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 7, 2011

Millennial Extremes 3: The Longest Train Tunnel

Image Source: Time.

Caption for the above photograph: A miner climbs on excavated rocks after a giant drill broke through at the final section of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland.

This series of posts focuses on examples where all previous boundaries are crossed in some Millennial endeavour.  In this case, a picture from Time shows a giant drill cutting through the longest train tunnel now under construction in Switzerland on 23 March 2011.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Nuclear Leaks 9: The Mississippi River

Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant. Image Source: New Energy and Fuel.

Some reports are circulating that during storms last week, workers at Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant in Mississippi released an unknown amount of tritium-laced water into the Mississippi River.  From the Natural News (Hat tip: @Khephra Maley):
Workers at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant in Port Gibson, Miss., last Thursday [28 April] released a large amount of radioactive tritium directly into the Mississippi River, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and experts are currently trying to sort out the situation. An investigation is currently underway to determine why the tritium was even present in standing water found in an abandoned unit of the plant, as well as how much of this dangerous nuclear byproduct ended up getting dumped into the river. Many also want to know why workers released the toxic tritium before conducting proper tests.

The Mississippi Natchez Democrat reports that crews first discovered the radioactive water in the plant's Unit 2 turbine building after heavy rains began hitting the area last week. Unit 2 was a partially-constructed, abandoned structure that should not have contained any radioactive materials, let alone tritium, which is commonly used to manufacture nuclear weapons and test atomic bombs ... .

According to reports, alarms began to go off as workers were releasing the radioactive storm water into the river, which engaged the stop flow on the release pump. Neither NRC nor plant officials know how much tritium was released into the river during this release.

"Although concentrations of tritium exceeded EPA drinking water limits, the release should not represent a hazard to public health because of its dilution in the river," insisted Lara Uselding, public affairs officer at NRC Region IV, to reporters.
Reuters Africa reports that authorities are not out of the woods yet, because they expect nuclear facilities along the Mississippi River, including the Grand Gulf Plant, to be hit by flooding through the month of May. See a section of that report below the jump.

Millennial Extremes 2: The Most Dangerous Path

Caminito del Rey: Then. All Image Sources: Euro Weekly News.

Pushing limits and crossing boundaries is typical of Millennial life in work - and play.  This is a good example. The Caminito del Rey, or the 'King's Little Pathway,' in Spain attracts hikers and climbers the world over precisely because it is considered one of the most dangerous paths on the planet.
Caminito del Rey: Now. 

See a video made by a hiker, below. What strikes me is that it looks exactly like a survival horror video game (someone in the Youtube comments claimed it reminded them of Resident Evil 4, without the zombies). But it's real. This horror genre reflects the crumbling infrastructure, built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (or earlier), which surrounds and haunts us at the turn of the Millennium. Contrary to what people thought in the twentieth century, the Millennium is not all bright and shiny, seamless and perfect.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Last of the Last

Petty officer Choules. Image Source: Sky News.

The last known World War I combat veteran died today in Australia; at 110 years old, he was the last survivor of almost 70 million combatants. World War I combat has now passed from living human memory and into the realm of history. The Guardian reports:
Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of the first world war, died on Thursday at a nursing home in Perth, Western Australia his family have said. He was 110.

"We all loved him," his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger said. "It's going to be sad to think of him not being here any longer, but that's the way things go."

Beloved for his wry sense of humour and humble nature, the British-born Choules nicknamed "Chuckles" by his comrades in the Australian navy never liked to fuss over his achievements, which included a 41-year military career and the publication of his first book at the age of 108.

He usually told the curious that the secret to a long life was simply to "keep breathing." Sometimes, he chalked up his longevity to cod liver oil. But his children say in his heart, he believed it was the love of his family that kept him going for so many years.

"His family was the most important thing in his life," his other daughter, Anne Pow, said in a March 2010 interview. "It was a good way to grow up, you know. Very reassuring."

Choules was born on 3 March, 1901, in Pershore, Worcestershire, one of seven children. As a child, he was told his mother had died – a lie meant to cover a more painful truth. She left when he was five to pursue an acting career. The abandonment affected him profoundly, Pow said, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own children.

In his autobiography, The Last of the Last, he remembered the day the first motor car drove through town, an event that brought all the villagers outside to watch. He remembered when a packet of cigarettes cost one penny. He remembered learning to surf off the coast of South Africa, and how strange he found it that black locals were forced to use a separate beach from whites.

He was drawn to the water at an early age, fishing and swimming at the local brook. Later in life, he would regularly swim in the warm waters off the West Australian state coast, only stopping when he turned 100.

The first world war was raging when Choules began training with the Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14. In 1917, he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German high seas fleet, the main battle fleet of the German navy during the war. "There was no sign of fight left in the Germans as they came out of the mist at about 10am," Choules wrote in his autobiography. The German flag, he recalled, was hauled down at sunset. "So ended the most momentous day in the annals of naval warfare," he wrote. "A fleet of ships surrendered without firing a shot."

Choules and another Briton, Florence Green, became the war's last known surviving service members after the death of American Frank Buckles in February, according to the Order of the First World War, a US-based group that tracks veterans.
Below the jump, interviews with the last surviving World War I soldiers, who have all died in the past decade.

Retro-Futurism 13: The Analytical Engine

A section of Charles Babbage's difference engine, assembled after his death by his son, using parts found in his laboratory. Image Source: Telegraph.

Last October, the Telegraph reported that a British computer programmer was raising money to build the original archetype for the first steam-powered computer from the original blueprints by mathematician Charles Babbage:
The Analytical Engine – conceived in 1837 – remains one of the greatest inventions that never was as Babbage died before he could see out its construction. However, John Graham-Cumming, a programmer and science blogger, now hopes to realise Babbage’s vision by raising £400,000 to build the giant brass and iron contraption. He plans to use Babbage’s original blueprints for the device, which are contained in a collection of the inventor’s notebooks held at the Science Museum in London. The campaign has already attracted 1,600 supporters who have pledged funds to kick-start the project. Elements of the engine have been built over the last 173 years, but this would be the first complete working model of the machine.
The machine is controlled by punch cards, which you can see here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reflections on the Revolving Door of Death 6: Saluting the Dearly Departed Doom Patrol

This is what Millennial comics should do: DP fighting a sentient black hole in front of the Large Hadron Collider. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #2 (November 2009).

We who are about to die salute you!  That's the gladitorial rallying cry of DC's ill-fated superteam known as the Doom Patrol.  On Valentine's Day, DC Comics announced the cancellation of several titles.  Among these was the fifth incarnation of Doom Patrol, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Matthew Clark.  This cancellation to 'free up' creative talent for production of the summer comics blockbuster Flashpoint has prompted outcry from the DP's fans (there is a petition asking DC to save the title here).  This series had poor sales but great reviews; it was considered by many to be the publisher's most sophisticated title.  Today, the last issue of the series hits comic shops.

Why?  What makes any comic, belonging to a genre known for its clichéed action and romance, its cheesy borrowings from the epics, mythology, pulps, mystery, horror, romance and science fiction even come close to having pretensions? 

Comics are sometimes one of the areas of pop culture where certain ideas are tested before they become mainstream.  This series of blog posts on the 'Revolving Door of Death' is about the use of death in comics as a means to finding new values of heroism - a new moral compass - in times that are rapidly changing.  That change involves pushing the boundaries of superheroism past the point of no return.  In that regard, the Doom Patrol fits right in - and the title is still unique. 

First, the Revolving Door of Death. Comic book creators, especially mainstream publishers Marvel and DC, have earned a lot of criticism over the past twenty-five years for cheapening death and rebirth when they used them repeatedly as sensational devices for making money. More surprisingly, post 9/11, the editors at DC Comics have killed off hundreds of heroes.  Then, in a bid to make comic book killings 'more serious,' they recently announced that their characters will no longer be reborn.  But the deaths of superheroes continue.  This trend suggests a high degree of confusion and ambivalence.  DC has continually worn down the moral stature of its heroes.  The company has made them ever more flawed and weak - while building up its villains.  DC is letting evil win.

Why?  Does this reflect a crisis in American culture? Last week, DC had Superman renounce his American citizenship in Action Comics #900, a move which won the editors a lot of criticism in comics forums and the mainstream media.  Does this chime with the intense, politicized commentary against American campaigns abroad?  Marvel Comics, echoing the 1960s' voice of social criticism, can jump on that train without any problems.  But DC, the classic American comics company, is in a strange, ambiguous place right now.  Like her exhausted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's heroes in the DC Universe are being pushed to the breaking point.  The question is where DC will go with this existential crisis and soul searching.  Comic books thrive on taking their characters to the greatest extremes possible, within the current bounds of taste and story-telling.  The catharsis comes when the heroes triumph against all odds.  DC has yet to pull off that gigantic catharsis.  Its creators are still in the midst of dragging its characters down deeper and deeper.

The Nascar accident which almost kills Cliff Steele. Doom Patrol vol. 5 #21 (June 2011).

In this context, the Doom Patrol is unusual, because they are already ahead of all of DC's other heroes as far as being pushed past the limits goes.  They were always a team 'out there,' beyond the pale.  DP stories demonstrate how changes and challenges to our concepts of life and death are transforming our society, our consciousness and our moral attitudes.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Retro-Futurism 12: Professor Xavier Steampunk Wheelchair

 Steam Punk Professor Xavier's Wheelchair © Daniel Valdez. Image Source: Steampuffin.

This month, an exhibition is wrapping up at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham, Massachusetts: Steampunk, Form & Function: an Exhibition of Innovation, Invention & Gadgetry.  The exhibition runs until the second week of May and is sponsored by ModVic and Steampuffin.  Interior designers from ModVic will give your home a complete Steampunk overhaul under the motto: "move into your old new home."  The style is also called neo-Victorian; it features new tech incorporated into nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century English and European designs with Jules Verne and H. G. Wells touches.

Steampuffin specializes in housing our modern tech in Steampunk designs and gadgets.  One of the no-miss items in the exhibition is the Professor Xavier Steampunk Wheelchair, designed by Daniel Valdez.  There is a demo video below the jump showing the chair's various features, including smoke-puffing, noise-making, and vodka cocktail churning.  Actually, it kind of reminds me of that 1980 horror film, The Changeling. The Museum's catchphrase is View the Past, See the Future.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden: Death in the Media

Image Source: ComfortablySmug.

Here is a range of responses to Osama Bin Laden's death.  The source for images is primarily the Business Insider (here and here); some front pages are from Mashable, NY Daily News, Newseum and Syracuse.com.

Retro-Futurism 11: The New Commodore 64

Computers were never so cool. The CommodoreMAX keyboard (a predecessor to the 64) in 1982. Image Source: Wiki.

This month, the Commodore 64, home computer extraordinaire, which first launched 1982, is being rereleased with the old shell but new tech, as the Brits say, under the bonnet.  From a NYT report:
The new Commodore 64, which will begin shipping at the end of the month, has been souped up for the modern age. It comes with a 1.8 gigahertz dual-core processor, an optional Blu-ray player and built-in ethernet and HDMI ports. It runs the Linux operating system but the company says you can install Windows if you like. The new Commodore is priced between $250 to $900.

The company’s Web site says that the new Commodore 64 is “a modern functional PC,” and that although the guts of the device have greatly improved, the exterior is “as close to the original in design as humanly possible.” Most people would not be able to visibly tell the old or new versions apart, it says.

“The response has been completely dramatic,” Mr. Altman said. “We’ve been averaging about five registrations per second on our Web site. This is from people giving us their name and e-mail address to be kept abreast of updates on the new Commodore.”
Never underestimate the selling power of nostalgia.  Ironically in a field like high tech, it's even more pleasing to consumers. A fansite has already been set up to hail the arrival of old-new Commodore and Amiga (which Commodore is also reviving - see here) computers. This is typical Millennial Retro-Futurism, where the combination of old and new tech makes a product hot again. According to the Commodore site, the new version lets you open the old blue BASIC screen and play all the "8-bit era" games. I have a feeling that Commodore just made a lot of Gen X men very happy, along with everyone else.

The new C64. Image Source: Commodore.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Retro-Futurism 10: Computational Architecture

This. Is. Cardboard. Subdivision Columns © by Michael Hansmeyer.

Last month, CNN covered the work of Swiss architect Michael Hansmeyer, who creates incredible structures out of cardboard, which are carved using a computer algorithm:
It looks like an architectural fantasy from a world far in the future, but Michael Hansmeyer's complex column design is so real you can touch it.

His work is composed of sixteen million faces and made from 2,700 layers of cardboard. It is the result of a cutting-edge computational process and people's responses to it are just as improbable.

"Some people say it looks like a reptile, some people think it looks like an underwater creature and other people bring up the Gothic," said Hansmeyer, an architect and computer scientist based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

The incredible complexity of the column's fractal surface is the product of what is known as a "subdivision algorithm," a process that used a computer program to divide and sub-divide the the facets of a classical Doric column.
This is a true example of retro-futurism, where something ancient is recast into a sci-fi fantasy using current tech. To see Hansmeyer's work go to his Website here.  All images are copyrighted by him and reproduced strictly for purposes of review.

Subdivision Columns (Detail) © by Michael Hansmeyer.

See all my posts on Retro-Futurism.

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