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, November 5, 2011

Facebook Nevermore?

Today is Guy Fawkes Day, once known in England as Gunpowder Treason Day, and the day that Anonymous vowed to destroy Facebook.  I have no idea if the hacktivist group will accomplish that goal or if 'Operation Facebook' is even real (some claim it is a big Internet hoax). You can see one of the threatening videos purportedly from Anonymous discussing Facebook here. But the reports surrounding Facebook would seem to justify a backlash, like this one about Facebook creating fake people to track and manipulate its real users (thanks to -J.):
Eight hundred million users are not enough. Facebook, the world's biggest social network, is now building profiles of non-users who haven't even signed up, an international privacy watchdog charges.

The sensational claim is made in a complaint filed in August by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner. It alleges that users are encouraged to hand over the personal data of other people -- including names, phone numbers, email addresses and more -- which Facebook is using to create "extensive profiles" of non-users.

Facebook categorically denies the allegation, but experts tell FoxNews.com that it could well be true.

“There can be little doubt that Facebook collects from its current users information about individuals who are not currently Facebook users, and collects from its current users information about other Facebook users,” said Kelly Kubasta, who heads the Dallas law firm Klemchuk Kubasta’s social media division.

Ciara O'Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Ireland's Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, told FoxNews.com that its audit of Facebook Ireland's privacy policies was part of a "statutory investigation" that the office anticipates will lead to immediate changes.

"The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner will be commencing a comprehensive audit of Facebook Ireland before the end of the month," O’Sullivan said.

But Facebook flat-out denies that it is creating "shadow profiles" and tracking users and non-users alike.
For my earlier posts on WikiLeaks, Anonymous and Guy Fawkes imagery taken from Alan Moore's ground-breaking DC comics series, V for Vendetta, go here, here and here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mars 500 Lands

Diego Urbina, wearing a Russian Orlan spacesuit on his simulated Marswalk. Image Source: ESA.

Back on 3 June 2010, a 6-person team began a simulated round trip to Mars in a sealed capsule just ouside Moscow. Today, they are 'landing' and their capsule will open in one hour. This experiment was dubbed Mars 500, and is a cooperative project of the European Space Agency with the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP). I blogged about the start of the crew's 'journey' here. The experiment was set up to test whether a team could cope with the rigours of living together in the confined operating environment necessary to travel to Mars and come back. They performed several tests to assess their responses. One section of the environment they inhabited simulated the surface of Mars, where the crew performed a number of planned experiments.

At 11:00 CET, the crew's capsule will open and they will report on the psychological experience of a simulated manned journey to Mars.  You can watch live-streaming of the opening of the capsule starting at 10:50 CET at the European Space Agency Website here. CET is GMT+1 hour.

Retro-Futurism 17: Pre-Raphaelite Arthurian Korean Girl Band Mash-Up

Image Source: Tumblr via Il Bonito.

Here's another image for my series of Retro-Futurism, redefined on this blog as a Millennial phenomenon, wherein images and symbols from the past are reworked through digital tech into futuristic settings.

This image comes from the blogger at IlBonito, who found it on Tumblr: "Here is Taeyeon, singer of Korean girlgroup SNSD (aka Girls' Generation) re-imagined as a lady of the Round Table, knighting her squire with a light sabre." The Photoshop mash-up is taking Pre-Raphaelite imagery, which was in its time a 19th century look back on early medieval Arthurian legends, adding a Star Wars light sabre, and of course, Taeyeon. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Robot with a Rat Brain and Other Cyborgs

Spybee. Image Source: Xenophilia.

Here's some slippery slope stuff from the people making robots with living brain cells and another on wiring insects with tiny surveillance equipment for espionage.  On 27 September, the New Scientist noted that scientists in Israel have created an artificial, digital brain, and implanted it in a rat (Thanks to -C.):
Now Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and his colleagues have created a synthetic cerebellum which can receive sensory inputs from the brainstem - a region that acts as a conduit for neuronal information from the rest of the body. Their device can interpret these inputs, and send a signal to a different region of the brainstem that prompts motor neurons to execute the appropriate movement.

"It's proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyse it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain," says Mintz, who presented the work this month at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge, UK.

One of the functions of the cerebellum is to help coordinate and time movements. This, and the fact that it has a relatively straightforward neuronal architecture, make it a good region of the brain to synthesise. "We know its anatomy and some of its behaviours almost perfectly," says Mintz. The team analysed brainstem signals feeding into a real cerebellum and the output it generated in response. They then used this information to generate a synthetic version on a chip that sits outside the skull and is wired into the brain using electrodes.

To test the chip, they anaesthetised a rat and disabled its cerebellum before hooking up their synthetic version. They then tried to teach the anaesthetised animal a conditioned motor reflex - a blink - by combining an auditory tone with a puff of air on the eye, until the animal blinked on hearing the tone alone. They first tried this without the chip connected, and found the rat was unable to learn the motor reflex. But once the artificial cerebellum was connected, the rat behaved as a normal animal would, learning to connect the sound with the need to blink.
A 2008 report, also at the New Scientist, hailed the new era of insect-driven espionage, undertaken by the US Government at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which operates under the simple motto: Creating and Preventing Strategic Surprise.  The report, reproduced at Xenophilia via the Daily Mail, states:
Such mechanised animals, or cyborgs, have many advantages over robots. Sharks, moths and rats, for example, have an amazing sense of smell that allows them to detect the faintest traces of chemicals.

And if you can hide the controls within the creature’s body, it would be virtually indistinguishable from any other animal – and so the perfect spy. Chief among the cyborg inventors is the U.S. military, with its research bureau ploughing money into projects from remote-controlled rats to battery-operated beetles.

Trained to sniff out particular scents, such as human bodies or explosives, the rats’ movements are controlled by electrodes implanted in their brains. Video camera backpacks transmit images of their mission back to the spymaster. Although the U.S. has stopped funding the rat research, the Israeli government is keen to use the creatures to search for survivors of explosions.

While rats might be big enough to carry video cameras and other paraphernalia, their size makes it difficult for them to blend into the background.

With this in mind, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has switched its focus to insects such as moths and beetles. In an attempt to make the insects as inconspicuous as possible, miniaturised brain probes are inserted during the pupa stage.

The idea is the ultra-light implants will naturally integrate into the body of the developing insect.

DARPA’s ultimate aim is to create cyborg insects that can fly more than 300 feet to their target and then stay put until commanded to buzz off again.
Image Source: Xenophilia.

From a New Scientist report, also from 2008, on a robot controlled by rat brain cells:
AFTER buttoning up a lab coat, snapping on surgical gloves and spraying them with alcohol, I am deemed sanitary enough to view a robot's control system up close. Without such precautions, any fungal spores on my skin could infect it. "We've had that happen. They just stop working and die off," says Mark Hammond, the system's creator. This is no ordinary robot control system - a plain old microchip connected to a circuit board. Instead, the controller nestles inside a small pot containing a pink broth of nutrients and antibiotics. Inside that pot, some 300,000 rat neurons have made - and continue to make - connections with each other. As they do so, the disembodied neurons are communicating, sending electrical signals to one another just as they do in a living creature.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The 99 Per Cent, Generation Catalano, and Why Generational Labels are Fake

Jared Leto and Claire Danes in My So-Called Life. Image Source: Wiki.

Over at Slate, Doree Shafrir recently identified another nuance in generational labeling, and ferreted out a group between Generations X and Y, Generation Catalano.  I'm critical of generational labels because they are not accurate; they falsely create groups; they are vehicles of control; and generally they are the source of a lot of problems.  Boomers live and die by labels and labeling.  As a result, generational and other kinds of social labeling, especially self-labeling, in the Boomer-led reality is hard to avoid these days. Anyway, this self-defined 'Catalano' niche group evidently mirrors a similar grey area cohort between the Baby Boomers and Generation X, known as Generation Jones.

Generation Catalano was named in an impromptu Tweetfest last month in honour of the character Jordan Catalano (played by Jared Leto) from the 1994-1995 American ABC television series My So-Called Life.  Leto is actually a Gen Xer, but never mind that. Interestingly, one of Generation Catalano's hallmark experiences is that they were the absolute, very last, generational group to experience adolescence and pop culture before the Tech Revolution hit full force. They argue that pure Gen Y Millennials were fully immersed in the Tech Boom.  As an Xer, that one observation about the Tech Revolution made me really sympathize with Generation Catalano.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat

Here's one last Hallowe'en post, that will take us up to All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in the bargain.  Boing Boing posted historic photos of American Hallowe'en costumes from 1875 to 1955, taken from the book Haunted Air, which is based on private collection owned by Ossian Brown. The book has an introduction by David Lynch. The costumes sure are spooky. This is what Hallowe'en looked like before Walmart and online costume outlets.

Hallowe'en Countdown 1: Ghosts in the Machine

Image Source: Sims 3 via Elemental Legacy.

Happy Hallowe'en!  This is the (gasp) end to the Hallowe'en Blogathon Countdown, in which I've pondered how skepticism and the paranormal contend with one another and sometimes converge.  I thought I would wrap up with the most frightening prospect of all in a plugged-in world.  Worse than the monster in your closet!  Worse than the howling wind outside!  Worse than only getting apples in your bag of treats!  This is the prospect that out there, somewhere on the Internet, there is a haunted Website. I don't mean a site about haunted stuff, of which there are thousands upon thousands.  No.  I mean a site that channels a malevolent paranormal presence, out there in cyberspace.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 2: Haunted Asylums and Sanitoriums

Waverly Hills Sanitorium. Image Source: Underworld Tales.

Continuing with yesterday's 'health' theme, many horror stories are written around hospitals, asylums and sanitoriums.  In the genre, the last thing they are is locations of healing.  Authors draw from hospitals that were in fact centres of human suffering, both mental and physical, as well as medical maltreatment or abuse.  The list of institutions that are believed to be haunted for these reasons is very, very long.  But I'll pick three famous examples that are commonly subjects of paranormal investigations and have become centres of Millennial ghost tourism: Waverly Hills Sanitorium, Kentucky; Rolling Hills Asylum, New York; and Pennhurst Hospital, Pennsylvania.  Pennhurst, a former mental institution, had personnel who dabbled in eugenics.  I won't list their troubled histories, but a few pictures, links and videos show that checking in as a patient back in the day would not be recommended.

Waverly Hills Sanitorium tunnel. Image Source: Urbex-Québec.

Waverly Hills Sanitorium is a favourite among Urbex photographers and ghost hunters. The Travel Channel called Waverly Hills one of the "most terrifying places in America"; see their show on it here. You can see an Urbex photographer's comment on Waverly Hills here.  The Sanitorium now hosts ghost tours.

Rolling Hills Asylum, E. Bethany, NY. Image Source: About.com.

Rolling Hills Asylum is now a centre for paranormal investigations and supports ghost tours and ghost hunts. There's a Ghost Adventures investigation of the site, starting here.  There's another investigation detailed here. And yet another is here.

Rolling Hills Asylum. Image Source: Shadow Chasers.

Finally, nestled in the Chester County countryside of Pennsylvania, we come upon Pennhurst Hospital, which has been turned into a paranormal tourist attraction. You can see the 'trailer' to promote it below the jump, as well as documentaries about it and other videos. It's hard to know what's more surreal: today's ghost themepark, which peddles the suffering of the past to pump up economically depressed areas and abandoned institutional properties - or yesterday's quasi-medical hellish realities.