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, June 30, 2012

Chinese Archaeology Pushes Civilization Back 10,000 Years

"This undated image made available by Science/AAAS shows one of the pottery fragments recovered from a layer dating approximately 20,000 years old in the Xianrendong cave in south China’s Jiangxi province. The discovery makes them the oldest known pottery in the world, archaeologists say. The findings, which will appear in the journal Science on Friday, June 29, 2012 add to recent efforts that have dated pottery piles in east Asia to more than 15,000 years ago, refuting conventional theories that the invention of pottery correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter/gathers to farming." Image Source: AP/Science/AAAS via Archaeology News Network.

Speculative theorists in ancient history have long challenged academic historians on the starting date of civilization; theorists believe sophisticated human societies existed several thousand years earlier than the conventionally accepted dates (see my related posts here and here). Archaeologists are proving the theorists right. In China, archaeologists have found pottery that dates to 20,000 years ago, the oldest so far discovered. The findings were published on 29 June 2012. This finding pushes the hypothetical starting date of civilization back 10,000 years earlier than historians assumed.

New Mayan 2012 Doomsday Tablet Discovered

"A detail of carved steps shows 1,300-year-old Maya text that provides only the second known reference to the so-called “end date” of the Maya calendar."Image Source: David Stuart/Tulane University via Archaeology News Network.

Two days ago, archaeologists announced a new discovery in Guatemala: a second Mayan tablet which predicts the doomsday date of 21 December 2012.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Photo of the Day 2: America's New Surveillance Drone

Argus One by World Surveillance Group. Image Source: Slate.

Sometimes, there's a fine line between technology and art. I wish someone would ask Claes Oldenburg what he thinks of this. From Slate, there is a report about America's latest surveillance drone:
Named after an all-seeing Greek god with 100 eyes, the Argus One is perhaps the strangest looking surveillance drone yet constructed. But the odd design of the airship is not deterring customers. In fact, it may be attracting them. 

Last week World Surveillance Group, the Florida-based manufacturer of the Argus One, revealed it has been holding “high-level discussions” with U.S. and international government agencies about its unmanned airships. The company also reported that it had successfully completed recent testing of the Argus One in conjunction with government sponsors.
The flag on the head is a nice touch.

Photo of the Day

From Imgur, this is: An air bubble, trapped inside a water droplet, on the International Space Station.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wonders of the Millennial World 3: Singapore's Gardens by the Bay

These are the Supertrees in Singapore's new Gardens by the Bay complex. From Twisted Sifter:
As part of Singapore’s redevelopment and new downtown area at Marina Bay, the sprawling 250-acre Gardens by the Bay is an incredible public space with gardens, bridges, skywalks, parks and plants. The green development has been proclaimed a ‘horticultural heaven’. The attractions garnering the most buzz are the two massive climate-controlled biomes called Cloud Forest and Flower Dome and of course the massive man-made supertrees which are showcased below.

The biomes are equivalent in size to about four football fields and will become the new home for approximately 220,000 plants from ever continent on our planet. An interesting feature of the Flower Dome is that the horticultural waste will feed a massive steam turbine that in turn generates electricity that is needed to keep the biome climate-controlled. The two biomes are the only areas of the Gardens by the Bay where an admission fee will be charged. ... Gardens of the Bay is set to open to the public on June 29th [2012].
 Image Source: Twisted Sifter.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wonders of the Millennial World 2: Recycled Bottle Art

These photos came from Cool Hunter's photographs via the Saatchi Gallery, posted on 21 June 2012 on Facebook: "A fish sculpture constructed from discarded plastic bottles rises out of the sand at Botafogo beach in Rio de Janeiro. The city is host to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, which runs through June 22." (Thanks to -T.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ending and Extinction. For Now? Forever?

Lonesome George. Image Source: Reuters via Guardian.

The giant Pinta (Abingdon) Island tortoise (Geochelone nigra abingdoni), Lonesome George, died at the Tortoise Centre on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos on 24 June 2012 at over 100 years of age. He was the last known member of a subspecies of the Galapagos giant tortoise.

The subspecies are mainly named for the locations where they evolved, or the zoologists who identified them. The Galapagos islands gained fame for their unique wildlife when Charles Darwin (1809-1882) visited them in 1835. His observations there formed the bases for his 1859 work on evolutionary biology, On the Origin of Species, which you can read here or here. A glance at the Galapagos tortoise subspecies list tells how incredibly varied the creatures on these islands are. These are closely related animals, but they cannot necessarily interbreed successfully; several of the subspecies are extinct or endangered:
  1. the Pinta (Abingdon) island tortoise
  2. the Wolf volcano tortoise
  3. the Cristóbal (Chatham) island tortoise
  4. Charles Darwin's James island tortoise
  5. the Pinzón (Duncan) island tortoise
  6. Albert Günther's Sierra Negra volcano tortoise
  7. the Española (Hood) island tortoise
  8. the smaller Volcano Darwin tortoise
  9. the Charles island black tortoise
  10. the Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) island tortoise
  11. John Van Denburgh's Volcano Alcedo tortoise
  12. the Iguana Cove tortoise
  13. Fantastica Fernandina (Narborough) island tortoise (disputed)
  14. Santa Fe island tortoise (disputed)
  15. Rábida island tortoise (disputed)  
In 1971, Lonesome George was spotted on Pinta island by malacologist József Vágvölgyi; he was then tracked down and captured in 1972 and moved to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. His keeper, Fausto Llerena, was part of that 1972 expedition and cared for George until the reptile's death yesterday. Having spent so much time with Lonesome George, Llerena reflected on the animal's personality:
I like to take care of George because he is friendlier than the other tortoises. He is always attentive at my arrival and approaches me and lifts his head to greet me. We understand each other very well, although we do not use any words. ... [He is f]riendly and attentive with me, he is jealous of his space and food though, with the other tortoises that share the corral! Every time we carry out some work in the corral, he is always next to me.
Lonesome George was known as an 'ending' - the last of his kind. Once an ending dies, the species becomes extinct.

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About the God Particle

CERN visited by English physicist Peter Higgs, who (among others) conceived of the God Particle in the 1960s. Image Source: Alan Wal/University of Edinburgh/EPA via Time.

A centre of the scientific world, CERN is a magnet for metaphors. The Swiss lab pursues the Holy Grail of modern physics, the so-called 'God Particle.' Following yesterday's CERN-related post, Tengri News just shared an AFP wire announcing that on 4 July 2012, CERN is going to present an update on the hunt for the elusive Higgs Boson particle, which may or may not confirm the Standard Model of physics.

The rumour already spread on the Internet on 20 June 2012, via a physics blog, that independent CERN experiments were reaching similar conclusions:
It started when physics blogger Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong posted a short item:

Reliable rumors couldn’t wait, and they indicate that the experiments are seeing much the same thing as last year in this year’s new data: strong hints of a Higgs around 125 GeV. The main channel investigated is the gamma-gamma channel where they are each seeing about a 4 sigma signal.

Translation: Both the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have detected signals that could very well be the Higgs boson in their latest data, right in the range where the LHC announced preliminary results last December.

Back then, ATLAS reported a 3.5 sigma signal, while CMS reported a 2.6 sigma signal.

This is not sufficient to warrant a declaration of discovery; you need a five-sigma signal or higher for that. But it was certainly a tantalizing hint. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How the Atomic Age Gave Birth to the Digital Age

"A brass plaque commemorates the offices and hallway where the World Wide Web was invented at CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland."

More people probably know who invented the printing press than who invented the World Wide Web. And yet the Web has reshaped our world as much as movable type did in its time. This must be a failure of today's attitudes: in another era, every adult and school child would automatically know the name of Sir Timothy Berners-Lee as well as they know the name of Johannes Gutenberg or of Alexander Graham Bell. It is ironic that the origins of the Information Age are not popularly discussed outside IT circles. Considering the incredible impact the Internet and Web have had on global society - over 2 billion people, one third of the world's population use them every day - the names of their inventors are not celebrated. They are not household words.

Why aren't they household words? This is a disturbing aspect of the daily data flood. We don't pay enough attention to the data that matter. We give too much credit to random information that floats by without double-checking it. Heard a conspiracy theory? Or an urban myth? Is everyone suddenly using a new word? Confronted with a new Internet meme? Don't know what a meme is? Or who invented it - or how the term was applied to Internet culture? Don't know that a Web designer who transformed the way Internet memes are communicated just died? This designer helped shift the Web from text-based to visual- and video-based transmissions; he helped establish the Web's interactive and multimedia resources. The more we know, the more we need to know how, why, where and who. Instead of skimming the surface, we need to get to the bottom of the things we take for granted, or accept at face value.

The invention of the Internet (a global system of interconnected computer networks) predates the World Wide Web (an Internet-based resource and service). The Internet had roots in the 1950s, and breakthroughs in the early-to-mid 1970s, mainly in the United States. Two members of the Silent Generation, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, are credited with being the fathers of the Internet in 1973, although several other people worked in this period on related breakthroughs; they are known as Internet pioneers. See my post on the larger historical context of the invention of the Internet, here.

Few people are aware that the World Wide Web was invented at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider, the Mecca of particle physics. This occurred largely because of the demands of that field: there was a need to have physicists globally connected to one another, so that they could share data quickly when they were divided by distance or did not have common computers. Tim Berners-Lee, an English computer scientist and Baby Boomer, had already devised the concept of hypertext at CERN in 1980. Then in March 1989, also at CERN, he established the concept of the Web and made it work, by marrying hypertext to the Internet. His boss at CERN called the Information Management proposal, "vague but exciting."

Berners-Lee's distributed hypertext system (March 1989); his boss's note: "Vague but exciting."

One of National Geographic's writers, Andrew Evans, has a talent for tracking down the nitty gritty details beneath the information we take for granted. Everyone knows about the Mayan 2012 prediction, but earlier this year, Evans traveled to Mexico to take us right to the actual stone tablet with the famous end-of-the-world prediction on it (see my posts on his Mayan 2012 trip, with links back to his original articles, herehere and here).

Now Evans is traveling through Switzerland, and has gotten to the heart of the Web's history. He just visited CERN, but the Large Hadron Collider was not his main focus. He wanted to find the origin of the great invention that was the casual by-product of quantum physics research: the Web.