Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Green Slime

Where can I get a copy of this movie? It's not on Netflix. I remembered watching it as a little kid and laughing at it even then.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

New Yamato Metal Video by Animetal

I don't think this was on Youtube before. This version has the full song by Animetal. The band looks like if KISS and Voltron had children.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Alligators Vibrating Water

Alligators bellow when they're mating. I've never heard this in person but want to. Look at how the water above their backs vibrates when they do this:

Early 70s Rock and Chaco Canyon

I finally saw Chaco Canyon in New Mexico yesterday (pictures here). One of the main complexes is called Chetro Ketl. I don't know what language the name is from, but just the sound of the first word* had me wandering around the ruins, humming Aqualung.

The Anasazi sites were abandoned by ancient Puebloans around the time (but not necessarily because of) the arrival of Na-Dene speakers (i.e. the Navajo/Apache common ancestor). It's thought that maybe the Na-Dene speakers contributed to the end of classic Pueblo civilization with warfare and cannibalism - here is a book whose title begins with "Man Corn". Can a book with "Man Corn" in the title really be bad? Consequently I edited the lyrics to "Sitting in a kiva...Eyeing Puebloans with bad intent". See, there's your rock-n-roll anthropology crossover reference for the day.

Cheeri-o then old chap!

*I do this a lot and I have become concerned that this constitutes clanging.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oh What Fun To Ride and Sing a Slayer Song Tonight

When I thought of that I had to use it as the title of a post. Holiday Seasons in the Abyss! Clearly the Middle Eastern theme of the video is meant to evoke Bethlehem and the three wise men. See? You can almost smell the myrrh:*

If you're unconvinced that Slayer is the Reason for the Season (even after the National Day of Slayer), check out this gentleman's holiday light display.

*I always thought frankincense was like common sense, but for Frankenstein. Such an august body of knowledge could be rendered succinctly: walk stiffly and run from angry villagers. I'm high.

The Great Filter: Why All This Talk of "Civilizations?"

In discussions of filters and Fermi paradoxes, questions are often asked with the word "civilization". Why, we wonder, do we not see evidence of non-human civilizations?

The concern for the absence of evidence of civilizations has been that it is probably unreasonable to assume that humans are special (the self-indication assumption), and that, since the evolution of life elsewhere in the galaxy seems more and more likely (more planets discovered, more ways of making heredity chemicals), it's worrisome that we don't see evidence of other civilizations. Why worrisome? Because it may mean that the "filter" that stops civilizations from filling the sky seems less and less likely to be between the primordial chemical soup of young planets and the evolution of living things, and therefore more and more likely to be after the evolution of life and their surviving long enough to colonize the galaxy. That is to say, whatever it is which seems to have consistently stopped the others' expansion is probably still ahead of us in time. By this argument, any observation which makes it more likely on average for planets to get at least as far as humans are on the way to intelligence and interstellar diaspora is bad news, because it means the filter must still be in front of us.

There are two assumptions here which, if falsified, break the logic of these arguments. One is that the sky really is empty. We've only just started looking and it's not at all clear we know what to look for, or where (related posts here.) Second is that at this point it is totally
unwarranted to insist that matter-based replicators which move between stars must necessarily have, or be the product of, a "civilization". The provinciality of such an assumption cannot be over-stated. Certainly with most Earth organisms, there is no conceivable way to move between star systems without a specialized representational tissue that allows behavior-changing information to be cooperatively shared by large numbers of entities. This is what we call "civilization" in the one species that we know has developed it. But if it is indeed possible for non-intelligent replicators to spread between stars (even if slowly; see calculations here) there's still a good chance we'll find it. If it's possible for non-intelligent life to spread, and we don't find it, there's a good chance that the filter is in fact the evolution of life in the first place (despite all mounting findings apparently to the contrary), not the stability or longevity of "civilizations" that would otherwise be thought necessary to help intelligences escape the quarantines of their solar systems. In that case, we're out of the woods, and we're on our own.

Area Woman Sets Microwave To Wrong Power Setting for Pizza, Creates Higgs Boson

PADUCAH, KY - Area woman Susan Tyson got more than she bargained for when the distracted mother of three accidentally set her microwave on POPCORN when heating a chicken-and-garlic pizza for dinner, CERN sources report.

"I don't know what happened," she said. "I pressed START and all of a sudden all matter de-cohered from the subatomic level on up. At first I thought there had been an accident on the interstate next to our house but then I thought, 'My goodness, that wouldn't collapse the metastable vacuum now would it.'"

CERN scientists Holger Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya had argued that the universe would disallow the creation of the Higgs boson through a reverse causality mechanism that sabotaged the accelerator, and that this explained the project's repeated snafus. [Note: go back and click on it. That part actually isn't parody.] When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the universe stated it had no knowledge of Ms. Tyson but that this oversight would be investigated promptly.

As off press time the world had ended.

Megadeth at the Stone in San Francisco, 1984

Here's Megadeth with then-member Kerry King, at the Stone in San Francisco in 1984. I have heard tell of this legendary show, often from a friend who was actually there and works it into conversations to reinforce his metal cred. Enjoy:

Science Fair Humor

I once had the privilege of attending a middle school science fair at a somewhat rough California public school. The displays were in the usual "HYPOTHESIS", "METHODS", "CONCLUSIONS" format (hand-written with magic marker on cardboard) that we try to get budding scientists to adopt early on. Except for the magic marker part.

So it was that browsing the exhibits, one of the students' projects caught my eye: two young gentlemen who were clearly excited about high-end electronics; namely, speaker technology. Their exhibit proclaimed:

"HYPOTHESIS: Our speaker's hypotheses be real loud."

The two kids were nowhere to be found or I would've tried to set them straight. What's most interesting to me is that they got the plural right. Colorless green ideas indeed.

Good Old Pennsylvania Christian Death Metal: Believer, Extraction from Mortality

A few weeks ago I was going through and digitizing my remaining cassette collection* and realized I still had Extraction from Morality, by Believer. I had saved it because these guys were good but obscure, and it's aged well enough that I took the time to do a digital transfer song-by-song, so I could put it online for this post. Little did I know some other cats had already posted them on Youtube. Enjoy:

Believer was (in?)famous for being a Christian death metal band in the early 90s when death metal itself was still fairly novel, and Christian death metal unheard of. Whatever else I might have thought of them, I've always thought that Believer was one of the most original and talented early death metal acts out there. I wish more Pennsylvania boys would have had the cajones and drive to get out there and create something new and technical like they did. In 1991 it was much braver to include non-conventional, genre-defying content on death metal records. It's a very mature style now, but two decades ago the genre was still forming its identity and deciding on the rules, and as such, style solidarity was valued, and dissent was not well-tolerated. Since Believer was Christian maybe they reasoned they were an outgroup anyway so who cares.

In any event they put this composition in their title track; in all honesty, most of the time extra-genre inclusions on metal albums are low-quality filler, worth more as signaling than real content (i.e., "Look! We're talented because we can compose in in this other respected format. Now you must acknowledge that we're legitimate and metal is legitimate!" The same thing happens in other genres too. Was Body Count really a good metal album, or was it just novel for Ice-T to show that he could do metal too?)

Believer didn't stop with the classical part. There's a reggae bit pasted into a song that sounds more like Suicidal Tendencies-style hardcore ("Stress"; listen here) and a screwy but intense lead-in to Not Even One.

*I have Quarteto da Pinga and IR8 too. Yes I'll be posting them. And I had to go to Singapore to get them (yes, really) back before you could download things. The internet ruined tape trading conventions.

Uchuu Senkan Yamato Word of Mouth good. Firsthand reports from a discriminating Japanese liker of Yamato confirm it's a solid flick. U.S. release! Come on, marketers have to see there's a least a straight-to-DVD market for this!

The Brazilian Metal Invasion

Guess who. Of note: having recently completed the histology portion of my preclinical med school education, I was disappointed that we did not learn to identify...(wait for it!) dead embryonic cells. Perhaps this awaits us in pathology.

On the issue of whether a laboratory sickness will infect humanity (or whether there is, indeed, no hope - for cure) opinion is still divided. In the meantime, die by technology! i.e., yes there's a commercial.

Commentary: Arise is one of the most underrated metal albums ever. I say this knowing that it's already held in pretty high esteem. They have an odd but catchy melodic sense that goes well beyond merely an obsession with diminished fifths (although they do have that) that makes them analogous to a kind of metal Gershwin and puts them in the company of other melody outgroups like Carcass and Opeth. (Anybody can write amodal noise; the trick is to write strange parts and have them be catchy.)

It's also worth pointing out that the transition they underwent from Arise to Chaos A.D. that was curiously similar to the one Metallica underwent a few years before that, between Justice and
Metallica (The Black Album): the first album in each pair is a highly technical, modular, riff-based approach to writing music with a production that does the drums no favors. The second has a better all-around sound (particularly the drums) with a more holistic approach to song-writing that nurtures regional influences (think Metallica's transition from metal to nylon strings to get a subtly more country sound and Sepultura's expanded use of Latin percussion; listen to Territory from Chaos A.D. for an example.) The vocals also both underwent somewhat of a parallel evolution, if only in the sense that on the second album of each pair they don't seem treated as just another instrument.

In the early aughts I was expecting the next wave of metal post-Sweden to come from Brazil and Argentina (NWOBaADM?), based on my experience in the Southern Cone in the late 90s, but this has so far failed to materialize.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Unexpected Philosophical Positions in Metal

I ran across this bit at Agent Intellect when looking for (of all things) a post about religion and psychoanalysis. In it the author notes a surprising preponderance of Christians in metal. I was interested to find this because this is an observation I have also made. I should note that the blogger in question fills his blog(s) with an odd assortment of topics, among them metal and science fiction, a conjunction which may seem familiar. Consequently I emailed him to congratulate him on the obvious excellence of his character. I recommend you visit but don't stay too long, or the Christians will get you. (This is the kind of thing I plan to tell my children to make them do their homework.)

Mr. Intellect mostly discusses the curious case of Megadeth, and Dave Mustaine specifically. If I'm recalling my metal history correctly, just prior to Rust in Peace Mustaine went through rehab and not surprisingly produced his best album to date at that time (because the production budget didn't all go up his nose or into his veins; BTW, some of the best metal ever written is on that record and especially on Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, and Cryptic Writings.) Perhaps also not surprisingly, after his twelve-step program he found religion, which is controversially associated particularly with AA. You might imagine my chagrin when James Hetfield also went through rehab a few years ago. On that front, despite the influence of an infamously Cosby-sweater attired therapist on the lyrics, the give-it-up-to-a-higher-power kind of themes seem not to have unduly influenced later Metallica lyrics. Hetfield is still writing lyrics about Lovecraft stuff at least.

I had long thought that Mustaine's Christianity was common knowledge, especially since Megadeth fans have never tired of informing me of it, like the pleasant mob in the beer line I talked to at Gigantour in Sacramento in 2005, but particularly one Catholic metalhead college girlfriend (is there anything hotter than a smart female who's into metal? Yes, exactly one thing: a smart female who's into metal and went to Catholic school. Grrrr. I debate whether to include these little sexist comments but Zaphod told me I had to make my blogs more personality-driven. Yes, Zaphod is a real guy, not one of my voices. My voices give much better advice.) In any event, I would not have expected Mr. Intellect to be surprised by this.

The traditional lyrical subject matter of metal - the end of the world, taboo topics of violence and anger having to do with negative masculine emotions - would certainly seem on its face to put off modern Western Christians, who (even at the cynical reading many of us take) at least work hard to appear to eschew these associations. In fact I would argue there are underlying reasons why metal's draw to young Christian males should not be at all surprising. But before we worry too much about whether it's surprising that metalheads are ever or often Christian, first it's worth stepping back for some cultural criticism. Shouldn't it seem odd that we assume this kind of association between artists and any philosophy or religion? For example: are we concerned with Lawrence Welk's position on Zoroastrianism? Or Cezanne's position on the bimetallic standard? Or whether Mozart was an adherent of the phlogiston theory? I personally blame this association between musicians and pseudo-intellectual/supernatural belief-systems on the Beatles' going to India; that's really the first time you see it. No one especially cared whether Elvis read Nietzsche. At least this gives us a potential Monty Python sketch: imagine if surrealists and futurists developed certain hairstyles and styles of dress to mark themselves apart from the general public, and then they regularly got into fistfights at museums. Seriously: is that really any more ridiculous than punks and metalheads fighting at clubs in the 80s, identifying each other by short and long hair? The anesthesia of the familiar is powerful stuff.

A second observation is that we not only associate musicians with philosophy and religion at all, but we associate them with specific controversies in those realms, i.e. morality, theology, and eschatology. (Eschatology is the study of the end of the world. E-scat-ology is the study of the end of the world ending because of poop. HA! Get it? I try to keep things light.) That anyone, even young people, looks to musicians to explore these kinds of questions is weird, but metal isn't the only place where such an odd conjunction exists. To take two personal favorites, many libertarians assume implicitly that politics is largely the province of economists, and many atheists believe philosophy is the largely the province of biologists. Whether these arrangements are true and useful is a separate question - my point is that they're rarely recognized explicitly.

In my experience there are quite a few Christian metalheads, and this isn't strange at all. Why might this be? A large fraction if not the majority of metal lyrics take the form of moral outrage, either against some perceived moral infraction of a black-and-white moral principle, or regarding a specific abstract moral issue. There's very little real nihilism or amorality in metal. It's mostly angry idealists whining that the world and its inhabitants don't conform to their moral categories. Consider: how many metal songs take the form of second-person missives about some vague moral affront by a friend or ex that is clearly infuriating-to-the-singer, even if you don't really know what happened? It's no surprise that second person is so common in metal but not in other prose or verse: it's the most confrontational way of writing, and metal is largely a musical threat display, right down to reinventing war-paint. What's strange is that we pay for songs and concerts where the singer stands at the microphone telling us in second person he's angry at us and is going to hurt us. That said, second-person moral anger is more compelling art than nihilist shock-artists, be they in-jokes like GWAR or unfortunate souls like Seth Putnam; either way they're good for a laugh but that's about the end of it.

Considering all of this, some of metal's angry idealists, among both composers and consumers, are bound to be Christian. Any direct, simply-structured art form with a sense of clear moral principles and outrage at hypocrisy would likely be appealing to many young Christians - and young males in general. There is further theorizing to be had here, namely that the reason this kind of thing appeals to young males is that they are high-testosterone and this leads to underwired frontal lobes and temporal-lobe dominance resulting in quickness to anger as well as a more rule-based and less socialized understanding of morality. In even the most stunted males (like your blogger) by the late 20s the frontal lobes finally catch up and all the posturing and moral anger in the lyrics becomes harder to take seriously. Geschwind syndrome and autism can both be thought of as hyper-male personality phenotypes - and both are exhibited by strongly religious or anti-religious people. But now we're more in the domain of my atheist or cognitive science blogs, if you're interested in that sort of thing - I wrote there recently on many of the cognitive similarities between atheists and principle-oriented (rather than tribe-oriented) Christians.

I must confess I feel a little dirty after all that Christian talk. So this year, remember the reason for the season: Slayer!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Am A Recognized Authority(tm) on Star Blazers/Yamato

Reader Matt K. notes that when he was recently searching for a picture of Derek Wildstar aka Kodai (if you believe the nonsense that Star Blazers was originally in Japanese), he ran across my most recent Star Blazers/Yamato post. Turns out it was featured prominently in the Google search results. It's good to know that my geek cred is getting recognized by the machines before they become fully self-aware.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Antikythera Mechanism No Longer at Children's Museum in NYC

I was about to suggest to a friend that we visit it while we're in Manhattan next Saturday but when I looked it up it turns out the Children's Museum doesn't have it anymore. If you want to see a replica in the US, you should go to the Computing Museum in Bozeman, MT. Alas! Still pretty cool to think that this analog computer was built 2,100 years ago.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Singularity Christmas

Get one of these cute AI toys and treat it well so they put in a good word with our coming silicon overlords.

A One-Way Trip to Mars Would Be Easier

This has been proposed recently as a way to accelerate a manned visit to Mars. An unexamined question is whether it would be easier politically for the world's large dictatorships, and I'm thinking of one in particular that has the money to do it, one which just passed Japan to become the second-largest economy on the planet. China has no shortage of people with difficult lives who a) would be disposed to going where the central government tells them, and b) might not even complain if they think they'll at least get a place in history, let a lone have a chance at personal independence. One of the costs of life being good in Western democracies is that people don't want to leave it; do you know anyone personally who would want to permanently leave for the Martian Jamestown? The people who came to Jamestown didn't leave England (and Poland) because things were so great back home.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Wanna Hear About Frickin Supernovas or What

Then listen to this internet radio show featuring celebrated astronomer Ben Weaver from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pluto & Methane-Flavored Cupcakes = Delicious

To a certain reader I say: akana mukav, tut le devlesa. Classmate Kadee bet me that Pluto had blue methane snow on it, with the stakes being a cupcake (a tasty one, as it turned out.) It doesn't (look it up) but she wasn't satisfied about this until she had besmirched the name of our institution and medical students in general by bothering noted astronomers with this question. (Really, she really did email and harass these people. Shameful.) But it appears she has learned the hard way that you never go in against a Dutchman, when cupcakes are on the line!

But now that I have tasted blood I call on others who dare think they can match my astro-trivia wit! I will take on all challengers! But my first act will be to unseat the would-be Astro-Geek Boy-King, the one called Yang. I have heard the peasants speak his name in hushed tones, but I am not afraid! Bring him to me, and I will drive his livestock before me and hear the lamentations of the women!

Above: Yang the Terrible. He will not look so impressive once the topic turns to the subtle nuances of Kuiper Belt Objects.

Why Terminators Suck at Their Jobs

Cracked has re-visited this important issue, which I wrote about here slightly more seriously. Money quote: "Let's put aside all the doubts we've raised thus far and just accept that Skynet is a 'special needs' computer and is doing the best it can with what its got, bless its heart."

Alluding strongly to the Singularity, they add: "...not only did this one-sided war 'span over 30 years,' instead of the more expected 'one really shitty afternoon,' but human beings actually won out in the end."

Behold the Progenitors

Science Cheerleaders!

This is excellent. My Google News Alert for "science cheerleaders" finally yielded results, and boy was it worth the wait. These ladies will in all likelihood kick your ass, both intellectually and athletically. How exactly does one make an impression on a patent attorney/ER surgeon/cheerleader?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

That Wasn't a Missile You Schmendricks

(If you heard about the supposed rocket seen off the California coast the other evening, you'll know what I'm talking about - otherwise don't waste your time.)

It was pretty unambiguously the contrail of an airplane, seen head-on. How do we know this?

1) If it were a rocket, it would have had to be the slowest rocket ever. Even from twenty miles away the launch at Vandenberg that I saw recently positively hauled ass into the sky.

2) People north and south on the coast from the sighting area didn't report seeing anything strange. Why? Because to them the same cloud would have looked like a normal contrail.

3) There were likely boats (fishing and otherise) closer to it, maybe even under it. Granted, we don't know if any vessels were in the vicinity. However, the fact that there were no reports from any boats (who might even have heard it if it was a rocket - rockets are loud) is another point off the missile hypothesis.

4) Similar things have happened before, and they were contrails also. (See the link at the end of this post.)

5) Yes, it glowed even after sunset. No kidding! That doesn't mean the cloud was burning rocket exhaust, it just means it was high up, just after sunset. When you're significantly off the surface of the Earth, you get sunlight after sunset. This is true even at the summits of tall, steep mountains. Ever heard of alpenglow?

Needless to say, "Cloud Not From Missile" isn't a good story, so it's not national news. If you still don't believe me, read this pilot's blog. He's even predicted exactly which flight it is, and a) invited the press to film it at the same time, from the same location, with the same weather conditions, and b) asked the chemtrails/conspiracy nuts to give him other evidence. Just a guess - the fact that people notice it this week might have to do with daylight savings.

So calm down dummies.

Your Daily Dose of Narco-Terrorist Metal

Breaking news: ¿El polvo? ¡Sí!

At press time, Brujeria would only add, "Cien kilos de la blanca", because they were busy matando güeros.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One Apparent Problem With Self Indication Assumption Arguments

At the always interesting Meteuphoric, Katja Grace says:

What the Self Sampling Assumption (SSA), an alternative principle to SIA, says depends on the reference class. If the reference class includes AIs, then we should strongly not anticipate such an AI explosion. If it does not, then we strongly should (by the doomsday argument). These are both basically due to the Doomsday Argument.

The Self Indication Assumption (SIA) is a compelling topic because it's a tool we can use to think about questions like the Fermi Paradox, not to mention our own future.

As a general rule (read: admittedly sloppy heuristic) - when an outcome of a chain of reasoning depends strongly on how we categorize the involved entities, that reasoning is suspect. This would seem to be a general problem for all SIA/SSA reasoning, although since Katja just finished her degree on exactly this topic, I would refer you to her if you want counterarguments to this suspicion.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Science Fiction in Tijuana

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia, in Expanded Horizons magazine, about the city 25 miles from where I'm sitting. I want more Mexican SF.

The Pro-Tools of World-Building

Celebrated science fiction author Marshall Maresca pointed me to online world-building tools. They are here and here. For good measure here's a real star atlas out to 50 LY.

I'm sure I'm not the only whiner, but doesn't such a tool take some of the fun out of inventing a whole new "known space"? There are several practical upshots for authors and maybe that's the appeal: you might have lots of settings you want to keep track of, and you don't want astute readers catching you in plot holes or continuity problems that you could avoid with a more comprehensive visualization of your universe. Or maybe you could build your story inside a world like Eve, and use that as a promotional vehicle. (Who knows which one would make more money and which would just be a funnel for the core revenue source. That would also presence interesting IP problems, and for all I know probably has already come up.) My concern is that such a program does seem like it risks genericizing science fiction writing to some degree.

I like science fiction or I wouldn't write about it all the time on my blog. But of course, we're just Spaniards writing about two-legged dragons in Patagonia and Baja California as an island of Amazons, and cities of gold in the interior. There's a reality out there waiting for us to find it that will (I hope) obviate all this literature one day, like Las Sergas de Esplandian. Let's build probes! Let's send them to exoplanets! Let's put smaller more chemically sophisticated probes down on Titan and Europa! Now now now!

Destroy the Earth


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Good Metal Venues in San Diego?

If you know of any, please email me at Cast Iron Crow will be playing down here and they're looking for suggestions. Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Russell and Bashoo Both Hate Me Now

Twelve more syllables
To make this silly haiku

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Estimated Earth-Like Exoplanets

F-sub-p is going down all the time, isn't it? If you're interested in this sort of thing, you've a. already read articles like this one and b. you're not that surprised. But then Fermi's question - "Where is everybody?" - becomes more insistent.


1. They're there, but we don't know what to listen or look for. This is to my mind overwhelmingly the most likely possibility. Sub-possibilities:

1a. Long-distance electromagnetic communication is a temporary local optimum. We're already moving away from it here on Earth. Unless we catch aliens in the middle of their 1920s to 1990s period, we'll miss them.

1b. Once intelligence is achieved, replicators profoundly altering themselves is not far behind. Are you sure you would recognize even your own "descendants" five thousand years from now? Why assume we'll find a species at a similar "level" of development, even assuming such a term can have any meaning outside humans? (Referring to 1a above, it's a little naive to assume the aliens will have 1950s. Don't rely too much on Star Trek episodes of yellow-blooded humanoids which carry the assumption of nearly identical biological and cultural development.)

2. They're there, but we're not seeing them, because they're intentionally hiding. Once introduced into the galactic ecosystem, organisms either try to conceal themselves and effectively disappear, or disappear for real. Unless you happen to catch a newborn intelligence's careless birth cries, you won't hear anything.

3. Maybe replicator chemistry could be common, but intelligence is not. The kind of replicator chemistry that produces representational tissues (experience-generating nervous systems) and therefore tools that allow them to communicate or move across interstellar space might be a fluke. Sharks have been dumbasses for 400 million years and my money is on their not inventing algebra in the next 400 million years. Intelligence is only useful insofar as it helps things reproduce. Or, if intelligence isn't a fluke, a dead end, one solution Fermi did in fact consider. Life on Earth has produced intelligence once, and it's not clear that those organisms which haven't achieved it have any tendency to achieve it.

4. We've only been looking in earnest for a half century. Asking "where are they" is probably like me looking out my window in San Diego in 2010 demanding "if the Earth has glacial cycles, then why don't I see any glaciers in the canyon next to my house? There must not be any glaciers." (Similar idea here.)

In conclusion:

1. We should absolutely not advertise our presence.

2. If designed self-replicating machines are possible, then we should look for those. I predict we will find some in our own asteroid belt and/or Oort cloud. (Shorter version here.)

3. We should be building a fleet of small interstellar probes to explore those exoplanets right now.

Temprano Feliz Dia De Los Muertos

Here's your early 90s metal shot for the day: The Witching, by Meliah Rage, from Solitary Solitude. (Forgive the commercial, if they insert one.) And happy birthday to Chris D. who introduced me to these guys long ago in the Mists of Time, i.e. at the Flying Hills pool on a Walkman.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato, 30 Years Later

First off: there's a live action movie coming out in December (good). It's only being released in Japan (++ungood). Join this awesome Facebook group and tell your geeky friends if you want to convince a distributor that there's a market for it in the States. For once I want to actually pay to see a movie instead of shamelessly pirating it,* and they're putting obstacles in my way! After all, preparing for this movie is the whole reason I went back and rewatched, nay, studied the series and why I'm inflicting this blog post on you now.

If you don't already know the great Star Blazers/Uchuu Senkyan Yamato, don't waste your time reading this. It's a late 70s/early 80s Japanese cartoon, and although I'm amazed how mature some of its themes are, I think if you didn't like it as a kid, you're not going to start liking it as a grown-up. A friend showed me Buckaroo Banzai at age 33 and his theory about why I hated it, despite liking other extremely dumb things, is that I'd missed the "critical window", i.e. fourth grade. (Perhaps this is why seeing Ministry for the first time at age 34 was also guaranteed to be a bad experience.) As a further example: the same artist who did Yamato also did Galaxy Express 999, which I think is about the stupidest thing ever. I mean, a frickin train going across space? ("But Mike," you might object, ever the astute reader, "doesn't Yamato feature a frickin WWII ocean battleship going across space?" "That's different.") Which is to say, trust nothing that I say here, except for that sentence. All Cretans are liars.

So what do I notice about Star Blazers that I didn't notice as a kid?

1) I remember much of it crystal-clearly - in some cases actual lines of dialogue, or names of planets - but there are whole episodes or scenes which I don't recall at all. Case in point: I remember that they recognized something was strange about the planet Balan because the plants grew toward the ground, indicating no reliance on natural sunlight; I remember Wildstar ridiculing Nova for wishing on a hunk of burning hydrogen and carbon (and thinking that was cool); but I have no memory of Captain Avatar's struggles with his health. The ones I can't remember tend to be character-building sections. It's possible they weren't aired because they were thought by the syndicating networks to be too intense or just too boring, but it's more likely that at five years old I just didn't care about anything that didn't involve the wave motion gun and space fighters.

2) The music has aged very well, even beyond the ubiquitous theme song. (Click here and scroll down for awesome version of it.) Some of it sounds very 70s (the use of guitar wah-pedal and echo effects for creepy or mysterious things, for example) but most of it stands the test of time.

3) I was being funny in my post where I claimed all of the Star Blazers characters were meant to be white. For example: characters sit cross-legged when socializing, unlike Westerners. Cars drive on the left. "Great Island" and "dormant volcano on Great Island" could not more obviously be Honshu and Fuji (and when they show Earth, they zoom in on the northwestern Pacific). In the flashback where the young Derek Wildstar is talking to his brother Alex at the Academy, a clumsy dub leads them to declare their mother made them chocolate cake when it was clearly maki. This I can understand. 1979 America might not have appreciated that a mother could express her love for her oldest son love by sending him raw fish.

However - it says something about anime in general that a Westerner can watch these cartoons and not have the characters' appearance seem foreign to him. My contention is that this style of drawing minimizes differences between Asians and Caucasians, deliberately or otherwise. Note that Nova is blonde. Yamato was made before Japanese women were lightening their hair.

As an aside, I do concede that Sandor is Japanese. He's the smartest and most dedicated guy on the ship, he's extremely cautious and conservative, AND his eyes are noticeably smaller. Wait, you're offended? I'm sorry you lack the nuanced cultural understanding that I have evolved in my travels, and I refer you to Eddie Murphy, who (as in all topics) is a recognized authority on this matter. But in all seriousness, I can't tell you how many times some anime idiot has started lecturing me about some aspect of Japanese culture that according to him (always a him!) I would have trouble understanding as a white person. Living in New Jersey or the San Fernando Valley and being sixteen apparently provides a better education in this regard than one might have expected!

They seem to be getting on well these days.

4) Derek Wildstar is an asshole in the first series. I don't mean he has a rebel streak, I mean he's actively a self-centered dick, particularly to his crew-mate Venture, particularly in light of the fact that he's willing to let his pettiness get in the way of saving all life on Earth. Again I never picked up on this as a kid. Watching the series as an adult, the focus on Wildstar makes it seem that Yamato is partially a bildungsroman about him, as he gradually takes on the Captain's role and grows as a leader and moral person despite his doubts about himself.

5) The obvious: much of Japanese film and anime has had to do with the after-effect of getting A-bombed and conquered. And this is not unreasonable; one might expect that your country getting hit with atomic weapons might later effect its psyche and artistic output. Star Blazers clearly fits this pattern, but with more revenge-fantasy than most such works. The Star Force builds an amazingly uber-phallic weapon which, after a great build-up, fires out a stream of irresistible white energy from the great meatus on the bow of the ship, destroying all in its path (the trigger pulled no less by Wildstar himself.) They install this weapon in the flagship of the Imperial Japanese fleet (!), given the ancestral name of Japan, and proceed to island-hop across the galaxy, the whole way fighting the barbarians with strange hair colors** who had attacked the sacred homeland of Earth. Fantasy re-fighting of WWII emerging from the subconscious, anyone? Much like the S on Superman's chest, you would think eventually the Gamilons would eventually resist the urge to engage the Yamato head-on. But then there would have been no wave motion ejaculations to set five year-old kids jumping up and down with excitement during the build-up, as opposed to the 36 year old medical student not wanting to admit to the same jumping up and down. Me? No, of course not, what a ridiculous thing to think!

Once they get to Iskandar, they blow up Gamilon, which it turns out they were going toward the whole time, in a Campbellian twist to the whole affair. One could think of the Comet Empire*** as the Russians, the new enemy to fear after the homeland has been rebuilt. This kind of national-historical allegory is most often done for Star Trek with the Klingons as Russians, the Romulans as Japanese, etc. The Romulans are more interesting as pseudo-Japanese than the Neemoidians of Star Wars, who just sound Japanese. Someone should do a table. Who else have Americans been besides Gamilons?

6) And speaking of that, the influence of Star Trek is obvious now - the ship as a character in its own right, the uniforms - but I'll credit Yamato with having more character development than Star Trek. The fact that the technology wasn't always 100% reliable made it more interesting too (which is also why I liked Enterprise better than any of the other series. That and T'Pol.)

7) The first series sorta kinda passes the Bechdel Test. For a science fiction cartoon in 1979, you have to admit that's not bad. Nova and Starsha have a conversation alone, a few lines of which involve Starsha's future on Iskandar and whether she'll come back to Earth with the Yamato - but that's right before they shade into talking about her love for Alex Wildstar, hence the qualifier. I do have to admit I find it strange that there are really only two female characters in the series, and they bear a strong resemblance to each other - on which fact the characters themselves comment.

8) In one episode the Yamato captures a Gamilon pilot. As Doctor Sane examines him, he reads off vitals and hematology statistics, declaring that they're identical to a healthy human's data. I had just finished taking hematology when I re-watched it and wouldn't have understood the information without looking it up before, so I found it funny (and impressive) that they included such technical information in a program mostly watched by kids.****

View Larger Map
The real resting place of the Yamato.

All in all, positive or negative, it's still the best cartoon ever made. I noticed how many of what I'd thought were at least unique combinations of science fiction ideas in my own stories (not yet published of course) were directly inspired by Star Blazers. The moving planet at the center of an empire destroying everything in its path, for example. Even the spaceships I drew all over my notes in junior high were really just Yamato rip-offs, whether or not I realized it.

Returning to nostalgia-media like this is often instructive, because we can compare our reactions then and now to see how we've changed. (The best beer I ever tasted was at the finish line of the Big Sur Marathon. It was a Sierra Nevada IPA, which I hate, but my body was thrilled with anything made of carbs and liquid. Experience is an interaction of self and environmental input, and sometimes when the experience changes, it's not because input changed, it's because self changed.) But when the comparison is done from childhood to adulthood, the modern experience is usually disappointing - watching the old Transformers sure was - the psychological equivalent of going back to an old playground and seeing how much smaller everything is, and how actually, it wasn't the most inherently wonderful place in the world. Visiting the Reagan Museum will have the same effect on an 80s kid who has gradually become less sympathetic with the social conservative agenda. That said, I still liked watching Star Blazers again.

Admittedly doing this kind of auto-system-restore on yourself is also a bit masturbatory. In the long run, who cares? Now that we're swimming in media, those of us so inclined can also drown ourselves in nostalgia. Only in the modern era do we have enough time off from running from tigers to sit around pointlessly trying to tie back together obscure fleeting bits of our temporal lobes, as if trying to stave off some eventual cognitive Big Rip.

*It's amazing how fast my moral position on intellectual property changed when I left consulting and went back to being a thrifty student. Once I'm practicing medicine a similar reverse-shift is no doubt in store.

**By the way, why do the Gamilons only become blue a few episodes in? Will there be a how-the-Klingons-got-their-ridges continuity-fixer in the live action movie?

***When I get old I want to grow my eyebrows into my hairline, like the Comet Empire guy.

****I don't like the implication from Dr. Sane's character that all doctors all bumbling alcoholics. I'm not bumbling. I'm never so drunk on the job that I can't complete a procedure.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Play D&D, Meet Fast Women, Go to Hell

Jack Chick does it again with another hilarious comic - this time about Dungeons and Dragons!

The full tract in all its goofiness can be found here.

There are problems with Mr. Chick's tract, not least of which that in his fantasy world a) there seem to be many females involved with playing D&D, and b) that players of paper-based RPGs is not exactly an exploding demographic in 2010. If this is how Satan is tempting children, then he's stuck in the 80s. Also, please tell me where the hot witch ladies are who are playing D&D so I can go play D&D with them right now. They certainly weren't around in my middle school. Unless you count TGP's mom. ZING!

Also: when the bad deity has Peter Cullen's voice, he can't be that bad.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Space Battleship Yamato Not Coming to U.S. Theaters?!

I'm about to lose my shit over here.

I have seen some ugly rumors that Yamato won't be on the big screen in the U.S. The fact that the promotional website doesn't have an English version supports this.

If this is true then I think we're gonna have a problem.

So stop all that fighting global warming and hunger shit and do something important for once: helping to bring Yamato to American theaters! Here's the group on Facebook. If enough people sign up, small independent (i.e. cool) theaters may carry it. Tell your nerdy friends to show their support. Because if you're reading this blog you have nerdy friends.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Age and Gender Plot for Music Tags

Source: blog

Young and male are in the top right corner. As are Metallica, Slayer, and Iron Maiden, the awesomest bands ever. Not surprisingly my tastes are younger than my body (consistent with the text analysis of this blog), although I do like the Yellowjackets (admittedly haven't listened to them in years).

One obvious observation: the lower right is blank, and size corresponds with numbers of mentions. This suggests that people talk about music less as they get older, and that older women don't talk about it at all. I definitely listen to less music than I did even 5 years ago.

This may be consistent with the observation that music is unique among types of art in that people, especially young people, use music to define identity and community, sometimes to the point of physical violence against outsiders. You don't see riots with surrealists fighting impressionists or gothic and Victorian architecture fans wearing T-shirts to advertise their loyalty and lifestyle. No specific hairstyle has ever been associated, to my knowledge, with being a fan of futurist sculpture. Where music is concerned, aggressive marketing certainly feeds the communities and identities relating to pop music but it doesn't create the tendency to begin with.

Consequently, my hypothesis is that strongly-identified musical subcultures are a form of signaling identity. Support:

- Music is more important to people below 30, especially teens and late 20s) who are still forming their identities

- Music fades from prominence in people's lives at exactly that time in life when people get married (no need to signal to mates) or have careers that define them more concretely

- The types of music that most attract young people contain lyrics that allude to, or performers that appear to engage in, a fantasy lifestyle that the music fan does not actually engage in (rap and crime, metal and evil, girl-pop and being a princess, etc.)

- Music is less important to women across all ages; women don't rely on active signaling for mate finding to the same degree that men do.

- Genres of music that are good for signaling must be exclusive of social values at large. No young male music fan wants to follow a band that dresses and acts normally and respectfully and mundanely, no matter how good the music is.

That we do see this behavior with some genres of pop music certainly says something about aggressive marketing, but again, we still don't see the "mannerist lifestyle" being marketed, or even twelve-tone serialism for that matter. There is something about popular music that makes it uniquely well-suited to forming subcultures around - the listening experience is passive, can produce strong emotional responses, and as mass-market art, the works tend to be less nuanced than other types of music. If some other art meets these same requirements I would argue that the same thing will happen, and maybe it already has with anime.

Monday, September 27, 2010

LBNL Scientists Model Supernovas

Astrophysicists from Lawrence Berkeley Labs (and other contributors) have a paper in the Astrophysical Journal about their model which allows them to model supernovas much more accurately. Of additional interest in the story is that if you read this TIME article about it, you would believe that it was Princeton and Princeton only that had put in all the effort (read: coding) to make the model work. Word has it that LBNL wrote the code and basically held their hands while Princeton were doing this work, and only found out about the TIME article second-hand once it was published.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finally Saw a Space Launch

A spy satellite on top of a Minotaur vehicle, launched last night from Vandenberg AFB, exactly at the start of the launch window. (What's interesting about this satellite is it's apparently the first one designed to spy on other satellites.) I watched from Refugio Road just southeast of the tunnels near Gaviota, which is ~25 air miles from the launch site. From that distance the vehicle was not obvious but the stage separations were quite clear (I think you can kind of see one in the time lapse photo below as a slight bulge and then narrowing near the top of the arc as it tilted west out over the Pacific). A low crackling rumble became audible just about 2 minutes after the launch (from 25 miles!); much more suspenseful waiting for that than counting seconds between lightning and thunder.

I've been wanting to see a launch for years. Finally!

Image at Gant Daily

Monday, September 20, 2010

That's It, Just Read Boing Boing

That's it. If you want to see how our species will be exterminated, just go read Boing Boing, I don't have to re-post them any more here. It's like every 50th article now. Boing Boing posts should have a a tag called "Mike's Singularity nightmares coming true exponentially faster". Here are the cyber-insects already. They're dumb so far, but they can fly now.

And you can print them. In stranger eons, there will be no Great Old Ones, only Tiny New Ones.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What Did I Tell You. It's Little *Flying* Robots You Should Be Scared Of

Listen, I warned you all, I really did. But no, everyone thinks that the evil Singularity monsters will look like the grinning red-eyed Terminators. No. Nothing so clumsy. They'll be little, and they'll fly. And they can already take our beer. See? It may already be too late. (H/T Boing Boing.)

To Help You Talk Like a Pirate - Pirate Metal!

And it's Scottish pirate metal. Behold, Alestorm:

Thanks to Scott in my class for the reminder of this important day and H/T to Friendly Atheist for the metal. And I'm having trouble deciding if the artists intend this to be taken seriously.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ant Mills and Intelligence

Ant mills are all the rage in the blogosphere the past few days. Ants get locked into a pattern of following each other in a circle, and their little ant nervous systems don't have the plasticity to break the loop. A hymenoptera halting problem?

Like you, I watch this with pride and think "Look at those stupid ants. I'm so glad humans have no cognitive foibles or blind spots which cause us to follow each other into oblivion!" Never mind that these particular ants are milling in the ruins of a once-great civilization. One solution to the Fermi Paradox: because any nervous system will have such failure modes, intelligence is in fact an evolutionary dead end, and only fecundity matters.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Singularity Watch: Teaching Robots to Lie

I don't know what these guys are thinking. Maybe they're trying to create a new enemy for the Autobots: the Politicons. ZING!

Doomsday Vault for Animals

The Norwegians already had a Doomsday Vault for plants, but as it turns out right here in San Diego there's one for animals. Now that doesn't mean you can go eating condors and Siberian tigers now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Habitable Exoplanet Discovered by Mid-2011?

That's the prediction in a forthcoming PLOSOne paper. Wow. H/T Tyler Cowen. Note that habitable doesn't necessarily mean oxygen atmosphere to these authors; understood that they want to build a model based on frequency and distance-from-star at which planets are being discovered, and there's no data to put in the model anyway. Still, an atmosphere is important if you want to call a place habitable.

More importantly: let's say it's August 2011, and it's happened. What government is going to justify spending money to send probes there? None of us is going to live to see the data. I hope we go, but there's a whole different kind of political problem between watching a moon landing, and watching probes slip off into the interstellar darkness forever, at least from the viewpoint of those currently living.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cast Iron Crow at Slim's in San Francisco, Sunday October 3rd

There will be metal. Make sure you get your tickets by the 30th here.

Recall that if you have the chance to see CIC and you don't, I will punch you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blog Ratings

Analysis software is usually pretty pointless and low-resolution (if it's not completely non-random), but like many people my narcissism got the better of me. So I used this site to analyze the writing style of all my blogs, all of which came across to the analysis software as male, mostly age 66-100 (I'll take that as a compliment about my learnedness), with tone half-and-half academic or personal (are these the only two settings?). All were considered "upset". Is this the ONLY setting? I don't exactly use my cognition blog to complain!

Which one of these was not like the other? This blog, my most immature, which rated age 18-25. Must be all the scifi and metal. Besides, you're here reading it aren't you? TOTALLY NICE DUDE.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Here's Me Launching a Nuclear Missile

...or at least turning the key in a preserved missile silo, and of course it's a two-person operation.

More below. The missile is (I believe) a Titan. You can see this either just south of Tucson (where these were taken), or in South Dakota off I-90. You can find the full album here.

Here is a hanging hallway. Besides the security to get into the place (duress codes, plus alphanumerics which changed every day and had to be burned after being read) the most impressive bit was the engineering of the silo itself. Because they expected nearby nuclear explosions, to minimize the effect of the shaking inside the silo, everything in the silo is suspended from the top, rather than being built into the bedrock around the shaft (which would be rocking and rolling post-nuke).

The business end of a rocket, camera inside the nozzle.

Now THAT, Sir, is a Deathlands Collection

Look at this goddamn picture:

Eat your heart out TGP. Behind that stack of Deathlands books is a whole other set of Deathlands books. I mean holy Key-rist on a hard roll. That anyone would admit to owning all of them but one (!) is amazing; the guilty party is none other than a certain Vancouver resident who goes by the alias of M'Aliceand was my nemesis in this tale of epic battle. I took about 600 pictures on my recent swing through the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies and this might be the most excellent one.

The Hot Alberta Metal Scene. Seriously.

Who knew Calgary (and Lethbridge, and Edmonton) had such an awesome metal scene? People in Alberta, that's who. Having just returned from the Great White (or at this time of year, green) North I must spread the word. Last week I was in Alberta, mostly in Jasper and Banff National Parks, so when I passed through Calgary I unfortunately didn't have time to take in a show. But the writeups in the local free papers were many. Of the names I gleaned, here are a few stand-outs:

Akakor - Hot technical Death metal! Imagine a heavier more metally Dillinger Escape Plan. Personal favorite track, Perceived to Be.

Enceladus - Described as Lethbridge power metal (a south Alberta city). I'm partial to showboating neoclassical stuff with melodic vocals (e.g. Symphony X) so I dig these guys too, although they could do with better vocal production and mixing. Check out the other bands at their CD release party. (No offense to Lethbridge, in fact congrats to Lethbridge, but how can San Diego not have a scene like this?!?!? If it does please direct us all to the right resources.)

Mark of Cain - These guys are slightly more technical than average and are helping move death metal past the point of trying to out-shock and out-gore the next band. Plus they like robots, and anyone who combines science/fiction and metal is making the world better.

JJS3 - Fun pentatonic neo-hard rock bordering at times on doom-metal. (Though from the Yukon rather than Alberta. Is there death metal in the Yukon? I spend too much time wondering if there's anything about certain cities that contributes to the musical style aside from contact with other bands; maybe in a massive territory like YT with only 30,000 other people the population density is too low to get really angry.) I find myself listening to Warrior Warrior repeatedly. The guitar tone and style reminds me of Crysknife in some ways, along with the simple arrangements and catchy melodies.

Kataplexis - Perpetual Apathy is my fave. Technical bordering on black death metal.

Striker. Excellent! Imagine Black Tide meets Hammerfall; ergo, not at all like the 80s hair band the name makes you think of. Check out "F*ck Volcanoes", an ode to that unspellable Icelandic eruption this summer, musically given the full serious-minded operatic hard rock treatment, but lyrically, er ah, not: "F*ck volcanoes! Spewing shit into the sky / Stupid assholes, Iceland why don't you go die / F*ck volcanoes, you're seriously killing my buzz / Motherf*cker." Believe it or not, it works! You will also smile when you listen to "The Keg That Crushed New York".

Divinity's record is called The Singularity, which is also a good union of metal and sf. I would say they're a slightly less grating Meshuggah, but you can hear the influence, even in the vocal style. About time for a generation of Meshuggah-influenced bands to appear.

Also check out Ominosity and Viathyn.

I don't know about you but when I find an excellent metal scene in an unexpected part of the world and I'm checking out their tunes I'm like a kid opening presents at Christmas. Enjoy!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Singularity Watch: Snake Robots

These scare me almost as much as quadrotors.

Now all you have to do is make them waterproof and try to eat Christian Bale and you're set. And I know a lot of ladies who claim to already have the second part down pat.

Monday, August 23, 2010

You Can No Longer Accuse Me...

...of being the world's biggest douche. (Even you TGP.) You know why? Cause this guy.

This jack-off turned on his GPS tracker and drove 12,000 miles in the shape of letters to spell that out. And I even like Ayn Rand. I just don't like douches. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the douchiest, this dude comes in somewhere between ultraviolet and habanero.

Next time I recommend just wearing a T-shirt to get your message across. That way you won't have to change your name to Massengil.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

It's Time for More Epic Metal

I think the following French dude might kick the ass of the previous Lamb-of-God-playing Taiwanese chick (sorry Taiwanese chick). He's total metal. Specifically, canon metal. Tell you what, I'm okay being behind on pop culture in general, but when there are sub-genres of frickin' metal that I didn't know about, that's how I know I'm way old.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weird Stuff in Boxes

Ray Bradbury claimed to have a room filled with various interesting and grotesque toys and detritus of that prompted him to start writing if he had writer's block. If that's how it works then I should be the writingest guy who ever lived, but I'm not, so I'm throwing some of it out. On doing some house-cleaning recently I found a box in which I had stored the following ingredients, which would seem best suited for some very enterprising witch's brew:

- 1 nutria rat paw from the Louisiana bayou
- 1 large cattle bone fragment from the Lava Beds in extreme NorCal (remains of cattle slaughtered by Modoc Indians during their rebellion)
- 1 piece of the loading dock from Yuengling brewery (don't sue me; it was tiny)
- 1 eagle talon* from Alaska
- 1 kodiak bear claw* from Alaska
- 4 coati teeth* from Paraguay
- A chunk of salt from Badwater Flat, Death Valley
- 1 smooth stone from the shores of Lake Tahoe
- assorted Apache tears (little obsidian fragments you find all over New Mexico)

What could you make with this? An Apache- and Modoc-powered curse against Yuengling so that their beer turns salty and various boreal or rainforest predators attack them? But that would be bad. On par with the Black Plague.

However, with the asterisked ones, you can make a cool necklace for your four-year-old first cousin once-removed's birthday. Which is what I am presently doing. As it turns out bear claws are pains in the ass to drill holes in.

Fake Guitars Being Thrown Into a Volcano

Sometimes I wish that our ancestors could see the technological powers under our control now, and what we can do to make the world a better place. Other times I'm glad they're not here to see the goofy shit we're wasting our time on. Like flying over a volcano to throw videogame-guitars into it for a commercial. Imagine Galileo's disappointment in our frivolousness.

Then again, it's cool.

Space Travel is Not All Tear-Inducing Awe

Sometimes it's tear-inducing excrement fumes. Read Mary Roach's new book Packing for Mars to find out about this mundane but and therefore very relevant engineering challenge. New York Times review here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Forget that last post. The dude who did this is metal. He actually pisses metal dude. In the frickin desert.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

So you think you're metal?

You might not be as metal as this chick in Taiwan who (fair warning) is about to kick your ass with some Lamb of God:

Here's the close-up so you can see the guitar work.

No, I wasn't trolling for metal babes, it came up at the start page on its own, perhaps because of previous trolling for metal and babes separately.

[Update: for yet more Hot Metal Chix(tm) check out the guitar riffage in LoG's Grace.]

More Yuks at Geeks' Expense

In the context of criticizing reportage on the recent gay marriage decision, Jon Stewart said:
Really, a gay bar? That's where you went [for a] story about marriage equality? 'Hey, let's go to a gay bar at three in the afternoon.' If this was a story about I don't know, virgins, would you go to Comic-Con?
Apparently he missed the nerd-on-nerd violence.

Hey, I just kid because I'm jealous I wasn't there.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Crocs Can Eat You, and Also They're Getting Smarter

Yes, that's his hand over there. Image credit Northern Territory News.

Saltwater crocodiles the scariest animal in the world, hands down. Lions are scary but you usually know when they're around. Great white sharks are scary but they don't come out of the water for 200 meters and drag you out of your tent, like these guys have. What's worse, now they're getting smart. The one above was photographed herding fish to eat them. Forget Bears Discover Fire, this is much worse. There are also unconfirmed reports that this one has learned to handle currency and was seen negotiating for a ride into downtown Darwin where he could eat more people.

I think I want the AI Singularity to happen before the Crocodile Singularity.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Direct Evidence That Skynet is Manipulating the Financial Markets

From the Atlantic: "...what you see here really is just the afterscent of robot traders gliding through the green-on-black darkness of the financial system on their way from one real trade to another."

Engineering Geeks Take Notice

"... we [the U.S.] now rank 12th in the number of college graduates (having once led the world); and soon, 90 percent of all engineers will be working in Asia. Translation: Goodbye U.S. manufacturing."

This and other charming statistics were cited by Wilbur Ross on Charlie Rose. Via P.M. Carpenter.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mongolian Neo-Nazis

Does anyone remember from William Gibson's story Johnny Mnemonic, the racially contorted name of the band used as a password? Christian White and His Aryan Reggae band. Here's more evidence that we're now living in Gibson's notebook from 1983: an article in the Guardian via Marginal Revolution about Mongolian Neo-Nazis. Yes, really. Although their fascist salute seems a little posed for/by the photographers.

If you're short on irony for the day, read that story and you will learn, among other things, that Mongolians defend their racial purity by recording hip-hop music and following the teachings of Adolf Hitler. Hey guys: you're doing it wrong.

Some related trivia of interest to science fiction geeks and geeks in general:

1) In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the book that Blade Runner was based on), Roy Batty, the superhuman Nexus 6 replicant was described by Philip K. Dick as having Mongolian features. Of course in Blade Runner the character was played by the decidedly un-Mongolian-looking Rutger Hauer. Perhaps it was in multiple rewatchings of the Ridley Scott masterpiece that these misguided fellows took a wrong turn. (Certainly I've paid the price for doing that very same thing in my own life.)

2) It turns out the Mongolians aren't the only racially confused fascists. The Nazis themselves were quite foggy as well. The late nineteenth century saw the rise of a kind of Pan-Indo-European spirit, driven by archaeologists and linguists who as it turns out were actually laying the foundations of our understanding of the peopling of Eurasia. They were doing good science - but that didn't stop Bismarck and later politically-motivated characters from co-opting that science for their own ends. To this day, German linguists speak not of the Indo-European language family but of Indogermanischen. In fact in pre-First World War linguistic texts, "Indo-Aryan" was also substituted, and believe it or not the use of the term "Aryan" in that era comes across as a bit flaky and crunchy. Nowadays it's being rehabilitated by patriotic North Indians, who seem to have an agreement to re-brand it by pronouncing the first syllable as "are" rather than "air". But the point is that the ultimate symbol of the racially-obsessed Nazis was one that they borrowed from brown people.

Try to be optimistic. At least part of William Gibson's future came true. Whereas I've been to Chiba, and the sky over the port was actually nice and blue. It was even clear enough to see Mt. Fuji that day.

A Neglected Solution to the Fermi Paradox

The most common answers to Fermi's famous question "Where is everybody?" are some version of either "we're unique", or "something makes intelligent species short-lived on geological time-scales". This second category corresponds to Drake's Omega Factor and could be the result of self-destruction or predation by nearby interstellar replicators.

A far more plausible explanation for our failure to find anything so far is summed up as "They're out there, but we haven't been looking for long, and we don't know what to look for anyway." The good people of SETI have said that so far, all we can conclude that the sky is not littered with constantly-blaring high-power microwave transmitters. Such cautious phrasings are wise. And from such a specific statement as this, are we really able to generalize that we're the only nearby intelligence?

Assuming that intelligence and tool use progress at roughly similar rates in other species, consider the gap in cognition and tools in our own species just over the past 100,000 years. And what is the chance that a planet-bound intelligence would be synchronized even within an order of magnitude of that timeframe? Would H. erectus understand our attempts to communicate? Would we even recognize our own million-year descendants, much less understand them? Now apply that to space-tuna, and you see the magnitude of the problem.

To say we haven't found anything so far, and therefore there are no non-human intelligences, seems foolish. We are barely a half-century into trying to answer this question, and it's not clear that we even know what to look for.

I reiterate that the best place to look for evidence of extraterrestrial replicators are the asteroids and the comets of our own solar system (my reasoning is here.) We should be looking for chemical traces of von Neumann biochemistry, not radio signals grandly announcing their presence. While I don't expect a thorough investigation of these bodies to be completed in my lifetime, I would be thrilled if it were. A lack of findings would cause me to dramatically lower my estimation for the chances of extra-terrestrial replicators.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Award for Blog with Coolest-Sounding Use of Language

...should go to Metaphortean. My favorite from the articles I read: apocalpyticist.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The "Military" Conceit of Alien Invasion

The likely strangeness of any non-terrestrial replicators, along with the fact that it's likely we'll be wondering whether they're intelligent (or even "alive" and self-directed) make the typical scenarios of alien invasion fiction seem a little quaint. Contact with alien life that results in predominantly poor outcomes for Earth life - an "invasion" is likely to seem more like an extermination effort on their part, or the by-product colonization by non-native organisms, like kudzu.
It probably won't look much like Independence Day. It probably won't look "military" at all, in the sense of the aliens it/themselves, or our response to it. (I appreciate that most people would rather pay to see Will Smith in a dogfight with aliens than a nuanced exploration of the ecological impacts of contact with alien life, but I think there is still an audience and place in independent films for this, though this one wasn't it. Come on guys!)

Of course, I'm assuming we would even notice anything is going on. Mammoths no doubt noticed the first humans wandering down North America's west coast from Alaska, but whether they were able to comprehend the existential threat of a new superpredator along with climate change is doubtful.

But we're not mammoths, you say; we have language and writing and tools. So how could we not know what's going on, and what the effect will be? Yes, we can accurately claim that we're at the top of the cognitive pyramid in our own biosphere. Just because that's true does not mean that we've magically come to some plateau where, because we can understand more things than other vertebrates, we can understand everything. There's an enormous amount of chutzpah in that assumption. There are no doubt dots that humans can't connect, just like there are dots the mammoths couldn't connect. A mutation in FOXP2 in the late Lower Paleolithic didn't suddenly make us into all-powerful general comprehenders. Polynesians watching European landing parties row to their shores weren't able to really figure out what was going on, and they were dealing with members of the same species, separated by only a few millennia of technology. If there are in fact any replicators moving outward from the galactic center, they've possibly been using tools for millions of years longer than we have. (Still not convinced? Try figuring out a quipu or cuneiform and then leave a comment. And those are "primitive" technologies, again from your own species.)

Alien invasion films are fun, but they really look a lot more like movies about fighting funny-looking humans with technology from a few centuries in the future. After all, the U.S. military now has Martian heat rays. The key will not be how to stop alien invaders. The key will be recognizing what they are in the first place, and what impact they will have on us. Talking philosophy with them is a long-shot. A zebra mussel once tried to argue with me about Hegel and it was the lamest conversation I ever had.

Something to Take Into Account for Far-Future Science Fiction: Earth's Slowing Rotation

Via Boing Boing, I saw this awesome article about what would happen if the Earth's rotation stopped. I don't mean all of a sudden like H.G. Wells once asked, i.e. everyone suddenly flying to the east at about 500 mph x the cosine of your latitude. I would link to the story but couldn't find it. But who cares, because here's the cool map:

I think you should take the color-coding as elevation only; there are good reasons to believe the middle of the landmass would have no green at all (keep reading.)

In essence, the maps reflect that without angular momentum, the ocean water would flow to the poles; right now it's 8 km deeper at the equator because of centripetal acceleration. But this isn't completely a thought experiment, because the Earth's rotation is slowing down, as a result of tidal forces (pay attention the next few New Years Eves and you'll notice at least one leap-second added.) In fact during the Devonian, there were about 400 days per year, which we know from fossil corals. The rate of the Earth's rotation will have fallen to roughly half its present value by the time the Sun goes red giant, although it probably will become tide-locked for a geologically brief period while the parent star expands. But nothing could survive on the liquefying cinder that will be Earth at that point, so we don't have to worry so much about that.

(If you really want to stop the rotation of the Earth like I personally tried to stop the San Andreas fault, we could all of us in the world fly to Belem, BR and then on the count of three start running due east to zero-out the Earth's angular momentum. Wouldn't work. In fact it wouldn't work even if all biomass in the world came along with us, because we'd have to go faster than the speed of light to do it. Besides not knowing exactly how the trees and plankton of the world will join us in our little escapade, by going around the world faster than the speed of light you risk going back in time like Superman as noted previously. Also of relevance, you can't. But I hear Belem is still nice for an Amazon port city.)

So besides the obvious map changes wrought by stopping our rotation, what else would happen? First and most obviously, a major climate shift. The oceans would be colder, because they're both at higher latitudes and deeper than our current oceans. This would considerably cool the overall climate of the Earth. If just the opening of Drake's passage was enough to put us into a sequence of glacial pulses, I would bet restricting all the world's water to the polar regions would put us into a very long-term snowball Earth phase. The land mass would be one continuous equator-girdling supercontinent with very little moderation by the oceans in the center (more on this later).

Of course as noted above we won't see the full effects of stopping the Earth's rotation but prior to the red giant age, there will still be some slowing. But then again the continents will have moved in the interim. Here's New Pangea, a mere 250 million years from now, 5% of the way to the red giant age (if you went back that far, you'd be at the start of the dinosaur age):

So for any future maps of the Earth that you smart geocomputer people make, don't just look at plate tectonics guesstimations, also look at the distribution of ocean water assuming a decreased (but not zero) rotation rate. (While you're at it, I want to buy property on Loihi ahead of the rush, i.e. before it breaks the surface of the Pacific. Work hard to find me a nice spot and in return I shall give you a shiny penny!) But look closely at the map - if the Earth's rotation stops, Loihi would be almost right on the coast! Also of note is that the wreck of the WWII dreadnaught Yamato would in fact be exposed on dry land.

The continuous belt of land around the equator highlights a second probable difference (and problem) with the no-spin world. The tropics drive evolution; biological innovation typically spreads from low latitudes to high latitudes. This has been shown to be historically true by an analysis of the fossil record, and it's true even when you look at the rate of evolution in current tropical ecoregions. The way the world works today, the equatorial regions are very wet, because of moisture from the oceans and east-west currents that drive moisture inland. But with no rotation, what would the polar ocean currents be doing, if they exist at all? If there are no north-south currents, then the center of Equatoria will make the Atacama Desert look positively lush. Not only will evolution slow as a result of the disappeared tropics, there will be less opportunity for biodiversity to appear: now there is only one continent, and all its climate zones are continuous east-to-west. That means there are no climactic gene-flow barriers. This is bad because if there's a problem in one part of the continent - a blight on critical grasses, an animal virus, an eruption that further cools the temperature at that latitude - there are no refuges.

(Take a minute to look back at that map of Future Pangea - it's also interesting to think that right now on Earth, we're in an odd period where the continents are near the point of maximum isolation from each other; we may have just passed it a few million years ago, right before South America joined North America. Coincidence that the planet's first intelligence appeared out of this era?)

The equatorial areas that were once abyssal planes will be undergoing a nice post-oceanic rebound, like much of Canada still is after the weight of the glaciers disappeared. For Canada this means all those awesome lakes and waterfalls, but if my other guesses for the climate of Equatoria are right, there won't be any water at all, except near the coasts, and it will likely be frozen. Maybe there will be two isolated ecoregions - two coastal tundras, separated from the Mars-like Equatorial Dry Valleys of the interior.

This of course neglects the most devastating effect of tide-locking: the sun-facing side would be cooked, and the far-facing side would be frozen solid. Even assuming some heat exchange between the two sides and without even calculating the heat of the sun-facing side, chance are the atmosphere would expand and all the water would be in vapor phase, and a lot of it would be lost to space. Even if somehow that didn't happen, you're still looking at two narrow temperate bands around the dawn/dusk rim of the Earth, with one piece of land at the equator of both. (For a long-dead discussion of terrestrial tide-locking see here.)

Long story short: don't stop the Earth's rotation. Like crossing the streams, it would be bad.