Archive for January, 2010

Weird Things Book Club: Redneck Fireworks Massacre

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

A list of recommended reading and viewing from Andrew Mayne, Brian Brushwood and Justin Robert Young as mentioned in the episode Redneck Fireworks Massacre.



Star Wars The Clone Wars: The Complete Season One (TV Series)

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy, Vol. 1)

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion

The Star Wars Vault: Thirty Years of Treasures from the Lucasfilm Archives, With Removable Memorabilia and Two Audio CDs

Avatar: A Confidential Report on the Biological and Social History of Pandora (James Cameron’s Avatar)

Podcast: Redneck Fireworks Massacre

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

weird things podcast SM

We explore the ethical implications of covering up your horrific crimes with science and have probably the most boring ideas about utopia ever. We then discuss our worst disaster scenarios. Finally we give unsolicited book and movie recommendations.

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Are We Missing the Point of Avatar?

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Prolific Weird Things scribe Matt just posted his criticism of Avatar’s bioelectric network premise. Basically he feels that director James Cameron is trying to make it a parable of earth and our resource use – and that it’s an unfair comparison because Pandora has all sorts of nifty features like consciousness uploading that we don’t. I disagree.

The bioelectric network Matt takes exception to was just one example that Cameron was using to make a much more important point.

While on the surface Avatar seems to be have a hippy “save the rain forest” tone, it’s a lot deeper than that and has a scientific and ecological world view even a libertarian could agree with.

Resource use is a complicated issue. Cameron was trying to point out that we often don’t see the real value of the things in front of us. And he wasn’t suggesting the value of Pandora was the Na’vi’s religious beliefs – they didn’t seem to have any. A point the movie touched on a little and the accompanying Avatar field guide went into in great detail was all of the scientific knowledge of Pandora. Disease and starvation were problems facing Earth of 2154 and Pandora had solutions for that, but the government enforced monopoly of RDA (the company that runs things on Pandora) had no interest in shaking up the status quo. When the government won’t allow any competition, why change things? They had no interest in curing the problems of Earth using newly discovered Pandora science because as long as Earth was in a crisis the government backed their monopoly.

On present day Earth the difference between poor countries and rich countries has very little to do with natural resources. The countries with the highest GDPs are the ones that export information technologies and have a scientifically literate population. If your wealth comes from just pulling things out of the ground, you’ll eventually run into trouble when you don’t have anything more to pull out of the ground. Making matters worse, because your entire industry is tied up in what’s basically unskilled labor, you never develop schools and training that put you on a forward path.

Pandora, like Earth, is filled with incredible scientific knowledge with practical applications on Earth. The message of the movie was that the RDA was ignoring that because the could only see the value of one resource. Like an American car company or 90’s OS maker, they had no vision of the future other than their own.

The greatest wealth of the 21st century is probably going to come from biotech. Fuel, food, medicine and materials are going to come from us exploiting genes of various life forms on our planet. Scientist-entrepreneurs like Craig Venter are collecting vast databases of all the genetic information on our planet so they can engineer microbes that can turn CO2 into fuel or create new medicines. This is made possible by studying how life on Earth functions and then using what we’ve learned to create new technologies.

The moral of Avatar is that the greatest resource is knowledge – scientific knowledge. If the RDA saw the wealth that was around them besides the mineral they were after they would be even richer and life on Earth would be much better. The best capitalists are the ones that look to the future. Cameron, a physics major, explorer and multi-millionaire knows this and his movie reflects this value.

Immortality, plentiful resources and endless energy could happen in the 21st century – as long as we see the world around us and learn how to use its resources wisely.

Beware the Super Snake!

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Florida is under attack from giant snakes. If that’s not bad enough, in a turn fit for the SyFy channel, authorities now worry that different breeds of python may be merging together into some new kind of “super snake”. From the Sun-Sentinel:

…state environmental officials worry that the rock python could breed with the Burmese python, which already has an established foothold in the Everglades. That could lead to a new “super snake,”…

The rock python, native to Africa is know for eating crocodiles and even children. If it breeds with the more common Burmese python, the hybrid could end up being even meaner and larger than either individual species.

The semi-good news is that the cold weather is bringing them out into the open and killing a few off. The bad news is that we might be left with really hardy snakes seeking out warm places. Did we mention that Weird Things HQ is located in Florida right off a canal?

link: Pythons in Everglades: African rock pythons add to worries about snakes in Everglades – South Florida

Can You Have an Ice Age in the Middle of Global Warming?

Monday, January 11th, 2010

According to some scientists at the Daily Mail, the answer is yes. A long term global warming trend due to CO2 emissions doesn’t preclude the possibility of nature deciding to flip the bit at least for a few decades and make things cooler.


Even though United States and other parts of the world are experiencing record cold temperatures, climate scientists are quick to point out (and rightly so), that doesn’t change the fact that CO2 absorbs infrared energy that would normally bounce back into space and that we’re producing a lot more CO2 than ever. The big question is how much does this CO2 contribute to global temperatures and how much warming is due to other natural factors?

The debate gets sticky when people claim it’s either one or the other. Professor Mojib Latif, a UN scientists and leading member of the IPCC is a global warming scientist who fully accepts that CO2 is a contributing factor to climate change – but questions how much. Global warming proponents are critical of him for suggesting that not all temperature increase is due to man made CO2. Global warming deniers (not the same as skeptics) are upset that he still believes CO2 is a contributing factor.

His data is based upon the role the oceans play in contributing to global temperatures. He attributes the latest cooling trend to ‘multi-decadal oscillations’ (MDOs). He called the current cooling temps back in 2008. His research goes on to indicate that we could be in for a several decade long mini ice age before things get warmer again thanks to nature and man-made CO2.

If this is the case, then there’s an argument to be made that we should be thankful of all the CO2 we put in the atmosphere, because the winters are going to be milder than they would have had we miraculously stopped producing CO2 in the 1990’s.

The more we study climate, the weirder it gets. A recent study mentioned here at Weird Things a few weeks ago pointed out that core sample data indicates that historical temperature changes can come a lot faster than previously thought. Frequent mini ice ages may be the norm. You can read the Live Science article here: Big Freeze: Earth Could Plunge into Sudden Ice Age

The Daily Mail: The Mini Ice Age Starts Here

9/11 Is Responsible For The New Love Robot

Monday, January 11th, 2010


Amongst all the hubbub today about Roxxxy the new amorous robot designed to satisfy your carnal desires, comes this little tidbit buried in an article by The Money Times

Hines inspiration for Roxxxy came from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“I had a friend who passed away in 9/11. I promised myself I would create a program to store his personality, and that became the foundation for Roxxxy True Companion,” said Hines.

He feels his creation is not only for recreation and fun but also for people with problems of sexual dysfunction.

A lost friend on one of the grimmest days in modern American history ends with a fully functioning robot engineered to unleash primal delight. Figures.

How To Make Crop Circles… By Amtrekker

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Brett Rounsaville is special to iTricks. Follow his hobo adventure at


After nearly two years wandering America as a homeless vagrant I’m no stranger to the weird. Like a bedbug outbreak it jumps quickly from city to city, always lurking just beneath the sheets. Sometimes you have to flip over your Temperpedic and bust out the magnifying glass, but make no mistake, weird moves fast, procreates faster, and it’s just waiting for its chance to leave its itchy red marks on each and every one of us.

Beulah, MI

Fact: Northern Michigan is known the world over for three things. Cherries, unemployment and locals eager to help out a vagrant on a quest to experience weirdness first hand and create a crop circle.

Upon hearing of my desire to learn to speak the language of the aliens (a.k.a. stomp on a bunch of plants using boards and rope) Amber, Colton, Brandon and cameraman Andy contacted me with the promise of untold acres of cover crop with which I could have my way. Knowing there was a giant blank canvas of Russian Knapweed at my disposal, how could I not hightail it to Beulah?!

However, things didn’t go quite so well as one would hope.

Apparently the aliens know a few tricks I don’t.

I’m done.


What Happened to the Lost Race of Supermen?

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Discover Magazine has a very intriguing story: In 1913 two farmers uncovered a skull in South Africa that still has paleontologists scratching their heads. The so-called Boskop Man was first thought to be a distinct genus while some argued he’s a variation of anatomically modern humans.

What made Boskop Man unique and the the other similar skulls found like him is that his brain was much, much larger then ours in relation to ours. Based on what we can infer about brain size between species, his (and her) larger brains and neocortex suggest this ancient race of man was way smarter than us. How much smarter?

In a classroom with 35 big-headed, baby-faced Boskop kids, you would likely encounter five or six with IQ scores at the upper range of what has ever been recorded in human history. The Boskops coexisted with our Homo sapiens forebears. Just as we see the ancient Homo erectus as a savage primitive, Boskop may have viewed us in somewhat the same way.

Boskop Man is believed to have lived between 30,000 to 10,000 years ago. Why this super-genius vanished is a mystery. The Discover Magazine article postulates some interesting theories, but no concrete leads. One potential scenario is that he just blended in with the rest of us as a wise uncle:

At his new dig site, FitzSimons came across a remarkable piece of construction. The site had been at one time a communal living center, perhaps tens of thousands of years ago. There were many collected rocks, leftover bones, and some casually interred skeletons of normal-looking humans. But to one side of the site, in a clearing, was a single, carefully constructed tomb, built for a single occupant—perhaps the tomb of a leader or of a revered wise man. His remains had been positioned to face the rising sun. In repose, he appeared unremarkable in every regard…except for a giant skull.

Maybe they just leap-frogged us altogether?

link: What Happened to the Hominids Who Were Smarter Than Us? | Human Evolution | DISCOVER Magazine

link: Boskop Man – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Does Our Solar System Have 900 Planets?

Monday, January 4th, 2010

After the discovery of Neptune in 1846 astronomers began to wonder if there were other planets beyond its orbit. The discovery of Pluto (now not a planet) seemed to answer the question, but others wondered if even further out a larger earth-sized object could be waiting to be discovered. has a fascinating claim made by a planetary scientist, Alan Stern at the Southwest Research Institute:

“When the solar system’s story is finally written, it’s much more likely that it will have closer to 900 planets rather than the nine that we grew up with.”

900 planets? How could that be possible? Anything Earth or Mars-sized in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune would be visible; but beyond the Kuiper Belt is the Oort Cloud:

Brown and Stern say that the Oort Cloud represents a more likely prospect for worlds the size of Mars or Earth. The Oort Cloud surrounds our solar system with billions of icy bodies at distances as far out as 50,000 times the distance between the sun and Earth.

Now these planets are likely to be colder than Hoth, but who knows what we could do with some extreme terraforming…

link: Earth-Sized World Could Lurk in Outer Solar System – Yahoo! News