Archive for December, 2009

Military to make flying cars a reality (we hope)

Monday, December 28th, 2009 reports that the Pentagon has launched a program called Transformer X with the intent of developing flying cars for the battlefield. Awesome.

The objective of the Transformer (TX) program is to demonstrate a one- to four-person transportation vehicle that can drive and fly, thus enabling the warfighter to avoid water, difficult terrain, and road obstructions as well as IED and ambush threats

Everyone is well aware of the promise of flying cars and the fact that they still aren’t here. While investment schemes like the Moller Flying Car seemed only able to produce tantalizing proof of concept videos, there’s reason to hope that we may actually see real honest to goodness flying cars after all. Carbon composites have made it possible to make extremely lightweight airframes. New engine technologies have made engines far more powerful and lightweight. And computing has advanced far enough to solve the balance problem faced by very early designs.

So lets hope that billions of our tax dollars get this one right and maybe Elon Musk can bring it to market for the rest of us.

link: Pentagon’s Transformer Programs Aims to Build Flying Car – Sphere News

Podcast: Attack of the Sexy Clones

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

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A tangent becomes a tangent when the hosts try to stretch their feeble minds around the global warming, the energy crisis and the singularity (again) after discussing clone sex.

Link: Craig Venter at TED on creating synthetic life
Link: Venter and Exxon enter partnership for biofuels
Link: Synthetic Genomics web site

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Tips On How Make To Your Christmas A Black Christmas

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

If you had to select one of Bob Clark’s Christmas movies to incorporate into your annual yuletide festivities, which one would it be? If you said “A Christmas Story,” you’re wrong! It would be “Black Christmas,” Clark’s genre-defining 1974 sorority-set slasher film. The creepy extended POV shot that opens “Halloween”? “Black Christmas” did it first. The clichéd bungling law enforcement duo reluctant to believe the wild stories of the incorrigible teenagers until it’s too late? “Black Christmas” did it first. Margot Kidder going into a bizarre, senseless monologue? She did it in “Black Christmas” first.

Admittedly, some folks complain that, like many other holiday-themed horror movies, the film uses its titular holiday as more of a setting than any kind of plot focus (“My Bloody Valentine” anyone?), but, in this case, that’s part of its genius – the logic of the killer’s prolonged and undiscovered spree is only believable given the hectic holiday atmosphere in which everyone’s intermittently leaving the campus, no one fully understands anyone else’s schedule and, what with the good cheer turned up to eleven, most of the characters are consistently drunk.

Still wish “Black Christmas” was a bit more entrenched in the customs and pageantry of the season? Why not incorporate some of its story points into your Christmas traditions?

A New Activity – Receive (or Make) a Series of Increasingly Disturbing Obscene Phone Calls

Make sure they start with unintelligible moaning, escalate into graphic, c-word-laden sexual suggestions and top off with bizarre and threatening multi-voiced character plays. They’re great for interrupting your family’s strawman-mobbed political arguments, and they evoke something even stronger than the spirit of Christmas – fearful discomfort.

A New Decoration – Rocking Chair-Bound Plastic-Wrapped College Girl Corpse

Exactly what the heading says. This isn’t some Damien Hirst work where it’s called “Rocking Chair-Bound Plastic-Wrapped College Girl Corpse” and then it’s like a starfish glued to a two-way mirror or something.

A New Game – Liquor Bottle Scavenger Hunt

To be conducted in honor of Mrs. Mac, the sorority’s booze-hording house mother, whose liquor stowing methods range from the classic bottle-shaped pocket carved into an encyclopedia to the pathetically desperate toilet tank stash. Bonus points for finding bottles that weren’t hidden as part of the game. Now you know why your dad pronounces “stupid bastard” like “shtupa bastus”!

A New Dinner Guest – Drunken Margot Kidder

In character and on the condition that she performs her turtle sex bit from the movie. You don’t want out-of-character Margot Kidder stumbling drunk around your house on Christmas. Her three ex-husbands can attest to that.

A New Argument – Should I Abort this Baby (It’s Father’s an Unhinged Experimental Pianist)

Yeah, it’s a little depressing – but it’s a big part of the film. And it should help to draw your family’s attention away from your real problem – should I abort this baby (it’s father’s either the creepy guy from the club who roofied me and left me for dead, or the heroic rapist who later dragged my unconscious body to the part of the drainage culvert that’s visible from the power station).

Vegetarianism IS MURDER!

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Natalie Angier at the New York Times has an interesting article that suggest if your goal in life is to avoid eating other sensitive, feeling communal creatures, going vegan isn’t enough. According to plant biologists, our leafy friends experience a world of sensation and try to avoid pain – a hallmark for many of what you should and shouldn’t eat:

Just because we humans can’t hear them doesn’t mean plants don’t howl. Some of the compounds that plants generate in response to insect mastication — their feedback, you might say — are volatile chemicals that serve as cries for help.

This is why we should eat as many cows as possible. A cow eats millions of blades of grass, each one a soulful howling poet, and this genocide must be stopped, one juicy delicious steak at a time…

link: Basics – Another Challenge for Ethical Eating – Plants Want to Live, Too –

A Crowded Multiverse?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

In the latest Scientific American theoretical physicists Alejandro Jenkins and Gilad Perez speculate that there might be a greater chance of life developing in other universes with different physical laws and that our own may not be as finely tuned as once thought.

Our recent studies, however, suggest that some of these other universes—assuming they exist—may not be so inhospitable after all. Remarkably, we have found examples of alternative values of the fundamental constants, and thus of alternative sets of physical laws, that might still lead to very interesting worlds and perhaps to life. The basic idea is to change one aspect of the laws of nature and then make compensatory changes to other aspects.

This runs counter to the idea that life in our universe is unique because the chances of the local laws of physics allowing for it are so rare.

For example, if life really is possible in a weakless universe, then why does our own universe have a weak force at all? In fact, particle physicists consider the weak force in our universe to be, in a sense, not weak enough. Its observed value seems unnaturally strong within the Standard Model. (The leading explanation for this mystery requires the existence of new particles and forces that physicists hope to discover at the newly opened Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva.)

It’s a very interesting read of you’re into that kind of thing…
Looking for Life in the Multiverse

Voynich Decoded?

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

The Voynich manuscript, a mysterious medieval document that has confounded the best cryptographers for centuries may finally have been cracked.

A researcher studying the manuscript suggests that the secret coding may be anagrams created by a young Leonardo da Vinci? Does it sound far fetched? We’ll have to ask Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon…

Read: Voynich manuscript decoded?


Aww… We Like You Too Michael Rooker

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Thanks please follow @Michael_Rooker. Special thanks to Matt Finley for his work on the Rooker articles.

Science, Philosophy & Tiny Naked Men Who Live In Your Eyeballs

Friday, December 11th, 2009

This week, Weird Thing Culture Reporter Matt Finley takes a look at the Homunculus, a strange idea that survived against reason and logic. Monday we looked at how long the idea has been around. Wednesday we found out how science got past the idea of little naked men ruling our lives.

skitched-20091211-131743.jpgThe homunculi set a daring course – out of the genitals and into the brain. But before turning things over to all the scholarly yak yak of those incorrigible philosophers, I want to make a brief pit stop over in science. Remember that awesome part in “Blade Runner,” when Roy Batty is shaking down the replicant eye maker and says, “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.”? Well, before humans had any real understanding of how vision functioned, some people believed that there was a little brain-dwelling homunculus whose job it was to see what we see through our eyes, and then relate the information to our brains, so that the images weren’t lost, like, in the words of Batty, “tears in the rain.” (Seriously, though, how awesome is “Blade Runner”?)

The flaw in this notion is that if a person requires an internal homunculus proxy to perceive the world, it follows that said homunculus must rely on its own even tinier, more disgusting homunculus proxy. And so on. This conceptual roadblock is known as infinite regression, and it represents, among other things, the intersection between homunculi in science and homunculi in philosophy.

Divorced from unsettling, naked men, infinite regress is still a popular philosophical rejoinder, especially during disputes about consciousness.

(Brief history lesson: It was 20th century philosopher Gilbert Ryle who initially spelled out these types of arguments in depth, initially using the example of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” Ryle essentially argued that if, in fact, every intelligent action is preceded by a conscious thought, and a conscious thought is, in itself, an intelligent action, then, etc.)

One classic (though woefully out-dated) philosophical argument about the nature of human consciousness is Descartes notion of dualism (AKA the mind-body problem) – that the mind is non-physical entity separate from the material brain. Descartes even identified the pineal gland as the area of the brain where this immaterial vapor soul thing resided. Cognitive science has since discredited this notion, leaving philosophers to reconstruct an entirely new model of human consciousness.

Lo, gaze yonder! The homunculi are returning! And contemporary American philosopher Daniel Dennett is carrying them in an adorable papoose. Dennett is extremely concerned that, even as philosophers attempt to divorce themselves from the long-standing notions of Cartesian dualism, its ghost haunts even the most logical materialist argument. He calls this effect Cartesian materialism, and basically argues that if you take Descartes’ intangible mind and regard it as physical, but still approach the mind and brain as separate material entities, the newly tangible mind entity becomes, in essence, a homunculus, perched back up inside the human head for the first time since that whole vision debacle, absorbing stimuli and whispering analyses into the cortex. And if that little guy’s up there functioning as our consciousness, then he himself is conscious and must have… well, you know the drill.

MIT finally figures out how to build our robot overlords

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Gizmodo reports that the brains at MIT have decided to take a new direction for creating Artificial Intelligence. They’ve thrown out some age old assumptions and are considering new alternatives to concepts line the Turing Test.

We’re glad somebody decided it was time to bring Skynet online sooner than later. We don’t want to be in the geriatric ward when it’s time to fight the machines.


Weirdest Statue In The World LIVE CHAT

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Today We Find The Weirdest Statue In The World At 6 p.m. EST

Friday, December 4th, 2009

They serve as markers for the very society that came before us. Reminders of a bygone era in art, industry or culture that resonated on such a level it had to be publicly memorialized. Or someone just had a eff’d up idea and decided to build it ’cause it looked weird. It is in the spirit of the latter we dust off our disposable cameras, keep on the lookout for bird droppings and attempt to find… The Weirdest Statue In The World!

Here are the ground rules:

• Must be real.

• Must send picures.

Email all submissions to JustinRobertYoung@Gmail. I’ll see you kids right here at the front page at 5:30 p.m. EST where we will hash out the ultimate champion.

Our baseline is this statue of a suspended Rhino, in honor of Matt’s awesome stories of animal experimentation this week.

The truth is out there, we find it today at 6 p.m. EST.

Earth the Ice Planet

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

LiveScience is reporting that the latest core sample data gives more credibility to the scientifically challenged sci-fi movie The Day After Tomorrow‘s rapid freezing scenario. Except we suspect they didn’t actually see the movie because the rapid freezing scenario there was literally a wall of freeze that hits you like a beam from Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun.

Anyhow, the latest data supports the idea that rapid melting could lead to rapid cooling in the Northern Hemisphere.

Starting roughly 12,800 years ago, the Northern Hemisphere was gripped by a chill that lasted some 1,300 years. Known by scientists as the Younger Dryas and nicknamed the “Big Freeze,” geological evidence suggests it was brought on when a vast pulse of fresh water – a greater volume than all of North America’s Great Lakes combined – poured into the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

For a different reference to what a rapidly frozen world could be like we suggest the Paul Newman film Quintet.

link: Big Freeze: Earth Could Plunge into Sudden Ice Age – Yahoo! News

Podcast: Dark Territory/White Meat

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

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In this episode Brian is forced to make a choice involving cannibalism and his family and utters the phrase that will haunt his children for years to come, “Cannibalism ain’t as bad as it used to be”. Andrew struggles to explain the Singularity so he can prove why he’s right and everyone else is wrong about aliens visiting us and we all fail miserably at imagining the world in 20 years. Plus we provide first ever proof that Harry Houdini made contact with the Old Ones of the Chuthlu Mythos.

Link: Ray Kurzweil’s TED talk on the Singularity University
Link: PDF of Beneath the Pyramids (Published as Imprisoned with the Pharoahs)

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Singularity 101

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

So what is the Singularity? Check out Ray Kurzweil’s TED talks to get a jump start.

Ray Kurzweil on how technology will transform us

Inventor, entrepreneur and visionary Ray Kurzweil explains in abundant, grounded detail why, by the 2020s, we will have reverse-engineered the human brain and nanobots will be operating your consciousness.

A university for the coming singularity

Ray Kurzweil’s latest graphs show that technology’s breakneck advances will only accelerate — recession or not. He unveils his new project, Singularity University, to study oncoming tech and guide it to benefit humanity.