Communion Of Dreams

Gimme that olde-tyme paranoia.
June 15, 2009, 9:35 am
Filed under: Government, movies, Science Fiction, Space, Star Trek

Some weeks ago, I came across a reference to a TV show from my childhood I had almost completely forgotten about: The Invaders. I checked, and NetFlix had it, so I added it to my queue. This weekend the first disk arrived.

It starts with classic 1960s graphics and ‘dramatic’ music, something like a cross between The Avengers and The Fugitive.

Then you get this introduction (taken from Wikipedia):

The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun.

And you’re off and running.

OK, a couple of things. The special effects are about on a par with the original special effects used in classic Star Trek (not the remastered version), which is to say “not great, but acceptable”. Except that introductory sequence, which makes the Moon look like a giant ball of mashed potatoes that has been lightly toasted. Seriously – it’s bad. And you can’t excuse that, since by the time the series was made, we’d already sent a number of probes around and onto the Moon, and it was well known what even the “dark side” of the Moon looked like.

Anyway, I’m just four episodes into the thing (I do intend to watch it all the way through), and I usually cut most TV shows a little slack at first, to find their footing and allow people to settle into their roles. But already the sense of paranoia is more sophisticated than I expected. It isn’t, as most of the comments I have seen about the show, just a rehash of Cold War paranoia a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers or other classic 1950s SF. Rather, it has elements of the counter-cultural distrust of government itself in it – the sort of thing which would come to play such a crucial role in The X Files almost thirty years later, and was considered ground-breaking then.

Looking for something old? You might want to give The Invaders a try.

Jim Downey

Introducing: Twitcher!
June 14, 2009, 8:59 am
Filed under: Humor


Introducing: Twitcher!

New technology allows for expansion of popular networking site.

In preparation for going public, and to help push their entire social network one step further technologically, the Twitter group has been testing a new application which allows for the direct stimulation of certain portions of the human brain. If users have one of the newer 3G phones now available on the market and download a special software script they will be able to make use of the new service.

The application is simplicity itself: first a normal “tweet” is sent alerting followers to position their phone above either ear, and explaining the sensation they are about to experience. Then a new message is sent which enables the phone to focus a very brief and mild microwave signal at a designated point in the brain. For decades scientists have been able to elicit sensations using direct electrical stimulation of the brain, and recent breakthroughs using microwave energy, combined with more precise brain-mapping, have allowed similar results without the need to perform surgery. But this is the first widespread commercial application of this technology.

It is anticipated that particularly celebrities with thousands of followers will be popular users of the new application, sharing with their fans some basic emotional responses and even certain physiological effects.

The company is calling the new service “Twitcher”, because of the effects that some types of stimulation elicit.

Interesting, indeed. A whole new age of telecommunications is upon us.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

And now for something completely different . . .
June 12, 2009, 9:16 am
Filed under: Humor, Music, Science Fiction, Star Trek, YouTube

This may be even better than the White Rabbit mashup:

As the friend who sent this to me said: “Teeee-heeee!!!!!”

Jim Downey

June 11, 2009, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Psychic abilities, Science, Science Fiction, tech

Just a follow-up to this post the first of the month. From Richard Wiseman’s blog:

In short, all four trials were misses.

When I analysed believers and sceptics separately, the results were the same, with no difference between the groups. So the study didn’t support the existence of remote viewing, and suggested that those who believe in the paranormal are good at finding illusory correspondences between their thoughts and a target .

* * *

Update: I have just looked at the data from those who claimed some kind of psychic ability, and had a high confidence in their choice of target. This sub-group of participants also scored zero out of four.

Surprise, surprise.

Thanks, Richard –

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Yeah, I heard the same sort of craziness.
June 11, 2009, 9:49 am
Filed under: Art, Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Humor, Phil Plait, Science, Space

Via Phil Plait, a glimpse into how far woo can go wrong:

Orbiter crashing into the moon

There is a Japanese lunar orbiter named Kaguya that is scheduled to crash into the moon today at about 2:30 pm ET. Scientists hope to learn something about the moon’s composition by observing the debris that is kicked up.

In many traditions, including astrology, the moon represents the feminine. It is the yin, the intuitive, the emotions. Women are connected to the moon by their menstrual cycles while they are fertile, and all beings, including the earth herself, are affected by the pull of the tides.

* * *

Did these scientists talk to the moon? Tell her what they were doing? Ask her permission? Show her respect?


Just . . . wow.

Believe it or not, I got similar comments from a number of people when I did my “Paint the Moon” project back in 2001. I don’t know if Ms. Harvey was one of the people who contacted me, but I did hear from people who were really worried that we were going to somehow ‘insult’ or harm the Moon by pointing laser pointers at it. I mean, I expected a fair number of folks who would miss the whole point of it being an art project, but some of these people were seriously lacking in any sense of scientific reality, who were actually worried that our little laser pointers would destroy the Moon or something.

Wow. Sometimes I think I am not nearly cynical nor pessimistic enough, to paraphrase Lily Tomlin.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

What I’ve been up to . . .

I mentioned in passing a couple of times in the last week that I’d been busy. Part of it was routine management of the BBTI re-launch (we crossed 900,000 hits yesterday), part of it was also just getting a lot of conservation work done (which is going to be an ongoing theme for the coming weeks), but a big part of it was setting up a new forum for neighborhood associations here in Columbia.

This was something completely new to me – so I had a bit of a learning curve to get through. Which is fine, since it’s good to do something completely different now and then to keep things fresh. And little or nothing may come of it; I set it up because I think it is a necessary component for this kind of grass-roots organizing, but I long ago learned that you can’t force people to care about something, at least not enough to actually take action. But I also learned a long time ago that unless I stepped forward to do something I thought was necessary, it too often just wouldn’t get done.

And I think that is what amuses me about this whole thing. I didn’t know how to set up a forum. But I knew that the appropriate software was available to make the process relatively painless (true – and now having done it once I’d have no qualms about doing it again). There was a need, and no one else had yet filled that. So . . . I volunteered.

A small thing. And, like I said, nothing much may come of it. But this is the only way to make progress – to try things out. To plant a seed and try to help it grow, maybe even to grow with it.

And now I can turn my attention back to finishing the Caregiving book, with these two other projects more or less completed. Onward, and upward.

Jim Downey

“I suggest you look on this as an opportunity, not a burden.”*
June 6, 2009, 10:28 pm
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Babylon 5, Civil Rights, Constitution, Government, Guns, Privacy, Travel

I try and keep an open mind about things, avoiding falling into the trap of allowing others to define my reality as much as possible. Because sometimes if you define things for yourself you can turn what is ostensibly a limitation into an advantage.

And so it is that I find the following approach towards air travel to be . . . ingenious.

Only the first fifteen minutes or so are necessary to understand his approach, and for those who want just the gist of the matter here’s a summation from his website:

– Abstract –

Many of us attend cons and other events which involve the transportation of computers, photography equipment, or other expensive tech in our bags. If our destination if far-flung, often air travel is involved… this almost always means being separated from our luggage for extended periods of time and entrusting its care to a litany of individuals with questionable ethics and training.

After a particularly horrible episode of baggage pilferage and tool theft, I made the decision to never again fly with an unlocked bag. However, all “TSA compliant” locks tend to be rather awful and provide little to no real security. It was for this reason that I now choose to fly with firearms at all times. Federal law allows me (in fact, it REQUIRES me) to lock my luggage with proper padlocks and does not permit any airport staffer to open my bags once they have left my possession.

In this talk, I will summarize the relevant laws and policies concerning travel with firearms. It’s easier than you think, often adds little to no extra time to your schedule (indeed, it can EXPEDITE the check-in process sometimes), and is in my opinion the best way to prevent tampering and theft of bags during air travel.

Basically, it comes down to using a secure hard-sided case for all your valuable items, and including a firearm in that case. This requires a non-TSA-compliant lock, knowledge of the relevant laws (available on his website or from the TSA), and filling out the necessary paperwork when you check in for transporting a firearm (it doesn’t have to be a valuable firearm or even an actually functional one). Some additional hassle up front, but your possessions will be a lot more secure.

I’ve bitched before about the loss of privacy thanks to the TSA, and the loss of security that goes along with that. Using this tactic would at least address one aspect of the whole thing, and might be worth it in some situations. Hmm . . . I need to be making a flight back east this summer, maybe I’ll give this a try and see how it actually works out . . .

Jim Downey

*General Smits, Babylon 5 episode Point of No Return, which seemed very appropriate. Via THR. Cross posted to UTI.

One week later.
June 5, 2009, 7:54 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Ballistics, Guns, RKBA, Science

Just a quick update – one week ago I wrote about launching version 2.0 of Ballistics By The Inch, considerably expanded with a lot of data and graphs. Well, since then we’ve had over 100,000 hits and our total hits for the site is now at 875,000. I am still waiting for DRB to post their new set of links (which is supposed to include us) and they were our top referrer for the first launch back in November. This time around all I have seen are good reviews on referring sites, without any of the negative or dismissive comments we got with the initial launch. I think more people “get it” now, and it doesn’t hurt at all that we added in a whole bunch of additional real world guns.

It’s very rewarding to see the news and use of the site spread.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to the BBTI blog.)

Busy, but . . .
June 4, 2009, 7:31 am
Filed under: Architecture, Art

. . . I had to share this particular bit of insanity I stumbled across over my morning coffee:

Bishop's Castle
Bishop’s Castle is a one-man work of art begun in 1969 by Jim Bishop. The top of the tower is 110 feet up. People do go up there and climb right into the top. It’s a beautiful creation but I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work that’s gone into the building. If you do stop and talk to Jim, you’ll discover that the hardest work in the whole project was fending off all kinds of attacks on him and his work coming from the federal government and the National Forest Service: he’s on private property but he’s surrounded by National Forest and the feds want complete control of everything. In Jim’s words: the only thing they haven’t done is they haven’t shot him, yet.

While most of the building is native rock cemented in place, there is a lot of wrought iron and glass used, too. The man has done a pretty incredible job of designing and building his own castle. It’s the kind of artwork that very few people will try to imitate, and he’s become a world-class stone mason the hard way. I know this thing looks a bit like a fairy castle but when you stand on the ground beside one of the pillars, you get this sense of an immense, heavy, intimidating Viking fortress in the forest. Jim wasn’t working with a bunch of pea gravel in concrete to do this, he used some pretty good sized boulders.

Man, and I thought I was crazy . . .

Jim Downey

(Via DRB.)

Screw-ups happen.*


U.S. Releases Secret List of Nuclear Sites Accidentally

The federal government mistakenly made public a 266-page report, its pages marked “highly confidential,” that gives detailed information about hundreds of the nation’s civilian nuclear sites and programs, including maps showing the precise locations of stockpiles of fuel for nuclear weapons.

* * *

Several nuclear experts argued that any dangers from the disclosure were minimal, given that the general outlines of the most sensitive information were already known publicly.

“These screw-ups happen,” said John M. Deutch, a former director of central intelligence and deputy secretary of defense who is now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s going further than I would have gone but doesn’t look like a serious breach.”

Yeah, everyone knows where their local stockpile of enriched uranium is, right? I mean, really. I can’t see the problem here.

Jim Downey

*Sorry, I couldn’t resist the connection to Heinlein’s classic SF story “Blowups Happen” because of the topic and attitude.

Cross posted to UTI.