Saturday, March 24, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
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Will our obsession with technology progress so quickly that we render ourselves obsolete? According to one of my earlier posts, the answer to this question is no. The Internet, at least, cannot grow faster than the ability of our brains to digest what is out there. But is that really true? Out of all the easy-to-eat stats depicted above (this chart is making the rounds online), the one that is perhaps most chilling is the fact that worldwide iPhone sales outpace the global birthrate (also reported: here, here and here).
Thursday, March 22, 2012
The Space Review has an intriguing article this week about space law. Three things crossed author Michael Listner's radar. First, the Moon Treaty has not been ratified by big space-faring powers, such as the USA, Russia or China. However, in the last few months it has been ratified by countries with minor or non-existent space programs. By ratifying the Moon Treaty, these states lend this agreement weight. They also thereby proclaim their future space race intentions, and potentially make space powers beholden to non-space powers. The article focuses on Austria and Turkey:
Second, these moves by smaller space, or would-be-space, nations call into question the Moon Treaty's potential as a piece of international law.Coupled with the growing influence of countries such as Austria, Turkey’s accession to the Moon Treaty will give the accord strength not so much in terms of individual political strength, but through political strength in numbers. As those numbers grow, the “Big Three” could find that their influence as non-parties of the Moon Treaty will be challenged by a chorus of many smaller nations who are parties.
This question is equally raised by some individuals out there with money to burn, who have been launching lawsuits to assert their claims to pieces of extra-terrestrial real estate. In some cases, they sue for compensation now when they feel that a breach of their legal claim to space property rights has been (or perhaps will be) violated by some space-faring power:
The latest example occurred in the Canadian Province of Quebec where the litigant, Sylvio Langvein, petitioned the District Court of Quebec concerning property claims he asserted for extraterrestrial property including several planets, the space in between them and the Moon. Specifically, Mr. Langvien petitioned the Court for separate judgments for each of his property claims with the intention of preventing China from establishing stations in outer space above him.
I hand it to Mr. Langevein for originality as far as blowing cash goes. According to The Space Review, this kind of case could cause problems for the Moon Treaty because Canada is a non-member. But the decisions of its domestic courts - or any other non-member's domestic courts - have a bearing on the Treaty. Decisions in these cases will determine whether the Moon Treaty is binding international law or not, for all nations, whether or not they have ratified it.
The February 22, 2012, judgment goes on to imply that the “quarrelsome litigant”, which is a term used by the Honorable Alain Michaud, JSC to describe Mr. Langvein, used the Canadian judicial system at many levels to pursue 21 claims for relief since 2001. The judgment further notes that Mr. Langvein listed no respondent, i.e. who he was suing, who could respond to claims for relief. Moreover, the judgment essentially claims that Mr. Langvein is paranoid and that his actions were an abuse of the Canadian legal system.
Meanwhile, in another example that could affect the Moon Treaty, one American company, Space Pioneers LLC, is already selling bits of the moon to interested members of the public. Their motto is: Make a Ripple in Time. Become a Space Pioneer. They are now locking horns in court with the Better Business Bureau:
These kinds of examples are, for now, merely entertaining, although international space law is a burgeoning field. But there will be a point when space exploration will advance significantly and the number of space-faring nations and companies will multiply - and so will space lawyers, space courts and space lawsuits.Jeffrey Sablotne, who is the principal owner of Space Pioneers LLC, feels the best way to move man’s foray into outer space forward is through the sale of “Derivative Conveyance Deeds” for lunar real estate. While it sounds suspicious on the surface, Mr. Sablotne says he and his partners have done 20 years of research and have recorded numerous claims. However, the president of the Arkansas Chapter of the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which had previously invited and approved Sablotne’s company to join the BBB, reportedly commented on their website that Mr. Sablotne’s business and offer of deeds to lunar property is a scam. Mr. Sablotne’s responded to the BBB’s actions and requested that the BBB remove the statement and file a retraction. The request was refused and Mr. Sablotne filed a defamation suit against the BBB.
-All long quotations in this post are from the above-cited Space Review article.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Large Earthquake in Mexico, 20 March 2012. Image Source: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images via Guardian.
Earthquakes are all the more threatening because our high tech tools cannot predict them (see this post on predicting the 'Big One' in California, and this site with a range of upcoming earthquake predictions). Nor can our tools confirm the intuitively evident links between disruptions in geomagnetism and plate tectonics. Mining operations can trigger earthquakes, but there is limited accountability of these industries regarding their activities. We have a wealth of information, but no answers. In the Knowledge-Based Society, mysteries are a source of supreme fear and explanation.
Yesterday, a very large 7.6 earthquake struck southwest Mexico, with the epicentre 200 kilometres from Acapulco. Another large 6.2 earthquake struck Indonesia yesterday. These events fall in line with the Old Wives' Tale that solar storms precede earthquakes. The over-availability of information on geoseismic events on the Web and the recent appearance of earthquakes where few had previously occurred is rattling the Internet. Already, there is a conspiracy theory afoot that the Mexican earthquake was somehow artificially induced or simulated by 'a' government or shadowy organization for unknown purposes. Was it an underground nuclear test? Mining? Fracking? The information circulates, becomes associated with other data, and reshapes reality. The X-Files-type irony of course, is that if there ever was anything to a conspiracy theory like this, no one would believe the conspiracy theorist, except other conspiracy theorists.
Still, there is something strange going on. Verified earthquakes are occurring in non-earthquake zones. The latest weird reports have been filtering out of Clintonville, Wisconsin. Since Sunday 18 March, this small town has been startled by the sound of giant, shaking booms, coming from deep underground (reports: here, here, here and here). There is no known cause, but plenty of online speculation - message board users think this is a private company creating underground prepper bunkers (how far down into the earth does property ownership of land extend, anyway?). The booms are not consistent with earthquake activity. Town authorities have contacted geologists at the University of Wisconsin and a private engineering firm for help.
Blood and Chrome, concept art (2010). Image Source: blastr via Movie Hole.
Retro-Future. The Battlestar Galactica franchise is set to broadcast a prequel Cylon war saga this year, either online, or on the Syfy Channel in the United States. The prequel, Blood and Chrome, has a complete pilot that was filmed in Vancouver, BC, Canada; but plans for the show await full confirmation.
The trailer below the jump is totally out of control. It doesn't look like Blood and Chrome will have a plot. It doesn't look like Blood and Chrome will need a plot. Its prequel predecessor, Caprica, was doomed by the fact that it had a plot. This makes Blood and Chrome every science fiction fantasy from the 1970s and 1980s slickly repackaged as Millennial candy. With its Zeppelin cover soundtrack, it's a gift to Gen X men everywhere (Hat tip: Nightwyrm and i09).
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Image Source: Video Interchange.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Spring Equinox arrives at 5:14 a.m. GMT (UT); in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the Autumnal Equinox today. The Equinox is known as the time of year when day and night are equal. This is not precisely true, but it is the popular understanding of the Equinox. Rather than discuss the mythological symbolism of spring and rebirth, I thought I would blog about equal time, about the Equinox as the point when our planet finds temporal balance, because the Earth is neither tilted away from, nor toward, our star.
During the French Revolution, the French recognized that overturning social orders and radicalizing economic practices and political thought demanded a revamp of time measurement. The revolutionaries changed the French calendar and clocks. The revolutionary slogan of equality was applied to time. This move showed that there is a hidden connection between how we look at time and how we define society, economy and politics. Intuitively, we know that correlation has always existed: time was once defined by agriculture; then religious institutions commandeered the days with feasts and hours for prayer.
More recently, computers revolutionized time again. Although we did not overtly grasp this change, we certainly felt it. Millennial time is fractured. We see the cracks of the Technological Revolution - as the French revolutionaries did - in society, the economy and politics: in American schools, the concept of 'equal time' refers to the ideological split in teaching between evolution and creationism. In the workplace, the 'work-life balance' refers to home life versus money, and a host of related, politicized employment concepts. Minimum wage. Sabbaticals. Holiday pay. Maternity leave. Old age pensions.
Whether at home or work, daily life is also increasingly divided between virtual reality and actual reality: two lives; two (or more) identities; two sources of survival and sustenance; two means of explaining reality, be they scientific or spritiual.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
The Prometheus trailer just came out today (see long and short versions below the jump). It looks like this film will be the Millennial movie; it is chock-a-block with 2012 conspiracy theories, and set in the Alien continuity. Ridley Scott's Alien prequel - including new designs from H. R. Giger - could be the space opera sci-fi film with a heavyweight story that Avatar should have been.
Boomer director Scott at his best is a true visionary; he has a sense of grandeur, history and social truths that persist over time. His new film incorporates mysteries of ancient civilizations with slick futuristic designs. In a recent interview, he anticipated an anti-tech backlash as part of the natural pattern of human behaviour. At the same time, he has an uncanny appreciation of the vast potential of technology and anything we can harness to that technology - be it human destiny, diseases, androids - or aliens. The story is set in 2085, 30 years prior to Alien, and is being hailed an equally-weighty successor to Blade Runner and Alien.
Screenwriter Damon Lindelof, confirmed that travelling into the future is equivalent to travelling into humanity's deep past: "[The film] covers a vast expanse of time, past, present and future. ... Space exploration in the future is going to evolve into this idea that it's not just about going out there and finding planets to build colonies. It also has this inherent idea that the further we go out, the more we learn about ourselves. The characters in this movie are preoccupied by the idea: what are our origins?"
Scott draws on another Millennial trope, the sharp juxtaposition of religion and science. He plays on the hazy pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology about aliens founding civilization on Earth, which was popularized in the 1960s and which the Internet has solidified into pseudofact:
Even by today's jaded, marketing-weary standards, Scott's viral campaign for this flick is unusually clever. Aside from Weyland's 2023 TED talk, the Prometheus promotion includes a fictional corporate Website, where information and hints about the story are being continually released. These virals include, today, a fictional corporate video of the unboxing of Weyland's first android, played by Michael Fassbender (this video is also below the jump, featuring Guy Pearce's smoothly egotistical mega-tech-corp-boss narration). The android video was meta-marketed at the SF comics convention, WonderCon, this weekend.The film would explore the nature, origin, and "staggering civilization" of the alien race of the space jockey, as well as the beings' fictional anthropogenic role in the origins of humanity on Earth. Such ideas were "partially" inspired by Erich von Däniken's writings about ancient astronauts. Scott told the Hollywood Reporter, "NASA and the Vatican agree that [it is] almost mathematically impossible that we can be where we are today without there being a little help along the way... That’s what we’re looking at (in the film), at some of Erich von Däniken’s ideas of how did we humans come about." Scott's prequel ... would also focus on terraforming and the fictitious Weyland Industries before its merger with the Yutani Corporation. Scott furthered that the original Zeta II Reticuli planetary system would be part of the prequel story; and that the plot would also entail "technologically feasible" approaches and applications towards "near faster-than-light travel" which would play a key role. "Time dilation and the effects of essentially de-materializing and re-materializing" also factored in the drafts. Elaborating more, the director commented in an interview that "the film will be really tough, really nasty. It's the dark side of the moon. We are talking about gods and engineers. Engineers of space. And were the aliens designed as a form of biological warfare? Or biology that would go in and clean up a planet?" He later added, "The cast find an establishment which is not what they expected it to be, it’s a civilization but what we find in it is very uncivilized behaviour."
I am not sure why it has taken so long to bring out a science fiction film of this calibre, given the progress made with CGI over the past ten years. For example, why hasn't Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy been filmed? At any rate, the standard is almost certainly set. Now, will someone please give Sean Young a role in the Prometheus sequel?
Image Source: AFP.
AFP reports that Hong Kong's overheated housing market is driving people to buy houses where gruesome deaths have occurred; any residence reputed to be haunted sells at a discount (Hat tip: Charl Blignaut):
It may not be everyone's idea of a dream home, but for bargain hunters in Hong Kong's turbocharged property market apartments that belonged to the recently deceased are proving irresistible -- and the more gruesome the occupant's demise the better.
Popular belief in a city awash with superstition runs that the ghost of a person who dies in unnatural circumstances -- a suicide, murder or bad accident -- inhabits their home, passing misfortune onto the new occupants.
The threat carries weight in a city where feng shui consultants do brisk business; families placate the "hungry ghosts" of their ancestors with offerings and people even refrain from whistling in the street in fear of disturbing lurking spooks.
By law, buyers are entitled to details on so-called "haunted houses" -- or hongza in Cantonese -- and many rigorously check the backstory to their potential purchase.
But not everyone is afraid of ghosts, and in the cut and thrust of Hong Kong's runaway property market some investors are actively following the tragedies, aware that dark incidents push the price down.
Discounts of between 20-40 percent are the standard for haunted houses with a knock-on for the rental yield, says Eric Wong of the squarefoot.com.hk property website, which has a channel dedicated to the phenomenon.