Monday, October 30, 2006

A Scene From My Upcoming SF Movie

Hillbilly Heaven

Recently I joined, invited by Paul Kimball. So far I haven't done that much with my site over there. Paul advised that I should put up a photo of myself or a least a picture of my "lovely hometown."

Well, here's a snapshot of an inspiring spot in my town. I thought I should share it with all my "fans" here at blogspot.

All that is missing is the broken washing machine and the rusted-out car sitting on cinderblocks.

Actually, the rest of the neighborhood is OK, but for some reason the city and the neighbors just let this frontyard faux pas slide. The owners do pick it up for a while, only to place new old stuff in a different arrangement. Maybe it's really some sort of art project. (And maybe the Pope is an atheist.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

eXclusive Links

I hate HTML. That's why it's taken me some time to update this blog and add some hyperlinks to other voices out there in the blogverse. Somehow my brain was working just right so that I could finally handle the template section and create a new section of links.

If you take a look at the right-hand side of the screen under eXclusive Links, you'll notice the name Greg Bishop of The Excluded Middle. He just started blogging, despite the fact he could have done it much sooner, indicating an aversion to this newfangled medium. Well, at least he isn't as bad as my favorite Luddite, Supreme Commander Jim Moseley, he eschews all things computer and still creates his zine, Saucer Smear, with a typewriter.

Man, I'm surprised when a UFO buff avoids or outright rejects new technology. How would such a person react if he was picked up by a flying saucer, whisked off to another planet, and then had the opportunity to explore a technologically advanced civilization with all its wonders? Would he say look out at the amazing world before him and say: "Take me home. This place looks too complicated."

Hey, I'm no great fan of computers. Especially when I have to fug around with stuff like HTML. But somehow I put up with it because it does pay off in the end.

Another link I want to mention is David Greenberger's Duplex Planet. No, he doesn't deal with UFOs or sci fi type of stuff. I came across his print zine years ago and was impressed. He records the oral histories of senior citizens, slices of life from days long ago. It's down to earth material, something I need when I'm thinking too much about UFOs, paranormal events, and fringe theories of every stripe.

Website Updates

Besides this blog I also maintain, a place where I archive my many eXpressions as short articles and in zine form. Under the section designated "X-Rays" I've added an article that appeared the latest edition of my print zine, The Ray X X-Rayer, outlining its evolution. For inclusion in "X-Rays" I changed the title a bit to "50 Issues: A Brief History."

If you look under "The Zine Zone" you will see links for X-Rayer #50, a choice of MS Word format or plain text. I no longer create a webzine version in HTML because it just duplicates what is already on my blog. Also, I'm assuming that most readers have MS Word or a compatible wordprocessing program to access (and to print out, if needed) the print zine version.

Unless I hear otherwise from my readers, I will only archive my zine as a Word file. And if suitable, I will also save it as plain text. Issue #49 was too much of a mix with text and images to work as an ASCII file. Ergo, I only uploaded a Word version. X-R #50 turned out not to have any images, except for the masthead logo, a detail not needed for a plain text version.

I'm trying to keep my work accessible to most readers: that's why I still have a photocopied snail mail version. I use Word to create that version. After an issue is printed, it's no problem for me to upload the Word file to my site and create link to it. So if you're at work and the boss isn't around, now is the time to print it out and stick it to The Man.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Misc. UFO Con Updates

No, I'm not referring to ET scam artists. The "con" refers to conference, such as the 2006 New Frontiers Symposium that was held on October 14th, up there in Halifax, Nova Scotia (in Canada, eh?).

Over at his blog, The Other Side Of Truth, Paul Kimball explains that while his conference didn't draw great numbers (and ended up losing money), he will press on with another New Frontiers Symposium, probably in late spring of next year. LINK

The next symposium might feature a modern way of reaching the masses. To quote Paul:

"I view the 2006 Symposium as a trial-run for things to come. Will Wise and I were bouncing some very interesting ideas around after the Symposium about how we can move forward by using the Internet, and concepts such as live streaming of symposium video, which would allow people from all around the world to 'attend', and, hopefully, even interact with the speakers. More on all of this in the days and weeks to come."

In contrast, my favorite computerphobic Luddite, James Moseley, just announced in the latest issue of his meatspace zine, Saucer Smear (Oct. 5th, 2006), that there should be a NUFOC for 2006, even though it had been previously announced that we would be NUFOC-less until 2007. As Supreme Commander Moseley delineates, he received a phone call from Lisa Davis, executive director of the NUFOC (National UFO Conference), who told him she decided not to skip this year and that a conference would be held on Dec. 1st thourgh the 3rd at the Bahia Resort Hotel in San Diego, California. Moseley added that as Smear was going to press, he still hadn't received any updates regarding the last minute NUFOC.

I went to the NUFOC site and the only info that I found beyond the item in Smear is the hotel room rate. The page states: "More details will be added very shortly." (To reach this page, click on "Conferences" in the upper right hand corner on the NUFOC homepage, then click on "2006.") As the Supreme Commander observes:

"It's a bit late to advertise a convention for early December, but we'll see what happens. Your 'Smear' editor expects to be there!"

And all I can add is: Wheee!

Flash Gordon B.S. (Bad Science)

OK, I ain’t a scientist. But I can smell bad science a light year away.

Case in point: an episode of the live action Flash Gordon TV series from the 1950s entitled “The Lure of Light.” (At first I thought the episode was called “The Lurid Light,” but that would have been more appropriate for another character, Flesh Gordon.) In this episode earth scientists have discovered a way to make a spaceship travel faster than the speed of light.

A bit of background info for Those Not In The Know: this Flash Gordon TV series takes place in the future where travel between planets can be accomplished in a matter of hours, except for long hauls that may take a few days. Our hero Flash works for GBI – the Galactic Bureau of Investigation – that operates like an interplanetary FBI, enforcing the law throughout the galaxy. Operating out of GBI headquarters on earth, Flash takes off in an old-style sci fi fuel-powered rocket, complete with a fiery exhaust, to fight various thieves and tyrants.

OK, this was a low budget show from the early days of TV. I can cut it some slack – up to a point. Apparently to save money the show was shot for a while in West Berlin. You can detect that German accent with some of the supporting actors. In fact, it’s really noticeable when a bad guy is portrayed by a West Berliner (“Vot is dis? Flash Gordon!”) It reminds one of those one-sided WWII movies where brave American soldiers fought evil but stupid Nazis.

But I’m not here to discuss the history of jingoistic entertainment. Let’s get back to the “science” found in this episode.

I must admit I only seen a few episodes of this TV series, but I’m pretty sure that such concepts as tachyon drives, wormholes, or hyperspace weren’t used to explain how Flash got around the galaxy so swiftly with his fuel-powered rocketship. So if earth has just discovered FTL travel, how has Flash been traveling to other planets like Saturn within hours, not months or years?

But there’s more B.S.

Take the FTL rocket, complete with its fiery exhaust. During a demonstration the unmanned rocket achieves faster than light speed via remote control. As it nears the speed of light, it is shown stretching in length as viewed from earth before it disappears. I thought Einstein’s theory of relativity states that an object would shorten in length, contracting to the size of a dot at near light speed. If it somehow attained light speed, it would then have infinite mass, needing infinite energy to keep going.

Anyway, Flash volunteers to travel on board the remote controlled FTL rocket, despite the unknown dangers. In the meantime, his fellow GBI agent, Dale Arden, is abducted by an evil queen on another planet. This queen is trying to learn the secret of FTL travel. Flash uses the experimental rocket to travel to where Dale is being interrogated, but he arrives too late: she’s dead.

So he jumps back into the super rocket and with GBI HQ on earth remotely controlling it, he travels faster than the speed of light, hoping that he will move backward it time. At hyper-light-speed he watches the clock on board his ship race in reverse; he gains about three hours and then tells earth to cut the FTL drive. Using the extra time he arrives earlier to prevent Dale’s death.

OK, that opens up that can of worms called Time Travel Paradoxes. But let me pick on the most obvious problem regarding the theory of relativity.

As stated in the show, the FTL rocket is remotely controlled from Earth. Flash watches the onboard clock, waits to gain enough time, and then tells earth control via radio to cut off the light speed drive.

From what I remember of Einstein’s stuff, as a spaceship approaches light speed, time dilation occurs. Relative to the planet earth, time on the ship moves slower, even though the crew on board doesn’t notice any changes from their POV. So how can Flash be on his ship just before it hits light speed, communicating with earth without any time dilation effect?

And better yet, there’s this time travel paradox: how can Flash be in contact with earth three hours earlier than when he originally left?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Whatever Happened To Morton M. Zeitlin?

I’m poking around the used books shop when I stumble across an interesting little publication. Decades old, its pages are just beginning to yellow, taking on a brittleness that will eventually give way to complete disintegration.

It was a stapled literary magazine published by the pupils of Watertown High School, Watertown, NY, back in April of 1930. I open up this edition of The Owl, flip through its pages, and I spot an interesting title to one short story: “The Retreat from Mercury.”

Science fiction? Yup, but it’s more like early SF, i.e., scientifiction.

The story opens in the year 3509 at the Astronomer’s and Spaceflyer’s Club in the city of Dragonum, a thriving futuristic metropolis that sits on the site of an ancient city called Chicago. The narrator tells his friend, Ralph X2AFXW53, that he believes it’s possible to take a trip to Venus.

“We have made calculations,” the narrator tells his friend, “and believe that there is sufficient air to support life. Even if there is no water there, we can draw it from the surrounding fog bank.”

At this point the narrator interrupts the story and speaks directly to the reader, throwing in some history. He explains that ordinary last names have disappeared, as he has shown with the name of his friend Ralph. Back in the year 2756 everyone was individually “ticketed.” The first letter in a ticket indicated the country where the person was born, accompanied by a number designating the district within that country. The following letter combination was the name assigned by the world’s government and the last number showed his standing in the community of 1000.

In 3143 birth control was established; too many people, not enough room. And in the year 2471 the “earth-men” finally traveled to Mars. They discovered a few hundred Martians were still alive and to save them from extinction, these survivors were brought back to the earth. But conditions on earth didn’t suit them and so the Martians died out. (Mac Tonnies, please take note.)

Even though it’s the year 3509 and earth-men have been to Mars, no one has made it to Venus. The narrator explains that back in 1991 a Professor Robert E. Alguire tried to rocket there but missed by several millions miles and ended up plunging into the sun.

But despite the challenge, the narrator and his buddy Ralph decided to go, but not via rocket. As the narrator explains:

“My machine was not the usual type of space-navigating contraption but rather of the old-type cabin aeroplane but fixed in a manner so that if a runway of two thousand miles were provided we could rise from the earth’s gravitation.”

December 21, 3509. On this fateful day the narrator and his crew begin their voyage to Venus, using the long runway starting in Dragonum. At this point the narrator explains:

“We maintained a speed of such an immense rate that almost before we knew it I told Ralph to turn towards Venus, which I pointed out to him by writing the directions. As we wore oxygen masks, we could not hear each other speak.”

But disaster strikes. The steering gear jams and despite the mechanical skill of Bob and Hal, the two engineers on board, the aeroplane crash-lands on Mercury less than a day later. The air is breathable but the heat is infernal. To keep cool the stranded crew digs a large and deep hole. On the advice of Ned, the chemist, they dig ten miles into the Mercurial surface and find water. Fifty miles down they find gold, an important find because the substance could be used to fix their ship.

Repairs are made and the aeroplane takes off from Mercury. (Apparently there was enough smooth surface on that planet to act as a two thousand mile runway.) The crew returns safe to earth.

Two years later, after the adventure on Mercury, the narrator meets his friend Ralph in the library at the Astronomers’ and Space-flyers’ club. Ralph looks up from his book and greets him. During their conversation Ralph mentions he sort of misses Mercury because it wasn’t crowded, there was plenty of elbow room there. But he adds: “But gosh, the steering gear might jam and we mightn’t be so lucky.”

The narrator agrees and so the story closes.

Morton M. Zeitlin, class of 1932, wrote this story. Now here in the year 2006 it’s so easy to point at the technical mistakes and bad predictions in “The Retreat from Mercury.”

But have you read science fiction from the late 1920s/early 1930s? Check out an issue of Amazing Stories, the pulp magazine published by Hugo Gernsback that introduced many readers to stories of “scientifiction,” helping to inspire SF writers like Isaac Asimov.

I have an issue of Amazing Stories dated 1928. In it an inventor travels to another planet by means of a propeller driven ship that uses the medium of ether that exists in space. Maybe the aeroplane in Zeitlin’s story also made it to Mercury thanks to ether. But since he doesn’t mention this detail, it seems that his ship just built up tremendous inertia during its mad dash down that two thousand mile runway.

Anyway, Zeitlin’s “science” is no worse that what was appearing in Amazing Stories at that time. Obviously he read that pulp title because of his character, Ralph X2AFWX53. Hugo Gernsback once wrote a story called “Ralph 124c 41 +.” (In Gernsback’s case the “ticket” was a play on words: “One to foresee for one.” The story is set in the year 2660; it predicts the creations of inventions such as the “Language Rectifier” and the “Telephot.”)

And as for predicting the future –- well, no computers exist in Zeitlin’s future, but at least libraries with books are still around. That’s good news for someone like me who enjoys reading a book more so than a computer screen.

I wonder if Morton M. Zeitlin continued with his writing, even trying to sell a story to Gernsback. I’ve Googled Zeitlin’s name but no leads. (Maybe he dropped his last name for a “ticket?”) I would like to see a Watertown High School yearbook for 1932 with a picture of Zeitlin. I imagine that he looked like the shy, studious type, tall, lanky, stuck with eyeglasses, the perfect victim for bullies.

The way I was when I was an aspiring SF writer in high school.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lack Of Air To Dvorsky’s Brain Affects His Thinking; Doctors Rush To Place Oxygen Line Up His Backside

George P. Dvorsky is a bigot.

Recently at his blog,, he took some cheap shots at Mac Tonnies and everyone who has a serious interest in UFOs. LINK

To quote him: "Trouble is, however, a significant and burgeoning segment of society doesn’t believe this to be true – the so-called UFOlogists. You know, the folks who talk about flying saucers, little green men (or is that grey men?), crop circles – the whole X-Files bit. Today, an entire sub-culture exists devoted to these topics as if they were matter of fact."

It's so easy to stereotype a whole group with one sweeping statement. I don't consider myself an ufologist, but I am interested in the topic. Apparently, in Dvorksy's eyes, I believe in "flying saucers," "little green men," and all sorts of kooky stuff. Never mind that he's invoking the saucer nut stereotype of the 1950s, jamming us all into the space brothers/contactee fringe pigeonhole.

Yes, there are kooks in the UFO field. But I'll bet if you dig deep enough, you will find a few scientists or skeptics with "kooky" beliefs.

And to quote The Great Dvorsky again: "And I also know that Mac Tonnies over at Posthuman Blues links to my articles from time-to-time. Posthuman Blues often deals with transhumanist and other future issues, but Tonnies’s legitimate content is offset by his misguided focus on UFOlogy. As a result, the transhumanist movement may have a harder time gaining public acceptance and support with this kind of negative association."

As if the transhumanist movement won't have a hard time gaining acceptance with bigots like Dvorsky and his kind of negative outlook.

I don't agree with Mac on everything -- occasionally I find him a bit downbeat and too "bluesy" - but at least I respectfully disagree with his viewpoints. Anyway, he runs his blog the way he wants. I would never tell him what to say or think, unlike The Great Dvorsky.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Startling, Psychedelic (But Non-Hallucinogenic) Origin of Ray’s Purple Elephant

It started with a comment by noted skeptic Martin Gardner.

Gardner is considered one of the founding fathers of modern skepticism. His most famous book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, takes a few good jabs at people who hold irrational beliefs. He criticizes others for believing in what can’t be proven by the scientific method.

But then I read that he believed in God. He admitted that there was no reason to believe in a Supreme Being, that was no logical or scientific proof, but he found it reassuring. He invoked the term “fideism.”

My dictionary defines fideism as “exclusive reliance in religious matters upon faith, with consequent rejection of appeals to science or philosophy.” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.)

During an interview published in The Skeptical Inquirer, Gardner said: “Shortly before he died, Carl Sagan wrote to say he had reread my Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener and was it fair to say that I believed in God solely because it made me ‘feel good.’ I replied that this was exactly right, though the emotion was deeper than the way one feels good after three drinks. It is a way of escaping from a deep-seated despair.” (A Mind at Play - An Interview with Martin Gardner By Kendrick Frazier; SI March/April 1998.)

So if it feels good, it’s OK to believe in it? Couldn’t the same rationalization be used by people who believe in astrology, miracles, ESP, and other targets of Gardner’s debunking? Wasn’t Gardner just engaging in philosophical acrobatics to justify his own nutty idealism?

I was thinking about this contradiction when reading a comic book version of a Conan the Barbarian short story, “The Tower of the Elephant.” Then it struck me. If Gardner could attack other people’s belief systems, saying that there was no evidence for any reality behind such systems, while at the same time having an “irrational” belief in a godlike being that made him feel good – well, I could do the same thing.

So there’s this invisible god-presence in the shape of a purple elephant that I consult from time to time. He’s a supreme being of truth who spans across all dimensions and multiverses, but can still fit into my small apartment when He makes an appearance. My Purple Elephant.

Now how can He be invisible and purple at the same time?

It’s all about fideism, pal.