Sunday, September 30, 2012

The probability of panspermia

There is increased evidence that, to borrow a phrase from science fiction, "life here began out there."

A press release from Princeton University has announced that new research tends to support the idea that microorganisms and other organic material embedded in comets and meteors came to Earth in its infancy, thus "seeding"our planet with life.  The meteors themselves were likely fragments from very distant planets where life had already arisen. This is a principle known as "panspermia."  As the release states:

"The researchers report in the journal Astrobiology that under certain conditions there is a high probability that life came to Earth -- or spread from Earth to other planets -- during the Solar System’s infancy when Earth and its planetary neighbors orbiting other stars would have been close enough to each other to exchange lots of solid material. The work was presented at the 2012 European Planetary Science Congress on Sept. 25."

While our Sun was in its birth cluster phase, it could have bounced meteors and asteroids back and forth with its nearest planetary system.  Next thing you know, life hits Earth.  In theory then, there could be multitudes of these life-embedded rocks bouncing around in space.  The Oort Cloud, for example, may not simply be a cluster of comets and space rocks, but a garden of life.  That is to say if any organic material still survives within the interstellar void. From the Princeton findings, it would appear that it is capable of doing so for at least a modicum of time.

This shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose.  Back in 2005, NASA's Deep Impact space probe collected readings from a comet.  Among the findings were compounds such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water, ethane, and trace amounts of other hydrocarbons.  While it wasn't enough to jump about and cheer "we found life!", those are indeed elements required to form amino acids.  And of course Richard Hoagland has been saying quite a while now that life here on Earth came from a meteor from Mars.  Mars of course being inhabited at the time in his hypothesis.

Please, I'm not bagging on Hoagland.  Astronomers from the 19th Century believed that a planet called Phaeton used to take up an orbit between Mars and Jupiter.  It was destroyed and thus we have the asteroid belt there now.  Thetic thought has long since discredited this and the asteroid belt formed not from a destroyed planet but a planet that never was.  Still, sort of compelling to muse that our system had another planet, perhaps one that was life-filled, who in its death throes sent a bit of that life to us. 

 "There are those who believe... that life here... began out there. Far across the universe."

 My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The day of Dredd

I have not seen the new movie.

Let me be clear on that point.  I suppose I'm still a bit apprehensive after the Judge Dredd fiasco of a film from 1995 starring Stallone.  Let me also be clear that I don't blame Stallone for the outcome of that film.  A great many people had their hands in that pot, a great many who should have known better.

That said, the new movie Dredd has had me thinking about the titular character.  I know that I've written about him on here before, but that was brief.  This time I would to take things a bit further.

Judge Dredd is a British creation.  He first appeared as a character in the science fiction comic 2000 A.D. all the way back in 1977.  My first introduction to Dredd, would you believe Anthrax?  Yes, the heavy metal band and yes, they are still around to this day.  Anthrax has a song called "I Am the Law" and in the burgeoning days of my heavy metal phase, I thought it was one thrashing tune.  While clearly about a character named Judge Dredd, I was unfamiliar with who that was.  Luckily, I found out.

In the comics, Judge Dredd lives in a future world that has been ravaged by nuclear war.  Those who still survive have massed together into enormous Mega Cities.  Joseph Dredd is a Street Judge of Mega City-One, a sprawling stretch of urban area that is meant as covering the east coast of the United States.  I used to enjoy looking at maps and conjecturing just where the boundaries of Mega City-One fell, if it ended at Washington D.C. or went further austral, and how if its on the East Coast it survived a full-tilt nuclear exchange.  Anyway, a Judge in this setting is a law officer who is empowered to be instant judge, jury, and executioner.  As the song goes, he is the law.

To do this job in such a claustrophobic urban environment, a Judge needs a lot of tools.  In comics, only Batman has more "wonderful toys" than Judge Dredd.  Dredd patrols the streets of Mega City-One on a massive motorcycle that has an onboard AI computer that responds to commands, machine guns, and a powerful laser cannon.  Then there is always a Judge's gun.  Dredd named his gun "Lawgiver," keyed only to his bio-signature and ready to dispense justice Dirty Harry-style.

I think that's why Judge Dredd was a hit.  He is a product of the response that comes the reptilian part of our brain.  When confronted with crime, most people's understandable and quite rational instinct is to protect themselves and their own...and by any means necessary if need be.  That's why we come up with policies such as "Zero Tolerance." In essence, that's what Judge Dredd is right?  Correct crime by destroying anyone who commits one.

Certainly is reactionary and leaves little room for compassion.  To be fair, the majority of people Dredd wastes are total scum, so that leaves this component out of the equation.  But the essence of Judge Dredd, to my way of thinking anyway, is still a classic, science fictional, cautionary tale.  Not only of what we are capable of doing to our world through nuclear destruction, but what our society may become if our reactions to social ills are not measured and tempered with reason.

Us?  Overreact in crisis?  Never.

At least Dredd's fun to read about as he does it.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Urban survival

A Shack City is on its way.

That's what the flier said at least.  On campus today, I saw that a student organization is going to be camping overnight in a "shack city" to raise awareness for the issue of homelessness. The students will spend the night in cardboard boxes that are reinforced by duct tape.  This engaged my curiosity, so I went online to see photographs of previous Shack City events.

The pics I found conjured up issues far in addition to homelessness...even though that is a serious enough social travesty in its own right.  As I looked at the images of students working to fashion their boxes together and then getting inside of them feet first, sort of like a cardboard sleeping bag or tent, I imagined a different scene altogether.  I thought of a disaster, like a post-Katrina New Orleans with people forced to inhabit whatever they could find.  Building on that, I thought of the sure-to-come climate refugees, swarming and swelling inland to find shelter of any kind.  

Which made me wonder.  Is there a new cottage industry to be had in "urban survivalism?" A cursory Google showed me that, as usual, I am far from being the first person to think about such a concept.

One of the first links I found was the Urbansurvivalblog.   It advises that we all invest in a gas mask (which means Chris Helton has been prepared for a long time now.)  If you cannot afford one or have limited access to acquire such a mask, the blog has a post that instructs you on how to build your own.

Apparently, you can make one out of either a simple swimming cap or a regular, household bed sheet.  Who knew?  Other choice tidbits from the site including learning kayaking, martial arts, and an argument for keeping plenty of eggs on hand as a survival food.  Provided you can keep them refrigerated that is but why palter with the details?
If one could only have a single piece of survival gear in an urban environment, one site advocated for duct tape.  I can't say I'd disagree with that suggestion.  You can fix things with duct tape, you can create rope with it, it can serve in lieu of a bandage, and as the Shack City students demonstrate, you even use it to build shelters.

But why settle for that when you can be a fashionista of the urban survival set?  I give to you, the Urban Nomad Shelter by Electroland.  With this shelter you can be both mobile and stylish.  The Urban Nomad was developed for social reasons, namely to combat and bring awareness to the plight of the homeless, but that doesn't mean you can't one day be the envy of all your fellow displaced refugees.

I kid, but it may be only the urban survivalists who are laughing when something does happen.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"The emperors of SETI have no clothes."

It is a headline that seems more and more frequent these days in the Science section of the news.

"Newfound Planet a Top Contender to Host Life."

The distant planet of Gliese 163c orbits what a handful of scientists term as "the Goldilocks Zone," meaning of course that it's not too hot and not too cold.  More importantly, liquid water can exist in such a zone.  I've lost count, but there are at least a handful of discovered extra-solar planets that inhabit such a Goldlilocks Zone.  One article I read far earlier this year claimed that SETI scientists are hurriedly pointing their dishes at these new discoveries.

Talk like this always reminds me of how many assumptions we make.

How can we use Earth temperatures as a guide to how life can or cannot survive?  Yes, yes, I know that we don't exactly have a whole lot else to go on, but that doesn't make it correct.  Could there not be multiple Goldilocks Zones?  Could not life evolve to survive in climates far different from our own?  I'll go you one better, isn't there at least the possibility that there are lifeforms that do not require water?

But the best method of seeking out life is still SETI.  At least in the scientific community and public perception.  The Powers That Be at SETI, believing themselves possessed of privity, make their share of assumptions as well.  The distances between stars are extraordinarily vast and we have no idea how to traverse them.  Ergo, other intelligent life must have determined this as well and if they're looking for other civilizations, then they must do so by signalling.  So let's just listen.

The research of Ufologists is heavily scrutinized and with good reason.  One of the leading complaints (as fallacious as it might be) against the notion of extraterrestrial visitation is that "there just isn't any evidence." Well, where is the evidence that SETI is a "best practice?"

This question is being voiced more and more openly.  Stanton Friedman once made this assertion about SETI:

 "Although SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has been
getting a free ride from the popular press and the scientific community,
a closer examination of its assumptions (there is no evidence to
examine) clearly indicates it is basically a cult movement with the
acronym really standing for Silly Effort To Investigate. Ufology
traditionally gets a very hard time from the press and the scientific
community, but, in contrast with SETI, has facts and data that lead
directly to the conclusion that some UFOs are alien spacecraft and that
there is a Cosmic Watergate. It is useful to note the contrasting
underlying assumptions of SETI and ufology. Unfortunately, it appears
that SETI proponents are totally unwilling to review the UFO evidence
and are suffering from the Crown of Creation Syndrome. Our current
methods of long distance communication and travel seem to them to be in
the forefront of those of all life in the galaxy despite the fact that
we have only had advanced flight, electronics, and nuclear technologies
for roughly a century and that there are sun-like stars just down the
street which are a billion years older than the sun. It is time to
realize that the emperors of SETI have no clothes."

Wow, SETI as a "cult movement?" I've never thought about it that way, but now that you mention it...

Dr. Michio Kaku has also been critical of SETI:

 "We could be in the middle of an intergalactic conversation, and we wouldn't even know."

In another interview, Kaku discusses just how slight and insignificant the sample is that SETI is able to scan.  The officials at SETI acknowledge this freely.  Kaku, however, is exactly right in that the danger in this that "scientists sometimes judge alien technology based on what we can do." This can even alter public opinion.  "Those SETI guys have scanned the universe and not heard a peep.  There must be no such thing as aliens.  Therefore, all UFO reports are junk."

I'm going to stop here before a reader might get the impression that I'm anti-SETI.  I'm not opposed to it per se; listening is fine.  At one point, I even participated in SETI@Home.  My issue is that SETI is often viewed, especially by its leaders, as the one and only way to go about this investigation.

In other news, I tried the Snickers 3X Chocolate bar.  Not a big deal.  I found very little that would distinguish it from a regular Snickers.  In the end, chocolate nougat doesn't seem to taste that much apart from the regular kind.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, September 24, 2012

Weather control: the ultimate weapon

Yes, I realize that "ultimate" is subjective.

Nevertheless, one must admit it would be quite a benefit for a nation's armed forces to control the weather.  If you control the weather, you control the battlefield.  If you control the battlefield, you win the conflict.  It wouldn't take a megastorm, even though that would be quite effective as a weapon of mass destruction.  You just need a storm bad enough to ground an enemy air force that is severely lacking in all-weather aircraft.

What has me thinking about this subject?  A story on UPI showed up earlier this month.  The headline read, "China promises more weather control."

They're serious.   According to the article, this promise entails a complete weather control system in place by 2020.  The motives behind the project are said to include increased precipitation for Chinese agricultural regions and weather manipulation for "disaster relief." Apparently, the Chinese government has used weather control measures before, such as with the Opening Ceremonies for their 2008 Summer Olympics.  One would be forgiven, of course, for asking "where would this eventually lead?"

The idea of weather control is not exactly new.  Conspiracy theorists having been screaming for years that the whole point of the HAARP facility in Alaska is for exactly that very purpose.  Digging around a bit, I found an article on American Free Press from all the way back in September of 2005 that quotes writer Sydney Sheldon as asserting that, "two superpowers have the ability to control weather around the world: the United States and Russia. Other countries, probably China and North Korea, are working feverishly to catch up.”

The date of the article's publication was mere days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  As the text itself asks, if weather control technology truly exists, then couldn't it have stopped one of the worst hurricanes on record?  Or a more disquieting question might be, did said technology actually cause Katrina?  As in, a malfunction or worse yet, a test run?  The cynic in me would say that New Orleans would make for prime test target in the eyes of alleged Powers That Be of conspiracy lore.  As we saw, the emergency response tends to be slower when your population is poor and black.

More matters out of our control for you to ponder upon as you drift off to snoozeville this night.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, September 21, 2012

Roswell: Another take

I like Nick Redfern.  Let me get that clear from the onset of these proceedings.

I also have not read his book, Body Snatchers In the Desert.  That likewise must be stated.

Why am I writing about it then?  Well, purely because I am intrigued by the concept.  Body Snatchers in the Desert offers an alternative explanation to what happened in Roswell, New Mexico on that fateful day in July, 1947.  As Redfern tells it, the event was not the recovery of a weather balloon, a MOGUL dirigible, or any other such irrational drivel offered up by our government.  It was not, however, anything to do with a UFO either.

It was a conspiracy to hide a top secret experiment.  Redfern's book outlines an event that in several ways is far more disquieting than the idea of a crashed spacecraft and alien bodies.  In Body Snatchers in the Desert, a tale unfolds of Japanese POWs still in U.S. custody after World War II.  These prisoners were all handicapped, disfigured, or sick...and all experimented upon by government-backed scientists.  Deemed expendable, these prisoners were placed inside an experimental test aircraft, a modified version of the Luftwaffe's "flying wing."  The aircraft crashed and viola: the Roswell legend is born.

So what's worse?  Dead aliens or atrocious human rights violations?

This would dovetail with the accounts.  The craft recovered at Roswell was said to be wedge-shaped, not a saucer.  The bodies that were found were thought to be Asian at first, until the features departed from that profile upon closer inspection.  A tidy explanation indeed.

Response to this book was mixed at best.  Redfern gained swift condemnation from several UFO researchers, including Kevin Randle.  Why?  For one thing, I believe that the story departs too much from the pat and accepted (in UFO circles anyway) story of a crashed alien spacecraft.  People are often reluctant to have their established paradigms shifted, even in the paranormal community.  Secondly and most importantly, Redfern appears to rely on a number of anonymous sources for his research.

Anonymous sources are a conundrum that anyone in the field of UFO research faces.  Logically, if something is being kept secret then he or she who divulges such secrets places themselves at serious risk.  You can understand then why someone would not want their names disclosed.  The problem with this of course is that there is no real way to verify the accounts or the data presented.  If these testimonies are the evidence for your claim, then your claim is built on quite shaky ground indeed.  Testimony in itself is not exactly reliable, let alone the anonymous kind.  We need more evidence.

Also if you're going to tell your story, why not make public and strepitous claims?  The attention you'd receive and the likely numerous appearances you'd get on Coast to Coast AM would keep you safe.  The most the government could would be to discredit you with lies about your past.  Then again, that wouldn't be much fun either, would it?

Additionally, the premise presented, while admittedly intriguing, doesn't make much sense.  It's up there with the explanation posited by Annie Jacobsen in her book, Area 51, where there are no aliens involved at all...just Soviet children experimented upon by Josef Mengele and then flown over and crashed to cause a "War of the Worlds" scare in America.  Likewise, long way to go for a cheap payoff.  Her source for this?  I am given to understand that it is also anonymous.

CAUTION: This is not to say that Nick Redfern tried to "pull one over on us."  That does not fit his character or literary pedigree whatsoever.  I am guessing instead that he may have fallen victim to certain individuals who appear sincere and capable on the surface, but are really not much more than yarn-spinners in reality.  Again, my supposition only.

I am still going to read his book.  It might even make a nice bookend piece to The Day After Roswell when I get done with it (review forthcoming shortly).

 My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, September 20, 2012

UFO combat in the Pacific

Hold on to your hats, folks.  This is another crazy one.

The website Veterans Today is reporting that combat operations are underway between UFOs and a joint task force of U.S. and Chinese naval forces.  That’s right.  It’s Flounder time.

Oh boy is this great!

The article starts off on an ominous tone before the UFO connection even shows up.  Allegedly, several Chinese warships were spotted off the coast of California.  The author of the article then quotes a source from within “an Asian intelligence agency” that leaked details of a classified memo. Said memo outlines the purpose of the naval vessels in such proximity to U.S. territorial waters.  That reason is all-out combat with “extremely aggressive and unfriendly” aliens in the Pacific.  Yes, of course the source is anonymous.

Here are a few details supposedly contained within the memo.  The UFOs are operating out of undersea bases in the Pacific Ocean.  Not too implausible as USO (Unidentified Submerged Objects) sighting reports are nearly as numerous as traditional UFOs.  The new detail, at least to me anyway, is that these alien occupants of the UFOs/USOs are belligerent and intent upon war with humanity.

But don’t be in a rush to raise the white flag and “welcome our new alien overlords” just yet.  Apparently, as the memo points out, we’re ready for them.  Citing the memo, the article asserts that it has become far easier for the military to track UFOs these days due to advancements in nanotechnology.  This technology can allegedly detect dimensional rifts and distortions in time.  Not only that, but the U.S. Air Force has deployed sub-orbital weapons systems armed with energy beams.  Lucky us.

I will give the article’s author a modicum of credit.  Even he seemed to doubt this story towards the end and is awaiting other credible sources of verification. When those additional and...hopefully...vetted sources come through, we should know more.  Personally, I'm not holding my breath.  Especially when I see the multiple references to "Zionist threats" on the web page.

The story does grab my attention for more than just UFO and science fictional reasons.  I've been reading The Day After Roswell by Col. Philip J. Corso and the subject of war against UFO occupants takes up a sizable portion of the text.  While I have many things to say about the book and it will be forthcoming in a review, Corso does make it sound like we'd actually have a chance against these beings militarily.

Somehow, I don't buy it.  If true, such a conflict a'brewin' would make for even wackier times on the current hustings. 

 My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fractal art!

Keeping it short and sweet tonight.  It's late.  I'm tired.  I'm worried.  So here I go, about to bollix out a post.

I came across a web site called Fractal World Gallery and ended up spending a good ten minutes just drinking in the images.
Fractals are of course the result of algorithms.  That's probably one reason why they fascinate me as I am not at all mathematical.  How one elegant...even if perhaps lengthy...equation can bring about such art is a statement in fact on the universe.  If math is the language of our environment then it must sound beautiful.  That is if fractals are any indication.

The universe itself may be a fractal of sorts.  And just one universe within a multiverse fractal with more and more universes on down the spiral.  Given how fractals can be computer generated, it makes you wonder about that theory of us living in a virtual environment.  If that's so, I want to see the source code.

Ok, enough heavy banter.  Good night.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


As I have been obtusely referring to for the past month, a new chapter has begun in my life.

I can tell you now that I am teaching First Year composition at a liberal arts college.  I thought that I would take a moment today and share my newfound environs with you through a brief photoblog.

There's something about red brick buildings and green foliage that just seems to scream out "collegiate."

 What's college without football?  Here is where Saturday's contest will play out.

Snap of the marching band practicing.  Sorry for the distant look.  I just felt sort of creepy lurking closer and closer to the students with a camera in my hand.  Public photography can be a questionable activity in this day and age and not without just reason.  So I just didn't want to press my luck.  The band sounded good, however.  Even after the endless loops of starting and stopping and then going back to the beginning.

Speaking of creepy, the visage of this nun statue unnerved me.  The statue is larger than the average human and the face looks of liquid metal.  Were it my college, I would probably install my own nun sculpture, something like St. Vera of Tartuffery

 And she only has one foot.

A sculpture outside one of the key academic buildings.  I'll allow you free reign to interpret what you believe the piece depicts, however those of you familiar with the art of Georgia O'Keefe no doubt have an inkling as to where this is going.

A phone.  Set aside in an alcove.  Just there.  I assume it's a campus phone, but it just seems so oddly out of place.

The street I'm on was closed for a few days for reasons indeterminable.  Then I found it was all to install this nifty new "gravel strip." 

No, this painting is not on campus.  I found it online and am including it here simply because I like it and...well, because I can.

 My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, September 17, 2012

When The Shadow met Doc Savage

I delved into my favorite refuge this weekend.  One of them, anyway.

That’s right, the comic book collection.  In sifting through the basement library (where else would one keep comics?), I came across a two-issue story I had all but forgotten.  After rereading it, I felt compelled to write a review here in this much hallowed end of the Internet.

I’m talking about The Shadow and Doc Savage from Dark Horse Comics, 1995.  It’s the first time that either character appeared in Dark Horse Comics as DHC kicked off its line of pulp-based books.  Yes, the two greatest pulp heroes meeting for the first time…and maybe the last.  As if this mere pairing were not enough to merit the price of admission, the story also features Nazis, the Hindenburg disaster, ape men, and zombies from back before we were inundated by them.

In fact, the first issue opens with a splash panel of a damsel in distress being attacked by zombies, her clothing ripping to shreds in the process.  Classic, gaudy pulp stuff.  So this dame, this skirt, this Betty…er sorry.  The lingo of that era must’ve rubbed off on me.  The female protagonist escapes the fray and contacts Doc Savage and his crew.  You see, the young lady’s father is a scientist who fled the Nazis when they forced him to perform experiments on humans.  Now her father is missing and she fears he has met with ill forces.

As the men get on the case, they find that the trail leads to a warehouse…a warehouse of DEATH!!! Or sort of.  They do encounter The Shadow…and it is not a friendly meeting.   The hail of bullets sent their way by the mysterious vigilante is enough to convince them that it is The Shadow who is behind all of the nefarious doings.  That is of course a complete misunderstanding and I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that both heroes end up working together.

Much to like in this two-parter.  First of all, the art.  While I am an odd duck in that art is never the top selling point for me with a comic book, I must compliment the style in this one.  Stan Manoukian has quite an eye for 1930s sensibility.  Plus, it's nice to see the color here really make these pulp characters come alive.  Secondly, there are little bits here and there that make the whole thing worthwhile.  Fanboy factors such as both Doc and The Shadow having autogyros, historical chuckles such as the Hindenburg explosion really being caused ricochet bullets meant for The Shadow, and character nuances such as the look of utter shock on Doc's face as he watches The Shadow gun down thugs in near cold blood.  And you can just imagine the diapason echoes of The Shadow's laughter.

If there is a downside here, it is that the story never quite seems to soar as high as it could.  With a two issue story arc, that's tough to do.  A longer run would have allowed for greater room to move and develop and especially for more interaction between Doc and The Shadow.  As it stands, the story feels a bit rushed and skimped in certain places.

All in all, that's my biggest complaint.  This is the only team-up of these characters that I know of.  If another exists, please let me know because I'd love to read it.  Until then, here's to hoping another comics writer will take up the charge.

 My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, September 14, 2012

H+ and a Singularity that is near...and monkeys!

I am fortunate to have great friends.

While that is enough in and of itself, my great friends also happen to contribute post ideas from time to time.  Tonight, I will be featuring two stories suggested to me, both of them coincidentally on the subject of transhumanism.

Dr. Rich sent me this link to the H+ web series.  I had first heard of this series in the news from Comic-Con 2011.  Unfortunately, its debut date of August 2012 slipped my mind and I am now catching up on webisodes.

Produced by Bryan Singer, the series explores a transhuman future wherein over a third of the world's population has a nanocomputer called H+ cybernetically implanted in their brain.  This allows them to interface with the Internet 24 hours a day without the need of any external hardware.  The first episode opens with the announcement of this technological innovation, causing an uproar from sectors of society that deem such advancements as somehow ghoulish.  As if to prove those voices correct, a computer virus attacks the H+ network, causing mass havoc.  Thus the series' ad line: "Humanity goes offline." I have not watched the entire series, but there appear to be hints that the biotech corporation that invented the H+ may themselves be the source of the virus.

 I'm waiting to make up my mind on this web series.  The logic behind the "crash" is still coming off as a bit stilted for my tastes.  That and I'm not sure I like the "propaganda" feel of the whole "technology will destroy us all" anti-transhumanist slant.  But it's entertainment and it wouldn't be very interesting without conflict, so a transhuman utopia probably wouldn't make for great web TV.  We'll see.

In related news, Neutron Frog sent me the following discovery from The Times: Brain implant improves thinking in monkeys.
This neural prosthesis has demonstrated the ability sharpen decision making skills in the brains of monkeys.  While a monkey's brain is more similar to a human's than say, a mouse's, it's still going to be a long haul before a piece of cybernetics can handle the complex circuitry of the human brain.  Nevertheless, this discovery brings hope in that we may one day have permanent solutions from those who suffer from dementia or the after effects of a stroke.

Yet Neutron Frog accurately pointed out that the highlight of the article was this passage:

"To test the device, the team relayed this “correct” signal into the monkeys’ brains when they were in the middle of choosing a possible picture match, and it improved their performance by about 10 percent.
The researchers then impaired the monkeys’ performance deliberately, by dosing them with cocaine. Their scores promptly fell by 20 percent.
“But when you turn on the stimulator, they don’t make those errors; in fact, they do a little better than normal,” said Robert E. Hampson of Wake Forest, a study author.

Furthering underscoring the point, ol' NF breaks it down for us this way:

"Imagining something like the mentats in Dune.  To solve really tough problems, to really kick your brain into high gear, the solution is a bit of cocaine and a judicious application of electricity. =) "

While I'm not certain that Herbert's mentats had that in mind, I can admit to being so frantic for an answer to a personal conundrum that I might've snorted the coke and taken the jolt just to find an answer.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents! 

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, September 13, 2012

One future that may be and one that never was...

Futurism is tough.

It's so easy to get the future wrong...and to get it wrong for all of the right reasons.  One works with what is happening now and then attempts to logically extrapolate.  What would otherwise be a reasonable conclusion can be thrown all helter skelter by entirely unforeseen events.  In fact, an interview with William Gibson appeared today in Wired wherein the genius author talks about just how rarely science fiction writers get it right.

Here's one example of a future that never quite came to be.  The March 1927 issue of Science and Invention took a look at how skyscrapers were popping up in large cities everywhere.  What happens if there is on one of the upper floors?  We saw what happened last April when the Federation building burned in Moscow.  And of course, the tragedy of 9/11 is still quite fresh in most minds over the age of 25 or so.  How do you fight a fire at those levels?

Science and Invention envisioned "aerial firefighters." A gadget with propellers hoists hoses...very long the level of the fire via the pressure of the water in said hoses.  Later, in a 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics, New York City Fire Chief John Kenlon said:

 “I expect to see the day when fires in lofty skyscraper quarters will be fought with special types of airplanes. They will operate on the system of the helicopter so that they can remain stationary in a desired and advantageous spot. Special chemicals would be used by firemen in their airplanes for putting out the blaze. We have seen the police departments take up aviation. I believe the firefighters will go a long way in that direction.”

I'm aware that helicopters have long been employed in firefighting, especially with high-rise situations.  It's just a bit removed from the optimistic future of exotic aircraft hovering outside the blaze, showering chemicals down on the orange and heliotrope flames.

Failing that vision, another may yet come to be: London's floating airport.
The proposed London Britannia Airport would float on an estuary of the Thames along with the airport's four floating runways.  There would be a single terminal and rail connection to London and the Chunnel (I'm assuming that's what they mean.)  Conceivably, one could land in London and then on to most anywhere in Europe by train.  Additionally, the airport would have an "eco-dome" city for up to 300,000 (!) people to call home.

Experts see the cost and legal entanglements would make this futuristic design unfeasible.  That's a terrible shame.  Just click the link and take a look at the picture of this vision.  Glorious!

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Space Command: appealingly retro


The phrase screams of glitz, schlock, and commercialism.  In fact, somewhere Harlan Ellison is in danger of snapping his spine from the conniptions “sci-fi” brings upon him.  I can’t blame the poor guy.  For far too long, “sci-fi” has distracted and diluted the genuine literary efforts of science fiction writers.  In popular opinion, serious meditations on the human condition and our future have been supplanted by laser (or “lazer”) guns, celadon-skinned aliens, and Princess Leia slave costumes (not complaining, just saying).

But as I weathered through a few tough times recently, the value of entertainment became glaringly apparent.  I came to a conclusion that I hope science fiction writers like Mr. Ellison will forgive me for making.  And yes, you may sing it to the tune of “We Need a Little Christmas.”

We need a little sci-fi.

We need that escapism.  If not for fast-paced adventures of heroes with blaster guns flying in spaceships, if not for the entertainment factor, I would never have found the genre of science fiction.  It was movies like Star Wars and cartoons like Space Angel that made me want to seek out Clarke and Bradbury, not a short story I came across in an anthology.  I can’t help but think that the up and coming devotees of science fiction are being weaned in similar fashions.

That’s why I’m glad to hear about Space Command.

Space Command is a series of films that appear to be pure space opera and funded largely in part from fan donations on Kickstarter.  Crowd sourced funding for a project that circumvents the studio suits?  YES!
Writer-producer Marc Zicree has said precious little about the films, only that they encompass an epic span of two centuries and the lives and daring-do of two families.  All of the stills and graphics I’ve seen from the films suggest a 1950s, retro feel and sensibility.  I’m talking about films such as Forbidden Planet and Destination Moon and series such as Space Patrol.

“Having grown up immersed in and beguiled by these extraordinary dreams of the future, I was determined to write, produce and direct cutting-edge science fiction for film, TV and books,” Zicree says on the Kickstarter page.

This retro sensibility carries with it a tone of hope, featuring...and I'm paraphrasing Mr. Zicree here..."a bright future with all of us at our best." That hasn't been seen in science fiction since Star Trek: The Next Generation in my opinion.  I know that's a deal-breaker for many of you, but I could use a little hope in a bright future right about now.

If you click on any of the links provided, I will venture to say that several in the “hard SF” vein may wretch upon seeing the images.  The spiky rocketships, the “glass bubble” space helmets, the gleaming, crystalline views of the future, and the overall scientific implausibility.  You might even feel like these films are setting science fiction back a good 50 years.

I can understand that.  I just don’t agree with it.

Like I said, we need a little sci-fi.  We need to inspire new readers, new visionaries, and maybe even new scientists.  For many, just as it was for me, pulpy, 1950s-style sci-fi can act as a gateway to those people who are just now coming up in the world.

So I’m hoping Space Command delivers.

 My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"The world's most powerful artist"

Sunflower Seeds, opined by certain critics as Ai Weiwei's finest work, is composed of 100 million pieces of porcelain painted by Chinese craftsmen to resemble sunflower seeds.

That is what Art Review magazine named Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

And like most artists, he shrugs that off, at least in part. "I don't believe that much in my own answer," he said in the September issue of Smithsonian magazine. That issue is where I personally found for the first time the story of Ai Weiwei (pronounced, Eye Wayway).

I had heard his name before, of course.  I had seen his art and through Amnesty International, I had known of his political struggles in his native China.  This is all very surface-level.  So when I saw the article, I grabbed the issue of the Smithsonian off of my parents' coffee table and took the magazine to class and to lecture, reading about the artist whenever I had downtime.  What arose from the profile both encouraged me and made me smirk with tedium.

Ai Weiwei has been in and out of Chinese jails, all for being critical of that nation's regime.  He painted a list that named all 5,000 children who died in a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan because their schools were poorly built.  Then, as Smithsonian writer Mark Stevens points out, "At the same time, he plays a decidedly unsaintly, Dada-inspired role--the bad boy provocateur"who in one of his photographs is portrayed as giving the White House the finger.

Yeah.  Like we've never seen that done before.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not mocking Ai Weiwei.  Not in the least.  I suppose I just hope for more from him than a sophomoric, punk rock expression like that photo.  Especially in light of his other pieces, such as his irony-laden Cube Light or in Colored Vases, where he took pottery vessels thought to be over 5,000 years old and splashed them with various shades of paint, ranging from azure to cerise and even pink.  That, in my opinion, is a true iconoclast.  What comes before us need not always be revered, particularly if it no longer works (such as a political system).  Being blindly bound to tradition (or patriotism) improves nothing.

Those are just a few of his achievements.  Ai Weiwei was tapped to design the famous "bird's nest"stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.  He created the design and then boycotted the games, mocking them as the state's "religion." He also founded a corporation that he calls Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.  Yet at the same time, it is not simply communist regimes that draw his ire, it is control systems of most any sort.  Note the aforementioned "giving the bird" to the White House.

You know what?  I'm going to change my mind about what I said earlier.  It's not exactly a "sophomoric"gesture to take a photograph such as that one. Well it is, but it's a necessary one.  It's as necessary as rock n roll, as The Clash's London Calling with Joe Strummer smashing a guitar on the cover and The Sex Pistols'' "God Save the Queen" with all of its vitriolic bile towards the old and stodgy.  We need artists like Ai Weiwei.  People my age and older have seen such defiant and rebellious expressions time and again.  Younger generations have not as much.  Artists like Ai Weiwei provide that provocative, challenging stance to established structures, which is an act of necessity lest stagnation and blind acceptance become too ingrained in us.

Fact is, we need more neo-Dadist "bad boys" and I can't really ask for more than to have one weaned on Van Gogh, Johns, and Warhol.

If you're in the area or if you can get there, a retrospective of Ai Weiwei opens at the Hirshorn next month in Washington D.C.  The exhibit's title, ''According to what?" is borrowed from a Jasper John's painting.  That's ok.  It just seems to fit.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, September 10, 2012

Still waiting on my electric car

At last!

A completely electric “super car!”  It can go 600km on just one charge.

And it’s fast!  It can go from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds.

But wait!  There’s more!  It’s available to you all at the low, low price of $980,000.

You read that right.  Just $980,000! 
The nifty sports car comes from Rimac Motors, a small outfit out of Croatia.  It operates on a principle Rimac calls “torque vectoring,” where four electronic motors power each wheel independently.  This allows for thousands of corrections each second. 

Too bad about the price tag.  Not surprisingly, Rimac reports that the first order for its car comes from the Saudi royal family.  I suppose there’s a bit of irony there, Saudis buying electric cars, but they've got the money for the sticker price and at least they won’t be polluting the atmosphere as they tear around town at 300 kph.

Electric cars are closer to home and a bit more affordable than that nearly one mil price tag.  Toyota and Tesla (the car company, not the band) have partnered to produce the RAV4 EV.  The idea here being to meld the hybrid efficiency and practicality of a Prius with the speed of the Tesla Roadster.  The reviewer for that New York Times article seemed impressed by the speed of the vehicle and the absence of power loss that seems to sometimes plague hybrid vehicles.  Then the writer went into a whole lot of car geek details that fail to interest me.

Again, however, the RAV4 EV has a hefty price.  Nothing like the Rimac, mind you, but upwards of $50K is not my idea of an affordable car.  It’s going to take a while, but technology should hopefully progress to a point where electric cars will no longer be cost prohibitive and become genuine alternatives to what we have currently.  I know, I know, conspiracy theories abound about Big Oil holding this tech down, but I’m tired and don’t really want to meander into such fields at this time.

As I’ve admitted before, I’m really not a car guy.  That said I wouldn’t mind cruising around in that Rimac supercar.  I’m imagining hitting the accelerator and going from 0 to 60 in under three seconds…and the engine making no sound at all.  I could pretend I’m in the Batmobile in stealth mode or something equally juvenile.

Speaking of comic books, one sentence in that NYT article I linked to didn’t sit right with me.  In it, the author writes the following: “Elon Musk — Tesla’s chief executive, a practicing rocket scientist and the inspiration for the billionaire Tony Stark character in the “Iron Man” films…”

Yeah not to sound spleenful, I’m pretty sure that the inspiration for Tony Stark came from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko long before Musk ever entered the picture.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets