Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Retro-Futurism 14: Electric Dreams

One of the gizmos in the Electric Dreams home: Pong, the first home video game (1977). Image Source: BBC.

Caption for the above image: Launched in 1972 as an arcade game, Pong became recognised as the first home video game when it was developed into a console that plugged into the back of a TV. A simulation of tennis, Pong saw families interacting with their TVs for the first time. The console was quickly copied with over 500 similar systems flooding the market. How many instructions did the arcade version of Pong have when first released in America? Famed for its simplicity, Pong had only two instructions: 'deposit quarter' and 'avoid missing ball for high score'.

A couple of weeks ago, a comment on this post from pblfsda (see his excellent blog on DC's Doom Patrol, here) pointed me toward a BBC 2009-2010 three-part series entitled Electric Dreams (thanks pblfsda!).  The show played on PBS in the United States in late April.  From TVRage: "Electric Dreams is a reality [TV show] which see[s] the Sullivan[-Barnes] family giving up their lifestyle and modern gadgets as their house is converted into a typical 1970's property. Each day the house is updated by a year and any new technology that was developed at the time will be available for them to use. The family will experience a different year for 30 days until they reach the end of the century."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Welcome to Spaceport America

Virgin Galactic's Spaceport, designed by Norman Foster.  The world's first commercial spaceport in New Mexico, USA. Image Source: Virgin Galactic.

At the end of March, BBC's Richard Scott was the first journalist allowed onto Virgin Galactic's commercial spaceship, the first such craft designed to take tourists up into orbit. Test pilot Peter Siebold said that test flights of the spaceship have been "exhilarating."  He confirmed that the spaceship takes getting used to and is unwieldy. Scott suggested it was a bit like a "flying brick."

Design of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo compared to its earlier successful test vehicle, SpaceShipOne. Image Source: Virgin Galactic.

See Scott's exclusive tour of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo hangar and the ship itself, below. SpaceShipOne, the craft's predecessor, was an air-launched sub-orbital spaceplane that successfully conducted the world's first manned private spaceflight on 29 September 2004. The hangar and launch services centre, Spaceport America, promises to bring some commercial glitz to spaceflight; previously, tourists had to make do with the bleak surroundings of Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

War and Robots

The Northrop Grumman X-47 - an unmanned aerial combat vehicle. Image Source: Defense Industry Daily.

We tend to think of robots as anthropomorphized machines.  In fact, the big advances in robotics are coming out of the defense industry, and robots are currently being built as doppelgänger of our weapons - not of us. Time is reporting on Post-Postmodern war and the new soldier robots:
Here's some surprising news about the war in Afghanistan: 1 in every 50 troops in the country is a robot. The use of robots in combat isn't a new thing - consider the use of bomb-disposal robots or drone planes throughout the years - but according to CNN, there are also robots that exist just to get shot at, and robots that don't need much human input to get the job done. ... The X-47B, according to CNN, "requires almost no human interaction. It can take off and land by itself... It will be able to find its target by itself. The only thing it needs a carbon-based life form for [u]s to let it know it's OK to drop the bomb." The terrifying almost-automated death machine flew its first test flight in February, and is expected to complete its three-year test program with sea trials in 2013 to demonstrate its ability to autonomously refuel in mid-flight.
There are other vehicles in this class that have been or are being developed with varying degrees of success: the Lockheed Martin Polecat; the General Atomics Avenger; the Boeing X-45; the MiG Skat; the Dassault nEUROn; the BAE Taranis; and the EADS Barracuda.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dark Omens from Italy

Image Source: NBTV Italia.
The Italian internet is buzzing tonight with a prediction made by Raffaele Bendandi, a self-taught seismologist and astronomer who died in 1979, that Rome would be hit by a devastating earthquake on 11 May 2011. In fact, he did not predict this event so precisely and his theories were not validated by the scientific community. However, this omen is attributed to him via his theory that the conjunction of planets can lead to earthquakes.  The fixation on the 11 May is internet-generated and dependent upon the current conjunction of planets (for my post on that conjunction, go here). According to Astrology of a Trainwreck:
Raffaele Bendandi was a self-taught astronomer born in 1893. While still a teen he predicted, a year in advance, a devasting quake that hit Italy before the First World War. This became a life-long obsession for him. 
As a young soldier, while out walking by the seaside, he came up with the theory that the movements and gravitational forces of the planets could cause the earth’s crust to swell up and settle in the same way it affects the tides and waves. He created a system using the planets’ masses and trajectories to predict the time and location of earthquakes with quite a lot of success. His most famous prophecy is of the earthquake that hit the Marche in January 1924. To prove his theory, he had his prediction notarized in advance. Over the course of his life, he forecast many other earthquakes.
Bendandi also believed the pull of the Sun and Moon could cause major earthquakes (for my post on theories that the 2011 'Super Moon' influenced the Japanese earthquake, go here).  He additionally thought that planetary shifts and Sun spots could cause a change in the geo-magnetic and even geographic Poles, which would also engender natural disasters (for my post on theories that Pole shift caused the mass deaths of birds and fish earlier this year, go here).

Because Bendandi had some reasonable successes with earthquake predictions (specifically the one from 13 January 1915 and another from 6 May 1976), he gained some notoreity.  These theories led him to predict the existence of additional planets beyond the then-known solar system. He was knighted by Mussolini in 1927.  In short, Bendandi pretty much hit on all the 'usual suspects' when it comes to 2012 apocalyptic ideas: Pole shift; Planet X; massive natural disasters (storms, volcanoes and earthquakes, all arising from the assumed relationship between the Earth and her immediate cosmos); class X sun spots.  The Repubblica reports (Hat tip: Armageddon Online) that people are taking the so-called Bendandania seriously and are demanding days off from work and taking their children out of school so that they can avoid the city on this date.  Go here and here for other reports on people now fleeing Rome.

Millennial Extremes 4: A Laser that Can Rip Apart Space

Image Source: ELI.

Laser technology is reaching new extremes in terms of power and brevity of time (work with a new European mega-laser will be conducted in attoseconds, or a billionth of a billionth of a second, or one quintillionth of a second; "for context, an attosecond is to a second, what a second is to about 31.71 billion years"). Three ELI facilities will conduct this research: "attosecond science in Hungary, beamline generation of secondary sources in the Czech Republic and laser-driven nuclear physics in Romania." According to the ELI Website, the construction phase began late last year and is expected to last for five years. A fourth, undetermined facility will house a mega-laser:
The first three Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) research stations are relatively tame--sticking to ultra-short energy particles and radiation, atomic photography, and ultra-short energetic particle.
The crown jewel of ELI’s laser research facilities, the highest intensity pillar location of the four, is still being decided upon but they plan to create the world’s most powerful laser there. A 200-petawatt laser to be exact, which is 100,000 times the power of the world electric grid.
These two aspects of Europe's Extreme Light Infrastructure Project will create a laser that can rip apart space. Researchers are hoping that lasers will offer some solid proof for quantum physics. Dvice reports:
The European Commission has approved the construction of three gigantic new research lasers, with the option for a fourth that would, for an instant, be several hundred times more powerful than the entirety of the power generated by our civilization. The hope is that this will be enough energy to actually conjure virtual particles out of nothingness.
At peak power, the fourth laser in Europe's Extreme Light Infrastructure project (or ELI) will combine ten beams into a single pulse measuring 200 petawatts. 200 petawatts is significantly more power that our entire race generates at any given moment, and in fact more total power than Earth receives from the sun.
... The only way that this massive amount of power is able to be harnessed is if the amount of time that it's being used for is insanely small. The 200 petawatt pulses will only last 1.5 x 10^-14 second, which is about the same amount of time that it takes for light to travel from one side of a human hair to the other, if you shave the hair down by 90%.
The point of all this is to try to explore some of the weirdness of quantum mechanics, which suggests that space is actually a giant party of random particles that are popping in and out of existence too fast for us to see. The hope is that a laser this powerful might actually be able to tear apart the vacuum of space-time itself, revealing the matter and antimatter underneath.
The laser is expected to contribute to the fields of "particle, nuclear, gravitational, and ultrahigh-pressure physics; as well as nonlinear field theory, astrophysics and cosmology." Again, the science of the very small is colliding with the science of the very large. (Hat tip: @Swadeshine)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Look Skyward: Planets Converge Among the Meteors

Planetary Conjunction: May 2011. Image Source: New Maine Times.

This week and next will be great for amateur astronomers - four planets are converging within 10 degrees of each other in the eastern dawn skies. You can observe Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter with the naked eye clustered together above the horizon before sunrise. See the NASA video explaining the conjunctions below the jump. The best mornings are May 8-14. On the 11th and 12th, Jupiter and Venus will be less than one degree apart; they will resemble a supernova. Make the effort to get up and look for them: the next time these four planets will converge in this manner will be September 2040. This is for observers in the northern as well as Equatorial and southern latitudes.  But the southern latitudes will have a better view.  You can still see the Eta Aquariids meteors low in the eastern or south-eastern skies around 03:00 BST until about May 20.  These are meteors formed from the tail of Halley's Comet.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Blog's First Birthday: Notes on Newton

Godfrey Kneller's portrait of Sir Isaac Newton, aged 46 (1689). Image Source: Wiki.

This blog is one year old today.  It started with this post about Sir Isaac Newton - astronomer, mathematician, physicist and natural philosopher - who hid his analyses of the Bible and esoteric speculations on the end of the world for fear that he would lose face as a scientist. Despite his secrecy, he likely took these arcane musings as seriously as his scientific work.  His theories on religious symbols and occult theories, which he called Histories of Things to Come, were hidden away in a time capsule of sorts.  They did not become publicly available until our own time, that is, ironically, until the era which Newton believed would be affected by his predictions. 

What characterizes an era?  This was a great mind which straddled a time of belief, faith, magic and mysticism on the one hand - and a time of rationalism, empiricism and scientific method on the other.  Newton addressed both traditions with equal attention.  That divided condition resembles our own period, when the Information and Tech Revolutions represent the ultimate triumph of the Age of Rationalism.  It is such a momentous triumph that it threatens to tip us again into a period of mystical awareness.  The uncomfortable tension and overlap between sense and sensibility are everywhere.  The turn of the Millennium is a hybrid between Enlightenment and Romanticism.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read posts here on these subjects, whether they deal with one side of this polarity or the other.