Friday, February 28, 2014

Transhumanism: people may yet embrace it

Zoltan Itsvan has good ideas.

He is a philosopher by background, a transhumanist, and is the author of The Transhumanist Wager (I'm going to read it...really I am...just as soon as I'm done teaching this semester.)  Recently, he wrote an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post called "Despite Skepticism, Many People May Embrace Radical Transhumanist Technology in the Future."

I liked the piece...despite its bloated title...for several different reasons.  For one, Itsvan does a fair job of explaining transhumanism to those who might not have had much exposure to the concept or to those so fusty that they perceive it as a campaign to force everyone to stop being human.  Of course in the case of the latter, there probably isn't much that anyone could do to persuade them otherwise (Alex Jones, I'm looking at you.)  As Itsvan writes, "a transhumanist is a person who aims to move beyond the human being via science and technology."  No more, no less.  He illustrates this through comparisons to popular culture, which isn't a bad way to do.  For example, the idea of mind uploading can be seen in The Matrix and armored exoskeletons in Iron Man.

An interesting aside: In announcing that Chicago will become a hub for developments in technology and commerce, President Obama quipped, "we're building Iron Man."  Makes me wonder how overzealous anti-transhumanists on the Far Left take that.  But I digress...

Another aspect I liked about the post was its subtext, pointing out that skeptics are, in a way, "being mad at water for being wet."  What I mean by that is that transhuman and cybernetic technologies are a reality.  They exist.  They will not be going away so they must be dealt with as the physical realities that they are.  Itsvan cites as example the work being done at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden where cybernetic prosthetics are being connected directly to the human nervous system.  It's happening, folks.  The transhuman genii is out of the bottle.  What we do with it is the big question.

Related to that is Itsvan's philosophical concept of the "futurization of values."  He defines this as people living "according to where they believe they are going in life, and not only where they actually are."  Sort of a "law of attraction" (and I hope that Zoltan Itsvan would not be offended by that comparison) sense of pulling yourself to where you want to be.  

Wow.  I really like that concept.  For indeed transhumanism is an ever-growing and progressing reality.  One may choose to be as involved or not involved with it as they want, just as one may opt out of being a participant in social media although even that is growing harder and harder to do.  A basic question I might ask someone regarding transhumanism is "What do you want out of it?"  If the answer to that is "nothing" then that's fine.  By the same token, however, do not then argue to restrict someone else from integrating with such technologies...even if that means allowing them to upload their entire consciousness.  As Istvan ends with:

"Rather than mock and shrug off such advances that will soon be a part of our lives, we might consider instead what their value is and how they might improve our lives and those of our loves ones."

Preach, brother Zoltan.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Shadow visits Innsmouth

In an April one-shot from Dynamite Comics, there will be a Shadow Over Innsmouth.

No, a real Shadow.  As in the pulp and radio drama character. The title is of course a play on words from an H.P. Lovecraft short story, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."

So let me get this straight.  It's one of my favorite pulp characters mashed up into one of my favorite author's stories and all presented in comic book form?  Once again, I find myself sounding like Flounder from Animal House:

"Oh boy, is this great!"

Heh.  Suppose you could say that was a little tribute there to Harold Ramis.  But I digress...

As anyone who has read Lovecraft knows, the fog-shrouded harbor town of Innsmouth is an isolated mystery.  People speak of bizarre and arcane rituals performed by the townspeople, shambling and fish-like forms, and eldritch and undead gods that rise from the deep.  The Shadow, who is in reality Lamont Cranston--wealthy man-about-town, and Margo Lane find themselves trapped in Innsmouth.  And that's when things get real.

"Certainly the title alone made this a natural story to tell, but more than that, both the Shadow and Lovecraft's mythos are products of the same era," says writer Ron Marz. "They both have pulp roots, so despite the Shadow's crime orientation and Lovecraft's overt horror, there's a similarity in mood. I tried to put together the Shadow and the Innsmouth legend in a way that remains true to both of them."

A long time ago, I played The Shadow in a (very) small reading of radio dramas.  The storyline featured Lamont and Margo on a vacation of sorts in New England.  They of course got into trouble that only The Shadow could solve.

But that G-rated trifle was nothing like this. This crossover goes beyond anything I could have anticipated and I'm very interested to say the least.  The art (shown above) doesn't look too bad either, but then that's usually quite secondary to my expectations of the writing, thus making me something of an outcast from the fanboy flock.  Having an adept writer such as Marz at the helm certainly sweetens the pot.

Let's see where this goes.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

UFO incident at Height 611

I have only recently heard of this specific UFO case, a so-called "Russian Roswell."

The thing of it is, however, that phrase "Russian Roswell" has been applied to more than a handful of various incidents.  Anyway, the one I will be examining (if you can call it that given the source material) is an incident at a mountain termed Height 611 near Dalnegorsk, Russia.  My introduction to this case came via a television program entitled, Unsealed: Alien Files.

Oh boy is that a fun show.

You know the kind I'm talking about, right?  Lots of super-serious voiceover that continuously warns the viewer of sinister threats to the world from luciferian alien entities?  All of it coming without much in the way of solid evidence?  Prepare for the sciamachy!  Or as one family member once commented to me as I watched the show, "What are these 'files' that they are 'unsealing?'  Where did they get them?"

Relax.  It's just a TV show.  It's entertaining.  It's diverting.  I wouldn't take it for much more than that.  To wit, note the disclaimer at the beginning that basically says "if you take everything for fact on this show then it's not our fault."  That said, the program does sometimes introduce me to alleged but compelling UFO incidents that I have not previously heard of.  The Dalnegorsk "crash" is one such case.  I will now attempt to relate what I have found about the case outside of the TV episode.  Fair warning, I haven't been able to find much in the way of what I would call credible sources.  I am relying on a synopsis from...ugh...Wikipedia.  If anyone has solid sources they can point me towards, I would appreciate it.  Here we go.

On January 29th, 1986, residents of the then-Soviet town of Dalnegorsk witnessed a reddish orb in the sky half the size of the Moon's disc.  Other residents reported a structured, saucer-shaped craft, but what the witnesses seem to agree upon is that the UFO traveled in silence.  It moved parallel to the ground until coming to rest, again soundlessly, atop Height 611.  Three days later, a group of ufologists scaled the mountain to follow up on the reports.

It is said that they found an impact crater of about 2x2 meters and the surrounding trees of the area blackened into charcoal.  The truly odd aspect of the scene, it is said, was the presence of a coating of black, glassy, drop-shaped beads and mesh fragments.  An analysis of these beads was said to yield a chemical composition similar to that of debris found at the location of the Tunguska blast.  Unfortunately, that latter point was garnished with the Wikipedia's nefarious "citation needed."  Again, if anyone has real sources on this matter I would appreciate it (I guess it was mentioned in Stringfield's book, but I have yet to get to that.)

If true, this would be a landmark case.  I say this because it has exactly what the field of UFO studies lacks most of the time: physical evidence.  If the chemical composition of these glass beads could be determined and if said composition contains a large amount of elements that are rare on Earth, then the likely alternative is that the debris came from somewhere other than here.  So wouldn't that then indicate a meteorite?

Possibly.  Yet the contention for a meteorite flies in the face of the witness claims that the UFO made no sound...even on impact.  Then again, the physics of acoustics might have something to say about that and this whole incident may be much ado about nothing.

That is if Unsealed: Alien Files hasn't led me astray.  To quote Joe Namath:

"If...if...such a big word for only two letters."

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Interview with Joel Richardson

Joel Richardson is a writer, researcher, and the owner of the site UFO-Alien Research.
He graciously agreed to be interviewed by Esoteric Synaptic Events.
So without further ado, meet Joel:

-How did you develop an interest in UFOs?

I guess I really didn't get into UFOs and the idea of extraterrestrial life visiting Earth until my early 20's, although I had witnessed a UFO close up earlier in my years.

It actually happened kind of by chance. I was working part time building websites and was commissioned to build one on the psychic phenomenon. After putting together the site which is now no longer on the web, I was asked to help with marketing it. I didn't really know anything about psychics, or anything to do with the paranormal, but dived in to learn more about their customer base to help get the word out about their site and their services.

After a couple months of working on that, I started really researching UFOs and all of the leaders in Ufology for myself after coming across a lot of it on the web. I learned that there is a lot more evidence out there and witness testimonies by prominent people than I originally knew of. After that I built myself a site and started cataloging sightings, witness testimonies and abduction cases from around the world. When that started gaining ground people started contacting me with many stories, videos and images of UFOs. It's actually quite overwhelming at times trying to decipher all of the fakes that are sent in. All in all I feel I've helped a lot of people, especially the abductees that have no where else to turn because they feel they will be ridiculed.

-Which cases do you believe have the best evidence?

There are quite a lot of close up witness accounts by prominent people out there that I think can be construed as the best testimony. The astronaut Edgar Mitchell who was on the Apollo 14 mission, which was the third manned mission to the moon, is one of them. He has come out publicly, and said that aliens have been watching us for a long time now and the Governments of the world know about it. He claims that he has seen these crafts while on NASA missions. He claims the reason for denial is because we (as in Government employees) weren't sure if they were hostile or not and there was no way to know if we could protect ourselves from them. He claims that they are still out there watching us. News interview with him.

My favorite though is the Travis Walton case. Many know of the story because a movie was made from his experiences in the 90's called Fire in the Sky.

The short story is: He was working a logging contract in Arizona for the Federal Government when he and his coworkers started down the logging road to head home on November 5th, 1975. They saw a strange light in the woods and headed towards it. What they came upon, according to them, was a large UFO. Mr. Walton proceeded to get out of the truck and head towards it. He was then stuck by a beam of light and thrown, according to his coworkers. They fled out of fear and Mr. Walton wasn't seen for days. So long in fact, that his coworkers were thought to have murdered him as the police didn't believe the alien abduction story.

When he did reappear days later and miles down the road, he was extremely dehydrated and malnourished. It was clear he had not drunken or eaten anything in the time he was gone. He was immediately rushed to the hospital. He later told his story which no one believed except the men who had already corroborated it earlier to authorities.

What makes this case unique, and why I think it's one of the better ones as far as evidence goes, is because all of the men were asked to take polygraphs to prove their stories. All of them passed as what they said was true including Travis Walton except one which came back as simply inconclusive. You can read the full story here as well as see the results of the polygraphs and listen to hours of interviews by Mr. Walton.

-Which theories (ET, superspectrum beings, etc.) as to UFO origins to you believe are the most likely?

If I understand the question correctly, I am a firm believer that UFO origins are from other worlds, with beings much like ourselves. Just a much more advanced civilization. I believe that they are here on a science mission to learn more about us much like we do at the bottom of the ocean or how we are currently looking for signs of life on Mars.

-Ever had any experiences of your own?

I have! When I was in my early teens a friend and myself were hiking in the woods of NH. No drinking or drugs for those that always seem to bring that up. Nightfall had just come and we headed up the hill back towards our town. After just coming into a clearing we noticed a large craft above us that was moving slowly much like a helicopter would. Kind of just hovering there, but there was no sound. I've flown helicopters and those things are very, very loud. Especially at that distance.

As it came closer we could see it clearly. It was large, like the size of a couple houses. It was round like your classic saucer shaped UFO and had no lights. After it hung there in the air for about 3 minutes it proceeded to move in a western direction and then took off at a great speed. Once again without making a sound. As with many people that contact me about their experiences, nobody believed us so we let it go.

I do like what I do, but physical evidence is impossible to come by to thoroughly satisfy the naysayers in the world. Any crash debris or actual alien life, as Edgar Mitchell says, is quickly covered up in order to keep the whole thing a secret. I do believe however, that in my lifetime we will have disclosure and perhaps even meet one of these advanced lifeforms.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Like me on Facebook!

Thanks for speaking with ESE, Joel!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, February 24, 2014

UFOs and power outages

There is an aspect of the UFO phenomenon that intrigues me as well as causes me to roll my eyes.

All right, there are several things that fit that description, but today I would like to focus on the supposed connection between UFOs and power outages.  I wish to caution you, however, that this post represents only my first fumbling forays into the subject.  If the information seems incomplete, well...that's because it is.  Think of it as "blogging out loud."

Such a connection between UFOs and power outages has long been alleged.  One of the most well-known power blackouts, New York City in November of 1965, had its share of UFO sightings accompanying it.  The day before the blackout that sent the city and six neighboring states into darkness, a private pilot reported seeing a "round, glowing object near the Niagara Falls power plant" or so Frank McGee reported for NBC News (I'm a bit leery of the validity of that link, but when talking about UFOs what else is new?)  There were other sightings of the standard, "silver, metallic disc" type of UFO in the region.  It should be cautioned, however, that such sightings are corollary and not causal.  To say the least.

The New York case was not the last one.  In November of 2009, a UFO was sighted over the hydroelectric plant of Joaquin V. Gonzalez, Argentina just before approximately 20,000 people lost power.  The object, according to witnesses, was an elongated saucer with "intermittent lights like flashers."  What's more, a similar object was said have been sighted in nearby El Tunal where it supposedly melted one of the turbines in that town's power generator, guessed it...a blackout.

Are UFOs just attracted to power plants?  Dr. Donald Johnson sure seems to think that they are, at least to the nuclear variety.  He has cataloged a total of 3,051 UFO sightings in counties that contain nuclear power plants.  This is in addition to the sightings and incidents at nuclear-armed military facilities such as Rendlesham Forest in the UK and Malmstrom AFB in Montana.

I can see a possible correlation between these power outages and UFOs.  There have been numerous reports of UFOs interfering with electrically-powered systems of one sort or another.  I am especially thinking of car engines dying out in the presence of a UFO or temporary loss of power to a single building as a UFO passes overhead.  In the Fire Officer's Guide to Disaster Control, firefighters are cautioned that if they approach a crashed UFO (yes, there is a chapter on it as you'll see if you click the link) that vehicle engines and portable generators may not be functional.  Radio communication with dispatch may also be spotty.  This all stands to reason if the propulsion systems of UFOs are somehow based on manipulating electromagnetic fields.

Where I end up rolling my eyes is when I hear assertions that the UFOs in question...if they even be such things in these cases...are attempting to siphon off power from our electrical plants for their own use.  Additionally, there are those who say the outages are just the UFO occupants' means of demonstrating superiority or otherwise evidencing malignant intentions.  While I can't speak much to the latter, the hypothesis of the former falls down when you consider how sophisticated UFO technology would have to be and how little our own electrical power would have to offer in such a case.  Why bother with our crude methods when the ultimate power source, namely a star such as the Sun, is nearby?

This of course all proceeds from assuming that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is the correct one.  If you try to take into account the hypotheses of "ultraterrestrials," John Keel's "superspectrum entities," or Mac Tonnies' "cryptoterrestrials" then the mind really bends.  It also generates (no pun intended) new motivations and possibilities.

More to come...

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Lego Space

Since my post on Galaxy Laser Team garnered a warm reception, I thought I would turn my attention to another classic science fiction toy.

I was a bit too old when the Space division of Lego really took off so I never owned many of the sets myself.   But my younger brother had a few and I find them impressive and imagination-capturing to this day.  Check out the Alien Moon Stalker:

It's rather like a Star Wars AT-AT only with ICBMs poised for launch out of it's back.  You'd swear the thing was designed by Reagan himself.  It should probably be taken into consideration that this was the Cold War spin placed on the toy by the Nichols boys and that Lego (at the time anyway) had somewhat of a pacifist streak in them so its doubtful they would share such an interpretation.  Those missiles could just as easily be rockets for launching satellites.

On the subject of pacifism, behold the Exploriens:

Adult Jonny would choose these as his favorite.  According to the ad copy accompanying the toy, these were something of the scholars of the Lego Space set.  They were tasked with scanning alien artifacts with computers and holograms in an effort to decipher languages and cultures.  If there was to be an interstellar Rosetta Stone, these guys were going to come up with it.

Because why would a kid want to build and play with battle pieces when he could lead a team of linguists?  Imagine the conflicts played out in the far reaches of space.  Will the Exploriens get their latest dissertation written?  Will it pass peer review?  'Nuff said!

I have also always admired how Lego seemed to realize that space exploration would not be altogether glamorous times with sterling silver rocketships and laser guns.  Someone would have to do the heavy lifting and carrying just for the necessities of survival.  That was the job of M-Tron:

You can almost hear that Dire Straits song as you imagine these guys working.  "We got to move these magnetic boom cranes, got to drill these geothermal cores."  A working dirge sung but to chirk one another on lonely, icy moons.

Even in the bright promise of a Lego future, one could not trust everyone.  Enter the Blacktron organization and their Message Intercept Base.

I think a friend of our family's actual had this.  All I remember was just how damn big the thing was.  Towers, communication dishes, a deployable fighter, and all of it populated by cyborgs in black.  The Lego Space Police were said not to be friends of these guys but that was as far as the narrative went.  At least to my foggy recollection.  That, however, was the great thing about these Lego sets.  Like Galaxy Laser Team, that didn't really come with any set storyline so you could turn it into whatever you wanted.  Right now, I'm envisioning a "cyborg bad guy" stereotype but the rub is that he used to be in Space Police.  Using his knowledge, his connections, and his RoboCop-type body, he heads up an organization that operates outside the law...and lives in a hideout that any James Bond villain would be jealous of.

Ok, I want these Legos.  Anyone care to crowdfund it?  You can have a say in the storyline and I'll post weekly updates in episodic fashion?

I promise you won't regret it.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Giving props to George Dvorsky

I read whether I have time or not and George Dvorsky is often on the list.

Every morning (or sometimes mid-afternoon, depending on class schedule and students experiencing their own personal apocalypses) I read several news sources.  If you follow me on Twitter or follow my blog's Facebook page...and please head over there and give it a "like" if you haven't already...then you know that io9 is one of my daily go-to sites.  I've told you this before.

But as I shared more and more links on subjects of futurism and transhumanism, I noticed that they were almost always written by the same person: George Dvorsky.  The texts have been among the most helpful for me not as simply a writer but as a thinker.  For example, I found this piece on nanomotors to be especially informative.  It describes how the movements of living cells have can now be directed by the insertion of nano-scale synthetic motors.  This opens up the doors to many other forms of human enhancement technology.  But I digress...

Dvorsky is not simply a contributing editor to io9 but is also a transhumanist who serves as Chairman of the Board for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and blogs at Sentient Developments.  He is a smart guy who really does weigh and consider all of the ethical and philosophical implications of transhuman technology.  In a risky move, and by "risky" I mean upon considering the vehemence of anti-transhumanist camps and their zealous opposition to any alteration of the definition of "human," Dvorsky offered a sort of "Bill of Rights" with which artificial intelligence would be endowed.  Such as:

-The right not to be shut down.
-The right not to be experimented upon.
-The right to self-determination.
-The right to access to its own source code.

And several others which I invite you to read at the link.

Every now and again, Dvorsky will even write on the subject of UFOs and the prospect of alien life.  While he is decidedly ambivalent on the subject of the former, he did write this thought-provoking post on how humanity would change if we knew aliens existed.  Of course this meditation was based around the detection of an extraterrestrial signal and nothing in terms of say, a mass UFO sighting, but I found it intriguing nevertheless.  Here's to hoping that such a discovery (if even announced by the powers that be) would indeed reignite public interest in space science as Carl Sagan once conjectured.

So that's me waxing George's car for the day.  Right now I'm going to go binge watch the Winter Olympics...where rumor has it someone triple salchow-ed their way to an upset.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Half Past Danger

Just when I think I've sworn off contemporary comic books for good, one sucks me back in.

Interesting thing is, they do it by going old school.

Half Past Danger is a series published by IDW.  It's a story set deep in the midst of World War II.  In it, Sgt. Tommy Flynn takes his platoon on a mission to an island in the Pacific.  They find Nazis when they were expecting Japanese.  Why Nazis?  Because the island has a population of surviving dinosaurs and the Germans are interested in capturing, breeding, and weaponizing these animals...for ends you might not expect.

As you might imagine, it doesn't take long for the US soldiers to find themselves on the wrong end of Jurassic Park.  It's dinosaurs vs. army soldiers and it's not a fair fight.  Flynn becomes the only one of his team to come out alive...and he hates himself for it.  So what does any square-jaw Irish action hero do under the circumstances?  Simple.  Drink himself into a stupor.

That is until two figures show up to drag him back into action.  One is a US Marine named John Noble (no, I don't know if he was named after the Fringe actor) who might be a product of the Captain America treatment if you know what I mean.  The other is a noirish beauty from MI-6.  They announce that they are going back to the island to stop the Nazi experiment and they need Flynn's knowledge to do it.

This comic book pretty much has everything.  The allusions to Indiana Jones are obvious, what with Flynn being a "man of action" and even wearing a brown bomber jacket as well as fighting Nazis, but there is also more than a bit of James Bond tossed in as well as the feel of old pulps and movie serials.  I have read the first story arc of six issues (which I believe is now available in collected format) and it gets my highest recommendation.

Nostalgia does admittedly play a part in my liking of the comics, but is a particular strain of such.  The genre of straight-up adventure is very hard to come by these days.  This is due in part, I would argue, to jungles no longer seeming so mysterious and impassable and most islands being charted.  There is also far fewer areas in the world that are truly "remote" due to the connectivity of a "global village." Now as I'm sure you know by now, I am no Luddite who yearns for a "simpler time." I do however, miss stories that were possible due to the greater amount of gaps in humanity's knowledge of the world.  It is within those gaps that adventure can take place.

Plus it's got Nazis and dinosaurs.  What more do you flippin' want?

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Let's just put Kim in charge

Yeah, Lee Speigel says things are improving.

In his coverage of the recent 23rd annual International UFO Congress in Scottsdale, Arizona, he remarked that the tone of the event was a bit more serious this time around.  "While there still exists a 'purchase-an-ET-trinket' mentality fostered by an ever-present vendor's room, the overall credibility climate has evolved." Yes, now there are former NASA scientists and seasoned researchers presenting cases that alien contact has already occurred.  Serious, serious, serious, blah blah blah.

But I ask you, ladies and we not stand on a slippery slope?  If we eschew the alien costume contests and narrow the marketplace for "genuine alien artifacts," what have we lost?  Where will people turn for knowledge without statuettes of every member of the alleged alien bestiary?  Hell, the public at-large just might no longer subscribe to the sacred equation of "UFO=aliens."

And the crystals!  Dear God, somebody think about the crystals!  Why, selling crystals for "channeling"...or whatever the hell it is that they do...goes head-in-tinfoil with UFO phenomena.  Oh and if only that "dead Bigfoot" tour had actually shown up at the conference.

What will we lose next then in our pursuit of "seriousness?"  Will newscasters stop snickering as they report UFO sightings while the theme to The X-Files plays in the background?  I'll admit the theme music is not as elegant as the royalty-free theremin stock that used to get played prior to 1994 but I'll take what I can get these days.

That affront is not nearly the half of my consternation.  If things keep heading in this "serious" (scoff scoff) direction, I'll likely have to stop answering a few of my more treasured UFO queries from people.  I'm talking about delectable treasures such as:

1. Why do UFOs only abduct rednecks?
2. Why isn't there a fence you can park by and look through at Area 51?
3. Why don't UFOs just land on the White House lawn?
4. Why don't UFOs cause delays at airports?
5. Have you ever tried the butt probe? (For the last time, the answer to that one is "yes and it was just once for fun in college.")

So here is my "modest proposal."

Let's put Kim Kardashian in charge of UFO investigations.

Kim Kardashian can bring us just the kind of star power (pardon the pun) and garish exposure that our particular field of research so sorely needs.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Katy Perry might be the obvious choice with her song, "E.T."  Well, a lesser mind might think that but I'm putting the kibosh on her for a few reasons.

First of all, Kim is a woman of obvious brains and wit.  Second of all, Kanye West was also featured on that "E.T." song, so I say why not bring the whole "Kimye" in on this and not just the half?  Plus, it ain't like Kim is hard to look at.  Gimme a double "hell yeah!"

Oh hell with it.  Let's geek the whole thing up and bring ALL the Kardashians in on it.  Kim, Khourtney, Kanye, whatever the other sister is named, and Bruce Jenner if he's still in the picture.  Oh yeah and the mom.  Lest I forget.  Really, aren't these the ambassadors you want standing at the UFO landing pad in Colorado (pending those sages actually convince their narrow-minded populace to approve its construction)...waiting for the door to the first craft to open and alien life to emerge?  Aren't they the first humans you want representing the race?  The TV ratings are a lock.

So gimme a call, Kim.  We can hook this up.  Get you a nice crop circle pendant necklace, too.

Yeah, girl.  You know it.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Alien signals will be discovered by 2040"

Seth Shostak has made a bold and concrete prediction:

"Astronomers will have scanned enough star systems by 2040 that we'll have discovered alien-produced electromagnetic signals."

I know that I have had my obvious issues with Shostak in the past, but I find myself falling in line with his thinking as described at the link.  Maybe not as far as the prediction itself but I am very intrigued with the logic that led him to say it.

Up until now, the search for extraterrestrial signals has been confined to reaches of space that contain Earth-like planets.  These exoplanets inhabit the cheekily-termed "Goldilocks zone" where conditions are thought to be "just right" for the rise of life.  This is, of course, based on our own understanding of biology.

But what if, as Shostak and many others argue, the natural evolution of intelligent life is to shuck biology in favor of technology?  We could be living in a "transhuman universe" where the petty needs of carbon-based life and the requirement of "Goldilocks zones" no longer apply.  Intelligent computers would be immortal and would contain the cumulative knowledge of all of its predecessors.  "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it."

It may therefore be more likely that we will detect signals or artifacts from sentient AIs as opposed to the purely biological variety of aliens.  As Shostak points out, most interestingly as a matter of fact, this shifts the search from comparatively narrow "Golidlocks zones" to young stars or the dense center of the galaxy.  Why?  Because sentient machines would likely only have an interest in matter and energy.  In those locations, such things could be found in ample supply.

"Machines have different needs," Shostak says.  "They have no obvious limits to the length of their existence, and consequently could dominate the intelligence of the cosmos."

He also acknowledges the admittedly short span of time in which a civilization would utilize electromagnetic transmissions.  Even us humans have had only a few decades of radio signals before switching over towards digital transmissions.  So going back to the initial prediction, I'm still not certain why SETI is stuck on electromagnetic signals with the exception that there could still be a few waves bouncing about in space from a civilization's technological infancy.

It has potential.  More than anything, I can appreciate this shift in thinking.  Our merging with technology is almost a foregone conclusion at this point.  It is not at all illogical to suppose that an older and more advanced civilization would have passed this node of development long ago and achieved the august state described previously.  

When I first saw the headline, I confess that I believed it was Shostak fighting to financially justify SETI.  That might still be the case, but I can't fight his logic.  If anything, I hope we find that signal far prior to 2040.

Then again, would "they" tell us if we did?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, February 14, 2014

Free Form Friday: Winter memories

It should be obvious by now that the Winter Olympics are underway in Sochi, Russia.

This two-week event is perplexing for many.  The sports, with the exception of hockey, don't have an offense and a defense.  That alone mystifies 'Murica.  Many events are also judged, meaning the lack of "I got more points than you" furthers the flummoxing.

For me, my fascination with the games began with the 1988 games in Calgary.  I've been trying to understand why.

Maybe it was the games as a canvas against which a vast human drama plays out, a play or a movie with characters as big and as complex and as enjoyable as any fictional ones.

Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards is a prime example.  He was the first British citizen to participate in ski jumping.  But where jumper Matti Nykanen of Finland was looking to jump for a fourth gold medal, Eddie was looking for survival.  "When I looked from the top of the jump," Eddie said.  "I was so frightened that me bum shriveled up like a prune." He finished last but everyone loved his spirit, making him an indelible image of those games.

"Losing a game is not equivalent to death.  Failing to be numero uno does not make me a lesser human being." --James Michener.

Along those lines, there was also the Jamaican bobsled team.  They are probably best known to a Disney-fied America by the movie, Cool Runnings.  Here was a group of guys from a part of the world that ice appears nowhere outside of a margarita, wanting to race a bobsled.  They crashed but then pushed their sled to the finish anyway.  Drive.  Determination.

I may get my "man card" revoked by the tribunal, but I'll just say that one of the more captivating aspects of those games was the figure skating.  There was the "Battle of the Brians," namely Brian Orser of Canada vs. Brian Boitano of the US.
I'll go ahead and play the song since its in your head anyway.

With a near perfect performance and a standing ovation, Boitano managed eke out the gold in what was a very narrow decision.  I wonder how much inspiration was drawn from this for Blades of Glory.

Firmly holding on to my "man card" in the wake of my figure skating admission, let me just say that one major reason 16 year-old Jonny got into those games was the exquisite beauty of Katarina Witt.  In addition to being gorgeous, she had this da comrade sort of allure to her like an Eastern Bloc femme fatale in a Bond movie.  I could imagine meeting her in a foggy train station at night as she coos, "Will you bring me those naval codes?  You'll make me a very happy girl."   Will I?  Oh wow...  Truth is, it probably wouldn't have even taken that much.

"I think every man prefers looking at a well-built woman to someone who is the shape of a rubber ball." --Katarina Witt.

Homina homina homina.

Even though the ladies figure skating showdown was billed as a "Battle of the Carmens" between Witt and the US' Debi Thomas, that battle turned out to be a dud, viewers were still treated to the real moment of the night: Canada's Elizabeth Manley.  She came out and skated a plucky performance that dazzled both the home field fans and the judges, earning her a surprise silver medal.  It was gratifying to see an athlete so grateful and humble in their victory.

Not everyone was so humble in their achievements.  There was "Tomba."

Italian alpine skier Alberto Tomba was...well, almost a cartoon character.  While triumphant skier, winning two golds at the Calgary games, he liked to refer to himself in the third person as "Tomba." For example, he called his family from Calgary (collect) on the eve of his second ski to say, "...for the second run, you must turn on all three TV sets and watch Tomba win three times in parallel."  He also went by "Tomba the atomic Bomba."

I don't know.  Maybe I'm just all full of piss and vinegar because he made his way over to the Saddle Dome for final round of ladies skating.  All to mack on my girl, Katarina.  The choad.
Seriously though, my attitude towards him has dulcified.  It's all good.

That set my love for Winter Olympics.

There's also a more personal dimension to it, I think.  Up until then, the winter of 1988 had been abysmal.  I was going through high school or as I came to call it, "Nightmare Hall."  I was struggling in classes I had no business being in and I was quite the target for abundant bullies.  Point is, these games came to me at a time when I felt like I was drowning.  They gave me something else to think about, something away from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."  Maybe that's why I'm still looking up YouTube clips of those Olympics and reading copious amounts of Winter Games stories, past and present.  Calgary and later the other Winter Olympics helped me see the positive sides of humanity for a while.

Here's to hoping Sochi can do the same.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Doctor Who regenerates at Titan Comics

The Doctor is changing so he might as well change comic book publishers while he's at it.

Last month, Titan Comics announced that it has reclaimed its license to Doctor Who and will be writing a new series on collaboration with BBC Worldwide.  Naturally, this means that IDW will end its series and those stories will likely leave continuity in terms of comic books.

As any Doctor Who fan can tell you, the Doctor regenerates from time to time, bringing about a version of the character with a new look, a personality, and often a new orientation towards the universe in general.  This very regeneration occurred just last December with the Doctor Who Christmas Special as Matt Smith turned the role over to Peter Capaldi.  Interestingly enough, this new series from Titan will not only involve Capaldi's Doctor, but Smith's as well as David Tennant's and Christopher Eccleston's incarnations.

This will give Titan a wider range to play with and an ability to bring fans of Tennant and Smith...who appear to be ardent to say the least.  That said, what are the stories going to look like?  Naturally Titan isn't talking.  That is other than saying it will be "jaw-dropping." I mean, what are they going to say?  "It's gonna be awright."

And thus I wish I could say more about it.  I have enjoyed what little I have read from IDW but there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe that the quality should dip, especially given that the BBC is involved.  I mean come on, Marvel once had a Doctor Who series, how bad could this one be?

Besides, the Doctor probably belongs in British hands.  Perfect reading to go with Earl Grey and a pluvial day...of which I look forward to greatly after two months of snow and sub-zero cold.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meat consumption and climate change

"There's shit in the meat."

That is a quote from Eric Schlosser's book, Fast Food Nation.

We read that book in a class I taught last semester.  The quote comes from a chapter that describes the environment in a slaughterhouse, what gets mixed in with meat products, and how much tainting is actually allowed to happen as recalls and inspections are subject to politicians and corporate lobbies.  Between that and my inherent love of animals, you'd think my journey towards a regimen of vegetarianism would be complete.  No such luck.  Just another failure.

But now there is further evidence that links meat consumption with global climate change.  A report from the U.N. International Resource Panel says that we are overconsuming ourselves into "environmental oblivion."  To wit:

“Growing demand for food and non-food biomass will lead to an expansion of global cropland; yield growth will not be able to compensate for the expected surge in global demand,” the report states. “Cropland expansion at the cost of tropical forests and savannahs induces severe changes in the living environment with uncertain repercussions.”

The report asserts that at the current rate of farming, we will have a total amount of deforestation equivalent to the size of Brazil by 2050.  Fewer trees means definite effects upon the world's atmosphere and therefore the climate.  At the same time, it is not simply deforestation that contributes to the change in climate.  An enormous amount of greenhouse gas is produced just to yield a half pound of hamburger, this includes everything from the exhaust of trucks transporting the beef to the very methane released by the cows.

Now don't freak out.  The political lobby for the meat industry is sufficiently strong in this nation that you'll be able to get steak and hamburgers for a long time to come.  Obama is not going to come along and "communize your Nazism" and force you to become a vegetarian.  It won't happen.  What will need to happen, that is if we have any interest in preserving our environment, is a reduction in the amount of meat that we consume.  A reduction.  Not an elimination.

Although it would be nifty as heck if we...including me...could do that.

To get more involved with efforts around climate change, visit Greenpeace.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wishful thinking

I read a story by a writer this week.

While that opening statement is deliberately vague and by no means a shock, it's what follows that I wish to meditate upon. 

The writer is not an unintelligent person.  I need to make that clear.  The text itself could be placed squarely within the realm of Christian fiction.  It takes place after an apocalyptic occurrence renders civilization without law and order.  Rather than feeling "left behind," the characters of this opus believe that God kept them in the flotsam of the aftermath for a special purpose.  Whether that was to help people or convert them to Christian fundamentalism was a bit vague as both were going on.  Yes, the main characters would interact and trade with other stragglers and survivors but would also leave them with pamphlets on the New Testament. 

Sort of a "The Jehovah's Witnesses face 28 Days Later."

In the end, trumpets sound, the ground quakes, and the Rapture delivers the faithful to God.

It would be easy to dismiss this or poke holes in it, but I can't.  For in sooth, am I really any different?

As I hide in bed, contemplating ways that I might never leave my house again, trying to muster the strength to get through another day in this state, terrified of my future and questioning whether I should continue writing in any I not looking for a final form of salvation?  I blog all the time about transhumanism and leaving the frailties of the human body behind.  Without the need for food and shelter, the need for money...or at least as great a deal of it...dissipates.  Isn't that thinking just another form of "I wish someone or something would come and save me"?

I also feel great empathy for UFO cultists.  Not that I want to join them, mind you, but I understand and relate to their underlying desires.  Is it really any crazier to posit that aliens will return one day in their UFOs and set everything right than what other religions say?  People just want something to believe in.

So I'm having little luck with positive thinking.  My current level of coffee consumption has final sent my bad stomach past the tipping point.  What's the address of the nearest UFO cult?

Oh what's the use?  The aliens have probably been monitoring people like Pat Robertson and Jake Timber and want nothing to do with our planet.  They'll never show up.

By the way, I took this online quiz to see which Star Trek character I am.  It was a tie!

You are part Scotty. You are very mechanically skilled and love to work with your hands. You are constantly creating gadgets and trying to devise ways to make the world work faster and better. You love new technologies and are content to spend an entire day working on your inventions. When there is something that needs to be fixed you are the first one on everyone's list! You are fun and personable and even though you thrive when you work alone, you also love to be around people.

You are part Spock. Logic defines you-just like Spock! Sometimes you may seem a bit rigid, but that is only because you want everything to go according to plan. You tend to take things literally and people sometimes bewilder you with their jokes and sense of humor. You are reliable and intelligent and can always be counted on to keep a cool head when situations get out of control. You tend to keep everything- but in a well organized manner, of course! Friends love your ability to be able to solve problems.

I dunno.  My answers might have...again...been wishful thinking.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Laredo UFO crash

After hearing about so many UFO crashes (Roswell, Shag Harbour, Kecksberg, et. al.) I begin to wonder how "aliens" can make it across the vastness space but seem screwed the minute they hit our atmosphere.

Anyway, I heard of a UFO crash in 1948 near Laredo, Texas.  I was unaware of this incident, even though what I've read of it so far carries similarities with the alleged Coyame crash which I've blogged about previously. 

True details of this alleged crash came from a UFO researcher named Leonard H. Stringfield who in his 1978 self-published book, Retrievals of the Third Kind--A Case Study of Alleged UFOs and Occupants in Military Custody, claimed that a highly-placed military contact had told him about this fallen saucer.  Here's how the story is said to go:

Almost one year to the day after the Roswell crash, a silver disc-shaped UFO was seen over the skies of New Mexico headed southwest towards Texas.  Air Force fighter jets intercepted and pursued the object until it crashed in Mexico, just across the border from Laredo.  With this military pursuit, a few investigators have conjectured that the UFO might have been brought down by force as there seems no other outward reason for the crash.  As always, those who would really know ain't talking.

George Marshall, Secretary of State at the time, is then said to have obtained permission from the Mexican government to enter Mexico and retrieve the crash of "an experimental aircraft." Mexico okayed it and a response team was flown in from White Sands while a convoy of Army trucks moved in to remove the wreckage.  Not only was crash debris found, but there was also said to be the charred remains of an alien occupant.  Supposed photographs of this alien gave rise to "Tomato Man" case.

I remembered seeing this photograph in UFO books when I was young (incidentally, the link also has a bit more information on the Laredo crash.)  The photo is said to depict the burned corpse of a being a bit over four feet in height with a head that is quite large in comparison to the rest of the body. The moniker of "Tomato Man" was due mainly to this disproportionate and completely round head.  Other findings from the autopsy showed that the entity had no thumbs or visible reproductive organs.  The eyes had burned away in the fire, but the large sockets indicated the same size and perhaps style of eyes that the Grays are reported to have.

Yeah.  Too bad Kevin Randle pretty much debunked the entire "Tomato Man" photograph as being actually that of human remains from a plane crash, but believe what you want.

What was this really?  A meteor impact that got distorted by the grapevine?  A secret military aircraft that went down?  Or was it exactly as alleged, a UFO crash?  Another one of many it would seem.  Funny how that happens to beings with supposedly advanced technology.  All cynicism aside, it would be improper for me to make an argument one way or the other on Laredo, at least not without a great deal more reading. Far be it from me to be a blatherskite on a subject of which I know nothing, right?  He says, winking.

Speaking of reading, this book by Noe Torres on the subject may need to go onto the to-read pile.

Follow me on Twitter at @jntweets

Friday, February 7, 2014

Presenting Galaxy Laser Team

I trust you are familiar with the standard "plastic green toy soldier." Well, prepare to meet the science fiction equivalent.

Galaxy Laser Team was a cheap toyline sold as a bagged collection in drug, dime, and department stores back in the late 1970s.  While I can't say for certain whether or not I actually owned these as a child, I do remember my friend John having a set.  We were both Star Wars junkies and I'm certain one or both of us got these as a gift from an adult family member who picked up the bag in the store and thought, "Eh, close enough."

Well these toys are now available for basement deals at sellers such as Amazon for those of us seeking to relive their youth.  As with the aforementioned toy soldiers, the bag of figures come in solid stock poses and you either get solid blue or green (although I believe orange and red versions are also available.)  But the glory of these toys is that they come with no attached storyline.  That means that you get to write all your own plot, character backstory, and dialogue...even though I'm certain what John and I did was not all that dissimilar from either the Battle of Yavin or an episode of Buck Rogers (which was hot at the was Erin Gray.)

Here they are:

These guys appear to be the "work-a-day" folks of the Galaxy Laser Team universe.  After all, somebody has got to keep the space fleet up and running, right?  Best not to oppress the proletariat, lest you end up with an "Occupy Coruscant" movement.

As with any science fiction saga worth its salt, there needed to be a robot.  In this pic we also get a look at the only female character in the GLT set...who by the look of things was designed with the same ethos as found in an episode of Mad Men.  You can almost hear the male characters uttering in craven voices, "Say, who's the new girl over in ops?"

These two represent the only non-humans in the set...besides the robot I mean.  There's a turtle-like alien and what is either a riff on Chewbacca or the Yeti.  Either way, he's big, he's hairy, he has antennae, and he's carry a big ass gun.  It gets no cooler.

If you're going to market a toy to young men, you'd better be sure it's weaponized.  On the left we see your standard space ranger type out to defend us from threats emerging from out of the void. The one on the right?  I'm not sure.  I may have spoken too soon with "only non-humans in the set." Is he supposed to be the Darth Vader of the mythos?  Well, upon closer inspection of his face...

Sorry, but that's the best the focus and zoom can do with my iPhone.  Anyway, I think you can see the more than passing resemblance with the alleged "face" on Mars...


Each set comes with a spaceship.

This is obviously an F-16 given the X-wing treatment. It also doesn't stand up very well.

What would my storyline be with these guys?  I'll let you know as it develops and of course would love to hear from readers as to what they would like to see in terms of plot.  Right now I'm leaning towards the members of Galaxy Laser Team discovering a sinister alien plot.  The alien race has been involved with the humans in a sort of START treaty that limits offensive weapons.  Anyway, GLT stumbles across the evil empire secretly installing ICBMs (or the galactic-level equivalent) on asteroids that are way too close to home.

Yes, if I'm going to show my age, might as well take it all the way.

Speaking of which, I have only one real memory of playing with these toys as a kid.  John and I had the day off from school.  We went to a Catholic elementary and Pope John Paul II was going to be celebrating mass in Chicago live via TV.  The school's powers that be were unable to procure a TV large enough for the day so we were told to stay home from school and watch the mass.

Guess what we really did?

I might not have gotten that "special blessing" alleged to have traveled by television to all viewers, but I sure had Galaxy Laser Team.  Which is nice.

And thus my life as a farceur may have been set.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, February 6, 2014

You'd think aliens would be smarter

Folks over at Buzzfeed have me thinking about alien abduction again.

The site provides "9 Ways to Protect Yourself in the Event of Alien Abduction."  Among these executable steps are to stop smoking pot and cease eating pizza before bed.  Though the tone of the article is satirical (or I hope to God that was the intent, anyway), it has me coming back to aspects of the abduction phenomena that bug me in terms of logic...or lack thereof.

Consider this: I and several others have long since posited that if humanity is poised on the edge of a transhuman singularity, then an older, more advanced alien civilization must have achieved this state long ago.  In all likelihood, they merged themselves with technology to overcome their own inherent biological flaws.  So why are their methods so relatively cumbersome?

One of the nigh-omnipresent aspects of the abduction narrative is the taking of genetic samples.  Abductees report this being accomplished through a variety of methods, but shouldn't there be a way to surreptitiously obtain these samples with no one being the wiser?  Just today I read about Ray Kurzweil describing how implanted nanobots will be able to, among other things, allow us to connect to the Cloud without need of external hardware.  Wouldn't an advanced civilization have its own nanotech (a neologism for robots or other technology as small as molecules perhaps)?  Doesn't that make more sense than a full-on abduction drama that includes erasing memories...that invariably seem to come back anyway?

And what do the aliens do?  Well in the infamous abduction case of Barney and Betty Hill, Mrs. Hill was subjected to a large needle inserted into to her navel, not unlike amniocentesis.

On board a UFO.

Just seems like there should have been a more elegant solution.  By the way, I am not impugning the Hills.  I truly believe that something happened to them and they suffered greatly as a result.  I'm just skeptical that "aliens" were the culprits.

Let's also think about this in terms of biology.  What are the odds that a lifeform that developed light years removed from Earth would have enough in common with us on the genetic level that our bodies would be of any use to them?  I can't say that it seems likely.  That is unless alien technology is sophisticated enough to overcome these biological differences in ways we can't yet imagine.

Speaking of technology, why can't these aliens better mask their presence from us?  Looking at the UFO sightings with truly great evidence, e.g. Rendleshem Forest, Phoenix, Washington D.C., it's almost as if the occupants of the crafts wanted to be seen...or perhaps they couldn't help it.  Either way, it doesn't speak highly of so-called advanced technology.  That is unless the aliens are every bit as susceptible to Murphy's Law as we are.

Or maybe "they" aren't aliens at all.

Once more, I do not wish to cast abductees in a bad light.  I'm certain that there are those who are experiencing something genuine and that it can't be fun.  I just question the pat notion that we're dealing with aliens and not something more along the lines of Jacques Vallee's theories on consciousness or John Keel's notion of beings on a "superspectrum." It's weird stuff, I know, and I don't embrace it over the alien hypothesis entirely, but it does solve certain logical conundrums...

...while raising a whole lot of others.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hostess superhero ads of yesteryear

There used to be certain ironclad things you could expect from a comic book.

These things included but were not limited to:
-A whole page of tiny, separate ads for things like sea monkeys, x-ray glasses and spy cameras.
-Bad dialogue.
-More often than not...escapist fun.

You could also count on your favorite superheroes saving the world with the help of Hostess snack cakes.  As evidenced:

In glorious whole page ads, comic book characters such as Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man would confront menaces to our communities and even our world.  These evil-doers would always be bested through the use of Hostess Twinkies, Ho-Hos, and Fruit Pies.  Still don't see what I mean?  Head over to

This man should be given the Nobel, the Pulitzer, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and any other laurel bestowed upon one who has truly benefited humanity.  He has painstakingly gone through what were undoubtedly thousands of old comic books and located each and every known Hostess ad of the kind described.  At the site you can see them all for yourself...scanned in full color, categorized by character, and archived for the betterment of all mankind.  Suck it, Mandela.  Somebody get the Vatican to issue canonization for Seanbaby.

Going through the ads, delighting in their sheer, delirious silliness, a few thoughts struck me.

First of all, these ads went across comic book companies.  Both Marvel and DC had their characters take part in what came to feel like an almost "Hostess shared universe."  It didn't matter whose company owned the character, everybody seemed to be working for the greater glory of snack cakes with cream filling.  And is it just me or did the storylines of the Marvel ads seem just a touch more plausible by comparison?  Sorry.  Being snowbound has gotten to me I think.

Secondly, these ads didn't just feature the "flagship characters." You saw many different superheroes with varying levels of sales and popularity.  Sure, there were the ones I mentioned, plus other hot properties at the time like Wonder Woman and Captain America.  At the same time, however, guys like Thor and Aquaman got in on the snake cake action, too.  Check out one of my favorite character's own Hostess adventure:

Yep.  That's Captain Marvel.  In this saga, he wins a victory for peace by averting an interplanetary war with the Kree...all by luring them to a spaceship full of Twinkies.  The Kree become far too involved in gorging on the golden spongecake with cream filling to wage war.  I contacted the Pentagon to see if they've tried this tactic on al Qaeda.  The military rep dismissed me fairly quickly, mentioning something about me being on a "watch list" now but screw 'im.  I'll file a FOIA request.

But I digress...

Not only were obscure characters involved in the ads, DC Comics actually had their villains featured as solo characters.  Both the Joker and the Penguin were involved with Hostess capers.  Their schemes always resulted in them getting hauled off to jail but they ended up with their share of Hostess cakes nevertheless.  The message kids?  Sure you'll get time and interesting showers in the pokey, but crime just might pay in terms of sugary goodness.

Lastly, if I were an unscrupulous sort, I could probably sue Hostess.  All these ads taught me was that if the snack cakes were good enough for the superheroes, then they were good enough for me.  Now my waistline suffers the aftermath of a lifelong love of Twinkies, fruit pies, and who can forget the delectable Suzy Q?

Oh who am I kidding?  I still love you, Hostess.  Let's never fight again.

I am now off to plot my inter-company crossover, Crisis on Infinite Snack Cakes.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Your cybernetic options

I came across a few interesting news stories related to transhumanism.

They ranged from the speculative to the actual and even slightly amusing.

In an article entitled "Want to become a cyborg?" over at the UK's Daily Mail Online, we see a sort of overview on what cybernetic technologies may one day be available to augment the human experience.  The piece mainly focused on the "sexier" aspects of transhumansim, namely the developments in cybernetics that could make one "superhuman." Here's a very quick look at the technologies mentioned, even though I've discussed many of them here before:

-Lens implants for the eyes that not only enhance your vision (imagine being able to zoom in on what you're looking at) but allow you send and receive video messages with your eyes.

-Exoskeletons that enhance strength or as the article boasts like a circus crier, give you "the power to crush a car with one clench of the fist." I wouldn't exactly call this a work of cybernetics, that is unless the same capability were merged with  i-Limb technology (later mentioned in the article).

-And of course, the notions of neural interfaces and mind uploading.  That way, you circumvent the need for a body in the first place.

But being transhuman does not mean you don't have to be fashionable...even if there are those of us who seek transhuman states to get away from such concepts.  This article from the BBC describes how each morning Jozef Metelka must decide which leg he's going to wear. Pardon me for a moment as I ponder this.  The same way I sit and wonder which tie to go with my shirt, I could be deciding with cybernetic limb to use for the day.  Wow.

Although he lost his original leg in a motorcycle accident in 2009, Metelka now owns a collection of 12 different specially designed prosthetics that let him go snowboarding and mountain biking.  So the choice is not one purely out of aesthetics but also practicality.  In fact, you can read for yourself how much work goes into replacement limbs that will emulate human performance in specific circumstances such as sports.

Fear not however if you have a thirst for fashion that must be slaked.  The article goes on to mention the work of Sophie de Oliviera Barata who has created a gallery line of designer limbs and established herself as "the undisputed queen of personalized prosthetics." Her designs, however, given that they can come with crystals, jewels, and even laser pointers, are not cheap at about $4,000 a piece.

Little by little the Singularity is coming.  It might not be as glitzy as the kind gushed about in the Mail Online article, but it's happening.  As we continue to integrate technologies with our own bodies, whether by design or by necessity, that by definition is the Singularity.  In time, you'll just see my lifeless husk left behind as I've achieved a more permanent state that is unfettered by the needs of nutrition, exercise, grooming, and emotions.

Or so I tell myself.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, February 3, 2014

Artist profile: Maya Garcia

I came to know of Maya Garcia through the Duran Duran and David Bowie fan circles of Facebook.  But it is the art that she creates that led me to interview her for ESE.

To acquaint yourself with Maya's work, please head over and watch the video art piece, "Channel Flipping." It evokes a few of the more interesting aspects that surrealism has to offer.  Shades of Chagall and even David Lynch (I was thinking of him when the owl appeared) make their presence known.

It can often be difficult for a passionate artist to make their way in this bottom-line world.  That is a truth I am all too aware of so if I can help others along in their endeavors, I certainly will.  So thankfully for us, Maya agreed to answer a few quick questions about her and her art for this blog:

1. Most readers of my blog know of my fervent admiration of Duran Duran and I know it is an admiration that you share.  How specifically has the band influenced your art?

Duran Duran have inspired nearly every facet of my life, from how I put outfits together down to what other music I listen to. I never fully grasped their influence on me till fairly recently! Because they started becoming an obsession for me from a very young age, I jokingly say that Duran Duran partially "raised" me. In truth, this last album and tour has inspired me to try new things in terms of creativity, to dare to push myself artistically. That is why I started creating these films; originally for the TV Mania project, but now it's become a passion in and of itself.

2. Outside of that, who are your artistic influences? 

My imagination was captured by Surrealist art and film from the first time I wandered the halls of the Art Institute, and it's still my favorite style or movement of art. In general, I adore most of the art from 1900-1940, and also Renaissance art, especially tapestries and triptychs. I also enjoy Pop Art. My favorite artists are the ones who either move me or make me look at the world differently. Especially Frida Kahlo and Marc Chagall.

Musically, David Bowie is also a huge influence. I love all kinds of music, from 60's soul to disco, punk, dark wave and the "glam revival" bands like Suede. I've started listening to a lot more electronica in the last few years as I've started making music and learning how to play keyboards again. Movies often inspire me too, and can stay with me for days, months, years. I love anything that "feeds my head", or my heart.

3. As an artist, what role do you see yourself having in society? 

I hope to inspire others to see things through a different lens, or maybe to even feel something. I just see myself as a messenger of sorts. Everything I create, from books to music to films is all about pure instinct. I may start off with an idea, but I often don't know what I've created until I take a step back. I just follow that little voice of inspiration within me and let it go!

4. Tell me about the "Channel Flipping" piece. 

Ever since childhood, I've had these recurring dreams, often taking place in different eras. I used these dreams as the spark of an idea, where I tried to portray what would happen if you could connect your subconscious mind up to a TV screen, kind of like a wireless router. What kinds of mischief does your mind get up while you sleep? Carrying on with the TV/TV Mania theme, I added samples from several, actual TV shows, and even an infomercial. I wanted to add some "old school" interruptions and white noise to the audio too, like the TV broadcasts used to have at the end of the day, and I also included several different programs over my film sequence, including an almost childish play on a murder mystery, which I called "Devil bird." It doesn't quite make sense, though it still all harmonizes together somehow, kind of like a dream sequence, with a soundtrack!

5. You've been doing quite a bit of work on Instagram I see.  Tell me about those compositions. 

I like playing with light, shadows and color. I just work purely on instinct. If I see a good shot, I go for it. Sometimes I like the accidental shots too, the way that the lens distorts light and creates an entirely new thing. It's amazing what you can do these days with "just" a little camera phone or an iPad! I like some of the filters on Instagram, and also the way that you can essentially display your work quickly. Like any other piece of technology, you can choose to be creative with it or not.

Thank you so much for the interview, Maya!  We'll certainly be watching for more great art.

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