Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Neural interface technology


I love it when readers inspire me.

Yesterday, 4n4log K1d said in his comment, "If we can figure out how to snapshot our conscious minds, we have a path to immortality."  It's closer than you might think.

In passing, I had heard about an organization called The Society For Neural Interfacing.  In attempting to attain any further information on the group, I only ran into a series of dead links.  I'm uncertain as to whether or not they are defunct as the most I can ascertain is that they were at one point affiliated with the University of Zurich.  Nevertheless, I continued on the path of researching neural interface technology.

Neural interface simply means direct connection between the brain and a computer.  Or perhaps more broadly, an interface between the human nervous system and any outside device where data is shared between the two said points.  Bioelectric signals are detected by a computer or other such device through the use of neural implants in the brain.  It's not a terribly new concept.  Researchers have already developed systems where artificial limbs can be controlled by thought and the same with wheelchairs.  In 2001, Stephen Hawking said that we should "develop as quickly as possible technologies that make possible a direct connection between brain and computer, so that artificial brains contribute to human intelligence rather than opposing it." (InformationWeek Sep 5, 2001 Stephen Hawking Warns of ‘Terminator’-Style Menace by David M. Ewalt)  Indeed, that neural interface technology has evolved since then to a point where people have been shown to control cursors on computer screens and to even play video games using only their thoughts.  Neural implants are even being explored as an avenue towards treating depression.  Such implants would act as a "pacemaker for the brain" in the generation of serotonin.  Good news for people who suffer from that insidious condition, for people who are confined or impaired by disability, or for anyone who simply wants to augment themselves and their natural capabilities.

As is always the case when discussing topics like this, not everybody is thrilled at the prospects of neural interfacing.  Our buddy Alex Jones at InfoWars has a piece on it.  It's done with the explicit warning of mind control prospects and Satanic Nazis brought over during Operation Paperclip.  Idoneous for the site.  "Do not accept a Neural Interface for 'enhancement' purposes," he cautions.  Gee, if you don't want yours, I'll take it, Al.  Indeed DARPA has been experimenting with brain interface technology and doubtless there are military applications being considered if not already implemented.  Whether or not this is all part and parcel of an elaborate mind control plan concocted by the New World Order is still up for debate.  Still, the linked InfoWars page does have well written summary of neural interfaces as well as sobering and disgusting images of cybernetic experimentation on animals.  Ready or not, this technology is here and it's only going to get bigger.

So that "snapshot of our conscious minds" might only be an upload away.


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Monday, January 30, 2012

Electromagnetic lifeforms




Pic above is from Modernartimages.com

Intelligent, sentient, electromagnetic lifeforms.  Now there is a concept that I have been pondering.  It is an activity of pure conjecture, composed of equal parts of science and philosophy.

This is not my own neoterism.  I'm certainly not the first to think of it nor will I be the last, but hopefully I can keep myself strategically placed to read more information on the topic as it arises.  The concept is that of an intelligent lifeform composed entirely of electromagnetic energy.  I'm not saying that these lifeforms would be prevalent by any means nor do I think that they would even come close to being as frequent as carbon-based lifeforms given the stability of carbon or even silicon, I am simply wondering if they might exist.

What would such a lifeform look like?  Again, totally guessing here but I would surmise a gaseous form or maybe even like crackling lightning.  We've seen that life tends to fill certain voids here on our own world, an electromagnetic intelligence might inhabit a nebula or another such "stellar nursery" where energies abound.  Would we even recognize it as intelligent life if we came across it?  Could we communicate with it?  I'm going to say it's doubtful on both counts but what the bleep do I know?

Then there are those who postulate that the entire universe might itself be a living being, similar in concept to the Gaia Hypothesis which states that the Earth is essentially one single living organism.  The universe would operate much the same way with electromagnetic energy serving as "blood."  The chain of logic for this might be, and I stress might:
We have a consciousness.
We evolved from the universe.
Therefore the universe might have a consciousness.

This all ties in with even greater questions of "what is consciousness?"  Could an electromagnetic lifeform have both intelligence and consciousness?  Could what we term as either "intelligence" or "consciousness" be approximated by the interactions within an electromagnetic form?  But would that really be intelligence or just the clockwork movements of the mechanisms of physics?

Think about it, though.  Wouldn't such lifeforms explain a great many things?  Such as occurrences here on Earth that many of us otherwise ascribe to the paranormal?  The fleeting presence of an intelligent electromagnetic lifeform might account for the elusive nature of evidence for paranormal activity. 

Yep.  These are the meandering thoughts that keep me up at night.  Pray for me.


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Outsider


A few posts back, I described the book Alien Dawn by Colin Wilson which had just come into my possession.

Wilson, however, was responsible for writing a book that sounds far more influential.  That is to say, if I am comparing descriptions.  The name of the book is The Outsider.  The Outsider examines just what effect people termed "outsiders" have on the rest of society.  An "outsider," as defined here, means someone who has little to no interest in the Status Quo, what is marketed to the masses, or what fashions or societal norms are required to fit in with the rest of the herd.  Those who choose this path or have it biologically chosen for them are termed "outsiders" by the rest of the herd.
Here is a partial list of the outsiders whose lives and works help make up the bulk of Wilson's book:

H.G. Wells
Albert Camus
Franz Kafka
T.S. Eliot
Hermann Hesse
Vincent Van Gogh
George Bernard Shaw
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Friedrich Nietzche
G.I. Gurdjieff

A thorough study indeed.  Upon publication, Wilson was bashed by many critics.  Here was a 24 year-old author with no PhD who claims to have written a text that examines human alienation and how the outsider influences society.  In fact, Wilson wrote the book in the reading room of the British Museum during the day while he was spending his nights in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath.
Sigh.  This is a side of academics of which I am not very proud.  This kind of attitude fails to consider the fact that the men who wrote the influential texts that Wilson examines did not have, for the most part, any kind of higher degree.  Yet the books and works are nevertheless considered part of the academic "canon."

I am excited to read this book.  I enjoy literary criticism and this book has the additional dimension of being perhaps therapeutic, just as it seems to have been for several readers in the Amazon comments section (linked above).  I see myself in much what Wilson describes.  I certainly do not place myself among the writers above in terms of the quality of my work.  Not by a long shot.  What I do share is their view of society, the absent need to fit in with everyone and everything else.  The knowledge of there being others like me makes me feel less alone.
Now how is that for literary irony?  "Outsider seeks same in order to not feel alone in rejecting society."
So The Outsider goes on the to-read list.  Yes, that list seems to expand by the day.  I will get to these.  Perhaps it would help if I didn't fall asleep for three hours in the afternoon as I did today.


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Saturday, January 28, 2012

What the frak did I eat to cause this dream?


Last night saw one of the most bizarre experiences ever to befall my subconscious.

In the words of Lionel Richie: "I had a dream, I had an awesome dream."  Yet it was only "awesome" in the sense of its weirdness.
I was in New York City.  Mind you, I have never been there in my life, despite my yearning to visit.  Anyway, I was roaming about the city for reasons that I sensed related to my day job, something to do with a medical center or some such.  I was lost.  I had no sense of where I was going.  As I went through the city in my dream, the innumerable highrise buildings gave way to an open expanse.  Exasperated, I let out a cry of "where the hell am I?"

That's when I realized it.  I was where the World Trade Center once was.  It is impossible to convey the birr I felt in the air, the somber, eerie energy.  It was as if I could almost sense the human remains beneath the ground that were never discovered and forced to remain entombed in obscurity.
I got out of there.  I descended a massive concrete stairway that truly looked like it did not belong in the landscape.  Down I went to a shoreline vista that looked out at Ellis Island and the waterways to the Atlantic.  I noticed the water growing dark and sludgy, garbage sluiced out of drainage culverts and then floated downstream.  An open air eatery lay ahead of me.  Quite a crowd there, too.  I smelled deep fried delicacies.
In this crowd, consuming various victuals, were so many people that I knew.  Family members, distant friends, Tweeps even.  They all moved in and out of the scene at a great pace.  I was asked what I wanted to drink.  I ordered a beer.
"You can't drink beer anymore!" they all gasped, holding their colas.  "The government doesn't allow it!"
 I could feel my transgression.  At that point, arc lightning of the most spectacular blue crackled in the air.  Massive machines descended from the sky.  There was a flash and everything turned red.  I just knew a nuclear explosion had taken place.  The next thing I knew, all around me was transformed into a surreal, post-apocalyptic wasteland.  I'm talking a Mad Max meets Kandinsky.  I was separated from everyone I knew.  I was alone.

I had the sense that they were all deeper in the city...or what was left of it.  The center of Manhattan was now sealed off by castle-like walls.  I hefted up what was left of a signpost and carried it with me.  For protection.  As I approached the wall, I found myself in a field of mushrooms and in this field sat a container that was the size and shape of a casket.  For whatever reason, probably the same reason that causes people to unwisely open doors in horror films, I approached the coffin-like, oblong box.  When I was next to it, the lid opened.  Out popped...well, suffice to say someone that I don't like very much.  Except they were more skeletal now in form.  And they could shoot laser beams from their eyes.
I was pretty sure I was toast.  I kept hopping around.  They kept shooting.  Nevertheless, I knew I needed to get back to the people who mattered to me.  I took cover behind a fragment of shiny metal.  This caused the laser beams to reflect back to their origin...destroying this person.  As they died, they handed me a key that went to the gate of the wall.

And then I woke up.

Psychologists, armchair or professional, the ball is now in your court.


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Friday, January 27, 2012

Aliens will attack! It's in the Bible


Unrelenting in my dedication to hunting The Weird, I take to the highways and by-ways of our super information conduit, the Internet, meandering and wandering to wherever strange currents might take me.  This time, I've come upon a real classic.

Aliens are going to attack Earth.  How do I know?  It's in The Bible.
No, seriously.  Err, at least a few people seem to think so.  I visited this web site called www.fillthevoid.org and they had this to say about strange visitors from other worlds:

"Have you noticed the recent attraction to UFOs and aliens? They seem to be a part of everything, everywhere a person goes. They are seen regularly on TV, and there are many popular movies and books written about them. There are stuffed animals and balloons made of them, also cups, stickers, and even guitar picks that have their faces on them. There are bumper stickers telling us to believe in them. Everywhere we go and everything we do, we usually end up seeing their faces somewhere. Why is this? Especially when we hear that they abduct people against their will and perform experiments on them. Still, they are very popular. What had started out in fear years ago has now turned to faith in them among our society. They have become a new religion."
 

That's right folks.  The whole idea behind alien contact is to sucker us, to lead us away from Jesus.  Nosing around, I found a forum site where a poster outlined the whole scenario...including biblical passages to back it up.  In their mind, anyway.

Apparently, the idea is that our world come under the threat of imminent alien invasion.  Due to this crisis, the nations of Earth will unite as one unified force...a "new world order" if you will...and appoint one man as supreme leader of our planet.  This Earth President or whatever will declare that any alien craft entering our atmosphere will be destroyed.  For by pooling our resources, we will then build laser cannons that will shoot down any alien spaceships that approach our big blue marble in space.  The alien leader will be so in awe of our UN President, read antichrist, that the ET will surrender and pledge to molest Earth no more.  All us humans will worship this UN President, again read antichrist just to make sure you're following...and I'm flippin' positive that there are certain precincts who will tell you we're talking about Barack Obama here...and bestow him with thanks, praise, and all of our rights as human beings.

The author of this forum post cited the following Biblical verses to support his/her claim.

Revelation 13:4 says, "And the world worshipped [sic] the beast
(antichrist) saying, who is like unto the beast? Who is able to
make war with him?"

Luke 21:11 says "there will be terrible earthquakes,
famine and plagues everywhere; there will be
strange and terrifying things coming from the sky (UFOs)."

Jeremiah 10: 1,2 (GNB)  "People of Israel, listen to the message that the Lord has for
you. He says do not follow the ways of other nations, do not be
disturbed by unusual sights in the sky even though other nations
are terrified."


Can I say that this isn't true?  Of course not.  This is all predicated upon a book that is itself an exercise in faith.  I am not about to tell anyone that their faith or their spiritual belief is wrong.  I don't even do that to the evangelists that come to my door, attempting to conciliate me into returning to a church.  I will say, however, that I fall on the skeptical side of all of this, especially when citations of the Book of Revelations are used as evidence.  I'm of the opinion that you can infer damn near anything you want to out of Revelations.  Best way to wash your car, a damn good fried chicken recipe, it's all in there somewhere I'm certain if you just choose to look for it.  

But I got to tell ya, there is one thing about this that offends me, that makes me feel angry and betrayed.  I made it through ten years of Catholic school and three years of CCD.  Not once did they ever mention cool stuff like this.


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's at the bottom of the Baltic?




This is an old UFO story, really.  Why it showed up on Yahoo's front page this morning is anybody's guess.  Must be a slow news day.

Last August, it was announced that a Swedish underwater salvage team discovered something very odd at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.  The Swedes were searching for old shipwrecks that might have valuable treasure still in the holds.  The men had been at sea for nine days and were packing it in for home.  As they did, they made one last sweep with their sonar fish.  That last sweep was enough to convince them to hang on for a bit.

They found an object at the bottom of the ocean.  It is a nearly perfect circle and is 60 meters across.  That's about the size of a 747.  But wait!  There's more!  Another object, smaller in size but about the same shape, sits near the larger anomaly.  Both have drag marks behind them on the sea floor that stretch back 400 feet.  Given that their livelihood is based on plundering sunken treasure, these salvage men know their stuff but even they didn't know what the hell it is.  They are, however, mustering their mettle and planning to dive down to the objects when seas are calmer, perhaps in May.

Naturally, there has been much talk about the objects being UFOs...or USOs might be a more apt term at this point.  That's Unidentified Submerged Object in case you don't know.  I've blogged about those before but suffice it to say, it's very much the same principle as a UFO just underwater.   While the open recovery of alien spacecraft would be welcome news, that's not the only game in town when it comes to explanations.  Not by a long shot.

The salvage team is correct in pointing out that the size and the shape of the objects seem to preclude any kind of conventional sea-faring vessel.  They are correct.  And The Novgorod was not a conventional ship.
The Novgorod was a Russian ironclad battleship built in 1871.  It was almost completely circular.  However, the dimensions seem to be about half that of the object found by the salvage team and from what I've read, it sounds like it saw the bulk of its action on the Black Sea, not the Baltic.  The Novgorod had a sister ship, The Rear-Admiral Popov, which was nearly identical in design, so it may stand to reason that there were more ships of this ilk in different theaters of operation.  These ships proved to be a very unsuccessful design for the Russian Navy, so they might have used them as target practice and sunk them.  Maybe there's a really big one at the bottom of the Baltic.

What else could it be?  The former Soviet Union dumped all kinds of nuclear mishaps into the ocean, although the Baltic Sea would be an odd location for such a thing.  Was there a UFO-shaped Nazi wunderwaffen that crashed into the drink?  That might be almost as cool as a UFO.  Or it could be indications of cryptoterrestrials, another race of humanoids living secretly on our planet beneath the ocean and this thing is their version of Stonehenge.

Or it could just be a natural formation in the seabed.  That would be the simplest explanation and no doubt Mr. Occam would approve of it.  It does unfortunately have a couple strikes against it, namely the shape of the objects and the drag marks behind them.  That doesn't rule out regular rocks, not by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is odd.

Whatever they might be, there is almost certainly going to be a mundane explanation for them.  After all, even if on the off chance they were crashed UFOs, would we even be told about it?


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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"The Artist"





While I have long since ceased to care about what films are nominated for Oscars, one title has managed to capture my interest: The Artist.

From what I have read and the clips that I have seen, The Artist is an homage to the era of silent films in Hollywood.  In it, a 1920’s actor (Jean Dujardin) fears for his own relevancy as widespread release of talking pictures looms on the horizon.  During this time, he meets a dancer looking for her first big break.  And yes, this really is a silent film.

I became further interested in The Artist by an opinion piece on CNN today written by A.S. Hamrah, a film critic at n+1.  In it, Hamrah asserts his own rationale for why this particular film seems to have struck a chord.  One reason he seems to claim is that of nostalgia and sentimentality:

“Do these movies smuggle the past into the future or just use it as pastiche? In an era where airports feature bizarre signs reading "Snow globes are not allowed through the security checkpoint," these movies insist on the physicality of silent cinema, a memento mori in the age of the delete button.”

While I am certainly not one for longing for a “simpler time,” especially ones that really weren’t all that simple once their veneer is stripped away, another point Hamrah makes is well taken. 

We need silence.

As I have said before, of all the weird things I research, people are by far the weirdest.  I am surrounded by people, both in the media and in real life, who seem to want nothing more than to talk incessantly…while never really saying anything at all.  This is unremitting.  I keep searching for a mute button for the rest of the world, so that I might silence voices as easily as I do threads on my Google+ stream.
Our entertainment has become much the same way.  While I do enjoy science fiction and action films, including the eye and brain candy of a special effects-laden opus, there is an adverse consequence to them: all the noise.  Both auditory and visual.  Just look at Cameron’s Avatar or better yet, any of Michael Bay’s Transformer movies.  The first edition in that latter trilogy was so loud I contracted the same ear ringing that I get from a concert.  The visual mess was so splattered, kinetic, and overwhelming with CGI blebs that I couldn’t tell what was going on.

We need silence indeed.  I do, anyway, as a refuge from the downsides of modern society.  That may in fact be why I appreciate art so much.  Certain paintings can evoke great sensations of serenity.  I get that feeling every time I look at a Monet, a Renoir, or certain works by Hopper.  This is just one aspect of the many things that art can do for us.  Sure, that absent need for social contact probably makes me weird, strange, an outsider, but there it is anyway.

So far, everything about The Artist looks good, even the promo poster (see above).  I look forward to seeing it.  I will enjoy the silence.






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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Cure--an appreciation




So depressing!  They just make me want to off myself!  They're no fun!

Or at least that's what I get around here.  Like it or not, sadness, despondency, frustration, and hatred are all part of a genuine human experience.  If they have not been for you, I question your faculties.  And if, therefore, these emotions are genuine, then they are valid territory for artistic expression.  Few, if any, handle the mood indigo shades of human emotional spectrum better than The Cure.  I have listened to The Cure for decades.  Today, as I heard several of their songs come across Jango, I decided to write a post about the band.

Goth.  Post-punk.  Alternative.  Bands hate classification labels.  While those three genres might fit The Cure in various ways, they've proven to be quite nimble at jumping out of the box.  Robert Smith, the only consistent member of The Cure, did play for a time with Siouxise and the Banshees, a band that many would categorize as a primordial, original of the species that would later be known as "goth."  Interestingly enough, I recall an interview in the dearly departed Details magazine with both Smith and Siouxsie Sioux where each said to the other, "We weren't goth!  You were!"  Hilarious.
Yes, bands hate to be categorized and The Cure are no exceptions.  As Robert Smith once said in an interview, "We're not categorisable. I suppose we were post-punk when we came out, but in total it's impossible."  Goth or not, the musical style of The Cure's earlier efforts did have a pallor of gloom over them that set the band's songs apart from the herd.  Melodic tones with solid bass mixed with the plaintive, despairing whine of Smith's vocals.  Later, their sound would grow more and more interlaced with synthesizers and keyboards, culminating in what many regard as their greatest album, Disintegration

I've always liked them because there was true artistry in their work.  This was never a case of guys wearing leather and torn jeans, getting up on a stage to play loud guitars.  There was far more of a point to what they did. There was an atmosphere, an ambiance that almost defies description.  The best way to portray it to my sensibilities is to imagine a soundtrack for crossing a foggy British moor on an overcast day.  They're a rainy day band.  They're musicians who seem to know where you've been and subtly clue you in that it's all going to be all right, no matter the pain, sadness, agony, fear, and death.  It's not necessarily depressing, it's just part of what is.  Robert Smith and The Cure focused on all parts of what is...not simply the "let's party" aspects like...eating cheeseburgers, let's say. 

If pressed, I would offer the following as my favorite Cure songs:

"Charlotte Sometimes"
"Letter To Elise"
"A Strange Day"
"Lovesong"
"Pictures of You"
"Burn"
"Just Like Heaven"

I'm aware that the inclusion of that last song might rankle a few out there who consider themselves "true fans" and not "sell outs," but despite its upbeat poppy-ness, it's still a good song.  An important one, too.  This song broke The Cure open to a wider audience, allowing more people, even isolated kids like me in rural Indiana, to hear their music and to get into them.


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Monday, January 23, 2012

Solar surf's up


Big storm coming in.  Largest of its kind in almost ten years. 

A massive solar flare occurred yesterday at 11pm EST.  The Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) has flung a torrent of electromagnetic radiation and protons towards Earth, threatening to cause problems with GPS satellites and air travel over the polar region, namely flights between the U.S. and Europe.  This is likely to keep going on until tomorrow morning.  Big as this is, NASA maintains that the CME was merely moderate in size, unlike the 1989 solar flare that cause power grids across Quebec to go down.  Yet NASA reports that the plasma cloud is among the fastest moving ever recorded.

That said, there is still the chance that electrical grids in isolated pockets could see sporadic outages and complications.  Not a guarantee but not unheard of either.  It does give me pause to think in regard to what would happen to our society if...nay, when...our Sun decides to fling a truly massive CME our way with enough electromagnetic punch to bring down power grids on a wide-reaching scale.  We'd find ourselves back in the Stone Age rather quickly.  Our lives are held together by slimsy strands of copper wire and fiber optics.  I fully admit being in that digital-dependent state.  So after the massive EM pulse, that's probably when all those people I razzed about camping in Civil War re-enactments will take over.  Oh yes, there is karma.  Sigh.

So exactly what will this current solar storm do to us?  Well, Gizmodo says:
"In the best case scenario, only power lines will be affected. You will not notice it because any power fluctuations will be handled by companies at the grid level. If the storm is long enough, however, it may damage power grid transformers."

No word yet as to who is more vulnerable, Autobots or Decepticons.

Sorry.  Couldn't help it.
All in all, this makes for an interesting bit of academic research, the opportunity to study a solar storm of this magnitude and learn how we can prepare ourselves for future bursts.  Yet in the end, it's much ado about nothing.

For now.


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Sunday, January 22, 2012

typoGenerator!





Maybe it's just the beer talkin', but this is all too much fun.

I've been playing with this webpage called TypoGenerator.  It's function is fairly simple and straightforward as described in the site's FAQ:

"Enter text, images.google.com is searched for that text. Then an image is generated randomly from the found images and the entered text."

A "typo poster" is an image composed of text and background images, not necessarily readable however.  The fact that they are randomly generated adds to the chance of illegibility.  Don't let that stop you.  You're guaranteed to lose a few hours of your life just experimenting with the program.

Look at that image above.  It's like a purple mushroom cloud is rising out of my name against an apocalyptic sky.  Then there's this one:



Kind of 1970s, spacey throwback.  Guess it's a hipster logo.


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Saturday, January 21, 2012

X





 "He covers Arcadia like a shroud.  He could be anywhere.  He seems to be everywhere."

As I mentioned in my post about comic book writer/artist Jim Starlin, winter is a great time to stay inside and delve into your comics library.

Actually just about any time is a great time for me to do that, the wintry weather just somehow adds to the ambiance.   In going through my stacks, I came across a series that I had all but forgotten about but enjoyed much back in the day.

The name of the book was X.  The series and its eponymous character were part of Dark Horse Comics' somewhat abortive "Comics Greatest World" attempt at establishing a new universe in the arena of comic books.  There were four main locations in this new world and each location had about four titles assigned to it.  Each title would have a short, introductory issue printed on high quality paper and selling at the cheap.  I can remember reading the intro to X on a hot summer day, sitting in the passenger seat of Chris Helton's car on the way back from the comic book store.

The storyline took place in a city called Arcadia.  I don't think that Dark Horse was ever specific but I believed that Arcadia was located somewhere on the East Coast like New Jersey, similar in geographic approximation to Gotham City.  And that's not where the Gotham comparisons ended.  Arcadia was a dark, dirty, and very corrupt city.  Political officials shared power behind the scenes with mafia families.  You could get along just fine in Arcadia...provided you had the cash to pay up.  The police department truly served and protected...provided you were on the "to protect" list.




Then the "X killer" showed up.  I remember the first panel that showed him.  Everything was drawn with a film noir sensibility.  The people, the interiors, the city.  This panel was of an official's office.  It had a classic noir shot of ambient light coming through a window, casting prison bars over the characters.  X came crashing through that window.  He was a big man, wearing a costume of black leather, a mask with only one eye, a cape that was in tatters, and what looked like a wrestler's boots and belt.  He was out for justice, committed to ending the corruption and the mob.  Might sound a little like Batman.  That, however, is where the analogy stops.

X killed the public official in that office.  There was no clear-cut morality to X, no way to tell whose side he was really on other than his own.  If you crossed X, he left one mark across your face as a warning.  The second time would mean death, completing the "x."  Like so many of the other "dark hero" vigilantes of the 1990s, X had no compunctions over killing.  The first few issues saw the body count soar with corrupt politicians, lawyers, and corporate leaders.  Gee, do you think X was a forerunner of Occupy Wall Street?  There would be no remora to his reclaiming the city of Arcadia.  He would set organized crime families strategically against one another so that he would be there to take over when no one was left standing.  Being a comic book, X also had to contend with his share of super-powered criminals.

On the whole, you might wonder what was so special about this book.  Sounds like a Batman ripoff with hints of The Shadow mixed in and the oh so blase gun-totin' vigilante meme that as I said, was everywhere in the 90s.  I don't know.  X just had a certain style to him that set him apart from the herd.  He was unique and mysterious in addition to being uncompromising and more than a bit sinister.  While I've read only a few issues in comparison to the full run, I still don't know who he was, where he came from, or what motivated him to do what he did.  You might call that poor character development when it comes to writing.  Maybe.  For me, it just added to the mystery and made him far more interesting than the others of his ilk at the time. 

If you like film noir or crime-centered comics with street-level heroes, check out X.  I don't believe you'll be disappointed.




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Friday, January 20, 2012

Another UFO bites the dust


After another combing through of public NASA footage, UFO enthusiasts thought they caught one.

This article at MSNBC was my first exposure to the case as I'm drawn to any headline with the magic three-letter acronym, UFO.  Regrettably, it had to be this particular woefully written text and I'll get to that in a moment.  Back to the case itself.
Those who support the notion that NASA has been a party to the cover-up of alien life for decades thought that they had a smoking gun.  Footage from the STEREO-B probe, one of a pair of spacecraft parked near the Sun that afford scientists a 360-degree view of the inner solar system, seemed to show something funky.  The video in question showed Venus, Earth, and on the opposite side of the screen...a triangular shaped UFO headed in our direction.

Feel like it wasn't too long ago that we did this?  You're correct.  The Internet was all abuzz about a month ago regarding a "mystery object near Mercury."  Turns out that particular UFO was an image artifact from the telescope that recorded the footage.  So...guess what the UFO on the STEREO-B footage is?

"The answer lies on the exact opposite side of the image," NASA wrote. "At the same time as this strange-looking feature starts being visible, the very bright planet Venus enters the [telescopic camera's] field-of-view from the lower left."

It's a trick of light and optics.  Not a UFO.  Yet that really doesn't bother me.  I expect findings such as these.  Even smart people can be fooled and tricked by their eyes, especially if they happen to be non-astronomers looking at footage from a space telescope.  If I saw that triangular image without having read this, I don't think I'd know what to make of it.  I'd be most cautious before proclaiming it a UFO but it would certainly make me do a Moe Syzlak "Whaa????"  So no, this is the kind of rational explanation I expect.

What I didn't like was the tone of the MSNBC article.  Oh those deucedly pesky UFO conspiracy nuts.  Aren't they silly?  You know what this is an opportunity for?  Ridicule, ridicule, ridicule.  It's the best method we have of keeping the UFO subject out of public debate.  Sigh.
I know that I really shouldn't expect anything different.  In a way, I don't blame them.  The field of UFO studies is replete with all manner of outrageous and quite frankly crazy claims that lack any real kind of concrete evidence to support them.  These wild accounts dilute the true science and investigation going on regarding UFOs, thus causing as many problems as snobby journalism.  But a few wild claims should not negate those with serious evidence behind them.  That would be like saying you hate all rock music just because you heard a song by Journey.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

To catch a black hole


Astronomers are endeavoring to take the first-ever picture of a black hole.

And the way they're attempting to do it is nifty as heck.  We're talking about a virtual telescope the width of the Earth, combining "up to 50 radio telescopes from Taiwan to the Netherlands to the South Pole" into what's being called "The Event Horizon telescope."  The system will attempt to outline the enormous black hole that is thought to be at the center of our galaxy.  This is a big deal for space science.

A quote from one of the lead astrophysicists on the project really puts things into perspective for me: "A couple of years ago, this was science fiction. Now it's becoming a reality."
Nothing could be truer.  I'm old enough to remember when black holes were merely a theory in astronomy.  Now they are almost a certainty and we're on the cusp of actually seeing one.  Potentially, we may even see the swirl of charged gas, dust, and other matter as it enters the black hole. You'll almost be able to feel your skin tingle from the heat at a safe distance.  I don't know if that's true, but wouldn't it be cool if it were?

What is gleaned from this imagery might go well beyond the "ooo and ahhh" factor and have repercussions for Einstein's general theory of relativity.  The image outline of the black hole will come in piecemeal from all of the different telescopes and be assembled into one coherent form.  If the final image of the black hole is perfectly circular, then all works in line with what Einstein predicted.  If it is more elliptical or otherwise shaped, then there must be flaws in Einstein's theory at various points.  

Far sweeping implications aside, I'm just eager for the images.  I also keep coming back to that quote of "A couple of years ago, this was science fiction. Now it's becoming a reality." 
Funny how that seems to happen.

If it's awesome photos from space that you're after and you can't wait the three or so years it will probably take to get that outline imagery of the black hole, then take a look at this.  MSNBC posted a photoblog of the area of the Eagle Nebula known as "the Pillars of Creation."  After taking a look at the pics, you'll see how it gets its name.  Breathtaking.



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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA on a ropa




It came as no surprise to anyone who really uses the Internet.

Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing, they all went down for the day.  Even Google draped itself black while remaining operable.  All of it a symbolic gesture of opposition to House legislation known as SOPA—Stop Online Privacy Act and its Senate equivalent, PIPA—Protect IP Act.

The idea behind the bills introduced to Congress isn’t terribly oppressive.  It stems mainly from media companies who want to protect their property.  Any rational person, especially those of us in the creative arts, can surely appreciate wanting to protect the fruits of their labors.  The problem lies with the way in which the bills were written, including sweeping powers and vague wording.  Ripe soil for the Law of Unintended Consequences to take root and grow.  Here are a few features of SOPA that Rebecca McKinnon outlined in The New York Times:

“The bills would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial. The House version goes further, allowing private companies to sue service providers for even briefly and unknowingly hosting content that infringes on copyright — a sharp change from current law, which protects the service providers from civil liability if they remove the problematic content immediately upon notification. The intention is not the same as China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship, but the practical effect could be similar.”

In The New Yorker, Nicholas Thompson cites how status updates are handled in India as an example of this aforementioned effect.  Imagine updating your status on Facebook and receiving “Hold on while we review this status update to make sure that it doesn’t include an unauthorized clip from ‘The Artist.’”

This is not a good idea, folks.  In fact, it’s just another case of legislators and their staff cobbling together a bill without fully understanding the subject it entails.  My brothers Dr. Rich and Ahab Pope both posted this YouTube clip of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) putting quite succinctly what the problem is as he compares the legislation to doing surgery on a body without a doctor present to show where all the organs sit.  Chaffetz ends by saying, "bring in the nerds."  I'm truly heartened by his statements, both in that there is great leadership coming from a young person and a measured, well-reasoned response from a Republican, proving to me that there are plenty of sane and intelligent individuals in that political party. 
Both opposition and support for SOPA and PIPA come from all shades of the political spectrum but as always it’s interesting to follow the money.  One of the main proponents of SOPA is Texas Rep. Lamar Smith.  The top contributors to him as a candidate have been from the entertainment industry.

Like many other issues of our day, this one has been spun into a story of polarizing dissonance.  “Big Money versus persnickety and whiny cyberpunks” or the like.  “The Internet has gone dark” headlines proclaimed of today, even the majority of sites are still up and functioning just fine.  Twitter users have been speaking out in droves against SOPA over the past few days.  The one lone dissenter against the crowd that I have seen came from @rupertmurdoch.  Is anybody surprised by that?

As usual, the truth lies in the middle.  Someone who creates something, whether it is written, drawn, or what have you, has the right to protect it.  No question. 
There just has to be a smarter and more practical way to do it than SOPA.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jim Starlin


There is much to recommend about a Midwest winter.

Granted, snow and extreme cold might not be your bag but consider what those meteorological events might cause as a side effect.  A lot of time indoors.  A lot of time spent with comic books and science fiction.  That's what got my brother and I through many a season.

So I don't know if it's the snow that so recently fell or the fact that it will be six degrees tonight (as Ahab says, "That's not a temperature...that's a shoe size!") but I've chosen to devote a series of future blog posts to comic books with a science fiction bent to them.  I know that I've done a few posts of this nature before but this time around, I want the posts to focus on individual titles and devote the writing time to them that I did not afford earlier.  I thought that I would kick off the series with post about my favorite writer in the science fiction genre of comic books.

Jim Starlin has been in the comic book industry for quite a while now both as an artist and a writer.  While he has written characters in almost every milieu, Starlin is best known for sweeping epics of space opera and characters with cosmic-level powers.  That alone is enough to draw me in but Starlin has an added dimension to his work that truly resonates with me in that his stories often deal with religion and spirituality.

What is God?  Or what defines "a god?"  When a character has massive power, what are the responsibilities and choices with this power?  We saw a considerable amount of this in his pivotal, dare I say, masterpiece work with Adam Warlock for Marvel Comics.  Warlock...and I will blog about this character and storyline in greater detail in the future...was a powerful messiah figure who was prone to existential crisis.  This character went on to play an integral role in Starlin's three sprawling miniseries of Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War, and Infinity Crusade.  An interesting aside to that last miniseries, the dramatis personae was split between those with faith and those without.  While I'm not certain exactly how well it sold, this was certainly my favorite series of the three.  Thematically, anyway.

Starlin's other major accomplishment was the revitalization of Captain Marvel, culminating in his landmark graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel.  By working through Captain Marvel, Starlin established what essentially became the cosmology of the Marvel Universe and it stands to this day.  Again, this character and his title will get his own treatment on the blog, so suffice it to say for now that in my humble opinion, Captain Marvel can stand shoulder to shoulder with Marvel's other science fiction characters such as Warlock and Silver Surfer.  Starlin also created the character of Dreadstar for Marvel offshoot line of Epic Comics.

Over at DC Comics, Starlin was responsible for co-creating the Superman villain, Mongul, a character that plagued The Man of Steel on numerous occasions.  Starlin also created Hardcore Station (no, it isn't porn) and wrote characters such as Adam Strange and the alate Hawkman.  Both characters will...you guessed it...get their own blog posts.

To be fair, Starlin has written and drawn several other characters and books, including a stint on Batman that featured the now infamous four-part storyline, "A Death in the Family."  But for my money, nobody does a space epic like Jim Starlin.  It's not just entertaining stories, it's engaging fiction.  He's going to challenge you to think as you read, maybe even rattle a few of your beliefs and cause you to reconsider them or at the very least examine them more closely.  That, in any medium, is the mark of a good writer.



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Monday, January 16, 2012

Quantum computing is here...in a way


Ahhh quantum computers.  That carrot that has been dangled in front of the tech world's nose for a while now.

Imagine a machine that can not only make calculations that current computers would find impossible but one that can carry them out in milliseconds.  Quantum computers eschew the oh so pedestrian notion of binary data utilized by digital computers for quibits, data packets and operations based on quantum mechanics...which I don't even pretend to understand.  But I've read that as it pertains to computing, the idea is to implement read/write devices that use photons.  In light (no pun intended) of these wondrous by still unproven prospects, you can imagine the skeptical eyebrows that were raised when Lockheed paid a company called D-Wave $10 million for a quantum computer operating on a 128-qubit chip.  But wait!  There's more!  D-Wave alleges that they now have a 512-qubit chip but nobody has seen anything of it yet as tests are still ongoing.

As you might imagine, the military is eager to get on board with this new wave.  Popular Science reports that the Air Force have been experimenting with quantum computers composed of holograms.  The holograms reportedly render the photons into a much more stable and therefore more malleable state.  By all accounts, this work is very much still in its incipient stages.  That also tends to cast a bit of doubt on D-Wave's claims but who's to say?

It appears that the key to true quantum computers will be nanotechnology.  As if on cue, a team of researchers from three different universities announced last week that they had succeeded in creating a fundamental piece of nanotechnology: a wire that is only four atoms wide and one atom high and conducts electricity just like any regular-size copper wire.  Sort of makes you want to throw all your current technology in the trash and just wait for the new line, doesn't it?  I'm kidding.

Whenever I read of developments such as this, my thoughts always leap beyond the conventional towards the more lofty.  To me, this isn't just the promise of faster computations or better cryptography, it's an open door towards artificial intelligence.  Granted not everyone is excited about the idea of a perspicacious computer that can think for itself, but I'm fascinated with the potential for AI. 

That is until it assumes control of all of our defense systems and calls itself SkyNet.


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Can't get there from here




A perennial point that SETI seems to bring up in relation to extraterrestrials is that there is just no way to get here from there or vice versa.

The distances between stars are unthinkably vast, the energy required for such a journey would be equally so, the speed of light is a constant, the time required to reach even the nearest star (25 trillion miles away) let alone an outrance star system is many times more than that of a human lifetime, and so on and so forth.  I do not dispute any of this but something about discounting the notion of interstellar travel disquiets me.

I believe we're looking at the issue from a sort of esoteric myopia when it comes to the universe, namely our own levels of technology and understanding.  There is much that we don't know and there are many times when our own preconceived notions have been overturned.  Among these latter points have been flight, breaking the sound barrier, and even (relatively) simple space travel between here and the Moon.  What else haven't we considered?  What are our assumed barriers keeping us from?  There are scientists who are beginning to consider the speed of gravity as being well above that of the speed of light.  What if propulsion could be achieved through the generation of gravity?  That would drastically cut down the amount of fuel needed for movement.  Admittedly the means and energy needed to bring about such a thing is undetermined.  Another alternative is the notion of using the gravity of your destination to pull you across space, "folding" or "warping" the distance.  Sound like TV?  Well DARPA, the research arm of The Pentagon, must not entirely think so.  Earlier in the year, they offered half a million dollars as seed money to the best idea for making interstellar travel possible.  That's a fair pile of coin to be tossing around for pipe dream notions.

Again, just because we haven't found a way to do it doesn't mean someone else hasn't.  Look at the varying levels of technology right here on our own world.  Just because pygmy bushman lack the opportunity, the resources, or the specialized know-how to build a rocket does not preclude other nations from doing it.
So is interstellar travel either impossible or impractical?  Yes...from our limited point of view.


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Saturday, January 14, 2012

January Hodge Podge


Ahh hodge podge.  What I resort to when I have nothing in mind to write about or I haven't spent enough time reading up on a topic to feel comfortable blogging about it.

In this case it's the latter.  You see, the day sort of got away from me. 
Remember from yesterday's post where I mentioned falling asleep while reading?  I thought reading in the afternoon sun would be a remedy for that.  Snow finally stopped falling yesterday and we've got about seven inches on the ground outside.  The temperature fell to zero last night and today's high was only in the upper teens.  Good day to stay inside and read.  The NFL playoffs were on and that lends itself to the great indoors as well.

After securing pizza bellow the hatches, I got in front of the TV, wrapped myself in a blanket, and picked up my book while the game began.  That's when it happened.
My dog Butterscotch jumped up onto me and curled herself into a ball on my chest.  A cozy feeling on a real winter's day.  Yet it has its drawbacks.
Look at the elements involved here: full stomach, warmth, cushion, reclined posture.  Yep.  I was a goner.  "I'm just going to close my eyes for a bit."  That was my desinence.  I woke up just in time to see a back and forth throwdown in the last minutes of 49ers/Saints game.

I do have glasses.  They are supposed to help fight off the sleepy feeling that arises while reading.  They're also coated with anti-glare film for computer use.  I'm wearing the glasses right now as I type.  However, for the glasses to actually be helpful for reading, I should probably wear them while reading.  There's a thought.  Yep.  Need to work on that.

Musically, I've been on a real heavy metal kick for the past two weeks.  Today, I find myself getting back to what I typically listen to.  Here's the current playlist:

R.E.M.--"Discoverer"
10,000 Maniacs--"These Are The Days"
The Smiths--"Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before"
Tears For Fears--"Head Over Heels"
Talking Heads--"Take Me To The River"


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Friday, January 13, 2012

From the "To-Read" pile...


Every once and again, I go through my books and look over what I have yet to read.

As I have no doubt explained before, I read for a while on lunch and just before I go to bed.  In that evening session, I usually get about three pages in before finding the book on my stomach, a viscous trail of drool down my chin, and the sun coming in through the window.  Excuses excuse, I know.  It's all a matter of gumption.  So to encourage myself to read faster...or to at least read during semi-waking hours...I sometimes leaf through the books I have on the horizon.   Here are two science fiction books that I've been spending time with tonight.

The Forge of God by Greg Bear.  One of Jupiter's moons suddenly disappears.  A previously unknown cinder cone is found in Death Valley.  A mountain rises out of Australia that wasn't there six months ago.  There are unidentified objects headed towards Earth.  And oh yes, there are aliens involved.  It's the end of the world as we haven't known it before.

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson.  Three teenagers witness a shield form around the Earth, blocking us off from the rest of the universe.  The book follows the different lives that these three pursue after that fateful day when a time discontinuity encapsulated our world wherein we see time passing normally while 300 billion years go by outside.  One will become a doctor, another a scientist hellbent on unraveling what happened to the Earth, and the last a religious fanatic.  And oh yes, there are aliens involved here too.

Those are certainly tantalizing enough to inspire speedier reading.


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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Space bits


A veritable cavalcade of the finest photographs from space telescopes was featured in a photoblog on MSNBC.com.  The collection was released at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society this week. 

 The first photo that you'll see after clicking the link is of the star-forming region of space known as Cygnus X.  Spectacular colors, almost giving the photo the bonny impression of a watercolor painting.  But it's real, all out there in space.  Stars show up as blue dots, gas and dust are the reds and greens.  Hot white or yellow areas are where stars are forming.  Take a look at the rest of the photos, it's worth the couple minutes it will take.

Also in the news astronomy-wise, the same gathering of astronomers mentioned above featured the staggering announcement that our galaxy is home to an estimated 100 billion planets.  That's right.  Billion with a "B."  That means nearly every star you see in the night sky has planets orbiting it.  What's more, many of these planets may orbit two stars in a binary system a la Tatooine.  As invariably occurs, there's always someone who responds to such a figure with "how do they know that?"  Here's what the linked article says:

"To estimate the number of other worlds, Dr. Cassan and his colleagues studied 100 million stars between 3,000 and 25,000 light-years from Earth with gravitational microlensing. The technique uses distant light amplified by the gravity of a massive star or planet to create an astronomical magnifying lens. Then they combined their findings with earlier surveys, which used other detection techniques, to create a statistical sample of stars and the planets that orbit them, which they say is representative of the galaxy."

I know that my age will be showing with this comment but it amazes me to stop and contemplate the fact that when I was just in my teens, the idea of extrasolar planets was mere theory.  No one had ever seen one for certain.  Now, you can't go anywhere in the galaxy without tripping over them. Indeed, our own solar system does appear to be quite so unique but rather standard and run-of-the-mill as things go in the cosmos.  I find that rather encouraging.

One other small bit of trivia from article, one of the tallest mountains in the solar system is not on any planet.  It's on the asteroid Vesta that made its close approach to Earth not all that long ago. 


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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Energy Movement




I came across an energy organization online, one of which I was previously unaware.  I have to say I like what I’m reading.

They are called the New Energy Movement.  As the name implies, they are a collective of thinkers who are dedicated to studying and supporting the enterprise of clean and sustainable energy sources.  Taken from their site:

“We recognize that the single most highly-leveraged opportunity for advancement towards solving our complex global problems lies in a transformation of the way human civilization generates and utilizes energy. We intend to lead humanity toward an enhanced economy and society made possible by exciting scientific advances in New Energy research and development. Our primary task is to encourage intelligent public debate and action on how best to accelerate these advances, making a rapid transition away from our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power.”

The founder of the Movement was the late Dr. Brian O’Leary.  Dr. O’Leary was an astrophysicist and an astronaut for NASA and was certainly no stranger to free thinking.  He was often open about “alternative” subjects, such as his own near-death experience and practices in remote viewing.  He engaged in what were perceived as unorthodox ideas, such as the correlation between science and consciousness.  His integral involvement with the New Energy Movement made me wonder if there might have been further motivations behind the group’s formation…not that saving the world from harmful, wasteful fossil fuels isn’t grandiose enough.

I wonder if he might have envisioned this program as leading to possible engines for practical space travel?  Looking through the other people who worked with The New Energy Movement, I came across the name Dr. Steven M. Greer.  Greer is the founder of The Orion Project, another collective working towards clean, sustainable energy.  Additionally, he is well known in the UFO community as someone who has devoted a great deal of time and thought towards the concept of extraterrestrial intelligence and even founded CSETI (Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence).  His presence furthers my speculation that space travel might have been an additional or bonus outcome intended for the New Energy Movement.

Regardless, I’m just pleased that there is an organization like this out there.  Someone needs to lead the way.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Corporations are corporations so why should it be?


On this night, as Mitt Romney wins the New Hampshire Republican Primary, it might be fitting for us to take a look at one of his most famous (infamous?) quotes:

"Corporations are people, my friend."

Romney said that in response to a heckler at a speaking engagement.  At first blush, the statement is both pithy and pompous but it does bear closer examination, especially since there appears to be a fair contingent that believes it.  This article I found does a fair job of hashing things out.

The article begins with a few very valid points.  First off, of course corporations don't exist in a vacuum.  They employ multitudes of people and that alone has far reaching implications.  Secondly, when the US Constitution was written, there were very few corporations in existence so the Founders probably didn't have major, multinational, "zaibatsus" in mind at the time.  Therefore, we must proceed from the standpoint that if corporations are indeed people, then they are subject to the Constitution like any other people within these borders.

As it continues, I believe that the article does a fair job of just how the "corporations are people" shield begins to break down and the author seems to center their argument on the idea of the public trust and what is in the interest of the whole.  A corporation does not care about such things.  They may claim to, but they don't.  Why would they?  The entity's number one aim is to make money.  All else becomes secondary and the entity, especially the entity's head, will do whatever it takes to meet that end.  Influence legislative process, alter the political process, it's all fair game. 

Before the baggers and the fundies get out their Bibles and flags, I'm not against corporations per se.  Of course people have a right to create, market, and make a profit on a product.  It just shouldn't been done in manner that harms the rest of society.  How much profit does one actually need?  If corporations are people, they should be expected to follow laws.  If they don't and become harmful to the greater whole, they are removed.
In fact, the best answer I've heard for this whole question is this:"I'll believe corporations are people when the state of Texas executes one."

I don't know.  It just seems that such a statement as Romney's is a convenient shield to duck behind and excuse...well, almost anything.  It's a dodge.  A pat answer that will soon lose its meaning to anyone who can think critically.  Using the phrase will be like exploiting patriotism to further a war or hurling accusations of socialism whenever someone can't make that extra hundred mil.


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Monday, January 9, 2012

Abstract expressionism my @%$!




It should come as no surprise that I like the weird.  I also like art.
Lucky for me…and all of you…this story combines both.

Last week in Colorado, a woman damaged a painting by artist Clyfford Still that was worth 30 million dollars.  Officials at the Clyfford Still art gallery claim that the damages totaled about ten grand.  And how did she manage to cause this damage?  By rubbing her bare ass against the art.
Additionally, the woman then attempted to urinate upon the painting but missed.  The painting can likely be restored as long as the canvas itself was not pierced. 

The woman, Carmen Tisch, was arrested and held on $20,000 bond.  No motive for her ass rubbing and attempted urination upon the art has been given apart from the fact that she was drunk at the time.  So what gives?  I’ve got a few shirttail theories:

-If you click the link to the original news story above, you’ll see a mugshot of Ms. Tisch.  She’s all inked up and got a lot of metal shit in her face.  Perhaps she’s a performance artist?  A Dadaist of sorts, a Dali by way of Sid Vicious?   Maybe her actions at the art gallery are meant to be a higher statement on society, art, or both?  An artistic act of pure heterotelic value, the meaning of which we won’t know until long from now?

-She’s against all forms of abstract expressionism.  She’s…I won’t go so far as to say “terrorist” but perhaps an “Occupier”…striking down physical manifestations of the form in order to prove a point and save the art world for the truly avant garde and “alternative.”

-She loves abstract expressionism but feels that Jackson Pollock is the art movement’s one, true representative.  All other such painters are mere posers and their work must be destroyed.  This is sort of like the art world’s version of a 1991 smackdown by a Slayer fan on a guy in a Poison t-shirt.

-Perhaps she is a “scent artist?”  I don’t know if such artists exist, I’m just waxing free and associated right now.  Something is embellished upon or artistically augmented by a scent or an odor.  Now, this painting just smells like that woman’s ass.

-She was just drunk and did something dumb.  Haven’t we all?

Discuss.


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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Stephen Hawking


Today is the 70th birthday of Dr. Stephen Hawking, quite possibly the smartest person alive.

I'm saddened to hear that he missed his own birthday celebration due to further complications of his illness.  In a recorded speech for the gathering, he again urged human colonization of space.  "I don't think we will survive another thousand years without escaping beyond our fragile planet," he said.

"So what's this guy ever done for us?" the Kip Haggis-types of the intellectual vacuum that is America might ask.  Well, let's take a look.  While the rest of us indulged in profligacy, he completely revolutionized our idea of how galaxies are formed and delved into the quantum nature of gravity.  He was the first to demonstrate how quantum fluctuations, the tiny variations in the distribution of matter, cause the rise and spread of galaxies across the universe.  More than that, there is probably no other scientist who has contributed more to the understanding of the exact hows and whys of black holes.  He has defined for us concepts such as "event horizon," "gravitational singularity," and "wave function of the universe."  For decades now, he has done all of this while confined to a wheelchair and speaking through an electronic voice due to his affliction with ALS.  Talk about perseverance.  And just what is any of that worth?  To quote Dr. Hawking himself: "If you understand how the universe operates, you control it in a way."

Despite all of his groundbreaking theories and discoveries, there is one universal conundrum that Hawking has not been able to crack:  "Women. They are a complete mystery," he said.

You're not alone in that, Steve.  Wherever you are, I hope that the year ahead will be one of prosperity and good health.




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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Anniversary of the Mantell incident




Today is the anniversary of what was once thought as a striking event in UFO phenomenon.  January 7th, 1948 is the day on which Army pilot Thomas Mantell lost his life in pursuit of a UFO.

I have been reading The Truth About Flying Saucers by Aime Michel.  Though published in the 1950s, Michel does an admirable job of objectively going through significant UFO reports and analyzing them.  Often in the book, Michel attacks the UFO identifications proposed by Donald Menzel, which were oftentimes more ludicrous than the notion of alien visitation.  Michel included an entire section on the Mantell incident.  Sadly, I have misplaced my copy of the book and have chosen instead to use a report on the incident written by Kevin Randle (you can get a PDF version of the source in the "Notes" section of the Wikipedia article on Mantell.)

The incident unfolded as Godman Army Airfield (this was prior to the formal formation of the US Air Force) in Kentucky received a call from the State Police reporting a UFO over the area.  The object was described as saucer shaped and moving at a steady speed.  The information was brought to the base's commander and intelligence officer, Guy F. Hix.  He was unable to identify the object.  Meanwhile, sightings of the UFO kept pouring in from the region.

A flight of F-51 Mustangs was directed to pursue (this fighter aircraft is the same type as the venerable P-51 Mustang from World War II.  After the war, the aircraft was given an "F" designation for "fighter" rather than "P" for "pursuer.")  Capt. Thomas Mantell was the leader of this flight.  He and his wingmen began an enormous climb to 15,000 feet after the object.  Mantell radioed the tower that he had in sight an object that was  "metallic and it is tremendous in size."  One of Mantell's wingmen described the UFO as looking "like an ice cream cone," meaning it was rounded at the top and tapered to a point at the bottom.  A red light at the top furthered the comparison, the "cherry" if you will.

At the time, the military required oxygen gear for any flying over 14,000 feet.  One of the wingmen encountered a breakdown in his oxygen equipment and therefore returned to base.  Other wingmen broke off the chase as the object continued to ascend.  Though his own plane was not outfitted with oxygen equipment, Mantell continued to climb after the UFO.  After half an hour total of pursuit, all radar and radio contact with Mantell was lost.  Fearing the worst, a search immediately commenced for the pilot.

They found him.  His body was inside the cockpit of his F-51 that crashed into a rural region about half a mile outside of Franklin, Kentucky...the town in which Mantell was born, coincidentally enough.

So what are we to make of this?  Was this an early incident of aerial battle between our military and a UFO?  If not, then what was it that Mantell chased to his eventual demise?  Kevin Randall, along with UFO researchers such as Jerome Clark, seem to have it figured out and sadly, I must concur with them.

The object was likely a balloon, more specifically a Skyhook balloon.  These were balloons launched to high altitudes to study meteorology, the atmosphere, and even the Sun and cosmic rays.  Yeah yeah, I know...the old "weather balloon" explanation.  Cliche not withstanding, such balloons were the culprits of many UFO sightings in the early days of the modern UFO era.  When these balloons reached higher altitudes, the change in pressure tended to flatten them out a bit, giving them an almost saucer-like appearance or more specifically, a look akin to an "ice cream cone."  Such balloons also had red beacon lights at their tops.  So the most likely explanation is that Mantell pursued a balloon and pushed himself and his aircraft far beyond the flight envelope to where he passed out from low levels of oxygen.  His plane then went into a power dive and crashed outside of Franklin.

This all makes for a tidy explanation and I agree that it is the most likely one.  It does seem odd to me, however, that Hix, the head of base intelligence, could not identify the object as a Skyhook balloon.  Neither, it would seem, could anyone else.  I'm not saying that this equates to "alien UFO," especially not in light of the evidence.  It's just interesting how even qualified experts can be fooled sometimes.  Yet any way you look at it, it's still a sad story.  Someone lost their life as a result.



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Thursday, January 5, 2012

UFO or UAV?


These are difficult times for UFO investigators.

Advancements in technology, particularly software packages such as Photoshop and Final Cut, have made it terribly easy to do a fair job of faking a UFO photograph or video.  One of my Facebook friends demonstrated this fact just yesterday.  He took a photograph of an airliner in the sky from the vantage point of someone looking up and watching it fly overhead.  He then layered in a cluster of 1950s era saucers.  Only upon closely inspecting the photo could one see the differences in lighting and pixelation that render it a hoax.  Yes it has become much easier to fool people, much to the petty gasconade of the lantern-lighting crowd.

Now there is a new conundrum: UAV drones.  Not to be confused with UFO.  If you don't know by now, the acronym UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.  Military and even law enforcement agencies get quite a bit of use out of them, handling missions ranging from intelligence gathering to outright combat.  These aircraft are often triangular or batwinged in shape and they create very little noise.  This is quite the cocktail formula for a "false positive" UFO report.  More so than that, at least one MUFON investigator thinks that UAV drone flights might be a danger to aerospace in general.

Robert Powell from MUFON recently investigated two separate UFO sightings in the Dallas area of Texas last fall.  Both sightings were of a formation of triangular shaped craft moving at speeds in excess of 200 mph.  The most interesting feature about these UFOs was that they were illuminated solely by a diffusion of ground light as they traveled from north to south.  That's right.  No navigation lights.

“What bothers me is, if these are drones, they’re flying into civilian air space without navigational lights,” Powell says. “So far as I’ve been able to tell, there aren’t any procedures in place that address this issue.”

The article linked above discusses an incident over Afghanistan where an RQ-170 UAV drone collided in mid-air with a military cargo plane.  Obviously not good.

I'm not ready to call UAV drones a bad thing.  Not by a long shot.  They've proven their worth in military application and they prevent having to place a human pilot or other operative in harm's way.  But this is a new technology.  There are going to be bugs that need working out.  I, like MUFON, just hope that it doesn't take a serious airline disaster to bring this issue to the fore.

It's also rather peeving that there is now just one more thing in the skies for people to misinterpret as a UFO.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Uploading minds: not just science fiction anymore




Socrates at Singularity-1-on-1 has done an interview with Dr. Randal Koene, the neuroscientist who co-founded both Carbon Copies and the Neural Engineering Corporation of Massachusetts.  You can watch or listen to the entire interview here.  The topic of discussion was, among other things, the transhuman notion of uploading the human mind.

Transhuman enthusiasts have both anticipated and hoped for such an idea to come of age.  Often times it seemed that as cybernetics advanced, the technology to perform the act was well on its way, however the necessary knowledge of just how the brain works was lacking.  Both required subjects of knowledge and technology may be on their way towards equilibrium.

Koene’s goal is whole brain emulation, large scale and high-resolution representations and emulations of working neural pathways.  As you might expect, there are several ethical and philosophical questions that come about when considering this activity, questions that are quite familiar to transhumanists.  One of the areas that the interview ventured into was if you upload your brain or create a copy of it in the form of an emulation and then make successive copies, who has more rights?  The original or the copies?  Is copy number one more entitled to life than copy number five? 
Koene wisely answers this question with another question: is the copy really you?  He cites the work of Max More in saying that the answer lies in how abrupt the differences are between you and the copy.  Additionally, Koene points out that when questions like these arise in the face of emergent technology, humans have a tendency to act as if we’ve never before faced such things.  In fact, the questions are typically very old ones only clothed as something new.  The question of who lives and who dies has been around for a very long time.

As gung-ho as I have been about cybernetic enhancement or placing my mind in an indestructible…or at least very durable and not prone to illness…container, this is not entirely what I had in mind.  A copy of myself doesn’t really do me much good from the way I see it.  I want to extend and enhance myself, not duplicate it.


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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Oh it's Iowa again



It seems another election year is upon us.  If you are politically active or if you just regard politics as a spectator sport, this will be like having year-long NFL playoffs. 

That is if you can detach yourself enough to be entertained by the competition without realizing that one of these guys is going to be our next president.  Yes, I'm including Obama in that crowd.
I am just completely unimpressed by this year's crop of would-be political leaders.  It's all the same to me, like one big flesh-toned blur of bodies and voices wrapped in American flags and in a few cases waving crosses, crying out about how awful Obama is and how they never want to pay taxes again...or something like that.  Yes they're pretty adept at bashing the current president.  Oh if only they were so handy at offering their own solutions to the situations that Obama has supposedly wrecked.  In the interest of fairness, he hasn't done the greatest job, IMHO, but I'm not hearing any of the others say what they would do differently.  Except for perhaps Mitt Romney who would no doubt spend his White House years beaming his Ken doll grin and saying "it'd be much worse if Obama were here."  Then maybe he'd "create jobs" by laying off thousands of people as he once did. 

Yeah, we've got about another ten months of sniping back and forth, of political attack ads, and the average American asking themselves, "which one of these schmucks is going to lie to me the least?"  Oh sure, you'll have your zealots at either end of the spectrum.  You'll have Tea Party types who want the most conservative white man in the room and you'll have bongo drumming, pot-smoking types who will support Obama no matter what comes out of the Oval Office.  But most of us will be making our selections based on what's offered us from the two major parties...two parties that both lie about and smear the other.  Then there's religion.  Oh yes, don't forget about religion.  There is still that strong political audience that votes based on which candidate is the most Christian...or failing that, perhaps who is the least Muslim...and committing all manner of solecism in announcing their intent.  So much for America being an all-inclusive entity of race, spirituality, and ideas.

As of right now, the returns from Iowa show Mitt Romney in a virtual tie with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul running up close behind them.   A pity.  Newt's actually come off as the sanest of the bunch recently.  Did I just write that? 
I suppose I'm just sour over the extreme likelihood that Romney will get the nomination.  The man really shouldn't bother me.  He is, as alluded to above, a politician just like Obama and all of the others.  But there's something about this guy.  Something extra phony, plastic, fake, and...well, Ken doll-like.  It's almost like he's a Republican version of a Kardashian.*
Well settle in, folks.  It's going to be a long year and we can't be certain what things will look like by the end of it all...except very much the same as they are now.


*For an interesting and hilarious take on the Kardashians, check out Wil Wheaton's appearance on The Nerdist Year in Review.  He's a bit vitriolic for my tastes and makes a comparison that I wouldn't but he's essentially correct.  Why bother trying to create art and to add to the world when you can make millions as a worthless reality star who is famous for...???????
Oh yeah that's right.  A sex tape.


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Monday, January 2, 2012

Comments policy


I am starting off the New Year with a post that I should have made long ago.

Last fall, I made it possible for readers to comment anonymously to posts.  I have had to delete a few, albeit very few I am happy to report.  What follows is my criteria for publishable comments:

1) I will delete any comments that are rude, crude, profane, ad hominem, condescending, or pejorative towards me or anyone else who comments on the blog.  Think of it this way: you're in my house.  You speak that way towards me or one of my friends or guests, I'm going to ask you to leave.  Simple as that.  What qualifies as such a comment?  I'm afraid I'm going with the Supreme Court definition of pornography: I know it when I see it.  Not fair?  Neither is life.  Not by a long stretch.

2) I will delete any comments that are rambling, incoherent, have weak concepts of spelling and grammar, or look like you've written them after your sixth beer.  Think of it this way: I'm protecting you from embarrassing yourself.

3) I will delete any spam comments that are nothing more than a weak attempt to promote your blog, book, product, et. al.  Self promotion is okay to a point but you must make a relevant contribution to the thread of the post.  Any attempt to forcibly truss the subject at hand to your product that you are shilling will only make you look like a used car salesman.

4) I will delete any comments that are off-topic.  For example, if the post and the discussion are centered around radar returns during the 1952 Washington D.C. UFO flap and you say, "nothing was ever caught on radar during the 2006 Chicago O'Hare sighting," then you will be deleted.  Why?  Here.  Enjoy.

5) I will not delete a comment just because I don't agree with it.  If you go through the nearly two years of posts on the blog, you will find comments by readers who don't see things the same way that I do.  David is a great example of this.  That's great.  Part of looking for the answers to these sorts of things is open discussion.  Disagree all you want, I just ask that you please do it respectfully.

6) I make the rules.  This is not a democracy.  The Internet is a deep and wide expanse of free speech (for now) for you to explore.  If you don't like the way things are run in this microscopic corner of the World Wide Web, I encourage you to head elsewhere in search of what you seek.

So basically just respect me, respect each other, and let's have a good time.  Thanks!


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