Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Man Who Popularized Mars

Shaun Saunders sends in a well written article that juxtapositions the upcoming NASA Phoenix mission with the efforts of astronomer Percival Lowell. While Phoenix ( which is to land on Mars AT 7:36 P.M. ON May 25) will explore Mar's northern polar ice-cap looking for signs of life, Lowell, observing Mars, was convinced that he saw signs of intelligent activity covering the complete surface of the planet.

From the article which highlights Lowell's career:

Long before NASA was established in 1958, before JFK's impassioned speech about the space race, and before any of the Apollo missions or space shuttle successes and disasters, Percival Lowell devoted much of his career and considerable fortune to trying to prove that Mars hosted intelligent life.

Click here for complete article

Photo from the Lowell Observatory Archive

Analog and Asimov's readers' award winners

SFScope reports that during the Nebula Awards weekend, Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Asimov's Science Fiction announced their readers' award winners (voted by the readers from their 2007 issues) at their annual breakfast event.

The winners of Analog 's Analytical Laboratory (AnLab) Awards are:

Best Novella: "Murder in Parliament Street" by Barry B. Longyear (November)
Best Novelette: "Quaestions Super Caelo et Mundo" by Michael F. Flynn (July-August)
Best Short Story: "The Astronaut" by Brian Plante (May)

The winners of Asimov's Readers' Awards are:

Best Novella: "Recovering Apollo 8" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (February)
Best Novelette: "Dark Integers" by Greg Egan (October-November)
Best Short Story: "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (June)

Hey, starting to see a theme here!

The coolest robot I have ever seen!

Called the "Air Jelly" it for all the world looks just like that. A jellyfish that floats on air instead of water. AirJelly is a remote radio-controlled airborne jellyfish with a central electric drive unit and an intelligent adaptive mechanism. The structure consists of a helium-filled balloon with a diameter of 1.35 meters. From this splay out eight actuators that look for all the world like the fin of a fish. These "fins" move in a languid manner controlled by the operate allowing the device to float and manuver. The total effect is etheral.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stargate: Continuum Trailer

Some trailers are just ho hum....and them some, like the Iron Man trailer really get your interest.
So, I present, the Stargate Continuum trailer for the DVD movie that will released on July 29th. Being a fan of Stargate and the Atlantis spin-off, I am looking forward to this release and the trailer confirms that fans will not be disappointed.

Review Tesseracts Eleven edited by Cory Doctorow & Holly Philips

Tesseracts Eleven

edited by Cory Doctorow & Holly Philips

EDGE science fiction & fantasy publishing

trade paperback 325 pp

Tesseracts Eleven is touted as bringing “the series to a new height, with a delightful blend of past and present writers, each with a unique vision of the future.” Mix in the talents of the editors Cory Doctorow a science fiction novelists, blogger etc and Holly Philips an editor for Canada's On Spec magazine and a author in her own right and you get the impression that you just might have an interesting collection of stories in your hand. The twist? Each story is by a Canadian author which gives a distinct “flavor” to the whole collection. The collection contains 24 top notch stories. In Cory's introduction he gives us his spin on Canadian fiction. “there's on thing ahat Canadian stories get right more than American stories.....we're good at looking at figuring out what makes other cultures tick.” And if you take nothing else away after reading this collection, it should be better insight into what makes other people tick.

That being said, what is my impression about the Tesseracts Eleven? First off, put away the “science fiction” moniker. In my mind these stories are not science fiction in the truest sense. But before you start throwing stones, let me say that the boarders are stretched here. This collection is a stunning example of speculative fiction. Stories like “ In Which Joe and Laurie Save Rock N' Roll” by Madeline Ashby can be taken as straight on Science Fiction, and in a strong sense so could Andrew Gray's “Tofino” which puts a wonderful spin on post apocalypse stories. But now your saying, well these ARE science fiction...and yes you have caught me out. But putting a science fiction label on this collection doesn't do it justice. “The Object of Worship” by Claude Lalumiere defies classification but is wonderful all the same. Or Jerome Stueart's “Bear With Me” which introduces us to weyr bear and a wonderful love story. So Tesseracts Eleven swings back and forth over the Science Fiction center line. Each swing pulls you back and forth on a wonderful ride. It's a “must read” recommendation from me.

Tesseracts Eleven can be purchased from the Edge Online catalog

or from Amazon

All Escape Velocity Issues Now Free Downloads!

Robert Blevins editor of the truly excellent magazine Escape Velocity has just sent out a release stating that Escape Velocity can now be downloaded for free. In his release he states:

Geoff Nelder and I decided to release all issues of Escape Velocity as a free download, and this decision is more or less permanent. There are no strings, no forms to fill out, no baloney. Just point and click. The eBook version is very nice and contains all the same content as the print, including the cover images. Issue Three has more than 90 hi-res images and photos, a bunch of sci-fi stories, and great articles. In one article we investigate the so-called 'Mars Statue' with 1200dpi blow-ups from the original NASA image from 'Spirit'. There is also a memorial article in #3 to Sir Arthur C Clarke I'm sure you'll enjoy.

They will only be charging now for the print versions. I have the print version and they are excellent. Well laid out and on high quality stock. As good as the e-book versions are, the print versions blow them out of the water. It would be my suggestion that you take a look at the e-book version and if you like it, get it, they are worth it.

The link to the e-book version is

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tyrannosaurus Chicken?

Tyrannosaurus Rex or for that matter Dinosaur are fast becoming misnomers. It would appear that Tyrannosaurus Chicken is far closer to being true according to a new study. Chickens and dinosaurs may have more in common than was previously thought after researchers discovered close ties between the two creatures. The link between the bird and the Tyrannosaurus Rex has been revealed in a protein study dating back 88million years. Scientists from Harvard University discovered the link between chickens and the T-Rex when they analyzed the structure of tiny shreds of collagen taken from a fossilized dinosaur bone. Scientists were able to establish the relationship with a relatively high degree of confidence. The study determined that the fearsome dinosaur was closer to a chicken than a modern alligator. Yes, go ahead and say it....Chicken Rex

2008 Nebula awards announced

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced the winners of their annual Nebula Awards. The winners are:

Best Novel: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Best Novella: "Fountain of Age" by Nancy Kress

Best Novelette: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang

Best Short Story: "Always" by Karen Joy Fowler

Friday, April 25, 2008

Too Many Vagrants? Bum Bot to the Rescue!

Vagrants beware - Atlanta pub owner Rufus Terrill has built a robot bouncer to deter criminals and vagrants who cause trouble around his bar. Terrill's "Bum Bot" is a 300-pound, waist-high robot marked "SECURITY", equipped with bright red lights and an even brighter spotlight, infrared security camera that can record and transmit plus a water cannon at the ready in the spinning turret on top. All this plus Terrill's voice saying "You're trespassing. That's private property," through the robot's loudspeaker. Bum Bot has not gone completely without notice in the activist community however. Neighborhood activists, have threatened protests. Street people say it's intimidating. And homeless advocates question the intentions of its inventor. Bum Bot consists of a three-wheel scooter which gives the robot mobility. A home-alarm loudspeaker attached to a walkie-talkie gives it a voice. Its head is a former home meat-smoker. The red lights are from a 1997 Chevrolet, and it's powered by four car batteries. The bar now welcomes patrons with a sign that says "Home of the Bum Bot,".

photo Jason Bronis / AP file

Sun of Suns is Tor's newest free E-book

Tor's current free book is Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder. Here is a short synopsis of the story from Schroeder's website: Imagine sky above, sky below, infinite blue to all sides peppered with cloud, randomly floating spheres of water and chunks of soil - and you flying free of gravity. This world is Virga, a tale of revenge, betrayal, treasure maps, sword-fights and boarding parties, yet set in a world where fish fly and where young, bitter Hayden Griffin zips around on a wingless jet engine mounted with a saddle and handlebars. Hayden’s bent on revenge for the deaths of his parents, but the man he’s targeted is a prominent admiral who hires Hayden as a flyer on a dangerous and possibly illegal trip into the darkened corners of Virga–the empty places collectively known as Winter.

Hubble Gallery: Colliding Galaxies

Shaun Saunders sends in a link from Wired: NASA has released 59 new high-resolution images of galaxies colliding across the universe to mark the Hubble Space Telescope's 18th birthday. Many of the galaxies were first compiled by Halton Arp in the mid-'60s book, The Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, which cataloged misshapen galaxies. With the Hubble's sensitive cameras and tools, the shapes of these peculiar galaxies have been revealed as the product of gravitational interactions between the huge clusters of stars.

click here for some stunning examples of these collisions.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Humans almost went extinct!

CNN is reporting findings that were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, reporting that early human populations may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago. It is estimated that the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000, reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought. Eastern Africa experienced a series of severe droughts between 135,000 and 90,000 years ago, and researchers said this climatological shift may have contributed to the population changes, dividing into small, isolated groups that developed independently. Recovering from this population bottleneck seems to have brought about migrations to other parts of the world which appears to have begun about 60,000 years ago.

Rover's Robotic Arm ailing

A small motor in the robotic arm of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity that began stalling occasionally more than two years ago has become more troublesome recently. Rover engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are diagnosing why the motor, one of five in the robotic arm, stalled on April 14 after much less motion than in the case of several earlier stalls. They are also examining whether the motor can be used and assessing the impact on Opportunity's work if the motor were no longer usable. The motor controls sideways motion at the shoulder joint of the rover robotic arm. Other motors provide up-and-down motion at the shoulder and maneuverability at the elbow and wrist. Controllers said even under the worst-case scenario for this motor, Opportunity still has the capability to doing some contact science with the arm. Opportunity and and sister rover Spirit landed on Mars in January 2004 to begin missions originally planned for three months. They have continued operating for more than four years, though each with some signs of aging.

Judge issues warrant for Darth Vader

Well it seems some Star Wars nuttiness has been brewing in Great Brittan as of late and has woefully bled over into the staid British court. As it was described in the Telegraph: Arwel Wynne Jones, dressed in a black bin liner and shiny black helmet, was accused of assaulting Barney and Michael Jones while they were being interviewed for a TV documentary about their love of the films. As they were being filmed by a camera crew, Mr Wynne Jones allegedly leapt over the garden fence in Holyhead, the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, wielding a metal crutch in place of a light saber and shouting "Darth Vader" repeatedly. Now Barney and Michael are not to be left out of this little twist in reality. It would seem (according to the IO9 blog) that Barney Jones is the founder of the first ever British Jedi Church, and goes by the name of "Jedi Master Jonba Hehol" when feeling particularly holy, which may have played a part in inciting the asaliant's ire. (for those of you hopelessly not in the "know" The Jedi "religion" was born as a joke in the 2001 census, when almost 400,000 people claimed to believe in the Jedi faith. Based on the teachings of Yoda, the crinkly green dwarf of the films, the "church" has a branch in Florida and plans to open another in the Philippines.) Mr. Jones, at the apointed hour of his court appearance was no where to be found on which District Judge Andrew Shaw demanded that police track down the impersonator and said: "I hope the force will soon be with him."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Seven Things Sci-Fi Fans Should Stop Doing

Ok, yes, I am a fan. And like any fan I know what I like and have an opinion of the stuff I like and the stuff I don't. Simple human nature. That being said, I was reading an article written by Eoghann on Solar Flare. (click here for the complete article) Seven things sci-fi fans should stop doing. hummm. First off I guess I am a bit of an elitiest - I like Science Fiction, thank you very much. Speculative fiction if you must. So you can guess I see myself in many of the "don't and some I take issue with. The List goes:

Dont' Assume You Know All The Facts
People With Different Taste To You Are Not Inferior
Not Everything Is Made For Your Consumption
Being a Fan Doesn't Mean They Owe You
Just Because It's Good Doesn't Mean People Will Watch
Continuity Is Not More Important Than Story
Don't Make It Personal

Certainly is a good list, and I would have you trot over there and read it at length. I would like to comment on some though. First, I don't know all the fact, that's why I spend a good part of the day reading, trying to get the facts. Second, I enjoy different tastes, that's why I often use speculative fiction, because many ideas don't match my definition of science fiction, but are damn entertaining anyway. Not Everything is made for your consumption. Hummmm oooooooook but if the station is called Sci-fi then them fellas in tights better be from another world....cause wrastlin aint sci-fi! Being a Fan Doesn't mean they owe you. two words BS! If you go to a movie that stops half way through do you walk or ask for your money back? Why? Right You have made my case. Just because it's good.... hell fact of life...but the flip is true as well. Continuity, I have mixed feelings on this. Why go through the effort of creating a universe if you throw it away when it becomes inconvenient? But some of the best things I have read or seen have often been prefaced with "WTF just happened?" and last Don't make it personal. Its easy enough to do if you only pick up the odd book and finding it not to your liking, walk away. But if your a long time fan, some things are harder to swallow. Someone you admire in the field, suddenly says science fiction sucks and they want no part of it... Hard not to feel a bit deflated. Oh I could go on.

The article does make some good points, work a read and a thought...

Mecha Muppets! What the Frack?

For all of you that take your BSG seriously, I offer up this piece of strangeness.

First Successful 'Bionic Eye' inplanted!

Surgeons have carried out the first operations in Britain using a pioneering “bionic eye”. The device was installed into the eye of a blind patient at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. The first of its kind — known as the Argus II retinal implant, incorporates a video camera and transmitter mounted on a pair of glasses. This is linked to an artificial retina, which transmits moving images along the optic nerve to the brain and enables the patient to discriminate rudimentary images of motion, light and dark.

Complete story in the Times online

All 'round Good News For Terminator Fans!

Some sites have been reporting some pretty bleak news about the Terminator franchise, however I read some good stuff over on IO9. First off Fox has made it official - Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will have a second season on Fox, though they are playing their cards close to the chest as far as Summer Glau is concerned. Also, rumor has had it for a bit that the movie Terminator 4 was canceled has proved wrong. Moon Bloodgood (the time-traveling x-wife from TV's Journeyman) will co-star in T-4 as a resistance fighter suffering from survivor's guilt because she survived the nuclear holocaust. And the movie starts principal photography May 5.

Certainly has peaked my interest again!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Star Wars in 60 seconds! SWEDED

If you aren’t familiar with the Sweded Video movement, here’s your intro: A group of hilariously low-tech fans reenact all the salient moments from The Empire Strikes Back…in 60 seconds. There are no words to describe this, just watch it.

PETA lays down 1 mill for first commercial "Tube" meat!

My earlier "Tube Steak" reference (link to earlier article) had at its' core a kernel of truth, based on An international symposium on the topic was held this month in Norway. So with that in mind, it seems PETA has waded in and upped the anti with a 1 million dollar prize for the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.” While the schedule may be a bit unrealistic, it is certain to throw gas on the fire. But it seems that PETA is a bit schizophrenic when it comes to the in-vitro topic. The decision to sponsor a prize caused “a near civil war in our office,” said one PETA founding member, since so many PETA members are repulsed by the thought of eating animal tissue, even if no animals are killed. So it comes as no surprise when the news of the prize was greeted a bit warily by those already researching a viable commercial method.

Control through Chaos

Armor(Assistant for Randomized Monitoring over Routes) is a Homeland Security-sponsored research project at University of Southern California that is already helping to tighten security at LAX airport in Los Angeles. It could soon be used across the country to "predict and minimize risk".

From the article:
"Here’s how it works: Computer software records the locations of routine, random vehicle checkpoints and canine searches at the airport. Police then provide data on possible terrorist targets and their relative importance. These data may change from one day to the next, or if there have been any security breaches or suspicious activity."

"The computer runs, and—voilĂ —police get a model of where to go, and when. The software comes up with random decisions that are based on calculated probabilities of a terrorist attack at those locations, using mathematical algorithms."

"The result: Security with airtight unpredictability. With the software, it’s extremely difficult to predict police operations."

“What the airport was doing before was not truly statistically random; it was simply mixing things up,” said computer science professor Milind Tambe. “What they have now is systematized, true randomization.”

But, wait: What if terrorists get hold of ARMOR and use the same information" Couldn’t they solve the predictability puzzle" Not really, Tambe said. “Even if they got the software and all the inputs, it’d be like rolling 50 different dice and expecting to correctly roll one combination of all 50 pairs.” Read the complete news release

ARMOR is reminiscent of Harlan Ellison's creation, the cyber overlord AM, isn't it?

image by Gary Larsen

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wolfgang Peterson Off Ender's Game

Well it seems, not all is going smoothly in the pre-production universe of the live action movie based on the award winning novel by author Orson Scott Card, "Ender's Game". Director Wolfgang Peterson, previously attached to the project, has moved on, producers told io9 blog personnel. Chartoff Productions is busy meeting with potential directors with the hope that they will be able to start filming by early 2009. Producer Lynn Hendee has reveiled though that author Card has finished a draft of the script and is well into rewrites already.

Ender's Game is set in Earth's future where mankind has barely survived two invasions by the "buggers", an insectoid alien race, and the International Fleet is preparing for war. In order to find and train the eventual commander for the anticipated third invasion, the world's most talented children, including the extraordinary Ender Wiggin, are taken into Battle School at a very young age.

Sigourney Weaver lends vocal talents to new 'bot movie

Science fiction legend Sigourney Weaver lends her vocal talents to the upcoming animated movie Wall-E, bloggers at IO9 confirmed. Weaver will voice the computer for one of robot-building supercorporation Buy'n'Large's spaceships.

For those of you that live in a cave, Weaver is best known for her appearances as Warrant Officer/Lieutenant Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" movie franchise. Her first appearance as Ripley was in Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien. She reprised the role in three sequels, Aliens, Alien³, and Alien: Resurrection. She was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for portraying Ripley in Aliens. Ripley was a breakthrough role: the first female action hero.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

German Math Student says Asteroid Could Hit Earth - NasaSay Boy is Wrong!

According to Yahoo News a German schoolboy spotting a miscalculation by the US space agency, proving the chances of an asteroid hitting the Earth were higher than initially believed. However NASA is adamant and standing by their calculations that the asteroid Apophis has only a 1 in 45,000 chance of impacting the Earth. The German math student had calculated there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth which was reported by the German press. Not only is NASA standing by its calculations but is steadfastly stating that the reports that NASA had informed the press that the student's numbers were in fact correct are in fact inaccurate.

NASA's statement was "Contrary to recent press reports, NASA offices involved in near-Earth object research were not contacted and have had no correspondence with a young German student, who claims the Apophis impact probability is far higher than the current estimate,".

Electronic Sherlock Holmes under development

Neo-Moriarties look out: the University of Washington will lead a multi-institutional group pushing the limits of computers' ability to interpret data and ultimately predict the behavior of complex systems. "A complex monitoring system has far too many pieces of information for any one person to look at," said principal investigator Pedro Domingos, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering.

The basic approach is the same as that of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes: using the powers of reasoning to discover the best explanation for a set of clues. But today's reasoning can't be done by a single, pipe-smoking sleuth. The modern military has millions of possible clues, including sensors on soldiers, satellite maps, road monitors, aerial drones and written observations from reconnaissance missions. The Army Research Office that provided the grant wants to make sense of this information in order to make decisions and predict an adversary's next moves. About the designer

Want to be a Cyborg? Just need a few more holes in your Head!

I am really split about this...on one hand the thought of invasive brain surgery aimed at true cybernetics is a bit on the creepy side. The other side, given the stated aims of helping severely handicapped individuals move is certainly noble. So, read and make up your own minds.

Researchers at Osaka University are stepping up efforts to develop robotic body parts controlled by thought, by placing electrode sheets directly on the surface of the brain. The aim of the research is to develop real-time mind-controlled robotic limbs for the disabled. To date, the researchers have worked with four test subjects to record brain wave activity generated as they move their arms, elbows and fingers. Working with Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), the researchers have developed a method for analyzing the brain waves to determine the subject’s intended activity to an accuracy of greater than 80%. The next step is to use the data to control robot arms developed by the University of Tokyo’s Department of Precision Engineering.

{via Pink Tentacle}

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Russia tests monkeys for Mars trip

I had to check the date to make sure this wasn't some sort of late April Fool gag, but it seems to be real. Of course Shaun is having great fun with it saying: "Planet of the apes? Or a new job for Bush at the end of his current term? " All joking aside, the Russian space agency is taking a brilliant step backwards and plans to test monkeys for effects of extended space trips like those to Mars and even stranger, plans to send monkeys to Mars on future tests. The Sochi Institute of Medical Primatology reportedly said "People and monkeys have approximately identical sensitivity to small and large radiation doses," explains the institute's director, Boris Lapin. "So it is better to experiment on the macaques, but not on dogs or other animals."

This has got to go into the WTF department. If for no other reason than they state that a Mars mission is at least 10 years away. So excuse me? What can they really learn that technology can not address 10 years from now? In the past...yes, totally unknown arena but there is nothing new here but the destination. This has Bogus science and BS all over it!

But if you think I am joking, click the article title to go to the complete BBC News story

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Can Spielberg do Ghost in the Shell right?

Ghost in the Shell, a classic anime cyberpunk flick from the 1990s, has mesmerized fans for years with its brutal-but-philosophical story of what happens to a woman's identity when she merges with technology on physical and psychological levels.

The movie version of Ghost in the Shell is set in the year 2029. The world has become intensively information oriented and humans are well-connected to the network.

Crime has developed into a sophisticated stage by hacking into the interactive network. To prevent this, Section 9 is formed. These are cyborgs with incredible strengths and abilities that can access any network on Earth.

That is pretty much how the animated series runs. The animated movie version stayed much the same course. However Steven Spielberg wants to do a live action 3d version and that has me worried, as it does others that have enjoyed the Ghost in the Shell universe.

The film blog Quiet Earth has a pretty good take on it here

And over on IO9 they are not even hedging their bets by asking the question Will Steven Spielberg Eviscerate "Ghost in the Shell"?

Wildly Popular 'Iron Man' Trailer To Be Adapted Into Full-Length Film

The wildmen at the Onion have put their tongue firmly in cheek with this brilliant faux news cast that asks the question, why would someone make a movie out a perfectly good trailer?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Throgs, Dree & Buggers are so quick on the draw.

"The ion channels don't resemble any known ion channel on Earth"

We think of the standard insect shaped aliens characters' nearly unconquerable omniscience as due to group telepathic linkage at varying levels of organization. Usually it all leads back to the Queen in total tele-command of the forces in the field from back on the homeworld; she is usually simultaneously busily pumping out eggs while being tended obsequiously by the adoring ...homebugs. Regicide is just as effective for beating the insectoid forces from Away as it is for a ending a beehive.

But first you've got to get to the queen. The defenders are many, their coordination superb.

Understanding the nature of that coordination is critical to defeating the insectoid defenders. Now recent research suggests that these organisms - the earthly version at least - may communicate in somewhat the same way that large schools of herring do. Not group mind. Nor via some sort of biological ansible. Rather, by ....breaking wind. Sorta. reports that Researcher Leslie Vosshall, head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior at Rockefeller University and Kazushige Touhara of Tokyo University's Division of Integrated Biosciences have joined forces to reveal that insects have adopted a strategy to detect odors that is radically different from those of other organisms -- an unexpected and controversial finding that may dissolve a dominant ideology in the field and evolution as presently understood.

"The ion channels don't resemble any known ion channel on Earth, says Vosshall. "They are composed of two proteins that work in tandem with one another: an olfactory receptor and its coreceptor, Or83b. While the coreceptor is common to every ion channel, the olfactory receptor is unique. Together, they form the olfactory receptor complex."

"Now the curious result in the DEET paper showing that this insect repellent blocks insect olfactory receptors and unrelated ion channels makes sense," says Vosshall. "I am optimistic that we can come up with blockers specific for this very strange family of insect olfactory ion channels."

Image credit: Walter R. Tschinkel

Man plays Star Wars Cantina with his hand....WTF?

and now from our WTF! section.....The Star Wars cantina played like you never hope to hear it played again....I challenge anyone to get though this!

Joe Haldeman reads from The Accidental Time Machine

First Impressions: The Sarah Jane Adventures

Reviews over on blog put up a really decent review of the Sci-Fi channel's Dr.Who spin-off. I did get a chance to catch the first episode and have to agree with the sentiments of the reviewer. Nothing challenging here for adult viewers, however children might find the fare much more to their liking than some of the other offering on Sci-fi. And in my own opinion, given the choice to watch Sarah Jane or Flash? No contest! So I am not going to duplicate efforts here. I think Sfsignal has it pretty well down. click here for their review.

You are living 10 seconds in the past!

According to discussion amongst Neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany which was reported in Nature Neuroscience : There has been a long controversy as to whether subjectively 'free' decisions are determined by brain activity ahead of time. Scientist found that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 seconds before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness.

This quite literally means that the time it takes for sensory input to travel along nerves and get processed by the brain means we're always "living in the past". The folks at IO9 quip that to make brain / computer interfaces more efficient that we might one day opt to disgard the plodding "consciousness" part of our brains.

{Nature Neurosciewnce via IO9}

Get ready for "real" tube steak...?!

Stop smirking and no I am not talking about my friends...something with an extra dose of soylent green style creepy sci-fi. Tissue Engineered meat may soon be on your dinner plate! How soon....possibly withing five years if these guys have their way. As this article puts it, your next burger burger will have been grown from a tiny sample of cells in a plant-and-mushroom bath.

At a meeting in Norway of the In Vitro Meat Consortium, scientists and entrepreneurs gathered to discuss the future of "cultured meat," or meat that's essentially grown like cultures in a lab. Mostly the barriers to market entry in a few years will be the meat industry itself which may attempt to scare consumers away from the stuff or pull strings in government block the synthetic flesh via regulations. For the record, cultured meat tastes just like regular meat — it's tissue-engineered muscle, made of exactly the same biological ingredients as meat from dead animals. It can also be a lot less fatty. Texture is one of the remaining issues, which is why proponents of cultured meat suggest it will first come to market as chicken nuggets and ground meat.

{via IO9}

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fan produced Superman reborn trailer

You know that computer power and consumer software are at such a level that a fan production is as good and exciting as anything that the "pros" can come up with. I idly flipping through some sites and found this gem on "I-am bored"

Superman Reborn. A fan-produced experimental Superman trailer featuring the cast of Smallville. Very nice production.

Superman Reborn A fan-produced experimental Superman trailer featuring the cast of Smallville. Very nice production.

Bow Shock Near a Young Star

From NASA and the Hubble space telescope comes an amazingly beautiful picture of a young star's solar wind coming into contact with the evaporating gas from the Orion Nebula. Taken in 1995 as part of the Hubble's Orion Nebula photographic mosaic. The picture shows material in the fast wind from LL Ori as it collides with slow-moving gas coming from the center of the Orion Nebula, which is located to the lower right in this image. The surface where the two winds collide is the crescent-shaped bow shock seen in the image. (click on image for full size)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Satellite Abandoned Thanks To Patent On Lunar Flybys

From and the WTF! or you gota be kiddin me department come one of the most ridiculous things I think I have ever head of pertaining to the space program.... It reads like this.

Satellite company SES Americom has to abandon a satellite that had a botched launch due to a ridiculous patent on the concept of a lunar flyby. Basically, what happened is that SES had a problem with a satellite launch, such that the satellite did not reach the proper orbit (it was intended to be a geostationary satellite used by Echostar). SES then figured out that it could get the satellite into a proper orbit by making use of a lunar flyby. That part is just basic physics. But, at that point, SES discovered that Boeing happens to own a patent on doing this sort of lunar flyby, despite the fact that you can't patent physics.

Ever heard the saying "If you can't dazzle em with brilliance....baffle em with BS!"? That seems to be the case. Boeing merely used some jargon to make basic physics appear as a "process." and some numknow at the patent office gives it a rubber stamp and an okeeeedoughkeeeeeeee! Either that or there is some governmental colusion going on here, because that is the stupidest thing I ever heard. Come on! You're telling me that anytime NASA is going to put a spacecraft near the moon they have to pay a licencing fee to Boeing? B.S.!

Boeing BS patent can be found HERE

Complete story here

Tor's newest free ebook The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove

Tor Book's current free E-book is The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove. As you must know by now, Tor Books is in the process of ramping up their newest site that will be offering news, web services (news and the like) and reasonably priced e-books. To promote the startup Tor has been giving away ebooks. The will notify you by email each time a new book is available.
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Robot charged with attempted 1st law violation gets 10 to 20 years.

The machine-gun toting, grenade launching robot SWORDS is no longer roaming Iraqi batttlefields. 18 of these robots reported for duty in Iraq in early 2005. Now they have been pulled out of battlespace - for anywhere from ten to twenty years.

Apparently there was an incident at which, with impressive understatement, Army spokesman Kevin Fahey explained, "the gun started moving when it was not intended to move," the Army said. What he actually meant was that SWORDS had turned right around and pointed its sizable arsenal at its ostensible masters. Fortunately the robot was safely deactivated and removed from the field without firing its weapons.

While the Army investigation is pending, let's speculate from an Asimovian point of view what took place and what charges could be laid against SWORDS Robot for violating robotic law. One could blame the army's programmers, who attempted to produce intelligent robots with brains that could selectively violate the Three Laws of Robotics.

The army programmers scheme was to attempt to allow robotic violation of the first law of robotics through misapplication of the 2nd Law, resulting in implementation of lethal actions under a misapplied third Law. The triune Law of Robotics is as follows:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The SWORDS experimental post-positronic brain designers, however, may have attempted to develop a robot brain whose ability to perform correlative judgments using the limited and rapidly shifting data of the active war environment, would allow it to selectively violate the all three Law while satisfying the robot's logic systems that adherence to the Three Laws was being maintained.

It didn't work, as the SWORDS handlers found out. "They essentially programmed a flaw into more one of the P-brain's sequential selective coordinate systems," one person guessed. "Unable to resolve the battlefield's behavioral dilemmas, conflicting potentials built up, followed by a surprise concatenating effect where SWORDS apparently resolved its problem of needing to injure or kill human beings to protect other human beings without harming human beings by destroying the implements of war. Reaching the logical conclusion that in battlespace 'people don't kill people; weapons do', the SWORDS positronic brain had opted to disable any weaponry within its battlespace, freeing the human beings from the use of these dangerous items and logically deducing that fisticuffs would be highly unlikely to be implemented as military tactics.

It was due to that very fortunate selectivity that SWORDS didn't mow down the more than two dozen observers and support personnel on the scene. Luckily for them, the Iraqi test field's parking area and helicopter pad were out of view behind a large storage bunker. Thus the SWORDS robot perceived only a gathering of human beings when it turned around to 'check its back' and not their hummers and choppers, which would have been clearly recognizable to SWORDS as weapons.

Back in the real world...The verdict is in: SWORDS is headed off to plowshare land. Chances are the robot won't enter live battlespace for anywhere from ten to twenty years, according to program manager Fahey.
Image source:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What would you do if your only chance at survival was a pissed off robot on crack?

wow, that's what my first impression was when I saw this sample from the short film TOMO. If I saw something acting like this...machine or otherwise, I would turn and run as fast as I could. TOMO is Paul Catling’s feature length version of his award winning short Sci-fi film of the same name. The original won both the Short Film Award at Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at the Boston Independent Film Fest in 2004. The basic premise is at first glance not much of a stretch. We have seen versions as early as Serling's TLZ to feature lenght films like Robinson Crusoe on Mars - here is the film's synopsis: Set in the near future, a man is stranded on a barren ice-planet when his cargo ship crash-lands. His only hope of rescue is through the help of an emergency survival robot or Tomo ("companion" in Japanese). At first he is cautious, but as they battle to survive, he drops his guard, finding friendship and humanity where he least expects it. But watching a short of the robot and the "body language" used and I have to say it scared the bejezuz out of me.

Pneumatic Exoskeleton a very real possibility

I think over the last few years, we all have seen variations on the powered exoskeleton come and go. Though intriguing, one of the major drawbacks is the complexity and weight of these systems. Well here is the new kid on the block that seems to address both of these problems. The Pneumatic powered exoskeleton. As the developers put it - Pneumatic systems are clean, safe, lightweight, and reliable. In a pneumatic electronic hybrid, electric components control the flow of air pressure, removing the burden of weight and kinetic actuation from electric to pneumatic power. The result is a lightweight low idle-power system with high-power kinetic impact. Constructed primarily of soft materials, the device is lightweight, portable, and comfortable. The system is powered by a ‘pony’ size scuba tank and is triggered by the user’s motions through flex and force sensors worn on the body. A force sensor under the foot activates the air muscle around the calf and a flex sensor behind the knee activates the air muscle around the quads.
{via Make magazine}

Laurie Anderson sings "O Superman" weirdness from the 1980s

One of the weirdest moments in pop music has to be the brief, early-1980s rise to fame of radical alterna-electro-artist Laurie Anderson. Her eight-and-a-half minute song "O Superman" in which she sings about nukes, computers, and the future.

thanks to IO9 for this piece of ...ummm...

Orbiter's close-ups of Martian moon Phobos

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter used its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera to take the sharpest images ever of the Martian moon Phobos. This image, taken about 4,200 miles from the moon, shows an area of about 13 miles wide. The most prominent feature on the moon is the Stickney crater (right) which is about 5.6 miles in diameter. Scientists believe that the bluish area on the edge of the Stickney crater indicates a younger area of the moon.

click on article title for more pictures

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Future Luna Bases Might Walk to Their Next Location

Shaun Saunders came across a very neat article in A robotic Luna base with legs no less. called the ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) the robot or robotic mobile platform could play an essential role in new lunar bases. The platform would have new habitats mounted to it and it would quite literally walk (or roll, should the terrain -is that the right word for the moon? lol - be flat enough) to where the habitat is to be set up. Athlete can be controlled by the astronauts themselves, mission control and it is likely that autonomous functions would be incorporated.

Of course to implement Athlete one major obstical needs to be addressed. That of the mindset of NASA which has always in the past favored fixed position habitats. So even though the prototypes are being tested, the major break-though is going to have to be in the minds of people who set the missions up. Also as Shaun points out, the downside of solar radiation has to be addressed as well.

Summer movie crop may have some major losers

Wow, I was going over IO9's blog postings and I have to say, they are taking aim at about every major SF movie that will be out this summer / fall. Though not strictly science fiction, they still took aim at Pixar's Newt pretty much trashing it.

One of the remakes that I had a bit of hope for was the remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" with Keanu Reeves - for all intents saying Reeves remake ruined their day. In their words: December's remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still isn't just jettisoning the original version's storyline, it's also losing most of the things that made the 1950s version cool in the first place. Not even one "Klaatu Barada Nikto" bummmmmer.

Another that I hadn't even hoped would be good, IO9 is pretty much calling major foul. Babylon A.D. with Vin Diesel has been sliced and diced down to 90 minutes from the European 160 minute version. Diesel was purported to have pulled some major tantrums and the film went WAY over budget and for their efforts it sounds like a pretty run of the mill sci-fi plot. Society collapse, ultra-violent, runaway DNA.....Mercenaries for hire..... YAWN - pass.

Well, you be the judge, looks like, to me at least, there will be pretty slim picking this year as far as good SF movies are concerned.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ok, I know, it's just a commercial, but damn! They pack in some serious science fiction into 30 seconds! I watched it twice just to catch the stuff I missed the first time!

The Dvice site has several more in this vein all for a high tech antiperspirant, but this one is easily the best...though seeing a robot taking one in the....ummm well hey! Funny is funny!
{via Dvice}

Sunday, April 06, 2008

DOD wants to prep for cyberwar offensive

U.S. military officials seeking to boost the nation's cyberwarfare capabilities are looking beyond defending the Internet: They are developing ways to launch virtual attacks on enemies. The first real question that has to be addressed is "what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace?" Officials say that the military is not looking to gear up for a first strike. Initial uses likely would be limited to diverting or killing data packets that threaten the nation's systems, the way the military may intercept a foreign ship carrying arms in international waters. Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr. said that in the future, the military might rely upon network warfare to disrupt an enemy's communications system, replacing the need for conventional weapons like bombs. Elder said that during the early days of the Iraq war, rudimentary forms of cyber attacks were used by the United States, including electronically jamming Iraqi military systems and using network attacks to hinder Iraqi ground units from communicating with one another.

{ap news via Wired}

Stargate Universe Revealed!

Gateworld via Sciframa are breaking the news concerning Sci-Fi's newest Star Gate franchise called Stargate Universe.

“The idea of Stargate Universe is that it is set on a ship that was part of an Ancient experiment that was set in motion probably millions of years ago — one that they never saw to fruition, but that we can,” Wright told GateWorld exclusively. “They got busy with the whole ascension thing.”

The first obstacle that Universe ran into was the writer's was expense...universe is going to be one of the more expensive shows for the Sci-fi Channel. Finally the writing team of Brand Wright and Robert Cooper are still quite busy and word has it that they don't relish returning to the schedule that requires them to produce 40 hours of television each year, indicating that Stargate Atlantis could share a fate of SG-1. Then again, it could also mean Stargate Universe will be put on hold until Atlantis concludes its run.

Charlton Heston RIP @ 84

Before we say good bye to actor Charlton Heston we should remember, as I had forgotten, his contributions to some of the seminal science fiction stalwarts. Who can forget or hasn't used "Get your dirty paws off me you damn dirty ape!" or the scene of Miss Liberty herself all but destroyed. Yes, at the very least let us take a moment to appreciate that cornerstone. And not to be forgotten, Soylent Green (It's People!) or The Omega Man, which if you didn't know is Richard Matheson's 1954 novel, I Am Legend which had just been redone by Will Smith.

All in all Heston did his part to legitimizing big screen science fiction. In the process giving us some of the most memorable moments in science fiction film history.

Friday, April 04, 2008

US Army toyed with telepathic ray gun

Shaun Saunders finds some chilling research done by the Department of Defense in New Scientist. It seems amongst some declassified documents detailing the US Army report on the biological effects of non-lethal weapons reveals plans for "ray gun" devices, which would cause artificial fevers or beam voices into people's heads. The report titled "Bioeffects Of Selected Nonlethal Weapons" which detail five different "maturing non-lethal technologies" using microwaves, lasers and sound. One bizzare device detailed a microwave gun to "beam" words directly into people's ears, have been tested. It is claimed that the so-called "Frey Effect" – using close-range microwaves to produce audible sounds in a person's ears produced documented results.

As a psychologist, Shaun had these comments

This technology is described in my forthcoming Mallcity sequel 'Return To Mallcity' is insidious, unethical, and has profound implications. For example, as a psychologist, how would a clinician seeing a client complaining of or referring to hearing voices in their head distinguish between schizophrenia, for eg, or external, covert influence such as described in this link? I think that most would naturally opt for the former, and relegate any claims of persecution by authorities or covert agencies to another box labelled 'paranoia'... Also, I would tend to think that such technology has most likely been around for some time (and would be an excellent means for descrediting someone, like a dissident, for example....)

Bruce Willis does Surrogates

Have you ever read "Kiln People" by David Brin? Oh, if you haven't you want to tag a copy of this one, I can not make a strong enough recommendation. In the book, robotics and cloning come together in a device that allows you to "copy" yourself and send these copies out to do work for you. These copies have short lifespans but that is no matter, at the end of the day your copy returns and downloads everything back to you so in effect you were there and have the memories to prove it. Each copy is you to one degree or another an exact copy with all the feelings and memory of the "original" except at the end of a set time (depending on the model) the copy disintegrates. So why am I rambling? Well it seems Bruce Willis' newest gig is Surrogates which is eerily similar. Surrogates takes place in 2054, when humans live in isolation and interact using idealized robot versions of themselves (which they control with their minds.) Willis plays a cop. In the upcoming movie of the same name, Willis' police officer has his robot avatar destroyed, and has to go out and interact with the world as a regular human for the first time in a long time. He becomes the only "real" human out in a world of robot avatars. Now he needs to stop a techno-terrorist bent on returning society to a time when people lived their lives instead of merely experiencing them. From what I can gleen, the movie is already in production as of February, but I have yet to dig up a release date.....

If your interested in checking out Kiln People click the link below

Tapping leaves Atlantis for Santuary!

Mike over at SyFy Portal floored me with this one. Amanda Tapping late of SG-1, with one season of Stargate Atlantis tucked moving on. WTF?! The reports have it as "nothing personal" but I would suggest that might be a point of reference. The one good thing about this is that she'll be replaced by former "Star Trek: Voyager" actor Robert Picardo - though I can't say that I enjoy Picardo's character so much the few times I have seen it on SG. I did like him on Voyager. He added depth and pathos to a part that could have been done woodenly and gotten away with. What is being pointed out about Picardo's character, the recurring character of Richard Woolsey, is the very thing that I am put off by. Self serving, aprasive and political. I am really going to find it difficult to watch a show that spends more time with infighting than gate jumpin. Tapping's departure I would speculate has something to do with the Sci-Fi channel picking up the internet based series that she stars in called Santuary. Reports have the show already in production and Tapping may feel that her character in Santuary a bit more fun than her SG persona which has grown a bit long in the tooth. Santuary for those of you that might be living in caves....centers around Dr. Helen Magnus, an immortal protector of aliens in a series that began as a computer-generated world first found on the Internet. SciFi Channel, impressed with the work, greenlighted a series pickup and gave the show a 13-episode commitment as a fall series. The series will be the first television show to use completely virtual sets thanks to green- screen technologies.

The Thinker

Not a whole lot needs saying here.... Worth thinking about....found it on Suicide Bots with the by line Mr. Robotics....
{via Suicide Bots}

Thursday, April 03, 2008

10 Signs You Might Be An Alien Sleeper Agent

From IO9 comes ten things to look for that might give you a hint that the weird feelings your having might mean your an alien sleeper agent:

Give yourself one exo-skeletal attachment for every one of these that applies to you:

1) Weird bits of alien hardware pop out of your body during sex, or when you're in an uncomfortably crowded bus or train.

2) You sometimes catch yourself referring to your projects at work as "conquest modules," and your boss as your "overlord leader."

3) You sometimes see a dot-matrix text display scrolling in front of your eyes, consisting almost entirely of synonyms for "radical nephrectomy," followed by "(Y/N)".

4) This body, while serviceable and even capable of experiencing satisfactory levels of pleasure on occasion (double-fudge brownies), is not your real body, which you have a distinct sense should weigh several hundred pounds more and have many more spikes and sensory organs.

5) Your allergies are rare and inexplicable, and your doctor (whom the scrolling eye-text has dubbed "Expendable Meat-Polyp #237") has advised you to avoid wheat, dairy, kale and seafood. And hair.

6) The man at the corner grocery store keeps staring at your neck while informing you that all is nearly in readiness. And asking if you've decided which of the humanimals you will keep as a pet afterwards.

7) You have strange blackouts, periods of a few minutes or a few hours during which you can remember nothing. They usually end with you covered in blood and naked except for a "TRENTON IS FOR UNDERACHIEVERS" T-shirt. You can never remember having been to Trenton, but you own many of these T-shirts.

8) Whenever you enjoy a book, movie or piece of music, you find yourself tagging it for preservation.

9) You work in the insurance industry, and understand actuarial tables.

10) Your basement is full of cages containing the last survivors of all the planets you've wiped out before this one, and occasionally you go down there to taunt them or make them do tricks for you.