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 20, 2010

Millennial Mysteries: Beached Dolphins often Deaf, Study Finds

Image © REUTERS/Andres Stapff.  Image Source: Time.

Picture Caption from Time: Richard Tesore, head of the NGO Rescate Fauna Marina, holds a baby La Plata river dolphin in Piriapolis, Uruguay. The dolphin, which was found on the beach in the city four days ago, is recovering at the reserve from injuries believed to have been caused by a fishing net.

Many mysteries that appear to characterize the apocalyptic subtext of our times are often cryptic clues to how the world is changing as a result of technological innovation. Why are whole colonies of honeybees dying amid reports of colony collapse disorderCell phones.  Why are dolphins and whales beaching themselves in record numbers?  A new report out states that the animals who weirdly swim into fishing nets, or swim ashore, usually to their deaths, are often deaf or partly deaf.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Moon Capital

First Prize: A Beam of Power (2010), by Bryna Andersen. Image Source: Scientific American/SHIFTBoston.

On November 4, Scientific American published the results (here) of an architects' Moon Capital competition to design structures for the lunar surface.  The winning entry by Bryna Andersen, a grad student at Columbia University, is above:
"for her vision of a solar energy collector on the moon. She capitalized on ideas put forth by astrophysicist David Criswell of the University of Houston, who advocates building lunar-based solar-power collectors and sending the energy to Earth via radar beams. Andersen designed a power tower composed of thousands of fiber-optic cables, built from the moon's powdery soil, or regolith. Her vertical station would also provide energy for a horizontal moon base below, which she envisioned as serving employees and tourists or acting as a research base for future space travel and exploration." 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

There Goes the Virtual Neighbourhood

The medieval walled town of Carcassonne, France. Image: ©2009 Julie Galante/This non-American Life.  Reproduced with kind permission.

The internet is a fickle mistress.  Virtual real estate that is hot property one minute becomes an online ghost town the next.  Communities on the Web are impossibly new, but they already operate like walled medieval villages, with their internal rules, pecking orders, varying systems of etiquette and collective psychologies.  They follow life cycles that seem to last about 5-7 years, and those periods of online vitality are getting shorter all the timeThe Chronicle for Higher Education recently reported on university computing administrators who are mulling over the drop in popularity of Second Life.   Not long ago after its establishment in 2003, Second Life became the virtual interactive suite, where people were setting up shops, having affairs, and, in the case of the administrators, building virtual campuses.  Besides the fact that the administrators' target audience - potential undergraduate recruits - congregate elsewhere online, part of what's soured the administrators' opinion is that Linden Lab has upped its rents.  From the Chronicle report: "Anaheim, Calif.—Officials at one discussion session here at the Educause conference yesterday spent an hour debating whether or not they should relocate their campuses—taking all the buildings, quads, and people and carefully moving them elsewhere. The focus of the session was virtual worlds, and the academics were discussing whether to take their virtual campuses out of Second Life in protest, after the company that runs the online environment announced the end of a generous education discount."  Second Life's main competitor at the moment is Utherverse (homepage here), which was launched in 2010.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Look Skyward for the Leonids Meteor Shower Tonight

The Leonids in 1833, By Adolf Vollmy (1888-1889). Image Source: Wiki.

The Leonids Meteor shower, associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle, peaks tonight and tomorrow night, with 5-30 meteors per hour after midnight (depending on your location).  The best times to watch are between 3 and 6 in the morning near the constellation of Leo in the southeast. There are reports on tonight's Leonids here, here and here.  NASA gives you the visibility rate for your area here (you have to enter '13 Leonids,' your location and the date into the site's engine).

See my earlier post on Falling Stars.

The Indiscernible

Virtual therapy for burn patients. Burn patients can navigate through and interact with a serene snowscape in the virtual reality environment Snow World, helping to reduce their pain. Image: Hunter Hoffman, University of Washington. Image Source: Medil Reports Chicago.

A few years ago, I wrote a short story about a guy who had his identity stolen via credit card fraud. The story involved an unknown contender, a thief, a virtual nemesis, a shadowy interloper from the other side of the protagonist's reality, who began charging on the guy’s card everything that the guy had skipped or missed out on in his life. Forgot his wife’s birthday? Up popped the charges for the restaurant, roses, chocolate, lingerie. This led the wife to think that the character was not a victim targeted by a malicious criminal, but that he was having an affair and she began demanding a divorce. He wanted to be a man of action and ideals – when he had become a dusty, frustrated college prof. Up came the James Bond credit card charges in exotic locales. And so on. It was a 'Walter Mitty meets his virtual karma in the new century' story. This was back when identity theft was an interesting, novel idea. But these days, 'new and interesting' stays 'new and interesting' for about thirty seconds, and identity theft is now taken for granted.

But the core idea to my story is still relevant. Every time we get on the internet, every time we change our names and faces to that of an online avatar, every time we engage with other people through an online no man’s land, there is something unseen, something intangible created. There is an ‘other side’ we can never quite reach. We know people we do not actually know. We communicate in forums and on boards under conditions in which human beings would normally avoid all communication.  What is just too risky face-to-face is quite different in the world of relative anonymity. Or so it would seem.  We provide our birth dates to Facebook or merchants, we tick boxes that authorize our banks to look at our social networking and Twitter activities. And so on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chevy Baby

Chevy robots as helping hands. Image Source: Studio Daily.

Robots are our friends!  Thanks very much to J. for suggesting this post to me.  He writes: "One of your recurring themes is what dependence on technology is doing to humanity.  Well, while this commercial is meant to be charming and fun, it's terrifying in showcasing that aspect of modern life when you stop to think about it." (See video after the break.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi Encounters Mobile Phones

Aung San Suu Kyi. Image: Newagedentists.

It's been all over the news that the famous Burmese democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was just released from house arrest on November 13.  She was imprisoned during the early-to-mid 1990s after being elected, and has been almost continuously imprisoned since 2000.  In her first big interview with the BBC (you can see the video here and below the break), she mentioned her first encounter with cell phones this past Saturday night when she met the crowds: "In the long years she has been under house arrest, the world has changed. The internet and the mobile phone have revolutionised the lives of billions around the world - including in Burma. Ms Suu Kyi was allowed to use neither gadget while she was a prisoner. When she made her first appearance on Saturday and saw the thousands of mobiles held up towards her by her supporters who wanted to take her photograph, she was taken aback. She was surprised when she first handled the mobile which someone gave her to phone her son Kim in Bangkok. She had seen them in photographs, but this one seemed so small and inadequate, and she found it hard to know how to listen to it and talk into it."

See my earlier post on Retro Telephones.

Medieval Sleep and Highwaymen

The best bed in late medieval France. Pierre Salmon, Réponse à Charles VI et Lamentations, France (Paris), 1409 Paris, BnF, département des Manuscrits, Français 23279 fol. 19. Image Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

I recently saw a strange episode of the series Afraid of the Dark on the History Channel.  It was all about medieval sleep patterns and highwaymen who haunted the roads between hamlets at night.  It described a custom called 'shutting in,' where people in the English town of Dartmoor during the Middle Ages would shutter their windows, bar their doors and lock up to prevent bandits from breaking in while they slept.  The show opened with a brooding speculation on what life must have been like before electric light:
Go back to a time before the invention of artificial light and experience a world petrified in the pitch of darkness...when fear ruled the night. Throughout the ages, real and imagined terror existed in the absence of light, and nightime was anything but relaxing. Our predecessors cowered in caves to keep from being eaten alive. During the Middle Ages, brutal bandits went on the prowl and roadside ditches became death traps. Also in years past, the devil, werewolves and vampires were staunchly believed to stalk the night. With no artificial light, the black night sky of Galileo's gaze could illuminate every star without a telescope.
There is a transcript of the show (including transcriptions of advertisements) hereOne of the things that really struck me was the claim that people did not sleep right through the night the way we do.  They slept in two parts: 'first sleep' (also called 'dead sleep,' 'beauty sleep,' or 'early slumber') and 'second sleep' (or 'light sleep').  They did this because of the lack of technology as well as lifestyle.  After hard days of manual labour, people fell into bed when the sun set.  They only had the strength for socializing, discussions and contemplation after they had slept for a few hours.  The show suggested that when people went visiting between first and second sleep, they often fell prey to robbers on the unlit roads. 

This is one of those tangible little domestic details that, when we stop and think about it, suddenly makes life from several hundred years ago much more immediate.  I was curious whether the show's claims had any historical substance.  These details on medieval sleep patterns and nocturnal behaviour are confirmed in a Guardian review of Roger Ekirch's 2005 book on how people used to sleep: At Day's Close: Night in Times Past.  Wiki has an entry on segmented sleep here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fountain of Youth 10: Attitudes toward Age, Ageing and the Elderly

Report: many elderly people live in isolation. Image © Alamy. Image Source: Daily Mail.

There's been a lot of hype in some circles about preserving youth and increasing our lifespans - often among Boomer futurists who look forward to the Singularity.  One can't really blame the Boomers for pouring money into anti-ageing research and cures for diseases that kill the elderly.  They were always a generation defined by their youth.  Now many of them seek to prolong that youth for as long as possible.  This '50 is the new 30' credo among the so-called 'Zoomers' and 'Quintastics' seeks to redefine ageing as zippy, hip and current.  Take no prisoners.  Whatever it takes.