Monthly Archives: April, 2008

The ‘Great Filter’ = ‘The Great Pumpkin’

Suppose for a moment that life really is rare in the universe. That when we are able to investigate the nearby stars in detail, we not only discover no civilizations but few living things of any kind. If all the elements for producing life are there, is there some kind of filter that prevents it from proceeding into advanced and intelligent stages that use artifacts, write poetry and build von Neumann probes to explore the stars? Nick Bostrom discusses the question in an article in Technology Review, with implications for our understanding of the past and future of civilization…

Bostrom’s idea of a ‘Great Filter’ comes from Robin Hanson (George Mason University), and consists of the kind of transition that a civilization has to endure to emerge as a space-faring culture. The key question: Is the filter ahead of us or behind? If behind, wonderful — we have already passed the test and can look with some confidence to the future. Recent work, for example, indicates that human beings were reduced to a band of as little as 2000 individuals some 70,000 years ago, near extinction. Yet somehow migrations out of Africa began 60,000 years ago, and all the tools of civilization would emerge in their wake.

I was really taken aback when I read this piece from Bostrum. Of all the people who display paroxysms of anthropocentrism and ethnocentrism, he would be the last person I would expect to display such.

I read Paul Gilster’s blog every day for it’s no nonsense science and for the spirited, intelligent commenting that happens there. I think I live there as much as I live here! And I agree whole-heartedly with his commentary at the end. 

To add to his commentary I would like to paraphrase a statement from Graham Hancock; ” To believe there is no other intelligent life in the Universe and there are no other great civilizations is be arrogant and stupid…”

Not an exact quote, but the idea is the same.

The ‘Great Filter’ Tackles Fermi

Tuesday Transhumanism

An experimental and potentially powerful way to fight disease, called RNA interference (RNAi), could now be closer to reality, as researchers at MIT and Alnylam, a biotech company based in Cambridge, MA, have addressed a key obstacle to effectively delivering the treatment to targeted cells. The researchers report a method for quickly synthesizing more than a thousand different lipid-like molecules and screening them for their ability to deliver short RNA molecules to cells. They’ve shown that some of these delivery agents are 10 times as effective at delivering RNA than previous methods were.

RNAi, which was first discovered in 1998, has attracted considerable attention as a potential treatment for a wide range of ailments, including cancer, viral infections, genetic diseases, and even heart attacks. Short RNA strands introduced into the cytoplasm of cells block the action of specific genes, while leaving other cellular mechanisms unaffected. This gives scientists a precise tool to stop the expression of specific proteins associated with disease. “You want to shut down just the bad gene–nothing else,” says Robert Langer, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT who led the work developing the new delivery agents. “Most drugs have side effects, in part because of a lack of this type of specificity.” Langer is a member of Alnylam’s scientific advisory board. The work was published this week in Nature Biotechnology.

This is good news to me and my descendents. Genetically triggered diseases kill more people than hand-guns every year (some will dispute that). It sucks having a liver that even turns nutrients from lettuce into sludge in ones arteries.

Novel delivery agents could mean a more targeted way to turn off disease genes.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

In his 1986 book, The Engines of Creation, K Eric Drexler set down the long-term aim of nanotechnology – to create an assembler, a microscopic device, a robot, that could construct yet smaller devices from individual atoms and molecules.

For the last two decades, those researchers who recognized the potential have taken diminutive steps towards such a nanoassembler. Those taking the top-down approach have seen the manipulative power of the atomic force microscope (AFM), a machine that can observe and handle single atoms, as one solution. Those taking the bottom-up approach are using chemistry to build molecular machinery.

However, neither the top-down nor the bottom-up approach is yet to fulfill Drexler’s prophecy of functional nanobots that can construct other machines on a scale of just a few billionths of a meter.

Jason Gorman of the Intelligent Systems Division at the US government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) concedes that, “Nanoassembly is extremely challenging.” Yet the rewards could be enormous with the ultimate potential of creating a technology that can construct almost any material from atoms and molecules from super-strong but incredibly lightweight construction materials to a molecular computer or even nanobots that can make other nanobots to solve global problems, such as food, water, and energy shortages.

In Greg Bear’s ‘Queen of Angels’ and ‘Slant’, set fifty years in the future, nano-technology has triggered a small technological Singularity that is developing a post-scarcity world. Old garbage dumps and landfills are mined like coal fields are today because nano-assembling tech is capable of converting any old materials like plastics and rubber into new products. Gorman’s above claims are no bullsh*t.

US researchers have built a proto-prototype nano assembler

______________________________________________________________________________________________

A new study has found that it may be possible to train people to be more intelligent, increasing the brainpower they had at birth.

Until now, it had been widely assumed that the kind of mental ability that allows us to solve new problems without having any relevant previous experience — what psychologists call fluid intelligence — is innate and cannot be taught (though people can raise their grades on tests of it by practicing).

But in the new study, researchers describe a method for improving this skill, along with experiments to prove it works.

The key, researchers found, was carefully structured training in working memory — the kind that allows memorization of a telephone number just long enough to dial it. This type of memory is closely related to fluid intelligence, according to background information in the article, and appears to rely on the same brain circuitry. So the researchers reasoned that improving it might lead to improvements in fluid intelligence.

I don’t think this is new news, memory games have been on the market for years and have been touted as great excercise for the ol’ grey matter.

But did they claim to raise intelligence? I can’t recall.

Memory Training Shown to Turn Up Brainpower

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Fortean Fixin’s

The last time I ‘died’ was in Jerusalem in 1276. Pope Gregory X’s Crusade against Islam had collapsed and the city’s Christians would soon be abandoned to their fate.

My final hours were filled with fear. I was besieged in a beautiful vaulted church along with 100 knights. Smoky candlelight glinted off their armour. Some knights were praying, others resting.

As dawn broke, they readied themselves for the final conflict with an implacable foe. Even the most devout were terrified. All knew that only a handful would survive the coming day.

I watched their preparations for battle. The sharpening of swords and lances. The reinforcing of shields and armour.

But most of all, I prepared for my own death. As a monk in a city of Muslims, my chances of surviving the coming assault were slim. Soon after the knights left the church, I retreated to a small side-chapel to pray. I was desperate for forgiveness.

I had travelled from a monastery in Kent to the Holy Land so that I could kill Muslims.

Reincarnation studies are becoming increasingly common in the West. One notable researcher, Dr. Ian Stevenson (who passed away last year) devoted 40 years in studying possible reincarnation cases with children.

Although most scientists say it’s crap, Christians, Muslims and Jews say it’s bunk, (although the ancient Hebrew Qabbala supports it), reincarnation is serious business to alot of people. Say like, two billion?

‘I died in Jerusalem in 1276’, says doctor who underwent hypnosis to reveal a former life

Division of Perceptual Studies, University of Virginia

_________________________________________________________________________________

No one knew what to make of The Book of the Damned, which appeared in bookshops across America in January, 1920. At Brentano’s Bookstore on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the cardboard cartons containing it had arrived from the publishers Boni & Liveright during the Christmas rush. They were quickly pushed into the storeroom with other new titles, to make room for the illustrated children’s picture books and popular romance novels that were displayed as ideal gifts…

Nothing else identified the contents as fantasy, religion, science, or philosophy. The attention-grabbing title presented an arresting mystery, and the modest paper wrapper made it all the more beguiling: simple block letters and swirling grey and pink shapes suggesting planets, surging lava, and a solar eclipse. Customers stopped, picked up the book and turned it over in their hands. With sidelong glances, they cracked the cover to peer inside. They wondered if the author was promising immorality or criminality, hedonism or atheism – in 1920, it was possible to find any of those subjects between the covers of a new book.

Charles Fort was the author of said book of course. He studied esoterica in an era that wasn’t too different than ours with his written recordings of UFOs, falling frogs, cults and manna from heaven.

Individuals who practice his form of study are ‘Forteans’. Current practitioners are Mac Tonnies, Henrick Palmgren, Jacques Vallee, Paul Kimbel, Michael Tsarion, Kent Brentkowski and others too numerous to count.

You can count yours truly among the above rogues gallery too.

The man who created the Fortean Times

__________________________________________________________________________________

 The article written by, “Seth Shostak” on the April 24, 2008, entitled, “Phoenix Lights”, appears like a ploy often times used by “debunkers” to scoff at the truth of the “Massive UFO Flyover of Arizona, March 13, 1997” otherwise known by most as, The Phoenix Lights.

Shostak states that “only two events occurred that night”; one at 8:30 PM of high altitude planes, and another 10 PM, the flare drop.

He accredits the 8:30 PM high altitude planes to an amateur astronomer who looked at the formation with his scope. My guess is that he’s never met this amateur astronomer, but I have; he was a 19-year-old young man by the name of “Mitch Stanley.” He had a 10” Dobsonian telescope and at 8:30 PM or so on March 13, he said to his mother, that he observed high-altitude, fixed-winged aircraft flying in formation, wing tip to wing tip, and it “was no big deal”.

I don’t think anyone who seriously studies the UFO phenomenon should be surprised ‘debunkers’ crawling out from the woodwork decrying the 1997 Phoenix Lights incident as a fraud because of the recent admitted ‘hoax’ of the most recent Phoenix Lights occurrance.

I used to be a firm believer in the old ‘nuts and bolts’ version of UFOs (extraterrestrial space craft), but since I’ve studied literature that leans more toward the ‘metaphysical’ aspect of it, I’ve become an agnostic. Certain investigators have even tried to tie UFOs with Bigfoot sightings!

I’ll admit I’m not open minded enough to link hairy bipeds with flying phenomena, but Shostak’s knee jerk reaction is classic mainstream dogma. You’ll never find ETIs by radio signals alone.

Shostak’s ‘Phoenix Lights’ Faux Pas 

______________________________________________________________________________________________
 

Faust, A Post-Human Tale

The old man was dying. There was no doubt about it. After forty years of staying one step ahead of The Reaper with the help of medical science, his body, or what was left of it was breaking down into basic compounds faster than the nanomeds could repair. Thin, spiderweb-like filaments draped the soon to be corpse from head to, well, where prosthetics were once attached. The med-web joined its gossamer tendrils into the sides of the life-support bed, itself alight with flickering ephemeral holo-displays.

Family members, two of the once three surviving offspring, their spouses and three of the adult grandchildren were hovering over the slowly decaying senior like specters picking their way around a macabre buffet table. The weeping was in low tender tones, broken only by the occasional sniffle. A duty nurse crept into the room to check on the progress of the deathwatch, noting the levitating, flickering vital sign displays he brought up on a wrist-pad control. Softly he stepped to the woman with the salt and pepper curly hair, barely touching her arm, asking if he could get her and the others something to drink or eat. Everyone shook their collective “no”, while one of the grandchildren turned away, choking back sobs. Then like a silent wraith of the night, the nurse took his leave.

“Damn, where the hell am I ?”, thought the semi-corpse. He felt strangely disconnected from anything that used to be real, or solid. The realm he had entered was strangely devoid of any sensation at all, like a dream where one had the feeling of slowly falling through clouds. The only input he was receiving were like murmurings of a distant brook, getting louder by the second. Closer and closer they came, until ….

“Voices!” “I can hear people talking!”, thought the man. Of course he was listening to the voices of his relatives keeping the death vigil. But he could not recognize any of them, the stroke he suffered damaged areas of his brain where memories reside. It was like drowning in a lightly frozen pond, the faces that belonged to the familiar noises were just on the other side of the ice, unreachable.

Suddenly, the ghostly haze that was slowly engulfing his thoughts lifted, the voices were becoming more understandable…growing cognition returning…

“…I know baby, but your father explicitly sited it in his will and the arrangements are already made…”, one of the men was pleading to the woman with the curly salt and pepper hair. “It’s an evil thing it is”, she sobbed, “I can’t believe he set this up, and now, now…”. She couldn’t even get the words out between the hiccups, upset as she was. Another woman, shorter than the other, but with long, straight blond hair that had darkening, pre-gray roots, put her arms around her sister, guiding her to a chair next to the closer wall and sat down.

“Well Sis”, the blond soothed, “We always knew Dad was agnostic and wasn’t a practicing Christian. He loved science and we all knew he wrote those articles and stories about aliens, spaceships, conspiracy theories and stuff like that. He told us he might do this if he got enough insurance and apparently he did. So ‘we were warned’ as he used to say. And he never lied to us kids, not once about anything. Especially when Mom got sick. Remember, she got mad at him for telling us, even when her hair started falling out!” The older woman looked up at her sister, and nodded her head, a small smirking grin crawling up her gleaming wet face. “Yeah, I remember. Mom always thought she was protecting us kids by keeping things to herself. I think she was still a little mad at Dad at the end.” Glancing at the wizened figure on the med-bed, looking all the world like a desiccated fly caught in a spider-web covered with sun-lit morning dew, the woman breathed a heavy sigh. Then with resignation softly spoken, “No, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he fixed it so we couldn’t do anything against his wishes, Dad always planned for the long run. This isn’t any different, is it?” The woman continued sitting in the chair, emotionally drained and tired, staring at the figure on the bed. The sister and the husband brought chairs over in the meantime, setting themselves along the wall in the small room, like niched icons in a small chapel.

The dying man heard this exchange of course. He knew when the senses die, hearing is the last to go. He desperately wanted to console the grieving woman, to hold her gentlely, kissing her forehead while rocking her like he did when she was a small child. He grieved for these people because of the pain he was causing them by dying. “Hell, dying isn’t hard for the one doing it”, he thought, ” It’s harder on the living!” Sweet irony!

Then something occurred to him, why was he able to think at all? He was dying, that was for sure. But aren’t dying people supposed to hallucinate, or be comatose at least? Doesn’t the dying brain look back upon itself, like looking through a window when it’s night outside, reflections of the interior shining back at you? This indeed was a mystery. Maybe the old religions were right, consciousness is independent of the body!

“No, not quite”, a disembodied voice announced, “But we have achieved something close to it Mr. Jenks.” The almost corpse Jenks froze, or his thoughts did. “This is it”, he mused, “My brain’s finally running out of oxygen and I’m hallucinating voices now.” Well, might as well play along to the end and have a little fun before the black curtain falls. “Okay, I’ll bite. What have you achieved exactly sir, ma’am, whatever?” “Why, you of course”, replied the voice. As if on cue, a figure resolved itself from the haze surrounding his mind. All at once his thoughts became even more coherent, even his hearing got a little sharper. He could hear his family around him more clearly now, softly speaking to each other, reminiscing about times past. But he still could not move, smell, speak or touch. The only vision he had was of the figure that coalesced in his mind. There was a sharp metallic tang in the back of his throat. 

“Is this better?” the vision asked, “I find it’s easier on prospective recruits when they see who they’re dealing with.” Recruits? Huh? “What the hell kind of snake-oil meme is this guy trying to peddle me?” Jenks wondered. The man, or whatever it was cut quite the sharp image. Tall, with long platinum white hair, complete with modern self cleaning business suit. The shoes were classic corporate black, but with a shine that was preternatural. In fact, the whole being had a preternatural shine, no, a sheen.

Jenks had spent his whole adult life trying to live a life that was decent, but without the superstition of religion. He strived to achieve his goals by using logic and science. But as the Universe would have it, on his very death-bed he was privvy to a simulacrum of the Devil. Satan. Lucifer. The Light-Bringer. Sworn enemy of God. 

Just his luck.

Shit.

Fuckin’ figures.

Lucifer grinned a perfect set of pearly whites. “No, I’m not ‘Lucifer’ in the classical sense. I am the interpretation your damaged mind conjured up so it could understand the communication you’re receiving.” Oh, well is that all? Jenks was sceptical, but it made sense. At least more sense than the supernatural explanation it could have made. “Alright Lucifer ol’ pal, how come I can even perceive you at all? Or perceive anything? The last I checked, I was well into the dying process. For all I know, you’re the last visions of a rotting brain!”, Jenks offered. The faux Lucifer materialized a luxurious chair out of thin air, then sat in it with a genteel flair. “Your brain is currently being kept alive by advanced medical nano-bots of latest design. They can’t rebuild the damaged parts, but they’re able to build new pathways around them to unused, undamaged brain tissues. The nano is then able to ‘re-educate’ your brain into using the undamaged tissues. It is also building new blood vessels to supply these new activated areas. It’s kind of like a rehabilitated epileptic brain that had a hemisphere removed. That is why you aren’t dead, yet.” Again, the perfect teeth flashed.

Jenks gulped mentally. He was plainly over his head here. He had written several stories over the years about the possibility of uber-beings. It didn’t matter if this creature was some kind of super AI, or ‘The Bringer of Light’ himself. The being clearly had him in its thrall. There wasn’t much Jenks could do about it. But it was obvious the creature went out of its way to stop his death long enough for some kind of visit. 

He was pretty certain it wasn’t out of altruism.

It wanted something.

And the damn thing could read his thoughts.

Oh man.

“Yes, quite correct Mr. Jenks, your powers of deduction remain intact. That can be of great service to us. And what I am prepared to offer you on my client’s behalf is infinitely better than the cryogenic preservation of your head your family was so upset about. The offer, if you accept, is a certainty.”

Now the creature had Jenks’ undivided attention. Hell, ‘Lucifer’ had his attention when he said “us”. “Alright Luke ol’ buddy, y’know you have my attention. What are you offering me this night to cheat The Reaper of his prize? What are you offering me in exchange for my ‘soul’?’

The beautiful being leaned forward in his simulated exalted seat, a sardonic crooked smile crossed his visage that suddenly sent chills through what was left of Jenks’ natural meat brain.

“A job Mr. Jenks. We’re offering you a job.”

Scientific American Showcase

Good stuff at Scientific American this past week. Let’s check out a few:

A bill barring employers and insurers from discriminating against people based on their genetics won unanimous passage in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, moving one step from final congressional approval.

The Senate voted 95 to 0 to pass the bipartisan bill. It is supported by the White House and health insurers but opposed by business interests including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Scientists are learning increasing amounts about the genetic basis of illnesses ranging from cancer to diabetes to heart disease, and tests are being developed to assess a person’s predisposition to them.

Bill supporters sought to make sure these test results are not be used against people by employers or insurers unwilling to accept the burden of paying to treat costly diseases.

“Discrimination based on a person’s genetic identity is just as unacceptable as discrimination on the basis of race or religion,” said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, calling it the century’s first major new civil rights bill.

Congress has done very little in the past two years to inspire much confidence, but on this issue they got it right.

Which is a big relief to me, since 95% of my chronic diseases have a genetic familial component to them. As long as this bill gets signed, I won’t have to worry so much about being a genetic minority (ala Gattica) and the chances of getting cured through genetic medicines are greatly increased.

Even if it doesn’t benefit me directly, at least my children and grandchildren have a chance of being cured if need be.

Senate Passes Genetic Antidiscrimination Bill

_________________________________________________________________________________

A new high-resolution study of the hot, charged gas spouting from an enormous black hole provides the most direct evidence yet that such plasma jets are powered by corkscrew-shaped magnetic fields. Researchers say the finding helps clarify the inner workings of blazars, extremely energetic galaxies that flare up unpredictably, driven by central black holes millions of times more massive than the sun.

Researchers believe that large galaxies such as the Milky Way contain supermassive black holes in their cores that drag dust and gas toward them in a disk and fling it back out via jets of ionized gas or plasma moving at up to 99.9 percent of the speed of light. If that jet points toward Earth, researchers call it a blazar, and it is “one of the most impressive high-energy natural laboratories” in the universe, says astronomer Alan Marscher of Boston University’s Institute for Astrophysical Research.

Among the consequences of these near light-speed or relativistic jets are flashlightlike beams of high-energy x-rays and gamma rays as well as the illusion of superluminal (faster-than-light) speeds when viewed straight on …

I’m not a cosmologist, but the idea of twisting magnetic fields to control particle streams as a natural process seems a little too pat for me. I guess it’s because black holes and super-dense neutron stars spin at a pretty good clip. But these objects are touted as being natural particle accelerators. How does anyone know they’re natural? Maybe it’s just my normal nature of questioning dogma poking out, but I’m reminded of a recent discussion about how we could recognise mega-engineering projects by potential Kardeshev Type III Civilizations.

I’m not too confident we could.

Black Hole Plasma Jet Spotted Tracing Corkscrew Path

___________________________________________________________________________________

Designed nearly 150 years ago but never actually built until recently, the Difference Engine No. 2 designed by Charles Babbage (1791 to 1871) is a piece of Victorian technology meant to tussle with logarithms and trigonometry long before the first modern computer. Technophiles have a rare opportunity beginning May 10 to see one of these devices (only two exist) on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Babbage’s automatic computing engine consists of 8,000 bronze, cast iron and steel parts, weighs five tons, and measures eleven feet (3.4 meters) long and seven feet (2.1 meters) high. Museum guest curator Doron Swade used Babbage’s own plans to bring the engine to life.

Learning about Charles Babbage is one of the very first items of study in any computer programming course. I’d forgotten that he never built his metal monster. The size of this thing almost matches ENIAC, its great-grandchild!

Watch the slideshow, it’s interesting.

150-Year-Old Computer Brought to Life

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Analog Covers I Loved

Torchships

Above is from the October 1973 issue of Analog Science Fiction/Fact, one of the first pulps I bought when I was in high-school. This is from an article written by G. Harry Stein.

 This is from the January 1975 issue. The main feature is Niven’s ‘Borderland of Sol’, but the cover is misleading. It does represent Niven’s ‘Known Space Universe’ though, it’s the planet Jinx in orbit around its’ primary Barnard’s Star.

 

This is from October 1974. Velikovsky’s ideas were very controvertial during the 1970s, back in those days, Analog was cutting edge theory-wise.

Wednesday Archeology

Klaus Schmidt used to grub around in caves in his native Germany in the hope of finding prehistoric paintings. Thirty years later, as a member of the German Archaeological Institute, he found something infinitely more important: a temple complex almost twice as old as anything comparable.

“This place is a supernova,” said Mr. Schmidt, standing under a lone tree on a windswept hilltop 35 miles north of the Syrian border.

“Within a minute of first seeing it, I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here.”

Behind him are the first folds of the Anatolian Plateau. Ahead, the Mesopotamian plain, like a dust-colored sea, stretches south hundreds of miles to Baghdad and beyond. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe, his workplace since 1994, are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill.

Compared with Stonehenge, they are humble affairs. None of the circles that have been excavated, four out of an estimated 20, is more than 100 feet across. Two of the slender, T-shaped pillars tower at least three feet above their peers.

What makes them remarkable are the carved reliefs of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions that cover them, and their age. Dated at about 9500 B.C., these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.

Nevermind wheels or writing, the people who erected them did not even have pottery or domesticated wheat. They lived in villages, but were hunters, not farmers…

While I am usually sceptical about what’s inside the pages of The Washington Times, this is the real deal. What I don’t understand is how archeologists have determined that the people who built these monuments/religious carvings didn’t practice agriculture? Is it because the estimated age of the site pre-dates ‘mainstream’ dates of when agriculture started and the culture who built these structures were ‘assumed’ to be hunter/gatherers? Or did they actually do some science and test around the area, other than to say there weren’t any houses in evidence?

It would be great if another site like that popped up in Central Europe, only a little older. Michael Tsarion would love it! So would I.

Turkish site a Neolithic ‘supernova’

_________________________________________________________________________________

Archaeological studies on some engravings on rocks on Khark Island have identified them as a compass and ancient game boards.

The engravings are between 2000 and 3000 years old, archaeologist Reza Moradi Ghiasabadi, who conducted the recently concluded studies, told the Persian service of CHN on Saturday.

The compass has been etched in rectangular form with rounded angles on a flat rock located on the ground beside an ancient route, Moradi Ghiasabadi explained. A curve has been engraved on the upper half and four lines forming a cross stretch to the four sides of the rectangular shape, he noted.

The lines have been placed in a position to determine the cardinal points and have only two degrees of error based on the Global Positioning System (GPS), he added.

The compass has been damaged in some parts because it appears to have been severed from a larger rock in a collapse.

“It is a unique discovery in Iran and a great effort should be made to safeguard it because we must not relocate it due to its use in positioning,” Moradi Ghiasabadi noted.

Iran is another ancient nation like Iraq was. Say what you want, “the British created Iran and Iraq after WWI after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire”, yadda-yadda-yadda. Whatever. The point is  the region was touted as the beginning of our civilization at one time, now it’s a geopolitical hot-zone with oil as the prize, cultural history be damned. One country has been destroyed and another has been in the gun-sights for a while. It does seem awfully timely for Iran to discover these ancient sites at these most precipitous times, but hey, if you’re into conspiracy theories and ancient history, this stuff is great!

Ancient game boards and compass discovered in southern Iran


__________________________________________________________________________________

Our great grandfathers called it Ta-Seti, Land of the Bow. They were referring to the area south of the First Cataract at Aswan, and the reason behind the name was the unparalleled skill its inhabitants demonstrated when using the bow as a method of arm. Those excellent bowmen were actually the Kushites.

At first, Egyptians, as back as the First Dynasty, would send expeditions to the area in pursuit of slaves as well as the exploration of new sites where copper and gold could be mined. Egyptian influence grew and by the Middle Kingdom, a series of strongholds and fortresses controlled the Nile at the Second Cataract. Their influence over the area grew further through the New Kingdom; Pharaoh Tuthmoses III marched as far south as the Fifth Cataract. But change is a question of time, and by the end of the New Kingdom, Kush began to rise.

Historians have universally agreed that King Alara unified Upper Nubia around 780 BC, declaring Napata (near Jabal Barrkal, Karima, North Sudan) the capital. The job was completed by his successor King Kashata when Lower Nubia joined the crown. Nubia had been united and Kashata claimed for himself the title Pharaoh. But that was not the end of it; following suit was Pharaoh Piye, better known in history as Pharaoh Piankhy, conqueror of Thebes and founder of Egypt’s 25th Dynasty, the dynasty of the Black Pharaohs.

 

Little is discussed about this ‘late’ period in ancient Egyptian history, probably because of the racial thing, but that’s only my guess. Mainstream archeologists won’t come out and say that specifically. But they do admit the intercession of the Nubian kings prevented the Assyrians and other outside invaders from taking the country over for one hundred years. And the Nubians went out of their way to honor the ancient traditions instead of wiping them out during their reign. It’s a shame they’re not recognised as they should be.

In the reign of the Black Pharaohs

__________________________________________________________________________________

 

Tuesday space blogging

Stephen Hawking called for a massive investment in establishing colonies on the Moon and Mars in a lecture in honour of NASA’s 50th anniversary. He argued that the world should devote about 10 times as much as NASA’s current budget – or 0.25% of the world’s financial resources – to space…

The Moon is a good place to start because it is “close by and relatively easy to reach”, Hawking said. “The Moon could be a base for travel to the rest of the solar system,” he added. Mars would be “the obvious next target”, with its abundant supplies of frozen water, and the tantalising possibility that life may have been present there in the past.

Some space experts have recently called for NASA to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid instead of the Moon as a next step.

I like the asteroid mission proposal because of the greater chance of finding volatiles like water, hydrogen and methane. Some scientists speculate that certain space rocks have valuable metals like gold, silver and platinum, an entrenpeneur’s wetdream! But the gravity thing is a show-stopper, human bones deteriorate in zero gravity environments, whereas the Moon has enough gravity for people to work around in.

Stephen Hawking calls for Moon and Mars colonies

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

Virgin Galactic boss Sir Richard Branson is planning to set yet another record – by becoming the first man to marry a couple in space.

 

The 58-year-old billionaire intends to conduct a ceremony 70 miles above the Earth on the first Galactic sub-orbital flight next year.

He has already officiated at one wedding in mid-air. Last year he was ordained for the day in an online church to marry Virgin America marketing director Dimitrios Papadognonas and Coco Jones on a Virgin flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas…

He also helped officiate at the wedding of Google co-founder Larry Page on his private island, Necker, in the Caribbean.

A spokesman for Virgin Galactic told The Mail on Sunday: “We have had two bookings involving marriage, one to get married in space and the other for the couple to have their honeymoon in space.

“It is possible that Richard could obtain a licence to conduct the marriage.”

I have to hand it to Branson, his mind is always on the prize!

The next big thing; Judge Judy’s Small Claims Space Court!

I pronounce you spaceman and wife: Branson to be the first man to marry a couple in space

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The announcement was made at NASA’s Future Forum at the University of Miami Bank United Center on April 18, 2008, marking the establishment of a new “Space Age” industry to produce valuable products in space that show great promise to save and enhance lives on Earth.

“Florida is committed to fostering a thriving aerospace industry and is quickly becoming known as one of the nation’s top biotech centers,” said Governor Crist. “The partnership reinforces our dedication to the biotech industry. This is an exciting opportunity to stimulate progress in this new market and in Florida’s economy.”

“SPACEHAB has been working closely with Space Florida to build a strong public private partnership for the development of biotech products in space,” said Thomas B. Pickens III, SPACEHAB Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “As evidence of the State’s commitment to promote this new industry, Space Florida has provided SPACEHAB with both financial backing and valuable research facilities, including the state-owned Space Life Sciences Laboratory.

“SPACEHAB and the State of Florida are very excited about our partnership and we look forward to continuing this vital work that shows strong evidence towards quickly becoming a significant industry in space.”

Pretty admirable goals, creating biomedicines to save lives and an economic corridor in Florida using biotechnology as its industrial base.

By my old cynicism rears its ugly head and proclaims, “Beware the military-industrial-bioweapon complex”.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Space Potpourri

The US space agency hopes to build moon bases that can house astronauts for stays of up to six months, with an intricate transportation and power system, Carl Walz, director of NASA’s Advanced Capabilities Division, said Friday.

NASA is examining different designs for lunar outposts but that they could be inspired by the orbiting International Space Station (ISS), he said.

“We need to establish a long, extended presence on the moon, up to six months — same as the time we spend at ISS,” Walz, a veteran astronaut, told AFP during a forum on the future of NASA at the University of Miami.

“I would anticipate that we would build something similar as what we are building for the ISS, but maybe something different,” he said

One can only hope. Radiation shielding is the big bugaboo here, as in “how to build it?” I’m not holding my breath any time soon.

NASA official envisions six-month stays on the moon

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Is there anybody out there? Probably not, according to a scientist from the University of East Anglia. A mathematical model produced by Prof Andrew Watson suggests that the odds of finding new life on other Earth-like planets are low, given the time it has taken for beings such as humans to evolve and the remaining life span of Earth.

Structurally complex and intelligent life evolved late on Earth and it has already been suggested that this process might be governed by a small number of very difficult evolutionary steps.

Prof Watson, from the School of Environmental Sciences, takes this idea further by looking at the probability of each of these critical steps occurring in relation to the life span of Earth, giving an improved mathematical model for the evolution of intelligent life.

According to Prof Watson a limit to evolution is the habitability of Earth, and any other Earth-like planets, which will end as the sun brightens. Solar models predict that the brightness of the sun is increasing, while temperature models suggest that because of this the future life span of Earth will be ‘only’ about another billion years, a short time compared to the four billion years since life first appeared on the planet.

“The Earth’s biosphere is now in its old age and this has implications for our understanding of the likelihood of complex life and intelligence arising on any given planet,” said Prof Watson.

Is this guy serious? This is the worse case of anthrocentric drivel I have ever read! I can buy maybe, just maybe humanity is alone in this galaxy, unlikely as that is apt to be. Scientists like Prof Watson are myopic in my opinion and often fail to take the sheer size of the Universe into consideration.

Is There Anybody Out There?

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Spaceport America has launched two unmanned commercial rockets and touts plans for space tourism, but some secret rocket research also is being done.

Lockheed Martin Corporation is now using the spaceport to advance some of its less-publicized technology.

This prototype of Lockheed Martin’s new spacecraft is only one-fifth the size the future vehicle would be.

It looks a bit like the space shuttle and would fly to space and return the same way.  But even the big version would not carry people, just satellites.

The goal is to get to orbit faster and cheaper thanks to an automated reusable spacecraft run by its own computers and just a handful of people for a launch crew.

“Doing test work out here at the spaceport allows us to kind of validate those kinds of activities and use those to predict what the future larger systems would be,” Al Simpson of Lockheed Martin told KRQE News 13.

I have to agree with some of the commenters on this article. Other than the fact it’s a drone and computer-controlled, there’s nothing new under the sun here. Further more, Lockheed-Martin is pushing the private enterprise kool-aid drink, which is a lot of bunk because Lockheed-Martin has one customer, the U.S. Government!

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World (1980)

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008, not only was a part-time scientist, science and science-fiction author, he was a follower of Fortean phenomena also. During the 1980s and early 1990s, he along with others produced three thirteen part series titled Mysterious World, World of Strange Powers and Mysterious Universe. His very presence, although brief during any of the shows, lent some credibility to the investigations being conducted.

Clarke never believed in the paranormal and supernatural, but he wasn’t afraid to find out whether they were real or not. I think he was just curious about the truth, as long as it could be proven empirically.

 

The Journey Begins Part One

 

 

The Journey Begins Part Two

 

 

The Journey Begins Part Three