Monday, April 30, 2012

Forgotten futuristic monuments

Every once and again, I come across a link that keeps me daydreaming for hours.

This is one of those links.

Check these things out!  They are a series of monuments in the former Yugoslavia.  Josip Tito, who was president of Yugoslavia for like…ever, commissioned the solid concrete sculptures to serve as monuments to World War II battlefields.  Later Yugoslavia fell apart and the monuments languished into disrepair as the citizens had greater things to concern themselves with…such as war and not getting shot while trying to get their next sandwich.   The monuments remain, however, as the accompanying text in the link demonstrates: “…their physical dilapidated condition and institutional neglect reflect a more general social historical fracturing. And on the other hand, they are still of stunning beauty without any symbolic significances.”

I just dig their futuristic style, what with all the sharp angles and the broken edges.  As one astute observer pointed out, a few of the monuments look like the structures you come across while playing Halo.  A few of them even look like buildings one could live in.  Case in point being the one labeled Krusevo (pictured above).  Look, it’s even got a ramp leading up into it and nifty, almost stained glass-looking windows and skylights. 

Then there’s Ptrova Gora.  It’s like the secret headquarters of a James Bond villain.  Look, you can even see what looks like a communication tower jutting up from the top.  I can imagine the black helicopters landing there now.  And Podgaric, the first photo in the series, looks just plain aphotic.  

So I've got these things going for me if nothing else.  I can't imagine the locals being to upset with me moving in nor can I imagine that the properties would go for all that much.  All I need is a fast internet connection, my books, access to computer gear, and maybe a pizza place that delivers.

On second thought, maybe ML needs a wealthy benefactor who will pay to bring one of these bad boys over to the good ol' US of A, concrete slab by concrete slab.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The future of 2050

Correspondents at The Economist are predicting the future.

The prognostications will be published in a book entitled, Megachange: the World in 2050.   What sorts of developments and complications might we expect for the future? 

Simply by following the population and demographic trends, we're looking at a global population of nine billion by 2050.  That strikes me as a bit conservative.  I can imagine a net population closer to 10 billion by that point in the future.  What I did not anticipate was The Economist's assertion that every other additional person in this population growth will be African.  One important point that the book makes, that is if the audio interview is any indication, is the rate at which the population has grown.  It took 250,000 years for the first billion people to arrive in the world.  For our last additional billion, it took little over a decade. 

Other predictions were along the lines of what one might expect and indeed what you've likely read about already in terms of future challenges.  Indeed the increase in population will lead to greater difficulties in feeding the world as well as greater competition for resources and therefore more wars or smaller intensity conflicts.

In terms of science, I believe that the predictions are essentially close to the mark.  There will be less emphasis placed on the so-called "hard sciences" and more on discoveries taking place in biology.  This makes sense as the age of genetic modification is definitely upon us.  They don't seem to have much discussion around space and indeed why should they?  At our present rate, we'll be lucky to return to the Moon in 40 years.  They did, however, say that it is quite likely that alien life will be discovered...openly and acknowledged that is...and likely in the form of microorganisms such as bacteria or viruses.

The environment is of course a considerable factor in our future.  Folks at The Economist maintain that any environmental policies put into place right now will have little effect on the climate of the world 40 years from now.  It's going to be hot.  Just get used to it.  However, the global environmental disasters, such as heavily flooded coastlines and expansion of deserts, are not inevitable.  I wish I could share that optimism.

What the seven minute interview astonishingly did not get into was Singularity technology.  By 2050, we will be tremendously close to Kurzweil's prediction of Singularity.  Either the editors of the book are not subscribers to this notion or they ignored it altogether.  Either prospect is foolish and counter-intuitive to my reasoning. 

There was, however, a novel aspect of this technology brought up...shockingly a user comment.  Humans will indeed continue to be further and further ensconced by technology in the future.  One of these developments will be a smart phone designated to each infant at birth.  This device will assign an individual their lifelong phone number.  There is an AI within the smart phone that guides one without advice throughout his or her lifetime.  The name of the device will be "Mother."  This, to me, was a bit reminiscent of "Mother Boxes" from DC Comics only to be greater and lesser extents.

In the end, predictions are just that.  For any assessment of their accuracy we must of course, wait and see.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is email evil?

That intriguing question comes via this article in BBC--Future.

For the most part, the piece is written from the point of view of a corporate drone of one form or another.  Someone who must contend with an incessant influx of emails, each one seemingly more inane than the other.  Here's an excerpt from the article:

"Email is free and instant, so there’s no reason not to send it in vast quantities – and, just to be on the safe side, to copy everyone into every message, and to cover your own back by double-checking every step of a process in written electronic form. Email doesn’t want you to make autonomous decisions, to delegate, or to switch off: it wants you to turn everything into typed words and queries, copied to everyone. It doesn’t want you to make phone calls or attend meetings, either: the preference is for endlessly reduplicated words and attachments."

To my way of thinking, that's just fine...especially that part that reads "doesn't want you to make phone calls or attend meetings."  That has made my life significantly easier but more on that in a moment.

I can understand how if someone has a job where the flow of incoming email is significant and must all be attended to, it might leave you very strained to say the least.  This is magnified by the fact that our work emails can now be routed to our smart phones wherever we may be, whether we're on the clock or not.  There are work cultures out there that don't care if you are home eat dinner or off on vacation and sitting in a littoral sun chair.  That email must be answered no matter what.  This would be maddening for me and I offer thanks that I don't live or work that way.

At the same time, however, I cannot imagine my life without email.  While I wouldn't go so far as to categorize myself as a cyberpunk, I have been around computers since elementary school and I have been using email since 1988.  I am also not an especially social person.  Email has allowed me to reach out and communicate with others and not feel the drain and strain of interpersonal relations.  Social media has opened up even more opportunities for me.  As a writer, I can market myself to far greater effect than I ever could through that oh so 19th century way of sitting at a table in a bookstore or conference, trying to hawk books.  I'm also quite pleased to live in a time where a phone call or a visit is beginning to seem more and more like an intrusion upon someone if that individual has not been texted or emailed first.

So if email is a pox upon your life...and I can certainly see how it could have my sympathy.  But I think I'll keep it just the same.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Silver Surfer--science fiction superhero

For this installment of my continuing series, I am going to take a bit different approach.  Sure, I'll give you the origin, the background, and the science fiction aspects of the Silver Surfer, but I wish to focus on one particular issue of the comic book series that prompted me to write.

The Silver Surfer began his life as an ordinary humanoid being named Norrin Radd, a young astronomer on the planet Zenn-La in the Deneb star system.  Radd was a normal guy, even by Earth standards.  He worked a day job as a scientist and had a lovely girlfriend named Shalla-Bal.  Then one day, the cosmic being known as Galactus came to Zenn-La.  Galactus was a giant man who could only live by consuming entire planets.  Norrin Radd begged Galactus to spare Zenn-La, pledging to trade anything in return.  Galactus agreed to forgo devouring the planet if Radd agreed to certain terms.  Norrin Radd would have to become the herald of Galactus, one who soars through space and ferrets out hearty planets for Galactus to eat.  Additionally, Norrin Radd could never go back to his home...not even to see Shalla-Bal.  Being truly noble in spirit, Norrin Radd agreed to the terms, anything to save his home.

Galactus endowed Norrin Radd with a portion of "the power cosmic."  Radd's entire body was encased in a chrome-like coating, allowing him to survive perfectly in the vacuum and cosmic radiations of space.  It also makes him nearly invulnerable and able to fire energy blasts from his personage.  He would travel ahead of Galactus on a type of surfboard, originating from a childhood fantasy of Radd's and moving at speeds far beyond that of light.  He was now the Silver Surfer.  Eventually, the search for edible planets led the Silver Surfer to Earth.  There he encountered the Fantastic Four.  The superheroes were struck by the nobility of the Surfer's spirit and the Surfer could no longer conscience giving up planets full of sentient beings for Galactus to nosh upon.  The Silver Surfer betrayed his master and aided the Fantastic Four in repelling the giant.

Again and again the Silver Surfer came to humanity's defense, often times waxing philosophical and becoming quite flummoxed and appalled by man's inhumanity to man.  Indeed, Silver Surfer was quite an intelligent comic book series.  A prime example of this, to my way of thinking anyway, comes in issue #41 written by Jim Starlin.

In this issue, the Silver Surfer comes to Dynamo City, a free-floating satellite city whose only purpose is commerce and making money (umm...sound like America to anybody?)  It also has an energy siphon that drains the Silver Surfer of all of his super powers.  Like all other beings in Dynamo City, the Surfer is then forced to wait in the unemployment line to get a job in order to earn money to pay the fee that will allow him to leave the satellite.  Like yours truly, the Surfer has very little in the way of employable skills.  He tries to work in construction but ends up getting fired from that line of work.

Dejected, the Surfer goes to live in a mammoth tent city, a shanty town of homeless and unemployed who have little hope of ever paying the exit fee and leaving Dynamo City.  One of the residents there takes pity on the Silver Surfer and recommends that he try selling his memories to the TV networks for entertainment.  Left with little other choice, the Surfer agrees.
As do the networks.  They pledge to pay him 200 credits, enough to pay the exit fee, for broadcasting his memories.  So everyone tunes in to see the Silver Surfer and all of his pain, his sacrifices, his battles, and even his intimate moments with Shalla-Bal.  Once complete, the Surfer is paid only two credits.  You see, he was paid the full 200...minus a tax of 100 credits, management fees totaling 50 credits, union dues amounting to 25 credits, make up costs of 10 credits, and a miscellaneous handling fee of 13 credits. 

The Silver Surfer is understandably upset by this.   The corporation deflects such protestations.  After all, it's not their fault that the Surfer allowed himself to be swindled.  It's not their fault he didn't know how to negotiate a decent corporate deal. Why didn't he have the good sense to get an agent for himself?  Where is the Surfer's sense of personal accountability? 

This is Jim Starlin at his absolute best.  His writing takes a satiric bite at our everyday lives.  Is this not what happens to us in America?  Is this not what the whole Occupy and 99% movements are about?  Starlin just takes these themes...and he did this all the way back in 1990...and brings them to us in an entertaining and halfway escapist superhero format.  Heck, this isn't just Jim Starlin at his best, this is comic books at their best.

It's characters like this and writer's like Starlin that make me want to write.  When you can have thrilling entertainment and force your reader to think...then, I believe, you've done it all.  I can only hope to be so lucky with my fiction one day.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Weirdness around Saturn

Unknown objects have been seen passing through the rings of Saturn.

Or so said the headlines in this article from Space on Yahoo.  Don’t anybody get their hopes high.  This is not at all about a UFO.  As a matter of fact, they are perfectly identifiable as this BBC article points out.  It amounts to little more than a “snowball fight” in space.

Clumps of ice fall through the rings, particularly the F-ring which is the outermost of Saturn’s brilliant ring system.  The Cassini space probe caught this celestial action as it was observing Saturn’s moon, Prometheus.  Someone might think this is all an elaborate viral marketing plan for the producers of this summer’s film, Prometheus, but I would say that’s premature.  But I digress.
It is in fact the presence of Prometheus and its gravitational field that causes the ice clumps to cut loose and plummet through the ring.  One of the more remarkable aspects of this are the jet trail plumes that these “snowballs” leave in their wake as they pass through the ring.  When astronomers later went back through other Cassini images, they found over 500 examples of these plumes.

Other than admiring the striking visage of the gas giant’s rings, which are composed mainly of water ice and rock fragments, studying those rings helps give us a better picture of just how solar systems are formed.  After all, most planets start out as rings of gas and dust.  Characteristics of Saturn’s rings mirror those principles, even if they aren’t in the process of creating another planet.  Part of this is how said rings influence other matter in motion around them, such as the ice clumps.  Understanding this entire process will hopefully give rise to better understanding of how all solar systems are formed and thereby help us better narrow our search for extraterrestrial life.

One curious bit that I learned from the BBC article is that the Cassini probe is actually slated to destroy itself in gases of Saturn in the year 2017.  This so as not to take the chance of the space probe falling onto the moon Titan, a moon where it is thought life might exist.  An Earth probe on Titan may contaminate the environment and skew tests for life.

I know what at least a few of you might be thinking.  Why do we need to know any of this?  My mind sees it this way: it simply shows us how vast space really is and just what is out there that we don't understand.  The vaster the better, I say.  For if the universe is so vast, then I must be so small.  Therefore, my failings and failures, in the cosmic scheme of things, must be so small.  I don't really matter.  Like an adenoidal wimp from the back of the class, I don't matter.  When juxtaposed against the majesty of the cosmos, that isn't a bad thing.  In fact, it brings me great comfort.  After all, what about me...or this world even...could be so interesting as to compare with the wide wonder of the universe?  Just another reason that I love learning about space.

In other news, another “UFO” was sighted around the Sun.  I really am getting sick of camera artifacts being construed as UFOs.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Scientists working to bring woolly mammoth back to life

Ever wonder what it would look like to see a real woolly mammoth up and walking around?

You might not have much longer to wait.  I opened up my most recent email update from the SingularityWeblog and found this barnburner bit of news: Scientists to Resurrect Woolly Mammoth.  Is Kurzweil's Father Next?  More on Kurzweil in a moment.

It seems that a recent thaw in Siberia has allowed for Russian scientists to locate large amounts of mammoth remains.  The idea is that if enough DNA can be gleaned from this biological matter then it can be implanted in an elephant egg.  The resultant embryo would be carried to term inside an elephant.   Then badda-bing badda-bang...the woolly mammoth rises again.

It's not as over the top as it sounds.  Mammoths evolved from the hairless elephants of Africa as they moved into the colder climes of Eurasia and North America.  There's a good chance that this infant woolly mammoth could be carried and delivered by an elephant and then fed with elephant milk.

This is not to say that obstacles don't exist.  One of the scientists on the team said, "The technology to extract and clone the nucleus of a cell already exists, but finding good quality samples, such as tissues, skins, muscles or bone marrows, has been the barrier in cloning prehistoric mammals."  It still might be a barrier.

I'm certain that somewhere out there, someone is asking the not altogether unreasonable question of "why are they doing this?"  Indeed, is it just for giggles?  Is this really an ethical undertaking?  Let's face it.  When someone starts talking about cloning animals from prehistoric times, we immediately imagine velociraptors running wild and free thanks to images placed in our collective heads by Crichton and Spielberg.  While I don't think that things will get quite that wild and woolly (yes, pun intended), we do need to consider whether or not this cloning experiment needs to be undertaken.

Presumably, the logical extension of this exercise would be to see how it can benefit humans.  That's where Ray Kurzweil comes in.  Kurzweil, pioneering technologist and unofficial spokesman for all things singularity, has openly stated that he intends to bring his deceased father back to life.  While there is much debate about this, not the least of which being the question of "will it really be his father or just a duplicate?", the actual technology for such an endeavor is nigh upon us.

All in all, I find that to be more impressive than the mammoth itself.  There is little to be gained, save for novelty, in bringing the mammoths back to life.  Mastering a process for cloning tissue on the other hand is exciting and full of promise.

It's also scary as hell.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Scanning for nuclear terrorism

You know me, I love all things 80s.

The threat of global thermonuclear war is one aspect of that favorite decade that I could do without, however.  It's always been a big fear of mine.  Now with the escalating standoff with Iran and North Korea threatening to test another nuke, that fear is resurfacing.   Just what I was looking for.  Fuck-a-doodle-do.  After looking around a bit, I found that former Secretary of Defense William Perry concedes that there is a "greater than 50 percent probability of a nuclear strike on US targets within a decade."  What's more, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concurs.

This is not to say that a nation like North Korea or Iran have an capability whatsoever of striking the U.S. from their home soil.  A more likely threat is terrorist-style weapon, a smuggled nuclear device of the kind in Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears.

What's being done about this threat?  One approach that the Department of Homeland Defense is formulating is called FAST: Future Attribute Screening Technology.  Detecting whether or not someone has the potential to commit an act of terrorism.  That's right.  It's not science fiction.  It's not the movie Minority Report.  It's technology that will likely be installed at airports.  It will watch for physiological and behavioral warning signs of terrorists.  These would include but are not limited to heart rate, body temperature, and body language.  This data is then run through an algorithm that identify terrorists.

But as the author of that last linked story in The Atlantic goes on to establish, such methods of "pre-crime detection" are dicey at best.  For one thing, there is the paradox of the false positive.  The system is intended to seek out those with "malintent."  Really, that would include a great many of us...and we need not be terrorists by any stretch of the imagination.  Take the airport example.  Someone in line for the gate could show all of the indicators that the Minority Report software is searching for but is exhibiting them because he/she just embezzled an enormous sum of cash from their employer and is skipping town with it.  Illegal, true, but by no means a terrorist act.  Someone could be on their way to meet up with a man/woman they are having an affair with or have met online for said same purpose.  Heck, it could be an ornery preschooler.  All of these examples would, according to the parameters given, be enough to flag the individual as "potential terrorist."  All of this is to place a fard over the problem and further muddy the waters.

I know, I know.  "Even if we only catch one, it's worth it."  What that phrase neglects to consider are the vast amount of security resources that go into investigating a false positive.  As someone who volunteers with their local police, I can attest to this.  Statistically, the odds are not on the side of this kind of technology.  

So, in the words of Sting, "how can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?"  Yes, my "little boy" has four legs, a lot of hair, and a speech impediment but he is no less my son.  What will mitigate the odds of a future nuclear attack?

A system that is...I would hope...superior to FAST.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Book meme

Everybody having the kind of day that I am?  I hope not.

Anyway, time for more insights into the man who writes this blog, rather like the one I did on music a while back.  This time, it’s books.  To my experience, books are as good as any way to get a window into someone’s soul.

1)    You’re stuck in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  Which book do you want to memorize?

I’d say Neuromancer by William Gibson.

2)    Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Hmmm, from a book?  I don’t thinks so.  Amy Shaftoe from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is probably the closest to one.  If we’re allowing comic books, well then we’d be here for a while.  Psyclocke from The X-Men immediately springs to mind.  That and the fact that I’d probably have to fight Bernard for her.

3)    The last book you bought is…?

I think it was Berserker by Fred Saberhagen and Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer.

4)    What are you currently reading?

Trying to hack my way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larrsson.  I’ve been told it gets more thrilling but I’m on page 200 and all it’s been is info dumping about Swedish corporations and politics.  Weakly written, too.  So I had a moment’s dalliance  with Last Call by Tim Powers.

5)    Five books you would take to a deserted island?

Sigh.  I’m never good with these kinds of questions.  Since I’d already have Gibson’s Neuromancer memorized:

1)    Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
2)    Macbeth by William Shakespeare.  Yes, I know it’s technically a play but I have a battered and dog-eared paperback copy that I’ve carried around since high school.
3)    Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
4)    Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
5)    2001 by Arthur C. Clarke

So sound off.  What are your books?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Return of the Sex Bots

You can imagine my surprise.

I went to Yahoo last week.  Their top search trend was "sex robots."  Since I've blogged about it before, I clicked the link.  Of course it was all in the name of writing.  Yes, of course it was.

There were two top links.  The Huffington Post ran a story about how Sex Robots Will Revolutionize Sex.  How so?  Upshot of the article was "sex without the downsides."  Sexbots will be physical perfection and with the personality and demeanor that attracts you most.  They will not carry disease.  They cannot get pregnant.  They might even begin to end the trafficking of human beings for sexual slavery and the need for prostitutes in any way shape or form.  Another link invited the user to "Meet Roxxxy," a sexbot that may replace human prostitutes by 2050 and has a "skank mode" that the client can engage.

So what are we to take away from all of this?  Well for one thing, this is not a new concept.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  Remember Pris from Blade Runner?  That's her pic above.  She was a "standard pleasure model" of Replicant.  Another thing is that sex has always driven technology.  Don't want the shame of going to a seedy theater downtown in order to see a porno?  Well here's the VCR.  Watch it from your own bedroom.  Don't want the embarrassment of going out to rent a tape?  The Internet will bring porn on demand into your home.  New software will allow for this material to be interactive, where you select how the man/woman will act.  The logical extension of all of this is a sex doll that will bring all of this to one in the physical here and now.  Entire industries like the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner will no doubt sprout up, each competing against the other in order to offer the "perfect" sexbot.

These market forces will, in my humble opinion, force forward the development of artificial intelligence.  The more complex the AI, the more desirable the sexbot will be.  If the sexbot is completely programmable to what the consumer wants, all the better.  This already causing many questions, including the usual from those who find such a concept obtuse, such as  "why have sex with actual humans if you can get anything you want from the bots?"

The questions do not end there, however.  Is it cheating if your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend couples with a sexbot?  Is it still a sin if it's not with a person?  What are the ethics of this?  If they approximate human behavior to a high level, are the sexbots then endowed with human rights?  We don't know.   Yes, I know I've blogged about all of this before.  I do so again only because the questions are still with us.  They will be for quite a while to come.

The sexbots are on their way, everyone.  Best to grapple with the questions now.

Oh what have Philip K. Dick made out of all of this?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Blade Runner" on stage

Painting by Syd Mead

Note: this is the first in a pair of Blade Runner related posts this weekend.  No real scheme behind it.  That's just how it worked out.

On stage?  Well not the film Blade Runner per se, but definitely a theatrical production with heavy influences from movie.

My good friend Bernard Sell (and my co-author of Monsters, get it while it's hot) is a teacher at a high school.  He is also the director of that small school's theater.  This fall, he has selected the play Rossum's Universal Robots (R.U.R.) for the school production.  Bernard has also determined that he would like the play to have a certain Blade Runner bouquet to it and has asked if Armando and myself would like to come aboard as creative consultants.

Would I?  Oh boy!  Yes, yes, I know it's a high school theater production in a small town but this is for my friend, he's a hsien making a gutsy and artsy choice in rural community, and I can go all out on ideas for something that is near and dear to me.  What could be better?  Well of course money would be better but who has that these days?

Embarrassingly enough, I'm not all that familiar with R.U.R. other than it is a Czech play from 1921 that featured the first ever use of the word "robot."  Reading the play will be of immediate necessity to me but from what I've read online, the play is centered around a factory that produces humanoid robots.  These are not robots in the traditional, nuts and bolts sense.  They are basically synthetic people that are more like the Replicants of Blade Runner.  Like their film antecedents, these "robots" seem content existing in servitude to humans.  However that all changes and the robots revolt, seeking to completely wipe out all of humanity.  And there's no Magnus to save us.

What sort of inspirations might be drawn from Blade Runner for this play?  One thing that immediately comes to mind is airships.  I don't know what kind of budget Bernard is working with (I'm assuming it's modest at best) but a blimp-like structure passing over the stage might be a nice touch.  In much of fiction, airships are symbolic of future timelines.  Stands to reason, I suppose.  We're already deploying all manner of UAVs, including airships such as this one.   Airships are being strongly considered as a viable means to transport heavy cargo by air in an affordable manner.  For the purposes of the play, it might even be a funny in-joke to have the airship broadcast an ad for people to move to the "off-world colonies."  As a promotion for this production of R.U.R., I'd like to release a tiny, prop airship from the roof of the high school and let it drift out over town, blinking out the letters "R.U.R."  I'd also like to sit back and wait for all of the UFO reports to come in but that's really just a fringe benefit.  Again, how would we build these prop airships?  I'm not certain, but we might want to start here.

I'm also thinking of stealing a page from Syd Mead in terms of costuming.  In his sketchbook for the film, he said something to the effect that he wanted to avoid the common cliches of futuristic films in terms of how people dress.  Therefore, they went with a 1940s film noir look with dirty and coarse fabrics.  This added a sense of realism and kept things grounded.  I think doing the same for R.U.R. might be a good idea.  In addition to the realistic feel, it would also save cost on wardrobe and would harken back to the timeframe of the play's original production.

Obviously, this is all very much in its incipient stages.  I'll keep you posted as things develop.  Oh and one other thing, there needs to be a musical number of "Mr. Roboto."

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Adam Strange--science fiction superhero

I do not remember when it was that I first laid eyes on the comic book character of Adam Strange but I do remember my reaction.

Adam Strange wore a jumpsuit and a rocket pack on his back.  Atop his head was a sort of dorsal fin.  In his hand he gripped a laser gun.  It was an anachronistic throwback to the Buck Rogers, Rocketeer style of science fiction.  The sight of him should have offended my rebellious tendencies as an adolescent.  But it didn't.  In fact, there was a "fun" quality to his simplicity, something that harkened back to days of purity in science fiction.

The story of Adam Strange is somewhat molded after John Carter from Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Strange is an archeologist.  While exploring ancient ruins in Peru, he is suddenly hit by a beam of energy.  In mere moments, he finds himself transported to the planet Rann.  He comes to find that what he experienced was a ride on a "Zeta Beam," an experiment conducted by a Rannian scientist named Sardath.  By the way, Rannians appear identical to humans but their technology is vastly superior.  But I digress..

By using the Zeta Beam, Sardath was attempting to communicate with Earth.  It instead had the effect of snagging one of its inhabitants.  Lucky for Rann.  In but a short amount of time, the skill and intelligence of Adam Strange was needed to help Rann defeat an alien menace.  Given Rannian technology, Adam saved the day...and fell in love with Alanna, Sardath's blue-haired daughter.  Eventually the effects of the Zeta Beam wear off and Adam Strange is flung back to Earth.  Not to worry.  The Zeta beam apparently runs like a Chicago El train and has its own schedule of stops on Earth.  Provided Adam Strange can get to the beam on time, he can go back to his love and his adopted world.

Adam Strange tussled with several of DC's mean, galactic bad guys.  Among them being the slaver Kanjar Ro and the Manhawks.  Speaking of the latter, Strange would crossover with Hawkman from time to time, most notably in a crossover storyline entitled, "The World That Vanished."  Adam Strange was never a big enough draw to quite merit his own book, but he was given devoted stories in DC's Mystery In Space.  In more recent years, he played a key role in the limited series The Rann-Thanagar War and was a pivotal character in DC's landmark 52.  It was around this time that Adam Strange was also treated to great writing by Jim Starlin.

Just where the character fits in with the entire reboot of the DC universe is something I don't know.  Hopefully he still inhabits Rann, helping them and us fend off threats from space.  You see, since Adam Strange was not possessed of any "super powers," he had think his way out of situations more often than not.  True, he had advanced technology on his side but it was Strange's brain that got him through, that keen intellect that allowed him to observe and deduce the Achilles heels of his villains.  He was, after all, an academic at heart.  A "thinking man's" comic book hero.

All that and a cool, classic science fiction look.  How can you go wrong?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Record Store Day

You know me.  I am all about the digital revolution.

But while I have absolutely no desire to regress, part of me really does miss going to a record store.  Thankfully, Saturday, April 21st is Record Store Day.

In the teen years, playing Hamlet in exile in rural Indiana, getting to a record store was a treat.  You needed to go to the Chicago area to get any albums that you couldn't get in a small town department store.  Hegewisch Records and Tapes was a favorite, then later in college it was Rolling Stones Records in Chicago with my buddy Metallica Pete.  That was during my rebellious, metalhead phase and I walked out of that place with t-shirts, posters, and CDs I'd never be able to find outside of a metro area.

Then, after adulthood slapped me in my fresh face and I moved out and started working, I at least had a Crow's Nest Records around the corner from the office.  I would go there on my lunch hour or after work sometimes, just to browse and see what was weird and unknown to me.  A great many of the 100 or so CDs in my collection came from there.  I bought so many pivotal records in that store, pivotal for me, anyway.  I'm talking Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral.  Sisters of Mercy Vision Thing and Floodland.  Soundgarden Superunknown.  Public Enemy Muse-Sick-n-Hour-Mess-Age.  Duran Duran Thank You.  This Mortal Coil.  And yes, even holdovers from my metal days like Danzig 4 and Metallica's Live Shit: Binge and Purge.  Don't worry technophiles, the songs from those CDs have been long since rendered into MP3 files so I am not entirely archaic.  I just sort of miss record stores is all.

That's why I'm glad Record Store Day is an annual observance.  Click the link above to find a participating store.  Go in and talk to the owners and the clerks.  Unlike the twerps in the blue polo shirts and khaki pants at retail megamarts, the record store peeps are knowledgeable and passionate about music.  They can hold an intelligent conversation with you on probably just about any genre of music you're into.  They've probably seen legends of rock live on stage, classic acts that you and I never got a chance to.  Looking for something hard to find?  They can probably help you out. 

Rarities.  That's another reason to love record stores.  When movies switched from VHS to DVD, a lot of films didn't make the transfer.  They were the obscure stuff that there wasn't much demand for but that didn't make them any less vital to see and/or own.  Same thing goes for music.  A great many gems have been lost because the suits didn't see transferring them as worth the cost.  But you can find them at record stores.  You might even get into collecting vinyl.  Several of the audio buffs that I know, the people who are real bona fides and truly devotees of getting the best sound quality, tell me that vinyl still has the most faithful reproduction of a recording.  I don't know if that's true or not, but part of me thinks it would be fun to spin vinyl records again just like I did on the radio in college.

Like I said, click the link and find the store nearest you.  I just checked and there are several participating locations in the Chicago area alone.  Many of the listed stores in the U.S. are featuring live bands on Saturday.  They Might Be Giants are playing in Princeton, New Jersey and Baltimore has GWAR. 

That's right, dammit.  GWAR!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Film Review--The Man Who Fell To Earth

Starring David Bowie, Buck Henry, Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Bernie Casey, and Alan Alda as The Beav.

A humanoid alien (Bowie) arrives on Earth to get water for his dying planet.   Using his knowledge of superior technology, he starts a corporation to amass the funds that will be necessary to build a spaceship for such an endeavor.   Along the way, he is introduced to the all-too human vices of sex and booze…not to mention the ruthless and greedy nature of Earth corporations.

This is a weird trip.  It's surreal and compelling, but I really shouldn’t have expected otherwise from David Bowie (that's him in the pic above, of course...showing the template for Nick Rhodes.)  I mean, I love the Thin White Duke and his music but the man just isn’t known for doing anything in a straightforward or “normal” sense.  And I am just fine with that.  In fact, I wonder just how much influence Bowie had over the film as a whole.  Many of the strange, moody, intercuts had his distinct style and sensibility to them.  An almost David Lynch quality and that is something I most certainly welcome.  As an actor, Bowie has always been a fair talent.  In this role, however, he seems able to draw upon his expressed need to be "something more than human" as well as a fascination with all things alien.  This allows him to portray a character who is isolated and detached. 

Another great find in this film was Candy Clark’s performance as Bowie’s love interest, a young lady who is literally “Loving the Alien.”  She is needy, codependent, and pitiable, but you still end up feeling for her.  No matter what Bowie does, she still needs and wants him.  The scene with the two of the standing on the edge of the dock at their lake house is especially eerie.  I remember Clark from George Lucas’ American Graffiti.   Her character here seems almost an extension of her role from that film, only given more depth and a great deal more troubled psychology.  Modern day, ADD-afflicted “sci-fi” fans may find the depictions of the alien homeworld to be “cheesy.”  Not much I can do about that other than challenge you to hold the same opinion when things go from bad to worse on that world.  Meeker minds might be likewise troubled by the high amounts of sex in the film.  Again, not much more I can do about that.  It’s Bowie, remember?

I recommend this film for at least one viewing.  Will I watch it again or perhaps own it?  I’m not certain.  It’s definitely a film that I will continue to think about and ruminate over.  Any picture that can do that, no matter how disturbing is a sign of high quality in my opinion.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Playin' with avatars

Mind the gap. 

After a day of Internet inactivity due to technical difficulties, I am back once more.  Tonight, I've been playing with different avatar concepts of myself.  No, not that ridiculous James Cameron film, I mean avatar representations of real world persona. 

My first experiment was through Yahoo.  Here it is:

 Yeah, I know it's blurry.  You can't even see the whole thing either, but this is the only download I was able to get.  Peaking up just beneath the bottom edge are the eyes of my boy, Chewie.  Yes that is the Millennium Falcon in the background.  Thought it completed the look.  I must say I look quite fetching in the Star Wars outfit.  Should come as no surprise that I'm a much better looking guy in cyberspace than I am in real life.

Next, I tried my hand at a site called Stortroop:

Not bad.  But I think that Yahoo got a closer depiction of me in terms of face, hair, and eyes.  One cool thing about Stortroop is that it's an outlet for all the fashionistas out there.  You can trade clothes on and off, trying different styles and whatnot.  The avatar above is the closest approximation I could make to my "style," that is to say if I even have one.

There is something very philosophical about all of this.  We never seem to want what we have. My hair is a wavy, curly mop that turns into an afro if it's not kept short.  This is especially true in the summer time.  I tried to grow long, Metallica-type hair but what I got was a Greg Brady 'fro.  All I ever wanted was straight hair.  In turn, I've been told by several people that they'd love to have my natural curls. 

Well they could have them.  If we could swap hairstyles as easily as we can with these avatars, I'd be all over it.  It also allows you to experiment without fear of consequence.  Indulge your xenophilia, you can always hit "start over" if you are unsatisfied.  Then again, we tend to create idealized versions of ourselves with editors such as these.  Just look at the avatars running around in SecondLife.  That is by no means a derogatory statement towards SecondLife denizens.  As a matter of fact, I've been meaning to get active in that world for a quite a while now.  I just never seem to get around to it.

Anyway, avatar editors such as allow us to tweak what we have into what we want.  Of course we may then find that having can sometimes be nowhere near as fun as wanting.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Flame Towers

I have come across a most enthralling building.

Two of them, actually.  They are called The Flame Towers and they are located in Baku, Azerbaijan.  My introduction to them came by way of an MSNBC article on how Azerbaijan has become a sort of "Casablanca" in terms of spies as the nation borders Iran, a palladium for the interests of the US and Israel.  The theme of the article isn't what did it for me, it was the buildings.

Azerbaijan is currently undergoing a renaissance of sorts.  The mood and the feel of the country has been compared to the cultural boom of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a city with its own massive tower.  The Flame Towers weigh in at a cost of $650 million dollars and rise to a height of 620 feet.  They are three-sided and entirely glass on the outside.  Their curved appearance is meant to guessed it...flames as Azerbaijan has ancient association with fire.  Just what that is I don't know.

Doesn't matter.  The buildings are most fetching.  Sure, sure, Human Rights Watch has reported that thousands of people were evicted from their homes in order for the buildings to be built.  I certainly don't want to seem supportive of that but we did the same in New York City to build the UN building. 

I'm wondering if there is space available on the top floor of one of the towers?  I'd love to run my blog from that location.  Why stop there?  I'll have all of Murphy's Law move in and we'll establish our head office in the Towers.  You know who you are ML and the rest of you will know us soon enough.  I for one think that a wavy-shaped tower of steel and glass would fit us just perfectly.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A "monolith" and life on Mars

Our fascination with Mars continues...

Amateur astronomers have discovered yet another odd object on the surface of Mars.  It was what appears to be a perfectly rectangular slab jutting upwards.  It doesn't take much imagination to see the similarities between this form and the monolith from 2001.  But as one might expect, imaging experts at NASA have quite a different opinion on the nature of the formation.

The photograph in which the monolith was found is actually from several years back in a series taken by NASA's HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Jonathon Hill of the Mars Spaceflight Facility, whom we've heard before on matters such as these, asserts that the "monolith" is nothing more than a roughly rectangular boulder.  Indeed when the image is magnified, you can begin to discern the jagged and irregular edges of the shape.  "Any curve will look like a series of straight lines if you reduce your resolution enough," Hill said.

Interestingly enough, the monolith report hit the Internets in close proximity to this news about old results from the 1976 Viking lander.  After going over the printouts of said data, a collective of mathematicians and space scientists now believe that the findings confirm the presence of microbial life on Mars. 

"On the basis of what we've done so far, I'd say I'm 99 percent sure there's life there," said neuropharmacologist and biologist Joseph Miller with the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.  The work of these researchers was done from an almost purely mathematical mode of operation, analyzing the data sets for complexity.  In theory, biological findings would be more complex than non-biological.  To hear these minds say it, there is an excellent chance of at least microbe-level life on Mars, even if the land is not nearly as irriguous as astronomy once believed.

The factual, non-fiction writer in me is rather tepid on these news items.  The monolith is a geologic formation not at all unlike similar ones right here on Earth.  The interpretation of life on Mars from the Viking data will just be countered by other scientists eventually.  That's the way of things, it seems.

The fiction writer in me wants to believe.  I want to intermingle these two stories and say that the monolith is yet another artifact of the alien civilization that once thrived on Mars, just as described in the late Mac Tonnies' Cydonian Imperative.  In fact, I wish he were around now to give his thoughts on this "monolith."  If nothing else, I think that the fiction writer has the more compelling of the two stories.  Maybe even a story that entails a man bellowing "you blew my cover!" and another "the reactor makes air but the bastard won't turn it on!"

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, April 13, 2012

New World Order on Monday

Is there really a New World Order that secretly controls us all?  If there is…then Duran Duran may know about it.

The conspiracy theory goes something like this: there is a secret cabal of the wealthy, the powerful, and the elite.  They have a globalist agenda in which they will eventually emerge as the heads of a totalitarian one-world government.  The composition of this shadow government is said to include in part or in whole organizations such as The Freemasons, The Illuminati, The Skull and Bones Society, and anybody left alive from Green Acres.  Supporters of this conspiracy theory claim to have evidence to submit this notion.  They point to the pyramid, Illuminati-like seal on the back of the American one-dollar bill.  Unfurled around the pyramid is a banner imprinted with the Latin phrase, “novus ordo seclorum.”  This has been roughly translated to “New World Order.”  Conspiracy enthusiasts also cite a 1990 speech by President George H.W. Bush (King George I) in which he stated: “Now, we can see a new world coming into view.”  Remember, Bush was a former member of Skull and Bones.

How does this have anything to do with Duran Duran (read: world’s greatest band)?  Plenty.  I shall expound.

In 1984, Duran Duran released their hit single, “New Moon On Monday.”  The video that accompanied the song has been oft cited as a prime example of 80s cheese and big hair that was adamantine from gel and spray.  Even then-guitarist Andy Taylor admitted in his memoir that the band has half-crocked on booze throughout the video shoot.  But was all this nay saying and downplaying a cover-up?  An attempt at concealing the greater truth that Duran were attempting to expose?  That the world was coming under the tyrannical heal of a one-world government?  Time to check out the extended version of the video for the deeper answers.

We open in a theater as a French play rehearses on stage.  The lead character is a sort of French clown or harlequin…and he’s kinda scary.  Grim-faced soldiers dressed in all-black uniforms and shiny jackboots, giving them a look that is quite reminiscent of Imperial officers from Star Wars, oversee the entire rehearsal.  Enter lead singer Simon Le Bon.  He takes a seat in the balcony of the empty theater and we see a symbol upon the lapel of his black leather jacket.  It’s an impressive looking glyph, sort of a “Z” shape crossed with a swastika. 

In the context of the video, it seems to be the sigil of an underground resistance against the soldiers who are servants of the totalitarian regime.

This is not lost upon one of the troopers.  He marches over to Simon and demands a typical “your papers, please.”  As everything checks out, the soldier then leads Simon backstage in the theater.  Simon catches a glimpse of Roger Taylor in a small office.  The two men exchange knowing glances and Roger goes back to writing at his desk.  Roger seems so at peace there, scribbling away at what might be inventory sheets or payroll forms.  This might even foretell his departure from the band.  “Enough sneaking out of hotel rooms.  Corporate middle management’s got to have less stress.”

Anyway, Simon is brought to a dressing room where he meets with a hot, leggy brunette in a leather mini skirt and black tights.  The New World Order sure knows how to hit a guy’s weak spot.  Bastards.  Nevertheless, the woman (Miss France 1980 it turns out…and I’m betting even money that Simon shagged her) tells Simon she is “only interested in order.”  Emphasis mine.  Aha!  A clue!  But wait…she admits that her father is missing, taken away by the regime.  She might be on the side of the angels after all.

The woman brings Simon to a motorcycle she has parked in an alley outside.  Embarrassingly enough, Simon ends up riding bitch.  At the same time, Roger exits the theater and drives off in his own car.  As Simon and his new hottie take off down the Charles Dickens-esque cobblestone streets of this European hamlet, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine just where this is taking place.  The language has been French but the look is Eastern European, post-World War II.  The geek in me would like to believe that they are in Latveria and that the tyrant-in-chief is none other than Doctor Doom.  He would, after all, be a fitting candidate for head of The New World Order.  But I digress…

Following them as they ride, we begin to see that something is rotten in Denmark…or wherever they are.  Troops stand everywhere throughout the streets.  A bearded dissident is beaten to the ground and we hear a gunshot off camera.  Another man is clubbed as he is forced to wash the sigil of la resistance (the Z thingy, remember?) from a brick wall.  Oddly enough, the same thing happened to me when I carved that same said symbol into a desk in high school.  Just as I thought during that time, how much longer can people live under such totalitarian conditions?  As in Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables, a revolution is inevitable.

We see the burgeoning development of this, of people willing to take up arms against their oppressors.  Bass guitarist John Taylor and keyboardist Nick Rhodes load wooden crates onto a horse-drawn cart.  These crates have an ominous label stenciled across them in black: EXPLOSIVES.  Now here’s where my critical thinking gets the better of me and I begin to check out of the video.  First of all, the idea of these guys handling highly volatile ordinance scares me.  Secondly, I find it most unlikely that Nick would engage in any form of manual labor.  I would have bought it if he had been hanging back, supervising John and Roger and saying, “Hurry up now, chaps.  There’s trouble a’brewin’.”  I’m also hoping that the boys were at that point knowledgeable/sober enough not to smoke around those crates.  Anyway, with Nick’s twirl of a key on chain they’re off.

Cut to an abandoned factory.  Roger meets Andy who has assembled a makeshift printing press and is running off propaganda leaflets.  You know, like you used to do with the school’s mimeograph machine?  Or maybe that was just me.  Andy wears a vintage cap, the kind seen on today’s hipsters.  It sort of completes the look as he stands next to the printing press.  New Wave meets Newsies.  I wonder if Pop Trash Beauty could work up a take on that look?  Maybe if we ask nicely enough…and throw in a latte.  Or two.  Sorry.  I keep digressin’.  Roger and Andy head out to distribute their fliers, detained only momentarily by New World Order secret police at a checkpoint barricade.  It is in that scene that we see the flag of the regime.  It’s a field of black with two white, isosceles triangles crisscrossed.  Triangles.  A bit like pyramids, hmmm?

The whole merry band of MTV Robin Hoods meets up at…where else?…a pub.  John must have learned a thing or two from all of those James Bond movies as he slinks into the pub all Secret Squirrel-like, long coat wrapped around him and tossing furtive glances about at the locals who likewise eye him with suspicion.  Sort of reminds me of issue #251 of Unknown Soldier.  The men plus the French girl start boozin’ and begin to discuss what one can only presume to be revolutionary strategy.  Or make-up and cinema.  Nick plays with a matchbox…an actual matchbox, not the toy cars…until Andy slaps it down with haste for the soldiers have entered the tavern and begin shooing everyone out.  Again, Duran demonstrate themselves as pioneers, laying the groundwork for the Semisonic song, “Closing Time” long before its inception.

A woman who looks a lot like Betty White leads John and Nick into the basement or wine cellar of the tavern.  The secret chamber is bathed in a green, techno glow.  Sitting upon a wooden workbench is a sophisticated device for 1984…a PC computer.  An IBM from the look of it.  Complete with the green, monotone screen.  The words “La Luna” scroll onscreen as Betty White taps at the keys.We're left to only wonder of the mystery contained therein.

Meanwhile, Simon, Roger, and Andy take it to the streets.  They begin to covertly distribute the leaflets all while avoiding the watchful eyes of the Gestapo.  Seriously, imperialistic flunkies must all go to the same place for their training.  None of them seem to be able to shoot straight or be all that perceptive.

Night falls.  Game time!  Viva la revolution!  To the barricades!  Get the kite, Roger!
That’s right.  A kite.  The Durans hoist aloft a kite made from what appears to be aluminum, like reflective radar chaff.  Somehow this material alloy harnesses the power of the skies and transmits the energy back to the ground.  Only it is not electricity that is brought down a la Ben Franklin from the heavens.  It is the energy of the Moon.  Yep.  The Moon.  Seriously folks, I couldn’t make this up.

Betty White sends John and Nick outside to join the revolt.  Once on scene, they unload the wooden crates and John cracks them open with an axe.  You remember those crates labeled “EXPLOSIVES?”  Yeah, he uses an axe.  Elsewhere, Simon waves the flag of the revolution and rallies the workers of the oppressed proletariat.  Naturally, the New World Order will have none of this.  The riot police are dispatched on horseback to break up the demonstration.  Fear these soldiers for they are armed with…lightsabers.  You read that correctly.  Star Wars-style lightsabers.  With that sort of sci-fi technology on the side of the fascists, you may expect this to go down like a replay of Tiananmen Square only with more eyeliner and rouge.  But you’d be wrong!

The army of the New World Order is no match for fireworks, flags, and Moon energy.  The establishment falls.  Freedom has won.  The war is over.  Everybody celebrates with more fireworks, the symbol of the revolution illuminated, and dancing.  Whole lotta dancing.

This whole crazy thing is so laden with symbolism.  Did Duran Duran attempt to subtly alert us to the existence of the New World Order?  Were they trying to tell us that we would one day have to stand up and take our society back…using fireworks and moon kites?  A thread at Above Top Secret has many users dissecting the occult symbols on the record, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, the album that contains “New Moon On Monday.”  Others point towards the very lyrics of the songs.

“Shake up the pictures with lizard mixtures.”  A warning about the very reptoid hybrids of which David Icke speaks?
“Breaking away with the beast of both worlds.”  An allusion to the return of the Annunaki?
“I stayed the cold day with a lonely satellite.”  A hint that the Nibiru...the "nemesis star"... will knock an asteroid lose and hurtle into the Earth, plunging us back into another ice age and the rise of Thundarr the Barbarian?

Or is it just Simon Le Bon kickin’ it freestyle?

Who can tell?  Except for the members of Duran Duran.  They may know.  They may know very well indeed…and so far, they ain’t talking.

Please, please, please head over to Pop Trash Beauty.  There you will find make-up looks based on the video and likely commentary of the band’s fashion and hairstyles of the time.  Check out this look she whipped up for us in no time.  The crazy mime guy never looked so good.

Until later, via con dios.  And remember…knowledge is power.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Crisis" for US science

Have you considered studying physics?

If you said "no," you're not alone.
I remember when that was my initial undergrad major.  I complained a bit about the subject's difficulty to a professor of mine. problems with the discipline had far more to do with my ineptness at math and my destiny (such as it is) to write than it did with how the course was taught or my perception of its worthiness.  The professor I commiserated with said, "Yeah, physics is a bitch.  Why study that and make $25,000 straight out of college when you can study marketing and make $38,000?"

Why indeed.  In fact, five scientists shared their concerns on this matter at a recent convening of the American Physics Society.  Fewer and fewer American students are graduating with degrees in science, math, engineering, and the allied subjects.  Coupled with that is the fact that funding dollars for scientific endeavors are being cut on a regular basis.  The case in point that the linked article offered was how the Tevatron at Fermilab (right here in my back yard, by the way) has been closed down.  Therefore, researchers in nuclear physics are headed for CERN in Switzerland.

That's right.  Forget about research for curiosity's sake...and the multiple inventions that have come about by accident as a result thereof.  My favorite example of curiosity-centered research has to do with cows.  Someone noticed that cows tend to line up in the same direction while grazing in a field.  A clever researcher determined that this is the case only when the cows are near high tension wires.  The action is likely the result of electromagnetic waves from the wires.  Cows, just like us, are organic creatures.  If these wires are having this affect on cows, what are the electromagnetic waves doing to humans?  Oh let's just let "who cares" win, shall we?  After all, how much money is in it?

This line of thinking would pretty much eliminate entire fields of knowledge, like say, astronomy for one.  Times are tough, the economy is bad, get with it.  If it can't make money for our greedy little selves, then why bother?  Then hack apart public school science classes lest they offend the Christian right.  What, you got worries about the world?  Forget them.  Turn on Jersey Shore or another steaming, stench-filled slice of reality TV and your mind will soon go blank.  You'll eventually forget any notions you once held of the world being a complicated and macaronic place.  And what's it matter anyway?  The Jeebus is going to bring The Rapture any day now so turn to prayer over science.  Someone wrote a book about this once.  They said it was like ancient Rome.  Bread and circuses...

So the United States will likely one day be overtaken in the arena of scientific development.  Probably someday soon, even.  But something tells me we just won't care.
Wave that flag.  Thump that Bible.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mars may yet harbor life

Go underground.

That may be the best location on Mars to search for life.  As far as we know, anyway.  A series of collapsed lava tubes have been discovered beneath the surface of the planet.  This means that there may be a wide system of caves in underground Mars.  I don't know why we would have thought otherwise.  Like any other "rocky" planet, it would stand to reason that Mars would have caves.

Unique "pit chains" surround the Tharsus Montes volcanic region of the planet.  This indicates that lava flowed through these channels back when Mars was geologically active, volcanically anyway.  There may even have been water in them at one point as well.  Heck, I'd say there remains a chance that water is still there to this day, but I digress...

What makes these formations on Mars significant is how they might serve to shelter life.  Due to a number of factors, Mars is basked in 250 times the amount of radiation that the Earth experiences.  This is quite an argument to bolster the camp that claims Mars no longer...if it ever did...supports life.  Yet beneath the surface, in these shielded and perhaps wet caves, microbial life might continue.

These underground formations might even prove beneficial to crew members of a manned mission to Mars.  I know, I know, that's a long time from now...again, if ever...but a few of us remain forward thinking.  Anyway, these caves and caverns could serve as shelters for those on Mars missions, especially if the underground channels contain water.  Then at least a portion of the work towards survivability would already be done for us.

Personally, I just love how the planet Mars continues to fascinate.  It even came up in an avenue I was not expecting just this past weekend.  I have a family member who is going off to college for the first time this fall.  She is planning to major in Egyptology and believe you me, she'll make one hell of an archeologist.  Anyway, another family member brought up that the ancient Egyptian "hall of records" has yet to be found.  Oddly enough, the Egyptian government has temporarily halted digs.  I haven't checked to verify this, so I realize I'm just relaying something I heard but it really does serve a purpose.  Keep your tights on.

This family member's conjecture is that the hall of records really has been found and the information contained within it is being kept secret as it would far too greatly upset the order of what we consider to be "how things are."  The upset being from namely that the human race originated on Mars.  A sort of "ecological 9/11" occurred, to use the late great Mac Tonnies' phrase, and the survivors fled to Earth.  There, they interbred with the primitive populace and built pyramids and monuments that are said to have corollary structures on the surface of Mars.

I don't necessarily subscribe to that point of view.  I just appreciate how Mars has always managed to hold out collective imaginations.  Speaking of which, recent photographs of Mars show even more former lava flows, these taking on the shape of an elephant.  That is, as the human eye is want to see it. 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

UFO video taken from passenger plane

Good evening, everyone.  Time to get skeptical.

There is a video that has been creating a bit of a buzz across the Interwebs.   The video was taken from an airliner over Seoul, South Korea.  While the plane is flying over a group of buildings, a silver, saucer-shaped UFO eases into the shot.  The videographer says something excitedly in Korean (I assume that's the language) and the UFO leaves the frame, moving rapidly on a slanted, vertical path, up and away from the point of view.

After the initial footage, the provider of the video...whoever they kind enough to slow the video down for us and zoom in on the object.  It is in doing this, however, that astute viewers have noticed the rub in this particular UFO story.  If you watch at around 23 seconds in, the edges of the UFO get extra fuzzy.  A few viewers have even stated that it turns transparent.  I can't quite see that but the UFO does take on an odd, hazy appearance during those frames.  Photoshop, maybe?  Then again, the shape of the object is not entirely inconsistent with a few of the newer models of UAVs out there in the shadowy world of black ops.  The Korean Peninsula is a prime location for such drones to be active in, maybe someone caught a flight on tape.  Then again...

This article on MSNBC points out that the anonymous cameraman a) waits a fair amount of time before saying anything to his in-flight companion and b) for whatever reason, does not attempt to follow the UFO as it exits the frame.  Also, a Hollywood visual effects artist was consulted and he pointed out the same "motion blur" that others have noticed. 

I'm afraid I'm going to have to toss this sighting on the "hoax" stack for now.  Of course, that's almost become my automatic reaction these days and that, ladies and gentlemen, upsets me a bit.  After all, the genuine, real-deal in UFO footage could be shown to me and I might automatically say, "computer generated."  Would I know the real thing if I saw it?

In other news of aerial (notice how I spelled that, Yahoo?) phenomena, a rare, daytime meteor streaked over the skies of Texas.  I'm sure it spawned its fair share of UFO sightings already.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, April 9, 2012

Music meme

They say that good bloggers inject their own personality into their posts.

Can you tell I've been reading a lot of Writer's Digest lately?
Anyway, it occurred to me that unless you're a friend of mine or a previous acquaintance of one variety or another, you might not know that much about me.  Sure, you know I'm a writer and that I hunt the weird but beyond that...?

So I found one of those Internet memes that has been tossed around Facebook and the like.  It deals with music.  I love music...but then again I don't know anyone who doesn't.  I thought I would devote a post to this just for giggles.  Here goes.

1. What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

92.4 Gig-worth on the Mac.  Of course not all of the downloads are mine.

2. The CD you last bought/album you last downloaded?

Who really pays for music any more?  Hmmm...the last CD I bought was just over one year ago.  All You Need Is Now by Duran Duran.  As a Christmas cumshaw, I received Everything That Happens Will Happen Today by David Byrne and Brian Eno.

3. What is the last song you heard before reading this message?

"Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon

4. Write down five songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

"Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon and Garfunkel
"Ordinary World" by Duran Duran
"Unknown Caller" by U2
"Until the Day Is Done" by R.E.M.
"All That Money Wants" by The Psychedelic Furs

And there you have it.
I am of course interested to hear my readers' own answers to the said same questions.  Comment away!

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

The "Page Three Girl" test

Consider this my little social experiment.

Blogger allows me to track the number of hits each of my particular posts gets.  The oracles who specialize in marketing writing preach that a blogger should be most watchful of this data and gear his/her posts towards the subject matters that receive the most hits.  I have zero desire to do this as I refuse to be painted into a corner of subject matter, however it has given me an idea.  I wish to test a hypothesis.  Namely...

If I appeal to the lowest common denominator, then will I receive more hits?

Toward that purpose, I am adopting the "Page Three Girl" experiment.
Page Three Girls were topless models that appeared guessed three of the British tabloid The Sun.  Sorry, fellas.  None of my posted models will be nude.  This is a semi-family show after all and my posts go directly to my Facebook wall.  Can't be having any TOS violations on my watch.

Well, without further ado, let's get to the first post shall we?

Feast your eyes on Dita Von Teese.  This comely young lady is a model, costume designer, and most of all the queen diva of burlesque dancing, a nearly lost art until its recent revival.  She's so hot that you can almost forget she was once married to Marilyn Manson. 

I shall now sit back and watch the page hits.  Fear not, those of virtue.  My blog shall remain an apotropaic against the hordes of ignorance.  This is all in the name of science and the further acquisition of knowledge. 

Of course it is.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Global economic collapse by 2030"

For a guy who loves to harp and hope on The Singularity, I can sure overlook basic facts.

One of those being, "will anybody actually be able to afford it in the future?"  A new study from MIT bets not.  Here's the opening paragraph of the article:

"A renowned Australian research scientist says a study from researchers at MIT claiming the world could suffer from a "global economic collapse" and "precipitous population decline" if people continue to consume the world's resources at the current pace is still on track, nearly 40 years after it was first produced."

Doesn't sound too good, does it?  I mean, I can get behind the "precipitous population decline" and not purely for selfish reasons.  The fact is that this world is capable of supporting only a fixed number of people.  Try talking about that with someone though.  They immediately assume you're referring to "culling the herd" and Palin-esque Nazi death camps.  Not at all.  I'm talking about "not adding to" and not "subtracting from."  Big difference.  But I digress...

The future of 2030 looks like a time of bloated population and limited economic resources.  I really don't see how anyone rational could believe that the gravy train wouldn't eventually run out but have you tried talking about this subject with people lately?   With the wrong crowd, you're a fraction of a step away from being called a commie socialist.  Especially if you toss out a line like the one referenced from the report.  You know, that bit about a strong global economy still being feasible if "world governments enact policies and invest in green technologies that help limit the expansion of our ecological footprint"?  Drastic environmental measures?  Forget it, comrade.  You're talking crazy.  I'm not letting you get in the way of my money.  Even if the future is at stake.

One of the reasons I've always been attracted to science fiction, both as a writer and as a reader, is that in many cases it presupposes a future.  I thought that inferred a certain hope for the human race. 

I seldom stopped to ask if it was a future I would have wanted.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Free Form Friday

Why do we bother?

That may sound like a depressing question on the surface and maybe it is but I really do wonder.  "Survival instinct" you might say?  At all costs keep going and stay alive?  That seems to be present in just about every other organism in the world.  Yet Freud spoke of another psychological instinct that he believes is nearly as strong as the will to survive.  That is "the death drive."  The need to one day be at rest.  After all, the constant struggle to survive gets mighty tiresome after a time.  Again turning to Freud, he once said that "being entirely honest with one's self is a good exercise."  If we truly are honest with ourselves, can we not admit that nearly all of us have had the thought, "I just want to be done.  Let me be at rest and at peace.  I'm done fighting."  ?  

Writers, bitter and depressing lot that we often times are, certainly have thought this way.  H.P. Lovecraft did.  His stories painted a grim portrait of humanity's future.  One day, we insignificant bags of flesh will yield our existence to the Elder Gods, such as Cthulhu.  Sure, we can forestall it, maybe set these things back a few years, maybe even decades.  But that's the most we can hope for.  In the end, we're toast.  The eccentric and esoteric view askew from a troubled, albeit brilliant, horror writer?  Maybe.  But consider this: in a way, he's right.  One day our sun will go supernova and engulf this big blue marble of ours.  Toast.  In the end, the universe just doesn't care about humans.  Why should it?

Maybe because it figures we'll do ourselves in long before that point of nova billions of years in the future.  There are any number of ways we can bring about our own demise, more than I want to go into right now.  And what do most people think about that?  It's simple.  They don't.

I feel as if I have the deck very much stacked against me right now.  Options to hack and slash my way out of this meaningless existence evaporate with age.  Compared to what many others face every day, however, even this sensation is nothing.  So many in poverty.  So many in pain.  So many with so many reasons just to let it all go.

But they don't.  I have seen people in some of the worst situations and the most abject poverty in the world.  They still smile.  What accounts for that?  I've given this a great deal of reflection and even though I fully recognize how agley my line of reasoning might be, there's only answer I've come up with.  It's trite.  It's cliche.  It's a pisser for me to even say.    Nonetheless, it's my only solution thus far.


There's something in human nature that fosters hope.  This spark, this idea that something cool might still happen.  Something we don't yet know about could come along and change everything.  "There's always hope."  That's what Aragorn told Legolas in the face of what certainly appeared as a hopeless situation.  Even the most dour among us can't seem to help but hope.  It's in our nature.

So maybe that streak balances out the "death drive."  The urge to survive and the yearning to rest then balance one another out.  One becomes yin to the other's yang.  We fight.  We weary and desire for rest.  In the middle, hope levels the field and grants us the impetus to keep going.  Or gives us the promise of rest soon to come.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets