Thursday, March 31, 2011


You seldom hear about the planet Mercury.
It does not contain the same mystery to it as Mars.  It's not as bright as Jupiter or Venus especially.  It does not have the recent controversy of Pluto.  You can't even see it all that well due to its proximity to the Sun.  In fact, we pretty much tend to forget it's in our solar system altogether.

But now, NASA's Messenger probe is in orbit around the first planet of our star system and sending back impressive pics.  Just glancing at the pictures, Mercury seems very much like our Moon, essentially a big rock in space.  So what's the big deal about it?
First of all, any further understanding about our universe is something we can only benefit from.  Secondly, we can apply knowledge gleaned from Mercury to other aspects of cosmology.  Why does the planet have a global magnetic field while Venus and Mars do not?  Mercury is thought to have a metal-rich core.  How big is it and could we mine it one day?  Are the dark shadows of its craters frozen water similar to the Moon?  NASA is planning upcoming press conferences to announce any findings.

You can find more photos from Messenger on

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Alien autopsy memories

Someone mentioned three words to me, recently.  Three words that rankle most anyone who is serious about investigating the UFO phenomenon.  Those three words?

Alien autopsy video.

Ah plainly I remember, it was in 1995.  August, to be precise.  I was rooming with Armando at the time.  We were filling our days with X-Files episodes and segments on Sightings when the Fox Network, bastion of journalistic integrity that it is, announced that it would air Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?  It was promoted as being actual, leaked film of an autopsy being conducted on a dead alien recovered from the Roswell crash in 1947.  Time magazine described the controversy over the authenticity of the film as having  "an intensity not lavished on any home movie since the Zapruder film."  Titillated by this, we cleared our busy schedules had nothing at all resembling lives and were therefore able to sit glued to the broadcast.
It started out all right.  Jonathan Frakes was the narrator, lending the piece geek cred if nothing else.  Yeah, I know.  That and two dollars will get you a (small) coffee at Starbucks when it comes to scientific evidence.  Still, we kept watching.  
The film itself was grainy, black and white, and featured two men clad in protective gear carrying out an autopsy on an alien in a stark examination room.  We immediately thought the supposed alien being looked fake, but an interview following the footage prompted us to reconsider.  Legendary special effects artist Stan Winston was brought in with his crew to watch the footage.  He and his team confessed that they were unsure how someone could have faked such a scene.  Armando and I just looked at each other with a collective "hmmm."  If Stan was befuddled, then this entire spectacle required, at the very least, reconsideration.  That and the drama-inspiring voice of Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander Riker, could make the reading of a tuna salad recipe sound like scripture.  The program ended and I fell right into quiet contemplation right...after asking Armando to pass the Funyuns. 
Allegedly, initial autopsies on recovered alien bodies were said to have taken place at Roswell Army Air Field after the crash in 1947.  Was this it?  Was that what an alien actually looked like?  If so, I felt gypped. 
I wasn't the only one, it seemed.  Almost right away, the wheels began to come off the Fox ET RV.  A few researchers pointed out inconsistencies, such as that color film was indeed available in 1947 and whenever the military filmed something of critical significance, e.g. the Trinity test, it was filmed in color.  It would also be filmed by a camera on a steady mount, not with the shaky and at times out of focus results of a hand-held shots.  Then the most damning criticism of all, Stan Winston announced that he had originally called the film a hoax on camera, but that the producers of the show edited that part out.  It was Fox, after all.  Gradually, the alien autopsy film was convicted as a fake in the court of public opinion and all but the die-hard, "I'll believe anything alien" set continued to hold it with any veracity.
Then in 2006, Ray Santilli, the "video entrepreneur" who claimed to have originally acquired the footage before bringing it to Fox, admitted that the film was not authentic.  Turns out it was shot in a motel room in Los Angeles with the coroners being played by homeless men found on the street and given their first big break in Hollywood.  But Santilli stuck with his original a way.  He contended that the film was a recreation of an actual alien autopsy film he saw, a film that had somehow become "lost."

I now see the whole incident as an important learning experience.  There are any number of hoaxers out there, looking for fifteen minutes of fame via noisome forgeries.  If something looks too good to be true, especially in this day of computer graphics, it probably is.  Video claims must now go through an even more strident gauntlet for authentication before we start calling any purported alien or UFO footage as "real." 

If you're interested in seeing Santilli's "autopsy video," here it is.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

UFO flap in Colorado

Yesterday, Good Morning America did a two minute piece on recent UFO sightings over the town of Lafayette, Colorado.   The story was handled in the program's typically imbecilic manner: the intransigent gags, irrelevant allusions to E.T. and Close Encounters, and generally dumbing things down to the level of your average Parade magazine reader.
Ok, that's me bitching about the mass media.  On to the sightings.

It's triangles again.  This time, however, they are quite different from those seen over Belgium in 1990 and elsewhere in the world.  There are three points of light, but no solid ball of light in the center of the shape.  In fact, these Colorado sightings appear far more akin to the UFO wave that took place in Tinley Park, Illinois, just to the south of me. 
The story showed video and photographs of a few of the sightings.  Again we see three points of light, but they are spaced much further apart and forming odder angles than the infamous "black triangles" do.  In this case, as in Tinley Park, I believe we are dealing with three separate craft in formation as opposed to one large vehicle.  Witnesses describe the formation as hovering at times and completely silent.  One of them also stated that they felt an "energy" in the air while seeing the lights.  While this could be attributed psychologically to nerves or adrenalin, there are other witnesses who have reported feeling an electrostatic charge in the air while witnessing a UFO, almost as if the very air particles around them were being ionized. 
Lafayette, Colorado residents seem adamant that they did not see airplanes, satellites, or the like.  I think that is true.  But let's be frank, they likely did not see alien spacecraft, either.  In my humble assessment of the footage, I offer two explanations just off the top of my head:
First thought that came to me was a hoax/prank done with balloons and flares.  Schemes like these have been carried out effectively in New Jersey and in Arizona where my own friend Ahab was a witness.  Might balloons be tethered together into a tight triangle so as to prevent drifting and shifting?  Maybe.  
My other thought is experimental drone aircraft.  Our military is coming up with drone weapons systems left and right.  I don't think it's a far stretch to believe that they have drones capable of flying completely silent.  Someone asked me, "but why the triangle shape?"  Well, any three points are going to form a triangle, unless they're flying in a collinear configuration.  Perhaps it's a new drone system meant to operate in threes?  
Tough to say without more information, but I feel reasonably certain about one thing.  Colorado was not the first to see this type of flap...and they probably won't be the last.

If you can stomach it, watch the ABC piece here.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review--The Mothman Prophecies

by John Keel

It's West Virginia in 1966.  The town of Point Pleasant is plagued for over a year by strange lights in the sky, livestock mutilations, Men In Black, and appearances of a half humanoid, half bird creature that will come to be known as "Mothman."  Journalist and researcher John Keel travels to Point Pleasant in search of answers...and finds himself enmeshed in more weirdness than anyone should be allowed to experience.

This book is an "everything and the kitchen sink" of the paranormal.  There are cryptids, UFOs, alien beings, ghosts, psychic phenomena, and generally just whacko weirdness.  Oh where to start?
First of all, the book is really nothing like the movie of the same name with Richard Gere (which should have been titled Pretty Mothman for all its dissimilarity.)  Second of all, it is not a straightforward narrative.  Keel weaves back and forth between the events in Point Pleasant, his personal experiences there and elsewhere, and with paranormal incidents unrelated to Mothman but help to underscore and bear out the points that he is making.   As a matter of fact, the titular entity appears relatively little in comparison to the size of the book.  This method of writing is tedious to follow at times, but I find that to be a mere peccadillo.  Others not used to reading, say, postmodern literature might find it more distracting.
Third of all, this book is not your standard UFO, cryptozoology text.  A great deal of the theories that Keel puts forth in the book are not popular with many who research these types of phenomena.  While he does not discount the extraterrestrial hypothesis entirely, Keel is not content to hang his hat on the pat answer of "UFOs are spacecraft driven by aliens.  Period."
Again, that kind of iconoclasm ok with me.  The more I consider Keel's postulations, the more I come to like them.  Like Vallee, Keel notes how the manifestations of UFOs and cryptids always tend to mirror the cultural norms of the time.  More succinctly, the apparitions conform to what people at that time consider to be "fantastic."  They are bizarre and puzzling, but not excessively past our means of understanding.  An alien spaceship is something fantastic, but not beyond our means of comprehension.  Ditto for angels and the like in the Middle Ages.  Keel puts forth that we may very well be generating these sightings within our own minds and projecting them into form.
One of the stories he cites in the book has become a favorite of mine for retelling.  Keel talks of a building in New York City where people were sighting an apparition. The form was of a man in a black cape with a black hat pulled low over the face.  Speculation ran that it was the ghost of a spy from the Revolutionary War.  Research, however, yielded no evidence that any such individual should be haunting that particular building.  What was found was the name of a former tenant in the building: Walter Gibson.  Gibson wrote The Shadow.  He would sit in his apartment in that building and crank out a new Shadow pulp every month.  That meant he spent quite a bit of his time thinking about The Shadow.  Did he somehow bring the character into a physical manifestation via all the mental energy he expended upon it?  One wonders.
I really think that Keel was on to something.  When someone says "it's all in your head," they may be correct...from a certain point of view.  There is also the possibility that a lifeform that we don't yet understand appears to us in forms that mimic our current level of understanding, whatever that may be.  Or it could all be even weirder than that.  One day, we may very well be wishing for simplistic answers such as "UFO=alien." 

For anyone interested in Fortean matters, this is an essential read.  Even if you just enjoy good suspense, when Keel talks of his own experiences with Men In Black, stolen evidence, and intimidation via eerie phone calls and visitations, you'll want to keep reading.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Disgusted incompetence"

Full video of Bruce Sterling's talk at SXSW is up on YouTube.  It's chopped into several parts, but you can queue them together easily.  I took the title for this post from a phrase he used to describe our current political morass.  As you watch the clip you'll see why.  He talks about his own role as a critic of ideas that haven't happened yet, how yesterday's cyberpunks are today's design professors, and that you can do anything to an amoebae and no hippie will show up with a protest sign.  After all, "microbes aren't in the Bible."  
Sterling's funny and still railing against the Baby Boomer mentality, justifiably lamenting and expatiating how truly revolutionary and world-changing ideas sit on shelves for lack of political will.  He talks cyberwar mercenaries and the disdain of wind power while gas hits $5 a gallon and three nuclear plants catch fire.  We've got to start caring about things, many things.  Otherwise it makes it far easier to get steamrollered by the rich but ignorant with their useful idiots on the Right.
I sometimes think that Sterling could easily have written the script for Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World.  The "future" (the film is from 1991 and set in 1999, giving it an unfortunate dinosaur-like quality to current viewership) in that film is one that seemed very Sterling-esque to me. 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Well aware that I am.  Never been a secret.  
Every once and again, something comes around before me that reminds me of just how weird I am in the greater context of America.  I attended a bachelor party this evening.  I really must preface that I appreciated the invite and that this post is by no means a reflection on the two guys who invited me there.  The party was for a friend and was thrown by another friend.  They're good guys.  More than acquaintances, less than intimates, thus available to me as "friends."  At the end of the dinner portion of the evening, just before the numerous attendees would file into a bus headed towards chicanery, my stomach gave me difficulty.  I was having trouble with it throughout the day, but hoped I might hold it together for the night. I have gastritis and it's like needles in the stomach when it flares up.  I excused myself and went home before the bus headed out to the hinterlands of the flesh.
Again, I'm appreciative of the invitation.  But upon further reflection, the occasion seemed so synthetic.  Not just this bachelor party, but I'm guessing most of them (I've only attended one before and no shenanigans were involved) are much the same: a perfunctory ritual of primates, using it as an excuse to drink into oblivion and behave lewdly.  If you do not see it as such, then there must be something wrong with you as a man.  No one said this or implied this to me, mind you.  I again speak only in the larger context of America.
I like to drink.  I love looking at the female form.  As a writer, I think that both of those vices are required somewhere in the contract, otherwise your writing lacks literary legitimacy.  Yet there's something about gatherings, loudness, and grown man behaving badly that does not appeal to me.  I'm sure that sets me apart and makes me weird.  Why stop there?  There are so many other facets that make me odd.
I don't think that Kim Kardashian is hot.  Looks good at first, but once she speaks I lose all interest. I've known a few women like that.
I hate bars.  I hate pub crawls even more.
I don't mind violating that Federal statute that says I'm supposed to be out of the house on Friday and Saturday nights.
I don't watch much TV.  
I have special disdain for reality TV.
It's March and I could care less about basketball.
I have no idea what songs are hits right now.  Don't care to, either.
I dislike rap/hip hop music and culture.  I suppose that makes me racist in a few people's eyes.
In loud, talkative environments, I sit quietly and observe.  It's a writer's trait.  Most people just think I'm just scoping the place out to come back later with an automatic weapon.
I have no interest in the business world or anything that really "makes money."
I don't own an American flag.
I don't feel the need to go to church.

I'm guessing that's enough to cause the guys from The Adjustment Bureau to show up at my house and say, "You need to come with us, Mr. Nichols." 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two mysteries in space

Naturally generated radio waves from the planet Saturn are causing challenges.  Challenges to how we understand things, anyway.  NASA scientists who operate the Cassini space probe have been measuring radio waves from Saturn in order to determine the planet's rate of rotation. Waves from Saturn's north pole repeated every 10.8 hours.  The ones from the south repeated every 10.6 hours.  Yet in March 2010, both rates of rotation converged; the southern period decreased steadily and the northern one increased, with the two finally meeting at around 10.67 hours.  What gives?

A growing number of scientists are entertaining the theory that all life here on Earth came from Mars.  That is to say, micro-organisms originating on Mars came here by way of meteorites. 
It's not all that far-fetched.  We know that in the primordial times of our solar system, Earth and Mars were quite similar in climate.  We know from recent data gathered by the rovers that water was once abundant on Mars.  We know that billions of tons of rock have been blasted off of Mars by asteroid impacts and sent traveling through space to Earth.  We know that microbes are capable of surviving such a journey in space.
It's concrete evidence that is still needed.  While the idea is an admitted long shot, scientists are already developing specialized instruments to scan for the needed DNA or RNA sample in what's being called SETG, Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes.
Are we creeping up on the idea that there was once life on Mars?  As I already mentioned, there was once water all over that planet and the likelihood of at least microbial life looks more and more probable.  What does this mean for the notion of archeological artifacts on the surface?  Without question it's a far leap to go from microbes to sentient life, but there is just this weird nagging within me, this illogical but persistent internal voice that inveighs the pat "it's a planet of red rocks and that's about it" definition for Mars.  I can't help but think that one day we're going to find out something there that we never expected. 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Film Review--Contact

starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConhaughey, David Morse, James Woods, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, Rob Lowe, Jake Busey, Jena Malone, and Seth Shostak as "The Beav."

A radio astronomer (Foster) catches a bona fide signal from an extraterrestrial civilization.  What's the message?  No message.  Just the blueprints to build a strange machine.

Admittedly, I have never read the Carl Sagan book that this film is based on.  This renders me unable to discern which aspects belonged to him and which belonged to director Robert Zemeckis.  That said, I shall persevere.
I'm not a big fan of SETI, the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.  I prefer Stanton Friedman's definition, Silly Effort To Investigate.  But this story raises a number of challenging intellectual questions.  If it were announced that humanity has found a signal from aliens, what kinds of cultural changes would ensue?  As the film portrays, there would likely be political issues as national security types fear a threat.  There would be the question of "who speaks for Earth?" in sending a message back...or if we choose to send one back.  Most of all, there would probably be religious questions.  Little wonder then that Sagan chose the notion of faith to be such a strong theme in the narrative.
Even with all of that going for it, this film does falter in a few areas.  There's a deus ex machina regarding the fate of the machine, there are character connections that feel forced, and worst of all, Contact probably has one of the most anti-climatic endings I have ever seen.  I mean, the aliens show up and I waited two hours to see this???   Ugh.  Still, this is a film well worth watching.  All things considered, it's probably a very realistic look at what a first contact situation (public one, anyway) would end up being like.

UPDATE: Jena Malone, who plays the young Jodie Foster here, is all grown up now and playing one of the hotties in Sucker Punch.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is cyberpunk? (Not a manifesto)

Trying to define a literary genre is a problematic activity at best.   In the end it's a bit like keeping hold of a greased pig as it runs wildly through the streets of Wahoo, Nebraska.  One ends up giving up.  

Yet as if to unwittingly prod me into that very act (defining, not the pig riding), Dreamer posted a video on his Facebook wall yesterday.  I had actually seen it before, but the question it asks got me thinking.  What is cyberpunk?  For devotees of science fiction, the term for said subgenre has been tossed about so much that its definition may have reverted to the Supreme Court's definition of pornography: I know it when I see it.  So I'm taking a deep breath and diving in.  Here goes.

Let's start with that old cyberpunk adage of "high tech/low life."  Often in cyberpunk science fiction, the narrative takes place in a near future where advanced technology is everywhere, but the characters and the action are very much rooted here on planet Earth.  What kinds of technology are we talking about?  Everything from cybernetics to ultra-sophisticated artificial intelligences.  However, while technology advanced, society moved in the opposite direction.  The middle ground between rich and poor has all but disappeared and megacorporations run just about everything.  People are often marginalized, finding ways and means to survive that are less than legal or ethical.
In cyberpunk fiction, I view technology as a great equalizer.  The marginalized people take hold of the technology, the cyber, and use it to their own ends to get what they need.  It's that "don't tell me what to do" mentality that is very punk.  In fact, one summation of cyberpunk may be "what happens when technology meets human nature."  A real-life example of this is the post I did on FabFi last May, where young people in Afghanistan built their own WiFi connection to the Internet out of the materials that they had on hand.  Who cares if they're in a remote village?  They're still entitled to be on the Internet.  That real "fuck you" attitude of a punk takes over and gets the job done.
While many cyberpunk concepts have come to pass in real life, the writers in the genre weren't prescient in every case (who could be?)  Case in point: when I met William Gibson at a book signing last September, he said of his novel Neuromancer, granddaddy of all cyberpunk books, that he really thought he got the future wrong.  "There were no cellphones," he said.  Another example is the unforeseen development of reality TV celebrities who became famous really for no other reason than because they were famous.  Factor in the lack of really fresh cyberpunk material in the past few years and more than a few people have called the genre stale, even dead.
The fundamental idea of cyberpunk is still very much alive in my opinion.  As more and more cyberpunk concepts are actualized in the real world, it will become more vital and more pertinent than ever.  Additionally, the genre is quite adaptable, morphing to fit the sensibilities of the time.  Take the landmark TV series Max Headroom (got in DVD for Christmas, highly recommended.)  A character like Edison Carter is still around...he just looks and acts more like Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan
And there's the rub: change.  Truly relevant genres and subgenres mutate as they collide with current cultural events.  In his Facebook post, Dreamer said: "That whole Robocop-themed genre from the 80s? That, my friend, is dead and gone. And good riddance."  Just when that whole genre was beginning to ramp up, Dreamer and I played a cyberpunk RPG.  In our storyline, the characters never fired a single shot from a gun.  He has since relayed this story to other gamers and they were astounded upon hearing it.
I do indeed believe that for a time, Hollywood co-opted cyberpunk and believed it to mean "action movies with a whole lotta computers."  Meretricious displays ensued.  But I also believe that the genre is strong enough to endure such temporary corruption.  Recent books from William Gibson, such as Pattern Recognition, are more than ample evidence of the genre's survivability.

Look at it this way: as long as technology continues to advance, and it will, and as long as there will be pissed off young people, and there will be, you will still have cyberpunk.  
In whatever form it decides to take next.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cast your friends!

This has been a diverting activity I've engaged in off and on for a few months now.
You undoubtedly compare your friends or people you know to celebrities at times.  "Jose totally looks like Ernest Borgnine."  Or "did you see Alana last night?  She made Charlie Sheen look tame."
You might even take it a notch higher and say, "If this were Star Wars, (or insert another film title) who would play which role?"  Fern has even said, "In the movie of my life, who gets cast in the role of all my friends?"

I say, why stop there?  Take a common film or fiction trope and cast your friends into the requisite role according to their personality.  For example:

Ghost Dogg is the smuggler with a heart of gold that he hides from everyone, even himself.
Dr. Rich is an Obi-Wan-like mentor...or a Klingon-esque warrior.
I'm the guy who urges "She'll hold together!  We'll make it through!" to the crew as the spaceship falls apart around him.

Ghost Dogg is a bounty hunter, loyal to the job with no moral concern...and a helluva saloon piano player.
Dr. Rich is a steampunk inventor in the mold of Tesla.  The scientist, not the hair band.
Ahab is a salty saloon bartender...who dons pink, butt-less chaps at night to become the K-Y Kid.
I'm a rival bounty hunter to Ghost Dogg, modeled after Val Kilmer's Doc Holiday in Tombstone.
Armando is a morbidly obese man (his own choice of role) dying of a hangnail.
Dr. Rich is the hospital administrator who thinks he's Patch Adams.
Ahab is a highly trained but emotionally unstable neurosurgeon.
Wafer is head of security and master of Kung Fu.
Ghost Dogg is the head of the hot candy striper division, trying to hide his alcoholism.
I'm a psychologist, studying people who imagine they have hangnails.

Dr. Rich is a priest who runs a halfway house, the St. Swibbins' Home for Wayward Dudes.
Dreamer is the owner of a comic store called Loving the Alien.  He is an expert at conspiracy lore and keeps an original copy of the real U.S. Constitution in his secret lair beneath the comics shop.
Ghost Dogg is a piano player in the Armada Lounge at the Holiday Inn.  He's also a soldier who has seen too many awful things.
Ahab is a Man In Black who hates his job.
Armando and I are producers at the local TV station...who get the story of a lifetime.

Armando would be a Christian zealot in a reverend's collar, waging a crusade against the undead.   As he puts it: "Like if Bruce Lee was a fat white dude, quivering lip and shit. Only bombastic and a bit of an asshole...okay that part is on point already, but you know what I mean."
Dr. Rich is the head of a wealthy but shadowy multinational corporation.  And he's a vampire.
Ahab would be a vampire slayer slayer.  
Ghost Dogg would be a Watcher a la Buffy.  Digging books and research.
I would be a vampire who has turned his back on his kind, helping the slayers.

Ghost Dogg would be the wealthy financier who pressures the scientists into fudging their data.
Dr. Rich is "the guy at the beginning of the movie that sells my ticket to the star-crossed lovers that die in each others arms at the end of the movie. Travel voucher and bump to first class, baby!!"
I'm the guy who cries out "I told you this would happen and you wouldn't believe me!  Why didn't you believe me??"

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another bit about the brain

There is a protein within the brain that maintains the nerve fibers that relay electrical signals, assuring that the nerve impulse carries the proper message.  Degenerative conditions such as the ones mentioned above, are essentially caused by the disruption of these signals.  Understanding the role that the protein Nfasc186 has to play in this could be crucial. 
While I'm obviously very glad for those who suffer from degenerative brain conditions, I cannot help but wonder where else experiments with this protein could take us.  If it's all about the brain sending messages to other parts of the body, could these messages be amplified into an artificial telekinesis?  What of how the brain perceives things and determines for us what is "real?" 

Update: This article from Wired talks about melding the brain's nerve cells with nanoelectronics.  We're well on our way.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oswego UFO--the ongoing investigation

The above photo is the property of Brandon Tudor and is used with permission.

Despite what you might think, I have never seen a UFO.  At least not that I know of.  So when a local newspaper ran a story about a UFO sighting a literal minute down the road from where I live, I took notice.  
The follow-up article to the one I linked above was written by Denise Crosby of the Aurora Beacon-News.  I have worked with her in the past on various stories and decided to contact her.  Once gaining the witness' permission, she provided me with his contact information.  I called him yesterday for an interview.

Brandon Tudor was dropping off his daughter in the Lakewood Creek subdivision off of Route 30 in Montgomery/Oswego.  In the sky to the west, he noticed a fireball streaming an inky-black contrail in its wake.  As the object descended at a 45 degree angle, the flame extinguished, leaving a dark object in its stead.  The object then rose to a 30 degree angle and disappeared.  Shortly thereafter, two jets arrived in the sky and circled the area where the object was last seen.  I asked Mr. Tudor if he could identify the aircraft as military jets, but he was uncertain.  Given the maneuverability required for an aircraft to turn around and circle on short order, I would venture to guess that they had to be fighter jets of one sort or another.  Additionally, when you take into account the behavior of the witnessed object, a meteor seems unlikely as an explanation.  Likewise, I've never seen a falling meteor leave such a thick, black contrail.
I also don't believe this sighting to be the work of aliens.  If it is, then it is disheartening to learn that aliens use chemical propulsion systems that leave polluting black smoke behind them just as we do.  Not to mention the fact that the contrail is incongruous with those UFO sightings that harbor the potential to be alien in origin.
So what exactly did Brandon Tudor see?
Mr. Tudor has commenced an investigation of the matter on his own.  He has approached organizations that test rockets.  They replied that they do not test in winter.  A culling of websites that deal with the re-entry of space junk yielded no reports of debris falling through the atmosphere at that time or location.  Brandon has also posted a description of the incident on .  
"I've had quite a few people contact me," he told me yesterday, shocked by the response that his sighting has generated.
One response has been from a man claiming to be a security guard at Fermilab.  Brandon was not able to provide the man's name as that would result in serious disciplinary action for the guard.  Such is the downfall of investigations of this kind.  Nature of the beast.
Fermilab is an atomic energy research facility located in Batavia, Illinois, less than half an hour from the location on Route 30 where the sighting took place.  It is home to a large nuclear cyclotron.  The aforementioned security guard told Brandon that for months now, they have been witnessing lights rise out of the vast grands of the research center.  When said lights have been reported, the response from management has been, "Oh that.  We've got that under control."  Electromagnetic countermeasures have been taken to assure that cellphones are inoperable within Fermilab during the times that these aerial objects are visible.  

There is yet another interesting facet to Brandon Tudor's sighting.  For a moment, Brandon suspected that the object he witnessed would crash to the ground and result in an explosion.  It did not, obviously, but someone reported that in the direction that aerial object was last seen, strange happenings commenced on the ground.  In the town of Rollo, Illinois, an anonymous source reported that a number of military and police vehicles shut down Sudyam Road and said personnel began to search through a nearby woods for something.  Denise Crosby contacted the DeKalb County Sheriff about this and he denied any such activity.  Ditto for the folks at Fermilab.

Still, if a clandestine test were ongoing in the skies above the Chicago suburbs, what else would any official say about it?  And I believe that is indeed what Brandon Tudor witnessed: a top-secret test of an as yet unknown aircraft system.  While more sensational than a meteor and less exciting than aliens, the notion of a such a test carries larger consequences.  Even if it is not an action pernicious in nature, just what is our military doing testing a weapons system over such a populated area as metropolitan Chicago?  Why is this not going on at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada near Area 51?  I thought that's why taxpayers foot the bill for such a sophisticated installation?
One longshot explanation might be that it is a test of technology similar to that of the stealth fighter and bomber.  Before its existence was made public, the F-117 was rumored to have been flown into the airspace near New York City to see if it would be detected.  It passed.  Is another such test going on near Chicago?  With all that black smoke spewing out behind it, the test object wouldn't seem so stealthy.

Brandon Tudor has further plans for his investigation.  I will not reveal them here so that "the powers that be" will have less of a chance to hamper him.  Let's just say that I doubt this is the last time that I will post on this matter.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Meet Charles Fort

Oftentimes I will use the word "Fortean" to describe things such as UFOs, cryptids, ghosts, or the other various and sundry phenomena that fall loosely into the category known as "the paranormal."  I realized last night that a few of you might not know what "Fortean" means.  Fear not.  I'll explain.

Charles Fort was an American writer in the early 20th Century.  He spent an inordinate amount of time in the New York City library sifting through scientific journals, searching for odd occurrences that could not be explained by conventional science.  My kind of guy.  In 1919 he published the book that he would become best known for, The Book of the Damned.  What Fort meant by "damned" was the reaction to the stories he relates.  Subjects such as disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle, the "Devil's Footprints" case in England of 1855, and early accounts of UFOs...all of them extenuated and thereby damned by the scientific establishment.

Fort was not only ahead of his time in terms of the phenomena he researched, but in his overall philosophy regarding it.  Here are a few of his frequently maintained points:

-The boundaries between science and so-called pseudoscience are fuzzy.
-Everyone, even scientists, are prone to irrational thinking at times.
-Facts are objective, the interpretation of them is subjective.
-Society decides what research is "acceptable" or "damned" (intellectual correctness, anyone?)
-There can be more than one theory that explains a given data set.

A modest cult following began to form around the writings of Charles Fort.  Sadly, he did not live to see his own legacy matriculate.  He died at age 57.  Ever since, subject matters that are repelled by mainstream thinking have been called "Fortean."  Those who pursue said research are called "Forteans."  Fort had a great influence on paranormal investigators for sure, but he also had a notable affect on fiction writers such as Philip K. Dick and Robert Anton Wilson.  Not too shabby for a "crank" as the critics called him.

Every field of study needs its maverick, its brave pioneer.  Charles Fort is such a man for paranormal studies.  He passionately delved into bizarre topics when all logic would dictate otherwise.  He deliberately chose "the road not taken," selecting a life of hardship by attempting to publish and sell books on subjects that were sure to bring him ridicule and scorn.  Yet these rejected texts became cornerstones for future research.  Now, anyone who watches the skies for UFOs or combs the Northwest for undiscovered primates owes a debt to Charles Fort. 

In heavier news, Operation Odyssey Dawn is now underway in the skies over Libya. 
Read all about it.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, March 18, 2011

Michio Kaku sees the future

Sometimes you see the future and it works.  Not so for certain book reviewers of The New York Times.
Dr. Michio Kaku has released a new book titled, Physics of the Future.  In it, he explains what may lurk on the horizon for humankind, such as innovations like tripled lifespans and robots.  Oh yes.  Many, many robots.  Dr. Kaku is refreshingly open-minded in comparison to many of his scientific colleagues while also being bravely outspoken.  Subjects such as The Singularity and UFOs are far from taboo with him.  No wonder I like him.

Speaking of The Singularity, Kaku's book (I have not read it yet, only speaking in terms of the NYT review) sounds as if it is in concordance with much of what Ray Kurzweil has been saying.  Imagine a future where contact lenses over your eyes connect you to the Internet.  When you see someone, their information will scroll up via augmented reality, telling us whatever we need to know about them.  Nanotech robots will perform surgery in a far more efficient manner than human cutters ever might.  
Nevertheless, the future is not without its impending crises.  Kaku states that Global Warming will indeed be an issue and perhaps even more frightening, Islamic extremists may want to force the world back "a millennium" as they have no intention of living in the 21st Century.  Kip Haggis will probably lead the charge.  Then there are all the nasty implications of what happens when the amazing technology and innovations of the future are combined with good ol' human greed and aggression.  

While those factors will no doubt bring their serious consequences with them, I find Kaku's future far less dismal and lugubrious than the absolutely dreadful manner in which NYT reviewed the book.  The critic, some guy by the name of Dwight Garner, snootily posits at length about Kaku's prose style and just how insufferably dry it is.  Case in point: "Physics of the Future has few sentences so bad that you can tweezer them, like splinters from your toe, and put them on display. But there’s barely an original turn of phrase in the book’s nearly 400 pages." 
My field of academic expertise is English.  No one appreciates a beautifully constructed sentence or someone demonstrating command of the language more than me.  But that is not why I would read Michio Kaku.  Kaku is not a creative writer and there is no reason he we should expect that from him.  What I want to read is just where one of the world's foremost scientists foresees human society being in the future.  If I want style, I'll read Kerouac and Burroughs. Criticisms of style in this case are irrelevant and at the hand's of Garner, quite condescending.     
I guess this guy couldn't comprehend the science so he fell back to the only arena he felt comfortable in.  Hey, his email address is out there somewhere.  I say it's National "Spam A Snob" Day.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Another hodge podge but with a bonus R.E.M.

During my plunder of a closing Borders, I picked up R.E.M.'s And I Feel Fine: Best of the IRS Years retrospective.  As the title suggests it does cover their time with that record label, pretty much everything from their incipient stages to 1987's "The One I Love."   It's a good collection if you prefer their early sound like I do, back when it was done with a paucity of production.  That is not to say that I haven't liked their work in recent years.  In fact, their latest record, Collapse Into Now, seems quite promising from what I've heard.  I especially am enamored with "Discoverer."  Greg Kot from The Chicago Tribune wasn't happy with it in his review.  Oh well, maybe he just wants them to remake Automatic for the People, or something.  Oh who am I kidding?  Kot likes Wilco...and the blues...and Wilco...and that's about it.  You can get And I Feel Fine: Best of the IRS Years as well as other R.E.M. albums at Amazon or iTunes.

On Facebook today, John Shirley raised a valid point regarding the nuclear crisis in Japan.  That nation is well known for being on the forefront of robotics.  There are great many remote controlled drones and robots that are often employed in search and rescue and other efforts.  Why aren't there robots being sent into the reactors as opposed to having fifty fatigued men take the rads while helicopters dump water on the plant?  Seemed like a low-tech approach to Shirley and honestly it does to me too.  Dr. Michio Kaku is already calling for the Chernobyl approach: get the Japanese Air Force to fly over and dump concrete and boron over the whole complex, basically entombing the fucker.  Having already ruined the plant with seawater, I'd call that a good approach.

A professor at the Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland is using virtual reality to locate the point of origin for our sense of self....that feeling that we are inside our own body.  Is he looking for the actual soul?  Perhaps we'll see a virtual reality representation of it, but I'm not certain that's exactly what the man's after.

We're the Aliens.  It's the concept that the DNA progenitors that brought about life on our world really came from "out there."  Not exactly a new idea, but one that is beginning to gain more momentum in scientific circles.  I believe Francis Crick, one of the co-discoverers of DNA even supported this theory.

Aging is always on my mind.  I'm older than I want to be (as many people are) and have thus far wasted my time here in this life.  I have four minor publications to my credit, piles of books in my home, several writings that remain in the first or second draft stage and I don't feel like climbing the mountain further to redraft and get them submitted, five rejection letters to PhD programs, and endless scribbles in notebooks.  I am so lucky in many ways, but my life is absent one crucial factor: success.  That primate sense of purpose.
But there are those who only get better with age and here is ample evidence:
Happy Birthday to William Gibson!  The godfather of cyberspace!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Synesthesia

I have grown rather curious about synesthesia.  I even included an instance of it in my short story, On Gossamer Wings.  
What is synesthesia?  The formal definition that I have found is "a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway."  Once you've parsed that winding, knotty descriptor, I'll illustrate with an example.

If someone says the phrase "the days of the week" to you, is there an image that comes into your mind?  Do you involuntarily associate each day with a certain color?  That's synesthesia.  In my own case, and that of the character in the short story as well, my graphic representation of a week is a continuum of fuzzy light.  Sunday is the brightest of the seven, then Monday gets sort of a "dirty snow" look to it, and so on until I reach Saturday, which is pitch dark.  What's more, the continuum is always a trifle slanted, moving from Sunday in the bottom left corner to Saturday in the upper right, but with the days able to cycle around as needed is if attached to a carousel.  I have no idea why I do this, I just always have ever since I can remember.  
My conception of the months of the year is much the same, but far less creative in nature.  The year is centered horizontally with the summer months in the middle.  The months of June and July are bright white and then fade into a tremulous, amber-hued August.  We reach gray by October and December is all black.  Things gradually increase in brightness from there.  Like I said, not terribly creative.
Numbers are similar.  One through ten all in a row, then a carriage return to a dark space for 11-19.  The teens are very dark, but everything gets lighter after that.  With all of these "systems" and visualizations I have just described, I always get the feeling that I am going to a location or a specific place when asked to count or schedule a date in my head.
From what I've read, this all sound fairly consistent with those who experience synesthesia.  I don't mean to make myself sound falsely special.  I'm willing to bet most people have this sort of thing going on inside their brains to one degree or another.  I have even met people who claim that they can "taste yellow" for example or "see" certain sounds.
I look forward to reading and learning more about this mental phenomenon.  For those of you who are literary minded, The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov is said to use synesthesia as a metaphor and may be a book to look into.  
The human mind is perhaps more mysterious, even far more mysterious, than much of what I have blogged about here to date.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hodge Podge

I am operating at a serious coffee deficiency.  The coffeemaker at work is on the fritz  and seeing as how I'm not well acquainted with machines from 1963, I must go without.  As if navigating my lugubrious, Kafka-esque day job wasn't difficult enough.  Doing so without coffee is nigh inhumane.
I'm on a diet.  Trying to shed that creamy, flabby armor that has grown on my midsection.  Meals now mainly consist of salads with perhaps a pasta dish or maybe french fries if I'm feeling particularly scandalous.  Sunday is my "diet cheat day."  That's when you reserve one day for all the unhealthy victuals you've had to shun throughout the rest of the week.  This way, you don't feel deprived.  Still, it's tough.  Nutrition is such an odd concept.  You would think that the healthiest of foods, such as broccoli and spinach, would naturally taste more like bacon and mozzarella sticks so we would have incentive to eat them.  Sort of like how that mass of nerve endings on our genitalia is there to encourage us to have sex and reproduce.  Might be an argument against Intelligent Design.  Oh yeah, working out sucks too.

There is something to be said about all that you've just read and I think that Duran Duran say it best: "Here beside the news of holy war and holy need, ours is just a little sour talk."  Ain't that the truth?  I need only switch over to and see the continual news coming out of Japan.  License to whine revoked.  What is worse?  To have everything and suffer such catastrophic loss or to be trapped in perpetual stasis, merely existing?  I suppose one must experience both to know. 

I listened to NPR on the way home yesterday like I always do.  There was a scientist who argued for a "rock, paper, scissors" view of biodiversity.  In an ecosystem, one superior organism should logically wipe an inferior one out.  Yet this seldom happens in nature.  This man argued that it is because there is almost always a third, or several more, organisms in the picture to provide counterbalance.  The rock organism can dominate the scissors animal, but is helpless against the paper and then so on down the line.

In closing, I leave you with today's Luis Royo pinup girl:

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, March 14, 2011

Get your a** to Mars

Today was a day that made me hope I'm living in The Matrix.  At least then I could blame it on the system's mastermind having a sick sense of humor.  
I suppose if I were one of the "matrix believers," I might say that there are many examples to point to.  The recent tragedy in Japan is quickly becoming a study in "one-damn-thing-after-another."  Earthquake, then tsunami, then a probable and multiple nuclear meltdowns.  Oh and now there's snow in the forecast.  A glitch in the system or someone's test simulation of how much one nation can take would assign a reason to a series of events that have their root in just plain ol' random chaos.

Then there are the crazy things that we do to ourselves.  Feels like I've been seeing more and more of those in the past ten years as we divide against one another with increasing celerity.  Today on Facebook, John Shirley posted a tidy encapsulation of how average Americans view politics:

"The President is doing what Joe Schlobotnik wants, not what *I* want him to do!" rails Joe Blow. "The President WAS doing something *I* wanted him do, NOW he's doing something Joe Blow wants him to do!" cries Joe Schlobotnik. "This is a Democracy!" howls Joe Blow, as the Pres. does something to Betty Bip's liking. "Why isn't he doing what we ALL want at once! Yes we want different things--but he should find a way!"

Something as nonsensical as primate politics has to be a matrix generation.  It's the only way to look at it without having your head explode from the sheer inanity of human attitudes.  Ahhh, good times on planet Earth.

Screw it, let's go to Mars.  I've been reading a bit more about so-called artifacts and anomalies on the surface of that planet.  I'm not a believer of the theory that they are signs of a past alien civilization, but it is fun to think about.  Currently, I've been looking over posts on a blog by Aleksey Galan, a research engineer in the Ukraine that I came across.  I am intrigued by his demonstration of craters on Mars that are near-perfect circles.  In a few cases, as can be seen on the blog, they are connected by "chain craters" and near straight lines.   Galan theorizes that the chains (lines) may have been burned into the surface by a laser, perhaps even as the result of a war.
Well, let's just hope that when we start using lasers on each other, we have a version of Neo who can stop them as easily as he can bullets in The Matrix.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Film Review--Avatar

starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Wes Studi, Michelle Rodriguez, CCH Pounder, and Michael Beihn as "The Beav." (he's been in everything else Cameron's done, just about.)

A paraplegic Marine named Jake Sully (Worthington) travels to the lush, paradise planet of Pandora.  He will receive the surgery he needs to repair his spine if he will operate an "avatar" of himself and infiltrate the native population known as the Na'vi.  His job is to gain intelligence on the Na'vi and to learn best how drive them off so that a corporation with its mercenary army in tow, can mine the precious ore beneath the Na'vi's village.  Yet during his time among the Na'vi, Sully is exposed to the wonders of Pandora and the Na'vi lifestyle.  Will he switch sides?

When this movie had its initial release, a good many jokes circulated about the Internet that it was merely a remake of Dances with Wolves or even Disney's vapid Pocahontas.  Nothing could have been truer.  If you have seen either of those flicks, you've seen Avatar.  There is nothing shocking about this movie.  Anyone with a few active brain cells can see what's coming at least a half hour ahead.  It's a Disney cartoon with really good animation.  Then there's the design of the Na'vi aliens.  Were they meant to be porn stars for the Furry fetish crowd?  Oh, and what about the name for this uber-valuable ore the humans are after?  Unobtanium?  Seriously?  You can come up with something better than that, Jim.
Still, I've yet to see a James Cameron movie that is not without its merits.  The effects are groundbreaking and it does have decent messages about environmentalism, Eastern-styled spiritualism, and American greed and arrogance.  As I recall, this movie was rather lambasted by fundies and teabaggers post release for those very reasons.  Anything that can do that isn't all bad.
If you've got nothing else to do, you could watch worse than Avatar.  But if you really want my advice, skip this and go straight to District 9.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, March 12, 2011

So many books, so little time

I will never wish for a debilitating disease or injury, but I see small advantages in having one.  Were I confined to a bed, I would have little else to do than read. 
Between the library, used book stores, and Borders going out of business sales, I've come into quite a few books.  Two I've read, err..."thoroughly skimmed through," one I've yet to get to, and one that I've yet to acquire but it looks interesting.

Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit-Berg.
Domscheit-Berg was once the right-hand man of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.  Assange later branded him a "traitor" and barred him from the organization.  The author paints a portrait of his former friend as an eccentric autocrat with a weakness for women.  Domscheit-Berg eventually became disenchanted with Assange's lack of transparency in the organization (ironic) and his continual practice of iron-handed power.  It's a quick and captivating read that at times comes off like a spy thriller, but one is left wondering how much of it is accurate.  Assange may be a bit off, but the author has an obvious axe to grind.

Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Phenomenon From Antiquity to Modern Times by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck.  Vallee is a legend in UFO studies and interestingly enough, he is not a big supporter of the extraterrestrial hypothesis.  These reasons alone were enough to get me to check out the book.  Wonders in the Sky is essentially a compendium of bizarre aerial sightings and encounters with non-humans from the dawn of time.  If nothing else, the research demonstrates one fact and that is people have been seeing UFOs ever since history was first recorded.  While the detailed cases can obviously be explained or written off as many other things, it is not the point of Vallee and his co-author to assert that each of these cases are true or are indications of otherworldly phenomenon.  Instead, the central idea is that these things have been happening not just since 1947, but throughout all time.  Most interesting of all, the descriptions of the craft/beings sighted almost always mirror the cultural memes of the era.

Eclipse: A Song Called Youth by John Shirley.  Found this one at the local used bookstore.  John Shirley is an icon amongst cyberpunk aficionados and this is said to be one of his finest novels.  The bombed out ashes of Europe, a totalitarian dystopia, and rock 'n' roll rebels.  How can you go wrong?  Will post a review once I've read it.

The Orion Protocol by Gary Tigerman.  Saw this in the store but decided to come back for it another time.  It's a novel about what happens when the U.S. government's alien coverup gets blown open and what the true purpose is for a defense shield called Project Orion.  Missing Mars probes, NASA astronauts, and UFO lore together suggest this to be an entertaining read.  And I've got to find out if the writer's name really is "Tigerman."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunamis and soupbots

If you consume any form of news media, you without a doubt know what happened.  An earthquake of an 8.9 magnitude (CNN at one point was calling it 9.1 this evening, but I've yet to see that repeated elsewhere) struck Japan.  A tsunami soon followed.  There is utter devastation and the death toll is estimated to be at about 1,000.
As if that were not sufficiently horrendous enough, there are now 5 separate nuclear reactors in Japan that are in a state of emergency with one confirmed to be leaking radiation.  Someone asked me why the Japanese would build a nuclear power plant on their coastline if they knew tsunamis to be a probability.  I'm uncertain as to why and all I can offer in response is that nuclear power is really rather safe, far safer than the popular conception would have you believe, so perhaps it seemed worth the risk if safeguards were provided. 

One of the few silver linings in this whole mess is that the people of Japan have drilled time and again in what to do in the event of a tsunami.  Accounts claim that people went into an almost automatic mode and evacuated in the supremely organized manner that Japan is known for.  I wondered how Americans would handle the same circumstances.  If Hurricane Katrina is any indication, we would start out being cooperative and communal, then as time wears on we would turn on each other like rabid animals.  And a tsunami is quite capable of striking our shores.  It did today in California and Oregon, but nowhere near to the extent that struck Japan.  Are we prepared if our turn comes about?  According to The Huffington Post (which I realize can be rather sketchy with the facts), the GOP cut tsunami warning and preparedness in their proposed budget.  Wouldn't surprise me if this were true.  Sounds like typical short-sightedness in the name of temporary fiscal gain.  Do we really need another Katrina or tsunami to teach us a lesson with massive fatalities?  The way that Global Warming continues to disturb the world's weather patterns, we might get our lesson sooner rather than later.  Until then it's politics as usual.  I hope you like rising water levels.  Note: I am not implying that Global Warming had anything to do with today's quake.  It didn't.  I'm merely making a larger point.

I have written in previous posts about the odd connection I feel with Japan and its people.  I don't know if that stems from a lifelong love of daikaiju films, anime, and manga or what, but I do feel great admiration for them.  They will eventually come out of this just fine.  They have survived firebombings and two nuclear detonations, they could probably get through this without our help, but it is best that we give it to them just the same.  Want evidence of this? 
I was going to post this clip earlier in the week but never got around to it.  It's a vidclip about a Ramen noodle restaurant in Japan where the cooking and serving is all done by robots.  Soupbots!  Or Noodlebots, I don't know which sounds better.  Take a look:

Now I'm hungry for Ramen. I would love to go to this place one day.  Hope it's still standing.
Any nation that can create soupbots can do just about anything.  They will survive.  But here's to hoping that the next time I see a Japanese city in flames, it's in a Godzilla movie. 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Film Review--The Fly

starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, and Jaleel White as "The Beav."

Seth Brundle (Goldblum) is a brilliant but weird (go figure) scientist.  He attempts to impress a journalist (Davis) by showing off his new invention: a teleporter.  There's one hitch: Brundle has yet to teleport a living thing successfully.  Out of frustration, he decides to teleport himself.  It works.  Unfortunately, he was unaware that a fly had gotten into the teleporter.  The device was unable to handle two separate DNA it merged the two of them together.  Madness and horror ensue as Brundle becomes The Fly.

I remember seeing this shortly after it came out in 1986 (oh there's no point in being coy, I'm 40.)  I didn't like it.  Now, I appreciate it a great deal more.  Why?  I think there are a number of reasons.  For one, I hold director David Cronenberg's work in high esteem. At age 15, I don't think I was ready for a departure from the norm, a horror film that was artistically surreal as many of his films are.  Now, I'll gladly take something as fresh and innovative as this over the typical Hollywood sci-fi tripe any day.  I also think having an affinity for Kafka's The Metamorphosis doesn't hurt.  After all, that's what this is...a re-telling not just of the original film The Fly but of Kafka's man-turned-insect, becoming even further removed from a xenophobic society than he already was.  This time, the story is told almost through the drug-saturated lens of the 1980s.  That brings me to my final point: the character of Seth Brundle.  Back in my mid-teens, there was no way I could appreciate what it was like to have a job, to struggle for something I really wanted, to fear for those I love that they might be hurt either on accident or on purpose...or worst of all, by me.  In fact, his whole impetus for going through with his teleportation in the first place is to impress a woman, desiring her love.  It's a human tragedy and you really get that coming through from Seth Brundle.  As Brundlefly, he repulses you at every turn, almost bringing up a new and more horrific attribute of his new form (e.g. the vomiting) with each now scene in his slow, downward spiral into flydom.  Jeff Goldblum gives a performance that makes you feel simultaneously disgusted by, angry with, and heartbroken for him all at the same time.  It is overwhelming at times, thought-provoking for the majority of it, and never once does it let your attention wander away from the screen.  I am glad that I can finally see this film for what it truly is: a triumph.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Robot name generator

Been playing around with those cutesy, random name generators that are ubiquitous these days.  The one I have been on most has been the Giant Robot Name Generator.
The page owner describes the app like this:

"After hours upon hours of feverish research, I have determined that most Japanese giant robot names follow basically the same pattern--three syllables with an optional prefix or suffix thrown on for interest. With this simple PHP script, now you too can randomly generate a proper super or real robot name. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see how else I can ensure that no girl will ever come near me again."
My kind of guy.  Thinking that it might help me decide on a flashier name than "Jondroid" for when I merge into a robotic body, I gave it try.
The page allows you to select what form of robot you wish to be: super, real, or awesome.  With an option like "awesome," I can't imagine wanting to select anything else.  Nevertheless, I gave the generator a try on each setting.  I embarked upon my cybernetic journey with the selector set to "real."  Here were my choices:

Mechanical Robot Dalkew
Inviolable Battler Gelgern
Armored Frame Grungern
Guard Frame Tekgern
Resistant Suit Zolgern

Hmmm.  "Resistant Suit."  Has a ring to it, eh?  Then again, "Mechanical Robot" is more of a direct concept that Joe Six-Pack would best understand should I need to make an introduction of myself.  Let's try "super:"

Valgaision X
Gaogergar V
Steel Raidangern
Chougaozam the Brave
Iron Comgaigern

Meh.  Not really impressed with any of those.  And I need to be.  When my consciousness is uploaded, I don't want it going into anything that I can't pronounce...or not know the meaning to.  Well no use beating around the proverbial bush anymore.  Set selector switch to "AWESOME:"

Steel Gaidanlant
Hulking Gairyugern Robo
Gaoryumos V

Those are no good, either.  In fact, I think calling them "awesome" is overstating things by a bit.  One more Hail Mary generation:

Robotic Battler Gonhawk

I have to say, that's my front-runner at this moment.  Of course, that's certainly subject to change.  Try the generator out yourself and let me know your name(s). 


Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Film Review--The Road Warrior

starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Virginia Hey, and several Australian/British actors I've never heard of and you probably haven't either.  Plus Bill Zimmer as "The Beav."

Mad Max (Gibson), a lone wanderer in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Australia, comes across a small bastion of good, honest people who are guarding a trove of the most precious commodity left: gasoline.  But there is an ugly biker gang willing to kill each and every one of them for the fuel.  Can these people convince Max to help guide them to safety with their tanker full of petrol?

I've been on a kick lately of viewing films from my youth.  The Road Warrior is such a film.  I used to love it, the post-apocalyptic vibe combined with cars and trucks tricked out into mobile weapons.  In college, I even wrote a term paper on the entire Mad Max trilogy, discussing how it applies to the philosophies of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.  You know, man reduced to a state of nature and then behaving little better than the lowest of animals, then inevitably forming new tribes, then communities out of the ashes.  
Today, my affection for the film has waned.  Rest assured, I still believe it to be a fine piece of work with an artful and surreal atmosphere to it combined with kick ass action.  I just cannot enjoy it that much for it seems too close to becoming a reality for my tastes.  In the Mad Max films, there were wars that helped to ravage the globe and a nuclear exchange of one magnitude or another is alluded to.  Despite that, major reason cited for society's downfall is that the oil ran out.  We are perilously close to that today and...if I may be so bold...nearer to our own Mad Max scenario.  An additional reason for my dwindling affection for this film is...let's just say it involves a dog.
Yes, I used to love it.  It's easy to love a movie like this when you're 18 and have no one to worry for or protect besides yourself.
Addendum: Fans of Farscape will enjoy seeing Virginia Hey as a warrior woman.  
It also occurred to me that the character of Mad Max may actually be saner than the real life Mel Gibson.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets