Thursday, January 31, 2013


Comic book anti-heroes were all the rage in the 1990s for jackanapes who couldn't get enough Wolverine and such.

Naturally, when in 1994 Marvel and DC Comics undertook once more one of their famous character crossovers, they went for a pairing of the two baddest bad boys around: Batman and The Punisher.  I found my copy of Punisher/Batman over the weekend and decided to blog about it.

The crossover was written by Chuck Dixon, probably one of the best writers in the industry when it comes to action and what I call "street level" characters.  By that I mean superheroes who have no "powers" per se, but are honed to nigh perfection physically and maybe even have a few trick gadgets up their sleeves.  I mean, you're not usually going to find guys like these fighting Galactus.  As I said, Dixon excels at writing these types of characters, especially Batman, so it's no surprise that this crossover turned out quite well.

For a storyline, we see The Punisher trail Jigsaw, one of his dire enemies, to Gotham City.  There, Jigsaw makes his bid to takeover that city's underworld of organized crime.  For an assist with this, he enlists...of all people...The Joker.  So the bodies mount as full-on mob war rages.  This total grows exponentially when The Punisher shows up and starts spraying bullets.  Inevitably, this draws the attention of Batman.

What unfolds is a classic trope of "we hate each other at first but must learn to work together." However, Dixon does an admirable job of playing off the differences between the two characters.  One glaring item of compare/contrast is taking lives.  Batman will not kill.  Period.  That's one line he will not cross.  The Punisher?  Well, that line is somewhere a thousand miles back in his rearview mirror.  Amidst all the bang bang of the big guns and the melee of fists, there is actually a revealing character study going on within the text.  In fact, it's quite a moment when The Punisher has The Joker caught, points a gun at him, and Joker gasps "you're really going to do it, aren't you?"

More than that, we see a brilliant bit of interaction between each character's sidekick, wholly done through computers.  The Punisher has a buddy named Microchip who handles all things technical while Punisher caps the asses.  Micro attempts to hack into mob family's computer system and (virtually) meets Robin, quite a hacker in his own right.  While their bosses fight one another with their brawn, Robin and Microchip engage one another in a battle of intelligence and strategy.

In terms of art, I'm really not a fan of John Romita, Jr.  His renditions of people are often so blocky or ropey, that I think I'm looking at Lego men.  This does not, however, sufficiently distract from the story that Chuck Dixon has written.  I recommend this comic to anyone who enjoys these characters and especially wants to explore their true differences.

Funny.  I wrote a term paper on a compare/contrast of Punisher and Batman in high school.  Could Chuck Dixon have somehow....


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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

ESE Podcasts!

You heard it here first.

There is going to be an Esoteric Synaptic Events podcast.
I am uncertain at this point as to how I'm going to bring it about, but I'm determined to do it.  I may buy a cheap mic and download a shareware audio editing app. That would be ideal, but my web design/programming skills are severely lacking and the free systems online just don't do what I need.

Right now, I am hoping to do a few podcasts with Mike Smith and his quality outfit, Prairie Independent Media.   (Putting on my Troy McClure voice) You may remember them from such podcasts as Mid-Life Man Cave and the Dyelirious podcast.  I was fortunate enough to appear on Dyelirious once and had a great time.  My obstacle in working with Prairie Independent Media is solely geographical.  I'm in one state for most of the week and Mike's in another.  Maybe we can meet up and knock a few podcasts out over Spring Break.  But I digress...

What will an ESE podcast be like?  First of all, I will be reading my series of short science fiction stories and making them available for free.  That's right.  Free.  I've heard this sort of "audiobook giveaway" has worked well for other indie writers.  Might do the same for me.  Here's to hoping.  In addition to the short stories, of which I hope to have about nine or ten all told, I may do podcast discussions on general weirdness, especially as I get more and more serious about writing that book about Dulce

And who knows what else I might offer via audio.  Maybe things I've read about in Art Today or perhaps even "spoken word" presentations.  Or maybe you'll just hear me bitching about the artifice of a materialistic existence.  Wellaway!  It's wide open territory as to just where the podcasts may take us.

I'm excited about it.  Hope you are too.
Details to come.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Escape From Tomorrow

I hate Disney.

There.  I said it.  As a matter of fact, I loathe the entire institution.  Why?  Sure, there's the portrayal of women as helpless waifs in the insipid yet somehow "classic" Disney films, but that's not all of it.  It could be the homogenized "McEntertainment" that for many years was shoved into my face by the same just-had-a-kid-but-now-financially-struggling couples that incessantly flung "So when are you having kids?" in my face ad nauseam until any reproductive will I had shut down.

Or maybe I just think it all sucks so bad that I could plotz after a mere ten minute viewing of any Disney tripe (except for The Black Hole, but that's the subject of a future post.)

But it seems that a few of "my kind of people" have a produced a film shown at Sundance called Escape From Tomorrow.  Filmed entirely on property at Disney World, the film shows the theme park as a "dystopian hellscape."

I love it already.

What exactly does such a portrayal entail?  Well, to wit:

"Princesses transformed into ghouls. Psychedelic teacup rides. Simulated suicide. The world's most famous theme park turned into a vomitorium."

This, gentle reader, is art.

Randall Moore, director of the film, describes Escape From Tomorrow as "my personal attempt to make sense of what felt like a very artificial childhood, brought on by our cultural obsession with these fake, manufactured worlds of so-called fantasy." "  Indeed, I keep thinking of those vapid and sterile depictions of what our "future" was supposed to be in Tomorrowland.
Moore adds, "I think the film is really about defining the word 'escape' and how so many American households seek it out in a yearly pilgrimage to a materialistic Mecca."

He took a big chance shooting this on location and nearly got caught by park security.  Naturally, Disney is considering whether or not to sue and halt a wider release of the film.  Suing has been their m.o. numerous times in the past.  In this instance, however, they may wish to just step back as any litigation will on draw more attention to the film and how godawful the Disney corporation really is.

Geez, have I mentioned how much I hate those guys?

Oh well.  It's a small, small dysfunctional world after all.  

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Shilling SF to fund weapons research

I thought it was The Onion and not io9.

That was my immediate reaction when I read the following headline: Physicist aims to publish science fiction to raise $2 million for laser weapons.

Apparently, physicist Adam Weigold is on Kickstarter to get help in publishing his science fiction novel, Dragon Empire.  The plot of the novel is said to entail a war between the U.S. and China involving laser-powered EMP weapons that change the face of warfare forever, "especially strategy and tactics."  From the article, it even looks like he has a sequel planned called Lightning Gun, complete with a Captain America-esque logo in the corner.  Once sufficient funds are secured, Weigold states he will funnel them into design and development of his superweapons which he describes as:

"High-energy lasers can create an ionized ball of plasma by ripping electrons from molecules in the air — enough to generate a small EMP pulse that could knock out the electronic sensors and guidance systems of missiles. That means an F-35 fighter jet armed with a kilowatt-class laser could theoretically become invincible against a swarm of missiles."

Hoo-boy.  Normally, I am in full support with equipping our troops with the best in weapons systems.  This time, I can help but sense the twinge of nausea in my stomach at this news.

First of all, Dragon Empire doesn't even sound like good science fiction, making it somewhat of a dirty mark on the face of the genre.  There's futuristic technology involved, sure, but that's not all it takes for good science fiction (that is a subject for another post.) In fact it sounds more like something geared towards the armchair general, "I drive an mega SUV," Tom Clancy technothriller reader.  Or perhaps even the "stop the greenies!" work of Michael Crichton or at worst, something out of the Left Behind series.  If this Dragon War were to be re-pitched as something along the "men's adventure" pulp variety, well, that would be different.  I know it sounds like I'm splitting hairs, but science fiction is personal to me and I therefore take this personally.

You see, science fiction is ideally a force for social progress (check this link for examples.)  That is a principle point that I stick to when having one of my ubiquitous arguments with literary fiction types over the merits of so-called "genre literature." The giant writers of science fiction stood for ideals and wanted to change things.  They were as Old Testament prophets, wailing aloud to authority "this is wrong!" Greed, tunnel-vision thinking, environmental destruction, they saw it all and they didn't like it. They weren't about war.  They were about stopping it.

I can't imagine they'd approve of the genre they helped create be in any way supportive of developing more things to kill people.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cyberpunk 2077

"High tech, low life."

That was the tagline to my first introduction to the subgenre of cyberpunk: the tabletop RPG, Cyberpunk 2020.  Oh sure, I had seen numerous films in the 1980s, such as the holy Blade Runner, that now qualify as classics of the subgenre aesthetic, but I admittedly did not have a word for it until I reached college...and Cyberpunk 2020.  Rest assured, Gibson came soon thereafter for me.

I no longer play RPGs in the meatspace sense.  Not for any aversion but for lack of anyone else's interest.  With the migration to digital formats, I'm sure fewer and fewer people play these sorts of games all the time, much to Dorkland's lament.  Still, I miss the Night City setting of Cyberpunk 2020 and thought that the sensibility of cyberpunk had gone the way of the dinosaur with contemporaries turning their noses up while scolding, "that is sooooo 1980s."

But Cyberpunk is making a least in the sense of games.  A new online RPG called Cyberpunk 2077 is on its way.  Details of its release are sketchy, but it sounds like developers want to take their time with it and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.  I wondered, however, how cyberpunk would translate to a current day audience?  Would it appeal to youth who might not see Neuromancer and Snow Crash as "cool?" Would it appear stale at all, even if the themes are as relevant now as they ever were?

This interview with the extraordinarily erudite Michael Pondsmith, creator of the original Cyberpunk 2020, set my questions to rest.  "It's not just the technology, it's the feel," Pondsmith says in the interview on MTV Geek.  He draws his inspiration from rain-wet city streets and the fact that in cyberpunk, "people have a lot of technology, but that didn't change the fundamental fact that there was a lot of treacherous, nasty behavior."  Other gems:

-"Cyberpunk isn't about saving humanity, it's about saving yourself."
-Cribbing Gibson, "the street has its own use for things."
-"This is Cyberpunk 2020 grown up.  You're going to see things we started and where they ended up."

Being a game with potentially millions of online players and an inherent atmosphere of distrust, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be interesting.  It might even be the first game of its kind that I join.

However, I am a bit put off that I was not invited to be a consultant (SARCASM).  After all, Dorkland and I once created our own Night City for cyberpunk by using the first release of Sim City.

Maybe I should have the old kibitzer on here to talk about it.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Could it be...SATAN?

Diagnosed as schizophrenic?  Good news!

You might not have a mental illness.  Instead, you might be the victim of Satanic programming.  Or so asserts Russ Dizdar.  Dizdar is a former chaplain of the University of Akron Police Department and was recently on Coast-to-Coast AM.

Dizdar argues that between four and ten million people in the U.S. have been victims of Satanic ritual abuse.  In the interview, he was quick to point out that there are varying degrees of Satanism.  There is the Church of Satan on one end and there is "psycho Satanism" (serial killer Richard Ramirez was cited as an example of this brand) all the way over on the other end of the spectrum.  Dizdar has spent most of his professional years going after "underground Satanism" wherein young people are subjected to Satanic ritual abuse.  This includes many lewd and unsavory abuses, many of which with the intent of creating multiple personalities to carry out Satanic work such as assassinations.

What I found most interesting was Dizdar's argument of where this form of Satanism has originated.  He said that the family lineage of the practitioners might go back as far as the Nephilim.  At the employment of that concept I nearly checked out, but I decided to listen on and see where things were going.  The true point of origin of these Satanists according to Dizdar is the society of The Black Flame from Nazi Germany.  He alleges that many of its modern day members are people of wealth and holding positions in society's elite.  As more and more hapless youth are mesmerized, a demonic army will arise, one that will aid the Antichrist in the cementing of a globalist agenda.  Apparently, it's all explained in Dizdar's book, The Black Awakening.

It would be easy to dismiss all of this out of turn.  These kinds of assertions honestly do resemble the kind of claptrap you hear from Alex Jones, however at least one organized religion sees the threat of Satanic/demonic intervention as a viable one.  The Catholic Church has established an "exorcism hotline" for those worried they may be under the control of the devil.  Really.  If you live in the Milan diocese in Italy, you can call the hotline and have a Vatican-trained exorcist sent to your door. who will perform the ritual en regle.  In fact, the Church has added to the number of priests it has that are schooled in the ways of exorcism.

I leave you to make your own spiritual decisions, whether they be the bottled or un-bottled variety.  I just know that Satanism makes my head spin.

Ha!  Did you see what I did there?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The robot with muscle and bone

We have "robot" versions of many animals.  Humans, on the other hand, are a defter feat to pull off.

Now, the University of Tokyo gives us Kenshiro, a robot that emulates human form down to the muscular and skeletal levels.  Kenshiro was designed to be about the size of the average (for Japan) 12 year-old boy.  Even t that scale, developers reported difficulty in getting the robot's weight proportions to balance out, but those problems appear to be a thing of the past.

How exactly do Kenshiro's "muscles" work?  As stated in the article:

"Like Kojiro [a previous robotic model], Kenshiro is actuated by a system of pulley-like muscles. This time, instead of single point-to-point muscles, they decided to make planar muscles -- just check out Kenshiro's abs to understand what we mean.
These flat and wide muscles use only one motor and are much more stable. All in all, these motors give Kenshiro 64 degrees of freedom (except for the hands): 13 in the neck, 13 in each arm, 7 in each leg, and 11 in the spine."

Kenshiro's bones are made of aluminum and said to be sturdier than the previous incarnation's as those were done on a 3D least that is what the article suggests.  Personally, I would like to know how much of Kenshiro was manufactured via 3D printing as that would be interesting in and of itself.  Whatever the composition and point of origin, it's enough to allow Kenshiro to bend, turn, and squat like an actual human with full freedom of articulation.  Watch the video at the link, quite gorgonizing really.  Face it folks, Asimov saw this coming.

I wonder how nanotech might one day be incorporated.  Perhaps within Kenshiro's "skin," "muscle," and "bone" there could nanobots assigned to repair or regenerate synthetic tissue as needed.  That's a long way off, granted, and the more germane question for adding nanotech would be to see how it might be applied to our own bodily systems.

I'm sure that right now the "gun crazies" are looking at this thing and thinking that the "terminators" are on their way.  

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Monday, January 21, 2013

It's a hoax by Obama, the media, the Templars, and maybe the Smurfs

We are steeped in politics.

At least that is how it seems and I'm not just talking about today's inauguration.  No, I'm talking about something brought to my attention in class last week.
Apparently, there is a contingent of the population that believes that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last December...was a hoax.

That's right.  It's a conspiracy.  It's all a plot.  We're being tricked by politicians, the mainstream media, and probably even the Kardashians.  We're all getting hoodwinked, bamboozled.  The shooting was a staged event, probably in the same way certain people allege the Moon landing was done.  And to what end, I asked?  Simple.

So that Obama can confiscate all the guns in the nation.

Deep breath in.  It is difficult for me to discuss such a concept maturely and intelligently, when all I want to do is find the people who started such ridiculousness and take a baseball bat to their heads.  I won't, of course.  That's part of living in a society with free speech.  Sometimes, you're going to be offended.

Whose idea is this?  Well, it seems that the lead proponent of this conspiracy theory is actually a tenured professor at Florida Atlantic University named James Tracey.  Anderson Cooper called Tracey out on CNN and Tracey then claimed that Cooper "meant him harm." No, Tracey.  You're being held accountable for what you say.  As a professor myself, the same thing would happen to me and in a high profile situation such as this and I'm certain my college's administration would have words with me.  But I digress.

There was also nifty little video posted to YouTube that presented the "evidence" of the case.  The video's creator used "Estranged" by Guns N Roses for a music bed.  I like GN'R as much as the next guy, but it doesn't do much for the intellectual credibility of your argument.

What evidence do the so-called "Sandy Hook Truthers" offer for their claim?  For one, they point to the additional two people who were arrested at the school on the morning of the shooting. That is true and I wondered about it myself from the initial reports of that day.  As one might imagine, an incident such as that shooting is a truly chaotic time and even the best civil authorities have difficulty keeping things under control and getting straight stories out.

One of the handcuffed individuals was a parent of a child in the school who was handcuffed as per police SOP in securing the scene.  The other individual found in the woods was an off-duty police officer from another town coming to offer assistance.  Again, SOP stated that this man be handcuffed until his credentials could be verified.  Skeptics Lair does a good job of debunking this and the many other ludicrous "truther" claims.

So what else they got?  Well, the inception dates of the memorial pages for a few of the victims are said to be listed as being days before the actual shooting.  Ok, well, dates on Google, Facebook, et. al. aren't always accurate and reflective of the true date.  I've had that happen to me several times.  What else?  Oh the dress worn by one of the young victims is the same as that worn by the victim's sister in a photo with President Obama after the shooting.  Sooo....ok.  Children can't share clothes?

Best...or perhaps worst...of all, it has been alleged that actors were hired to portray the grieving parents.  "Truthers" allege that the families weren't grieving enough, not crying enough, or otherwise not behaving in the "right way" for someone who just lost a child.  The parents did not conform to the consensus opinion of how someone "should act" distraught.  Sigh.  I can't even dignify that with a response.

Let us, as I told my students, apply Occam's Razor.   Here is a conversation I had with said students:

If there were no shooting victims, then where are the kids?
"Hiding somewhere, like on an island," was the response.
And what is the buy-in for the families?
"Millions of dollars.  Look at all the money that's been raised for them since the shooting.  That's how 'they' the government are paying for it."
Ok...and the parents are on board with this, hiding their children out for life?
"Wouldn't YOU do it if you were paid millions of dollars?"
Uh, no I wouldn't, but moving on.  How many people would a "hoax" like this involve?
"Hundreds.  Maybe thousands."
And you're going to get them to all keep quiet?

The whole stupid thing falls apart under its own illogical weight.  Yes, yes, I know I've written often about my belief that our government least to one extent or another...concealing contact with either alien or at least non-human entities.  One could argue that something like that could never be kept secret given how many people it would involve.  To that I say, you're right.
After all, we're talking about it now, aren't we?  How good of a secret could it be? Additionally, you would be correct in arguing that nothing has been proven.  Burden of proof lies with the claimant and so far the evidence is not conclusive.

Sandy Hook "truthers" could take a lesson from that axiom.  Theirs is the burden of proof.  Thus far, they've offered nothing.  Period.  No, Obama is not trying to take all the guns in your precious arsenal and then commence his "evil Muslim socialist plan" to become nefarious overlord of 'Murica.  Go back to your bunkers oh jubilarians of paranoia and cook your beans.

But then I guess I'm just a fool of the mainstream media.  Curse me for my ill-informed views.
Let me go put on a foil hat and tune in to Alex Jones.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pulsar on film and an ocean in space

Still cranking out discoveries, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory has shot video of a pulsar.

A pulsar, in case a reader might not know, is a neutron star that spins at extreme velocities, sending out waves of particles.  From our standpoint on Earth, or any other relative point in the universe I suppose, the intermittent on/off pulses that are caused by the star's high rotation make it seem almost like a beacon.  Imagine, if you will, a lighthouse with its beacon light spinning at a far greater velocity than typical.  The particles from these emissions travel at about 70% of the speed of light, according to the linked article.  Or perhaps one of the astronomer's quoted in said article states it more simply:

" "We think the Vela pulsar is like a rotating garden sprinkler — except with the water blasting out at over half the speed of light," researcher Martin Durant, of the University of Toronto in Canada, said in a statement."

I've known about pulsars since first studying astronomy as a kid.  I never thought I would actually see one.  A picture or video of one, I mean.  So seeing this is to me, quite fantastic.  Then come to find out that this is actually the second time a video has been taken of a pulsar, the first one being in 2003.

Also in astronomy news, Discover magazine named the finding of a "hidden ocean" on Titan as one of its moments in science for 2011 or whatever they call it.  Titan, again for ones who might not know and not simply for me to sound pedantic, is a large moon of Saturn.  It has long been thought as being rather like Earth in its primordial stages.  Therefore, it has been of particular interest to exobiologists.   

Data from NASA's Cassini spaceprobe shows that in addition to a thick atmosphere and pools of liquid methane, Titan has an ocean of liquid water beneath the ice of its surface.  The combination of liquid water and organic molecules in a location are typically thought to be indicators of life.  However, conventional science would suggest that Titan is simply too cold to support life as we know it.  There are a few scientists, not ones within the SETI crowd I'm afraid, who conjecture that life might have evolved on Titan that, through its own generation of body heat, could melt its way through the icy surface and up from the depths of the ocean.

I'm going to need to track down more books on the subject.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013


"Have you ever written anything about robots?"

That's what Bernard Sell, my co-author and all-around writing buddy on many projects, asked me last weekend.  I had to answer that other than an abortive short story, I never really have done a story about robots.  Which frankly, surprises me.  I like robots well enough, I suppose a story just never came to me.  Well, not a good one, anyway.

I have an affinity for the cheesy optimism of 1950s robots as in the above photo that I found on Tumblr after a quick Google.  Actually that was taken in 1961.  The robots were made by a sheet metal worker in Peoria, IL.  They have a built-in tape recorder that can deliver a message while the robots move their arms and heads.  As a kid, I remember reading the 1950s projections that we would all have robot servants in our homes that would look roughly like the ones in the picture.  Ahh the future that never came to us.

So where else would I look for inspiration of the robotic persuasion?  The classic I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, wherein the fundamental Three Laws of Robotics were outlined? Of course not.  Why would I seek out quality?  No, I'm talking about "Mr. Roboto" by Styx.

That's right.  That pallid yet catchy song from all the way back in 1983.  I remember singing it to myself in grade school on the way to the bus stop (my one and ONLY time singing along to a Styx song I can bloody well assure you), mulling over its lyrics.  They told the story of a robot that does menial work in a prison.  At least I think that's it, who the hell can tell?  Anyway, the song is told from the POV of somebody who really wants out of there, a real "let's escape this joint" vibe.  So our protagonist escapes inside the shell of a robot to fool the guards.  He then reveals that he is really "Kilroy." Or something like that.

During that same time frame, the miniseries V was being shown on television, something I was glued to at the time and even own DVD copies of today.  It told the story of a creeping takeover of the Earth by aliens.  Why not merge these memes together?  Or so my 12 year-old mind said.  I would write a story about...get this...computers taking over the world.  I'm sure nobody's ever done a story like that.  I had preconcerted an entirely new subgenre of science fiction!

Then I saw Ridley Scott beat me to it with Blade Runner and James Cameron came soon afterward with The Terminator.  That ended that.

Anyway, how did I get on all this?  Oh yeah, robots.  That's right.  

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Largest structure in known universe found

In space, no one can hear you scream.

Or restrict your growth if you're a galactic core.

Astronomers have discovered the largest object in the known universe.  It is a large quasar group, an extremely bright vertex of galactic nuclei powered by a supermassive black hole.  The full size is estimated at 4 billion light years across.


While quasars have a tendency to cluster together, the largest one found up until this point was 600 million light years in length.  In fact, it was previously calculated that no astronomical structure more than 1.2 billion light years across should exist.  These recent findings sort of put a cigarette out on that line of thinking.

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of science, to me anyway, and also one of the problems I have with the "skeptical at all costs" mentality: theories in science are continually overturned.  This new find not only brings new perspective to our idea of size in the universe, but as the article points out, this large quasar group violates the cosmological principle stating that when viewed at sufficient distance, the universe should appear homogenous.  Astronomy's entire understanding of scale must now shift.  It seems safe to say that the more discoveries we make, the weirder things are likely to get.

As per usual, the science fiction ideas start coming to me.  Could there be, however unlikely, an actual alien "mothership" four billion light years in size?  I guess you're sort of beyond a "spacecraft" at that unbelievable size, but if the "can't get there from here" theory is truly how it is, then it might stand to reason that a civilization or an alliance of civilizations would need something that size for space travel over multiple generations.

Keep in mind that's all just bs.  A fiction writer thinking out loud.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Elevator going up

As it turns out, this bit about a space elevator is an old story.

I found it on CNET's list of 2012 in review: Japan plans snail-paced space elevator by 2050.
The idea is to stretch out 60,000 miles worth of cables.  The upward end has a counterweight and the Earth-side end is anchored at the bottom of an ocean.  An elevator would then move along the cables at 125 mph, carrying up to 30 passengers and perhaps cargo as well, to a space station.  Even at that speed, the journey would still take one week.  A snail's pace indeed.  The space station would have enormous solar panels, helping to generate electricity for the elevator and perhaps even for transmission back down to Earth.

Many have speculated regarding a space elevator.  Arthur C. Clarke did so in his book, The Fountains of Paradise, a book that I admittedly have not read.  The mechanism would indeed be cost efficient means of sending material and personnel into orbit as opposed to doing so with solid fuel rockets.  The rub with the space elevator, however, has always been with material.  What could you build a space elevator out of that would stand up to the rigor and the strain involved?  The Japanese organization called Obayashi, the minds behind the proposed elevator for 2050, have ideas.

Carbon nanotubes. Cylindrical carbon molecules with extraordinary properties of strength and thermal conductivity.  Once together, these nanotubes naturally align with one another into "ropes."  What's more, they create extremely durable materials that do not bend.  Quite important qualities if you're talking about a space elevator.  We've already begun to introduce carbon nanotubes into consumer products, it is logical to project that in the year 2050, we will have even more advanced nanotubes, thus helping bring the elevator to a reality.

Of course, I must start waxing creative when I read a story such as this one.  I think about how nanotechnology may play a role in the space elevator's construction.  Maybe the structure would even be self-repairing by that point in time.  If we're talking about simple, one-way transit, would this be the economical choice for travel to the Moon?  Repeated travel, that is to say?  And what would it be like to be in that elevator car for a week? 

I can see it now.  The space elevator car is stopped midway between Earth and the space station.  The passengers are trapped, held hostage by terrorists.  It's up to one grizzled space marine to go up there and save the day.

Holy schnapsicles, I've just written the next Die Hard.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Book review--"Sandman Slim"

by Richard Kadrey

James Stark is back from Hell and his clothes are burnt.
Other than that, his day has sucked.
He's returned to Los Angeles on a mission of revenge, but even that gets complicated.  Complicated in the form of a midget in a video store he fancies himself a magician but is soon reduced to a mere talking head.  Yes, an actual talking head.
And it gets weird from there.  The forces of both Hell and Heaven have ideas for Stark's future.

Get this book.  Get it now.
This is the first book I've read in quite a while where the time-honored cliche of "could not put it down" came into play.  Make no mistake about it, however, this is not a "literary masterpiece." You're probably not going to find Kadrey printed in The New Yorker anytime soon and this book has suffered at the hand of literary snobs in their Amazon reviews as a result.

News flash: I don't believe Richard Kadrey ever had any intention of delivering anything other than an entertaining,  noir-flavored urban fantasy that ends up being exactly what William Gibson calls it on the cover: "a dirty-ass masterpiece." Much of the book's charm comes not from the plot but the phrasing of the first-person narration.  If you can fathom a more world-weary version of a film noir voiceover, that's exactly what you get with Sandman Slim.  Thumbing the pages, I'm looking at a few of the descriptive sentences I underlined:

"There's something really wrong with the apartment.  Like one out-of-tune string on a guitar."
"But I don't want to get near it.  I can't look away, either.  I had the same reaction seeing my father at the funeral home."

It's one delicious verbal treat after another.  The noir phrasing and the borderline gutter humor just come together and color Stark's character in a way that makes him just jump right off the page.  In fact, as I read the book I could not help but think what a fun film this would make.  Something dirty and tarty that dovetails perfectly with the pulp/noir grindhouse set.

One beef I do have is with the copy editing and that is not the writer's fault.  The editing is horrendous.  There are misspellings, typographical errors, and missing words.  Somebody didn't do their job.

That aside, I intend to seek out more books written by Richard Kadrey as he now ascends into my personal pantheon of favorite writers.  Sandman Slim is as addictive as whiskey and cigarettes and about as good for you, too.
But that wouldn't stop me from enjoying all three.  Preferably together. 

Sandman Slim is available at Amazon.  Here is a trailer for the book:

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Omega Men

Over break, I indulged in one of my favorite activities: the back issue bins of the comic book store.

In doing so, I located the first issue of a comic book series that I always wanted to try but until now had no chance to.  That series is The Omega Men.
The Omega Men stem from an appearance in issue #141 of Green Lantern.  They are a cadre of alien characters from the Vegan planetary system.  The planets of this star system are entirely (or almost entirely) run by the Citadelians, a thug-ish race of hoodlums that are the cloned progeny of the demi-god son of X'Hal.  Doesn't make any sense to you?  Don't worry.

Our titular characters, numbering in the hundreds (!), are representative races from the Vegan system, all isolated for their positions as leaders in their races or their possession of super powers.  All told, however, the exact reasons for their singling out by the Citadel are not immediately clear, thus indicating there is something additionally special about The Omega Men.  What you do know right away is these Omega Men are breaking out, determined to bring the Citadel down.

In terms of characters, there is:
Primus, the leader of the society and possessor of psionic power
Kalista the sorceress (seems like there's always one)
Tigorr, the warrior were-cat (ditto)
Nimbus, ethereal creature and "wielder of the dark touch"
Broot, the enormous, rock-like defender  

Aside from their appearances in crossovers such as Invasion! and The Rann-Thanagar War, but this was my first introduction to the characters of The Omega Men.  I must say, I am impressed with the creativity involved.  Given that it is a science fiction series that takes place mostly if not entirely away from Earth, artist Keith Giffen was allowed to go all out in terms of the design of alien worlds and their constituents.  Sure, many are stock, bipedal characters noted above, but many of The Omega Men are wild in design.  They are the sorts of lifeforms one might speculate about in terms of evolution without earthly presuppositions.  I can't really put the character designs into words but if you imagine the vast diversity of the Green Lantern Corps, you probably get the idea.

That's the other thing.  This is not simply a superhero team book.  This is about an entire society with over one hundred members.  All of the foibles and failings that come with such a social structure become evident in this book.  Along those lines, the character of Broot becomes arguably the most interesting in the comic.

Broot hails from the planet Changralyn.  All of Broot's race are gigantic in size, incredibly strong, and nigh invulnerable with their rocky hides.  And yet, they choose a way of ultimate pacifism.  When Broot acts with violence to protect his family and all of Changralyn from the Citadelians, he is automatically shunned by his people for the transgression.  His family dies, he looses his home, and thereby becomes a great tragic and tortured character.

That first issue was enough to leave me wanting more.  Rest assured, I will continue seeking out issues of The Omega Men.  Be nice if they came out in a trade.

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

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Happy Birthday, David Bowie

David Bowie with William Burroughs.  If I'm not mistaken, Bowie is wearing a Clockwork Orange t-shirt.  This is the coolest photograph in history.  There are none higher.

The word "artist" does not even begin to cover David Bowie.

I'm certain I've said that before somewhere on Esoteric Synaptic Events, but it really is true.  That and I run out of superlatives when attempting to describe the art this man has given the world.  From music to acting to painting, from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke, Bowie has firmly cemented himself as an icon, a trailblazer and avant-garde creating things far before anyone else had thought of them, and a pseudomorph constantly changing and reinventing himself.

Bowie turned 66 yesterday.  He has taken several years to himself, looking after his health and painting.  One of his paintings is featured below and you can view more of them dating back to the 1990s at BowieArt.

David Bowie is just now returning to the music scene after his hiatus.  A new song called "Where Are We Now?" is a available for download and a new album called The Next Day is to be released in March.  Here is a clip of the first cut:

I owe David Bowie a great debt.  Without him and his influence, I doubt there ever would have been a Duran Duran or any number of other bands and musicians I enjoy today.  Not only that, but Bowie has had an influence on science fiction.  From his first single, "Space Oddity" to "Life on Mars" to his film The Man Who Fell to Earth, his desire to be "more than human" has produced science fiction art that is pivotal, seminal, and any other cliche you'd care to implement.

I hope David Bowie had a wonderful birthday.  I've only seen the man live once and that was when he opened for Nine Inch Nails.  Sadly, a trifecta of problems hampered that performance: 1) I was really there for NIN at the time, 2) Bowie was only playing songs from his album Outside, and 3) Bowie was ill and cut the show short.  I know that he needs to take care of his health and for God's sake that is indeed what must come first, but damn...if he could just find it in himself to do one more tour.  Please, David.  Help me make up for the last time.

In closing, here is one of my favorite performances of his, "Heroes" from Live Aid in 1985:

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rudy Rucker, SETI, and the SF convergence

It has been a day of science fiction synchronicity.

First of all, I returned to author Rudy Rucker's website after mentioning him in an earlier post.  I went back because I saw a description of a book of his that I am stunned did not come to my attention much earlier.  It is entitled Turing & Burroughs: A Beatnik SF Novel and its cover is shown above.  The description Rucker provides goes thusly:

"Turing & Burroughs is an SF novel set in style of a 1950s-movie “alien invasion” story. Computer pioneer Alan Turing and the Beat author William Burroughs connect in Tangier and begin a love affair. The novel fuses SF themes with beatnik styles and attitudes, switching between Turing's and Burroughs's points of view.
Turing and Burroughs find a way to shapeshift into telepathic slugs, and society's reaction serves as a symbol of the 1950s horror of artists, intellectuals and political outsiders.
As our heroes flee the feds, the story becomes a road novel. In traditional 1950s SF style, they head for a nuclear test site in Los Alamos, New Mexico. En route, Turing and Burroughs visit Mexico City and have a heavy encounter with Burroughs's murdered wife.
The story comes to a head with a thermonuclear blast and a final transcendence."

How in the name of all that is holy did I manage to miss this book?  I mean, just look at it.  It's got everything.   It's even got a dash of Kerouac in there for good measure.  This goes on the "to-read" list and fast.

After that heartening find, I came across this bit of news from SETI.  The current thinking goes that one out of every six stars has at least one Earth-like planet orbiting it.  By Earth-like, it is meant that the planet is roughly the same size and orbital distance from its star as Earth.  This data comes from NASA's Kepler telescope.  A scientist at SETI then crunched the numbers and asserts that there is so far a total of 58 planets believed to be in a "Goldilocks Zone" around their parent star, meaning that their surface temperature is neither too hot nor too cold, thus allowing for liquid water.  

Personally, I'm more on the side of astronomer Paul Davies, who argues that there could be multiple "Goldlilocks Zones" as we're basing the search for life very much on our own assumptions.  But then it doesn't matter to SETI, does it?  After all, their popular refrain is "can't get there from here."  So, I ask, what's the point?

My mind was still working from an imaginative science fiction premise when I read this last article, what with having come fresh from Rudy Rucker's page and reading the description of his sure-to-be-fabulous book.  So I began to think.  I know, something awful or at the very least weird typically follows that statement.

We tend, I believe, to forget the concept of The Singularity when discussing alien beings.  This is a factor that may well negate the obstacle of distance in interstellar travel.  If we as a species are, allegedly, on the cusp of our own transhuman fusion with technology, then it would stand to reason that an advanced alien civilization would have long undergone their own Singularity.  For the moment, I am willingly ignoring the five reasons of George Dvorsky, namely that a post-singularity intelligence would see nothing of value in our civilization.  I do not do so because I disagree with Dvorsky (I don't disagree with the five reasons, not entirely anyway) but merely because I am riffing in a fictional sense.

I'm working backward from an Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of premise that I have had for a non-traditional alien invasion book.  Additionally, there may be a bit of Andromeda Strain in there as well.  Yes, a virus from space...but a computer virus.  Stay with me on this...

A post-singularity alien civilization sends bits of itself into the cosmos as beams of light, laser, or data transmission.  This alien intelligence arrives on Earth in an utterly unseen form, hidden within the Internet and the deep sea of information that traverses our computer networks on a daily basis.  What do they do there?  Are they a scouting mission?  Probing our systems as opposed to our butts?  Are they determining if they should send more of their kind? 

I'll go you one better.  Say this arrival occurs just as our own Singularity is really coming to reality.  The human brain can now interface with the Internet via direct cybernetic link.  The alien intelligence actually enters a human mind.  What then?  People begin behaving strangely?  More than usual, I mean?  I can just see Area 51 becoming a sort of "Gitmo" used to sequester these infected individuals while Majestic 12 (or their descendent organization) engages in pseudology while deciding what the hell to do.

Pardon me, I need to start writing.   

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

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Monday, January 7, 2013

For sale: your own communications satellite

That is if you can afford a satellite.

Communication satellites were an invention of the United States but a 1999 act of Congress prohibited their export, saying that they technically qualified as "weapons."  As of now, that export ban has been lifted.

It started in the Reagan administration.  Both Reagan and later Bush approved the transfer of American-made satellites to China where they would be placed in orbit via Chinese rockets.  This was thought to be a cheaper way of doing things.  Clinton continued this practice until Congress grew concerned that the leakage of top secret materials might be an unforeseen by-product of this exchange and banned all export.  With the ban lifted, US aerospace and telecommunication companies are predicted to benefit.

So there are civilian satellites for sale.  Reminds me of an article I once read in Omni magazine and yes that alone should be an indication of how long ago this was.  The article was about how to launch your own rocket.  You only need about $1 million, a few million gallons of kerosene, and approval from NASA, the State Department, and the DoD.  Well once all of those piddly chores are out of the way, I figure I could then launch my own satellite into orbit.  Imagine...a telecommunication satellite dedicated solely to broadcasting the music of Duran Duran across the globe.

But why stop there?  I wonder if the components of the satellite could be rearranged into a rudimentary space probe?  I could launch my own probe, sending biological material out into to space to seed an unknown planet's primordial soup with life.  Then, millions of years from now, a bunch of aliens show up on Earth...aliens that all look like me.  I will need to launch this probe under a pseudonymous identity so nothing can get pinned on my historical reputation.

Maybe I'll scrawl "Wayne LaPierre" somewhere on the satellite probe.

My e-novella, Hound of Winter is available for only 99 cents 
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Friday, January 4, 2013

Organic HTML

I cannot program.

I have attempted to many times but have resulted in being mediocre at best.  At least where it counts that is to say.  I suppose that is why I marvel at and become envious of those who can do it.  For many of the same reasons, I am enthralled with this site, OrganicHTML.

Enter the site and then enter the URL of a web oage.  Any page.  The graphic representation you get back is meant to, if I understand it correctly, symbolize the site as a living thing vis-a-vis the rest of the Internet.  Note the length of the vines, roots, and other foliage that you get upon submission.  I typed in the URL of this blog and what I got back looked, well, rather necrotic.  Guess that's fair.  I've tried several site addresses, more than I care to list right now.  Instead, I leave you to your own experiments.

Considering the Internet as a living thing is not exactly new.  Many have previously considered the idea.  I blogged about it recently and I'm also close to completing a stage play based on the concept.  Will the Net evolve into a living landscape?  Perhaps.  If it does, let's hope we can take better care of it than we do our present physical reality.  After all, environmental disasters such as Deepwater Horizon should give anyone pause for consideration before offering couthie praise for humanity.

Anyway, back to the play.

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

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Weird dream alert

I invite any and all interpretations and analysis of what I am about to tell you.

It was a dream.  A really weird and especially vivid dream that went through my mind behind the wall of sleep.  If you've been reading Esoteric Synaptic Events for a while, you know that I have an interest in the concept of consciousness.  Given that predilection, I really must wonder how all of these elements came to be lodged in my subconscious, thereby producing the dream I shall soon impart.  I am especially perplexed as the main players in the dream are people I never think about and the location is one of which I know precious little.  That said, please read on...

I was in Pittsburgh.  Let's be clear, I have only been to Pittsburgh once and that was in the airport, hardly in the city as those of you PA natives might well know.  Speaking of Pennsylvania, I have only been through the state once and that was back in 1985.

My reasoning for visiting Pittsburgh was work-related.  And by work, I mean the place I was at before I happily accepted my current professorship.  On break from the conference I was attending, I decided to roam the countryside in search of people and things to write about.  Because the "countryside" is only a mile or two away from the city center of Pittsburgh as anyone knows, right?

In my foot travels, I came to a small town within a pastoral setting.  It was basically a collection of two-story buildings and not much more.  One of these buildings appeared to be a garden shop of sorts with a wide attachment of land that featured a number of trellises and racks for growing plants.  It was muddy.  I could smell the wet dirt.  An adolescent Asian boy played among the plants.  He wore a plastic space helmet and fired a toy laser "blaster."  His grunts were nonverbal and his age indicated he was developmentally challenged.

The owner of the garden store was James Taylor.  Yes, the singer.  He wore a blue flannel shirt.  We talked as he loaded tubular hoses onto a wagon.  He explained that he was having trouble making ends meet with his store in a bad economy and fewer public funds to help him with the learning disabled child he and his wife had.  I remarked that it was poignant story how even he, as a musician that most would believe just rolled in dough, struggles with mere survival these days.  He said he'd let me write his story and I wandered on into the town.

I came to an antique shop.  It was owned and operated by Art Garfunkel.  Yes, you read that correctly.  He wore a toga.  I followed him through his store as he checked and priced old timey items, lifting them up onto shelves.  He told me that he also was having trouble with his own shop.  I said that I'm certain he was already aware of this, being in the same small town in Pennsylvania and all, but James Taylor was down a few streets and struggling with his own garden shop.  They might want to commiserate.  Maybe compose songs about their trials.

Art Garfunkel instructed me in no uncertain terms that if I ever see James Taylor again that I am to "kick him squarely in the nuts."
"We got into a car accident a little while back right here in town," Art told me.  "Minor bump, not even a scratch, couldn't even see dust that had been rearranged.  But Taylor gets out of his car and goes all asshole on me.  Getting up in my face, telling me I'd better have good insurance.  Telling me I'm gonna pay, etc. etc.  Never talked to me since."

Then Sally Field walked into Art Garfunkel's antique store (never thought I'd write that sentence.)  She wore a plain blue sweatshirt and had bought a chest of drawers that she needed help getting it into her car.  Art enlisted my help and we went outside to the curb.  We got it into the trunk and as a reward for my efforts, Sally Field offered to drive me back to my hotel in Pittsburgh.  After all, she was already driving the gentlemen in the back seat to the city.  He was introduced to me as a theater critic named Victor Chirez.  No idea who that is but Art Garfunkel agreed to come along for the ride.  Sally Field's car had no passenger side door but I accepted the ride anyway.

We drove on through a swirling mist of muted yellows and spiky oblong shapes.  Sally offered me a jar of pickles to snack on, but I politely declined.  In time we came to my hotel, which looked more like a theater than a lodging, a marquis out front and sloping facade that came to a pyramid point rather like the Luxor in Vegas.  I thanked them for the ride, told Art Garfunkel I love "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," and went inside to pack.  I seem to recall fearing I would miss my flight out of Pittsburgh.  I hailed a cab, one that was driven by Gollum from Lord of the Rings.  On the flight to Indianapolis, I would write all of this down.

Ok, I honestly have no idea where any of that came from.  I mean, William Burroughs would probably shrug his shoulders at it.

Suffice to say, any of the piddly online "dream interpreters" haven't any category even close to this but then again the odds were slim.  So I go for the big guns: a book by the Dali Lama himself.

In The Universe in a Single Atom, his holiness examines the parallels between scientific and spiritual development.  Most germane to our discussion here, he speaks of neuorbiology and the nature of consciousness.  The Lama, as it seems from my mere skimming of the text, argues that consciousness does not reside within any physical location, such as in the brain as we automatically assume.  Rather, consciousness resides in a more spiritual realm.

Say what you will, but that actually makes sense to me in this case.  I have made attempt after attempt to scrutinize my day yesterday in an effort to ascertain where any of these 1970s celebrities might have gotten into my head.  Thus far, I have come up empty handed.  If consciousness is a much wider, non-localized reality, then perhaps it stretches outward and overlaps with other areas while I am wholly unawares.

Sure, you can say I heard Pittsburgh, Art Garfunkel, and James Taylor somewhere within the course of my day yesterday.  If I did, I would love to know when and where.  That said, I think my theory is more fun.    

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

We need gravity for many things, but growing plants ain't one of them.

So says research conducted at the International Space Station.  Scientists were quite curious to see how plants would develop (if at all) in an environment where there is no real "up" or "down" for them to grow towards.   As Arabidopsis plants germinated in space, a control group of the same plant species was grown at the Kennedy Space Center.

The results?  The plants in space exhibited the same growth patterns as their counterparts on Earth.  Looking at the "skewing" patterns of the roots, scientists determined that the presence of gravity does not have altogether that much effect on how plants grow other than the plants in space tended to grow a bit slower.  The end results, however, were the same as those on Earth.  This appears to imply that other factors such as moisture and soil nutrients seem to be heavier contributors to plant growth than gravity.

Of course I'm already considering the science fiction angles.  I have a novel called Blindsight by Peter Watts.  Sadly, I've yet to read it but I aim to change that soon.  Among its many enticing plot aspects (alien pods, cybernetic biologists, and an actual space vampire), is the presence of...if I have not been spaceships.  That is to say, spaceships that are entirely alive and covered in biological matter.

Why not a "plant ship?"  I know, I know, plants exposed to the actual unforgiving nature of space is a far stretch, but we already know they do not require gravity and they may receive plenty of ultraviolet light.  How to get around the other pesky scientific factors?  I don't know, but I intend to explore the concept in further detail.  From what I understand, A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge has a bit of this concept present as well.  Time I adverted myself to that book in addition to Watts.

Also time to recon the used paperback store.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

NIC readies for transhuman future

Just under one month ago, the National Intelligence Council released a report that states, among other things, that individuals will be increasingly pitted against national states.

And many of these individuals may be augmented by transhuman means.

In the report, the NIC cites cybernetic limbs, prosthetics, implants, and powered exoskeletons as being the critical agents in security for future societies.  A great many of these developments can be seen right now in the current military of our own and other nations.  Exoskeleton suits enhance the natural strength of soldiers and help them to carry heavy loads.  By 2030, the NIC sees servicemen and women being given psychostimulants that will keep them sharp and awake for longer periods of time.  Imagine drugs that make you smarter, not dumber!  Implants will...well, geez, what won't implants let one do?

Cybernetic eye implants could give a soldier permanent night vision or even allow them to scan ranges of the spectrum that are invisible to the plain and wimpy human eye.  Additionally, one might be able to view their surroundings in a nigh permanent state of augmented reality.  Neural interfaces could allow for direct, cybernetic computer links that would allow for the processing and downloading of information faster than a meat human brain could even dare hope for achieving.  Additionally, neural implants could allow people to remotely control objects as is already being done with body prosthetics in a number of cases.  Exoskeletons will not only increase in complexity in terms of capability and battery life, but will allow humans to be both stronger and faster.  Or fly.  Imagine a suit of Iron Man armor that is not geek fantasy, but totally real.

As I have ever maintained, I am very excited about these advancements in transhumanism and cybernetics.  There is, however, cause for concern and a need to approach such developments with a certain even-handedness.  We don't know what the potential pitfalls are and you can bet that there will be certain unscrupulous individuals out there who will use this new and miraculous transhuman technology to nefarious ends.  That has been the story throughout history.  We can't always foresee exactly what might go wrong, but that does not mean we should not attempt to preclude such cases as much as we can.

By the same instance, this does not mean throw the baby out with the bathwater.  We must pursue this technology or at the very least be prepared to deal with it as a regular part of life.  The NIC report places this theoretical future as the year 2030.  That's only 18 years(!) away.  Think back to where you were and what the world was like 18 years ago.  Doesn't seem that distant, does it?

Be ready for the future is just hasn't been evenly distributed yet.  The first chance I get to shed my human body, I'm taking it.

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