Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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

Cyborg cockroaches could power own electric 'brains'

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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

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

Artist of the day: James Paick.

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

2009 To Be One Of Warmest Years On Record: Researchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Does finding this image oddly arousing make me strange?

This creature and many more right here.

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

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

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

See also:

Blind Man Sees With Subconscious Eye

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

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

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

Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star

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

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

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

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

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

On UFOs:

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

On sexuality:

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

On dreams:

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

On consciousness:

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

On contemporary mythology:

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

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

On virtual reality:

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

On dubious claims:

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

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

On science fiction:

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

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Books to read in 2009:

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow, this image comes to mind:

Binnall of America has posted a new interview with me:

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Enjoying Nature in the Cave

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

The "CARET" drones are back.

(Thanks to UFOMystic for the lead.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

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

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

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

More here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

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

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

okdeluxe XMAS card 2008 from okdeluxe on Vimeo.

Pink Tentacle explains what we're seeing:

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

In other words, it's a undersea Borg.

The interior of this capsulized home . . .

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

NASA Study Links Severe Storm Increases, Global Warming

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

Product information right here.
Found Image #30

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cities in the Flood Zone

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

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

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

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


Alyson Hannigan Secretly Replaced With Robot!
Dashboard Tree

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

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

. . . and around and around we go.

Tangentially related:

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

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

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

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

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

(Found at Sentient Developments.)

Artist of the day: Alex Sandwell Kliszynski.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

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

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

(Via Chris Wren.)