Monday, February 28, 2011

Firefighters' manual deals with UFOs

Given the mainstream viewpoint on the mere word "UFO" and the governmental control of information of the subject, many who study the phenomenon will take any little shred of affirmation they can get.  A slight bit of respectability comes from an official government document called The Fire Officer's Guide to Disaster Control.

This guidebook can be found in fire stations across the nation.  It was written by two former fire chiefs and covers all manner of disaster scenarios that might befall a firefighter.  The book includes house fires, fires in multi-story high rises (think Towering Inferno), floods, and one interesting chapter entitled "Enemy Attack and UFO Potential."
Just what should firemen be aware of when approaching a crashed or landed UFO?  This guide advises that first responders may have engine trouble when approaching the scene, that radio contact may be lost with dispatch, and that portable generators may malfunction.  The text speaks of instances where UFOs have caused malfunctions in the avionics of aircraft.  Presumably this is included as a warning to the crew of fire department helicopters and other aircraft deployed.  The chapter even delves into how to treat injured aliens (as best as a layman would know how, anyway) as well as warning the dangers of radiation exposure.  One online source claims to post the actual chapter in its entirety, showing that the segment kicks off with a brief description of that seminal UFO event now known as "The Battle of Los Angeles" (nothing to do with the upcoming film.)  Most of all, the authors of the manual stress that real or not, UFO matters harbor the potential to cause widespread panic, injury, and death. 

It truly is in the best interest of the military, police departments, and firefighters to compose plans for every scenario.  As good ol' Murphy's Law states: "anything that can go wrong, will."  That said, I feel fairly confident that those governmental organizations only invest time and effort into planning for events that stand any kind of likelihood of coming to pass.  I can't imagine there is much time being spent on preparations for a caribou revolt, even if the caribou have every right to do so should Sarah Palin be elected President (shudder).  Therefore, someone on a level of authority believes that firefighters stand at least a chance of one day dealing with the UFO subject. 
That to me, speaks volumes.

Here is a news clip on the subject.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

The sprinkler rainbow conspiracy

Oh this is too good to pass up.
I am hoping...hoping beyond frakkin' hope that this is a mere set-up.  For if it is, then it is an utterly hilarious bit of satire. If it's not, then all hope for this nation is now lost.  Perhaps we can blame it on HAARP melting our minds?  Here's the vid:

This is a marvelous example of how far beyond the pale conspiracy theories can be taken at times.  Not even Occam's Razor can seem to cut through the many entangled strands of plots and hidden connections.  It's a bit like bread.  After all, many alleged members of the New World Order have been sighted eating various and mixed forms of bread.  Therefore, bread must in one insidious way or another figure into the plots of these shrewd tacticians.  One moment they're eating bread, the next their ordering major television networks to distort the truth about alien implants.  The bastards.
And just what else indeed may come gurgling out of our ground?

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hacking the election

I am far from the first one to consider this, so I do not mean to come across as falsely prescient.  Here goes...
The blizzard snow has melted here in Chicago and I have resumed nominal dog walking duties.  A great many of the topics I write about here at Strange Horizons and elsewhere come from this chore.  Me and the dogs stroll around, the smells of muddy ground and SUV exhaust filling our nostrils, and I pass the time by musing.  Here is my musing from this morning:

Politics is always in the news.  Regardless of what portion of the political spectrum your views land you upon, odds are that you're not happy about something.  That's just how it is.  If you're not outraged about at least one aspect of our democracy, then you're unaware (how dare you), or a nihilist (I can empathize), or you just plain don't watch TV (can't blame you.)  In order to encourage more voting during elections and thereby (hopefully) grow a sense of involvement within people, Internet voting has been proposed.
That's right.  Vote from the comfort of your own home and at a time of your convenience, during set voting hours of course.  Kinda like American Idol...which come to think of it, our typical presidential and congressional campaign seasons are becoming more and more akin to each year.  Anyway, you may one day be able to capriciously vote away on your home computer for the strawman of your choice, theoretically robbing you of the old excuses for not getting to a polling place.  The technology to do this exists.  We could one day implement it.

And what if we did?  There is no such thing as an utterly secure computer system.  It's similar in fact to home security.  The only things that will keep a thief from breaking into your home are laziness and visibility.  In other words, how many hurdles they have to overcome and how likely they are to be caught while doing it.  The same goes for hackers. 
How does this open the electoral process to hacking?  We know for a fact that elections have been rigged before and suspect it in certain other cases.  How far removed from reality is the notion of political parties succeeding or failing based upon how adept their programmers are at hacking code?  And how would cybernetics affect this process?  In earlier posts, I've spoken about the concept of candidates having interfaces that feed them realtime data on audience reaction to a speech or debate.  I believe Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, or both have written on that theoretical concept.  Actually, this is all beginning to sound rather Philip K. Dick, yet more paranoid.  If that could actually happen, that is.
I'm encouraged by how technology could broaden the electoral process in our democracy.  I'm also all-too aware of how it might plunge us even deeper than we are into corruption.
In other cheery news, a "monster" solar storm has erupted on the Sun.  The byproducts of which should be on the way to this planet as I write this.  Astronomers classified the occurrence as a Class M3.6 Solar Storm, which is about midway between "weenie" and "honkin'" to use non-scientific parlance.  While it is true that the Sun has entered a sector of an eleven-year cycle where flares are more prominent, at least "the powers that be" are finally beginning to take the affects of massive solar storms into consideration.  Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said this last week:

"This is not a matter of if, it's simply a matter of when and how big," Lubchenco said of the potential for a dangerous solar flare. "We have every reason to expect we're going to be seeing more space weather in the coming years, and it behooves us to be smart and be prepared."

Preach it, sister.  The pitfalls of computerized voting don't mean much if the whole grid goes down from a solar storm.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

You're never so clean as when you're scrubbing with bacteria

Did you engage in a little "your peanut butter in their chocolate/their chocolate in your peanut butter" activity this past Valentine's day with a less-than-healthy partner?  Time to scrub up.

To that end, I'm recommending these soaps that I found on Geeks Are Sexy.  Fashioned to look like bacteria cultures, they even come in their own Petrie dishes.  So realistic in appearance, only your microbiologist will know for sure.  Actually, the scents of Green Apple and Grapefruit will probably be a tip off for most people, but you'll have them going visually for at least a little while.  Bacterial varieties include Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and our old favorite pictured above, E. coli.  But let's say you're into those smaller, more decorative soaps.  You know, the kind that are fashioned, colored, and scented like real fruit and you don't know the difference until you have it in with your corn flakes and the milk goes on?  In that case, you'll really dig their collection of miniature red blood cells, likewise featured on the Geeks Are Sexy page.

Nifty as all this is, it's actually reminiscent of a few things from years back.  I can remember when Joe Boxer released a line of men's underwear that featured wild patterns and bright colors.  Turns out the designs were various sexually transmitted diseases as seen under extreme magnification.  In case you're wondering, the motivation for such a clothing line was to send the proceeds to various organizations that treat and prevent STDs.  Plus, it could be sold with the catchy tagline of "give your guy the clap!"
There's also a line of plush toys called GIANTmicrobes.  They're exactly the kind of slanted, snarky jab at a Disneyfied society that this jaded semi-iconoclast finds heartwarming.  I mean, what little kid wouldn't want to go to bed while cuddling a soft replica of a dust mite or typhoid fever?  Or my favorite, the Martian microbe (pictured below.)  Come to think of it, there might have been a line of stuffed dolls called Parasite Pals, showcasing ticks, fleas, and tapeworms.

Gotta catch 'em all.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

UFO=ET... or not.

It is rather automatic.  When someone mentions the term "UFO," do you immediately envision a flying saucer from another planet?  Is the word "kook" not far behind or perhaps even first?  How about "Jonny?"  Never mind.
I read an article today wherein a retired US Army colonel stated that UFOs are indeed real, but that there is no government cover-up.  A unique position to say the least, but Col. John Alexander is in a unique position to state it.  He is a former Green Beret and A-Team leader (no, not the TV show.  C'mon, Ghost Dogg!)  and weapons developer at Los Alamos.  He bases his claim that disclosure has essentially already happened due to the statements made by former US presidents, going as far back as Truman and as recent as Carter and Reagan.  Additionally, it is difficult to term a subject as "above top secret" when there are entire television shows devoted to it.

While I'm not entirely sure whether to invest in that claim or not, it is the following statements that Col. Alexander issues that really got me: 

-"The problem is, when you discuss UFOs, we are talking everything from little balls of light to hard craft a mile or more across, and everything in between. So what is it?"

-"I suspect that consciousness is a piece of the puzzle. We talk about UFOs, saying it's a technology that's 1,000 years in advance, but it really isn't. If you follow the history of these things, usually it is somewhat in advance, but not beyond our comprehension by any stretch of the imagination."
-"The point is there is something out there that is sentient. When I say precognitive, it knows -- whatever it is -- not only what it is going to present, but how we are going to respond to it."

Again, I go back to the familiar equation of UFO=alien spacecraft.  
While I do not discount by any means the notion that aliens are visiting Earth, I believe that that theory has become too pat, too narrow.  It has been propagated in part by "contactee nuts" on the UFO lecture circuit and con artists who videotape "aliens" at their kitchen windows. They say they have met "space aliens," so that is what they must be. 

Not necessarily, but if it's not aliens traversing our skies and causing the number of unexplainable UFO sightings, what else could it be?  There are additional theories.
One school of thought is the Interdimensional Hypothesis (IDH).  Proponents of IDH, including legendary UFO researcher Jacques Vallee, maintain that their theory solves the mystery of how UFOs seem to at times suddenly manifest and then disappear into thin air, escaping back into a parallel dimension that exists on a plane of reality separate from ours.  Sound crazy?  Well there are physicists who are seriously entertaining the idea that there is not simply one universe, but thousands...perhaps millions, all floating together in a membrane like Cheerios in milk.  
There is another notion that Col. Alexander alludes to in his statements when he mentions "consciousness" and the "precognitive" nature of the objects being observed.  Could we be creating UFOs within our own subconscious and projecting them into reality?  
Take a look at the timeline.  In primal days, people attributed strange aerial phenomena to "the gods."  Moving through the Middle Ages, angels and demons were blamed.  In the very early 20th Century, there was a flap of rather steampunk-ish airships seen in various locales and by all accounts, they were worthy of a Jules Verne novel.  Finally, there was Kenneth Arnold's sightings in 1947 that kicked off the modern UFO era. 
Funny thing about that latter case.  The craft Arnold claimed to have sighted were never flying saucers.  They were wedge or boomerang shaped.  A newspaper reporter picked up on Arnold's description of the flightmotions of the craft as "saucers skipping over water."  After that, everyone started seeing saucer-shaped UFOs.  Those who claimed to have met with the occupants of the craft described them as being very human in appearance, but wearing futuristic spacesuits, not all that dissimilar to those described in pulp science fiction.  And their technology was so advanced, it had to be from outer space.  Then came the popular image of what we now call "an alien:" big eyes, big head, small mouth, and gray skin.  It's almost what we've all come to expect.  
Tie this in with what Alexander said about UFOs always seeming highly advanced, but never beyond the realms of our imagination...or our understanding, really.  I really have to wonder, is all of this being created by our minds and being willed into form?  John Keel talks about this in his book, The Mothman Prophecies, which I hope to review shortly.  

Again, I am not dismissing the extraterrestrial hypothesis.  It may very well be happening.  Nevertheless, I don't believe that it should be accepted as a having a solid lock on the truth in the eyes of Ufologists.  Both IDH and the psychological angles cry out for serious examination.  Or weirder still...the phenomenon is really a combination of all of the perhaps even more.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dictatorship is obsolete (?)

John Shirley made a thought-provoking post on Facebook today.  
Aside: if you don't recognize the name "John Shirley," you should check out his work.  He's an excellent writer of science fiction and various other milieus.  Highly recommended.

Here is Mr. Shirley's post: "Daydream of Pres Obama declaring to the UN assembly that 'sweeping & necessary historic change cannot be resisted long, & should be embraced. Dictatorships are obsolete in the 21st century. Information itself has tolled their death knell. Let us support these revolutions, in the Middle East. Let us call on Qaddafi, on all dictators, to step down.' "

One can argue the relative appropriateness of America's political leader making such a statement to the world (the arguments likely fall into which side of the fence you happen to inhabit, mentally), but what really struck me is the notion of dictatorship reaching an obsolescence.  John Shirley is quite correct in pointing out that the Internet and social media have rendered the free dissemination of data almost a given.  Thus the plight of the totalitarian: how to reign in a century where such information exchange between collectives and individuals flows like a tidal wave.  This really is an exciting premise.  I'm dating myself, but I remember the U.S. bombing Libya and dogfighting their MiGs over the Gulf of Sidra.  I remember Gadhafi, or Qaddafi, or however the hell you spell it, being painted as a maniacal tyrant who is dangerous to all of humanity.  He still is that of course, but it truly does appear that his days are numbered.  A dramatic example of this is the crew of a Libyan warplane who crashed their own aircraft rather than carry out their orders to bomb a town.  Egypt was just the first domino to fall as many other nations of The Middle East appear poised to topple their own autocrats.  In truth, you might even argue it started with democracies in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but that argument carries overtones with it that I would just as soon not address in this post.

Yes, it is exciting, but I have to wonder if it is truly the end of totalitarian rule.  After all, it can be far more efficient to convince people to surrender liberties and voting if they are sufficiently scared enough.  Not scared of their leadership, but scared of the evil boogeymen that are thought lurk both within and without a nation's borders.  And what good is means with which to share information when no one is interested in reading/hearing it?  This is truly history unfolding before our eyes in The Middle East, but how interested is the average American?  I'm willing to bet more people sought news on Lindsey Lohan's Big Day In Court than took time to examine what's happening in another part of the world.  
And that may be how simple it is for dictatorship to survive.  Amuse and distract the masses.  In time, successive generations will become either so programmed or so ignorant that they aren't even aware they're being oppressed...or oppressive.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Van Flandern: A challenge to academia

Despite what the Republicans say, the world of academics is a rather conservative place.  This is especially true in the sciences.  It is dangerous to formulate and publish a hypothesis that is contrary to the standard edict of "that's just how the universe is."  Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin all suffered for doing so.  I know from growing up in a family of higher academics how easy it is for a professor to be branded "that crazy guy" or for a subject to be relegated as "dorm talk" and unworthy of academia (that last word is to be produced in a snooty voice similar to that of Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island.  There.  Pop culture reference.  Further anathema to my chosen profession.)  Tom Van Flandern is not afraid of such marginalization by the establishment.

There is one book that I regret not buying during my plunder of the closing Borders last weekend.  That is astronomer Tom Van Flandern's Dark Matter, Missing Planets, and New Comets.  Among the rather bold and iconoclastic theories put forth in the book are:
-The universe did not start with a Big Bang.
-The universe is not expanding.
-There is no Oort Cloud of comets.
-Galaxies are arranged in waves.
-A mystery planet exploded between Jupiter and Mars, thus creating the asteroid belt there.  This cataclysm occurred only three million years ago.
-This explosion may have influence the evolution of humanity.
-The pyramids of Egypt are over 9,000 years old.
-Our Moon originated as part of the Pacific Basin.
and most interesting to me...
-Artificial structures may exist on Mars.

Is he correct about any of this?  Does he have any solid evidence to support it?  I don't know.  As I said, I have yet to read the book but am looking forward to doing so.  I'll admit, a few of his statements are somewhat radical and it is going to take great evidence and peer review before I'm able to accept them.  But I absolutely love the fact that Van Flandern has the courage to ask the questions and to challenge the morass of "but that's just how it is."  
I don't know exactly when it was in academic history that it became professionally dangerous to bring every single idea to the table.  To me, this just generates tunnel vision and a stagnation of the mind, which as I recall, a university education was supposed to prevent. 
Only by respecting the question and the questioner will real answers ever be found.

Dark Matter, Mystery Planets, and New Comets is available on Amazon.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

What "Watson" means

Being a geek, my favorite game show is Jeopardy!  We gather around from time to time at the day job and read Jeopardy! questions to one another, training for that shining day where I might actually get that callback to be on the show.   I try to keep myself mentally fit, reading facts from The New York Times and memorizing the originator of the "world's silliest bottom burp."  The answer to the latter is "Rik" for those of you fans of BBC's The Young Ones.

So in light of both my fandom of Jeopardy! and my fascination with cybernetics and transhumanism, you can imagine how interesting the past week has been.  An IBM computer system named "Watson" appeared on the game show and managed to best the game's greatest players.  This was quite a test for artificial intelligence.  After all, many questions on Jeopardy! deal with the nuances of language.  Would "Watson" be able to parse these subtleties?  The answer appears to be a resounding "yes."

Dr. Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity Is Near and a transhuman guru, wrote an essay called "The Significance of Watson," reflecting on the AI's triumph.  One of the interesting points that Kurzweil brings up is the defensive nature that people tend to take on when confronted with this form of technological achievement.  When IBM's Deep Blue computer defeated champion Gary Kasparov in chess back in 1997, many wrote it off as "well, that's just chess."  In other words, the game is not exactly exemplary of human thinking.  That position is tenuous at best, but it was there.  Now comes this victory for a "thinking machine" that seems to handle the random intricacies of human language.  Again, I am thinking people will downplay this by saying, "it's just a game show, for cryin' out loud."
Not so fast.

Kurzweil has predicted that computers will not only achieve intelligence but will attain human-like consciousness by 2030.  Watson is another brick in the road towards that point, that "singularity" wherein the difference between human and machine becomes paper thin.  This is no small achievement and I would argue that anyone attempting to downplay it is reacting in part out of fear of some sci-fi scenario where humans lose legitimacy.  If anything, artificial intelligence such as Watson will greatly benefit us.
I recently read of Watson's relevancy explained via this scenario: Imagine a patient goes into a doctor's office complaining of certain symptoms.  An AI takes these symptoms and returns six different diagnoses.  Of those six, it is likely that one or two of them will be unlikely or just outlandish.  Discounting them, if there is but one other likely diagnosis in the bunch that the doctor might not have otherwise considered, then the AI has paid for itself.  Still, we're a bit of a ways from something like Watson fitting on either our desktops or in our smart phones.  Watson runs on 90 servers.  But that will not be an obstacle for much longer.
This is not something be feared, but hotly anticipated.  After all, can you imagine your life without search engines?  They do what humans cannot do.  Merging that quality with the facets that humans inherently have will create an amalgamation of human and AI that will ultimately be beneficial to us all.  
Except for the fact that I may never win on Jeopardy! that is.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Film Review--Strange Days

starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Lewis, Angela Bassett, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, Vincent D'Onofrio, William Fichtner, Glen Plummer, and Chris Helton as The Beav.

Set in the (gasp!) future of 1999, a raggedy, down and out fence (Fiennes) deals in data disks that grant someone captured human experiences.  Things get crazy for this cop-turned-dealer when he comes upon a disk that shows the murder of a prostitute, flinging him deeper into a world of crime, blackmail, and racial politics.

I did not like this film when I first saw it in 1995.  Today, I have a greater appreciation for it.  The cyberpunk technology featured herein is becoming more and more plausible by the day.  Therefore, the types of market forces and criminal actions detailed in the film shall come in tandem with it.  An important subject for our society to take note of.
This film is not not without its problems.  The plot tends to meander, the focus on the dark side of human nature is rather unrelenting, and aspects of the ending are downright hokey.  Also, much of it is rooted in the Rodney King riots of 1992 in Los Angeles, seriously dating the narrative.  Balancing that out is the intriguing premise, the performance of Michael Wincott...a fine and menacing actor who was everywhere in the 90s and has sadly not appeared much since, and the neat allusions to the Gen-X, "slacker" worldview that is somewhat akin to Fight Club.  Not nearly in the same category as that latter film, but strains of similar undertones. 
I kept wondering, why didn't I like this more back in the day?  After all, I didn't think I could have had a bleaker view of humanity than I did fifteen years ago, but I suppose I do.  And that is why I find Strange Days all the more realistic.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Nothing ever happens on Mars...or does it?

In a previous post, I talked about the hotly-debated "face on Mars."  Of course I'm not so sure just how "hot" the debate is these days.  More recent photographs and analysis of that area of Mars show the "face" to be nothing more than an optical illusion.  Cydonian enthusiasts will likely disagree, but this is the current stance of mainstream science.  Another strange finding on Mars that came and went was "the bunny."

In 2004, a photograph from the Opportunity rover on Mars seemed to show...for lack of a better word...a bunny.  Note the two ear-like protrusions on the object in the above photograph.  Time-lapse analysis showed that the "ears" actually moved in the light breeze of Mars.  In subsequent photographs, the anomalous object was gone.  Was it a lifeform?  A "Mars bunny?"  A fossil of former life, knocked loose from the rock and soil?  Not so fast.  Turns out it was a tiny piece of the lander that broke loose on impact.  Since it would be fairly lightweight, it's not a far leap to surmise that the fragment was later blown away by the wind.  (thanks to Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy for the clear, concise explanation.)

Given those let downs, I was fully prepared to write off all such "Martian anomalies" as products of mere pareidolia, much as Carl Sagan once suggested.  Now, I'm prepared to be a bit more open-minded on the subject and give this aspect of "alternative science" another look.
The venerable Mac Tonnies wrote After the Martian Apocalypse, a book that examines the possibility of alien artifacts on the planet Mars.  Among the things he points to on Mars that have the outside chance of being artificial structures:

-Unusual, grid-like patterns in the soil that resemble the streets of a large city.  The lines are regularly spaced and appear to be the work of an intelligence.  
-Mounds and other building-like structures in the Cydonia region of Mars.
-A "fort," located not altogether that far from the supposed "face."

And the list goes on, not just from the late Tonnies but from multitudes of other "Mars anomaly researchers."  The problem being that most of the information I have thus far found on the topic, with the exception of Tonnies, seems to be of the sort that you'd find in the check-out counter at your local grocery store.  On the level of The Weekly World News or the like.
That has not succeeded in stifling my interest.  Mars is the most fascinating planet in our solar system in my opinion.  Why?  Maybe because it is so similar to Earth, at least in size and orbit.  It was perhaps even more similar once long ago.  We know that there is water on Mars in the form of a polar ice cap.  Was it once far more prevalent than that?  Only future geological analysis will tell, but a once ubiquity of water is seeming more and more likely.  As a matter of fact, there are more than a few aerial photographs of Mars that have certain researchers claiming visible water still exists today.  In any event, our experience has been that where there is water, there is life.  Was there once a thriving civilization on Mars that suffered an ecological disaster?  Perhaps a cataclysm of their own doing (as we threaten to do to ourselves) or an unfortunate natural occurrence such as water evacuating to the pole?  It is to ponder.
I'm not ready to entirely throw in with the notion of artifacts on Mars, but I must admit that it would be nifty as all heck if it were true.  More to come as I keep reading on this subject.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

To infinity and beyond...

Yes, I am well aware that the title of the post is a Disney quote.  I have my reasons for doing so as you shall soon read.
"I can't think about infinity," someone recently told me.  "It scares me to think about the vastness of the universe.  Makes me feel small and aware of my own mortality.  I like learning about NASA and the space program, but that actual concept of space...that scares me."
I get it.  Have you ever been in the dark or fog and been only vaguely aware that there is something far larger than you nearby?  I had it happen once as a child with a lighthouse at night.  It happened again recently with a water tower in the fog.  Unsettling to say the least.  I get the same sensation at times from space.  Something so vast, so dark, and by enlarge, empty.  Look up into the sky on a clear night.  If you're not humbled, you're not thinking.
So we humans come up with all sorts of unique and inventive ways to ameliorate our unease.  Hence the insufferable existence of Disney/Pixar films, Creationism, and the "Let's Start a Jesus Revolution" movement on Facebook.  And I won't pick solely on fundies.  The resurgence of Eastern religions in the U.S. is every bit as much of a manufactured bulkhead against infinity...or should I say entropy? 
I sometimes play a game with myself, one inspired by yet another friend of mine.  It's called "What if there isn't a God?"  Now, I'm excited to meet my Maker.  The lunatic ravings of the fundies have no bearing on that (oh and how the fundies do try me.)  For the sake of this exercise, however, I presume that there is no God.  What happens next?  Well contrary to many fundy arguments, my sense of morality does not disappear.  I am quite capable of discerning right from wrong by the pure act of respecting other living things.  I also do not feel any less "created."  I am a mass of subatomic particles, born in the depths of space by the Big Bang and the smaller bangs of supernovae.  I am the current state of evolution, a process that started with Australopithecus up through Cro-Magnon man.  I (and everyone else for that matter) am the product of about 2 million years of human beings learning and figuring things out.
What does bother me about the no-God scenario is the uncertainty of just what happens after we die.  If God does not exist, then my consciousness blinks out at the same moment my biological form ceases and I return to space dust.  Over.  Done.  Finite.  All that I ever was, all that I believed in, felt attachment to, took joy in, was the mere result of neurochemical reactions inside my brain.  That's it.  Once my weak, squishy, meaty form gives out, the rest of me disappears into the dark as well.  That, dear Strangers, scares me to no end.  It causes me to lose sleep.  It brings a shudder to my very soul, if indeed I have one.  So I am no different than many who seek to find salve for this wound of uncertainty.  I enjoy anthropomorphic cartoon characters, videos of cute animals living in happiness, things that bring light into the abyss, even if they are born of artificiality. Such things keep me blissfully distracted for a time from my need for meaning.
If there is one thing above all else that I have quested for in this existence, it is meaning.  I need that every bit as much as I need oxygen.  Many seek God as a foundation upon which to forge their meaning, or more likely, to buy it off the rack as they would a suit to wear.  Thinkers like Carl Sagan found meaning in the universe as is, seeing amazement in even the tiniest of things.  I write.  Hoping against hope that my writings will help to give me definition and will survive me, granting me a form of immortality if my soul cannot achieve such a state.  A "will to power" of sorts.
So aware am I of my mortality, so inwardly scared am I of the "blink into nothing" scenario, that I have been placing my hope in the advancement of science.  Genetic engineering, nanotechnology, the uploading of consciousness into computers, all promises that may grant me more time, that may stave off that dark just a bit longer...if not forever.  Indeed, when we at last openly interact with aliens, I believe we will find them more machine than organic...or perhaps those two halves so fused together that we won't be able to tell the difference.  It is only logical.
I have no answers.  Regardless, I will keep seeking them.  Just as I have done since I was very little, and for really no better reason than that, I will begin by looking to the stars.  Sometimes I feel that I could find meaning in this universe...if I could only get my hands on the source code.

Music for this quest:

"Until the Day Is Done," R.E.M.
"She's A River," Simple Minds
"Take Me To the River," Talking Heads
"Karma Police," Radiohead
"Space Oddity," David Bowie
"Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2
"Discoverer," R.E.M.
Soundtrack to Blade Runner

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review--"Pattern Recognition"

William Gibson

It is 2002 and Cayce Pollard is a "cool hunter," a marketing expert who has an innate sense of what kinds of corporate designs will work and yet is allergic, even fearful, of brand names.  She becomes enthralled with an Internet meme known only as "the footage," a montage of video cuts that has all of web culture guessing.  A wealthy and eccentric client hires Cayce to track down the source of "the footage" at any cost.  This journey takes her from London to Tokyo and then to Russia, culminating in a dangerous epiphany of not only the source of "the footage," but the answer to what happened to her father in New York City on September 11th.

Nearly all books come with blurbs.  Often they are gushing and backscratching and sometimes they are reviews taken out of context.  "The most shocking thriller this year"--NY Post.  "Nichols is amazing"--Chicago Tribune.  Here are a few of the blurbs from Pattern Recognition:
"One of the first authentic and vital novels of the twenty-first century."--The Washington Post
"Gibson's best books since he rewrote all the rules in Neuromancer."--Neil Gaiman
"So good it defies all the usual superlatives." The Seattle Times.

None of the blurbs for this book are hyperbole.  This really is Gibson's best work since Neuromancer, yet oddly enough I would not classify it as science fiction as it is rooted very much in the here and the now.  Well, it is tinged with science fiction, purely via the un-copyable style with which Gibson writes. Those of you who have read his previous books know what I mean.
In a few of said works, Gibson has a locale known as The Sprawl, a future mega-city where technopunks eke out a living on society's fringes.  In Pattern Recognition, it is we who are The Sprawl, our lives awash in marketing brands and corporate logos.  The book is a flashframe of our society, a "mirror world," as Cayce Pollard might call it.  It is both surreal and exciting, ambient and frightening.  Very Blade Runner in its own respect.  One aspect that helps build this milieu is that of global networking.  There are many characters in this book, but the only interactions that Cayce has with many of them are through email, chat, or other such cyberspace communique.  She meets them virtually first, then, in certain cases, in real time much later on.  
You may argue that I normally am more critical of books and that here I am merely gushing over a literary idol.  I am.  But I simply am having a hell of a time trying to find anything to be critical about with this book.  If you're looking for a profound statement on our time and digital culture, then you need to read this.  If you enjoy a smart cyber-thriller, then you need to read this.  If you appreciate intricate and innovative prose style, then you need to read this for there is no finer writer out there now in terms of style than Gibson.  Oh hell, you need to read this.  Period.  Go order the book now.  You have no excuse.
Highest possible recommendation.

Pattern Recognition is available at Amazon.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Film Review--District 9

starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, and Jen Hernandez as "The Beav."

An alien spaceship arrives over Johannesburg, South Africa. The passengers of said ship are wounded and bedraggled.  With no where else to go, they are herded into a refugee camp outside the city.  Over the decades, this camp disintegrates into a walled-off slum called District 9.  But when the camp must be evicted by a private security corporation, an operative (Copley) finds himself spliced with alien DNA...and increasingly devoid of friends.

This is a rough ride.  Not exactly a knee-slapper, no.  That's probably because this is astonishingly close to being accurate.  If aliens did arrive and we had any sort of advantage over them whatsoever, they would be exploited and subjugated by us.  This is science fiction that works.  It taps into the cultural zeitgeist and forces us to look at ourselves via a "what if" scenario.  The analogy to apartheid should be clear to anyone, with the aliens as stand-ins for the black population that is "ready to take up arms against their oppressors" to paraphrase Bono.  Humans even manufacture a derogatory term for the aliens (as we are so good at doing): "Prawns."  And there is debate within the film as to whether or not it is proper to call them "Prawns," with one government official defending the slur by saying, "Well let's face it, it's what they look like, isn't it?"  Indeed they are rather Lovecraftian in appearance.
It doesn't stop there.  The "Prawns" are reduced to eating cat food (even though they like it), there are horrendous medical experiments on them that amount to little more than torture (shades of Mengele), and an overall statement of "man's inhumanity to other living things."  Usually in the name of a profit.

The film is left open to a sequel.  Should that come to pass, I would hope that the filmmakers include a bit of "prequel" as well, explaining who the Prawns are and how they came to us in such a disheveled state.  Make no mistake, this is a good film and quite worthy of its Best Picture nomination last year.  But don't ever expect it to be rollicking good, 'splodey sci-fi or some such drivel.  You'll be lucky to make it through without shedding a tear or turning away in revulsion at times.

District 9 was apparently an expansion of a short film called "Alive in Joburg."  Here it is from YouTube:

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Anime, illegal downloads, and the bottom line

Everything is melting.  The temperatures are climbing to unseasonably warm degrees.  All of the accumulated fallout from Snowpocalypse is gradually turning into a muddied pool, rendered gray by the mixing of white snow with black street soot.  Sort of looks like the "gray goo" scenario that many warn of with nanotechnology.   Through it all the limousines rolled last night, carrying Valentines to overpriced dinners.  I don't like warm weather.
So I distract myself.  I plug myself in deeper online, reading articles like this one that claims Internet piracy actually boosts the sales of anime.  Apparently, an economic think-tank that was sanctioned by the Japanese government concluded that pirated films and episodes actually have an opposite affect on the bottom line of anime production houses.
While I don't want to make any claims about the veracity or accuracy of the study, I did sit and ponder upon it for a bit.  Could this be symbolic of the Internet as a nigh unstoppable democratic force?  The restrictions and clamping-downs that occur, the more market forces seem to find a way around them.  Or in Star Wars parlance, "the more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers?"  
I also wonder, and hope, that this might free up certain series of anime that appear "lost," or at least not quite as accessible as those of the past ten years.  As much as I like to harp about the future, there are those things to which I prefer the older, original versions.  Anime is one of them.  
Post World War II, we seem to have been in a sort of cultural symbiosis with Japan.  We've shared rock n roll and cheeseburgers with them.  They've given us anime, manga, and Hello Kitty.  My fascination with Japanese pop culture began the first time I watched Godzilla flatten Tokyo.  From there my interests grew to the series Ultraman.  Then came my first exposure to anime via Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets (or Gatchaman), Robotech, favorite...Starblazers.  In time, I graduated to Akira (I hear that the geniuses of Hollywood have been planning a live action version of this classic.  I'm certain they'll get Justin Beiber to play Kanada.)  While I have several episodes of those particular anime shows, I still wouldn't mind seeing more.  Perhaps if this study does bear out to be valid, more of those old, classic animes will resurface.

So it's back into the tepid murk I go.  Perhaps I'll sift through my DVDs tonight because you know what they say: in spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to anime.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Film Review--Catfish

a documentary

Two New York filmmakers document their friend's online relationship with a woman he has never met.  As the relationship progresses to the real-life stage, the filmmakers accompany their friend to the couple's first face-to-face meeting in rural Michigan...where things become as much or more surreal than a work of fiction.

While I'm certain that the secret of this documentary must have been spoiled in numerous places online, I'd rather not be a party to it.  It hampers my review, but I will do my best to not give anything more away than I already have.
This film works primarily, I believe, because of the editing.  We go from the premise into a situation that has all the tension of a mystery/thriller.  This transitions skillfully into a dark comedy and then ends on a poignant, even mournful note.
You might wonder why I chose to review this film on this site.  Suffice it to say that the central concepts of Catfish apply very much to the question of "just what is 'real?' "   How are online personas created?  How much does each party of an online communication contribute to them?  Is it all just a "consensual illusion?"  These are all questions one is left asking after viewing the film.  And while not paranormal, the entire situation that this man finds himself in is almost weirder than anything I could have realistically come up with.  So give this doc a look.  You may begin to question your online interactions.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011


First, a bit of a disclaimer.
I understand that the blizzard of nearly two weeks ago was a terrible thing for many people.  The Chicago Tribune  did a Sunday cover story last week, showcasing the people who had died from the inclement weather.  There were those who suffered heart attacks from shoveling such dense and copious amounts of snow.  There were those who were killed in car crashes, brought on directly by the storm.  There were those who were stranded in their vehicles as snow piled deeper around them (most notably on Lake Shore Drive).  And I'm certain there were pet owners who...I can't even bear to write it.  My family was blessed and spared such things.  While I offer my sincerest condolences to those who have lost...anything as a result of this weather, I must write this from my own personal experience with the storm.  I cannot do otherwise.

It's melting now.  Temperatures are threatening to reach into the 40s if not the 50s.  Already what was once over a foot of snow is now on its way to becoming a muddy, cytoplasmic muck beneath the newfound sun.  Despite that, for a time, for a brief and glorious time, it was like living in a polar location.
Word of the impending blizzard first surfaced on a Saturday night...nearly three days ahead of time.  I thought back and attempted to calculate when I had ever before seen a megastorm forecast so far in advance.  I could not come up with one.  "Must be serious," I thought, loathe to succumb to media influence.
Then businesses began to close.  Schools and government offices followed suit.  Something was approaching.  Something the size of that mothership from Independence Day, crawling its way across the Midwest and depositing the very wrath of God in its wake.  Suburbanites and urban dwellers alike cleared the shelves of stores across the Chicago metro area, presumably to bring back to their homes in order to fortify them against the storm.  After all, we might not emerge from our dwellings for a full day, or two days, or maybe even a month from the way things were sounding.  There was a tangible and distinct sensation in the air, one that reminded me of things I have read about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Or more generation-pertinent, the first third of the TV movie, The Day After, when everyone knows a nuclear strike is coming, it's just a question of when.  Even my droning day job closed its doors early.  I then drove home in a hearty, but manageable, snowfall.  At home, I watched the outside world from the second floor window, waiting like King Theoden on the parapet of Helm's Deep in The Two Towers   Minute by minute I watched the snow fall and thought, "is this the best you can do, Saruman?" (last pop culture reference I will make, honest to God.)

Then all hell broke loose.  The winds rose to 50-60mph.  The snowfall approached a rate of 3 inches per hour.  No one...and I do mean no one in this busy, overpopulated sprawl...was out on the streets.  It was like the end of the world.
But I could watch it all from inside, drinking coffee.  Warm, sheltered, and reading and writing...with no possible expectations from the outside world.  Then came sauce for the goose.  Not only did my day job close early, it did not open again for 48 hours.  
In keeping with my tendency of being weird, I like snow.  I like cold.  It is far easier for me to stay warm in winter than cool in summer.  Freezing cold keeps criminals indoors (sorry, the police volunteer in me.)  The blizzard was exciting, in otherwise damned drab and uninteresting existence.  
I'm sorry to see it go.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Aliens in suburbia

This may come as a shock to you, but I am a bit of a sci-fi nut.
I'll let that settle in for a bit.
I know, I know, you wouldn't think so, not someone like me who is so consumed with mundane matters.  But I do love the genre and have found myself since a very young age looking at "normal" concepts and seeing the science fiction potential within them.

I came across this picture:

It is an artist's rendering of airships that would be meant to facilitate transportation throughout suburbia.  To me, however, the image conjures far more sinister overtones.
Doesn't the entire scene, this ivory tableau, look like an alien spaceship disgorging its unearthly occupants into the suburbs?  Look at these beings, nearly faceless yet approximations of us, gestalts or walking templates, seeking to absorb camouflage identities.  Are these humanoids here to infiltrate?  To overwhelm us not through lasers and bombs but through means more subtle and elegant?  In fact, this picture is eerily reminiscent of scenes from NBC's original version of V.  The "airship" even bears a slight resemblance to the Visitor's shuttlecraft, landing in the once placid locale of suburbia.
The suburbs.  Much ridicule has been hurled their way and with good reason.  I can say this for I am a longtime resident of a suburban area.  The phrase "cookie cutter" was invented for them.  Cookie cutter homes.  Cookie cutter lawns.  Cookie cutter restaurant franchises. Cookie cutter mindsets.  If these were real aliens landing in real suburbs, I'm guessing the suburbanites would be bunkering down in the nearest Eddie Bauer store, waiting for the worst to come.  Meanwhile, Ghost Dogg and me will be holed up in the library, protecting mankind's knowledge into the future.  After all, if the aliens are seeking suburbanites, its doubtful they'd check the library.  We'll keep watching the skies for strange aircraft while never once sacrificing a tome of Faulkner, Gibson, Burroughs, or Kerouac.
So enjoy your ill-gotten tracts of suburbs, by faceless friends.  Time is on my side.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

SETI's search for "dopplegangers"

Last week, Dr. Seth Shostak wrote a piece for The Huffington Post.  Shostak is an astronomer and a head honcho for SETI, the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.  While I've never been a big fan of SETI  and have lately been seriously unimpressed with The Huffington Post (see the whole "2nd. Sun" debacle), this article was not without interest.
The heartening news is that NASA's Kepler space telescope has discovered over 1,200 extrosolar planets.  Of that number, about forty-eight show promise of being Earth "dopplegangers" or worlds like ours that have oceans and dense atmospheres.  Shostak is quick to caution, and rightfully so, that this does not necessarily mean there is life on those planets.  And if there is life, it need not necessarily be intelligent.  It could be bacterial, botanical, or the alien equivalent of a sea bass.  Still, the promise is in the numbers.  The probability for finding intelligent life increases as the number of planets discovered rises...and that trusty Kepler is finding new planets all the time.
Now here's the downside.  Shostak writes, "This is big news, and the search for radio transmissions from these latter worlds [the doppelgangers] is already underway."  Read that one more time.  Radio transmissions.  What are the odds that a truly advanced civilization is using any kind of radio?  I suppose it is possible that there are aliens who are either at or beneath our technological level, but the ages of both humanity and Earth would seem to place those ETs in the minority.  Therefore, scanning space for radio signals seems a bit of an exercise in futility.  I know, I know, what should we look for instead?  Radio is where we're at right now.  How can we search for something we currently have no conception of?  Well, there's been suggestions surrounding "optical SETI," searching for laser bursts from other civilizations, whether the bursts be as beacons to us or ambient zaps we're catching from the sidelines.  Would they infiltrate our computer systems as a few have suggested?  Worm through our databases to learn all about us and perhaps leave messages behind?  Would we even know what to look for.  Don't know.
So no, I don't have any other ideas for SETI at this point.  I'll therefore keep my criticisms quite subdued.  After all, they probably aren't interested in hearing anything from someone like me, anyway...someone who thinks there's a decent chance that alien life is already visiting us.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Paranormal Podcast

I have been exploring the wide world of podcasts lately.  The selections have been varied, ranging from old time radio drama to trivia to suggestions for writers to topics in the paranormal.  Let me tell you, good Strangers, there is no finer podcast out there than the Paranormal Podcast with Jim Harold.
What makes this podcast stand so far above the others?  A number of things.  First of all, there's the breadth and depth of the paranormal subjects covered.  Ghosts and "ghost hunting" seem all the rage these days and indeed those topics are covered but to the exclusion of all else.  One of my recent favorites was an interview Jim conducted with Dr. Bob Curran on the subject of man-made monsters in both myth and reality.  I've yet to listen to it, but the venerable Nick Redfern stopped by to talk about so-called "demonic UFOs."  Can't wait to get to that one.  In addition to UFOs, Jim explores everything from phantom hitchhikers to the highest of high strangeness.
The other factor that makes this podcast so exceptional is how great of a host he is.  He comes off as very personable, down to earth, and treats every single guest with respect.  That may sound like a no-brainer for a host, but in this day and age of "rock star Ufologists" and make-a-buck artists cashing in on ghost hunting and alien abduction, it's an uncommon find.  Jim just seems like a really nice guy, the kind of guy I'd sit and have beers with while talking UFOs.  Additionally, we all can agree I believe, that the field of paranormal research does tend to draw in the lunatic fringe.  I have yet to hear that voice heard on Paranormal Podcast and that is by all means a good thing.  Even if I have disagreed with guests in past episodes, I very rarely doubted their sincerity.

So if this is your kind of thing, and I have to think it is otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, give Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast a listen.  You'll be glad you did.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The Transcendent Man"

For the past year or so, I have really been enjoying the medium of documentary film.  So you can imagine that when I heard there was a doc about Ray Kurzweil, adding it to the top of my queue became an imperative.

In the event that you are unfamiliar with that name, Mr. Kurzweil is a scientist and an inventor.  There are those who would say he's also a bit of a prophet.  Others still call him a crackpot, a dangerous maniac, and are actively scared of the things he has to say.  Kurzweil is the author of The Singularity Is Near, a book that puts forth many an intriguing notion, not the least of which is the titular singularity itself, best described by Kurzweil as: 
"Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity — technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light."  (Here's the link to that quote.)
Now how much would you expect to pay for that incredible offer?  Don't answer.  Because by the year 2029, Kurzweil predicts, computers will have achieved consciousness.  And perhaps among his more hopeful...and disturbing...predictions is that it may soon be possible to live forever.

Obviously the churchier types among us have a problem with that last bit of business.  "Playing God" and all that such.  I'm of a different opinion.  We have intellect and the ability to use it.  Why shouldn't we then?  How many of us are alive today because of a technological advancement, such as an artificial component that now takes the place of a once defective portion of our body?  That's me.  In at least two ways.  Even the simple act of taking medication is the result of technological advancement so where's the conundrum?   But I digress...

Love him, hate him, or discount his theory of the singularity as impractical tosh, Ray Kurzweil is not boring.  Therefore, I have no doubt that The Transcendent Man will make for fascinating viewing.  It is available on DVD here.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gray matters

A fair bit of news about the human brain percolating about in zeitgeist lately.  
Dr. David Perlmutter appeared on Coast To Coast AM over the weekend, discussing various ways to "power up" your brain.  While he did speak of touchy-feely notions such as spiritual meditation, he did make a number of important points.  One of said points was just how critical neuorplasticity--the ability of the brain to rewire itself and make better connections--is to a higher functioning mind.  Among the methods he mentioned to help boost brain function are supplements such as fish oil (yay for me!) and physical exercise (I'm screwed.) Also, make certain you get enough Vitamin D as the brains of Alzheimer's patients appear to be lacking in it.

Or howzabout a good ol' fashioned electrical shock to the brain?  There are scientists who postulate that giving the gray matter a subtle zap of electric current could produce sudden moments of inspiration.  It may even help us to abandon preconceived notions and think more creatively.  Professor Allan Snyder, a fellow of the British Royal Society, found that people who have suffered certain kinds of brain damage now have a changed mindset and are open to new ideas.  Snyder tested this theory out by giving Australian college students low-grade electric shocks while having them solve Roman numeral math problems.  Yes, that opening scene from Ghostbusters did come to mind.  But what does this mean to us practically?  It means that if Snyder's theory is verified, we might be able to one day clamp "thinking caps" to our heads when we need that extra boost of intelligence.  The BBC has a sort of a mock-up of such a device on their site.

This is all well and good, I'd like all the help I can get to boost my brain's performance, but I'm more interested in other things on the horizon.  For example, connecting with computers through chip interfaces within the brain that allow us to wirelessly interact with the machine.  Can you imagine it?  The age of "neuroblogging" could be upon us.  I just think whatever it is that I want to post about and it appears on my blog space.  Of course that wouldn't allow much room for editing, and that has been a loose end from which I have hung many a time. 
Still, the technology involved in interfacing with the brain is staggering to think about.  It brings to mind such seminal cyberpunk works as Neuromancer (ok, it's the seminal cyberpunk novel) where Case relies on a human-computer interface to make a living.  Such things are not without their price, as always seems to be the case.  Back in undergrad, I remember hearing of a concept called "borging out" (ok, so it came up with my college buddies who were/are cyberpunk gamers/readers/writers and they'd had a bit of the bottle at the time, but it stuck with me.)  This is a condition where as more and more parts of the body are replaced by cybernetics, especially in the area of the brain, the mind no longer has a clear sense of what is going on.  One might very well end up seeing things that aren't there.  Dementia and insanity could ensue.
Hmmm.  Perhaps this could work itself into a short story or novel.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Here's a hint: it wasn't Columbus

Who really discovered America?
That's a bit of a loaded question.  No one really "discovered" our hemisphere.  The people who originally lived here knew of it all along.  But even that is up for questioning as we'll soon see.
I was listening to old editions of The Paranormal Podcast, a fine podcast by Jim Harrold that I encourage everyone to check out and I will even feature it in a future blog post, but I digress.  Jim's guest on one particular podcast was from Ancient American magazine, a periodical for professionals in archeology and other such fields whose opinions are...shall we say, a bit different from those of mainstream academics.  While the subject was not exactly paranormal, I couldn't help but be fascinated by these notions that if true, completely toss the accepted and established history of America out the window.  
It is by enlarge an accepted fact in academia that the notion that Columbus discovered America is a fallacy.  "America" is after all named after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.  Plus, the Vikings likely reached the shores of Newfoundland and even New York long before the Santa Maria ever set sail.  Yet this is but a drop in the bucket when it comes to revisions to American history that certain archeological researchers would argue for.  Here are a few of the more tantalizing allegations:

-Egyptian mummies found with traces of cocaine...a substance that could only have been acquired from South America.
-Decalogues have been found in both New Mexico and Ohio, tablets written in both Hebrew and Ancient Greek that are said to be the Ten Commandments.
-An underwater archeologist claims to have found a stone artifact in the waters off California that is identical to the type of anchors once used by Chinese sea travelers.
-There are numerous accounts of a "white man with a beard" in the oral traditions of North American and South American native peoples, sparking a few believers to maintain that Christ visited this end of the world post-resurrection.
-Scottish miners sculpted depictions of a cactus.
-There are traces of a Viking presence as far west as Minnesota and as far south as Oklahoma.
-An ancient Phonecian altar for human sacrifice was found in Chicago.
-Near Kennewick, Washington, a human skeleton was discovered.  The ethnicity of the skeleton was found to be Caucasian.  The age, according to at least a few arguments, is older than 12,000...placing the man in America before humans even migrated across the Bering land bridge.
-A Native American carving found in Michigan seems to resemble that of the type of cross that the Knights Templar emblazoned upon their sails.  Did a Native American see a Templar ship on one of the Great Lakes?

Obviously there needs to be more evidence to substantiate a few of these claims, especially when it comes to ancient carvings as that sort of thing is a bit of a "in the eye of the beholder" Rorschach test.  That aside, I find myself with an open mind to much of this.  I believe that the human race is probably much older than we originally believed and that entire civilizations might have risen and fallen before we ever began recording history.  Additionally, I can see how evidence to support any of the above mentioned possibilities would not be adequately examined.  My experiences with higher education began at birth.  I know all too well how so very few are willing to risk their careers and professional reputations to argue for a concept that deviates from the established academic norm.  Hence why many paranormal subject will never get the serious scrutiny they deserve.
So here's to those maverick researchers and publications like Ancient American.  Even if they end up being wrong, I'm glad that someone is at least asking the questions.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011!

Or not.  
For the past few years, I've heard off and on conflicting reports over whether or not William Shatner will be traveling into space on a Virgin Galactic launch. Richard Branson, innovator behind the Virgin Galactic commercial space program, had offered Shatner a free ride on the company's SpaceShipTwo-class vehicle called...of course...Enterprise.  So it would seem only fitting that "The Supreme Shat" be onboard for it.  
Not so, sayeth The Shat.  Reports have volleyed back and forth for a while, but I finally took a notion to go looking for the truth and found this denial from Shatner himself in 2006.  As he says, "I do want to go up but I need guarantees I'll definitely come back."  That sounds fairly definitive to me.

I can't say that I blame The Shat, but it is rather a pity.  The presence of one such as he on a commercial spaceflight might possibly generate more enthusiasm for space travel.  For years, both he and Star Trek have been synonymous with the future and forward thinking.  If we could connect that conception, that mode of thinking once more to spaceflight, it might just accelerate popular support behind the endeavor.  
It's a disappointment, that's for certain and with the Packers having just won a world championship, I...oh forget it.  But as I said, I can understand why he might not want to do it.
After all, Bill's heavy metal album is about to be released.  Go Shat!

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Film Review--Mega Python vs. Gatoroid

starring Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, A. Martinez, Kathryn Joosten, Arden Cho, and Taylor Dane as The Beav.

Giant pythons begin to grow in the Everglades.  To respond to the threat, an enraged and grief stricken park ranger (Tiffany) feeds an experimental growth serum to the indigenous alligator population.  A crisis ensues.

There are science fiction films that challenge our perceptions of reality and shake us from our doldrums in order to conceive of things bigger than ourselves.  There are science fiction films that take us to strange, alien worlds in far flung reaches of space, or show us advancements in technology and robotics that are in our near are the unique challenges and changes in society that come with them.
This is not one of those films.  As a matter of fact, I recently read this quote from one of the producers: "No one's making Black Swan here."  At least they are cognizant of it.
I...I don't even know what to say about this.  I thought that it was genius to cast Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Llamas together in Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.  I thought it was inspired to cast Tiffany with Barry Williams in Mega Piranha.  But this, this opus takes things to an entirely different level.  My hat is off to them, those cinema mavens of truly discerning tastes.
This is not a good film.  It's actually quite horrendous.  That said, it is not unwatchable.  It is apparent that everyone involved with the production was conscious of just what Mega Python vs. Gatoroid was supposed to be and ran with it.  That has its oddly charming appeal as you get the feeling that they are in on the joke along with you and this is a total embracing of kitsch in a way that Adam West himself would no doubt approve.  Further emphasizing that are all the slipped in references to the hit songs by both of the leading ingenues.  If you came of age in the 1980s, you're bound to appreciate them with a slight wince.  
Speaking of wincing, there is a protracted cat fight between Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, one that involves water, cake frosting, and whip cream.  If someone were to have told me that we would one day behold such a scene, I would have called them an idealistic dreamer.  Some futurist I am.  

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Controversial modern scultpure

(photo is from Village of Joy)

Sculpture.  It is not an art form that immediately comes to mind in our digital age and yet...and yet...whenever there is a garden, a park, or other such form of urban beautification taking place, one of the first items requisitioned it seems is a sculpture.
What minimal (and I stress minimal) artwork I've done with sculpting has been great fun.  Mind you it was all with Sculpy and modeling clay, but I really did enjoy cutting away the excess to allow the sculpture to emerge free, to paraphrase Michelangelo.  But what I have done, nay, what the majority of modern sculptors have rendered, pale in comparison to the achievements that I found on Village of Joy.

In their posting, "Controversial Sculpture By David Cerny," I found the very art of sculpture brought about in public displays that I could never have conceived.  The above installation is an example of this Czech artist's work and quite frankly, it's among the tamer ones I could post on here.  Click the link and browse through his work.  Among my favorites are the gigantic asses that you can stick your head into and see a video of two Czech politicians feeding slop to one another as Queen's "We Are The Champions" plays in the background.  Cerny must be a genius with magnetic poetry.  If your taste in art tends towards the more disturbing, take a look at the Zizkov TV Tower.  It has faceless babies crawling on it.  The car with legs has a certain aesthetic appeal to it as well.

I support anything creative.  It is truly an act of daring to compose a work of art, whether it is a book, a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture and then take that leap into the unknown by putting out in the world and seeing if it can stand up.  To the conservative palate of most of America, I'm sure many of these sculptures are offensive.  I like 'em.  They're far from blase and ordinary, they entertain, they spark discussion, and they are created with what I believe to be a genuinely artistic eye.  Too bad we will never see their like on these shores.

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