Tuesday, May 31, 2016

George R.R. Martin helps fund Meow Wolf artspace

Writers are artists.

I don't mean to be self-aggrandizing but I believe it's a fair argument. Or if nothing else, a great many of us have a deep appreciation for art. George R. R. Martin, author of the megapopular Game of Thrones, has demonstrated such an appreciation by helping fund the Meow Wolf artspace in Santa Fe.

Now I must get back to New Mexico. I mean, take a look at it.

It is called the House of Eternal Return. There's a full-sized Victorian house within the installation where the "nature of time and space" has dissolved. Visitors to the installation don't just walk through the space, they must also climb and crawl. They are also expected to solve puzzles and acquire clues as they move along, a process that Ars Technica likens to the game Myst (check the link for more details). Said same publication also described the house's interior as have a Gothic, "pocket universe" sensibility similar to that of Donnie Darko. As I wasn't already sufficiently intrigued, that comparison drew me in all the more.

Take a look at a few of the photos at the link. Of immediate interest is the lead photo of "the aquarium." The typical reedy foliage found sprouting from aquarium floors is reproduced here in neons and fluorescents. At first blush it resembles something that a raver with highlighter markers might come up with or that one guy back in college obsessed with black light and Pink Floyd. Of course it also has fish. The "Victorian house" also has haunted forests, magical caves, and portals to other dimensions. I really dig this "it's weird and anything goes" kind of vibe and Meow Wolf must be quite something to see in person.

Martin's contribution was to buy and renovate an abandoned bowling alley to make a home for it all. Good on him. I've never read his work (as I'm certain many are now crying sacrilege) but I respect anyone who supports the arts. Something I wish I could do more of, besides just blog about it and take photos.

Tangent #1 ahead! If you're looking for more arty weirdness, I recommend Ectoplasmosis. It's a Tumblr page full esoterica and more than a few creations that will force you to question the mental state of their creators. My kinda peeps. I have easily gotten lost on the site, spending more time than I care to admit staring at photos such as the one of a fashion show featuring a plague doctor from medieval Europe. I likewise recommend the Beverly Crusher action figure going through a gallery of fan sketches and paintings of her real life counterpart. This site is not for mugwumps.

Tagent #2 ahead! Well not a tangent, really. More of an announcement. As of now, ESE is going on something of a summertime schedule. Posts will only be on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for a while. Got a lot going on at the moment.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sea level rise: it's inevitable

Flooding in Asuncion, Paraguay in December 2015. From The Atlantic.

Do you like to swim? Then climate change has good news for you.

Two weeks ago, I saw this article in Discover (telling myself "don't read the comments, don't read the comments.") It describes a record spike in Arctic ice melt observed on April 11th. Since that time, there has been "a second bout of unusual melting." Data provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center demonstrates that in both cases of melting, the thaw exceeded 10% of the ice sheet's area. In light of these events plus "unusual, persistent warmth and large-scale fracturing of sea ice," the lead scientist for the Center is quoted as saying: "The Arctic is going to go through hell this year. Both the sea ice and the Greenland surface melting."

This threw me back to a March article in The Atlantic: "Preparing for the Inevitable Sea-Level Rise." It's been happening, it's going to continue happening, what is left unknown is just how fast it's going to happen. Part of what is complicating that understanding is not knowing the exact rate of ice melt. Regional effects are even harder to predict. Scientists have approximated that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone could lead to a rise in global sea levels of 11 feet. Additionally troubling is the "two degree" concept. To understand this, we need to examine previous climate and geology. From the article:

"Looking back 120,000 years, the temperature was two to three degrees Celsius higher than today’s temperature—what scientists project climate change could bring within the next century. For example, in the interglacial age 120,000 years ago, temperatures were two to three degrees Celsius higher than they are today, and sea levels were three to nine meters higher. Scientists project that within the next century, climate change could bring current temperatures up to levels on par with this period."

This means interesting times for people who live in coastal areas like say, I don't know, Miami. New Orleans is already sinking but that's really nothing new.

One positive in all this may be that if we know it's going to happen we can take action. The article in The Atlantic describes how many initiatives are already underway. In strict terms of sea level rise, the argument over whether humans are causing it is nearly academic if the rise is indeed inevitable. We need to find solutions or start investing in inland properties. Maybe even rescue a few polar bears and penguins while we're at it.

Or maybe you can ease your conscience if you just keep repeating to yourself "we're not causing it."

For more information on sea level rise, please check out this presentation by PBS NOVA.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Did a UFO or SDI blow up a meteor? Go to Denny's to find out.

Photo from Express

Here is another one from Claire.

One morning last week, as I was barely out of my hypnagogic state, she contacted me about a few tabloid allegations. They go a little something like this. Hit it.

A webcam in Maine recorded what looks like a meteor falling from the sky. It is claimed that there is also the appearance of a second object entering the frame and intercepting the meteor, destroying it in a fireball. The American Meteor Society announced that there is indeed a second object on the webcam video, but it is nothing more than a smaller fragment of the meteor that had already broken off in the atmosphere.

What? That is so lame. No imagination at all and it's certainly not a very entertaining explanation. No, if you want that, you've got to go to the internet. There you will find the claims of the Space People True Believers who say the second object was a UFO. It destroyed the meteor and saved the east coast of the United States. After all, there are alien patrols who watch out for us as they know we are nowhere near technologically capable at this point of fending off a meteor strike.

I've read another slightly more plausible (that is if you still insist on doubting the factually accurate explanation from the American Meteor Society) but no less entertaining scenario. It states that a missile defense system, similar to what was proposed under the Strategic Defense Initiative or SDI or colloquially "Star Wars," blasted the meteor. That theory took me all the way back to someone I ran into in a Denny's late one night.

Because it's where I get all of my UFO and conspiracy information.

It was a few months after 9/11 and the people at my table were chugging coffee, smoking Marlboros, and fretting over chemical weapons. A young guy from another table overheard and jumped (literally) over to us. He claimed he was a Navy SEAL (brandishing his Navy keychain as if it were some sort of credential) and proceeded to school us about chemical weapons. All of it knowledge that he gained as a medic in the SEALs. "I've got enough medical gear in my trunk to keep someone alive until the ambulance arrives" he boasted. Made me wonder what he had in mind for the evening. Also he claimed to know that SDI is a reality and that there are particle beam weapons based in Alaska that are "70% effective."

I really didn't have any desire to call him on the flim-flam I was smelling. To tell you the truth, I was rather entertained by him as I usually am when I encounter these types. Great fodder for stories. Also, I didn't doubt his claims about SDI. The specifics maybe, but not the overall claim.

Stories like these proliferate because people see things in the sky and they don't know what they are. Watch the starry night sky sometime. You'll see something move high above where most planes fly. Probably a satellite. Could also be a drone conducting surveillance (an eerie feeling, eh?) Might be something else entirely, something we haven't been told about. Because there really are secrets. That's not paranoia or conspiracy talk. Several of our defense capabilities are being kept secret.

Because they have to be.

So while the webcam footage of the meteor is immanently explainable, I understand where the many of the other stories come from. They come from an awareness that things really are being kept from you, for good reasons, and the creepy sensation of the unknown that produces.

Well, that and from Denny's late at night.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Mead vs Jetsons in the city of the future

"The future ain't what it used to be."

At least I think that's the Yogi Berra quote. It was the upshot of an article over at The Atlantic. It basically looked at why we never got the future cities portrayed in The Jetsons. Now one point to make perfectly clear is that no rational person ever saw that cartoon as intending any real prescience. But it did give us a "cultural vision" of a sort, an ideal many hoped for at the time.

As the article points out though, the cartoon was not a complete miss. It somewhat predict our fast-paced, interconnected lives. Like the world of The Jetsons, we have moving walkways, mobile video screens, and interactive displays. So why didn't we get cool transportation like flying cars or hovering cities? Well for one thing, no one at the time realized how many people would be living in cities by now. It's estimated that over half of the world's population are urban dwellers. By 2050 that percentage will grow to 75%. This, as I'm sure you surmise, causes both strain and limitations upon infrastructure. 

If not The Jetsons, then who does render our new, "best guess" at the city of the future?

I vote for Syd Mead.

Mead is a concept artist who gave many famous films their signature look. Most notable among these for me is Blade Runner. He was once quoted as defining science fiction as "reality ahead of schedule." If we examine his art, I believe we can already see ourselves. If you'll indulge me however, I would go take a look at Mead's art vis-a-vis The Jetsons.

I'm aware this is something of a Bambi vs Godzilla proposition, but stay with me for a moment.

Look at the architecture, the stylization of the buildings. Even as the population of cities keep growing, the physical space of these will not. That means the only direction to go is up. Buildings will just get taller. You see that in Blade Runner. They also project a dirtier, less idealistic image than those in The Jetsons. I'll take the buildings from Blade Runner, thanks. Then again my worldview is rather Blade Runner on the whole. Further underscoring that view is the fact that in the film, the wealthy or 1%, live on the highest levels of the buildings, far above the working class and the poor. This might owe more inspiration to Fritz Lang's Metropolis but it doesn't matter. Both films are cool.

In terms of transportation, Syd Mead's designs give us the Spinner. The Jetdons had their flying car and Blade Runner had the Spinner, a more functional version of the former and rendered in brutalist sensibility. 

But could our Syd Mead-inspired cities have VertiPods

Now a few of you out there might be...concerned. There is after all a certain grittiness to the Blade Runner vision and devotees of The Jetsons might find it depressing.

Depressing? Hell, I'm already there.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chilling societal predictions by J.G. Ballard

That J.G. Ballard knew something about society.

He was a writer. A rather prolific one at that. Numerous novels and short stories that could be termed "genre fiction," though his Empire of the Sun defies such classifications. Ballard's also being "rediscovered" as his novel The High Rise about "a brutalist block of flats in alternate-universe version of 1970s Britain" has been given a film adaptation. For me, Day of Creation is the goods, a story that combines environmental warnings with mind-bending considerations of reality.

In keeping with this resurgence of all things Ballard, Flavorwire published this list of 20 quotes from J.G. Ballard that should, if you have any sense of what's going on, strike a bit close to home. You can see them all at the link, but naturally I've plucked out a few of my favorites:

“Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.”

“Bourgeois life is crushing the imagination from this planet. In due course this will provoke a backlash, since the imagination can never be wholly repressed. A new surrealism will probably be born.”

“Everything’s designed to be bland, homogenised, user-friendly. As someone says in the book (and I’ve used it before, I know, but it’s a slogan I’m going to keep pushing) the totalitarian regimes of the future will be ingratiating, subservient. No longer will it be Orwell’s vision of a boot stamping on a human face. We’ll have something highly subservient and ingratiating, where the tyranny is imposed for our own good. We see it all the time.”

“The future is probably going to be something like Las Vegas.”

I have no doubt taken this blog perilously close to the edge of turning readers away with my incessant bemoaning of our gormless society. We don't like smart people. Many among us don't like to base decisions on scientific fact. Thinking is just too hard.

None of this was news to Ballard. He saw the end coming and as several of his novels suggest, we'd actually welcome it when it happened.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Number of confirmed exoplanets doubles

Credit: NASA

Big news from space was promised by NASA last week.

Naturally, this led to copious, even if misguided, speculation among Space People True Believers that disclosure was finally happening. What we actually got was rather significant in its own right. Researchers at NASA's Kepler mission announced the discovery of 1,200 exoplanets. This has come about due to new software that increases the ability to discern signal from noise in the massive amounts of Kepler data.

There's always the same question with these announcements: could any of these planets be habitable? Of course nothing is certain whatsoever, but a recent paper published in Astrophysical Journal estimates that given discoveries from Kepler and Earth-based astronomy, the number of Earth-like worlds may be around nine. Another article from 2013 estimates 8.8 billion habitable planets in this galaxy alone.

One interesting bit I gleaned from the initial article announcing the 1,200 is the methodology with Kepler. Kepler does best with short-period planets, meaning exoplanets that take a small period of time to transit their star. Makes sense. You're going to have more opportunities to catch the dimming of starlight with a short-period planet than you would another further out. For example, someone observing our solar system from the outside might more easily catch a glimpse of Venus or Mercury than say, Jupiter. Even though Jupiter is the largest of all the planets in our star system, it would cross the observer's field of vision far less frequently.

That might not be such a bad thing if someone's true interest is in habitable planets. Our outer planets are not, at least from what we know right now, habitable. For that, you need to get closer to the Sun and towards the much-discussed "Goldilocks zone." That is where you will find the only planet in our solar system with oceans of any kind, something that is necessary for life (again, as we understand it.) The fact that Earth is rarity even in its own solar system might be indicative that such warm worlds with large oceans are in fact rare pretty much everywhere.

What does this all mean? Well, sometimes I actually like to feel insignificant. In the tradition of Kafka, sometimes I want to shrink until I'm nothing and thereby render my problems the same size or me too small for them to find me. Realizing your place in a galaxy with over a thousand other planets...at the very bare minimum...and in a universe with who knows how many galaxies, that's good way to feel like a speck. So, putting it all in perspective, I'm just a speck. And so are you.

Not insulting. Just sayin'...

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Give yourself a robot body at long distance

Virtual reality came up during a faculty seminar today.

A colleague lamented that there is now an online dating service for those wanting long distance relationships. By "long distance" I mean international. The relationship would take place entirely in virtual reality. "People can create perfect avatars, idealized versions of themselves or idealized to what the other person wants."

That might soon be taken to another level with robot bodies. That's the plan of tech mogul and early Google investor, Scott Hassan. His idea is to send your video image to a flatscreen monitor mounted on two legs ending in wheels. It's based on his video conferencing tool called Beam. It's basically like FaceTime or Skype but this added dimension allows the caller to not only be seen but to have a body with which to act out rudimentary functions. Edward Snowden used a similar system in one of his appearances.

Is it still an "appearance" if it's virtual? If it's your robot stand-in? All questions for the future.

Hassan certainly has a robotics pedigree. He developed the PR2 that has already cleaned dog waste from yards, poured both beer and lattes, and as I noticed last year, make pancakes.

The robot bodies, such as they are, are not capable of much right now. They move about on their wheels, following whomever you've called. They can interact with their environments on basic levels. But there is no reason why all of this can't or won't be advanced and enhanced in the coming years. Instead of a spindly, two leg structure we might soon have chiseled frames to hide our more embonpoint features.

Imagine it though. "Beaming yourself" into the robot body of your choosing. After all, if you have the opportunity to create a virtual relationship involving bodies to your own customization and without all the egregious hassle of real life, why not?

I'm sure others see things differently (those faculty members certainly do) but I wonder if the world's naysayers have had enough relationship pain to make a fully informed decision.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MoD will release UFO files but don't get too worked up about it

An alleged UFO photographed over New Jersey during a 1952 flap. Source.

Try not to get too excited, but new UFO files are about to be released.

I caution against excitement as these disclosures seldom lead to anything.

Seems like it's a perennial headline, "X-Files about to be opened!" This time it's files from the British Ministry of Defense, former stomping grounds of ardent UFO investigator (one of the more level-headed among them usually), Nick Pope. The UK's House of Lords has backed the release of these files that contain official investigations into UFO sightings. Space People True Believers no doubt hope that the ever-elusive "smoking gun" will be found amid this new information that proves aliens have been visiting Earth for a long while now and world governments have been keeping it all very much hush hush. Among other cases, there is hoped to be more information in the files regarding the UK's legendary Rendlesham Forest incident.

The article makes Nick Pope sound optimistic about things. While not quoted, the writer says Pope believes the "files should contain some fascinating sightings." I suppose that's not all that out of the realm of reasonable expectation. The article also says that Pope warns not to expect any evidence of a "British Roswell" or substantive indications that the Britain has any UFOs in a secret hangar somewhere. That's probably a good idea.

An MoD spokesman is quoted in the article as giving an estimated release date as around the 25th of this month. Apparently, this is additionally welcome news as the initial release of these files was delayed in 2014 due to processing issues. This of course fueled the fires of many conspiracy theorists.

After all, they need something to do.

I don't mean to come off sounding as self-aggrandizing or intimate that I'm the great UFO panjandrum, but as I indicated before, these kinds of stories are just redundant to me. As Pope says, we might get a few interesting glimpses into sightings or at hitherto unseen information about specific sightings, but I can almost assure you there will be nothing earth-shattering to be found. Think about it. If there really is a conspiracy, would government officials give anything away in these documents they're about to release?  Kinda defeats the purpose of a conspiracy, right?

If nothing else it might make for a bit of interesting reading.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 16, 2016

So I'd wear this

I have more t-shirts than I know what to do with.

I'm finding this out as I begrudgingly prepare to move. Several of them were gifts and others I bought because I liked the art. Sometimes, albeit more rarely, I bought them for a statement. For example, I have one with a brain on it, depicted in prismatic technicolor and botryoidal shape but with electric cables dangling from the medulla oblongata. Yes, I get shirts for many reasons.

The one pictured above covers them all!

Look at the artwork. The owl rendered in sharp, angular strokes, simultaneously evoking and mocking corporate logos. The accompanying text does the same for "mission statements"...even though I happen to like this one. While it was not meant as such in the film, it does get at my personal view of transhumanism. If we can use technology to overcome our biological failings and thereby get more out of our human existence, then why not? (Aside: Did you see that the Voight-Kampff Test is a thing now? Sorta, anyway.)

But if you're an introvert like me, wearing such a shirt has drawbacks. Namely, there are people who will walk over to you asking "What does that say?" and then scrunch their faces, squint their eyes, and read the text aloud to you, attempting to comprehend it. Since I'm too polite (most of the time) to tell them to fuck the hell off and get their face away from my chest, there are usually follow up questions after that. Sure, it could be an opportunity to talk to people about transhumanism, but more often than not I just don't have the energy.

Even given that risk, I'm not sure I can resist this one.

I don't know. Once I get rid of my surplus shirts, I suppose there could be room for one more.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Man from Atlantis

Science fiction need not take place in deep space. It can be just as at home in the deep sea.

Or at least you might make that argument for Man from Atlantis. I was reminded of that mid-1970s TV series when I saw this on Amazon. Actor Patrick Duffy, the star of Man from Atlantis and several other shows such as Dallas and Step by Step, is releasing a Man from Atlantis novel next month that he hopes will tie up a lot of loose ends about the show, a series he has remained passionate about all this time. It worked for Richard Hatch and Battlestar Galactica so why not? Anyway, when I saw that book, it brought back dim memories of my kindergarten self watching the show, likely while clutching a few Micronauts (this was still pre-Star Wars, I believe.) What it's exact storyline was...well, I couldn't remember.

Sadly, there aren't many long clips of the show on YouTube. Here's what I've been able to cobble together from a few online descriptions:

In the pilot telefilm (Telefilms! Remember those gifts of the 70s?) an unidentified man washes up on a California beach after a violent storm. He's dying and nobody seems to be able to save him until a marine biologist figures out that due to his webbed hands, putting him back in the ocean might work. This saves the unknown man. Not only does it save him, but he demonstrates he can completely breathe underwater and swim at high speeds. Though revived, this man has complete amnesia. He has no memory of his identity or where he comes from. A supercomputer is given all the available information in order to make a guess. This was the result: "Last survivor of Atlantis."

This Atlantean assumes the innocuous name "Mark Harris" and goes to work for the Foundation for Oceanic Research. While still learning the ways of human life, Mark's first official task is to assist the Navy in stopping an evil scientist known only as "Mr. Schubert." Schubert is deliciously played by Victor Buono whom you may remember as King Tut from the Adam West Batman. Schubert comes with all the evil genius trappings, including a lair built into the sea floor and a really cool submarine. This doesn't help him much as his plot is thwarted and his submarine is confiscated by the good guys. They rename the vessel The Cetacean and it becomes the vehicle for all further undersea adventures.

Next came the telefilm "The Death Scouts." I vaguely remembered the title. I mean, how could I not? Here's the intro:

Personal note: that clip came from very NBC station I watched the show on, WMAQ Chicago. I even remember the intonation of the narrator and the way he calmly said "And now...The Death Scouts."

Anyway, its all about aliens at the bottom sea who pull a "body snatchers" with two scuba divers and become the vanguard of an invasion force...thwarted of course by Mark Harris and his oceanic adventurers.

The third installment has a title no less unforgettable: "The Killer Spores."

A space probe falls back to Earth and crashes in the ocean. Mark recovers it, unaware that lethal, microscopic life-forms are all over it. I seem to have memories of my Dad joking around with me about this particular installment, but how or why I have no idea. I mean, how can you not take a title like "Killer Spores" seriously?

These three telefilms spawned a short-lived series that was by all accounts quite awful. I have sparse memories of the feature-length editions but none whatsoever of the series so I really can't speak to that. Apparently, Victor Buono returned often as Mr. Schubert in order to become something of an arch-villain for Mark Harris. Reading one of the episode descriptions now. "Schubert starts melting the polar ice caps and will only stop if Mark Harris is turned over to him." Live action drama at its finest.

I guess there was also a brief Marvel Comics series, including both an adaptation of first telefilm and original stories. There were also novelizations. I don't remember either of those but you can bet I'll be combing the dollar bins and Printers Row book fair this June.

The whole series is available on DVD at Amazon and probably other vendors as well. Very tempting. When I have a positive cash flow, I might just have to splurge.

Of course when exactly that will be is anybody's guess.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Moon music and triangles

Man, I love this stuff.

The YouTube Channel "SecureTeam"...which I'm pretty sure is one guy named Tyler Glockner...posted what it claims is quite a find from NASA archival footage. The footage came to "SecureTeam" via an unnamed source. It is purportedly from the Apollo 8 mission of 1968 which reached the Moon on Christmas Eve in 1968. On this film, a vaguely triangular UFO appears before the Moon and then disappears. The massive object does appear to be three-dimensional, prompting "SecureTeam" to argue that something "appeared over the Moon" however briefly.

Because a UFO is all it could be.

It reminds me of the claim a few months ago that astronauts of Apollo 10 heard music while orbiting the Moon. As Apollo 10 traversed the far side of the Moon and became cut off from contact with Earth, they experienced something unsettling. A high whistling sound came through the radio. One of the astronauts called it "outer space-type music." Were aliens attempting to contact the astronauts with the eldritch music of the stars? Or as NASA's Unexplained Files on (of all things) The Science Channel called it, "strange, otherworldy music"? Of course there ended up being a far more logical explanation:

"The Apollo 10 astronauts flew to the moon in a command module, and two of the crewmembers also took a ride in the lunar module, dropping down to less than ten miles above the moon's surface. The whistling sound, it turned out, was nothing more than interference between the VHF radios on the two different vehicles."

Rational explanation not withstanding, the allegations did give me pause to wonder if aliens might try to communicate with us through music. To wit:

After all, music is quite mathematical in nature and mathematics is, arguably, a universal language. Then again, if we actually did intercept "alien music," would we know that's what it was?

I know these claims are either pointless, easily explainable, or both, but I still love reading them. They do nothing to advance the field but they do divert from the pain of daily life. Both stories promise something fantastic, something so wonderfully far above the mundane...even if they don't deliver.

Right now I'll take what I can get.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hilma af Klint

Once in a while I come across an artist I've never heard of.

Scratch that. More like come across, but never took the time to delve into. Perhaps even more embarrassingly, I'd read over the name too fast and think that the writer meant "Klimt." All of this cost me an indoctrination to the art of Hilmat af Klint. Thanks to an article in The Economist's 1843 Magazine, I can rectify those mistakes and I'm glad for multiple reasons. 

Af Klint, a Swedish artist active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries did obviously produce arresting paintings. Of immediate interest are the abstract swaths of pink, burnt orange, lilac, and biomorphic shapes with numbers and letters interspersed among it all, hung upon swirled, curlicue lines. As if the visuals were not enticing enough, the motivations behind them only make them all the more intriguing.

She was painting her interpretation of the spirit world. Af Klint was a member of an all-female group called De Fem, mediums and occultists that regularly made contact with entities they called "the high masters." In fact, af Klint said she painted only what the high masters directed her to from these communications. So I suppose instead of the automatic writing said to be practiced by other mediums, af Klimt was an "automatic painter."

Abstract stream of consciousness or actual depiction of an ethereal realm? Who can say? If one has an immediate answer to that, it likely says more about your view of the world than af Klint's.

For me, the veracity or the true nature of the inspiration doesn't matter. It is true spiritual art on par with any contemporary depictions in churches (hence why the article suggests Googling "modern chasubles.") It's a view, whether interpreted or fabricated, of something we can't see, of perhaps the greatest mystery of all, beyond even UAP.

What is beyond the veil of death? What is the human spirit, if indeed it exists in the first place? Is there something beyond and more meaningful than any of...this?

Christ I hope so.

Friday, May 6, 2016


Everything seems gray.

Odd really, for the sun is bright. I can see it reflecting off the red bricks of the buildings outside. The leaves have returned to trees. There's baseball being played on the diamond just outside my window. Students in the band are schlepping off to the fieldhouse to rehearse "Pomp and Circumstance" for tomorrow's commencement. I shouldn't be gray.

It would make sense if it were earlier in the week. Back when it was all wind and cloud. The sky is full of sun right now. For me it's gray. Close to a shade of charcoal, really.

I was at a luncheon with students today. Somehow, my research on Dulce came up. They knew about the place! Of course they asked me if it and other accounts of strange phenomena are true. I told them the vast majority can be explained and that I'm really no fan of the ExtraTerrestrial Hypothesis. For the truly unexplained, for what is increasingly being referred to as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP), I reported I'm more interested in theories that are in-line with someone like Jacques Vallee. Here's a weird one: are UAPs products of our own minds? By focusing or dwelling on such things, can someone make these things "real"?

I related one of my favorite examples of this. It comes from the pages of John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies and I'm certain I have blogged about it before. It goes like this: A tenement building in New York City was allegedly haunted. A dark, shadowy figure in a long cloak and a hat was seen skulking about the halls. It was speculated that it might be the ghost of a Revolutionary War spy and therefore investigators set about researching historical records to see if the theory had any support. There was no evidence of any kind of spying from that period or any other. Still, investigators found one very interesting fact. One of the rooms in the building was rented to Walter Gibson.

Walter Gibson wrote The Shadow.

Every month he had to produce a new pulp about that character. That meant spending the majority of his time, sitting in a room at a typewriter, thinking and writing about The Shadow. Did Gibson expend so much mental energy on this fictional character that it became "real"? Even in a vaporous sense? Do people actually cause UAPs?

Does that mean we all have the ability to create things with our thoughts? I'm not trying to go all "Law of Attraction" on you, but might there be something to the very principle beyond all the self-help book shenanigans and downright turpitude?

I don't know.

If so, then I should be able to cast the gray away. No matter my dismal circumstances, I could recreate things. Bend and mold reality to the way I want it, maybe even regress if I ever so desire.

But I just don't have the energy for it.

"My desolation does begin to make
A better life."

--William Shakespeare

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Transhumanism: Testing now underway for memory implants

As I age, my memory worsens.

It's nothing though compared with those who have genuine memory impairments or traumatic brain injury. That is exactly the sort of malady that transhumanism aims to eradicate. Now, research funded by DARPA is in the testing stage for human memory implants. Such work has already yielded positive results in rats and monkeys and is now being implemented with epilepsy patients.

Like many other aspects of mental function, memory is a series of electrical impulses generated by neurons. That suggests memory could be reduced to mathematical expressions and rendered to a computational framework. But due to the construction of the brain, the delivery of memory prosthetics has been somewhat problematic. The hippocampus region, the area that is the manager of sorts for the storage of memories, is buried deep.

They got the prosthetic to work in lab animals, though. A group of monkeys were given drugs to impair their memories (yeah, I'm not happy about it either) and then electrodes programmed with "memory code" were attached to their brains. The monkeys regained the ability to perform tasks they had previously been trained for but forgot due to the induced impairment. A testing of this prototype moved to human volunteers last year.

These volunteers were epilepsy patients who already had electrodes implanted in their brains to track their seizures. An additional benefit to testing with this group is that seizures often erode memory, so the success of the implant may ultimately help them out. The tests involve looking at pictures and then 90 seconds later recalling which ones they had seen. Said tests are not 100% but the progress appears promising.

Worth it I'd say for those suffering with impaired memories. Even better when such cybernetics could aid in not simply repairing memory function but enhancing it. Imagine full volumes of text downloaded directly into memory or storing massive amounts of other information and recalling it with perfect clarity. Now it should be noted that the research described above does not have such functions anywhere as its goals and that we're a long way away from the kind of implants I've just described. Knowing me of course, I can't help but speculate about it.

I also wonder about memory erasure. You know, kill off all those bad ones? So they don't keep coming back to haunt you in the night or pop up at inopportune times or just for the random heck of it? Memory is funny.

And messy.

And painful.

Yes, yes I know. We need bad memories for the lessons they instill and the reminders they can provide. At the same time, I would just like to be left to my speculative option of a cybernetic soma. I can see it all now. Like an old DOS utility from the early 1990s, defragging the hard drive so to speak. Seeing all those searing red blocks blink for a while and then turn to a cool aqua, matching the reset of the pattern.

Hey it's my brain. Why can't I do what I want with it?

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An ESE reader asks, "Are they among us?"

Cryptoterrestrials by Mac Tonnies

When you write about UFOs, you sometimes meet odd people.

I'll pause a moment to let you get over that shock.

The stories they want to tell you might be as mild as having seen a strange light in the sky to being as involved as a full-on abduction or even their prolonged communication with aliens. In the end they're just stories and as engrossing and entertaining as they might be to me, they lack any kind of solid evidence with which to verify them. So as you know from previous posts, I'm rather dismissive about such stories.

Little did I realize how much I'd backpedal on that stance when the wild story came from someone I know.

A former college classmate and follower of the blog contacted me. I'll call her "Claire" even though that's not her real name. She asked me if I knew anything about "aliens walking among us."

You mean have I met any? No. Not that I know of. I mean there's a few that the jury is still out on, but that's still nothing I can prove.

In all seriousness, Cryptoterresterials by Mac Tonnies (pictured above) is a great theoretical exploration of the notion and I recommended checking it out. Of course the research for my book on Dulce Base, however skeptical of the whole mythos I might be, also deals significantly with alien-human hybrids. Legend has it that the lower levels of that alien snuggery are involved in all manner of genetic experimentation, certain ones more hideous than others, but at least a few with the end goal creating "hybrids" that could masquerade among human society with little difficulty. Clandestine genetic experimentation of this kind supposedly has its genesis in a 1954 meeting between then-President Eisenhower and representatives of the Greys. As the lore goes, this meeting resulted in the Greada Treaty, where...

Yeah, it was right about there that Claire told me to cut to the chase. I asked what prompted the question. That's when she told me about her "encounter" in Hawaii.

While on vacation on the island of Oahu, Claire walked past a cluster of Asian monks having a conversation with one another in a hotel hallway. Bald heads, saffron robes, the whole package. This is not an especially odd occurrence in Hawaii, but one of the monks stood out to her. According to Claire's description, he was Caucasian, at least seven feet tall, and possessed of a prominent, square jawline and high cheek bones. Claire said that she had been reading about aliens hiding among us and began to wonder.

Wait a minute. Claire, you were never into this cool stuff back in college. Or if you were, you never told me. What gives?

Once more, she reminds me to stay on task. Right.

Anyway, Claire said that in her reading she came across the concept that alleged alien beings are highly telepathic. Thinking there was nothing to lose and that it might be fun, she clearly said the words "Welcome to Earth" in her mind.

To her shock, the Caucasian monk immediately ceased his conversation with the other monks and looked straight up at Claire.

She didn't quite know what to do. Except keep walking.

I must admit, I didn't know what to think. I mean, I've come across all manner of "I've had telepathic contact with aliens" claims. There are several sites dedicated to "the Arcturian Message", self-professed psychic mediums that say they are channeling messages from highly evolved beings that only want to help us out. I started to feel trepidation. Was Claire going to tell me that this odd-looking monk passed along a message of this sort to her?

"No," Claire said. "I had the impression that he was trying to blend in. To assimilate. But I also got the deep sense that he wasn't fully human. Related to us, but somehow...alien."

Here is where I become a victim of my own bias. In most any other case, I would politely and warmly tell the teller of the tale that I don't disbelieve them, but I'd need to see more evidence. Maybe their perception of what happened is somehow obscured. Perhaps he was genuinely odd in appearance, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Maybe the monk in question heard a noise somewhere down the hall and happened to look up at just that time or another similarly prosaic explanation?

But this is Claire. I have known her for 27 years now. She is a sweet woman whose word and integrity has always been beyond reproach. Never once have I known her to be prone to hyperbole. I had to wonder...could there be something to this?

Vallee, Keel, and Tonnies all more or less endorsed the idea that the UFO phenomena uses a "space people" facade as a masquerade. As Terence McKenna more eloquently put it: "We are part of a symbiotic relationship with something which disguises itself as an extraterrestrial invasion so as not to alarm us." Might there be other intelligences or entities of pure consciousness, adapting themselves to human perceptions and expectations, and sometimes mingling among us while other times walking out of silver saucers and looking like bug-eyed Greys? Are encounters with these beings frequently of the more subtle kind that Claire described rather than abductions or craft in the sky? Could Claire have seen a highly evolved being hanging out with Buddhist monks because they were closer to his own mental and spiritual level?

I am forced to consider it...and I honestly wouldn't be if the account hadn't come from someone I trust.

There are worse possible scenarios, of course. Somebody like David Icke might say that the odd monk was one of the shape-shifting Reptoid race in disguise. You see in 1934, there were all these caves and tunnels discovered underneath Los Angeles. These treasure-filled catacombs were constructed by Lizard People, an indigenous subterranean race who have existed alongside humanity but just out sight and...

Oh. Right, Claire. Off topic again.  

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, May 2, 2016

That guy at the Trump rally

Tomorrow is primary day in my home state of Indiana.

It is said to be Donald Trump's triumphant moment or Ted Cruz's last stand or John Kasich's...I don't know what. In light of that, I am compelled to write once again about Donald Trump, but it has nothing to do with Indiana. Rather, I am hearkening back to a campaign stop Trump made on April 25th in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I happened to catch a bit of his stump speech while I was eating dinner.

That's not entirely true. Trump's speech was not what caught my eye. It was one young man in the crowd behind Trump off to the left of the screen. He wore an American flag bathrobe, something like what Apollo Creed wore in one of the Rocky movies (which one I have no idea). Because what could be more patriotic and than wrapping the American flag across your bare body?

I searched around and found this video of the speech on YouTube, uploaded by a user named "Patriotic Populist"...who gave the 50 minute plus footage an opening music bed of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." In re-watching the speech, I noticed I wasn't watching Trump half as much as I was this guy in the flag bathrobe. After all, he was even more animated than Trump. Since I don't know the young man's name, I started calling him Flag Robe Guy or FRG for short.

Most of FRG's motions were fist pumps and cries of "Yes!" similar to what you might see at an NFL game or a Motley Crue concert. One of those "Yes" moments seemed almost sexual in nature when Trump alluded to "knocking an opponent on his ass." FRG then took a quick pause to snap a selfie of himself, making sure to capture Trump in the background. He grows positively misty-eyed at Trump's mention of Sheriff Joe Arpaio then gives his friend a big hug during chants of "build that wall!" This emotion swells to a lusty display of his tongue when Trump mentions Ivanka.

It is not all rock concert good times for FRG, however. He grows positively dour as Trump names his litany of "countries taking our jobs." FRG responds with a bellowing "boo!" and thumbs down motions. Things pick up eventually though as Trump turns to face the supporters behind him. FRG shouts "I love you!" and makes a "heart" gesture out of his two hands.

I can't really talk. I think I did something similar when I saw Erin Gray of Buck Rogers fame at a sci-fi convention back in 2001. Anyway...

Then comes the culmination. Towards the end of the clip, Trump pledges that he will protect our Second Amendment rights. In response, FRG dabs (see Cam Newton).

I don't say any of this to mock the young FRG. I mean, I don't know anything about him or his story. Any criticism is unfair. He's probably not a bad guy. So why the fascination? Well, I'm envious of him.

That's right. I envy his certainty. I envy his seeming ability to look at the world and say "this is right, this is wrong, and there just ain't no in betweens." He can also look at a political candidate and say "They are absolutely the right choice! No question!" I can't.

Especially Trump. I suppose I might be able to if Trump ever made a solid statement about what he's going to do in office. I mean, I know he says he's going to "build that wall," but that might actually be the only concrete plan of action in his platform. I listened to his speech on foreign policy and only came away with inconsistency. Trump says he will "work closely" with our allies but ditching NATO is certainly on the table. He's going to cut spending but spend more on the military at the same time. He's going to stop China from "raping us." "We're going to turn it around, we have the cards, don't forget it."

How that will be done without trade conflicts and just what those cards are were not divulged. Maybe vagueness is the Trump campaign platform.

I feel so much uncertainty when I examine political matters. What is a fair immigration policy that won't rip families apart but will provide sensible security? How do you have any of the benefits Trump is touting from federal services, such as preserving Social Security and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and have a lower tax rate? Oh and isn't anybody else feeling the unsettling historical echoes upon hearing Trump's "America First!" rhetoric? At every turn I'm tripped up on logic and factual accuracy, preventing me from buying in with the same wholehearted fervor.

So I'm envious. My jeremiad could go on for screens and screens, but the upshot is I just can't be as cocksure as Flag Robe Guy. I mean, I'm not certain at this point in my life that I can ever tell someone I love them again. This guy can shout it out at Trump no problem. It's something I just can't do.

No matter how appealing blind faith and simple binary thinking might be.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets