Thursday, November 30, 2006

Xma$ Strikes Again

Dustin over at OddThings has a great Black Friday rant that ties in to what I've posted here recently about Xma$ - or, to be more accurate, eXcessMas. Good job, Dustin!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

LAWDNKI – A Notational Review

Title: Life As We Do Not Know It. Subtitle: The NASA Search for (and Synthesis of) Alien Life. A non-fiction book by Peter Ward. First published in 2005 by Viking Penguin.

About the author: “Peter Douglas Ward is professor of biology, professor of earth and space sciences, and adjunct professor of astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle.” (Cover jacket, inside back flap.)

-- Glacial metabolism? We might be slow to notice it as life.
In discussing the concept of Silicon/carbon clay life (pages 77 – 80), Ward mentions that such a life-form might exist here on our planet, but its changes are stretched over long periods of time and so we wouldn’t think of it as being alive. I like how our limited human perspectives – in this case, our perception of time – can keep us blind to the reality around us.

-- If it don’t work in da lab, then it don’t work at all.
On page 80, Ward talks about plasma life, a life form existing as the fourth state of matter (not solid, gaseous, or liquid). He mentions that physicists in Romania “produced small spheres of plasma that just might show lifelike characteristics.” Created by “sparking” with gas argon plasma, the proud human progenitors noticed that some spheres took on more argon – eating, if you will – and grew. Others reproduced by splitting. Sounds lifelike to me.

But not to Peter Ward. Why? Life has to evolve and the spheres failed that basic requirement.

I think Ward is a little hasty dismissing plasmoid beings, or what Eric Frank Russell called Vitons in his SF novel, Sinister Barrier. What happens in a lab isn’t necessarily what can occur Out There in the mind-boggling vastness of the universe. The artificially created spheres indicate that there is potential for plasmoids, even if the lab can’t make them evolve. I hope a Viton doesn’t float up to Ward and sink its charged “fangs” into his meaty gluteus maximi.

-- Chapter 14 is entitled “A Manifesto: Send Paleontologists to Mars and Biochemists to Titan.”
So how about sending proctologists to Plattsburgh?

Anyway, Ward thinks that traces of life on another worlds in the solar system should be done at the microscopic level. The best bet for finding any evidence of Martian life will be fossils. Hence, a paleontologist would be better qualified than a microbiologist. In the case of Titan, Saturn’s moon, a biochemist would serve better to detect life, maybe even silanes or silicon-based critters.

The seven-or-more-year trip to Titan would be probably one-way. But to see Saturn’s rings and to make a major biological discovery, says Ward, should mean that volunteers will step forward. He observes: “Scores of terrorists blow themselves up yearly. Surely we can ask the same sacrifice for a better cause from our scientists, especially the older ones.”

Really. I’d like to see Ward spend seven year or more years living here in Plattsburgh. I mean, we’re talking about hostile, alien environments, right?

Or maybe he would prefer sending a remote-controlled probe with an empathic feedback system? Remote viewing and interactive perception via cybernetics. All in the comfort of your own home world.

SWillings: Dubious Statements Heard On Shortwave Radio

Abhor the Pope? I don’t, but if you do, you can find like-minded bigots on shortwave radio.

Major governments used to dominate shortwave radio: the Voice of America, Radio Moscow, BBC, etc. But in the USA there has been the rise of domestic broadcasters, stations funded by private enterprise. Some of these stations offer superpatriotic / superreligious views way outside the mainstream.

I caught one such broadcast last night – or I should say early yesterday morning, after 5 AM. I came in late to the broadcast. The reception sucked, fading and noise, but I was able to hear most of it.

The host was going on about one Pope who molested kids back in his home country when he was a younger man. Apparently this pre-Pope molester used to volunteer to watch the kids of fellow workers at a factory. But the word soon got out and the other workers threw oily rags at him.

The anti-papist host went on to imply that the Vatican was the Fountainhead of All Evil in the world. In fact, there are demons lurking with the Catholic Church.

You anti-Semitic? I’m not, if you tune around the shortwave dial, you will probably encounter a domestic SW program saying that the Great Jewish Conspiracy is the Fountainhead of All Evil. The Jews control the media (except for shortwave radio, apparently).

It’s all about God and conspiracies. Some program hosts rail on about the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), how it’s keeping cures for cancer and other killers from the public. But don’t believe the evil FDA; try one of the products being hawked by the program host, natural, God-Blessed cures.

If you like nostrums, you can buy a device that locks into the frequencies of each disease in your body, canceling each one out. Or put a patch on your arm that will give you renewed energy without puncturing your skin. Or try magnets: there are all sorts of magnets for all sorts of diseases, just order the right one for your ailment.

And if these cures don’t work? Well, you didn’t love God enough or the Conspiracy got to you too soon.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sagan’s Folly

We all make mistakes.

Even the late, great Carl Sagan.

I’m reading the non-fiction book, Life as We Do Not Know It, when author Peter Ward talks about Cosmic Carl’s disappointment when the equivalent of Martian polar bears didn’t stroll into view of the first Viking lander back in 1975. The Viking’s camera, designed to detect large critters, didn’t even find footprints. (Chapter 10, Mars.)

Carl had a “recurring fantasy,” as he called it, that footprints would be found after the sun rose on Mars, evidence of nocturnal animals visiting during the night. (Maybe he thought such animals would be marking their territory on the Viking lander.) The total weight of the space probe set limits on what could be included. Choices had to be made. Carl wanted lights to detect beasties making their nightly rounds and so other equipment, small but sophisticated, was left off.

But the night lights had nothing to illuminate in the way of Martian polar bears. Barsoom was bust for big beasts.

Then again, Ward points out that Carl Sagan did have a great influence on the decision to stress biological over physical science equipment with the Viking probes. So while in retrospect his decision to search for large ET life forms on Mars was overoptimistic, at least Carl quickly settled the debate over the issue.

Assuming that all the probes that NASA sent to Mars didn’t happen to land where Martian bears don’t live.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

XMA$: The Meme of Materialism

Back in September a few stores had Xma$ crap on display. Then more stores joined in a week before Halloween. Pushing that Holiday $pirit.

Tomorrow is Black Friday, so-called because most stores make so much money that it puts them in the black for the year. Actually it’s a black day because human lemmings, all suffering from commercially induced mental illness, throng to the malls like greedy rats.

The doors open early; shoppers race in, trampling the less quick underfoot. They fight over that Perfect Toy that Johnny or Jane needs or the kid will feel completely unloved. Mind-controlled consumers who put into practice the themes of the season: Peace On Earth; Good Will Towards Others.

And as shoppers spend beyond their means, they become poorer while the rich just rake in more loot.

It’s OK not to like Xma$. In fact, it’s a sign of sanity to hate it.

Don’t be a lemming. Or a rat.

Monday, November 20, 2006

From The MailboX: No NUFOC This Year

I received another “confidential” postcard from that ufological gadfly Jim Moseley, perpetrator of the zine Saucer Smear. He only reads my thoughts via my snail mail zine, The Ray X X-Rayer, eschewing the "Dreaded" Internet. Since Jim can say it best in few words, this is what he had to share. (NUFOC refers to the National UFO Conference.)

= = =



Dear RX:

I really enjoyed your [Ray X X-Rayer] #50 more than usual, especially as it was mostly about UFO-related things, with a little sci/fi thrown in. Too bad Kimball lost $'s with his con; As U will see in the next "Smear," The San Diego NUFOC has been mercifully cancelled. I called the hotel awhile back + was told that 100 rooms had been set aside. I asked how many had been taken so far, + and the reply was none! (That was a clue!) I wish I could hold a con with U as the featured speaker. You could appear with a bag over your head if necessary. Print this (if U dare!)

Jim Moseley


Too much. Or too little.

Fighting off the logy fog hanging over me. I can sleep eight hours straight but not feel completely rested. I can sleep most of the day and still need recharging. I have a few hours of activity, followed by the strong pull to take a long nap.

Sometimes I have insomnia. It’s as if I have to make up for all the lost time I’ve spent being half-awake or dead asleep. Actually, I don’t mind the insomnia that much because I can get a few things done.

I know what the problem is. Actually, I should say problems. It’s that time of year with short daylight periods and even then those periods are usually dismally overcast with innervating cold saturating the air. I need light and warmth. It’s easier to get out of bed in the morning when the bright sun is beckoning through your window.

But the main problem is sleep apnea, a condition that keeps me from getting a good, deep sleep. I had one doctor who prescribed a C-PAP machine, a unit that increases pressure in my airways to keep them open so that my breathing isn’t interrupted every minute. Ever try to sleep all night with a hose and facemask clamped onto your head?

I had problems with the C-PAP, especially one night when I woke up with swamp miasma filling up my head, despite the fact I had kept the machine clean.

I told my doctor about this. Apparently he hadn’t been getting enough sleep. He yelled at me, saying that I would drop dead from a heart attack if I didn’t use the machine. And if the machine didn’t work, he would give me a tracheotomy and I have to risk infection with that manmade hole the rest of my life.

Nice guy. I left and never went back.

So I’m trying another specialist. Doctor #2 is reasonable. Apparently I’m not the only person who had trouble with Doc #1. Some people who worked with Doc #1 now work at this other doctor’s office.

Once again I’ve gone through the sleep lab routine, trying to fall asleep on demand. At least I knew what to expect: the long, trailing cyborg wires glued onto my head and other parts of my body to monitor my various functions. But sleeping with those wires is a lot easier than being hooked up to a C-PAP machine, even though your movement is restricted even more.

Next month I have another sleep lab study, to fine tune the C-PAP machine settings. In the meantime I just work through the cycles of half-sleep and limited wakefulness. And maybe I can be alert enough at times to get a few things done, like write a somewhat coherent blog post.