to alleged space travelers in the 20th century; Jacques Vallee's classic "Passport to Magonia" offers strong support to the (admittedly slippery) prospect that the UFO intelligence was functioning under the guise of faerie lore in Europe centuries before the idea of spaceflight became fashionable.

It's possible that UFOs would like to initiate something like formal contact but are restrained from doing so by the physics of perception, as Whitley Strieber has suggested. So the pageant in our skies might be an ongoing indoctrination, an attempt to become more substantial (in our universe, at least) so that a more meaningful dialogue can be reached at some indeterminate point in the future. One way of achieving this might be to cultivate a milieu of incipience, in which nonhuman contact (or disclosure) seems inevitable. In fact, this illusory notion of an impending ufological "smoking gun" has left a pronounced signature on the history of UFO research, often forcing investigators to take sides in a fruitless (if colorful) ideological battle that reduces the UFO enigma to trite discussion of galactic federations and Orwellian government oversight.

If UFOs are attempting to breach our universe, our ingrained sense of disbelief might be preventing them in some arcane quantum mechanical sense. Strieber has argued that official denial of the phenomenon is designed to thwart a potential invasion of nonhuman intelligence, in which case it seems an enduring stalemate has been reached (with occasional power-plays made by both the UFOs and earthly officialdom). This idea is similar to the citizens of the Planck Brane in Rudy Rucker's science fiction epic "Frek and the Elixir." In Rucker's novel, the inhabitants of a parallel universe must accumulate a critical level of prestige and notoriety or else cease to exist. The ruling class consists of six individuals who are so well-known and casually accepted by the other Planck Braners that they persist with their individuality intact while their fellows vanish during periodic "renormalization storms"; only when the main characters deride and purposefully ignore them to they fade into the quantum background. Strieber takes a related idea and runs with it in his horror novel "The Forbidden Zone," which depicts a reality-bending alien presence set loose upon a small town in the wake of a quantum experiment gone awry.


The overriding theme, prevalent in occult literature, is that our universe is permeable and can, under specific circumstances, provide a channel to unseen realms (an idea that's remarkably similar to contemporary thought on wormhole travel). Of immediate interest is Aleister Crowley's "Lam," a "magickal" entity who bears an uncanny resemblance to today's "Grays." Unlike Lam, who functioned as a mentor and paraphysical guru, the Grays are typically assumed to be dispassionate ET scientists; if Crowley were practicing his consciousness experiments today, would he be greeted by dome-headed beings in skin-tight jumpsuits? (Perhaps it pays for aliens to stay in touch with predominant memes if it entails making a lasting impression. The presence of awkward, quasi-human "Men In Black," chronicled in detail by Jenny Randles and John Keel, suggest that aliens may have already infiltrated -- perhaps in order to refine the art of passing as typical Earthlings. If so, what's the ultimate agenda?)

We're left with a surreal residue of encounters and sightings that describe an intelligence operating at the periphery of human consciousness. Whether this is due to deliberate intent or can be attributed to obstruction (willful or innocuous) remains one of ufology's most significant unanswered questions.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I ask you: What other blog features ruminations on crashed flying saucers alongside occasional swimsuit pin-ups?
Back to the saucers

"Whether or not he's telling the truth, Lazar has stood by his claims and left the UFO scene behind. As well as running a lab equipment repair company, he is currently developing a hydrogen fuel generator for home use and is involved in an ambitious plan to terraform a Martian environment in an underground nuclear missile silo."

I was justifiably intrigued by the Lazar story when I first heard of it -- and still am. Perhaps naively, I tend to think Lazar indeed worked at a location like the one he described and possibly even saw exotic technology, but I think his role was stage-handled by the black-ops/military complex in order to taint goings-on at Groom Lake with the flying saucer "laughter curtain." I think Lazar's going public was an engineered event and that his role as a scientist was, to quote Jacques Vallee, "pure theater." (Of course, this isn't to say there really isn't any alien hardware stashed in the desert by the US government.)

In any case, one of the best memes to emerge from the Lazar mythos was the notion that the visiting aliens viewed human beings as "containers" -- but "containers" for what? Genetic material a la the "hybridization program" depicted by "abductees"? Or something more metaphysical (a la Heaven's Gate)?
Splice It Yourself

"Yet it is getting easier to synthesize whole genomes, particularly if your aims aren't sinister. Instead of trying to assemble a viral or bacterial genome yourself, you can order the whole sequence online from Blue Heron Biotechnology, where researchers will first check it for genes in known pathogens and toxins, and then, two to four weeks later, FedEx you the DNA. A few thousand dollars will buy a couple of genes, enough for a simple control circuit; soon it will buy most of a bacterial genome. And your Synthetic Biology@Home project will get easier when microfluidic DNA synthesizers hit the market. These have already been used to write sequences equivalent in size to small bacterial genomes, a capability currently limited to a few academic and industrial labs - but not for much longer."
Global warming scares me. So does idiotic journalism.

Global Warming may recycle species and change human structure -Dr. Baldev

I especially like this:

"'If dinosaurs can extinct [sic], they can return in a recycle', Dr. Raj Baldev said."

In other words, melting ice-caps might herald the return of long-vanished Jurassic carnivores . . . in which case inundated coastlines, widespread poverty and mass extinctions are going to be the least of our worries.
Huge radioactive leak closes Thorp nuclear plant

"A leak of highly radioactive nuclear fuel dissolved in concentrated nitric acid, enough to half fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, has forced the closure of Sellafield's Thorp reprocessing plant.

"The highly dangerous mixture, containing about 20 tonnes of uranium and plutonium fuel, has leaked through a fractured pipe into a huge stainless steel chamber which is so radioactive that it is impossible to enter."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Evidently the "groovy spheres" are indeed a naturally occurring phenomenon -- and not a terribly uncommon one at that, if my source isn't having me on. The "grooves" are apparently due to pyrite's crystalline structure.*

So my Hoagland-esque Iapetus link appears to have gone up in smoke . . . although I'm still awaiting an explanation for the strange "spongy" substance reportedly found inside at least some of the spheroids.

*A small voice insists that mineralogists faced with such evident weirdness would be forced invent a prosaic explanation, in which case there's a slim case the spheroids are more than geological curiosities. The "mainstream" can be wrong; Occam's Razor isn't always the final word.

Accuse me of "wanting to believe" if you like; I suppose I'm just inherently skeptical -- and that includes harboring a level of healthy skepticism toward the skeptics.
3-Billion Year Old Manufactured Spheroids?

"At least 200 have been found, and extracted out of deep rock at the Wonderstone Silver Mine in South Africa, averaging 1-4 inches in dia. and composed of a nickel-steel alloy that doesn't occur naturally."

That's quite a claim, to say the least. Here's the mainstream verdict from a geologist and fellow SPSR member:

"They are naturally formed in marine sediments such as (carbon-rich) shales, but also found in some volcanic and mafic rocks. And very very common in mines world wide - because pyrite (iron sulfide) is a tracer for basemetal (coper, lead, zinc) and gold deposits."

That makes sense but fails to explain the grooves . . . And if they're so common, why the special attention lavished on the South African specimens?
Robots in the news . . .

US robot builds copies of itself

"It's only a toy demonstration of the idea, but lead researcher Hod Lipson, of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, has bold plans for these intelligent modular machines.

"'Space applications clearly come to mind. If you're sending a robot to one of Jupiter's moons, and the robot breaks, then the mission is over," Dr Lipson told the BBC.

"'So you would like to have a robotic system that can adapt, or to repair itself, remotely. So that would be one clear application.'"

A case in point:

Great escape plan for Mars rover

"The US space agency (Nasa) is to begin taking steps to spring its robotic rover Opportunity from the sand trap it is stranded in on Mars."
Live Dangerously: Be a Scientist

"Since January of 2004, more than twenty scientists are known to have died in accidents, under suspicious circumstances, or been murdered."

This has all the trappings of a film noir meme run riot, but I fear it's at least partly based in fact.
Blog o' the day: Zorgrot Speaks

He's an abrasive little guy, but he knows his ufology.
Beam Me to Mars

"A typical Mars mission would begin as Earth and Mars are approaching the point of closest alignment as they progress in their orbits, with the Earth slightly behind Mars. A conventional rocket first launches the target spacecraft into orbit around Earth. The Magbeam station would fire a plasma beam at the target spacecraft for about four hours, giving it a boost toward Mars. The spacecraft coasts to Mars in about 50 days, after which another station in orbit around Mars fires a plasma beam at the spacecraft to slow it down." (Via CP.)

Still want to go the slow way? No problem!

Scientists discover clue that may turn Sleeping Beauty into a life saver

"By successfully inducing a state of reversible hibernation in mice, scientists have managed to make a mammal hibernate on demand for the very first time."
South African mystery spheres and the Iapetus enigma

This is quite interesting:

"Over the past several decades, South African miners have found hundreds of metallic spheres, at least one of which has three parallel grooves running around its equator. The spheres are of two types--'one of solid bluish metal with white flecks, and another which is a hollow ball filled with a white spongy center' (Jimison 1982). Roelf Marx, curator of the museum of Klerksdorp, South Africa, where some of the spheres are housed, said: 'The spheres are a complete mystery. They look man-made, yet at the time in Earth's history when they came to rest in this rock no intelligent life existed. They're nothing like I have ever seen before' (Jimison 1982)."

Unexplained grooved sphere from South Africa: a representation of Saturn's moon Iapetus?

Even more interesting is the discovery that Iapetus' conspicuous equatorial bulge, seen up close, appears to be composed of three distinct "layers" -- remarkably like the grooved rings encircling the enigmatic spheres described above. As the ever-controversial Richard Hoagland notes regarding Saturn's unlikely moon: "It is a well-known cliché that 'Nature doesn't usually create straight lines.' If that is true, then it certainly doesn't create three of them (close-up-below) -- all running parallel, not only to each other, but to the literal equator of the planet."

Given their strange similarity to Iapetus, could the South African spheres be manufactured representations of Saturn's moon (assuming a non-natural origin for the unexplained bulge)?

Recently, the prospect of alien intelligences choosing to communicate via physical "messages in a bottle" has gained notoriety, as tangible artifacts wafted into space are immune to the signal degradation that invariably afflicts electromagnetic transmissions. Extraterrestrials might choose to communicate long-distance (and over vast spans of time) by "broadcasting" large numbers of tangible artifacts. Ideally, such artifacts could communicate a message, however simple -- perhaps even referencing their place of origin. Additionally, dating such ET artifacts might help scientists determine when they were crafted; ultimately, they might serve as calling cards for any species advanced and fortunate enough to find them and recognize their potential significance.

If the grooved spheres are indeed ET artifacts, buried for millennia, what might they be trying to say? If they're representations of Iapetus, it's conceivable Iapetus is a message or beacon of some kind. Inexplicably oblate and adorned with a shallow ring, Iapetus might be a massive, simplified depiction of Saturn itself . . . in which case there might be something wholly unexpected waiting for us if and when we muster the foresight to go there.
Another UFO sighting makes website

"The witness said he was standing on the town beach on April 14 at about 11 p.m. when he noticed three star-sized white objects moving across the sky south of the community.

"'I looked and saw a blur-rish object moving very fast . . . I followed the object, and realized it was three lights flying at the same velocity but not in a straight parallel formation,' he said."

Another triangle . . . ?
Scientology Losing Ground To New Fictionology

"'Unlike Scientology, which is based on empirically verifiable scientific tenets, Fictionology's central principles are essentially fairy tales with no connection to reality,' the AIR report read. 'In short, Fictionology offers its followers a mythical belief system free from the cumbersome scientific method to which Scientology is hidebound.'"

I make a point not to link to satirical sites like The Onion, but this is just too rich to pass up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Is UFO researcher Kevin Randle quietly rewriting his stance on the "Roswell Incident"?
Interesting synchronicity: Saturn's bizarre moon Iapetus . . .

. . . bears a passing resemblance to this metal sphere.

Creation of Black Hole Detected

"A faint visible-light flash moments after a high-energy gamma-ray burst likely heralds the merger of two dense neutron stars to create a relatively low-mass black hole, said Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. It is the first time an optical counterpart to a very short-duration gamma-ray burst has ever been detected."

I'm not suggesting this was anything other than a natural cosmic event, but I wonder: If your goal is to create a black hole (perhaps for megascale industrial purposes), maybe crashing two neutron stars is a relatively economical way of doing it. End wild speculation.
Typical environmental news stories from the year 2005:

Swiss wrap glacier to slow ice melt

"'We think it will become common practice to cover parts of the glaciers,' Urs Elmiger, a board member of Andermatt Gotthard Sportbahnen, the cable car operator behind the project, told Reuters."

New rule could open roadless forest areas

"The last 58.5 million acres of untouched national forests, which President Clinton had set aside for protection, were opened to possible logging, mining and other commercial uses by the Bush administration Thursday."

Don't hold your breath
But the pretty things are going to hell

--David Bowie
It's a little disturbing how closely Mr. Chatterbox's lifestyle mirrors my own. The only substantial difference is that I'm not a morning person.

(Mr. Chatterbox is the intellectual property of Chris Wren and Kenn Brown. Visit their Mondolithic Sketchbook, updated daily.)
New research raises questions about buckyballs and the environment

"Yet even as industrial-scale production of buckyballs approaches reality, little is known about how these nano-scale particles will impact the natural environment. Recent studies have shown that buckyballs in low concentrations can affect biological systems such as human skin cells, but the new study is among the earliest to assess how buckyballs might behave when they come in contact with water in nature." (Via KurzweilAI.net.)

Not too long ago buckyballs were found taking up residence in fish . . . The problem isn't going away.
Alpha Centauri: A Candidate for Terrestrial Planets And Intelligent Life

"Alpha Centauri is a special star - not only because it is the closest stellar system to the sun but also because it is one of the relatively few places in the Milky Way Galaxy that may offer terrestrial life conditions. If humanity looks for intelligent life elsewhere, then Alpha Centauri is an excellent candidate."

This reminds me of the argument that if we find life "next door" on Mars -- and the odds are we've already found it -- then ubiquitous alien life becomes a virtual certainty.

If we have intelligent neighbors as close as Alpha Centauri, it's probable the stars are swarming with ETs . . .

Monday, May 09, 2005

Britain faces big chill as ocean current slows

"Wadhams and his colleagues believe, however, that just such changes could be well under way. They predict that the slowing of the Gulf Stream is likely to be accompanied by other effects, such as the complete summer melting of the Arctic ice cap by as early as 2020 and almost certainly by 2080."
Never underestimate the entertainment value of solar energy.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Read my new review of Rudy Rucker's "Frek and the Elixir."
Area 51: UFOs

"While critics think its [sic] all nonsense, a lot of people have seen glowing objects over the base. True, some of the photos are probably secret craft made in the USA, but a few look and act like, dare we say it, flying saucers." (Via The Anomalist.)
You can't win:

Clearing smog has led to 'global brightening'

"But a parallel increase in smog particles has shaded the planet, partly offsetting the warming. Past studies have shown an increase in average aerosol particle levels in the atmosphere between 1960 and 1990 that were sufficient to reduce solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface by about 5%.

"The net effect of these two conflicting influences has been a warming of almost 0.5°C since 1960. But the rising levels of aerosols have led to concern that they might be masking greater underlying warming. And now the mask appears to be coming off."
Space tourism industry to run 'like fast-food franchises'

"Rutan declined to give detailed information about his future business plans before the US House Committee on Science's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics on Wednesday. But he did say he sees it running like a Wendy's fast-food franchise, with his company implementing strict rules for tour operators about safety and operations."

In other words, without the severed fingers in the "Thick 'n' Meaty" chili.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bruce Sterling's "The Zenith Angle" is out in mass-market paperback, so I dutifully picked up a copy. I also (finally) treated myself to Tori Amos' "Little Earthquakes," playing as I write. Typical Saturday night: flocks of teenagers in prom dress and limousines with tacky advertisements on their back windows. Glimpses of blue neon behind tinted glass. Lightning on the horizon; the air has an almost palpable weight.
Ufologist Karl Pflock (writing in the "Saucer Smear"):

"On February 11, I was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Cehrig's [sic] disease. There is no cure (yet) for this inevitably fatal condition. Most ALSers shuffle off this mortal coil three to six years after diagnosis, though a good proportion carry on for ten years or so, and a few much longer (physicist Stephen Hawking has been living with ALS since the 1960s). I'm in the care of Dr. John Chapin, an ALS expert at the University of New Mexico School of Medecine [sic], in a program conducted in cooperation with the Muscular Distrophy [sic] Association's ALS Division. I will soon begin participating in a clinical trial of a drug that has been very effective against ALS in laboratory mice. Let's hope it works as well or better in humans. If not, my backup plan is to become the first recorded case of spontaneous remission. (MJ-12 and the Elders of Ufoology won't get rid of me this easily!)"

Friday, May 06, 2005

The speedy way to capture a city

"'Right now, a detailed urban model can take many months to create,' says Bruce Deal, vice-president of the Virginia engineering firm SET Associates, which is helping to adapt the technology for the US military. 'With the new model, we're talking about an hour or so.' Virtualised reality scans the urban landscape using lasers and digital cameras mounted on a truck or plane. A laser measures distances to objects such as lamp posts and building facades, while the digital camera takes 2D photos."
I walked up the street to the Art Institute and found this sphere, evidently an unfinished project.

Another mannequin shot.

Evidently locating waste receptacles is quite a challenge for some of my neighbors.

Honestly, it's not that big a deal, as the creek is little more than a glamorized sewer anyway -- and to be fair, cesspools like this one are fairly rare (and short-lived, thanks to the heavy-duty fountains installed in the center). But occasionally there's an impressive build-up of nameless fecal crud and discolored styrofoam; rest assured you won't see this on any postcards.

The fine print:

These are pictures of the artificial "creek" outside my apartment.

. . . Beautiful, isn't it?
Whoa. The Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase has me covered.
Recurring dream: I'm reading a novel and find myself utterly unable to tell what's going on. All aspects of plot and character elude me. I start rereading, only to promptly forget what I've just read. So I start again, sometimes making it a little farther before the storyline collapses into incomprehensibility.

In a recent variation, I managed to get half-way trough a particularly grueling spy thriller and was interrupted by a medic in red scrubs who was busy preparing a syringe for lethal injection.

I didn't care too much about dying, but I genuinely lamented not finishing the book.
Site of the day: StopGlobalWarming.org

Absolutely nothing will come of this, of course. But doesn't it feel good to be fighting the good fight?
Alien Notion

"The reason Vallee has irked so many ardent UFO believers for decades is that he doesn't believe UFOs are nuts-and-bolts machines from outer space or spinning silver disks operated by aliens from another universe. Crudely simplified, he was the first scientist to suggest that UFO experiences are in fact interactions with interdimensional beings that have always existed among us -- invisible hands toying with human society from a different level of consciousness. It's not just a physical phenomenon. It's a sociological, spiritual and psychic experience all wrapped up into one."

Jacques Vallee

Note the term "aliens from another universe," which betrays the journalist's ignorance of things cosmological. Ironically, Vallee's position is that UFOs are indeed from other universes; it's the shopworn extraterrestrial hypothesis (which maintains UFOs are craft from neighboring star systems) that Vallee rejects for its inability to account for the phenomenon's strangeness. Vallee has used the term "multiverse" to describe the ufonauts' home-turf; incidentally, "multiverse" is used with increasing frequency among quantum physicists and "parallel universe" theorists.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

MGS Finds Viking Lander 2 and Mars Polar Lander (Maybe)

"One of the more interesting and appealing activities of the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) observational objectives identified in the original 1985 Mars Observer proposal was to image landers on the martian surface. The scientific goal of this objective is to place the landers into their geologic context, which in turn helps the science community to better understand the results from the landers. In addition to this, the MOC team believed that it would be 'really neat' to see the landers sitting on the surface."
Lost asteroid clue to Pioneer puzzle

"This 370-kilometre-wide space rock has spent the past 54 years in the anomaly zone, so it should have experienced the largest perturbation. And tantalisingly, it is not where predictions say it should be."

The mystery deepens . . .
Michael ("I'm more Skeptical Than You") Shermer has an article forthcoming in "Scientific American." In it, he attempts to debunk 9-11 conspiracy theories. Since Shermer feels comfortable "debunking" the entirety of the UFO phenomenon by harping on the dubious provenance of the "alien autopsy" footage, I think it's safe to expect him to dodge any potentially incendiary 9-11 issues with the same field-tested "straw man" approach.

Not at all surprisingly, Shermer has founded his career as a card-carrying "skeptic" by firing away at incredibly easy targets such as Holocaust "revisionism" and "intelligent design." So don't say I didn't warn you.
This just in:

"It's Kansas City week starting May 9th on Wheel of Fortune. Tune in to watch Kansas Citians spin the wheel and look for a special Plaza appearance. Vanna White taped a special Plaza shopping spree here in September. It will be featured during Kansas City week!"

I'm in that! I'd assumed they'd used it a long time ago; evidently not. Click here for my post on the filming.

Saturn's Odd Moon Out

"Perhaps more importantly, the researchers found that Phoebe's surface is more diverse in composition than any solar system body ever studied, with the exception of Earth. If Phoebe was indeed formed in the Kuiper Belt, then this material could be some of the most primitive in the solar system, according to Clark."
Site of the day: Buffo -- The World's Strongest Clown

Just in case you're desperate for a role-model.

(Thanks to Blake Dinsdale.)
A god-like intelligence wanting to understand the workings of our civilization might not be content with occasional "reconnaissance missions" or eavesdropping on our broadcasts. Perhaps nothing less than a robust, interactive simulation -- with the aliens playing the roles of indigenous inhabitants -- would suffice. In this case, for the simulation to bear anthropological fruit, it would behoove the aliens to think they really were Earthlings, complete with artificial memories. Only upon exiting the simulation would they remember their actual nature. So maybe Earth as we know it is actually an alien virtual reality constructed as a sort of "Jurassic Park" in which to observe human society from the inside out. Or maybe, less glamorously, we're all amnesiac participants in a vast nonhuman chat-room or first-person video game.

As a (presumed) Earthling, I like the idea that there's some nobler purpose to our existence, even if we're ultimately nothing more than a flux of electrons inside from unfathomable alien computer. Just as some of us enjoy historical simulations such as Renaissance fairs, an arbitrarily advanced civilization -- either alien or human -- might decide to reconstruct a time-period for educational purposes. Indeed, we are fortunate (?) to find ourselves living in such a pivotal time, possibly just years away from achieving the technological "Singularity" predicted by some futurists.

Humans have existed for untold thousands of years, but only recently have we developed the capability to transcend our home planet or, conversely, extinguish all life upon it. If we are in fact experiencing the early 21st century in "real time" (and not as a VR recording), then it's tempting to envision future scholars, endowed with immense computing power, creating a simulated version of our era -- and then, just maybe, immersing themselves in it for the sake of understanding.

This scenario is unabashedly hopeful, as it implies that there is a future for humankind. On a darker note, we could be the computational spawn of alien archaeologists, doomed to simulate our own impending demise.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I just discovered that friend and editor Patrick Huyghe has his own website. Worth a look, especially if you're into Fortean phenomena or seeking a balanced approach to paranormal controversies. I'm a fan of his illustrated "Field Guide" series.
Here's the entry/courtyard for a labyrinthine Italian restaurant where I eat occasionally. Huge portions -- don't bother venturing inside unless you have at least one other person to share with.

One of the best things about Buca is the selection of profusely themed dining rooms. The Pope (the old one) and Sinatra figure big in the decor.
I took this through a salon window. Countless mannequin heads gazing demurely into darkness.

"Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation or the so-called 'blush response'?"
This "smart drink" is called the "Pink Door." No psychoactives included.

Looking down into one of the Plaza's omnipresent fountains. There's a lot of change down there; maybe if I rolled up my sleeves and sort of casually hunched over I could stealthily scrape up enough for another Pink Door . . .

Now playing:

1.) "Fear of Music" (Talking Heads)
2.) "The B-52s" (The B-52s)
3.) "This Fffire" (Franz Ferdinand)
4.) "OK Computer" (Radiohead)
5.) "The Cure" (The Cure)
Human evolution at the crossroads

"'These issues touch upon religion, upon politics, upon values,' said Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the University of California at Los Angeles. 'This is about our vision of the future, essentially, and we'll never completely agree about those things.'"

Basically, this six-part article is "Transhumanism Lite," barely skimming the surface of what's probably the most portentous issue in our species' history. Having said that, it's not at all bad.
On the other hand (see previous post), the idea of relatively low-tech aliens is certainly appealing for the bizarre light it shines on entrenched notions of "progress." I'm reminded of elaborate plans for Victorian lunar missions and the surreal landscapes concocted by "steampunk" fiction writers.

Take "The Difference Engine" by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, in which computing pioneer Charles Babbage ushers in the digital revolution a century ahead of time . . . Might such an alternate timeline produce viable spacecraft using unexpectedly "primitive" materials? (I once toured the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama and was delighted to discover, upon close inspection, that a large chunk of the erstwhile Skylab space station was made of wood.)

Of course, we don't know if the "aliens," if they exist, are extraterrestrial. They could be an uncatalogued offshoot of the human species. Or time-travelers. Or robots under the orders of a more recognizable intelligence, as suggested by encounters with alleged "Nordics," who appear suspiciously like the "space brothers" encountered by the likes of George Adamski.

Who's "real"? Who's in charge? Perhaps the ufological pageant (see Patrick Huyghe's "The Field Guide to Extraterrestrials") is an intricate game of "good cop/bad cop" designed to confuse and befuddle.
How ETs Control Abductees

"Now scientists have found that they can put mice (an animal that does not regularly hibernate) into a state of suspended animation by exposing them to hydrogen sulfide gas, the gas that produces the 'rotten egg' smell. This is big news for people interested in the possibility of alien life, because abductees universally report encountering that exact smell during their encounters with ETs."

Actually, the smell of sulfur isn't exactly "universal." And I personally doubt that aliens are putting people into suspended animation . . . and even if they did, I'd be surprised to find them using something as crude as hydrogen sulfide. If abductions are real events, then they're typically pretty brief; two hours seems to be around the average time spent by abductees aboard alien craft (or inside underground bases, or wherever). And if abductees are placed in hibernation, as suggested by the Unknown Country article, then how are they able to recount their experiences in such nuanced detail (whether through conscious recall or hypnosis)?

It's more likely the strange smells that accompany "abductions" are like those experienced by some epileptics prior to seizures. Which begs the question: Are abduction/encounter experiences hallucinatory, or does proximity to an alien presence sometimes "scramble" the brain's electrical operation, resulting in such things as phantom odors?

Quick note: Since I wrote the above, Unknown Country has modified its article to clarify that aliens might use some form of hydrogen sulfide gas to render humans unconscious prior to abduction -- not during. Maybe. I could elaborate endlessly on this theme (for example, the level of technology seen aboard UFOs seems far in advance of chemical anesthesia), but I'll refrain from revising my original response.
Augmenting the Animal Kingdom

This is a must-read, loaded with alarmingly topical science fiction riffs. For example:

"On tap for the future: Rodents zooming around with night-vision survival goggles, squirrels hoarding nuts using GPS locators and fish armed with metal detectors to avoid the angler's hook."

Ever read Bruce Sterling's "Our Neural Chernobyl" (collected in "Globalhead")?

Then there's this, which raises disquieting existential questions:

"Future technologies, though, could yield fruit. For example, some theorists have floated a Matrix-like scenario that would use direct stimulation of the brain to fool livestock about the reality of their living conditions."

Finally, the obligatory "Planet of the Apes" reference. (I regret never seeing -- or even hearing of -- "The Day of the Dolphin" . . .)

"Ultimately, some theorists argue, humans may have to decide whether they have a moral duty to help animals cross the divide that separates the species by giving them the ability to acquire higher mental functions -- a theme explored in apocalyptic films such as Planet of the Apes and The Day of the Dolphin."

I haven't read a lot of David Brin, but this reminds me of his "Uplift" books, in which various advanced species act as stewards for less-developed ones.

Oh, and don't miss the concept art.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

In the Stars: Is There Life On Titan?

"Last Jan. 14, during its descent to Titan and brief lifetime on the surface, the European Huygens probe snapped a rather striking photo.

"For one thing, it revealed the moon's landscape looking amazingly like a shoreline bordered by rolling, snow-covered hills. Of course, the ocean and snow, if it existed, would have been composed of methane.

"Also appearing in the photo, however, is a structure consisting of two straight sides joined at a point, like a very large, v-shaped wall.

"The image is rather fuzzy and, no doubt, there is some logical explanation for the feature that does not involve the Titanian equivalent of China's Great Wall.

"Still, the intriguing thought remains: Did Huygens casually capture and transmit the first photograph of an alien artifact?"

Remember that this isn't the first "Great Wall" discovered by the Cassini mission. Iapetus boasts a massive equatorial "wall" that defies natural models.

Iapetus' equatorial bulge. Has someone re-engineered Saturn's moons?

What, I wonder, are the odds of two Saturnian moons harboring giant wall-like anomalies?
Maybe if we don't look it will go away . . .

Earth-science satellite network in jeopardy

"The US network of satellites monitoring the environmental health of the Earth is on the verge of collapse, according to a highly critical report released on Wednesday by the country's National Research Council.

"Six recent NASA Earth-observing missions have been delayed, scaled back or completely cut. Several of the cancelled missions were follow-ups to successful satellite projects.

"The US is probably responsible for about half of the Earth-science satellites currently in orbit, says Richard Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and co-chair of the committee that produced the report."
Scientists: Life on Mars Likely

"Evidence is building to suggest biological processes might be operating on the red planet, and life on Mars, many scientists believe, is now more a likelihood than merely a possibility."

Yeah, I know -- old news. I'm just doing my part to keep the meme alive.
MICHIO KAKU talks parallel universes (chat transcript)

"Our Universe will die in ice rather than fire. Our Universe eventually, trillions and trillions of years away from now, will reach near absolute zero making intelligent life impossible. Therefore, we may have to escape into hyper-space if we are to survive the death of the Universe."
Sorry -- more fear-mongering . . .

Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strikes Against WMD Considered as CIA Says Al-Qa'ida Has Them

I especially like the following paragraphs:

"This new doctrine offers field commanders more latitude to use nuclear weapons than before, and changes the commitment the US made 10 years ago not to use nuclear weapons against countries that do not possess them. Now, the nuclear option is open against countries or entities that possess or use any form of weapon of mass destruction.

"It offers no explanation of how the US would know if a given target actually possesses such weapons. However, it is likely that a nuclear strike would erase any evidence of the presence of WMDs in the strike area, making it unnecessary afterward to offer proof that they were actually present."
Global warming 'proof' detected

"'This is almost unprecedented,' said Gavin Schmidt. 'The normal state of the atmosphere is that pretty much the same amount of energy that comes in leaves; and only when there are very large changes is that going to change.

"'Historically, those changes have happened very slowly; but what we are doing now is we are changing that imbalance at a rate which appears to be unprecedented over at least a thousand years and possibly longer.'"

Monday, May 02, 2005

Scientists: Asteroid 1950 DA May Strike Earth Centuries from Now

"Why worry about an event that might happen some 35 generations into the future? Lead author Jon Giorgini of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains he isn't trying to sound a warning bell.

"Instead, he wants to get researchers thinking about how to improve predictions of asteroid collisions - and how to prevent them."

If humans still exist 35 generations from now, I suspect we will have effectively taken control of our evolution and begun "disturbing the universe" in meaningful ways. Rogue space-rocks will be, at best, a minor nuisance.

It's the next century that really worries me, asteroids or no asteroids.
Ozone layer most fragile on record

"The increased loss of ozone allows more harmful ultraviolet light to reach the earth's surface, making children and outdoor enthusiasts such as skiers more vulnerable to skin cancer - a disease which is already dramatically increasing."

EMP nukes, melanoma . . . Man, I love Monday.
I'm a member of the UFO Blog Coalition -- and I'm proud!
Ex-CIA chief warns of EMP nuke threat

"In an article titled, 'Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars,' the journal explains how an EMP attack on America's electronic infrastructure, caused by the detonation of a nuclear weapon high above the U.S., would bring the country to its knees.

"'Once you confuse the enemy communication network you can also disrupt the work of the enemy command- and decision-making center,' the article states. 'Even worse today when you disable a country's military high command through disruption of communications, you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country. If the world's industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults then they will disintegrate within a few years.'"

Sunday, May 01, 2005

I was admiring a BMW motorcycle this evening when suddenly I realized there was a fight going on a few yards away. There was a cinematic "smack" as a biker guy landed a pretty good one on another biker guy's face. Things looked promising. I postponed my examination of the BMW to enjoy the fight.

But then, instead of seeing the brawl through to its testosterone-soaked conclusion, the combatants recoiled in sudden panic and started arguing and bitching over who started it. I heard one of them yelling about "assault" -- and, soon enough, one of the bikers had been cuffed by Plaza security. How pathetic. Have these guys never seen "The Wild One"? If you're going to fight, fight, damnit. If you're going to moan about legalities, at least wait until the other guy's unconscious and bleeding on the sidewalk.

To make matters even more sickening, onlookers were talking about the aborted conflict in tones of hushed reverence when they should have been waving their fists and shouting for blood. Better yet, they should have gotten in on the action before security had a chance to squelch it. What the hell's wrong with people these days?
Strange that I never noticed this before, but SF author Rudy Rucker bears an uncanny resemblance to Morrissey.
Winding down today's tour, here's one of several nudes by Henry Moore that lurk in front of the Nelson:

And here's a brief but revealing glance at Kansas City's arachnid problem:

This guy is actually a simulacrum by the great Duane Hansen.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art boasts this recreation of Rodin's "The Thinker."

This organic-looking "blobject" is actually pretty stunning seen in person. It reminds me of a jellyfish from the fifth dimension, patiently emitting luminous wisdom. (Taken inside the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.)

This gorgeous angst-ridden clown-thing has made at least one guest appearance in my all-time favorite comic strip, "Zippy the Pinhead."

You're walking along, minding your own business, when suddenly you come across two biomorphs copulating in the grass . . .

What do you want to bet there's a dead alien inside this?

I'd love to have my picture taken in the midst of these slender, depersonalized metaphors, but I'm afraid someone on the museum grounds would see me.

There might be a good horror story here, actually. Something like: You get too close to the exhibit and you wind up as one as one of the statues (through means technological or supernatural).

It's Sunday! That means it's time for more random photographs!

(I term these two water-spewing critters "spit-kitties.")