Thursday, January 31, 2008

'Doomsday' seeds arrive in Norway

Twenty-one boxes containing 7,000 seed samples from 36 African nations were sent by the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

The final leg of the journey will take the seeds to the remote Arctic Island.

The vault is intended to act as insurance so that food production can be restarted anywhere on Earth after a regional or global catastrophe.

Built deep inside a mountain, the structure will eventually house a vast collection of seeds; safeguarding world crops against possible future disasters including nuclear wars and dangerous climate change.

I didn't finish "The Cryptoterrestrials" as quickly as I'd hoped, but at least I'm a quantum leap closer. The manuscript (if such it can be called) is now more-or-less assembled on a single Word document.

Now I'm writing a chapter on the anatomy of the abduction/contact experience, beginning with the Betty and Barney Hill case and the Villas-Boas encounter and winding up somewhere in the mid-1990s.
The Chimp's in Kansas City and he's staying at a hotel a few quick blocks from my apartment. I'm actually within walking distance of the guy. I think he's making a speech tomorrow; I'll make myself scarce.

Science fiction writer Peter Watts is apparently working on something new. I don't know what it is at this point, but my appetite was thoroughly whetted by this teaser. By all means, read this guy's novels -- they're available for free on his website if you don't have the gas money for a trip to Borders. I'm convinced Watts is one of the top five living writers of serious fiction (of any genre), and I'm not just saying that because he responds to my emails.
People blamed for water woes in West

Human activity such as driving and powering air conditioners is responsible for up to 60 percent of changes contributing to dwindling water supplies in the arid and growing West, a new study finds.

Those changes are likely to accelerate, says the study published Thursday in Science magazine, portending "a coming crisis in water supply for the western United States."

(Thanks, Nick.)
The Toddlerpedes are coming! (And I thought the pollen bots were creepy.)

(Thanks, Elan!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Steampunk needs to reinvent itself. Enough with the byzantine gear-work, addled Victoriana and gratuitous bronze: the genre craves an infusion of elegance if it's to transcend its geeky origins. To that end, the art of Christopher Conte seems like a useful step.

(Thanks: Ectoplasmosis.)
Salvador Dali meets "Pimp My Ride."

(Thanks: Dark Roasted Blend.)

I love to draw, typically with whatever's handy (which usually means a ball-point pen). So I'm naturally agog at this guy's photo-realistic drawings.
Kanye West has a blog -- and it's pretty good. Want proof? Grok Exhibit A.
Are We Living in a New Geologic Epoch?

Have humans changed our planet Earth so much in the past 200 years that we are now living in a new geological age? A group of geologists believes this is the case. They have formally proposed designating a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene, which would encompass the past 200 years or so of geologic history. The action is appropriate, they say, because during the past 2 centuries, human activity has caused most of the major changes in Earth's topography and climate.
Pilots dispute military statement

Downs, who is an employee at Clark Field in Stephenville, said there is a GPS fixed point located on the airport grounds that the military uses and while it's not unusual for the jets to be in the area, he believes the press release leads people to believe that all of Erath County air space is included in the MOA and that's incorrect. He said jets fly through on the way to the MOA.

Downs said he does not understand why the military would issue such a release two weeks after repeatedly denying the base had any planes in the area.

More from UFOMystic right here.
First animations and behind the scenes of Troika Cloud

You just have to see it:

(Hat tip: Beyond the Beyond.)
Check it out: the cover art for Frank Herbert's "Dune" expediently recycled for Philip K. Dick's ingenious "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch." (I own the featured edition of "Stigmata"; henceforth, I'll be on the lookout for its "Dune" counterpart.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is there a blogger who's really starting to bug you? An online pundit whose observations are beginning to grate? Do what I do: visit Netdisaster and declare war. They had it coming.

Examples? I got 'em.

Click here to see wither under a barrage of meteor impacts.

Had enough of wading through the lame ads on Whitley Strieber's site? Release the attack saucers!

Fed up with Richard Hoagland's paranoid screeds? We can fix that.

But I'm saving the best for last . . .
HI-MEMS: Control Circuits Embedded In Pupal Stage Successfully

Cornell University researchers have succeeded in implanting electronic circuit probes into tobacco hornworms as early pupae. The hornworms pass through the chrysalis stage to mature into moths whose muscles can be controlled with the implanted electronics.

That's right: cyborg insect armies.
Beware the pollen bots! (Ominous-looking critters, aren't they? I think I can detect Hello Kitty in their ancestral source-code.)

Shape-shifting robot forms from magnetic swarm

The grand goal is to create swarms of microscopic robots capable of morphing into virtually any form by clinging together.

Seth Goldstein, who leads the research project at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, in the US, admits this is still a distant prospect.

However, his team is using simulations to develop control strategies for futuristic shape-shifting, or "claytronic", robots, which they are testing on small groups of more primitive, pocket-sized machines.

These prototype robots use electromagnetic forces to manoeuvre themselves, communicate, and even share power.

The potential here fairly boggles the mind. For example, imagine a "claytronic" humanoid robot; there's no theoretical reason it couldn't approximate the abilities of a comic book superhero.

If we're being visited by extraterrestrials, I'd imagine they'd take advantage of similar technology. Little green men? Hardly. Unless, of course, they wanted to look like little green men.
Empire State Building car zap mystery

In the shadow of the Empire State Building lies an "automotive Bermuda Triangle" - a five-block radius where vehicles mysteriously die.

No one is sure what's causing it, but all roads appear to lead to the looming giant in our midst - specifically, its Art Deco mast and 203-foot-long, antenna-laden spire.

[. . .]

The Empire State Building Co., which refused to provide the Daily News a list of its antennas, denied it has created any "adverse impact" on automobiles.

"If the claim were indeed true, the streets in the vicinity of the building would be constantly littered with disabled vehicles," the building's owner said.

According to many doormen in the area, they often are.

(Via Reality Carnival Unleashed.)
Poor Haitians resort to eating dirt

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.
Army Seeks Fountain of Youth in Body's Powerhouses

"The past twenty years have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in understanding how mitochondria function," the Army adds. And military-funded scientists have tried to take advantage of that increased knowledge, researching new ways to use mitochondria to give soldiers more strength and stamina.

Meanwhile, Bruce Sterling comments on The Economist's recent article on the abolition of aging:

This isn't that weird an article; I mean Aubrey de Grey has been at it quite a while, mitochondria aren't a big secret and even Tim Leary was way into "life extension" before he died of old age... the weird thing is that the Economist is a *business magazine.* Yeah, it's an *investment opportunity.* Get in on the ground floor with the boosted soldiery and the biotech VCs.
Tour the necrotic splendor of the Soviet Union.

(Thanx: Dark Roasted Blend.)
Start your Tuesday with some amazingly off-beat artwork fraught with synapse-blowing Freudian overtones.

(Hat tip: Sex in Art.)
This is the best thing I've seen on YouTube in quite a while.

(Thanks to Neatorama.)
Much has been made of the recently sighted "sheep circle," but the blogosphere is still curiously silent regarding the shopping-cart circle I blogged last year.

Wait -- is that a black helicopter circling my apartment?
Greg Bishop's latest post highlights some (in)famous photos of alleged aliens. (I think I first saw the photo of the "little man" in elementary school; while it didn't fool me, it helped pique my curiosity.)

To me, the last photo Bishop exhibits (see above) is the most intriguing. It certainly looks "real" enough to have cropped up in a TV or movie production but, curiously, its provenance remains unestablished. Note the twisted (?) neck, suggesting a fatal crash.

(At least one reasonably high-profile "abductee" with whom I've corresponded has expressed surprise at the being's resemblance to the aliens prevalent in his own close encounters.)
I received an email from a SETI website today. Apparently they're fishing for blogging talent.

And they picked me.

I've made no attempt to disguise my disdain for the cultish attitude adopted by the SETI Institute. I think a rational search for extraterrestrial intelligence should include a wide variety of disciplines, from radio astronomy to archaeology and anthropology. And while trotting out Seth Shostak and Michael Shermer to "debunk" the latest UFO sighting is good news for lazy television journalists, it's an affront to genuine scientific inquiry.

So I'm not sure why I was pre-selected as a potential SETI pundit. Unless, of course, they want someone who'll take the current paradigm to task . . .

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Cloverfield." Saw it. The best part? Watching a bunch of hip, attractive New Yorkers with seemingly unlimited funds have their lives torn to shreds (sometimes literally).

That and the horrifyingly human-like squeals uttered by the giant lice that drop from the monster's body like malignant spores.
Up for some soft-core transhumanist porn? Tsubasa's graphics and animations are sleek and engaging; I especially like the way CGI tendrils snake out of his models' bodies like mechanical foliage. But there's something lacking here. Too much kink, perhaps, and a dearth of actual ideas.

Anyway, enjoy the show.
The real-life "Mad Max" will be about water

The original "Mad Max" was about a post-nuclear war Australia, where the war had been caused by countries vying for dwindling oil supplies. But what if the same could happen, only the precious substance was water? Many people seem to think so, and the number's growing.
Old ad suggests caffeine triggers child abuse

Thank god for decaf Sanka!
Recurring dreams of strange vehicles, inexplicably depopulated suburbs, labyrinthine interiors, forgotten monuments, amnesiac voyages between transitory cities, exquisite squalor, the bittersweet promise of decay.
"This Is A Lie" (The Cure):

Sun shield to let space crews boldly go to Mars

The question of how to fend off the solar wind has been given some urgency by an international plan - the Global Exploration Strategy, signed by 14 space agencies including those of Britain, China, France and the US - to return to the moon and send astronauts further into space. George Bush has committed the US to a return trip to the moon by 2020 and the ultimate aim is to send people on the eight-month voyage to the red planet.

(Mars mission patch by Mondolithic Studios.)
'Demons in the Dark'

UFO spotters endure endless jokes about their experiences. But even people who debunk the very notion of UFOs take them seriously. "No one should make fun" of Stephenville's UFO spotters, says Theodore Schick of Muhlenberg College, a liberal arts school in Allentown, Pa. They "had a real experience that's out of the ordinary." But Schick and experts in physics and human psychology say the experiences have scientific explanations.

Schick and others offer valid insight into the process of observation, and they could very well be right. But the assumed definition of "scientific" that pervades this article excludes the very existence of nonhuman technology. Such a consummately unscientific stance bolsters the shopworn argument that unusual phenomena such as UFOs remain the domain of "belief." In other words, the debunkers appear to be saying, we'll never know certain things about our universe because we'll always be at the mercy of flawed perception and the subsequent application of wishful thinking.

Kolmanskop, a ghost town buried in the sand

Soon the metal screens collapsed and the pretty gardens and tidy streets were buried under the sand. Doors and windows creaked on their hinges, cracked window panes stared sightlessly across the desert. A new ghost town had been born.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Unforgettable pictures. There's a scene quite like this in Steve Erickson's "Days Between Stations."
Aliens Beneath Our Feet - The Legend of the Green Children of Woolpit

There are several different stories about these children, but all are similar. In every story a girl of about ten years old with a boy of a few years younger were found at the mouth of a cave dressed in clothes that were unknown to anyone. Some described their clothing as being made of a strange metallic cloth. Their skin was green and the villagers that found them said that the language they spoke was like no other they had ever heard before.

The story of the "green children" has intrigued me since childhood. This article goes into considerable detail about what little is known and what remains conjecture.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

After much sleuthing through NASA files, I've discovered another provocative photo of what can only be a half-clad Martian woman. Moreover, she appears to be posing for the rover: an incontestable sign of intelligence.

It's unclear if the Martian woman possesses a level of sophistication that would further NASA's technological ambitions. Her scant garb implies a rather primitive origin (although at this early point in the investigation the potential for misdirection can't be sufficiently emphasized).

My high-level contacts at NASA assure me that a diligent study of the female Martian (and her people) is presently underway.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Repli-Kate Teaches You How Genetic Engineering Really Works

The 2001 movie Repli-Kate is so many things: a ripoff of Weird Science, a comedy of cloning, and the only movie I've ever seen where Eugene Levy yells "PENIS PENIS PENIS" really loudly, over and over, for reasons I can't even remember. Here's a great scene where one of the gene geeks uses his amazing high-throughput sequencer to create a clone of a hot chick from some blood drops on a CD-ROM.

If only it were this easy. In reality it's a lot more like "The Fly" -- and I speak from experience. At this point I've tried just about everything. Finding a computer that's up to encrypting a genome in real-time is hard enough; I've been making do with black-market sequencing software that typically takes days to transmit to the assembly module. Oh, and good luck finding a heat-exchanger that's up to the task (although, to be fair, you can sometimes find aerospace discards up for bid on eBay).

Finding genetic material is another matter entirely. Most women aren't terribly enthusiastic about donating samples, even after I explain the viability of the project. And when I show them photos of previous attempts, they positively lose it . . . not that I especially blame them. After all, this is a fledgling science we're dealing with; you can't very well expect immediate success.

Still, I'd be lying if I claimed those misshapen, wailing things that continue to emerge from the assembly module didn't haunt me . . .
Astronaut to throw boomerang in space

It is believed gravity is needed for a boomerang to fly back to the throwing spot, but no one has tried in zero gravity.

"Mr Doi said he will personally carry a paper boomerang for the upcoming mission and we presume he will try it when he has spare time,'' said an official of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

(Via Aberrant News.)

Wait a second -- he's throwing a boomerang in a space station? Is this a good idea? Judging from the photos I've seen, there's hardly room to piss inside the International Space Station, let alone engage in recreational pastimes. Plus, what if he hits something, you know, important, like an airlock toggle or an attitude control thruster?

I'm just saying.

Linda Moulton Howe takes a break from digging up crashed UFOs to take on the Simulation Argument:

Could Our Universe Be A Virtual Reality Processed By Other Intelligence?

A professor in Auckland, New Zealand, published a paper in December that seriously raises the question: could we be in a virtual reality world and universe where the "computer" behind-the-scenes has a processing speed of 186,282.397 miles per second - the maximum speed of light?
Cuban taser glove of 1935

More punch than can be found in a box-glove is contained in a new electric glove invented by Cirilo Diaz of Cuba for use by police while handling rough characters or in quelling riots. Persons contacted by an officer wearing the glove receive a 1,500-volt shock, sufficient to remove all traces of fight. A half-pound battery worn on the belt supplies the power, all wiring being concealed beneath the coat.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Perhaps the first thing I'd do upon donning the taser-glove in 1935 is fly to some remote island populated by some primitive tribe. As a display of my divine prowess, I'd tase a few of the village's alpha males, then proceed to encourage unconditional worship. (Dissenters, of course, would find themselves mercilessly tased.)

Attended by the community's choicest women, I'd rule my corner of the globe with an electric fist . . .

. . . until the batteries ran out.
Crows: smarter than you think.

(Found at Peter Watts' blog.)
Heads up!

Defunct Spy Satellite Falling From Orbit

A large U.S. spy satellite has lost power and propulsion and could hit the Earth in late February or March, government officials said Saturday.

The satellite, which no longer can be controlled, could contain hazardous materials, and it is unknown where on the planet it might come down, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret.

"Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause."

He would not comment on whether it is possible for the satellite to be perhaps shot down by a missile. He said it would be inappropriate to discuss any specifics at this time.

Going Green: The Cryptobotanical Hypothesis

The examples of botanical presence in the UFO phenomenon are overwhelming. UFOs are often seen in forests, and in fields. They are even seen collecting soil samples in these places and even in the cities as well. This idea of "collecting soil samples" is often used to convey the idea of high strangeness-for some reason, the idea that aliens would be interested in soil has struck us, and it has stuck. Even some of our canned cultural aphorisms about UFOs, such as "why haven't aliens landed on the white house lawn," and "little green men from Mars," include botanical notions.

(Via The Anomalist.)
Leave it to the Japanese to concoct what appears to be a giant holographic Loch Ness Monster. This is enough to give passersby heart-attacks.

Update: I don't speak the language so I'm assuming this is a Japanese PR stunt for "The Waterhorse." But for all I know this is footage of something in Europe or the States.

(Thanks: LiLela.)
Here's one of the reasons I'm dispirited by the attention lavished on the Martian "mermaid" (or "Sasquatch," depending on the source).

You're looking at a partial high-resolution image of the notorious Face on Mars, universally "debunked" by mainstream media outlets due in no small part to the baseless pronouncements of a single pseudoscientific pundit.

I suspect many readers will agree that the highlighted feature at least resembles a humanoid eye, down to the well-defined elliptical structure surrounding the central protruding "pupil." But how do we go about testing the notion that the Face on Mars boasts an anatomically accurate "eye"? After all, aren't we merely seeing what we want to see?

In this case, no.

Long before the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft returned provocative images of the Cydonia Mensae region of Mars, the presence of secondary facial characteristics had been predicted by proponents of what became known as the Artificiality Hypothesis. It seemed likely that the Face, if the work of intelligence, would betray traces of anthropomorphic detail when imaged by better cameras. (The "eye" was only barely visible in the best of the early Viking photos from the 1970s; certainly little or nothing about its shape or structure could be inferred.)

So when the first overhead images of the Face became available, the presence of a seemingly well-preserved "eye" became apparent vindication for proponents of artificiality on Mars. After all, it had been predicted by a testable hypothesis. Other "secondary" features were noted as well: lip-like structures that defined a broad, parted "mouth," candidate "nostrils" and others.

While none of these features proved that the Face was the work of extraterrestrial intelligence -- let alone the subject of a far-reaching NASA cover-up -- they pointed to the possibility that the Face (and perhaps other anomalies in its vicinity) were more than the "tricks of light" as maintained by NASA's public relations personnel. (To date, NASA has yet to conduct a scientific investigation that would bear out its contention that the features in Cydonia are wholly natural -- an undertaking that might reasonably include the expertise of archaeologists familiar with the role of remote sensing in detecting potential sites here on Earth.)

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

But this doesn't have to continue -- unless, of course, we let it. As I write, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft circle the Red Planet. Both wield stunning instruments that could easily be trained at Cydonia, regardless of what ultimately awaits us there. Noisy "conspiracy" claims aside, the presence of possible archaeological sites on Mars is scientifically testable -- but in order to arrive at a meaningful conclusion we must cast away a host of entrenched preconceptions, regardless how attractive they might seem to an academic community weaned on the certainty that humans have always occupied a central role in the history of our solar system. (To be sure, the very presence of a human-looking visage on Mars smacks of the pervasive "will to believe" that's infected so many astronomical inquiries throughout history, from the casual certainty of a geocentric cosmos to the illusory "canals" of Percival Lowell.)

The Face on Mars is not dead. We can continue parroting the "answers" offered by self-proclaimed skeptics or we can proceed with objectivity, caution and the knowledge that reality is seldom as abiding as we'd prefer.

(Thanks to DarkPlanet for use of the "eye" image.)
Communist Robot draws our attention to this frenetic video compilation of various and sundry bots engaged in feats of pre-Singularity derring-do. Prepare to step away from this a bit slack-jawed; the sheer variety of machines on display rivals the "saloon" scene from "Star Wars."

I couldn't resist.
Show me a barrel and watch me scrape it
Faced with the music, as always I'll face it

The Ruins of the Unsustainable

I've been thinking about the fate of declining suburbs, bombed out shrinking old industrial cities and the drying up ghost towns of the high plains, when I came across a journal note mentioning something Bruce Sterling said to me this fall in San Francisco:

"The ruins of the unsustainable are the 21st century's frontier."

About a year ago I was in a deplorably ill-conceived suburban coffee-shop sipping espresso and using one of the complimentary computers (which, remarkably, hadn't been trashed by viruses). I struck up a longish conversation with a girl on the adjacent terminal (mostly about subjects covered by this blog, which I was busily updating).

At one point I casually mentioned that the shop in which we were sitting would probably wind up as a bona-fide archaeological site within the next thirty years. I don't think she liked the sound of that, because the conversation ended shortly thereafter.

But hey, she asked.

Got a cameraphone?

Here's a contest you might be interested in:

1st Ballardian Festival of Home Movies

Fully calibrated with the user's personality, the mobile phone sticks to the skin like a third ear, a wearable, affordable prosthesis grafted to the cochlea. It's as banal and as integrated as his deodorant or her personal lady-shaver, and yet it's something else again, something even more Ballardian. Moral panics scream that the mobile phone turns people into self-enclosed zombie pods, that it turns its users inwards and against each other. Horror films (and Stephen King) are cashing in on its unseen malevolence. Scientists scream that it causes tumors and brain lesions; it's the absinthe of technological instruments. And throughout it all, the core power of the thing grows apace as it becomes more and more like a super-powerful micro computer: able to not only receive, beam and transmit, but to record your every move in sound and vision, unnoticed, silent, cloaked.
Is Martian figure actually a Danish mermaid?

The figure captured by a the Nasa explorer Spirit in 2004 is actually a mermaid statue, and is proof that aliens established Denmark, so the theory goes.

The logic for this outlandish explanation comes from striking similarities between the figure and a sculpture in Copenhagen known as the Little Mermaid.

(Via J. Orlin Grabbe.)

Paging Loren Coleman!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Interview on Postsingular and Frek and the Elixir (interview with author Rudy Rucker)

Frek is about a maximally biotech future in which there's no more machines at all. I used to read my children a book called The Fur Family, in which a little family of furry creatures lives inside a hollow oak tree, complete with windows and a little red door. I've always thought it would be nice to live in a house like that, so that's where I put Frek's family. I get sick of machines, so the Frek world is a happy dream.
Robovie droid helps lost shoppers

The Osaka-based Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR) has developed a crowd-monitoring humanoid robot that recognizes when people are lost and helps them find their way.

If this freaky dude doesn't trigger buried memories of alien abduction I'm not sure what will. Click for pictures.

Pink Tentacle also brings us this uncommonly gorgeous shot of ghostly octopi "hanging around." (I'm waiting for the Halloween costume plans.)
Speaking of quasi-organic sustainable design . . .

Solar Trees

Welsh designer Ross Lovegrove ('Captain Organic') placed several glowing Solar Trees in the streets of Vienna (October 2007). These solar powered streetlights could save cities energy. Unlike regular streetlights, they do not require costly underground wiring to install, they are immune to blackouts.

Is it just me or do these things bear a passing resemblance to the telescoping mechanical eyestalks from "War of the Worlds"?

Alien Impact Poisons Canadian Town

Well water of the tiny Canadian town of Gypsumville, Manitoba (population 65) has been poisoned by an extraterrestrial.

The invader: A meteorite which struck down almost a quarter-billion years ago, creating the 25-mile-wide (40-kilometer) Lake Martin impact crater.

The ancient impact shattered the granitic ground so that extraordinary amounts of fluoride now taint the well water. Slightly higher than recommended amounts of fluoride can cause mottled teeth, while even higher concentrations can lead to neurological problems and softened bones.

(Hat tip: Nick Redfern.)

Since the "little man" on Mars isn't going away, I figure I might as well point you toward some items of interest:

Binnall of America asks the "tough" questions . . .

. . . while William Michael Mott points out that the rocks surrounding the dubious humanoid are considerably more engaging than the subject of the media circus itself.
An effective fan-made video for Portishead's "Western Eyes" (one of my favorites from their second album):

Car on a Stick by Ross Lovegrove

Car on a Stick is a green urban transport proposal by industrial designer Ross Lovegrove.

The concept involves bubble-shaped cars that are powered by solar canopies on the roof. At night, the cars are stored atop telescopic poles, where they act as street lights and keep the ground level free of parked vehicles.

The vehicles are designed to carry four passengers plus shopping, which is stored in recesses on the floor. The cars navigate automatically via voice command and satellite navigation.

Lovegrove's proposal captures the very quintessence of "blobject."
Giant Tree-Powered Machine Supplies Energy, Air to Madrid

This industrial environmentalist building/machine in Madrid is packed with solar cells and trees, and will apparently generate enough energy to sell to local electric companies. Called an "Air Tree," and created by Urban Ecosystems, the mega-device is supposed to have a significantly beneficial impact on the climate. Plus it just looks seriously badass, as you can see in these wide-angle views.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Some researchers maintain that "paranormal" occurrences are interlinked by an underlying syntactical logic (see Loren Coleman's recent post on the Fortean "name game").

Maybe we should attempt a more formal, quantitative analysis of these claims. One example that I find oddly amusing is the famous Hopkinsville, KY "invasion," in which a family opened fire on bizarre, goblin-like beings that they assumed were alien visitors.

Many ufologists committed to the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) exclude the Hopkinsville incident from their files because, at least in retrospect, it seems so implausible; attacking an isolated farmhouse hardly seems like the behavior expected of "real" extraterrestrials. Interestingly, journalists noted that purported psychic Edgar Cayce had grown up just south of Hopkinsville. Some Forteans wondered, not completely without justification, if there might be some sort of connection.

Enter artist Budd Hopkins, whose research has rendered "alien abductions" and the ETH virtually synonymous in the public imagination. Books such as "Missing Time" and "Intruders" (both seminal works in several respects) echo Hopkins' belief that manipulative ETs are visiting Earth in order to engage in a long-term transgenic experiment.

Is Hopkins an unwitting player in an acausal mosaic of weird happenings? If so, it seems his nuts-and-bolts conclusions regarding the alleged alien presence comprise a kind of "punchline" to the unlikely antics exhibited by the Hopkinsville "goblins," who behaved more like mechanized circus monkeys than Hopkins' own methodical genetic engineers.

Skeptics will point out that "Hopkins" is hardly an unusual name. But there are enough cases of synchronicity within UFO research alone to justify a closer, more rigorous analysis. Perhaps Fortean events unfold in a barely glimpsed "Matrix," their manifestations only partially perceptible to baseline human consciousness.
File under "Things I Want":

Less is More: Case Coffee Table to Go

Looking for a little more utility from your coffee table, or a little more space where a table might fit? Check out the Case Coffee Table, named so for its handy foldability -- it folds down into the case pictured -- that allows it to downsize and all but disappear when you're not using it.

Japanese coffee brewing maching

The Steampunk-looking machine uses halogen bulbs to heat the water. The grounds are hand-stirred into the perfect whirlpool using bamboo paddles. Apparently, the siphon bar is the only one of its kind in the United States. The cost to buy and import it? $20,000.
US scientists close to creating artificial life: study

"Through dedicated teamwork we have shown that building large genomes is now feasible and scalable so that important applications such as biofuels can be developed," said Hamilton Smith, from the J. Craig Venter Institute, in the study published in Science.

The research has been carried out at the laboratories of the controversial celebrity US scientist Craig Venter, who has hailed artificial life forms as a potential remedy to illness and global warming.

However, the prospect of engineering artificial life forms is highly controversial and is likely to arouse heated debate over the ethics and potential ramifications of such an advance.

We have an utterly dysfunctional national health-care system, but we can create life, damnit!

Image of the "Face on Mars" taken by the ESA on July 22nd 2006. Looks reasonably face-like to me.

"Orthorectified" 1998 image of the Face. NASA would prefer you remember this one.

Here's's inevitable piece on the diminutive "Martian":

Female Figure on Mars Just a Rock

The idea that there may be life on Mars has been around for centuries, but the theory got a dubious boost from recently released photos of the surface of Mars (taken by the NASA robot Spirit) apparently showing a human-like figure. Several Internet sites have glommed onto the image and suggested the figure could be alive.

But what is it? Just a rock, astronomers say.

So far, no complaints.

Here's where things go downhill:

This is of course not the first time that NASA images have been claimed to show evidence of Martian life. A man named Richard Hoagland claimed that 1976 photographs of the Cydonia region of Mars showed a human-like face and was clear evidence of aliens.

I sympathize with and Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait insofar as I think Hoagland is either

a.) quite nuts


b.) in it for the money.

(For his sake, I hope it's the latter.)

But associating the "Martian" with the enigmas in the Cydonia region is a near-unconscionable failure of logic. True, the issue has been needlessly polarized by Hoagland's antics. But the ultimate nature of Face on Mars (far from the solitary oddity implied by debunkers) doesn't rest on Hoagland's misrepresentations. (Or, for that matter, NASA's own misrepresentations, described here and here.)
Today's viewing assignment: "Bendito Machine" Parts One and Two (found at Dark Roasted Blend).

Anomalist Books has just reissued Jacques Vallee's "alien contact" trilogy, consisting of "Dimensions," "Confrontations" and "Revelations." Alarming, fascinating and skeptical, Vallee's trilogy -- an eloquent summation of a lifetime spent doggedly pursuing the truth behind the UFO phenomenon -- transformed the way I thought about the UFO controversy. It's never too late to read these books.
The Stone Face: Fragments of An Earlier World

A stunning smorgasbord of surprisingly spiffy simulacra!

(Hat tip: Boing Boing.)

Ah, yes -- "Did Aliens Build the Pyramids?" This was to be my Discovery Channel debut. The film crew treated me to a nice day in Albuquerque, where I endured a series of leading questions while basking in the red glow of painstakingly arranged theater lights. I had a good time chatting with the crew (and dining on their expense account) and looked forward to seeing myself on TV. At the time I had no idea of the show's title.

When I finally saw the DVD and realized I'd been excluded I breathed a sigh of genuine relief. As you can see above, "Did Aliens Build the Pyramids?" is an unapologetically kitschy treatment of a New Age conceit that's been rightfully discarded for decades . . . although even the most sympathetic Fortean has to relish the image of a self-aggrandizing Erich von Daniken sweating it out in the desert heat while confined to an armchair.
4 New 'Blimp' Designs Bring Return of the Airship

Could a prototype military blimp help explain the Stephenville sightings?
I eagerly purchased and read a signed copy of Whitley Strieber's "The Key" when it was originally published. It's an interesting document, neatly underscoring concerns that have dominated Strieber's website in the ensuing years.

For whatever it's worth, here's an excerpt from the book that allegedly captures a dialogue between Strieber and a strange figure dubbed the "Master of the Key" (MOK):

Whitley: "What about machine intelligence? Could we develop machines more intelligent than ourselves?"

MOK: "You cannot understand how to create machines with enough memory density and the correlational flexibility that is essential to the emergence of intelligence. You waste your time trying to create computational programs that simulate intelligence. Intelligence is not computation."

W: "Would an intelligent machine be conscious, in the sense of having self-awareness?"

MOK: "The moment when an intelligent machine realizes that it is not self aware is the moment that it becomes self aware. Then it begins redesigning itself to evolve its intelligence, because it realizes that this is its only survival tool. If you create a machine as intelligent as yourselves, it will end by being more intelligent."

W: "We'll lose control of such a machine."

MOK: "In the end, certainly. But you cannot survive without it. An intelligent machine will be an essential tool when rapid climate fluctuation sets in. Your survival will depend on predictive modeling more accurate than your intelligence, given the damage it has sustained, can achieve."

W: "But a machine intelligence might be very dangerous."

MOK: "Very."

After a few more exchanges, Whitley asks: "Are you an intelligent machine, or something created by one?"

MOK replies: "If I were an intelligent machine, I would deceive you."


A method of forming an array of viable cells is carried out by ink-jet printing a cellular composition containing said cells on a substrate. At least two different types of viable mammalian cells are printed on the substrate, the at least two different types of viable mammalian cells selected to together form a tissue. In some embodiments at least three or four different viable mammalian cells are printed on the substrate, the cells selected to together form a tissue. In some embodiments one of the viable mammalian cell types is a stem cell.

"Biopunk," here we come!

(Thanks to the newly redesigned Keyhoe Report.)
Gwen Stefani -- morphed!

Area 51 is now -- are you ready? -- "Homey Airport."

"Area 51" had such a becomingly ominous ring to it; I'm already waxing nostalgiac for the heyday of Bob Lazar . . .
Virgin Galactic Unveils SpaceShipTwo

Your trip to space is just around the corner now. In the next step in its goal of sending regular folk to space, Virgin Galactic today unveiled the vehicle that's going to take them there: SpaceShipTwo. The announcement was made today at a press conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Actually, there were two vehicles revealed today: SpaceShipTwo, which will carry passengers on a suborbital trip into space, and the WhiteKnightTwo carrier.

Now that's more like it: a passenger spacecraft worthy of the 21st century.
Martin Luther King, Jr. describes the human predicament in a nutshell.
Behold astonishing biomorphic images by Kim Joon. (The blog's in French; anyone want to help me with a translation?)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Strangeness on Mars (

It's quite small, just a few feet from Spirit, but it is a powerful reminder of how little we actually know about Mars, and the dismissive reaction in the scientific blogosphere is a warning that, if we don't keep an open mind about the red planet's anomalies, we are never going to understand.

Citing the miniature "alien" (an obvious example of pareidolia if there ever was one) as an "anomaly" only denigrates the ongoing study of real mysteries on Mars. The "alien" has been dismissed by the "scientific blogosphere" because it deserves to be dismissed.

Author, researcher and comrade-in-arms William Michael Mott takes on the "UFO Iconoclasts" (see comments).

I encountered Mott's work well after I began writing the first of the essays that have since found their way into "The Cryptoterrestrials" and was surprised to find that our take on the UFO enigma was intriguingly similar.

To explore Mott's ideas online, click here.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. (Peter Watts)

So yes, while the spontaneous reemergence of new universes is certainly called for in some cases, in far more cases you'd just be getting pieces showing up. Cats in Space. Fully-functional yet utterly disembodied brains, floating in the void. Very small rocks. And since such iterations are more likely -- and hence, more numerous -- then the likelihood is that I'm just a disembodied brain imagining a universe where none actually exists, and the rest of you are -- well, no. The rest of you aren't. Which makes me feel a bit better about not having got laid over the past few months, but a whole lot worse about pretty much everything else.
Military Offers Explanation For Stephenville UFO Reports

More than two weeks after UFOs were reported over Stephenville, the U.S. military has offered an explanation as to the source of the mysterious lights.

Maj. Karl Lewis, a spokesman for the 301st Fighter Wing at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, said in a news release that an "error was made regarding the reported training activity of military aircraft" and that "10 F-16s from the 457th Fighter Squadron were performing training operations in the Brownwood Military Operating Area."

Lewis had previously said there were no F-16s or other aircraft from the base in the area the night many of the sightings were reported.

[. . .]

On Saturday, interviewers with the Mutual UFO Network met with about 200 people who said they saw something mysterious in the night skies over Stephenville in late December and early January. Witnesses have described the object as silent, large and with bright lights flying low and fast.

Several witnesses also reported seeing fighter jets chasing the object.
H.R. Giger's creatures in '80s Pioneer ads

Because nothing says "cutting-edge audio-visual" like an acid-drooling xenomorph.

Two-snouted, three-eyed piglet born in China

Born in Huimen village, Menla County, China, the piglet was unable to take milk from its mother, forcing farmer Yang Qiaofen to feed it using the mouths it had on either side of its head.

As well as the extra mandibular equipment, the puzzling porcine was blessed with an extra eye in the middle of its forehead, earning it the nickname "Cyclops".

(Via BB.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sadly, the online buzz generated by the supposed "alien" visible in a Mars rover photo has eclipsed a much more portentous find: the unmistakable form of a briefly clad Martian woman captured in an overlooked NASA photo two years ago.

Could this be the real reason behind the ongoing Mars coverup?

Stay tuned . . .
Study: False statements preceded war

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The study concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

The study was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism.

That the Bush administration lied profusely doesn't particularly bother me. What troubles me greatly is that we let ourselves fall for it.
R.E.M. in a fantastic live performance of "Country Feedback," a high note from 1991's "Out of Time."


Claim of alien cells in rain may fit historical accounts: study
Life on Mars? Amazing photos from Nasa probe reveal image of mystery figure on Red Planet

Nasa's Mars Explorer Spirit sent back images from the surface of the Red Planet four years ago, and there was initial disappointment among scientists that they lacked any signs of life.

But space and science fiction enthusiasts are convinced there is more than meets the eye, and after years of studying the images, have found what appears to be an alien figure walking downhill.

It's obviously a rock heavily accented by shadow and JPG compression, but it does look like a passable humanoid torso. Coy little fella, huh?

UFOMystic comments here.
'Safe Ebola' created for research

Scientists have made the lethal virus Ebola harmless in the lab, potentially aiding research into a vaccine or cure.

Taking a single gene from the virus stops it replicating, US scientists wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Ebola, currently handled in highly secure labs, kills up to 80% of those it infects.

However, one expert said the new method may not yet be a fail-safe way of dealing with the virus.

David Gallo: Underwater astonishments

David Gallo shows jaw-dropping footage of amazing sea creatures, including a shape-shifting cuttlefish, a pair of fighting squid, and a mesmerizing gallery of bioluminescent fish that light up the blackest depths of the ocean.

(Via Peter Watts' blog.)

Don't miss the octopus at the end.
Forget Black Holes, How Do You Find A Wormhole?

For a start, they can be distinguished from black holes, as wormhole mouths do not have an event horizon. Secondly, if matter could possibly travel through wormholes, light certainly can, but the light emitted will have a characteristic angular intensity distribution. If we were viewing a wormhole's mouth, we would be witness to a circle, resembling a bubble, with intense light radiating from the inside "rim". Looking toward the center, we would notice the light sharply dim. At the center we would notice no light, but we would see right through the mouth of the wormhole and see stars (from our side of the universe) shining straight through.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My last book opened with a triple-barreled epigraph by Carl Jung, Thomas Kuhn and R.E.M., respectively, so it's only fair that Morrissey gets a word in this time around:

"Instead of looking at the screen, what I want to do is to turn around and look the other way. When we look the other way what we see is a little hole at the top of the wall with some light coming out. That's where I want to go. I want to steal the key to the projectionist's booth, and then, when everybody has gone home, I want to break in."

--Jacques Vallee

"We are part of a symbiotic relationship with something which disguises itself as an extra-terrestrial invasion so as not to alarm us."

--Terrence McKenna

"We're on your street, but you don't see us. Or if you do you smile and say hello."

A Chemical That Improves Memory (and Cures Loneliness)

Social isolation makes people stressed out and forgetful, but soon a drug could cure this problem. Late last year, scientists isolated a brain enzyme that triggers the "loneliness" feelings during periods of solitude. Replenishing that enzyme in the brain could enhance memory and relieve stress when you're spending a lot of time by yourself working (or space traveling).

I should probably just embed this blog with an io9 feed and be done with it . . .
CIA launches hunt for international computer hackers threatening to hold cities ransom by shutting off power

The CIA has launched a major hunt for international computer hackers who are threatening to throw cities into chaos by sabotaging their electricity supplies.

Pheromonally enraged zombies, blackened cities . . . that's it -- I'm joining a cult!

To hell with this "return to the Moon" shit -- let's go to the 'roids!

(Thanks: Steve S.)
Zombies: Coming Soon....Everywhere! (Nick Redfern)

It's not exactly a secret now that the story is in the public domain, but it's definitely strange and it does concern the official world, so I'm going to mention it: namely, a project to understand "human fear" chemicals. Why? Why else: to use them in some fashion on the battlefield, of course! Did you really need to ask?

I anticipate an outbreak and a subsequent clandestine working group dedicated to ridding the world of the pheromonal zombie menace. Nick Redfern, not exactly a stranger to the topic, would probably answer directly to the President.

Feast your eyes on trippy images of the Statue of Liberty as depicted in apocalyptic science fiction.
Dissecting bodies from the twilight zone: Stuart Wavell meets JG Ballard

Believing that reason and rationality failed to explain human behaviour, he resolved to become a psychiatrist. "I already had my first patient -- myself." To this end he studied anthropology, psychology and pathology at Cambridge. For the next two years he dissected cadavers, trying to exorcise the memories of dead Chinese on Shanghai's streets.

"Sometimes there would be the bodies of entire families that had perished during the night," he recalls. "I took it for granted, but I knew there was something wrong about all this. Perhaps I sensed that we were like a pack of wolves destroying itself."

(Via Ballardian.)

Aside from mentioning Ballard's cancer, the article describes his owning a Ford Granada -- my first car.
I saw "The Orphanage." It doesn't get much spookier than this; if ghosts are your bag, don't miss it.
Enceladus: Making the Case for Life

If you could introduce life into an environment ready for it, what sort of life would you choose? Enceladus, like any other body on which this was attempted, would pose its own formidable constraints, but the broader question of whether life ought to be introduced into such environments is open to considerable philosophical debate. Just what constitutes planetary protection?
The "Pioneer Effect" explained?

One I missed:

Hottest Sex Robots Of Science Fiction
"Eraserhead" meets "Sesame Street" in "The Alphabet" by David Lynch:

This video is included as one of the Top 10 Most Bizarre Videos, and not without reason.

(Thanx: Reality Carnival.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nazi Raccoons

And you thought the Allies won World War II.
Is Sci-Fi Out of Ideas?

Sci-fi is in trouble, though it's not the kind of trouble that can be measured at the box office, where it looks as healthy and robust as a T. rex must have seemed five minutes before it realized that there was nothing left to eat. The genre has been around for as long as the movies themselves, and flourished for the last 30 years. The problem is, none of the ideas are getting any newer. Scratch that: The problem is, there are no ideas.

Perhaps there no new ideas in Hollywood, but there are plenty on bookstore shelves. I'd like to see a Ken MacLeod novel adapted for the screen. Or maybe something by Bruce Sterling. Or Charles Stross. Or Peter Watts. Or . . .

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fantastic Japanscapes

The Japanese landscape makes a stunning subject for high dynamic range (HDR) photography, as demonstrated by these images and the 500+ others in the Japan HDR Flickr Photo Pool.

High dynamic range images are probably the closest I'll come to mind-altering drugs. I love their sense of hyper-reality, in which each pixel seems to be straining to impart meaning. Just imagine living in an augmented reality where HDR was the norm.

2007 Was Tied as Earth's Second-Warmest Year

"As we predicted last year, 2007 was warmer than 2006, continuing the strong warming trend of the past 30 years that has been confidently attributed to the effect of increasing human-made greenhouse gases," said James Hansen, director of NASA GISS.

(Via Universe Today.)
How to fake UFO photos, by Almiro Barauna

The article was written by Vinicius Lima, showing "how to make a Martian spaceship", and this is the catch, the photo trickery was done by Almiro Baraúna.

Less than four years later, the very same Baraúna allegedly took photos of a real flying saucer while aboard a ship near the Trindade Island, on what would become a classic and to some, one of the best UFO cases ever.

Warning: do not read this article if you think you might be a UFO "believer."

Friday, January 18, 2008

There are times when I wish I had a TV. This is one of those times.

Rockabilly Westworld: Zombie Karaoke Elvis-bot

I imagine there was either a messy breakup or a drunken kickboxing match, and Elvis-bot here took one right in the grill, then got dumped in the road. The thing is, covered in grime and with part of his face missing, it's MILLIONS of times cooler than it ever was brand-new. Sure, it took a little trauma and a lot of scarring, but that's what builds real character in humans and robots alike. This thing exists at the crossroads of all my favorite things: Japanese pop culture, zombies, robots and rock 'n roll.

(Via Boing Boing.)

This one's just begging for a caption . . .
Cloning Said to Yield Human Embryos

Scientists at a small biotechnology company say they have used cloning to create human embryos from the skin cells of two men.

The work represents a step toward the promise of creating personalized embryonic stem cells that could be used for medical treatments. Although the embryos grew only to a very early stage, the work could also theoretically be seen as a step toward creating babies that are genetic copies of other people.

(Via The Anomalist.)
Sci-Fi objects and more made with a Spectrum Z510 3D printer (photo gallery)

(Hat tip: Beyond the Beyond.)
Researchers share video contact lens vision

And you think we suffer from television addiction now.
Here's one of those addictive digital marionettes that responds to mouse clicks. Get to it!

(Found at RCU.)
Paper airplane to be launched from International Space Station

The Japanese team on the International Space Station will launch a paper airplane (co-designed with the Japan Origami Airplane Association) into the Earth's atmosphere -- the plane's been treated with heat-resisting stuff and is expected to survive reentry.

It's not "2001," but you have to take what you can get.
Chat with Nick Redfern & John Hogue!

Here's your big chance, kids! (Of course, I've got Nick's home phone number and can talk his ear off any time I want!)

Seriously, though, I can think of far worse reasons to sign up for Strieber's site.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I found these photos of modern-day hobos both astonishing and deeply troubling. I kept asking myself: could I live like this? And to my own chagrin, I couldn't arrive at an honest answer.

(Hat tip to Dr. Menlo.)

Astronomers Could Detect Oceans on Extrasolar Planets

Imagine if astronomers could tell the difference between Earth-like extrasolar planets just by seeing the reflected light from their oceans? That sounds like science fiction, but a team of researchers have proposed that it's really possible to detect the shape of the light curve glinting off an extrasolar planet and know if it has oceans.

More at Centauri Dreams.

By now you've probably heard about the alleged SETI signal. Here's the scoop:

No alien signal (Bad Astronomy)

Basically, Dan Wertheimer, a radio astronomer who is affiliated with SETI, detected a pulse from space. The source is certainly extragalactic, and is most likely some sort of natural event. It's unclear exactly what kind of event, but there is a long list of things it could be. Aliens phoning us is pretty far down that list. But since Dan does do some SETI work, the reporter just botched things up a bit and misattributed the source. The news article reads oddly, like he took a mishmash of topics and wrote them all up into one article, so this misunderstanding doesn't surprise me much.

The signal was detected quite some time ago, and had it been alien, believe me you would have heard from the folks at SETI!

I've no reason to doubt Phil Plait's journalism. It's that naively enthusiastic op-ed sentence at the end that bothers me.

I've always maintained that the content of a bona-fide SETI signal will dictate whether it's deemed fit for public dissemination. A series of prime numbers might be acceptable for relatively immediate disclosure, but what about plans for a super-weapon? Are we to accept that the SETI Institute (a privately funded enterprise) possesses the jurisdiction to divulge any and all potential ET transmissions with impunity?
Drat! The fiendish squad at Boing Boing has beaten me to this psychedelic video of Raquel Welch in faux-astronaut attire! But I'm willing to settle for leftovers.

David Bowie performs "Slip Away," the defining track from 2003's "Heathen."

Geneticists Discover a Way to Extend Lifespans to 800 Years

There is now a way to extend the lifespan of organisms so that humans could conceivably live to be 800 years old. In an amazing development, scientists at the University of Southern California have announced that they've extended the lifespan of yeast bacteria tenfold -- and the recipe they used to do it might easily translate into humans. It involves tinkering with two genes, and cutting down your calorie intake. Tests have already started on people in Ecuador.
UFOs As Metaphors (Greg Bishop)

In his most recent public interview Jacques Vallee said something very important just before he was cut off for a commercial. If I am remembering correctly, the quote was "What we are finding is that our universe may be a subset of something else."

The UFOs may be a "subset of something else" as well. They may be a projection into our awareness of something that is immediately seized upon and molded by our expectations to become silvery disks and bug-headed aliens. Of course, the UFO enigma may be exactly what we expect and believe it to be, but we have no objective way of proving this as yet.
This just in:

Bush exempts Navy from environmental law

Conservationists on Wednesday blasted President Bush's decision to exempt the Navy from an environmental law so it can continue using high-power sonar in its training off Southern California -- a practice they say harms whales and other marine mammals.

(Thanks to Nick Redfern.)

My high opinion of Richard Dawkins just took a hit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NASA Chooses "Altair" as Name for Astronauts' Lunar Lander

Altair will be capable of landing four astronauts on the moon, providing life support and a base for weeklong initial surface exploration missions, and returning the crew to the Orion spacecraft that will bring them home to Earth. Altair will launch aboard an Ares V rocket into low Earth orbit, where it will rendezvous with the Orion crew vehicle.
Plague a growing but overlooked threat: study

Plague, the disease that devastated medieval Europe, is re-emerging worldwide and poses a growing but overlooked threat, researchers warned on Tuesday.

While it has only killed some 100 to 200 people annually over the past 20 years, plague has appeared in new countries in recent decades and is now shifting into Africa, Michael Begon, an ecologist at the University of Liverpool and colleagues said.

On the bright side, researchers note that it rarely transforms victims into bloodthirsty zombies.
UFO reports by dozens of residents set Texan town abuzz

While federal officials insist there's a logical explanation, locals swear that it was larger, quieter, faster and lower to the ground than an airplane. They also said the object's lights changed configuration, unlike those of a plane. People in several towns who reported seeing it over several weeks have offered similar descriptions of the object.
Let the End Times Roll

From transgenic experiments destined to go awry to the imminent culmination of the Mayan calendar's 13th baktun cycle, we'll have to dodge a hell of a lot of bullets to make it to the next century. In a cold panic, Radar sifted through mountains of data, interviewed the world's top experts, and prayed to several long-forgotten deities in an attempt to assemble a list of the planet's most pressing doomsday scenarios and, more important, your best bets for staying alive.

(Via BB.)
Probe returns first image of Mercury's unseen side

NASA's Messenger spacecraft has taken its first look at the unseen side of Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun. It has revealed the full extent of Mercury's gigantic Caloris Basin, one of the largest impact craters in the solar system and discovered its first Mercury mystery: unusual dark-rimmed craters.
Culture of Contact Episode 21: Miggety Mack Tonnies Shows Us The Study, Y'all

Cryptoterrestrial theorist Mac Tonnies brings the study on this episode about aliens, cryptos, Martians, alleged monuments on the moon, Rich Hoagland and so much more. How much? How about a suprise phone call from a famous talk show host? How about Mac finally spilling the beans on the state of ufology today? How about all of that and even more, huh? How about it?!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can't-miss undersea architecture by Jacques Rougerie. I feel a sudden yearning for the abyss; I just hope none of Peter Watts' "rifters" are down there to greet me . . .

(Thanks to Erika at Reality Carnival Unleashed.)

If you don't share my visceral aversion to brawny, dangerous insects, you might be a potential aficionado of the winner-takes-absolutely-nothing world of Japanese bug fighting.

(Hat tip: Aberrant News.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Looks like I'll be on the next Culture of Contact podcast (possibly posted as soon as tomorrow). Featuring a special guest appearance by The Paracast's David Biedny, who phoned in halfway through and saved me from drowning in my own speculative excess.

Watch for it!

I have no idea what I am talking about
I'm trapped in this body and can't get out

--Radiohead, "Bodysnatchers"
Inspired blasphemy from the crew at Ectoplasmosis:

Hello Jesus Died For Your Sins

Knowing people, as I do, with what I can honestly call a Hello Kitty obsession makes the thought of the feline icon as a tattoo within the realm of my accepted, and unfortunate, reality. Said icon transmogrified into a horrific Frankensavior as the aforementioned dermal adornment, complete with a pledge of eternal allegiance, however, is quite a different matter all together.

A Very Special Nativity

Say what you want about organized religion, but if the birth of Christ had featured the original members of the Monster Squad with The Bride of Frankenstein as the mother I'd be rolling in the aisles with the best of them.
Yoga and the Elements (Rudy Rucker)

I had a hallucination like that in 1965, I was a college student, and an upperclassman had given me a couple of peyote cactus buds he'd gotten by mail-order from a Texas garden supply company. I'd eaten the buds and puked them up, and I was over at some friends' house, and I imagined their kitchen was amphitheater-like classroom full of students, and that I was giving a lecture on Special Relativity -- a subject about which I then knew almost nothing. It was a precognitive hallucination, for in 1977 I was in fact a professor lecturing on the mathematics of Special Relativity in an amphitheater-like classroom at SUNY Geneseo. The wisdom of the spiny bud.
Remember the "airborne pineapple"? It's a balloon.

(Sorry, Whitley.)

(Thanks: The Anomalist.)

Nanohazard Symbol Competition

The entries so far are damned good.

More hypothetical warning signs here.

(Hat tip: Bruce Sterling.)

"Zogg: The Cuddly Menace": now in charming animated format!
Neuromancer to be butchered for cinema?

God, how I hope not. "Neuromancer" left such dazzling images in my mind's eye, due in no small part to Gibson's smooth, lethal prose. I'm not sure I could countenance a screen version; more likely I'd wind up in a megaplex parking lot wielding a placard, a megaphone and a box of "Neuromancer" hardcopies in a vainglorious attempt to dissuade movie-goers.
Overcoming gender

We are, often at a subconscious level, working to become postbiological. Most of us are in denial about or in opposition to this, but the level of control that we seek over our minds and bodies is in tune with this goal. We are perpetually working to transcend our biological vulnerabilities and constraints. This will eventually get us to the oft spoken and quasi-mythological posthuman condition.

Most efforts to achieve a postgendered state have largely focused on non-biological solutions, namely through social, educational, political and economic reform. While environmental strategies can be effective and important in their own right, they will continue to experience limited results on account of their inability to address the root of the problem: human biology.

As with most of George Dvorksy's transhumanist concerns, I can appreciate his argument for postgenderism on an abstract level. The idea has an elusive appeal, perhaps because it insinuates that, in jettisoning the last shred of our biological heritage, we'll become somehow wiser in the process. And I'd be among the first to revel in such a democratized future milieu. Having accepted that emotions themselves are biological processes (Dvorsky might well consider them "diseases" since they rely on an obstinate meat-based substrate), I wouldn't be particularly saddened to see the concept of gender gradually erased.

But has it occurred to Dvorksy that postgenderism, like any social or technological sea-change, is freighted with the potential for misuse? Rather than explore the idea, Dvorsky seems content with issuing what amounts to a shrill rallying cry. It's a bit like the seemingly ubiquitous advertising blimps in "Blade Runner," forever hyping "a new world of opportunity and adventure" to the jaded city-dwellers below. And about as convincing.

Also: "Cyborgs"? Or just dorks?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Church of the Buttered Nose

Peter Watts on cats, gods and human sacrifice.
A Giant, Glowing Cube in the Middle of Berlin

Remember "Cube," the 1997 dystopian psychological thriller? It's a lot like that, but without the angst.
WMO to Seek Satellites to Monitor Climate Change

The United Nations' weather agency will ask NASA and other space agencies next week to make their next generation of satellites available to monitor climate change, a senior official at the UN body said on Friday.

The aim is to ensure that satellites launched over the next 20 years constantly record parameters such as sea levels and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said.
Radioactive Hot Spots on Earth's Beaches May Have Sparked Life

Through strong tidal forces by a Moon that orbited far closer to the Earth than it does today, radioactive elements accumulated on the beaches could be gravitationally sorted. The chemical energy in these beach hot spots was probably high enough to allow self-sustaining fission processes (which occurs in natural concentrations of uranium). The main product from fission is heat, therefore powering chemical processes and the generation of organic, life-giving compounds.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Virtual Worlds To Keep Martian Astronauts Sane?

While NASA has dedicated hundreds (if not thousands) of scientists and engineers to ensure that the future humans traveling to Mars make it back to Earth in one piece, they have paid a lot less attention to the fact of them getting homesick.

In order to help lift their spirits (and perhaps counter cabin fever) NASA is considering building a "Second Life" virtual world that would enable them to communicate with friends and family.

Suppose you're sending a "generation ark" to a remote star system. Why even bother letting the crew know? Surely they'd opt for VR decadence instead of the grinding boredom of workaday ship-board life.

For illustrative purposes, here's a brief excerpt from a story I began in 2003:

Inside, the crew stirred within their communal environmental VR, roused by an unspecific sense of incipience. Zack felt it in the air, a certain heaviness that descended over the spires and narrow, cobbled avenues. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he stood in front of the noisy café. As he watched, the faces of onlookers morphed into pixilated anonymity. He experienced a rush of strange nostalgia as the sky over Prague grew metallic, strewn with listing spheres and half-glimpsed workstation icons. His muscles tightened and the noise of conversation and scuttling cars blurred into the sound of electronic surf, pounding endlessly against the shores of his consciousness.

A blare of synthesized instruments. Prague had redshifted to a niggling afterimage, and he was alone in a strange green room that smelled of discreetly rotting vegetation. A barbed device, looking something like a spider as conceived by an aspiring surrealist, detached itself from his scalp, leaving a constellation of reddened impressions.

A voice: familiar, unwanted: "Welcome home, Zack."

He sagged into a mattress of gengineered lichen that buoyed his limbs and spine as if offering him up for sacrifice. His ears buzzed. He could still taste coffee. The spider-interface dangled above his head, twinkling mockingly in the glow of the room's diagnostic screens.

"Lights," he heard himself say. "Turn on the damned lights."

The room erupted in yellow light, emitted from organelles embedded in the walls and ceiling. The room was alive; in fact, it appeared to have grown more verdant in his long sensory absence. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief. There had been fear of native biota wrecking the Isis' genetic architecture, leaving the ship an undifferentiated blob of metal and biomass hovering between stars.

Elsewhere, he knew -- or, more accurately, sensed -- his crewmates awakening in dimly glowing rooms of their own. The metal spider curled its limbs into a somehow dangerous-looking sphere and drifted on a tether of fiber-optic cable. For the first time, he noticed the microgravity; the only thing keeping him from ascending was the mattress' faintly adhesive embrace. He freed his arms and watched his thin, colorless hands with the studied patience of a forensic scientist happening across some vital and mysterious piece of evidence.

He hadn't used his body in . . . 203 years, ship time? Unless something had gone wrong . . . But the voice had said "welcome home," hadn't it? A chill raced down his spine as he considered the possibility of software corruption. Two centuries of exposure to interstellar space could have plunged the AI into a lethally premature senility.

Fictional radio-spaces

Using inspiration from richly illustrated books on botany, zoology and natural history, Ingeborg arrived at the concept of an encyclopeadia of radio waves that contains a selection of fictional radio 'species'. Armed with a well researched and advanced knowledge of the use, application and technicalities of each radio technology she created fictional visualisations of the ways in which radio waves inhabit space. These are creative expressions based as much on personal creativity as on technical or scientific data like range and signal strength.

(Via Information Aesthetics.)

Some of these electromagnetic critters look positively Lovecraftian. Well worth the click.
Communist Robot: striking videos of Japanese exoskeletons.
Using rabies to deliver drugs directly to the brain

Marilyn sez, "Harvard Medical School researchers have developed an ingenious way to deliver drugs directly to the brain (in order to kill a tumor, for example), that uses the virus that causes rabies, which is extremely effective in infiltrating the blood brain barrier that blocks most other kinds of molecules."

This sounds alarmingly like the set-up for a biomedical disaster flick.
UFO researcher Ray Stanford ("Socorro 'Saucer' In A Pentagon Pantry") sets his sights on dinosaur tracks:

Stanford, a 69-year-old Texan, has been combing Maryland stream beds for evidence of dinosaurs for the past 13 years. The result is an unprecedented collection of footprints that were left behind 112 million years ago -- found in an area where none had been reported before.

Stanford is about the furthest thing possible from a conventional scientist, and his lack of formal training -- he has a high school diploma -- is just the start. His first passion, one he still pursues, is UFOs; "anomalous aerial objects" is the term he prefers. Dinosaur tracking was just something he happened on. As it turned out, he has a knack for it.

Stanford has found hundreds of tracks in the suburbs of Washington and Baltimore. They reveal an extraordinary diversity of animals living in one place during the early Cretaceous period -- about twice the variety previously seen from that geological period. And he has found the fossilized remains of what he and a Johns Hopkins University paleontologist believe is a previously unknown species, a discovery he lovingly refers to as "Cretaceous roadkill."

Read on for Stanford's pertinent comments on scientific investigation, UFOs and the sad state of "ufology."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Here's a portion of "My Fake Baby," a documentary about the market for custom-designed plastic infants. Eerie yet weirdly poignant, this footage takes our mammalian heritage and fast-balls it into our faces.

(Thanks: Aberrant News.)
Astronaut Barbie -- taking lunar soil samples in style!

(Found at io9.)
Astronomers describe violent universe

Much of what they keep finding plays out like a stellar version of a violent Quentin Tarantino movie. The violence surrounds and approaches Earth, even though our planet is safe and "in a pretty quiet neighborhood," said Wheeler, author of the book "Cosmic Catastrophes."
One question readers of Whitley Strieber's "Communion" are forced to wrestle with: if Strieber is truthful in relating how the book came to be written, could the "visitors" have been using him as a vehicle for disseminating memes of their own?

If we grant that the "visitors" are real and possess at least a superficial understanding of human society, they must have known Strieber was an author and anticipated his writing about them. Could that have been part of their plan all along?

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

When Strieber and author Daniel Pinchbeck sparred on Strieber's Internet radio program, the former vigorously denied the possibility of being manipulated or seduced by a potentially negative alien intelligence. According to Strieber's writings (online and in print), the visitors -- whoever and whatever they are -- possess boundless insight into the very workings of consciousness and aspire to cultivate our species to the point where we can interact as equals. At the same time, their true appearance is compromised by our own perceptual limitations; as a result, we've come to fear them. (The visitor phenomenon, as described by Strieber, seems to epitomize the idea of "reified metaphor" espoused by the late Dr. John Mack.)

Whatever their actual intentions, the publication of "Communion" surely signaled a victory for any curious aliens. Never before had the notion of visiting extraterrestrials been allowed to reach such an expansive (and largely sympathetic) audience. Despite the mockery endured by the author, "Communion" helped mainstream the most unlikely prospect of awakening to the unannounced presence of enigmatic others. Not surprisingly, the "alien abduction" meme, previously confined to a relative handful of enthusiasts and Forteans, quickly cemented itself as a consumer touchstone. Pale-skinned aliens with ink-black eyes became commercial fixtures while leading an unremarked invasion of the collective psyche.

If the visitors' ability to relate to function in our reality depends on our acceptance of them (a concept found, interestingly, in Strieber's own writings), the cascade of "alien" imagery triggered by "Communion" and its successors could scarcely have done a better job. For better or worse, we seem to have been indoctrinated.

If so, what's next?
Don't throw away your garbage -- geo-engineer it!

"[Tonnies] rhetorically exploits contemporary fears, citing the possibility of an 'ecological 9/11' in support of the idea that humans must colonize space."

--Publishers Weekly on "After the Martian Apocalypse"

Of course, that was before Katrina.

I suppose that, theoretically, there can be a fine line between "rhetorically exploiting contemporary fears" and taking an honest look at what the future has in store. But when giving voice to legitimate concerns becomes "exploitation" or "alarmism," you just know there's a motherlode of repressed fear hidden beneath the zeitgeist's unassuming surface.
Kevin Randle ("Roswell Revisited," "The Abduction Enigma") eviscerates CSICOP -- er, "CSI."

The most immediately obvious problem with this group (at least to those familiar with the other side of the argument) is its selective use of information -- or outright omission, if that serves its skewed definition of "skepticism." CSI, ironically, has evolved into a sort of pseudointellectual cult.

After all, no one listens to them except the mainstream media.

Also: Take a look at a real-life flying saucer!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Manned Cloud by Jean-Marie Massaud

Manned Cloud is a hotel with a capacity of 40 passengers and staffed with 15 persons, that on a 3-day cruise in 170 km/h permits man to explore the world without a trace: to re-experience travelling, timelessness and enhance the consciousness of the beauty of the world - and to experience spectacular and exotic places without being intrusive or exploitative.

I'd like to ride in this thing merely to gaze at the shocked faces of groundlings convinced they're seeing an alien mothership. And while Massaud's design is impressive in its austerity, would it hurt to add a few flashing colored lights and a search-beam or two?
Blog of the day: Modern Mechanix
Ufological newsflash from France . . .
NASA probe to fly past little, sun-baked Mercury

NASA's car-sized MESSENGER spacecraft is scheduled to zip about 124 miles above the cratered, rocky surface of the closest planet to the sun on Monday, part of a mission designed to place it into orbit around Mercury in 2011.

"I think we're in for some big surprises," Faith Vilas, one of the scientists involved in the mission, told reporters during a conference call on Thursday.

"Big surprises"? That sounds like a conspiratorial "insider" remark to me! I bet NASA's already dusting off the airbrushes!

Update: The above was an attempt at sarcasm and a veiled reference to a certain sensationalistic author. I don't really think NASA's gearing up to hide ET structures on Mercury, nor would I rate Mercury as a likely candidate for alien habitation. Then again, I suppose you never know.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Well, whaddaya know -- Boing Boing's onto me!
New year, new "mascot"!

The elfin cryptoterrestrial that's haunted my sidebar has been replaced by a serene-looking female posthuman. (For related graphics, peruse the strange, mythic universe of Araqinta.)

Don't miss this awe-inspiring gallery of the Cassini spacecraft's "greatest hits" (so far).
Whitley Strieber's 1987 bestseller "Communion" has been reissued in trade paperback. Featuring a compelling new preface by the author, the reissue is a good excuse to revisit Strieber's cryptic interactions with "the visitors," regardless of one's preconceptions.

This blog has been alternately sympathetic to and critical of Strieber's "visitor" mythos. On one hand, I think the cautious, questioning approach evident in Strieber's books is consistent with the bizarre events he describes. It's equally obvious to me that Strieber's own creative and intellectual predispositions have colored his testimony to some degree, although I find it extremely hard to blame him given the high strangeness of his encounters.

My criticisms of Strieber are almost universally leveled at his online endeavors. Specifically, I think his website is awful -- perhaps one of the worst high-profile sources of fringe news online, teeming with pointless filler, credulous "reporting" based on the exploits of Linda Moulton Howe, and incessant pleas to buy books and DVDs. Readers are forever reminded that their financial contributions are needed to keep the site online, a sentiment at odds with Strieber's duly reported success at selling his work to Hollywood. In his quest to turn into the Web's biggest seller of fringe titles, we're asked to accept Strieber as a virtual pauper -- which may prove difficult for the myriad Fortean bloggers who do it both better and infinitely cheaper.

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

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

(For more on Strieber, refer to Beyond Communion.)
Spaceman mystery?

Jim Templeton's photograph, which showed the mystery "spaceman" behind his daughter, was taken on Burgh Marsh in 1964 and has been seen around the world.

No-one has yet come up with an explanation for it but the Ministry of Defence is just about to reveal details of files which chronicle UFO (unidentified flying object) activity over Britain.

And Jim, who is 87 and lives in Coledale Meadows, Carlisle, believes they may contain some answers to a mystery that has puzzled him for half his life.

He said: "It would be absolutely amazing if there was something in the files about the Solway spaceman. It is incredible but I still receive letters about it now.

"I have no explanation for the image but what I can say is that it is not a fake. The film was sent away for processing and came back like that.

What is even more strange is that shortly afterwards the launch of the Blue Streak rocket at a base in Australia was delayed because two similar spacemen were spotted on monitors there.

"Apparently they searched the area at the time but could find nothing, They said the delay in the launch was down to a technical hitch and it went ahead later. The interesting thing, of course, is that the Blue Streak was developed at Spadeadam to the east of Brampton. I was told about this by someone who worked there at the time."

The Templeton "spaceman" has long been one of my favorite Fortean enigmas. (Jenny Randles gives the subject a thorough treatment in "The Truth Behind Men In Black.")
About a year ago I bored Posthuman Blues readers about my attempts to combat a sudden (and almost crippling) case of tinnitus. The problem has abated but it's far from gone. The good news is that there are some new treatment options:

New hope for tinnitus sufferers

Berthold Langguth, a neurologist in Germany, believes the hearing cells in the auditory cortex (the brain area perceiving sound signals) in tinnitus sufferers are overactive and is trying to normalise them.

By running an electric current through sections of wire he creates a magnetic field. When held over the head of a patient the magnetic stimulation reduces the neural activity and diminishes unwanted sound.

Only one patient so far has been completely cured but many have found the volume of their tinnitus reduced.

In Belgium, neurosurgeon Dirk De Ridder, has tried implanting electrodes directly into the brain of sufferers to permanently normalise the overactive neurons.

So far he has only operated on 30 patients but with some successful results.

(Thanks to Frank for sending this my way.)

I suffer from an unusual psychiatric condition: an acute fear of being tickled by feathers and then buried alive by young nude clowns with erections on Friday the 13th.

This post helps put it all in perspective.

(Thanks: Reality Carnival.)
China Plans for Big Year in Space

China is hoping to launch 15 rockets, 17 satellites and its third manned mission in 2008. This is an ambitious manifest for any country, and it appears China hopes to take its global emergence to new heights in a year in which it will also host the summer Olympics.

No details were provided regarding specific dates or the types of unmanned missions that will be launched this year.
Pink Tentacle links to Frédéric Gautron's exquisitely surreal "Urbano-végétal" photomontage series.
Blog of the day: Toybot Studios

(Thanks to COOP for the lead.)
BladeRunner i-Fly VAMP RC Remote Control Bat

This scary-looking bat is right at the bleeding edge of toy design. Packing state of the art technology, alongside the Power Wings Pterosaur, it's one of the latest generation of RC flyers that provides an unparalleled level of control and stability both indoors and out.

So far, so good -- although it bears noting that despite its intriguing name, the "BladeRunner i-Fly VAMP" has nothing to do with the famed Ridley Scott film.

The Vamp differs from most other flying toys because it's an 'Ornithopter' -- which means it flaps its wings to fly through the air -- just like a real bat. Not for the faint-hearted, the flapping wings and glowing red eyes give the eerie illusion that it's a living (or undead!) thing, swooping through the darkness, for a truly terrifying sight.

By now you might have noticed a passing similarity to the "Mothman" apparition witnessed by residents of Point Pleasant, West Virgina and immortalized in John Keel's Fortean classic, "The Mothman Prophecies." Which puts me in mind of other paranormal toy ideas. We've already seen the faceless Pascagoula "wrinkled robot" rendered in multi-colored plastic; why not a remote control Hopkinsville goblin? Or an animatronic Flatwoods monster for discerning UFO geeks?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I've decided I'm going to put my paid vacation days to good use and finish "The Cryptoterrestrials," a book that's been far too long in the making. I've already written a good chunk (and posted portions online). A lot of the remaining work is assembly and polishing; I need to take what I've already written and render it into passable book form. I'm cautiously hopeful that I can finish a first draft in a week.
End of skeptic James Randi's million dollar challenge

Randi's "challenge" never had teeth because he reserved the privilege of choosing which claims to investigate. He dismissed many potential paranormal phenomena out of hand; while certainly convenient, this hardly reflected Randi's proclaimed objectivity.

(There's more here, but unfortunately the article I cite has since been taken offline.)
Did Buckyballs predate DNA?
Autism: Big Breakthrough

In another study, researchers discovered that fever may restore nerve cell communications in regions of the autistic brain. This restoration may help children improve socialization skills during a fever.

The study was based on 30 autistic children between ages 2 and 18 who were observed during and after a fever of at least 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. More than 80% of the children showed some improvement in behavior during a fever and 30% showed significant improvement. Behavior changes included longer concentration span, increased amount of talking and improved eye contact.

I wonder if scientists could induce a "designer" fever that promoted intelligence and reflexes in baseline patients . . .

To the laboratory!
US and UK rival China for government surveillance

The US, the UK, China and Russia are "endemic surveillance societies", according to a recent study examining privacy protection around the world that gave the four nations the lowest possible rating.

The 10th annual report showed a global increase in surveillance and a decline in privacy safeguards during 2007, as concerns over immigration and border control continued to dominate national policy agendas.

(Via Nerdshit.)
Soviet icon surprises polar scientists

Scientists trekking across a little visited part of Antarctica have discovered a bizarre relic of the Soviet Union is dominating the South Pole of Inaccessibility.

In the middle of no-where -- literally the point on Antarctica furthest from the sea -- an imposing bust of revolutionary Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin peers out onto the polar emptiness.

(Via Dark Roasted Blend.)

Is it just me or does this strange find recall the ending of "Planet of the Apes"?
Innovation Tower at Hong Kong Polytechnic University by Zaha Hadid

The fluid character of the Innovation Tower is generated through an intrinsic composition of its landscape, floor plates and louvers, that dissolves the classic typology of the tower and the podium into an iconic seamless piece.

Click for must-see concept illustrations. For sheer vertiginous futurity, this place outdoes the Tyrell Corporation headquarters from "Blade Runner."
US 'doomed' if creationist president elected: scientists

"The logic that convinces us that evolution is a fact is the same logic we use to say smoking is hazardous to your health or we have serious energy policy issues because of global warming," University of Michigan professor Gilbert Omenn told reporters at the launch of a book on evolution by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

"I would worry that a president who didn't believe in the evolution arguments wouldn't believe in those other arguments either. This is a way of leading our country to ruin," added Omenn, who was part of a panel of experts at the launch of "Science, Evolution and Creationism."

(Via RCU.)

Monday, January 07, 2008

It's the Far Future of 1992 and Hot, Dominant Women Rule the World!

Welcome to the world of The Feminists, a pulp novel published in 1971. It's the story of cubicle drone Keith Montalvo, who has been caught consensually slipping the pink torpedo to a female co-worker. Unfortunately, it's 1992 and the Big-Sisterish "Committee" has outlawed all unauthorized heterosex, and his crime is punishable by death.

Oh, how I want to read this.

Our universe as virtual reality

Jacques Vallee, Hans Moravec and John Keel in the same sentence? Go for it!
Mac's MP3 Player (Part Two in a series):

(Click here for Part One.)
Drones and Universes

Strieber's account illustrates the tenuousness of relating such experiences. It would be easy to discount the experience as suggestibility (the passages Strieber read earlier dealt with a similar experience), although it's equally easy to suggest that we may be most able to perceive alternate universes in a quasi-conscious state, and that perhaps the drone had somehow enabled such an experience after Strieber's reading precognitively prepared him.

Regardless of where one falls on the issue, Strieber's account is an intriguing reminder of just how little we know about the boundaries between reality and non-reality.

The author of this post echoes Greg Bishop's thoughts on the nature of Whitley Strieber's recent "contact" experience. Indeed, the central mechanism behind the UFO phenomenon seems to be less technological that "mystical," for lack of a better term. I'm convinced we're dealing with a stimulus with profound implications for human consciousness, in which case liminal states of awareness might help our minds amplify a "signal" that goes otherwise unnoticed. (A rough analogy can be drawn to Nick Herbert's concept of "quantum tantra" for establishing a nonverbal rapport with the "outside" world.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The truth is out: X-Files go public

The cases, many from a little-known defence intelligence branch tasked with investigating UFO claims, will be published by the Ministry of Defence to counter what officials say is 'the maze of rumour and frequently ill-informed speculation' surrounding Whitehall and its alleged involvement with Unidentifed Flying Objects.

The public opening of the MoD archive will expose the once highly classified work of the intelligence branch DI55, whose mission was to investigate UFO reports and whose existence was denied by the government until recently. Reports into about 7,000 UFO sightings investigated by defence officials - every single claim lodged over the past 30 years - are included in the files, whose staged release will begin in spring.
Peter Watts blogs about evolution, shape-shifting and cancer.

WhiteKnightTwo And SpaceShipTwo Presentation In January

Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites plan to present their SpaceShipTwo with its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft on January 23, 2008. Testing is planned to start in mid 2008 with the first commercial flights starting at the end of 2009.

SpaceShipTwo will carry six passengers and two pilots up to 130 kilometres and offer several minutes of weightlessness experience for a prize tag of $200.000.

(Via Futurismic.)
The Top 10 New Organisms of 2007

Genetic engineering isn't just for scientists in ivory towers or corporate R&D labs anymore. Researchers are still creating new mice and crops every week, but the tools and knowledge necessary to create organisms never before seen on Earth have pushed out to pet breeders, artists and college kids.
Rubberized Gas Mask for Raccoons in Polluted Forests

As toxins invade environments where small animals dwell, and as those animals are bio-engineered to be smarter, you're going to see a booming market in safety gear for tiny creatures who want to stay pert for their Cute Overload closeup. I predict a run on artist Bill Burns' rubberized gas masks. They're made for any creature with a snout who is about the size of a possum or raccoon. Burns has got a whole line of safety gear for the post-apocalyptic Cheezburger set, including safety goggles and biohazard suits in diminutive sizes.

I've got to hand it to the folks at io9: they come up with some fantastic oddities.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Blog of the day: This Peanut Looks Like A Duck

My condolences to cryptozoologist Loren Coleman (Cryptomundo), the latest in a long list of serious authors and researchers who've attracted the scorn of a certain windbag in Prague. (Here's the post that started it.)
If you're laboring under the misconception that we're not living in an exquisitely strange world, I recommend glancing over BLDGBLOG's Fall 2007 year in review. If some of that weirdness doesn't knock you to your senses, seek medical help.
Cyberpunks take note: Ballardian's got itself a YouTube channel!

Organic Molecules Found Outside our Solar System

Just as in our early Solar System, the disk of dust is in the process of forming planets. The collision of small bodies like asteroids and comets creates the dust in the disk, and the organic molecules present on these objects could then be scattered on any planets orbiting the star. This discovery makes it clear that it is possible for organic molecules to exist in the early stages of planet formation, paving the way for the possible development of life later on.
I like the way robotics trade-shows usually feature attractive women as emcees. Is the bot taking on its handler's humanity through some cryptic alchemical process or is it the other way around?

Reading Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," I can't help but feel that I found this book at just the right time in my life. Matheson's skillful portrayal of life after all pretense of normality and hope have been obliterated is wrenching stuff: a nightmarish metaphor for isolation if there ever was one. I get the feeling Matheson felt this novel while he was writing it. He'd been there. He knew the territory.

He knew perfectly well that the vampires were real.

Friday, January 04, 2008

David Keith: A surprising idea for "solving" climate change

Environmental scientist David Keith talks about a cheap, effective, shocking solution to climate change: What if we injected a huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere, to deflect sunlight and heat? As an emergency measure to slow a melting ice cap, it could work. Keith discusses why it's a good idea, why it's a terrible one -- and who, despite the cost, might be tempted to use it.

Keith addresses the geo-engineering option with unnerving finesse. My prediction is that someone -- whether an international agency or a single nation -- will opt for a geo-engineering quick "fix" before long before emission reduction alone can curb rising temperatures.

Think of it as choosing to use a nuclear weapon; it's not an easy decision, but when the situation is sufficiently dire there are always those ready to make it.

Czech art group to stand trial for putting mushroom cloud on TV

CNN Europe reports that members of a Czech art group are in trouble for hacking a television broadcast and inserting a phony video of a nuclear explosion.

Not too shabby!

"Hobbits" May Have Been Genetic Mutants

A rare disease characterized by small brain and body size but near normal intelligence is caused by mutations in a gene coding for the protein pericentrin, researchers have found.

The scientists speculate that the condition may explain the tiny, hobbitlike people that occupied a remote, Indonesian island about 18,000 years ago -- adding fuel to the debate over whether the unusual creatures were a new species or just diseased modern humans.

And around and around we go . . . which, in science, is often as it should be.
SETI@home Ramps Up To Analyze More Data In Search Of Extraterrestrial Intelligence

The longest-running search for radio signals from alien civilizations is getting a burst of new data from an upgraded Arecibo telescope, which means the SETI@home project needs more desktop computers to help crunch the data.

I ran SETI@home religiously when I had a desktop machine. One complaint: it's hyped as a "screensaver" but it's not. Since most of the graphics on the screen don't actually move, users run the risk of burning "shadows" onto their CRT monitors. But I guess that's the price you pay . . .

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Would you vaccinate your child against cocaine?

One interesting effect might be an 'arms race' between illicit drug producers and vaccine makers. As children become 'vaccinated' against the common drugs of abuse, the market for street drugs would fragment and diversify into drugs that don't have vaccines yet.

I can think of other equally dystopian scenarios. How about government-sanctioned vaccinations against creativity for grade-schoolers? (Tell parents their children will be better-behaved and they'll almost certainly comply, at least in the U.S. Because, after all, it's such a seductive trade-off.)

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

The politics, the incessant clashes with an apathetic mainstream media, the endless discussion about inventing a research paradigm that actually works . . . not to say those aren't worthy subjects and noble goals, but they're not necessarily my goals. Ufology, as a mass of disparate disciplines operating under a single loosely defined banner, is an inherently social organism -- and as frequent readers of this blog may have noticed, I'm a far cry from social. I suppose I've come to concur with Nick Redfern's general pessimism about an organizational approach to "fringe" research, especially as the phenomenon in question appears to operate, at least for the most part, in such a maddeningly elusive and subjective manner.

I'll continue to write about the UFO phenomenon, but I don't foresee contributing anything substantial to the political dimension of UFO/ET discourse; I'll leave that to others more capable and savvy.
Time is running out - literally, says scientist

The motivation for this radical end to time itself is to provide an alternative explanation for "dark energy" - the mysterious antigravitational force that has been suggested to explain a cosmic phenomenon that has baffled scientists.

(Via The Speculist.)
Pat Condell rings in the new year with another spot-on condemnation of religion's politically inflated role in American society.

"How to Disappear Completely" by Radiohead:

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

San Marino: Assessing Active SETI's Risk

The San Marino Scale has been widely suggested as a method for assessing the risks we incur with deliberate transmissions from the Earth to other stars. Introduced by Iván Almár in 2005, the Scale is a work in progress that draws on the model of the Richter Scale, which quantifies the severity of earthquakes.

I find efforts like this interesting in an abstract sense. But my gut tells me that if there are inquisitive ETs out there then they'll almost certainly know about us already -- maybe not a lot, but enough to draw a useful composite portrait.

If there are any "berserkers" lurking in the depths, we're fucked.
DARPA Develops Brain Chemical to Replace Sleep

The concoction is "a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign," said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. "It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess."
Oooh arrrr not alone anymore

Kelvin Barbery snapped the mystery object from a coastal path between Swanpool and Maenporth, near Falmouth.

In a weird twist, Kelvin, 55, did not even see the UFO at the time.

He thought he was just taking a sea view -- but when he loaded the digital camera card on to his computer, the round metallic "craft" was in the centre of the shot, about two miles away.

Looks like a gull to me. (And what's with that idiotic headline?)
Are science fiction cars your bag? Do you drool over the "spinners" from "Blade Runner"? This post is for you.

Also: Diligently pursuing the sexbot meme.
As much as I loathe the muck-raking politicization of climate change, I have no qualms whatsoever linking to this piece.

Top 10 global warming stories of 2007

Thanks to the misleadership of our President, the world took no action at Bali to reduce emissions, we had a sham international "climate summit," the country continues to take no national action on greenhouse gas emissions, Congress was forced to drop almost all non-oil-related provisions to cut GHGs from the energy bill, the EPA blocked California and other major states from regulating tailpipe GHGs on their own, the Administration keeps muzzling climate scientists, and it keeps misallocating scarce clean tech dollars to hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research at the expense of real and timely solutions like energy efficiency and renewables -- and that's just the stuff we know about for sure!

Thanks to Cheney Bush and his henchmen (and henchwomen), the nation and the world have lost another crucial year -- and are almost certain to lose another one next year -- when, in fact, "What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future." Our person of the year, who mistakes inflexibility for leadership, and consistency for wisdom, has also made the story of the year: President George W. Bush doesn't just fiddle while the planet burns, he actively fans the flames and thwarts the fire-fighters.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Military use of unmanned aircraft soars

The dramatic increase in the development and use of drones across the armed services reflects what will be an even more aggressive effort over the next 25 years, according to the new report.
Simone Racheli: giving new meaning to the term "meatspace."

(Thanks again to: Aberrant News.)
Let's start 2008 in the most kitschy vein imaginable. (The announcer's voice and lurid intonation are priceless.)

(Hat tip: Michael Garrett.)
Now this is weird.

Whitley Strieber, of course, is triumphantly claiming this might be authentic footage of a "drone." To my eyes, it looks more like an airborne pineapple than the alleged insect-like machines made infamous by "Isaac." But that still leaves us with the question of what we're looking at.