Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On the eve of consumption

It is another New Year's Eve.

I've never liked or even understood this holiday.  What is it I'm supposed to do again?  Given what one friend said to me in response to an NYE rant a few years back, I guess I'm supposed to consume.  At least that's what I derived from her "then I'll have a mojito for you at Second City tonight."

So we consume.  Get sozzled.  We're Americans.  It's what we do, right?'

To that purpose, I posted the above pic.  I found it randomly through a Google.  The site it's from appears to be an art blog, describing the pic thusly:

"our goddess of consumption
is lean and hungry
such goddess
is dangerous"

So there you have it.  Goddess of Consumption.   I don't know if it fits your definition of art, but I like it.  Sort of...pops.  It really is all things consumption or what we expect the consumer to be seen as.

This article from The Atlantic puts the night in a bit more perspective.   It describes the epicenter of NYE as:

"America's most iconic New Year's Eve celebration, the one that captures the attention of the whole country, has massive crowds gathering in New York City's most garish neighborhood, where they watch a large ball drop as C-list celebrities narrate on TV. The typical NYC dweller can't be lured to Times Square for dinner on an ordinary evening, so I can't imagine how pre-New Year's conversations go for those who attend. "Would you like to stand out in the freezing cold for hours with no place to sit or use the bathroom and drunks pressed against you on all sides?" "

As you might have suspected, this NYE is an especially difficult one for me.  Depression is hitting me hard and I'm uncertain and afraid.  I don't know what happens next or who will be with me or even who I really am anymore.

It's going to take more than a positive attitude to get through 2014.

And it will certainly take a hell of a lot more than consumption.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mothman: or when the weird investigates YOU

Once more I turn to Nick Redfern.  This time, it is for his recent post on Mothman.  Or rather, what the Mothman case and other UFO matters might be doing to him. 

Or any of us.

The book The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel forever changed how I look at UFO cases.  On the surface, the Mothman incident seems like a case for cryptozoology.  Then, as it becomes more and more obvious that UFOs are playing a subtle role in the background of the Point Pleasant, West Virginia locale, you begin to question if Mothman might be an alien entity.  Then Keel takes the whole thing up and around the bend, describing principles of "thoughtforms," "tulpas," and beings that exist on the "superspectrum."

It might indeed be all in someone's head...just not in the way a skeptic would define it.  Were the incidents of The Mothman Prophecies thoughts made real?  Or perhaps was consciousness itself being acted upon by outside entities?  While investigating all of this, Keel asserted that the matter he was researching actually began to act on him.  This was dramatized in the film version of the book (a somewhat lackluster cinematic experience that is a poor substitute for the text but then isn't it always?  But I digress...)

In the referenced scene, Richard Gere plays John Klein, a character meant ostensibly as Keel, as he speaks on the phone with the enigmatic man known as Indrid Cold.  Cold describes all manner of things about Klein's hotel room, proving that Cold is either watching him or reading Klein's mind...or both.  Klein picks up a book and asks Cold to speak out loud what the third line of page 51 reads.  Cold does so.  Accurately.

While recently watching this film, Nick Redfern relates that he somehow felt compelled to check page 51 of two Mothman books he had recently acquired from Andy Colvin.  Colvin is a lifelong researcher of the Mothman case.  Anyway, Redfern checked page 51 of the first book.  The third line made direct mention of Indrid Cold.  Picking up the second book and turning to page 51, line three referenced the glowing red eyes of Mothman.

Not sure about the second case but the first might have weirded me out a bit.  I know, I know, when you have books nearby on the same subject matter as the film you're watching, what are the odds?  Pretty good I'd imagine.  Still, it is the compulsion itself that Redfern cites as the weirdness of the synchronicity.  As he states in the post:

"That, as I said, I felt specifically compelled to check out the two books at the very time I was watching the Klein-Cold phone conversation unfold, only made matters even stranger. I have to confess that while I have experienced quite a few things like this over the course of my time spent digging into matters of a supernatural nature, this one really stood out big-time for me.
Admittedly, I don’t have a clue as to why things like this happen. All I know for sure is that they do happen – and they happen time and time again. Maybe there is some sort of lesson to be learned, but, if so, for me it’s a presently unfathomable one. Perhaps it’s all down to some strange, paranormal force screwing with our minds for its own warped reasons."

I can honestly say that I've not had an experience such as the one just described.  That's probably a good thing.  Given the sheer amount I've read and written about UFOs combined with my science fiction writing (however unpublished), I seriously doubt anyone would believe me if I had an experience. I might not even be believed by members within the UFO community itself.  That aside, experiencing an encounter of such synchronicity might liven an otherwise bland existence where I bluff my way through while holding weak cards.

I suppose I'm open to it.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, December 27, 2013

Print yourself a kidney

Just 3D print a new one.

Imagine this being the future response to failed organs or even broken bones. PBS has just named 3D printing in biotech as one of the biggest technological breakthroughs for the future.  As Gizmodo reports, new 3D printers are currently taking biological material, organic inks, and durable thermoplastics and assembling human body parts.  Here are few of the more interesting examples of "bioprinting:"

Skulls--a British medical firm is already producing a material that serves as a "skull patch."  There is in fact a man who has had over 75% of his own skull replaced with 3D printed material.

Skin--while it's relatively easy to print skin-like material, getting it to match your unique flesh tone is difficult.  There is, however, a database of captured skin tones in the works that may aid in the closer approximation of an individual's color.

Noses and ears--nice thing about these prosthetics is that should they wear out it is a simple matter to print out new ones.   Easy that is except for the matter of skin tone (see above).

Eyes--obviously one of the more complicated printing tasks.  These are expensive and can take months to produce.  The upside is that they are completely customizable for the consumer, giving them control over color, size, and everything.

Bones--actual replacement bones.  Sounds like it's still in the works, but there is currently printed biomaterial that can stimulate new bone growth.

Blood cells--this is likewise still in the works with biotech firms but it blows my mind just the same.  Printed organs will of course need functioning circulatory systems to go with them.  Still underway.

We've discussed a few of these things before, organ replacements and whatnot.  I can see a few downsides.

One that is inevitably brought up is that 3D printing such replacements could encourage irresponsible behavior.  Go ahead and drink all the booze you want or eat twice your body weight in sugar.  While print you a new liver or pancreas.  Hmmm.  Don't have much for you there.  I still don't see it as reason enough to impede technological progress or to not help the people who really do need it.

The transhumanist in me also wonders this: why print out a copy of what you have when you might be able to make an improvement?  Why go with plain old human bone when you could install something much more durable?  Why not be a total "cyberpunk?" I suppose it might provide an option for someone who needs a replacement but wants to remain meat.

I wonder...can you 3D print yourself a career?  I'd like that.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, December 26, 2013

William Burroughs and aliens

As you know by now, I am an admirer of William S. Burroughs.

So when I came across an interview where he talks about aliens, well...let's just say it's two great things that go great together.  Chocolate in my peanut butter and all that.  

The author of Naked Lunch has written books that could ostensibly be called science fiction, such as those that make up his "Nova trilogy," but I was unaware that he had any interest in matters Ufological.  As he states in the interview:

"I’m also very interested in all of these space aliens – their flying saucers, and all that. I went to see Whitley Strieber, who’s the author of a book called Communion which they made into a film - about experiences with ‘the visitors’, as he calls them. I visited him for a weekend in upstate New York, but I didn’t see anything – they’re really sporadic. But I’m convinced that he’s telling the truth, no doubt about it. All the people living around him all say, yes, they have seen these things, but they don’t want to talk about it. He puts out a Communion Newsletter with thousands and thousands and thousands of accounts. So I’m convinced that it’s a real phenomenon. I’d just like to see some myself, that’s all. As a matter of fact, there’s been sightings in Kansas, and some out at the lake – where I have my house on the lake – but I have not been favoured."

Wow.  Whitley Strieber and William Burroughs in the same place at the same time?  To be a fly on the wall...

Burroughs also once described meeting "little gray men" when he was four years old.  He awoke one morning to find them playing in a block house he had built. The interviewer asked more about the "hallucinatory" experience but Burroughs denied the incident as being "hallucinatory."  Instead, he termed it as a "vision shift."  Comparisons are inevitably invited between these beings witnessed and the "Grays."

Digging around a bit further, I found this interview where Burroughs discusses his works of painting and other art.  He demonstrates one of his painting methods, dipping a rubber suction cup in ink and then dragging it across canvas, leaving behind globs and schmaltz.  The interviewer remarked that the resulting figures looked like aliens.  Burroughs asserted:

"Burroughs: They are. They are supposed to be aliens. Here’s one that I like very much — they are the Root People. I recognized them the moment that the painting was finished."

Whether or not Burroughs ever had the chance to meet with the Root People or other aliens is unknown to me and no doubt others would point to his drug use as way to discredit whatever alleged experiences there might have been.

Eschewing such cynicism, I'd like to think he had the experience.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas edition

Took this quiz and this was my result.  Is anyone really surprised?

Once more, Christmas is upon us.  Not finished with your shopping?  Then boy do I have an item to point you towards.  For the special lady in your life or any jewelry lover for that matter, there's these: rings made out of a combination of meteorite rock and dinosaur bones.  Cool huh?

If that's not her style, there's all kinds of biotech-inspired jewelry (including a chimera!) and UFO goodness from Cafe Press.  I know it's getting down to the wire but I didn't check their shipping policies.  Maybe you can get a fast one.  Here's to hoping.

Contrary to what the above quiz results would argue, I don't hate Christmas.  Far from it.  I might not be anywhere near as excited about it as I was when I was say, nine, but I have my reasons for that.  There's more work in it as an adult.  You're also more aware of the money that goes into things.  On the other hand, this might actually make you thankful for the things that you do have.

I was blessed as a child.  I had adults who worked hard to make Christmas a fun time and yes, even a bit "magical."  I have so many great memories of roadtrips to my Grandmother's and opening toys Christmas morning.  If I think hard enough my memories might even force a sort of parageusia that convinces my brain that this plain turkey sandwich is something from my Grandmother's Christmas dinner.

Part of that is made possible by shutting out the real world as much as one can.  I don't have that luxury anymore.  All of those times are gone.   Things like employment weigh on me like a seven ton...heavy thing (I don't know, I couldn't think of anything, okay?)  It's tough to relax and enjoy when every day is uncertain, nothing is guaranteed, and it's all my fault ("I'll be a writer."  WTF was I thinking?)

At the same time, I cannot deny my good fortune in so many ways for there are those in the world who go without food, heat, and a roof this season.

I'll be taking the next few days off.  Merry or Happy Whatever-You_Believe-In!  Oh and if you see Santa Claus in your living room and he's got this freaky guy Krampus with you, well...I don't know what to tell you.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, December 20, 2013

On blogging...

Oh the trials and tribulations of a blogger.

The website for Discover magazine is one that I visit daily to find news for both ESE and the science fiction I write.  I came across this post by George Johnson that really struck home with me.

He spoke of how bloggers, for the most part, don't have a panel of editors to send their work through before hitting "publish."  Sure, I look my posts over before doing so, but any professional will tell you that it is difficult to check your own work.  Only once it's up for the world to see do I find the glaring "typo" (I hate the hell out of that word) or Ahab Pope emails me with a correction or worst of all, I see a glaring gap in logic where my brain moved faster than my typing fingers.  Johnson seems to be running into the same thing.

In his post, he cites a quote from writer Susan Orlean on blogging:

". . . you have no editor and no opportunity to have your work filtered through a critical eye. . . . somebody who says, ‘This doesn’t make sense to me,’ or, ‘Why are you writing this piece?’ or, ‘This lede just doesn’t engage me.’ A blog just doesn’t offer you that."

Yes it is tricky and believe it or not, I do try to deliver the best possible content that I can.  On the other hand, a composition theorist might argue that being bereft of such editorial constraints might actually enhance the creative process.  You know it's all about the process.

Then again, things out of my control (or mostly anyway) tend to weigh on my mind as well.  Theorists also speak of such a thing as "loss of primacy."  That means that once you've written something, it is almost entirely out of your hands how someone can interpret it.  Indeed I have had people do this, mostly out of confusion or in a manner that I could honestly see why they thought what they did.  In the case of the latter, it's been due to my lack of clarity.

I have committed other comparatively small errors in print and paid the subsequent price for them. I'm certain I have lost several opportunities this way.  Oh well.  Live and learn.  But I shouldn't worry too much. Fewer and fewer people read these days so ultimately everything I'm doing is meaningless.

This blog is in reality, I'm finding, the equivalent of a golf game; a relaxing hobby but never going to get me to the PGA tour.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, December 19, 2013

J.J. Armes

A big thanks to Dorkland! for the heads up on this story.

In the 1970s, there was an action figure called "J.J. Armes."  I don't remember it personally, but see below:

Just the kind of thing I like.  The premise was that J.J. was a "man of action" so to speak who had hooks for hands and a gun implanted in one of the said hooks.  Might not sound too interesting as a toy...until you hear the next part.

J.J. Armes was a real person.  Again, see below:

As detailed by Klint Finley on Grinding.be:

 "The first real-life superhero may have been J. J. Armes, a private detective who has been active in El Paso since 1958. His super power? A gun implanted in one of his prosthetic hook that he could fire with his biceps — without using his other hook.
Armes lives in a mansion, surrounded by lions and tigers. He always wears three piece suits, and travels by limo driven by his body guard cum chauffeur."

Like any good superhero, J.J. has an origin story.  At the tender age of 12, one of J.J.'s friends brought over a mysterious box.  What neither boy knew was that the box contained railroad dynamite charges.  J.J. opened the box and lost both of his hands.  Obviously, this didn't keep J.J. down.  He went on to excel at sports and to graduate from college with honors at age 19, holding degrees in psychology and criminology. 

In 1972, he rescued Marlon Brando's son from kidnappers in Mexico.  In 1978 he formed The Investigators Security Force.  Meant as a "mobile patrol and security service," the ISF served the community of El Paso, Texas for many years.  Today, the ISF survives as...what else?...security contractors to the government and corporations who can afford the multi-million dollar fee.

Oh boy is this great.

This is exactly the sort of story that shows how real life can sometimes be pulpier than fiction.  I...and many others I'm sure...planning on taking J.J. Armes as an inspiration for military or spy fiction.  Admittedly, I've been ambulating about the house since reading this story, mulling over how it can best be adapted.  Can't wait to see if I can work this into one of Jake Timber's stories.  That will make more sense when I introduce you to Jake one day.



Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The alien spy

Nick Redfern finds the best stuff.

If you've been following ESE, then you should know who he is by now.  Nick is one of the best paranormal investigators out there when it comes to UFOs, alleged alien encounters, and many other forms of bizarre occurrences.  But for our purposes here today, I will be examining a case he recently wrote about for Mysterious Universe.  As I believe you will see, Nick likes a good story as much as I do.

The case took place in early 1974.  The location was the Marconi Space and Defense facility at Frimley, England.  A security guard at the base (and Nick is quick to caution that the story is relayed secondhand and the guard himself is the solitary witness to the alleged event) late one night caught sight of a bright blue light coming from beneath the door of a records storage room.  Said records likely contained technical specifications on British defense radar.  The guard opened the door to find the seek the source of the light.  Here's what he saw...

There was a humanoid alien being with gray skin and large black eyes sifting through the papers (yes, papers.  It was 1974 after all.) of a filing cabinet.  The blue light came from a helmet that the entity was wearing.  Upon being noticed, the alien dematerialized and vanished from sight.  The security guard suffered a total nervous collapse and was escorted by military police from the base, never to be seen again.  The source who relayed this claims to have overheard conversations between senior staff that included the following statements:

“We have no way of keeping these beings out; we just don’t know what to do next. If they can get in here, they can get in anywhere.”

So...aliens may have James Bond-like agents that are charged with acquiring defense secrets?

Oh boy is this great.

Naturally, the lack of evidence is quite problematic.  There is also a slight gap in logic.  Would an advanced civilization (or higher beings for that matter) really need to go in spy-like to determine the ins and outs of our defense technology?  It seems that there should be a way that they could acquire such information by remote means from transpontine space or dimensions.

Whatever the case, this is a good story and I'm glad Nick wrote about it.  All instincts do indeed cry to dismiss it without a second look, but then again put yourself in this situation:

You are the sole observer of an event.  There is no physical evidence to corroborate your story.  But it did happen. 

What then?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

DARPA robotics challenge

Last week, I did a post about the robot Valkyrie, NASA's entry into the DARPA (Defensive Advanced Research Projects Agency) Robotics Challenge.

Well today I found on AI.com this neat little rundown of the top entries into that competition.  They include:

-Robosimian (pictured above), another entry by NASA.  This one is fittingly ape-like with four general-purpose limbs and hands.

-CHIMP, a robot that keeps with the ape theme.  It hails from Carnegie Mellon University and has a 3D interface.

-DRC-HUBO, another humanoid robot.

-THOR, a bi-pedal but not quite humanoid robot whose name stands for Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot.

And of course both Atlas and Valkyrie are mentioned.  Each robot contestant has its own intro video at the link.  The article even mentions how you can follow the whole competition via the Twitter hashtag #DARPADRC.

This is indeed a process worth following.  Unlike that former glut of television programs we once had of robots built for cage matches and other wanking, this technology will go on to affect society in mostly positive and productive ways.  Of course I'm sure there are Terminator comparisons flying around but such rhetoric does seem unavoidable when technology is discussed.  Sad so many hold such a cathexis to that ideology.

I for one welcome our new cool robots.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, December 16, 2013

Climate change is moving the North Pole

Climate changes.  Temperatures rise.  Ice melts.

Yes, ice melts.  Then what?  The location of the North Pole shifts.

I will restrain myself from making a chintzy holiday joke.

Scientists at the University of Texas are making the argument (rather well, I might add) that continued greenhouse emissions have led to this ice melt and thus the shift.  So what's the big deal?  For one thing, it's causing the Earth to wobble.  That can have an affect on how and when seasons change.  Maybe not a major one right now that should start the klaxons blaring, but it is a factor.

More than anything, the findings are an indicator of what climate change is doing to the world in which we live.  Ice melts away, fresh water flows into the ocean, sea levels rise, and whole habitats are forever altered by this.

But it can't be that big of a deal, right? To quote the article linked above from New Scientist:

"Chen's [lead author of the study] team calculated that the biggest contribution is coming from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which is losing about 250 gigatonnes of ice each year. Another big factor is the melting of mountain glaciers, which contributes about 194 gigatonnes per year. The contribution from Antarctica adds up to 180 gigatonnes per year, but there is considerable uncertainty here because changes in the gravity field due to Earth's crust rebounding are less well understood over Antarctica than elsewhere."

Hey, who doesn't want a little good news for the New Year?
Just keep pumping out greenhouse gases.  I'm sure it will all work itself out for the best.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Favorite music videos

Lately, I've been thinking.

Something screwy typically follows that phrase with me, but I don't think I'm altogether that obtuse on this one.
I've been missing how music video used to be an artform in and of itself.  It was a cinematic experience, not just a band miming in front of a background.  It was a spectacle of lesser or greater impact, not just an ad for the single or the tour or a vehicle to whitherward move the consumer towards purchase (or at least not as blatantly.)  Lately, I've mentioned how M83 has brought this style of videomaking back, but I've been old and wistful for the past glory of "Music TeleVision."  Here are a few videos that have really stuck with me over the years:

"Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode

Always admired the composition of images here.  That and the "king" symbolism is quite rich.

"Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.

Just look at all the deep religious imagery here.  Fantastic direction.  Just all-around exceptional.

"Pictures of You" by The Cure

Yeah, I know it might be an example of "bands miming before a background" but this one is somehow different for me.  There's something very genuine about the band's personalities that comes through here, especially when they start joking and laughing, betraying their "gothy" stereotype.

"Janie's Got a Gun" by Aerosmith

David Fincher directed this one.  You can see the roots of films like Seven and Fight Club here in this five minute cinematic experience.  Moody, violent, and sends a powerful message.

"Wild Boys" by Duran Duran

You knew they were going to be on here.  So many great videos to choose from, but I selected "Wild Boys" for its sheer production value and the mixture of genres it represents. Cyberpunk, Mad Max, William Burroughs, and so much more.  Plus, Simon literally risked his life on that wheel.  But that, gentle reader, is a story for another time.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review--Batman: Under the Red Hood


And there are spoilers ahead indeed if you are sensitive to those sorts of things...

I was skeptical.

I suppose that went for many comic book fans when DC Comics decided to bring back Jason Todd. The "Death in the Family" storyline in Batman comics from 1988 was a pivotal moment in my life.  Not only did it get me back into reading comics and get me through studying for the SAT, the death of Robin was a pop culture event.  Bringing him back seemed at first like a cheap stunt, but the new purpose of the Jason Todd character sort of grew on me.

All of that is translated from comics to animated feature in Batman: Under the Red Hood.  In this film, Batman confronts a new vigilante in Gotham City.  This one, calling himself the Red Hood, is far more lethal in his application of justice than Batman.  The Red Hood is systematically squeezing out crime lords while taking control of Gotham's underworld. As anyone who knows the character of Batman can tell you, these methods won't wash in his city.  But when Batman squares off against the Red Hood, old wounds are reopened and an inevitable showdown with the Joker results.

This is not a Batman opus for the kids.  And I am just fine with that.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is brutally violent both physically and emotionally but the story is meant to be such.  It is enjoyable while draining at the same time, if that makes any sense.  I would not have cast Bruce Greenwood as voice talent for Batman despite the fact that is excellent in most every role that he plays.  He does not disappoint as Batman, either.  The depiction of the Joker voiced by John DiMaggio was one that had to grow on me.  He neither sounded nor looked (not exactly anyway, I think there was a Heath Ledger influence mixed in there) like the character as I have come to know him.  That may perhaps be due to the renderings of Mark Hamill and Batman: The Animated Series, but who can say.  By the end of the film however, I found this interpretation of the Joker to have a psychotic charm all his own.  Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing is also not to be missed.

All in all, the story stays faithful to the Red Hood arc in the comics.  One of the few departures comes in the quick recapitulation of the "Death in the Family" storyline where the locale of Ethiopia is switched to Bosnia.  Not really sure what the motivation was there but it's a minor detail.  The story still affords all of the postmodern edginess, grittiness, and whatever else are prerequisites for comics these days. That and a good philosophical discussion over what constitutes good and evil and what form "justice" takes on during extreme circumstances.

Yeah, I'm sure you never saw that part coming.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A new step in robotics

I chose the robot image above for a reason.

Seldom do our imaginary depictions of robots turn into reality.  But that may be changing.  Note the resemblance between the Terminator and Atlas from Boston Dynamics (which I thought I blogged about but I somehow didn't.)  Now, NASA has unveiled a six-foot robot named Valkyrie that comes complete with glowing chest ring similar to that of Iron Man.

Yeah yeah, I know.  Iron Man is not a robot, but stick with me on this.

The Valkyrie has 44 axes of rotation in its joints, meaning its fairly flexible.  Unlike Atlas, the other robot entered in DARPA's Robotics Challenge, NASA seems naturally less interested in military applications and more focused on how Valkyrie can serve space exploration.

"We want to get to Mars. Likely, NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the planet. These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers, and when the humans arrive, the robots and the humans will work together," said Nicolaus Radford of the NASA JSC Dextrous Robotics Lab in the CNET article.

Impressive.  But I think things will really start happening when robots such as these are combined with AI.  The end goal is of course to have these robots handling tasks on their own, tasks such as the ones in the DARPA challenge, namely "driving a utility vehicle, walking over uneven terrain, clearing debris, breaking through a wall, closing a valve, and connecting a fire hose."  With an AI installed onboard, the list of potential work tasks lengthens considerably, placing us on the cusp of an entirely new day for robotics.  Let the paranoia begin.

What is perhaps most interesting is that NASA has chosen to give this robot a distinctly feminine aesthetic (click the link and look at the robot for yourself).  This is capped off with its moniker of "Valkyrie."  Didn't see that coming, but why not?  There is nothing saying a robot has to be "male."

Just another preconception blown.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Again with the reptoids

Hang on tight, folks.  I'm free-associating again.

Once more, Coast to Coast AM has spurred me to write a post about aliens.  Or maybe it's just December dry skin, making me think of lizards.

It was an episode with cryptozoologist Lyle Blackburn discussing the Lizard Man sightings of 1988.  I've described this before but the gist is that in South Carolina during that year, there was a flap of crytpid encounters.  These sightings entailed a tall, humanoid creature that was described as being almost entirely reptilian in appearance. If these cases are true (and man is that ever a big "if") then the logical follow-up question is "what is it?"

A short answer might be a "reptoid." Once again, I've written already written about these alleged beings with David Icke seeming to be the biggest proponent of their existence.  Reptillians are a race of aliens visiting our planet and they don't exactly have our best interests at heart.  Those who have encountered them have described these beings as being aggressive, even warlike in their demeanor towards us.

Then again, there are those that who argue that their nature is not alien whatsoever, but more of a "cryptoterrestrial" as Mac Tonnies would say (there it is again). Check out this bad boy, Reptoid.com.  They've got a whole FAQ on the reptoid issue.  According the folks at the site, the reptoids live in isolated locales that favor "specific geological formations." Stuff like ancient volcanic beds and underground caverns.  They hide beneath the earth, just fine living out their existence far from humans (so why the sightings, then?) and apparently sharing my ochlophobia.  Take a look at the human race.  Do you blame them?

The FAQ list goes on.  It describes how the reptoids' origins can be traced to prehistoric Antarctica.  Also thrown in are the typical things you might find in Fortean discussions regarding Antarctica, such as entrances to the Hollow Earth, Nazis, and Operation Highjump.  The site authors also link reptoids to dinosaurs via the work of Dale Russell, a paleontologist who through a "thought experiment" came up with a model of what dinosaurs might have looked like if allowed to evolve to humanoid form.  Sleestaks, anyone?  Sorry.  I use that joke every time this topic rears its scaly head.

So was the Lizard Man a wayward reptoid, either wandering up from its home beneath the Earth's crust or lost E.T.-like from its spacecraft?  Could be.  I have another idea.

Well, it's not really my idea as I'm cribbing much from Jacques Vallee.  The "Lizard Man," if in existence at all, might have much more to do with objects of the subconscious than aliens from space.  As Vallee's research demonstrates, UFOs are nothing new.  We've been seeing them in the sky since prehistory.  For just as long, people have also alleged to have met UFO occupants. We've seen chimeras, angels, hippie "space brothers," and of course the Grays.  All of these descriptions perfectly mirror the corresponding social and technological development of their times.

So in a junk food, "science fiction=action movie" culture (see the aforementioned Sleestaks as well as Star Trek's Gorn), is it any wonder that we are now at a point where people are describing encounters with reptilians?  Is that perhaps what we've trained ourselves to see?  Even weirder, is there maybe a discorporeal intelligence that shifts its appearance to meet our expectations?

Sound weird?  Well, I like that better than betting on actual lizard people.  

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Art review--The slacker in winter

Feast your eyes on the photo art above.

It was taken by a man I shall name "R." He is both a colleague and a friend.  He also, as you can plainly see, has the eye of an artist.

I called the above composition a "Bergman film, only done by slackers." R took the comment as a title for the piece and I was flattered.  I believe I have done the art a bit of under-service as the title only captures part of it.

Look at the desolation present in the frame.  I contend it is not simply the weather that gives it such a sense but also a hollowness of soul.  Three souls...or perhaps one who needed three separate shopping carts (a commentary on either gluttony or a lack of birth control?)...could not be bothered to return their carts to a corral a mere few feet from where these carts stood.  Souls so full of ennui or bereft of purpose that even the smallest task because far too herculean...

Then again, could this perhaps be commentary on modern living?  Behold the strip mall: a juxtaposed series of shopping establishments that offer Americans everything we don't need but can't live without.  Is this societal decay in action?  Is that the symbolism contained within the negative space between the shopping carts?  Oh what a scabrous web we must navigate! 

Ultimately, I return to artist/filmmaker/existentialist/all-around kooky guy, Ingmar Bergman.  His work dwelt upon such subjects as mortality and loneliness.  Look at how empty this parking lot is.  You almost expect a bony figure in a black, hooded cloak emerge to challenge you to a game of chess.  Search for a human subject anywhere in the shot.  One ends up giving up.  And yet...and yet...the artist is in a locale that should have a modicum of consumers present.  There are vehicles there and yet there are no people.  Is that really what we are?  Just empty vessels?  Running on autopilot to locations where we purchase and consume?  Too tired, too sad, too broken to summon the energy or muster the responsibility to follow a simple, good faith rule?

Or maybe R is right and the whole composition should just be called "Lazy Assholes."

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Have you been abducted?

Are you just not sure?

Saw a UFO?  Have a chunk of time missing from your memory?  Having strange dreams involving owls or other animals with big eyes? 

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, you *might* be an abductee.

To be sure, a man named Steven Knaphus has constructed a list of 10 ways to tell if you have been abducted by aliens.  In the intro to the list, Knaphus asserts that he is a lifelong contactee and has spoken with several others who claim similar experiences.  That was his basis for the list.  I came across the list online recently and thought I would share them here on ESE.

Dreams--specifically, are you having cataclysmic nightmares about volcanoes, earthquakes, or environmental ruin?  Knaphus contends that such dreams are really two-way telepathic communication with the aliens (or he says aliens but they could certainly be other entities...if "they" are even there at all.)  These are warnings about our collective future.  Abductees after all, often claim that they have been chosen by the aliens to help warn humanity about the doom that shall cometh if we don't get our act together.

Implants--do you have lumps in your body that you can't explain?  Did they just appear one day?  Well these could be biotech devices left there by the aliens.  They are said to not be metal but wholly organic in composition.  Doctors often call them "fatty tumors."  Maybe a form of abiogenesis?  That might be weirder than aliens.

Numb limbs--as stated in the list: "When the implant successfully connects to your central nervous system a test is conducted to let them know all is functioning properly. This test will often make one of your limbs go numb, this could be either an arm or a leg, even your back one side or the other, or your eyes."  Might I also suggest that you could be having a stroke?

Sudden interest in aliens--have you been drawn without warning to the subjects of aliens and alien contact?  In my case it's not exactly sudden so I guess I'm okay.  Maybe.

Missing time--this is commonly reported among abductees.  There usually is a stretch of perhaps several hours for which the subject simply cannot account.

Sunburns--the list ties unexplained sunburns (which admittedly would be weird) with exposure to radiation.  As stated: "This is a result of a radiation bath which must be given to anyone given physical contact, and what this does is kill all the foreign germs our immune system would never be able to fight but can also cause some light skin burns." If it's enough radiation to cause a burn, wouldn't radiation sickness be a worry?

Sudden sense of purpose and direction--abductees are said to often become activists and involved in political causes to help better the world.  I don't know if I'd be down with the abduction part, but if it gave me an unshakable sense of direction...

Recurring dreams of aliens--self explanatory.

Conscious memories--the list alleges that certain supposed abductees have full recollection of their experiences.  Unfortunately, I can think of any number of other psychological factors that might cause this to happen.  None of them are good.

Clothes removed--I'll spare you any more jokes, but one symptom is apparently finding yourself incorrectly dressed, like someone tried to put your clothes back on you but didn't know how.

As you might have been able to tell, I am rather skeptical of the alien abduction phenomenon.  Try as I might to accept it, I just keep finding so many other more mundane explanations that can easily cover the experience.  No, I don't know everything so I'll never say with firm authority "there are no abductions happening!"

More than anything, feel deep sympathy for anybody who is truly having experiences like these, real or imagined, and feeling alone.  What it must be like to feel so troubled and hurt and on top of it all to think that no one would listen to you or worse, would ridicule you or try to institutionalize you.

For that alone, the phenomenon merits inquiry.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

A science fiction Zorro?

There are times when I think every idea in science fiction has been tapped.

Then I realize it's just Hollywood.

This link from io9 has since been "sanitized" by the money-grubbers at Fox who were apparently unhappy that a trailer from their Development Hell got out to the hoi polloi.  You can, however, at least watch the trailer at YouTube but Fox has removed the sound.

The proposed but aborted idea was simple: reboot Zorro with a science fiction sensibility.

Now I'm okay with the pulp character of Zorro.  He's not one of my favorites, but nonetheless I'd say he's pretty solid and many characters I love (e.g. Batman) would not exist without him.  So what would a masked vigilante out for justice in old California look like rebooted to a futuristic setting?

Well for one thing, it's in an overpopulated dystopia that sort of looks like Elysium.  Of course it is.  What other form of future would contemporary producers pursue?  Or maybe that's just our cynical nature, expecting a dystopia because already pretty much live in one?  Only this one may be worse as an asteroid hit has destroyed most of California and Mexico.  That's the bad news (or the good, depending upon one's political perspectives, I suppose.  Not mine, but perhaps someone else's. But I digress...)

The good news is that the asteroid brought with it an ore that can be transformed into in a powerful new energy source.  That means big money.  That also means big corporations and an exploited workforce.  Thus there is ripe ground for the rise of Zorro.

Unfortunately you can't tell much more than that from the trailer.  Well, that and he can kick the hell out of a tactical team but isn't that the trite, "par for the course" requirement of most action heroes these days?  Oh wait, I see the difference.  This Zorro has a lightsaber.  That is what he's holding in the promo poster above, right?  That and wearing a mask fitted with goggles that no doubt have all kinds of IR, nightvision, and "cool tech" whatnot?  He's also wearing a leftover suit from Tron.

While the issues such science fiction raises are important and Zorro is very much a story about a man fighting injustice, I just...don't know. It all becomes old after a while.  These slumgillions of dystopias with greedy corporations and destroyed environments all become bland and redundant at some point.

Maybe because they're too much like everyday real life.

Or is that the point?

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A human face to transhumanism

There are still quite a few people who don't "get" transhumanism.

The motivation for it, I mean.  Do you take vitamin supplements?  You're transhuman.  What about other medicines?  Well, you're modifying your body through the use of technology, so that's...you guessed it...transhumanism. You're doing these things for typical reasons, I'm guessing, meaning good health, longevity, etc. etc.  But wanting to accomplish the same things through the use of say, cybernetic implants?  Well now we seem to have crossed a sort of imaginary demarcation point.  If you were Nikola Danaylov, you might not see it that way.

Nikola is a blogger and editor-in-chief at The Singularity Weblog.  I've come to know him just a bit through his posts and his insightful Singularity 1-on-1 interviews as well as talking with him about my recently published article on the site (shameless plug, I know.)  Just recently, Nikola suffered three deaths in his close family in as many weeks.  That is more than any one person should be allowed to suffer.  It also, to my way of thinking, lends a "face" to the aims and objectives of most transhumanists.  The raw honesty of Nikola's reaction is enough to make anyone take pause and think:

"And so it should be no surprise that we have learned to cope with it [death]. To rationalize and accept, even embrace it: “Death is natural.” “Death is inevitable.” Some dare call it even “necessary.”
But go tell that to a 14-year-old who just lost his 38-year-old mom to cancer. Or a mother who has just lost her baby. Why not try a husband mourning the love of his life, even if it is after 50 years of marriage. Go ahead – rationalize! Bullshit all you want. Tell me to be reasonable; to embrace what I can’t stop.
But I refuse!
I will not be reasonable. Or quiet. Or accepting. Or gentle. I will not embrace the biggest scourge humanity has ever had!

In large regard, this is what transhumanism is about.  Take control of your biology and thereby take control of your destiny.  Why die if you don't have to?  Humans, to one debatable degree or another, have intelligence.  Chance or design has granted us this largesse, allowing us to create technology that is ever-growing in sophistication.  Why not eliminate "natural death" to the point where one would have to choose for it to happen?

Read Nikola's story.  You just might reconsider your answer.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

UFOs of the Mojave

Isolation brings weirdness.

That leaves the door open to UFOs.  I don't mean personal isolation, although I'm certain many would argue that produces certain mental factors.  No, I mean geographic isolation.  Lonely country roads, boggy bayous, locations such as Whitley Streiber's cabin in upstate New York, and so on and so forth.  Sightings of UFOs seemed at one point confined to such places (that is before mass sightings in urban areas like Phoenix and Chicago, but those are whole other stories.)  Fewer localities are more isolated than the Mojave Desert of California.

Paranormal investigator Betsey Lewis appeared on Coast to Coast AM not too long ago.  During her appearance on the show, she discussed how the Mojave area is a hotbed of UFO activity.  As seems to be the case with other areas of the American Southwest, the indigenous peoples of that part of California have stories and legends of "star beings." The Paiute speak of a race of beings that live in a vast system of caves in Death Valley (again, Mac Tonnies' Cryptoterrestrials?)  Lewis spoke of how her research suggests evidence for "ancient atomic bombs" that once detonated in the area.

All that talk aside, it was her account of the alleged abductions of Steve and Dawn Hess that got to me.

This led me to the book Searchers: A True Story by Ron Felber.  It gives the account of how Steve and Dawn Hess, a "normal" couple in most every regard, went camping in the Mojave Desert back in 1989.  During the night, they claimed to have seen numerous aerial phenomena, such as glowing red orbs traveling through and crisscrossing the sky.  Then these lights then moved into the Hess' camp.

Soon the couple found themselves surrounded by beings that were three feet in height and had "malevolent, glowing red eyes." They stared into the windows of the camper and seemed intent on getting to the couple.  And get to them they did.  As Dawn Hess is quoted from the book in the Amazon listing:

"They (the aliens) wanted everything we had ... everything ...our minds, our bodies, even our souls, I think. It was like they drew it out of us with a syringe ... every molecule. And it was painful and I thought we were going to die, or already had died and were being tortured in hell."

Since I haven't read the book, I don't know if Steve and Dawn were ever taken into a structured craft or UFO of any kind.  The described eyes of the supposed aliens are also a bit of a departure from the "abduction script."  However, Betsey Lewis mentioned that the beings were said to have a "hologram-like quality" to them with "translucent limbs." If this was a real incident, then this aspect of the UFO encounter does interest me very much.

Why?  Well, transhumanism.  Yes, yes, I'm still talking about it.  But consider this: I have said before that if we are steadily marching towards our own singularity, then advanced alien civilizations must have done so long ago.  The "hologram" look might be attributed to perhaps a "decloaking" of an invisibility shroud or the hallmark of another integration with technology.  Then again, it could be indicative of a "non-corporeal intelligence," entities that are much more metaphysical than extraterrestrial.   

I don't know.  What I can tell you is that I'll be adding Searchers to my ever-growing pile of books to read.  Even though it will likely scare the hell out of me just as Communion did back in the day.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, December 2, 2013

A modest political proposal

It's that time of year.

Social media will again pass around a number of memes that show American servicemen and women stationed overseas and away from those they love and care about at the holidays.  And justly so that our collective attention should be called to the situations of these fine people.  They are far from home during a time when it is hard to be such, they sacrifice much (sometimes everything), and they endure hardships that very few of us could ever know.  They are deserving of our eternal gratitude.  I cannot, however, help but think about the people who put them in these places.

Back in 1991, I was in Haiti.  As I have blogged before, I was witness to scenes that were about as close as you can get to war without actually being on the battlefield.  I learned that bodies still twitch even after someone shoots them in the head and that when human flesh burns it smells just like burgers or hot dogs on the grill.  I got out safe and was never really the target of anything.  I can't imagine what it must be like to truly be in the thick of it and have your own self targeted.  My point being, I've since been cautious about advocating sending young men and women to war.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm no peacenik.  I've read enough history to know that there have been and probably always will be incidences where the only option is a military one.  Dictators seem to know little else.  Even while knowing that, I still hesitate sending someone else to go do what once scared the hell out of me.  Do our political leaders have the same understanding?

So here's what I'm thinking.  Any politician who serves on a Senate or House committee that has anything to do with military matters needs to have served at least one year in an active combat zone.  Get a taste of it.  See what you're sending young men and women to go do.  That should, hopefully, keep chickenhawks out of the equation.  No, you can't just slap a magnetic yellow ribbon on your car and say, "There.  I support the troops."

I'm aware this brings problems, especially if you extend the rule to the presidency.  Conservatives would be unhappy as it would have excluded Reagan and liberals would decry the loss of Bill Clinton.  I'm aware that a leader can make sound decisions on military matters without having served.  I'm also aware that several politicians such as George HW Bush and John McCain know full well the strains and agony of combat, especially McCain.  At the same time, I don't see how it could hurt to force civilian leadership to at least have an understanding of what transpires in a war zone.

Indeed in recent years it has seemed that there are politicians and there are troops and seldom do the twain meet, excepting leaders such as the aforementioned McCain and also Tammy Duckworth.  What if we changed that?  At least in terms of how decisions are made to deploy military force?

If nothing else, they might think twice because they know.
And it just might make a few a families a bit happier at this time of year.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets