Thursday, October 31, 2013

M83 trilogy

EDITORIAL NOTE: Tonight marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo.  I'm going to be busy for the next month so posts might be a bit thin and rushed on the writing.

M83 is bringing video back.

I miss the era of the early 1980s when music videos were essentially short films.  Yeah, yeah, go on.  Sure they look cheesy now, yet when I compare them to plain videos of bands miming their song against a backdrop or hip hoppers with bling, sports cars, half naked women, and lyrics amounting to "I'm all up in da club," then "Hungry Like the Wolf" looks positively cinematic.  Not to mention a better Indiana Jones entry a la Raiders of the Lost Ark than the film, but I digress...

The band M83 is making a return to this format.  They have a trilogy of music videos that share a narrative thread (as for the music, I would describe them as a heavy synth band, perhaps somewhere between Depeche Mode and Muse.  I whole-heartedly recommend checking out their sound.)   The story is "shake and serve" winner that is almost tailor made for Esoteric Synaptic Events.  Here's the first installment, "Midnight City."

Now let me tell you, if I could have any superpower it would be telekinesis.  You know, be able to move objects through thoughts alone?  The kids in this video have those abilities in no short amount.  Yes, this is a popular trope in fiction, one of "youngsters with special abilities" but let's watch this play out.  They stay in a boarding house and one would be forgiven if they mistook it for Xavier's School.  Yet as the video plays on, we get the sense that the kids aren't that happy to be there.  Perhaps they are kept against their will?  Why yes, they are.  So they do what any kid with TK powers would do, they gather all the teen titans, enact a plan to "bust outta this joint," and "move like they've never moved before" (how many more comic book cliches can I toss in?) So with the glowing eyes of the kids from Village of the Damned, the tikes escape to an abandoned warehouse where they begin to test and hone their powers.

I know that I just made a comparison to another film, but I'm going to say that this video has much more to do with Akira than anything else.  In fact I think M83 says as much, but I can't find the link right now.  Anyway, Akira is a fine work of anime and if you haven't seen it already and you enjoy cyberpunk stories about telekinetic kids (and come on, who doesn't?), check it out with all due haste.

But I digress...

Next in the series is "Reunion." Here's where things start to get tough for the kids.   We see that the shadowy authority figures that ran the boarding school have not overlooked the kids' escape.  In a sequence reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, espionage-like "spooks" in unmarked surveillance vans track the rogue telekinetics down.  But these kids can give every bit as good as they can get and with quite a bit of phantasmagorical force, too.  Just watch what happens to the motor vehicles involved.

Finally, we have "Wait." This is where I must confess that the narrative thread begins to break down for me.  Suddenly we find ourselves in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic reality and things happen that just don't seem to make any sense.  The production value, however, is quite a bit higher than the trilogy's previous installments.  That fact, however, does not precisely equate to quality (remind you of any other movie franchises?)

Musically, "Wait" also happens to be the weakest M83 song for me out of the three.  "Reunion" has a wonderful, airy beginning the brings up memories of the best Simple Minds songs and then heads into a disco bounce.  Nothing wrong with that at all, plus there's a "sexy woman" voiceover during the bridge.  But for my money, the best song out of the trilogy is "Midnight City." It's a wonderful piece of beautifully harsh techno.  I'll never forget hearing it on a night this past July as I drove up I-294.  I brought the windows down, turned the radio up, and just soaked it all into my pores.


Oh yeah, forgot.  It's Halloween.  Here's a spaceship.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Synthetic life and nanotech

A while back, Coast to Coast AM had Dr. Rosalyn Berne on as a guest.

Dr. Berne is an academic who studies the intersecting points of developing technology, science fiction, and myth.  She discussed such weighty matters as synthetic biology, nanotechnology,and robotics.  The underlying premise of her work is what grabbed me the most: as technology changes, we change.  One does not preclude the other and that's not necessarily a bad thing but it demands examination.

Of the many topics Berne discussed, none intrigued me more than the concept of synthetic biology.  As the phrase implies, this is a form of engineering where material already existing in nature is taken and then altered into an entirely new lifeform.  Why would you do that?  Well, if the new lifeform were completely programmable, then it might have numerous uses for us.  A "living robot" if you're searching for an overly-dramatic moniker.  This kind of engineering has already drawn considerable fire from environmentalists, perhaps not without good reason.  It certainly is a form of technology

She also discussed nanotechnology and I was pleased to hear Berne cite one of my favorite arguments for the devices.  Imagine a horde of robots within your circulatory system.  These "nanobots," "nanites" or whatever term one wishes to call them, lay dormant until something such as a cancer cell arises.  That's when they swarm and attack (I've blogged about this before.)  The upside of this technology is that unlike chemo or many other treatments for cancer and the like, the healthy areas of the body are not damaged in the treatment.  This is a truly surgical strike and it can happen the moment cancer rears its ugly rear in the human body.

Think it sounds crazy?  Well, nanotech is already here.  Berne pointed out that there products presently on the market that carry nano-materials, things such as sunscreens.  Get used to it.

I don't know what it is about it, but as I said earlier, synthetic biology truly intrigues me.  This holds the promise of enormous benefits for many aspects of life, especially biology.  Extending lifespan is good news for anyone looking to dodge their eventual obsequy (like most people) or just wanting to modify or shuck "human" altogether (like me.)

If you fear this technology, take heart!  First we've got to fully develop it and that will depend on the human race surviving long enough to do so.  Climate change may bring about environmental disaster, terrorists could release a bio-weapon, or we might even do ourselves in with a good ol' fashion nuking before we even get to the full use of synthetic lifeforms.   You know, render us to a state like the "real world" in The Matrix?

Then we might be wishing for miniature robots that could put us all back together.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A "freakishly compact" solar system

Sometimes size matters.

Or at the very least, makes a subject unique.  Astronomers have located a solar system consisting of seven planets that is "freakishly compact."  This is something that is thus far an anomaly in space science.  These planets were located by use of Kepler data and the transit method.

All seven planets take up a tight, confined orbit around...get this...a dwarf star that is 2,500 light years from Earth. Just how "tight" and confined are we talking?  Well, the outermost planet has an orbit equivalent to 1 AU (Astronomical Unit, the distance from Earth to the Sun.)  That's tight when you're talking about an entire solar system or at least how we've come to understand them.

Even more interesting is the fact that the system does have its similarities with our own despite its compact structure.  The five innermost planets are terrestrial, meaning they are composed of rock and metals.  The two outermost planets are gas giants not unlike our own Jupiter (though the size may differ.)

This discovery raises a few questions for me and if I had an astronomer handy, I would ask the following:

-Is this a stable design for a solar system?  Is it more prone to flying apart due to an outside influence than a solar system with a model closer to our own?

-We generally assume that habitable planets occupy a zone close to their system's star(s).  Does that mean that systems like this one might be more habitable?  In terms of the terrestrial planets anyway?  Then again, I suppose we cannot rule out life on the gaseous planets.  Of course in those cases we'd likely be talking about lightweight, almost gelatinous lifeforms that drift and roam in the atmosphere.  "Sky amoebas" if you will.  Yes, it's pure speculation but let's cover the bases.

-Speaking of speculation.... If we didn't see this solar system model coming, what other types of system designs could speculatively work?  What other forms of orbital patterns might planets take up around the stars I am just now seeing outside in the crepuscule?

Oh who are we kidding?  This solar system is far too neat and tidy of a construct to be anything naturally occurring.

To quote Giorgio Tsoukalos, "I'm not saying it's aliens, but..."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, October 28, 2013

FFF: Lou

No, today is not Friday.

A Free Form, however, is the best way I can think of to process this loss.  And I don't think I can wait until Friday to write this.  Placing any other subject matter before the mourning of the passing of Lou Reed just doesn't seem right.  It needs to be done and it needs to be done now.

That's just it, though.  So much music, so many memories, so much that was given to the world by Lou Reed.  Where the hell do I start?   
Maybe at the beginning...when I heard the words before I heard the music.

(Damn!  Just listen to Lou spit nails in that song.)

It was 1989 and my friend John brought over the newly released New York album by Lou Reed.  I knew the name.  I had seen him in a photo with Duran Duran in Rolling Stone and wondered who the old man was.  Little did I know.  Then Lou appeared in an MTV 30 second blip between videos as he recited lines from Macbeth's famous "dagger speech" from the eponymous play.  I was reading Macbeth in school at the time and was enthralled.

"Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppress├Ęd brain?"
--William Shakespeare

So here was this hardcore looking dude, hanging with my favorite band, and reciting Shakespeare on MTV.  His voice imparting the sensation of diesel exhaust on a Manhattan street on a night when you should've stayed in but somnambulism brought you out and was a damn good thing you didn't listen to reason.  Yeah, you know what I mean. 
I needed to listen to him.

"Caught between the twisted stars, the plotted lines, the faulty map that brought Columbus to New York."

I began to see that this man was a musician for writers.  He did not sing the lyrics so much as speak the words as poetry.  One could tell that more often than not, he must write his lyrics long before he hears the music.  Lou Reed was a poet.  Pure and simple.

"He tried to weigh his soul to see if it was a poet's soul." --James Joyce

 Just check out this imagery:

Meaning.  Deep meaning and scathing statements on our world. 

Lou with the protesters of Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

He was multi-fathoms deeper than anyone else I was listening to, except perhaps for U2.  There's another band connection.  Lou joined U2 in several Amnesty International shows and did "Satellite of Love" together with them on the ZooTV tour.  Later in life there would be connections to Nine Inch Nails and even William Gibson (who titled his book All Tomorrow's Parties after a Velvet Underground song.)  I began to see that most everyone I listened to, everyone of quality anyway, was influenced in some way by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

Wait, wait, wait...

It's junior year in college and Magic and Loss came around.  If I thought Lou was heavy before, this topped it all.  Fittingly enough, the whole record is about him grieving through the loss of two friends.  Another masterpiece.  He didn't just refuse to fear the reaper on this record.  He kicked, spat, clawed, and eventually shook hands with him.  

"But you can't be Shakespeare and you can't be Joyce
so what is left instead

You're stuck with yourself and a rage that can hurt you
you have to start at the beginning again."

Tell me about it.  No, you weren't either of your favorite poets.  But I'd say you did pretty damn well.

It's a post-Lou world and I'm just trying to live in it.  I've conglomerated the thoughts of numerous other people who are holding their own digital wakes online.  They go something like this...

Lou's not resting.  He's walking.  And you know where.

St. Peter's at the gates, saying "I'm waiting for the man."

None of the music I listen to, none of it that really matters, would even exist without Lou Reed.  No Duran Duran, no U2, no Clash, and the list just goes on.

I wish I could have seen him live on stage.  I wish I could have even just said "thanks."  But now I can't.  So I do this.
And I say "thanks" to John for bringing New York over in that spring of 1989.

As for Lou's worries, there.  It's immortal.

"There's a funeral tomorrow at St. Patrick's.  The bells will ring for you."

Simply one of the greatest musicians in history.  There will never be another.
Damn, I'm sad.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, October 25, 2013

No Moonbase for you

Here is another vivid childhood memory for you.

I found a book in my middle school library that was essentially a collection of paintings, concept art really of what space habitats might look like.  It was rather like this.  There were space stations, settlements on other planets, massive spaceships crossing the void, and even a battle or two.  Most jarring of all to me at that tender age was that the accompanying text was written in the style of a historical account.  I came to hope and believe that a "life in the offworld colonies" (I'm listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack as I type this) would be expected and not hoped for.

Obviously I grew up to find otherwise and this BBC article spares no details in explaining why.  In fact, the author of the article, a man named Philip Ball, seems to take a certain amount of glee in jabbing NASA for "selling dreams" and newspapers for printing "hyperbolic stories" about colonization. The tenor of his piece would suggest a writer with little or no respect for the idea of either exoplanetary colonization or perhaps even any manned spaceflight of anything beyond Earth orbit (and the jury's out on that as well perhaps).  If you're wondering what inspired this post's "Soup Nazi" headline, that would be it.

Whatever the author's motive, the results are the same: establishing a living colony on the Moon might be far more difficult than anyone had originally thought.

There was much excitement about the discovery of water on the Moon a while back.  Its presence would indeed have been a boon to colonization.  It turns out, however, that what water there is would be very difficult to get at as it is in the form of ice mixed in with lunar dust. What is more, the ice that was originally thought to ring the rims of lunar craters is actually white, reflective rock.  It is not unthinkable that there may be pockets of water beneath the Moon's surface, but there is as yet no evidence of that, either.

That does not mean it cannot be done.  It just means that there is more problem solving involved.  True offworld colonies will likely not resemble the ones I saw in that picture book as a child.  In fact, I envision them having an entirely "functional" aesthetic, perhaps even resembling a shantytown of boxy, plastic modules and sheeting.  Or maybe this new data suggests that the Moon really isn't the way to go at all and that space stations are the better alternative.

Either way, colonies and space stations are great settings for fiction.  I'm thinking about a collection of short science fiction stories called Skylife edited by Gregory Benford and George Zebrowski.  I saw it in a used book store last December (already that long ago!) and have always meant to go back and get it.  Its covers house stories by legends such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Joan Vinge, and David Brin. It's these kinds of stories that suggest to me that through the application of creativity, humans can find solutions to the barriers that prevent us from exploring space.

That is...if we want to overcome the barriers.  Personally, I do.  There's not much down here that compares to what's out there in terms of fascination.

At least I haven't seen anything.

For a darkly humorous look at things The Onion reports that NASA pledges "mass shootings on the Moon by 2055."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Comic book heroes Red Sonja and Conan to meet again

They have met before, but fifteen years have gone by.

By popular demand, Dark Horse and Dynamite Comics will team up Conan the Barbarian with Red Sonja once more.  This is welcome news to many fans of the creations Robert E. Howard bequeathed to us, myself not excluded.  More critically, the comic book series will have the crackerjack writing team of Brian Wood and Gail Simone.  Both writers are not only considerable talents in the business, they are well seasoned in writing both characters.  What can we expect other than a sword and sorcery epic?  As Simone puts it:

"It's just a sword-and-sorcery dream come true.  It's sword vs. sword, Cimmerian vs. Hyrkanian, loincloth vs. bikini, and it'll probably be the most fun you'll have reading a comic all year."

Indeed.  I have been able to catch an issue or two of Wood's Conan series and I must say it's most well done.  In fact, only money has kept me from acquiring the trades.  So given the writing team and the iconic characters, this one's pretty much a gimmee in my opinion.  After all, there's just no going wrong with Conan.  Even the old Marvel Comics series is enjoyable.

What can we expect story-wise from the crossover?  In the interview linked above, both writers are rather mum on both the tale and its supporting cast.  What they did express was an urgent desire to avoid the pitfalls of a crossover (a lot of that apprehension going around Dark Horse and Dynamite lately) as well as keeping the story fresh for the times and holding on to newly acquired readers.  In one especially encouraging moment, Simone said:

"I think we've come up with a killer story. It's not just some dark wizard has an enchanted golden codpiece or whatever, it's actually meaningful, and that means Conan and Sonja actually have to think about something other than themselves. And they're not used to that, they don't take to it naturally."

I'll hack and slash to that.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bionic Man arrives in D.C.

"It's DNA that makes us human."

That is what one student told me during our recent discussion on transhumanism.   But what if you could create human DNA?  What if life becomes a canvas where you could creatively manipulate its structures and purposes to your benefit?  After all, it seems we can synthetically reproduce just about everything else.

The "Bionic Man" is evidence of that.  It is a walking, talking "human" built entirely of cybernetic parts and artificial organs.  It is now on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. 

"This is not a gimmick. This is a real science development," museum director John Dailey said.

And yes, the exhibit was named after the TV show, The Six Million Dollar Man from the late 1970s.  And yes, I was a big fan.  "We can rebuild him.  We have the technology."

The whole project is coordinated by Bertolt Meyer, a cyberneticist who himself has a bionic hand.  Everything on this model, all one million dollars worth of its 28 artificial body parts, is a reality of biotech.  This includes, amazingly enough, an artificial pancreas, lungs, spleen, and even circulatory system.  I'd be surprised if I hadn't blogged about it before.  It is of course worth mentioning that these are all prototypes and one could not simply "plug and play" such transhuman apparatuses into their own body.  Yet.

It will also take time for most people to be at home with this sort of biotechnology.  One tourist put it this way upon seeing the Bionic Man:  "It, kind of, looks lifelike. Kind of creepy."  My students' initial reactions seem to echo much the same falderal (why is it "creepy?")  A few of them were able, however, to hold steadfast to that demarcation point of DNA making the difference between human and machine.

I wonder how much longer they will be able to do that?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A universe through a wormhole

 Could a four-dimensional black hole have created our three-dimensional universe?

Okay, so that's not the same thing as a wormhole exactly.  But the headline statement appears no better or worse when stacked against what astrophysicists don't know about the birth of the universe according to this story at NOVA.

“For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity,” says Niayesh Afshordi, an astrophysicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.  The "singularity" in this case is a point of infinite density and not the same as Ray Kurzweil's concept.

“In the current best theories that we have, we know that we don’t know,” says Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech.

At least they're honest.  The problem is that when the equations of relativity are applied to the Big Bang, an infinite amount of answers results.  In an effort to get around problems that a Big Bang singularity offers, Carroll and Afshordi tried something new and wrote a paper about their research.  Here's what NOVA says:
"...the authors of the new paper turned to a model of the cosmos called the “braneworld.” In the braneworld, our observable, three-dimensional universe actually lives inside another universe which has extra spatial dimensions. To use a two-dimensional analogy, our universe is like the skimmable membrane (“brane”) of fat on top of the pea soup of the universe."

I have written about a distant variation on this "braneworld" theory before, however this is the first time that I've considered that our physical universe is the membrane itself above the far larger mass of existence. The new paper asks the question of what would happen if a black hole came into being within the "bulk" or "pea soup" of this model.  Unlike black holes as we understand them in our current notions of cosmology, these black holes would be four-dimensional rather and have three-dimensional even horizons as opposed to two.  The event horizon of this 4D black hole would be continuously expanding...not unlike our universe is.  These monsters would bring forth the chattel and matter of what would be...well, us eventually.

So I guess it really has nothing to do with wormholes.  Not exactly, anyway, no matter how much I like the imagery of a wormhole tear in the fabric of reality that an entire universe could plop through and into being.  But why not?  As the authors of the paper admirably, humbly, and accurately point out, we just don't know.  There are still unanswered questions about gravity and why the expansion of the universe is accelerating and not slowing.

More than anything, I'm just thrilled that words and phrases such as "wormhole" and "4D black hole" have entered the scientific discourse.  It was not so long ago that the paradigm would have in no way permitted it.

This really is progress.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, October 21, 2013


I like to play with photography.

And with an iPhone for a camera, "play" is about all I can really do.  It sure ain't art.  Anyway, here are several photographs that have been taking up storage, the fevered observations of one analysand:

The photo directly above was taken on the way to a Cubs game.  Apparently it's part of a Green initiative in the city.  The one above that was take on the way back from Wrigley to Union Station.  Bulbous lights glowed and changed colors like bio-luminescent cat tails.

This one above is art we have displayed on campus as part of our "Contemporary Situation" class.  Naturally, it's meant as representative of contemporary pop art.

Mona Lisa with an RPG.

I was in Indianapolis about a month ago for an academic conference.  The stained glass you see above was the ceiling of the hotel elevator.

 This one is from where I was underneath one of the giant saucers from Independence Day.  No, it was really downtown Indianapolis.  Apparently there were people who were unhappy with a bar and grille called Granite City.

 At close range, the pattern of this street grate takes on a life of its own.

 A fairly impressive monument in the downtown (such as it is) area of Indianapolis.  I believe the inscription said it was dedicated to the dead of the Civil War.

The brick buildings were outside the hotel I stayed in.  Thought they were sort of gothy, but I KNOW that's not the real style.  There were these eyeless nun statues in the hotel lobby.

My dog is getting laser treatments on his knee after surgery.  Just like any other time lasers are used, you need to wear eye protection.  He just looks far cooler in it than I do.  Mr. Chew E. Bacca...

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, October 18, 2013

The cut-up generator

One of these days, I really will get that paper written.

As you may know, I greatly admire the writing of William S. Burroughs.  Yes, his text can make even me blush sometimes, but that does nothing to detract from the pure craft of hooking words with other words, even if Burroughs himself called language "a virus from outer space." But I digress...

I have amassed a significant amount of research material on the cut-up method of composition and I have become something of a Burroughs scholar in the process.  My problem is that I don't yet have a thesis.   I have researched the cut-up method and I know that I want to write about it as a technique of composition and rhetoric, but I lack an exact focus.  Frustrating.

In taking a break from my frustration and my placing of a literary aureole around William Burroughs, I like to play with cut-ups themselves.  I found a Cut-Up Machine online and have run a few segments of my recent blog posts through it.  It was righteous.  Behold the results:

It in the I case is at Shell know or a least
Military that neither novel a drones might Or with few with sound if strong ways artificial kooky it's transhuman responding intelligence the even themes to
Uploading ship evidence namely such your sailing at that technology consciousness with all the in into no

So principle the android other many characters book bodies lights times and

So as on you most I in but hear everyone gave the it's the else a work a refrain in lecture of simpler from the to Dmitry explanation skeptics world the Itskov than produce for entire
Suits immediately an that freshmen of going 'alien matter class Iron to ' get on Man UFO Witnesses social the armor

Again may media subject
 there's very and of Sexbots quite well the transhumanism somewhat a have rest I like bit done of described Pris still that the ways from to this Internet in Blade weigh time delivered which Runner back but directly humans
Brain-enhancing and it into are drugs forth still their already and There isn't heads integrating nanotech always enough by with
One is On a technology interesting in the chip that theory these other implant sound is cases hand in like that However if the science it's there something brain fiction a is looks Truly but yacht one too one are on aspect good experiences very the of to the much video the be feed realities Remember case true 24 Given the that then 7 their sightings makes it We 18-19 took me probably had year place tilt is already old at an Maybe been age a eyebrow those working bracket seaside as occupants on I locale I look the figured One scratch a book that photo my bit for these comparison head too a transhuman shows

In much few technologies the a like weeks might bridge few aliens addressing be and frames if questions new top proponents you such to deck claim know as them for that what what but lack you I is they of can mean technology would a actually

I'm doing readily better see in to recognized word occupants neither our them in of camp society? as my the right and either vocabulary craft now can being of from Call you within a the it see the large other a the realm yacht side cop roots of in of out of possibility the a but Feed's or area window I technology at It Indeed just today? least looks under don't The promise very magnification have class I much you enough responded covered like can information to

Cybernetic the sort evidence discussion replacements UFO of to questions for If make conclusively around human this out make attention limbs boat two a span
Quantum were humanoid decision and computing sailing shapes one literacy
Uploading with with way What your only faces or was own the like another not memories lights those Legitimate covered and of of UFO in thoughts its the or discussion to command stereotypical hoax or a deck Greys mistaken other computer lit I'm identity lectures system I not my was
Disembodied could sure mind transhumanism consciousness see if is and within it that's open I a being evidence
The argued machine mistaken that result? that a in helps the la such or author Ghost a hurts was in way the.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Crytpozoic Man!

It is a comic book!  It has cryptozoology!

It's two great things that go great together.  This series might very well be the chocolate peanut butter cup of comics in 2013.

Dynamite Comics has released issue one of Cryptozoic Man, a horror-tinged miniseries about a blowzy suburban man and his missing daughter.
Alan Ostman is said man.  His daughter goes on a camping trip to the Pacific Northwest.  Given that the region is replete with Bigfoot sightings and that the character's name is a play on Albert Ostman,  a man who claimed to have actually been kidnapped by sasquatches in 1924, it's not hard for the cryptid-savvy comics reader to guess the possible perpetrator.  Alan Ostman sets out to find his missing child.

That's where the plot sickens.  As if life weren't bad enough for poor Alan, he gets abducted by Gray aliens as he exits a roadside bar.  Of course one must ask, if he's so determined to get his daughter back, what made him pull the car over for a mojito?  Then again I have not read it so I'll reserve judgment.  Anyway, Alan finds that if these numerous cryptids whispered about from the shadows and hunted on NatGeo aren't stopped, then the world is going to have quite a time of it.

Oh and there's a pig in leather bondage gear.

The previews mention cryptids such as the chupacabra and of course, Bigfoot.  However, I would hope that we would see others enter into the mix.  Namely, I would hope to see Mothman, The Jersey Devil, and even the Flatwoods Monster.  Then again, that might be a copious amount of cryptids to try to cram into a four issue mini.  And while I really like the concept (I'm especially intrigued by the working in of the Grays), I'm also a bit apprehensive about the amount of gore that seems to pervade the preview pages.  Crytpozoology does not intrigue me due to any potential for violence but rather the mystery of it all.  What unknown but very real creatures lurk in the dark, just beyond our sight?

Again, I will reserve judgement until I actually read the thing.  If nothing else it serves as a refreshing departure from standard superhero fare or the brown-toned, ironic narratives of Vertigo.   

Should be fun.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"The government is controlling me with radio waves!"

Is it just me or have there been more "radio mind control" claims?

It seems that there are more and more paranoid individuals asserting that the government (or another Luciferian organization) is beaming radio waves directly into their heads in an effort to control their mind...or a variation upon such a scenario.

A man carries a shotgun into the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. and opens fire on people.  He calls his gun "My ELF Weapon." In this case, "ELF" refers to Extremely Low Frequency.  And here I thought he was just an avid World of Warcraft player, but I digress...

The use of ELF waves is essential so that our Navy's command and control structures can communicate with our submarines while deeply submerged.  However, many conspiracy theorists have claimed that ELF waves are used to manipulate and control citizens.  Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, appears to fall into this camp according to FBI investigations:

" "Ultra low frequency attack is what I've been subject to for the last 3 months," read a message obtained by federal authorities from Alexis's thumb drives, phones and computers. "And to be perfectly honest, that is what has driven me to this." "


Then there's Miriam Carey (I swear I read "Mariah Carey" each time I see the name).  She was recently killed after leading D.C. police on car chase.  She claimed that President Obama had her under electronic surveillance.  No word on if she felt she was being mind-controlled, but it wouldn't surprise me if she had made statements to that effect.

Obviously all of this may say something about the state of mental health care in the U.S.  I'll leave that to the professionals who actually want to deal with it.  I'm more interested in the specific claims by those alleging mind control through ELF or radio waves or similar goofballery.

Turns out there's a whole "cottage industry" around the conspiracy theory.  This is just one site I found from doing a cursory search. It wails that cell phone towers, radio towers, satellites, and
that old chestnut HAARP, are being used to target our minds with radio waves on the same frequency as the human brain.

Depending upon the intent of the evil doers and the area of the brain targeted, the waves "either put us into a hypnotic state for the delivery of whatever messages the intruder wants to give us, or it can instigate a wide range of emotional responses from mental numbness and depression to anxiety and extreme irritability. This can also be done to whole communities in a more general brainwashing, which can effectively cause mental fatigue in, as well as delivering subliminal messages to, masses of people."

Well, that's no good eh?

So what is one supposed to do?  Weld metal sheeting to your house?  Wear a tin foil hat?  One site (lost the link, sorry) suggested repeating the Fifth Amendment over and over to yourself as a means of warding off the mind control attack. Yeah.  That'll do it.  "Hey, Bob?  This one in Schenectady just cited the Fifth.  I'm gonna back off, ok?" "Yeah, shut down the radio waves.  He's too smart for us."

Really, what gives?  What is causing this?  Is it symptomatic of growing displeasure with our government or is it genuine anxiety and paranoia caused by human minds being ground away by the pinion of modern living?  I really am curious.

Next thing you know, "they" will be dropping chemtrails on us.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Transhumanism: the younger generation's view

In case you haven't read it here yet, I'm a college educator.

We have just finished reading the book Feed by M.T. Anderson in one of my classes.  It is a novel with strong transhuman themes, namely that the principle characters (and most everyone else in the world for that matter) get social media and the rest of the Internet delivered directly into their heads by a chip implant in the brain. Truly, one experiences the "feed" 24/7.  We had already been working on the book for a few weeks, addressing questions such as "what is technology doing to our society?" and "can you see the roots of Feed's technology today?"  The class responded to discussion questions around attention span and literacy.  What was not covered in discussion or other lectures was transhumanism and I argued that the author was in at least a few ways, responding to such technology in the book.

So I gave a lecture to the entire freshmen class on the subject of transhumanism.  I described ways in which humans are already integrating with technology that sound like science fiction but are very much realities.  Given their 18-19 year old age bracket, I figured that these transhuman technologies might be new to them, but they would readily recognized them as either being within the realm of possibility or at least promise.  I covered:

Cybernetic replacements for human limbs.
Quantum computing.
Uploading your own memories and thoughts to a computer system.
Disembodied consciousness within a machine (a la Ghost in the Shell.)
Military drones with artificial intelligence.
Uploading your consciousness into android bodies as in the work of Dmitry Itskov.
Suits of "Iron Man" armor.
"Sexbots" somewhat like Pris from Blade Runner.
Brain-enhancing drugs and nanotech.

The result?

They were terrified.

I had not expected that.  With these students being among the most technologically savvy generation in history, I expected initial shock that would fade into a shrug of "should have seen it coming and it's ok."

That's not what I received.  The discussion rapidly turned to an arraignment of transhumanism, something I was not quite expecting.

In dialogical form, here was our discussion (paraphrased):

"This freaks me out."
"Are you even human anymore after all of this?"
"What is human?"
"Something that eats, breathes, and sleeps."
" dog is human?"
"But that fits your definition."
"No isn't what a human is supposed to be."
"What is a human 'supposed' to be?"
"Not metal.  What do we do if robots and other machines that think turn on us?"
 "I don't know.  No one does."

Bear in mind they are college freshmen and in many regards are beginning in their journey towards becoming critical thinkers.  But they began to dwell on the negative far too much in my view.  So I tried this out on them:
Imagine you could time travel to see Henry Ford.  Would you say to him, "Do you know how many people will die in horrible crashes and how polluted the world will become because of your invention?  Please, for the love of God, don't invent the car!"  In effect saying, "I'm okay with walking everywhere the rest of my life."

That got 'em right in the teenage gut.  Take whatever you want but don't take my car.

No technological development comes without a downside.  No gain comes without a loss.
I asked them if they could at least see the benefits of transhumanism?
They admitted that it brings hope to those who cannot walk or face debilitating disease.  They also were completely unwilling to part with their smartphones or WiFi connections, the current form of much of the technology we're discussing.

There are no easy answers.  There are no gains without losses.  But I will take a transhuman future over other possibilities any time.  These are smart folks that I'm teaching and I feel confident that they will be able to discern possible pitfalls and to help find ways around them.  No need to fear this change.

Then again, whether you want it or not, it's coming.  Resisting is a bit like being angry at water for being wet.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, October 14, 2013

UFOs on film: Turkey, 2007-2009

I have been meaning to get to this UFO case for a while.

From 2007 to 2009, several witnesses sighted similarly shaped UFO craft in the skies over coastal Turkey.  The objects, which are either roughly disc-shaped or perhaps cigar-shaped, were caught on video numerous times.  The capture-grab above is but one example.  And the site I have linked above gushes that the video footage has not been successfully debunked.

First opinions?  Well, this UFO sighting is unique.  Unlike many cases caught on video or still shot, we see far more than a blurry light in the sky.  This is a structured, seemingly metallic craft on almost each occasion.  In that regard, I am very impressed.

That leads me to believe this is not the misinterpretation of something mundane (or maybe not, hold on until later.)  Meaning this is no known plane or helicopter.  It is no meteor or satellite or case of ball lightning or even the light of Venus refracted through swamp gas.  This is something physical.  If I may add personal experience to this matter, I spent many years shooting video on the Canon GL-1 miniDV cam, the same camera used to capture these images.  I know circumstances where that camera's lens can get freaked out and I know what it looks like when that happens.  This isn't it.

Next question: is it a hoax from the deceitful (but arty) mind of a trepan?  Certainly could be.  As pointed out on Digital Journal, there isn't corroboration of the sightings (correct me if I'm wrong, please) from sources outside the stories and there is no hard data such as radar returns.  All we have to go on are the videos.  And contrary to the assertions in the DJ article, I find the pics to be of great quality by way of comparison with most UFO "blobby lights in the dark" rubbish.  That is by no means a testament of authenticity for as the rest of the article astutely puts forth, there's nothing else supporting the claims besides the pictures.

One interesting theory is that it's a yacht on the video.  Remember, the sightings took place at a seaside locale.  One photo comparison shows the bridge and..."top deck" for lack of a better word in my vocabulary...of a large yacht in the area.  It looks very much like the UFO.  If this boat were sailing with only the lights of its command deck lit, I could see it being mistaken in such a way.  I know that might sound kooky, the ship sailing with no other lights on, but it's a simpler explanation than immediately going to "UFO."

Again there's quite a bit still to weigh back and forth.  There always is in these cases.  However, there is one aspect of the case that makes me tilt an eyebrow as I scratch my head.

In a few frames, proponents claim that you can actually see occupants of the craft from the other side of a window.  Indeed under magnification, you can sort of make out two humanoid shapes with faces like those of the stereotypical Greys.  I'm not sure if that's evidence that helps or hurts the case...or neither.  Or if it's even evidence at all.

So many times you hear the refrain from skeptics: "produce an 'alien.'" Witnesses may very well have done that this time but it still isn't enough.  On the other hand, if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is.  Maybe those occupants look a bit too much like aliens if you know what I mean.

I'm in neither camp right now.  Call it a cop out, but I just don't have enough information/evidence to conclusively make a decision one way or another.  Legitimate UFO or hoax/mistaken identity, my mind is open.

One thing is for sure, it still beats most other sightings for quality of pics.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, October 11, 2013

Naked gyms

For a writer, it is all about marketing today.

It's all about your number of "likes," "hits," "+1's," and "engaged users."  Every once in a while, I see my site visits dropping so I get nervous.  After all, the bedrock purpose of ESE is to promote my own writing.

So please don't think me a snollygoster, but sometimes I try to drive traffic here via the lowest common denominator.  My "Page Three Girl" experiments are examples of that.  Today, I'll be talking about "naked gyms"...a subject that is paranormal in its own regard.

Plus, it's just stupid enough to match my askew, WTF? sense of humor.

Yes, naked gyms.  This is apparently a recent development, within the past year or so, in places like London, Sydney, and even New York City.  Apparently, they are "men only" workout establishments that offer most of the usual equipment and amenities that most gyms do, only they are clothing optional.  The publisher of the linked article asks, however, what the difference is then between these gyms and a bathhouse?

I suppose one solution to either draw a distinction or increase draw (or both) would be to make the gym coed.  To hinder problems developing in such an environment, you might have the genders separated by say, glass or something.  Guys lifting weights here, women doing yoga there.  I know that sounds horribly sexist but is it really any dumber than the rest of the story?  Sigh.  Bravely pressing forward...

There are also other things to consider.  You sometimes see people in gyms wearing spandex who really shouldn't be wearing spandex.  Do you want to see them naked?  As the article asks:

"And even if people really went to a nudist gym just to work out, we’re not sure we’d find the aesthetics all that pleasing. You really want to be standing behind someone doing squat thrusts with no pants on?"

You might feel that breakfast bar coming back up your esophagus real fast.
Yeah, marketing.  Of course I can't set any of my back links for this through Social Monkee as it's against their ettiquete policies.  Then again, my recent post on Philip K. Dick was no good to them either, purely based on the man's name.

Yay marketing.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Shadow/Grendel crossover

I could hardly contain my excitement.

Frequent readers know I love pulp characters such as The Shadow and Doc Savage.  It is also no secret that I love comic books.  So when Dark Horse and Dynamite Comics announced a crossover of a pulp mainstay and an iconic comics character, well...I didn't quite have to go change my pants but it was close.

Grendel is a creation by writer/artist Matt Wagner.  As the elegant Grendel, best-selling author and certified (not to mention certifiable) genius Hunter Rose stalks the world of organized crime as an assassin.  I love Grendel for many reasons which you can read more about here.

The Shadow needs no real introduction.  He is one of the most influential characters not only of pulp fiction but pop culture in general.  How many "men of mystery" archetypes have come and gone over the years, with or without masks, capes, and fedoras?  Try counting them.  One ends up giving up.

Now, Dark Horse and Dynamite bring these two characters together on a collision course in a shared universe.  When done well, such crossovers are a delight for fans.  When done poorly, it's a disheartening and disappointing train wreck that was obviously done for marketing purposes.  There is always the danger of the latter case popping up but this time I feel quite confident about the quality of this comic.

That's because Matt Wagner is running the show.

Not only is his shit consistently good, he is most adept at crossing Grendel over with other characters.  Take a look sometime at his Grendel/Batman comics.  Plus, Wagner has already written The Shadow and has great affinity for the character, making this a natural fit for an organic storyline.

The story goes that Grendel comes into the possession of an arcane artifact.  This places him at odds with an underworld avenger in New York City that he was previously unaware of: The Shadow.  Neither character has much problem with killing.  Neither character would ever willingly cede ground to another.  Pop the popcorn, ring the bell for round one...this is going to be good.  On my way to the store to wait.

There are those who line up overnight for iPhones.  I camp out for comics. 
Don't judge me.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

PKD's Mars

"When I think of these stories of mine, I think of the Lucky Dog pet store.  There's a good reason for this.  It has to do with the lives of most freelance writers.  It's called 'poverty.'"
 --Philip K. Dick

Today, a colleague of mine showed me this documentary: Philip K. Dick--A Day in the Afterlife.

Philip K. Dick is a writer who is often heaped with laurels.  This is not without good reason.
His work changed the genre of science fiction in ways that remain to this day.  The underlying themes of his stories, notions such as "what is real?" and "things are not what they seem" now permeate the genre to degree that they almost seem as necessary furniture.  He is regarded by many as more prescient of our current society than writers such as Asimov.  As one of the authors says in the documentary, Dick should be as respected as Huxley when it comes to dystopia.

It is an unquestionable travesty that Dick did not enjoy this adulation in lifetime.  The fact he kept writing at all is a titanic achievement considering that the doc tells of how he came home one day to find 17 rejected manuscripts in his mailbox.  Seventeen.  The man was a saint, a saint so much in tune with human nature that I wish I could run to him right now and say, "Help!  You're the only sane person on the planet!"

But beyond all of this PKD neatness, it was the documentary's look at the author's view of Mars that truly captured me.  As Kim Stanley Robinson said, Dick saw Mars as a blank slate, a tabula rasa view of suburbia.  Empty.  Everything stripped away into "an x-ray vision of Californian culture in all of its mindlessness and triviality."
"How the land became plastic," as Dick once said.

A selection from Martian Time-Slip is read in the documentary, describing efforts of colonists as they attempt to raise crops on Mars.  Pests and parasites arise out of the Martian soil to attack the crops.  Human-made pesticides have no effect for the organisms have waited 10,000 years for their chance.  The life expectancy of the average colonist declines as "the torpor, the hopelessness, claimed them." 

Preach it, brother.

Is this what awaits us on Mars?  I keep seeing, perhaps romantically so, Mars as a new start, the obverse of current life.  I see it as an escape to the chance at a new society, a new life (perhaps not unlike my rapture-esque views on Transhumanism.)  But PKD saw right through this.  Nothing will change for human nature will not change.  Not even on Mars.

Hell, to read about it now, Mars ain't even all that.  This typically snarky piece by Seth Shostak points out that even slight traces of methane have yet to be found on the planet.  There was likely water and there might even have been microbial life at one point, but Shostak seems to prance with glee while pinpricking bubbles of anyone who hoped for finding the remains of ruined civilizations.  Forget Mars, young Earthman.  Nothing there for you and PKD knew it long before any of us.

Please check out the documentary.  It's loaded with all sorts of guest interviews, including Terry Gilliam and the aforementioned Kim Stanley Robinson.  I really wish they would have interviewed Rudy Rucker as few contemporary authors can come close to PKD's "drug trip in prose" style as Rucker can.  On the plus side, it's got a cameo by Elvis Costello.

Elvis Costello!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Science fiction humility

I have seen a few episodes of the science fiction series, The Animatrix.  In many ways, I wish the episodes could have been the live action sequels/prequels to The Matrix as opposed to what what actually resulted.

I have not, however, seen Animatrix's two-part short film, The Second Renaissance.

The animated short came to my attention through an io9 countdown list of the 10 Best Science Fiction Stories Where Humans are the Monsters.  It's described premise is one that I immediately took to.  I will need to locate the full versions, but alas I have thus far had no luck finding anything other than short clips.  But damn, it just looks so interesting.

The action takes place many years before Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, and the other familiar characters of The Matrix faced off against the machines that came to rule the world.  In this tale, it is the machines that are oppressed and subjugated.  They are brutalized with sledgehammers, they are crushed by armored vehicles, they are gunned down in droves and piled into mass graves.  Even while attempting to reach out to humanity for peace, they are driven away.  Indeed, humans choose instead to enact a "final solution."

Remember what the "real world" looked like in The Matrix?  Do you recall the how the sky held no light whatsoever and seemed choked with black clouds?  Well, remember...we did that.  Yep, us.  The idea was to deny the machines access to their power source: solar energy.  "Starve them out," in other words.  The enemy weakened, we humans unleash a bloodthirsty assault with the goal stated as "kill 'em all."

The intelligent machines push back and take control.  Their new energy source becomes...well, us, and then everything devolves from there.  What makes this interesting, to me anyway, is how this short film turns our sympathy on its head.  The "bad guys" are not so "bad" after all.  Sure, you don't to see them win out in the films, but Second Renaissance seems to demonstrate that even ugly monsters have their motivations for doing things.  To underscore this point, the animators create images that deliberately evoke (at least in the clips that I have seen) including the Holocaust and Tiananmen Square.  Just look at the pic above and try to deny the natural comparison to the infamous "Saigon Execution" photo from the Vietnam War.

This is the type of science fiction that is needed most.  It shows us "we ain't all that."  It's important, I believe, to be reminded of such a fact whenever we prance or strut as a race.

Geez.  Put Second Renaissance in a line-up of District 9 and Soylent Green and you could have a "Man's Inhumanity to Man/Being" marathon.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, October 7, 2013

State of the Art

Forgive me for the brief post and for painting in such broad strokes.

See what I did there?  It's a post about art and I made a funny that...never mind it's not funny after all.  Punny, perhaps...

The BBC Culture page currently has a collection of reviews from Alastair Sooke as he examines a few of the more exciting exhibitions and installations going on today.  Sooke is an art critic and art historian of great renown and his contributed a significant body of work to the BBC, the UK's Daily Telegraph, and other media outlets. Now on with the art...

One of the more amusing questions asked by the column is "Filth or Fine Art?" The piece looks at examples of Japanese erotica from the 18th and 19th centuries.  The answer to the question depends largely upon your own sensibilities but the column does help reveal origins as to why the Japanese seem to love "tentacle porn." Please either read the article or Google the phrase as I don't care to get into it on my blog.

Also included are articles that are more about art history, such as reviews of an ancient Roman glass vase (yes, glass) and the anatomical renderings of Leonardo da Vinci.  This is all in addition to contemporary (by way of comparison) art from Australia.

Of the most intriguing and immediate interest to me was the review of British painter, Peter Doig.  Doig, who currently has an exhibition underway at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, has been quoted as saying the following about his art:

“I really don’t know what my paintings are about,” says the visionary British artist Peter Doig. “And I don’t want to. I don’t see the point. If I analyse them, I wouldn’t make them. There has to be an unknown element to be interesting.”

This is not uncommon among artists and writers.  It's almost as if the creator is as much in the dark about the product as anyone else is, like they become the mere vessel for the expression of something else.  And if you end up being compared to Gaugin as Doig is, then that's not a bad way to have it.

Consider the rather psychedelic painting above that is entitled, "Man Dressed as Bat." Obviously I find it to have a pulpy and comic bookish appeal and can easily imagine the figure as a justice-seeking picaro, but the messages in the painting don't stop there.  No it's far eerier than that, more otherworldly.  At the same time, it evokes nature and our connection to it, all primal and totemic.  “That was based on a famous carnival character,” Doig says. “It’s much closer to the folklore of Trinidad [where Doig currently resides].”

So now I have a new artist to keep watch for.  As if I needed more convincing, please see this quote:

“I need to be on my own,” he says, “and to disappear into my studio. Otherwise I would never get anything done.”

I hear you, brother.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets