Archive for January, 2011

Frankenstein Fail: Woman Burns Apartment Trying To Reanimate Corpse

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I came to life full of goodwill and freindship for every living creature.In the Russian city of Ekaterinburg, a woman has burned up her apartment in an attempt to bring her dead sister’s mummified corpse back to life.  Her sister died a year ago, but instead of reporting the death, she had been preserving the body IN GASOLINE.  She had been attempting to reanimate the corpse this whole time, but her latest attempt involved sticking wires from the main electrical circuits of the apartment to the gasoline soaked corpse of her sister.

“Despite what Frankenstein movies suggest, the electric current did not revive the body, instead setting it on fire.”

[RT via Phantoms and Monsters]

Podcast: Dead Shwood, Live Hitler

Monday, January 31st, 2011

weird things podcast SM

Brian is bent on forcing your digital remains to dance for eternity as the gang descend into a very curious cave. Justin travels back in time and attempts to hoodwink George Carlin into coming along for mad cap silliness. Andrew sets the trio on a course with a dreaded Nazi who prowls the coasts of Florida.

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Robert A. Heinlein “Tunnel in the Sky”


Dune (2000) Sci-Fi Channel miniseries



Orson Scott Card “Ender’s Game”



Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons “Watchmen”

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Ghost In The Machine: Haunted Video Games

Friday, January 28th, 2011

In his 2009 column entitled Ghost In The Machine: Batman & Midnight Society Tackle TV’s Toughest Demonic Electronics, Matt explored how popular culture interpretations of the fear of addictive escapism through video games were portrayed by Batman: The Animated Series and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Spoiler alert: Batman gets it right, of course. In his intro to the column, he makes the following statement:

“Every major technological trend or development is always addressed by pop culture with a movie or show that illustrates the breakthrough’s potential for wild mass homicide. What if a VHS tape… were haunted? What if your cell phone… were haunted? What if the Internet… were haunted?”

Today, we are going to explore another question that people ask themselves a surprisingly large amount of the time. What if a video game… were haunted? Here are five times that question has been asked.

1. The Haunted Ms. Pac Man Machine – This particular Ms. Pac Man machine apparently came with one extra ghost. It was first spotted on Craigslist in Boston where it was being offered for free. When the owner was contacted and asked why it was being given away, he responded saying:

“Three-year old daughter started talking about the “man in the video machine”, didn’t think much of it, then my wife saw a dark figure move across the basement and into the machine. She ran out of the house, would not return until the machine was out of the house.”

Haunted video game or clever ruse to rid the house of Ms. Pac Man?

2. Pokeman Black – A bootleg version of Pokemon found in a flea market that was a modified version of Pokemon Red. The game starts out with an extra Pokemon simply called “GHOST” that had an attack called Curse. When used in battle, GHOST would slaughter any other Pokemon and when the end of the game was reached, the gamer was faced with “GHOST wants to fight!”. The battle always ended in death for the gamer and the game being erased.

3. Majora’s Haunted Mask – This legend has a really involved back story, but the basic premise is that a video game was purchased at a garage sale that belonged to a boy named Ben who had died, most likely from drowning. Check out these videos from the affected game. They are definitely creepy if nothing else.

4. Polybius, The Haunted Arcade Game – The legend of Polybius originated in Portland in the 1980s and involved a strange game that showed up at various Portland arcades mysteriously. The few gamers that actually got a chance and played the game supposedly became addicted and started acting strangely.

“Some say they experienced an extreme form of vertigo and vivid hallucinations long after they had finished playing while others claim they suffered amnesia, in some cases forgetting their own name. And most horrifying of all, it’s said that some players were haunted by horrific nightmares and eventually driven to insanity and suicide after coming under the game’s influence. “

Just as quickly and mysteriously as the game had appeared, it disappeared leaving few clues as to where it came from. Conspiracy theories range from government experiments, to ghosts, to Atari recalls. This legend is quite detailed and much more information can be found in the article and on Wikipedia.

5. Minecraft and the Legend of Herobrine – This is my favorite legend that we are covering today and it could easily be an entire post by itself. There is a lot of detail and information if you are willing to dig around the internet for it. The basic premise for the legend is that while playing in single player mode gamers started reporting structures and tunnels they did not build. They would also occasionally spot a user identified as Herobrine, who it was later discovered was the dead brother of Notch, the developer of Minecraft.

One of the most interesting parts of this legend to me is the hilarious and sometimes vitriolic interaction between the believers, the scammers, and those people who are clearly irritated with the whole idea.  I also love the growing library of videos that have appeared on YouTube chronicling Herobrine encounters. I have embedded some of my favorite ones below.

This one is long, you only need to watch like the last minute if you want.

It should be noted that four of the five stories involve haunted hardware, perhaps because it is easier to attribute something intangible, like a ghost, to a tangible object you can touch. Minecraft is a shared experience; however, Herobrine is only reported in the single player version of the game, which is not shared. Even so, as the legend of Herobrine has grown, the Minecraft community as a whole has shared the experience. This has been but a small sampling of the good ghost shenanigans in video games that are out there today. Anybody know any additional stories?

[image Jess Bradley]

UFO Conspiracy Killed John F. Kennedy & Marilyn Monroe?

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

[After Disclosure]

Birds Eat Leftover McDonalds, Leave Entire Upstate New York Neighborhood Covered In “Yellow Goo”

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Mystery as greenish-yellow goo falls from the sky in New York | Mail Online.jpg

You wake up one morning and your Upstate New York house is covered in a thick yellow goo. What’s more? The same has happened to your neighbors.

Intitial theories pinned the blame on a passing aircraft discharging the foul spread all over the unsuspecting property below. However, FAA officials rule that possibility out after checking flight patterns.

The new theory, now backed up by the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell? Birds got into some discarded McDonald’s fries and nature took care of the rest.

‘We received a call this morning from a woman who owns a house on the same street, Washington Highway. She gave us her explanation because it happened to her last year,’ Lisa Kistner, a spokesman for the Amherst Town Supervisor’s Office, told ABC.

‘She said it’s actually because the seagulls eat fast food at McDonald’s, which upsets their digestive tract,’ Ms Kistner explained.

The seagulls were eating leftover French fries out of paper bags discarded in the parking lots, the woman apparently claimed.

And, Ms Kistner said, as soon as the woman convinced fast food restaurants to clean up the rubbish in their parking lots, she no longer had that problem.

The Cornell lab confirms it’s likely bird droppings but pin the blame on a migrating species entitled the European Starling.

Those are some angry birds.

[Daily Mail]

And Now: A Gorilla That Loves To Walk Upright

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

A Silverback gorilla called Ambam loves to walk around on his hind legs. Among other uses, he apparently uses this trick to be able to carry more food.

[The Telegraph]

Weird Wiki: How Much Would You Pay For The Corpse Of A Fairy?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011


In 2007, an illusion designer from the UK put up for auction what appeared to be the remains of a dead fairy. The winged creature was said to have been inspected by X-Ray and proved a biological organism. Although the bone structure seemed to be that of a child, the bones themselves were said to be hollow.

Here was the initial description according to a BBC article at the time:

“The 8in remains, complete with wings, skin, teeth and flowing red hair, have been examined by anthropologists and forensic experts who can confirm the body is genuine.”

The exact day of the posting should have been a tip off, so skeptics found it as no surprise when the April Fools Day hoax was revealed to be nothing but a model. However, even after it was revealed as a fake, the curiosity still sold for £280 to a private art collector.

Messages still poured in after the confession, with many upset that the seller listed the location where the fairy was found.

[Wikipedia // Dead Fairy Hoax]

The Science Behind Software That IDs Dudes Who Flash Dongs On Chatroulette

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

You know, if we have a machine that can destroy legendary trivia heads at Jeopardy it’s high time we had a piece of software that could spot some creep trying to pull out their 4 Wood on sites like Chatroulette. But how?

A new research paper out of Cornell explains the symphony of algorithms behind identifying some random Johnson while adjusting for varying light, skin tone and image composition. For example, in a video demonstrating the program a picture of a couple lying together topless on a screen without exposing any naughty bits did not trigger as low of a rating a weirdo lifting their shirt to grip their tallywhacker for the cam. It also recognized low light and static images.

Pretty amazing stuff and a clever solution to a har… err… difficult problem.

[SafeVchat: Detecting Obscene Content and Misbehaving Users in Online Video Chat Services]

via [Improbable Research]

Iceberg Mystery In The Antarctic

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

While it might not be as interesting as a skeleton melting out of an iceberg, a single wood block floating on top of an iceberg within the no compass region around the magnetic south pole has people scratching their heads.

This lonely piece of timber was spotted on the top of a small berg at 66 degrees south, just north of Commonwealth Bay.

Wildlife watchers near Aurora Australis’ bridge first thought it was a relaxing seal but it was soon apparent it was rectangular in shape.

The numerous suggestions by readers are a fun read. My favorite so far:

The real question “isn’t how did it get there?” but “what are the penguins building?”.

[ABC News Australia]

One Fingered Dinosaur Discovered

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

A new alvarezsauroid dinosaur (Linhenykus monodactylus) with a single finger has been discovered in Mongolia in about 80 million-year-old rock and was recently described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The earliest carnivorous dinosaurs had five fingers, although only four were actually functional. Many later meat-eaters had only three, and evolution left the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex with only two. Now researchers have unearthed the first known dinosaur with only one finger.

The research team has suggested that these finger arms could have been used for digging. Read the entire article here.

[ScienceMag via Gizmodo]

Convict Monkey Escapes

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Officials in Mishima City, Japan have reported that a terrorist monkey, known as “Lucky”, has escaped during a cage cleaning and has left the government-run nature park where it was being held. Lucky is most widely known for biting nearly 120 people during a two month terror spree of the resort towns in central Japan last year.

“The city published an emergency notice urging residents to lock their doors, though no new attacks have been reported.”

[AP image: (AP Photo/Kyodo News)]

Are human brains too complex to replicate?

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Over at his Bottom-up blog (safe for work) Cato scholar and CS PhD candidate Timothy B. Lee makes a case that we’ll *never* be able to copy the human brain in software. He argues that the human brain is too complex and living systems impossible to replicate via mathematics. (I categorize these kinds of articles as the “Sorry nerds, here’s why you’re wrong”, variety.)

While I’d be the first one to point out the futility of arguing whether or not we will or will not be able to do something, I have a little trouble with his arguments (in a later post I’ll offer my own argument as to why it might be a bigger challenge than we realize).

“You can’t emulate a natural system because natural systems don’t have designers, and therefore weren’t built to conform to any particular mathematical model.”

Natural systems like physics and chemistry don’t have designers and we emulate those every day. Our ability to emulate them increase all the time. Starting from the middle ages when we had a very incorrect and non-empiracle view of these things, to today where we’re able to run simulations of what happens inside of atoms and at the point of the big bang.

An airplane wing works a lot like a bird wing in glide and we fly millions of miles everyday on a mechanical emulation of that living system.

Since brains are made of atoms, unless there’s some magical process going on that transcends physics, at some level you should be able to replicate a brain provided you have the right computational power. That computer could even be a jar of neurons (a method I don’t even think Lee considered).

At some point we’ll have computers with a greater number of virtual parts than the human brain. That’s the point that many think we’ll be able to replicate the brain. Knowing what and how to replicate it will be a challenge of course. We’re still figuring out how to make virtual proteins…

Following the graph of computational power over the last decade shows us that we’re nearing a point where the raw power should be possible.

To further make his point, Lee uses weather prediction as an example:

“Weather simulations, for example, are never going to be able to predict precisely where each raindrop will fall, they only predict general large-scale trends, and only for a limited period of time.”

Lee confuses a simulation for a predictive system. I can make a very simple program in just a couple lines of code that will predict with 100% accuracy the probability of a coin toss. It won’t tell you the outcome of a specific coin toss, but its results would be indistinguishable from any particular coin toss and no system could tell the difference between my virtual toss and a real one.

A replicated brain is going to have its own experience from its point of inception and be just as subject to chaos as weather, coins and other brains. It’s going to be no more confined to Newtonian physics than any living system. The fact that it behaves differently than the brain it copied is no more disproof of its utility than the fact that identical twins develop different thought patterns.

He makes his point further by saying that you can’t reduce neurons to transistors. And because they’re different, the difference between a computer and brain is too vast to bridge.

As I mentioned earlier, Lee seems to ignore entirely the premise of just creating a computer out of actual neurons. We can do that to a small degree today. There’s no reason to think that it can’t scale. Obviously a bunch of unstructured neurons are not the same as a living human brain, but the fundamental parts are similar and that’s a good start.

I think the biggest problem Lee has with this is in seeing a computer and a brain as a one-to-one analogy where the aforementioned transistors act as neurons. This of course would not work. A human neuron has way more complexity than a simple logic gate. That plus the other parts of the brain we’re just grasping their function, make it a complex task. Nobody is saying that it isn’t.

What AI researchers and people interested in the Singularity believe is that a living system isn’t irreducibly complex. At some level it’s made of the same kinds of atoms as everything else. And starting from that point you can write software that emulates the function of molecules, proteins and even cells. From there (giving enough computational power) you can replicate living systems. Brains should be no different.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France is the subject of a new documentary by Werner Herzog called Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The cave was discovered in 1994 and is filled with cave paintings that date back from 26,000 to 32,000 years ago. There is a chamber at the end of the cave, 1312 feet underground, that is filled with CO2 and radon gas that is said to cause hallucinations. These hallucinations are reflected in the paintings on the walls.

A few are not even supposed to exist, like weird butterflyish animals or chimerical figures half bison half woman. These may be linked to the hallucinations. The trip is such that some archeologists think that it had a ritual nature, with people transcending into a new state as they descended into the final room.


Bull Sharks Swimming The Flooded Streets Of Australia

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

The recent floods in Australia have provided new hunting ground for bull sharks. Recently, two bull sharks have been spotted swimming past the McDonald’s restaurant in Goodna.

“It’s definitely a first for Goodna, to have a shark in the main street.”

“It would have swam several kilometres in from the river, across Evan Marginson Park and the motorway,” Cr Tully said.

[The Chronicle]

Futurism: Why Atom Lasers are Awesome

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Technological advancement moves in strange ways. It’s often the technologies that come from just outside our mainstream field of vision that change things the most radically.

The properties of semiconductors were well known decades before anybody thought they’d be a great way to shrink vacuum tubes into transistors and then microchips. The implications of a really big network where everybody you know is plugged into it with PCs and mobile devices was a hard concept for anybody to fathom.

I’d like to tell you about a technology on the horizon that could be bigger than anything else we’ve seen before and make possible all sorts of crazy things like Doctor Who-like Tardis boxes that are bigger on the inside, matter replicators and line-of-sight teleportation.

It’s a technology that’s already been proven in small forms in the laboratories and now faces the challenge of finding out if it can scale without ridiculous amounts of energy.

The concept began with a theory by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein about what happens when matter gets really, really cold. Quantum physics informs us that we can never know the precise position and velocity of a particle. This means the more you know about one, the less you can know about the other. If you slowed down a particle enough and looked at it under some special microscope it would look like a blur. The act of slowing it down means that its exact position has to become literally fuzzy.

In laboratories we can see this fuzziness by creating a Bose-Einstein condensate; a bucket of atoms supercooled to the point that they behave like one uber-atom and quantum effects are magnified. One of the cool applications of this is the atom laser (it’s called a laser even though it’s not made of light).

An atom laser works by using a Bose-Einstein condensate to cool a group of atoms and then using a technique like magnetic fields or an actual laser to propagate (emit) the matter in some kind of beam. In the image you can see what a beam of sodium atoms looks like when emitted from a magnetic trap.

The potential for this is immense. It’s very much in its infancy and hard to tell what will actually become of it, but when you can reliably get matter to behave like light, amazing things are possible.

An awesome particle beam
You could use this to create an incredibly powerful particle beam that would be even more precise than a laser and create smaller microprocessor components and be used to etch out things like nano-scale devices out of solid matter.

Tardis boxes
The fact that you can change matter’s position to such an indeterminate state means that you could theoretically have two particles in the same space. This could allow for matter compression where you could squeeze a large amount of matter into a confined area. Like Doctor Who’s Tardis, this would give a box that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Keeping molecules and complex structures from falling apart would be very big challenge however.

The ability of a matter laser to “project” beams of atoms means that a form of line-of-sight teleportation is theoretically possible. The image of the atom laser above shows a kind of crude form of that. If you could contain the beam over long distances through some other means or use a matter equivalent of a fiber optic cable, you could shoot atoms at near the speed of light from one point to another. At the receiving end the atoms are returned to a high temperature and reassembled, er somehow (see below).

Matter replicator
A Bose-Einstein condensate also makes interesting chemistry possible. You can cool down two different types of atoms and merge them to create molecules. You could theoretically do the same with an atom laser. Crossing beams could be used to create molecules and maybe even assemble more complex structures and build things out of scratch like the matter replicators on Star Trek.

It’s anybodies guess how far off any of these things are or even if they’ll ever happen in a way that makes it into day to day use. The biggest complications are often the unseen ones after you’ve proven what you thought was the most difficult part. That said, when the first laser was fired off in a laboratory, people could think of only a few applications for what was at that time an unwieldy technology. Decades later we can mass produce lasers for pennies apiece and use them in everything from Blue Ray players, to satellites to key chain toys.

The GhostBot Robot Fish

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Northwestern University scientists have have created a robotic fish (GhostBot) that mimics the swimming motions of the black ghost knifefish found in the Amazon. Ghostbot can move from swimming forward and backward to swimming vertically almost instantaneously by using a sophisticated, ribbon-like fin.