News Briefs 06-06-2008

Priceless...

Quote of the Day:

If you look at the major religions, freedom from choice is something people often choose voluntarily. It allows people to look in themselves.

Peter Gabriel, launching his latest venture: the Filter

My Hip Pocket

At a bit of a crossroads at the moment, wondering where to go with TDG. Server costs have just jumped appreciably, and my free time is growing more and more limited. Somehow, I need to make the website become a (paying) job for me, to justify the necessary time and expense involved in running the site. The dream would be to work full-time on it, and have the time to host regular interviews and features (perhaps even in video form) - in other words, regular frontline content. Being able to devote serious time to the site would also result in a far more professional presentation

The strange fact is that if every person who visited TDG regularly paid $1 for a year of access to daily news (compare that to $30 for a yearly magazine subscription for 6 mags), I would earn that full-time wage. However, the intarwebs just don't seem to work like that. So I'm at a loss on how to achieve my aim. I may make July 'voluntary subscription' (donation) month, for those who are willing to pay a small amount - just to help pay the bills. Obviously, we have other projects working towards that goal (e.g. Darklore), and I'm hopeful that they will one day make us self-sufficient. But apart from that, I'm open to suggestions from readers on how to make TDG a bit more of a worthwhile investment of my time. (Selling my body will *not* be a money spinner, unless I get paid by the kilo).

Medium (Research) Well Done

Alex Tsakiris, host of the Skeptiko podcast, is currently working with the panel from The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (most notably, Dr Steven Novella) in order to undertake a 'bipartisan' research demonstration on the claimed abilities of mediums. In a recent podcast, Tsakiris and Novella fleshed out the protocol for the demonstration (see here for the protocol text). This is a great step, with a group of skeptics finally cutting the talk, and getting their hands 'dirty' with some actual experimentation - in concert with someone (Alex) who comes from the other side of the fence when it comes to opinions on psychic abilities.

On the downside, I do see some issues likely to pop up. Firstly, the intrinsic nature of a 'one-off' experiment/demonstration such as this is likely to result in a dispute over the validity of the data - no real conclusion will be able to be reached without many more experiments of the same kind. Beyond that, I'm not sure a third party scoring protocol is the best way forward for research with mediums: the often-told story about sessions with mediums is that they bring up lots of nonsense, but then have one massive hit that is hard to dismiss by coincidence. I think this is best scored by the person themselves - though I'm not sure of the best way to approach it (multiple mediums, only one of whom is 'genuine'?).

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this develops. In the meantime, Alex has also posted a new podcast interview with Julie Beischel, who is a bona fide researcher on this topic.

News Briefs 05-06-2008

According to Human Rights Watch, 130 people are still imprisoned for their role at Tiananmen. That was 19 years ago.

Thanks, Master Chief

Quote of the Day:

”The problem with any data—I don't care if it's a video, a photo, electromagnetic readings—it can be faked. And because of the digital age, it can be faked easily”

Bryan Bonner, head of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society

Tales from the Fort

Tis the season, to be Fortean. If the release of Jim Steinmeyer's biography of Charles Fort and Tarcher's reissue of Fort's books in anthology form weren't enough for you, check out this new website - Tales from the Fort: The Charles Fort Files...

This site is an effort to organize the research of Charles Hoy Fort into a more easily utilized resource by gathering and placing under various subject headings the vast amount of information scattered throughout Fort's books. The information contained within these pages is gleaned from extensive study of the four non-fiction books published by Charles Fort in his lifetime.

The headings under which the phenomena are placed include 'Falls' (strange things falling from the skies), 'OOPARTS' (Out of Place Artifacts), Creatures, UFOs and Apparitions. If you don't have the time to work your way through the books, this website will probably be a good resource. As Emps says over at Cabinet of Wonders, "dig into ancient astronauts, Ufology, earthlights, etc. and what you find is Fort standing there tapping his foot and wondering why you are so late for the party."

Singularity: Special Report

Do you want to live forever? The IEEE's Spectrum Online offers a great online special report devoted to 'The Singularity' (a possible future point where technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence leads to runaway technological and transhuman innovation). The feature offers video, articles, debates and more, including input from writers, researchers and experts on the topic of the singularity (Ray Kurzweil, Vernor Vinge etc), consciousness (Christof Koch), and the limits of science (John Horgan).

Definitely well worth browsing through the feature, there's a lot of thought-provoking content there. Though I'll be more impressed the day singularity proponents include an 'old-school' "survival of death" researcher in their forums, to debate whether we should actually be trying to prolong physical life forever...

News Briefs 04-06-2008

Rick's computer blew up when he clocked World of Warcraft. I've donned my elf costume and will do my best Rick impersonation for today's news...

  • I thought that Phoenix picture the other day was cool. How amazing is this? I think NASA should get into the poster business.
  • SpaceShipOne? The tales that could be told about that little escapade. Oh...they have.
  • Also at Cosmic Log, make sure you don't miss Mars in 3-D! It's almost perverse, the combination of multi-billion dollar technology and 10 cent 3D glasses. But to feel like you're standing on the Red Planet, looking at the landscape? Priceless.
  • And to keep the "space eye candy" vibe going today, note that NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has imaged the inner Milky Way in 5 Gigapixel glory. Head to this page to access a browser-friendly version.
  • Study says carbon nanotubes are as dangerous as asbestos.
  • Anonymous donor gives $5million to keep Fermilab running. The nerve of some people, funding science...doesn't he/she realise that sort of money could buy 8 Cruise Missiles?!
  • But wait: has science found a way to end all wars? Wasn't there a war that was supposed to do that?
  • Maybe what the Middle East needs is a good ole-fashioned solar eclipse.
  • E.T. gets a new switchboard.
  • Dean Kamen's prosthetic 'Luke' arm now has mind-control and 3D-spatial interfaces. Hopefully mind control via the owner...otherwise that would be pretty sucky.
  • The Question of Global Warming: two detailed book reviews and commentary by acclaimed 'maverick' scientist Freeman Dyson.
  • Caring or cruel? Inside the primate laboratory.
  • Terracotta warriors damaged by Chinese quake.
  • Footprints in volcanic ash suggest humans were walking around in Mexico 40,000 years ago.
  • Unique book dedicated to the trial of the Templars goes on display in Sofia.
  • Titanic discovery occurred during a secret Cold War navy mission.
  • Rennes-le-Chateau is in need of a little resurrection. The irony of that headline is beating me senseless.
  • 50 years since he first entranced Western ears, Ravi Shankar discusses Hendrix, the Beatles, Timothy Leary and Indian ragas.
  • For all you oldies out there: the Classic Science Fiction Channel.

Thanks Kat and Filip.

Quote of the Day:

There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

Freeman Dyson

Colonising the New World

Two interesting stories from last week, on a similar and fascinating topic: the colonisation of the New World (the Americas).

Firstly, this story examines the claims of 'renegade' archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars, who believes he has the answer to recent dating controversies which dispute the 'Clovis-First' theory of New World colonisation:

[S]cientists have unearthed a growing number of ancient human sites across the continent that date back much more than 13,000 years. How did those people get here? No one knows for sure. Cinq-Mars, a retired former curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, believes the answers lie in the lost land of Beringia.

Named after 18th-century Danish explorer Vitus Bering, this territory emerged from under the sea when advancing glaciers locked up seawater and caused ocean levels to fall 120 metres. The 1,000-kilometre-wide land bridge that joined the two continents was so arid it remained a glacier-free oasis of grassland steppes that teemed with life at the height of the Ice Age.

People here lived alongside giant and outlandish animals - beavers the size of today's bears, fearsome carnivorous bears that would have dwarfed today's grizzlies, sloths as big as oxen, mastodons, lions and woolly rhinos and camels.

Cinq-Mars, who has been exploring Beringia since his student days in 1966, believes the region was not only a way-point for people migrating into the Americas, but also a homeland for aboriginal people for millennia as they sought refuge during the Ice Age.

A separate story at Discover.com asks the question: "Did Humans Colonize the World by Boat?". It looks at the research of Jon Erlandson, who believes there is a "huge area of ignorance" regarding the sea-faring abilities of humans during the last Ice Age:

Our new understanding of climate and sea-level change sheds light on something that has long puzzled archaeologists: How did modern humans colonize the far reaches of the globe so quickly after their exodus from Africa? If Erlandson and his colleagues are right, it was a series of sea voyages and river crossings that brought our ancestors to alien lands, launching the greatest biological invasion of all time.

...“It looks like seafaring capabilities and seafaring technology have a much greater antiquity than conventional wisdom among archaeologists would lead one to expect,” says James O’Connell, an archae­ologist at the University of Utah.

The article also discusses the fact that a lot of the remnants of Ice Age culture lies beneath the ocean, thus contributing to a lack of knowledge about aspects of coastal colonisation.

News Briefs 03-06-2008

Thanks to Red Pill Junkie for the Polar Bear Husky link. Liked that one.

  • The betrayal of Judas: did a team of biblical scholars mislead millions?
  • Pi, Phi and the Great Pyramid.
  • Have sex while you sleep. Add some snoring...
  • Why didn't the polar bear eat the husky?
  • Conversations on the Moon.
  • NASA makes magnetic fields beautiful.
  • The Norwegian fjords.
  • Black hole jets explained differently.
  • The top ten solutions to the world's biggest problems.
  • Optical illusions allow humans to see the future.
  • Declining male birth rate baffles scientists.
  • Finding fossils on Mars would be bad news for humanity.
  • Swimming in the gene pool.
  • Recent UFO sightings in France.

Quote of the Day:

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.

Harry Emerson Fosdick

Fortean Times #237

The latest issue of Fortean Times (#237) has been released, and as is to be expected at this time, the cover story is on the crystal skulls. Plenty of other topics covered as well though:

For this issue we sent Gordon Rutter the nearest thing we could find to Indiana Jones - in search of the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the truth behind one of the 20th century's most popular and enduring mysteries. And we look back at the history of forteanism, with an extract from Jim Steinmeyer's new biography of Charles Fort and an overview of America's trailblazing "Fate" magazine.

Also this month we tell of the strange events of 170 years ago when the last armed uprising in Britain took place outside a small village near Canterbury, puzzle over the unsolved mystery of an unknown aircraft repeatedly spotted in Scandinavian skies in the 1930s, wonder how Romanian office workers could have taken two days to notice that one of their colleagues had died at her desk, and go all warm and fuzzy over stories of animals looking after their fellow creatures.

Full details via the above link. As always plenty of archived articles and other features at the Fortean Times website.