MonthMay 2013

Teach The Controversy: Mermaids Edition

I don't know; therefore, mermaids

Jim Vorel on Animal Planet‘s bizarre Mermaids hoax:

‘Mermaids: The New Evidence’ is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV

There’s absolutely no hyperbole in that title. Last night on Animal Planet I caught the replay of “Mermaids: The New Evidence,” the follow-up to Discovery Channel’s abysmally bad, misleading and rage-inducing “docufiction” from last year, “Mermaids: The Body Found.” It’s the worst TV I’ve ever seen. Nothing else comes even close.

Last night’s special was even further from reality from the first documentary, which at least went through more trouble to appear legitimate-looking. Instead of being comprised of talking head interviews, it was done almost in the style of an extended round-table on a 24-hour news network, which I suppose is fitting in an odd way. A shill of a host acted as the “moderator,” asking canned questions to our returning star and conquering hero from the past program, “Dr. Paul Robertson,” a man touted as being “a former researcher for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” Other guests were brought forward to share their own mermaid revelations and screen poor CGI footage of supposed mermaid encounters.

I’ll start out by simply pointing out the stuff that anyone with access to Google can discover immediately — “Dr. Paul Robertson” is not an actual person, but an actor. His name is Andre Weideman. Here’s his IMDB page. It’s safe to assume that all the other supposed researchers and government officials on the special were also actors, or they wouldn’t be there.

Full Story: Herald Review: ‘Mermaids: The New Evidence’ is the worst thing I’ve ever seen on TV

See also:

I Wanted the Story to Seem Real, Says “Mermaids: The New Evidence” Producer

Science Channel Refuses To Dumb Down Science Any Further

Monster mummies of Japan

Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

Evan, a student at IMSA

I wrote about the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a boarding high school in Aurora, IL, for Wired:

The IMSA Wednesdays are like Google’s “20 percent time” — only better. “At Google, 20 percent time is actually tacked on to the rest of your job. ” says Daniel Kador, another former IMSA student. “At IMSA, it really is built into your schedule.” And though Kador and other students admit that they spent more than a few Wednesdays just goofing off — as high school students so often do — they say the environment at IMSA ends up pushing many of them towards truly creative work. And it pays off.

After teaching himself to program at IMSA, Chu went on to the University of Illinois, where he worked on NCSA Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, following in the footsteps of fellow IMSA alums Robert and Michael McCool. And, eventually, he joined several other IMSA graduates as an early employee at PayPal, where he still works today.

Chu is just one of many tech success stories that have sprung from IMSA over the years (see sidebar, page two). Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well. You can think of IMSA as a Hogwarts for Hackers.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

Photos by: Greg Ruffing

Sci-Fi Story Disguised As Twitter Bug Report

Tim Maly is at it again:

It was a post by Allison. Nothing special, something like “Mmmm tasty lunch” with an image attached. The image was a broken link. No big deal. I tried to find the original tweet but there was some problem with the unique ID and you don’t make it easy to page through past tweets. I’d have given up if I hadn’t noticed the timestamp.

The timestamp was in the future. Two days in the future. Weird bug. But @timebot was always a side project and I was on some big deadlines.?

Two days later, Allison decided to go to our favourite sandwich shop. I don’t know the details of what happened. But I do know that at 12:23:51pm on October 3rd, @allililly tweeted “Mmmm tasty lunch” with an image attached and no broken link. The timestamp matched. The unique ID matched. The formerly broken link in @timebot’s message now worked. I got that vertiginous feeling again.

To keep things simple, I’ll spare you the details of the next occurences, or of the time an errant tweet nearly broke up Sandra and her girlfriend. Let’s just say that I’m convinced that, somehow, @timebot is pulling not only tweets from the past, but tweets from the future.

Full Story: Twitter API returning results that do not respect arrow of time

Previously: Tim’s The Corporation Who Would Be King

Karen Berger, Comics’ Mother of “the Weird Stuff,” Is Moving On

The New York Times has a profile of Karen Berger, the editor of Vertigo Comics. Berger announced earlier this year that she is leaving Vertigo. The Times has no update on what she’s doing next.

For the roster of artists she leaves behind, Ms. Berger’s exit raises questions about the future of Vertigo and where its renegade spirit fits into an industry and a company that seem increasingly focused on superhero characters who can be spun off into movies and TV shows.

“It’s really hard to tell at this stage,” said Mr. Gaiman, a best-selling novelist and fiction writer who was scouted by Ms. Berger in the 1980s. “That was DC Comics, now we have DC Entertainment. It is a different beast, being run by different people.”

Sitting in a DC conference room a few days ago and surrounded by shelves of Vertigo titles that she published, Ms. Berger, a soft-spoken woman of 55, said she quit to pursue new challenges. “It’s time to ply my storytelling skills elsewhere,” she said. [...]

Comic sales have fallen off substantially, Mr. Morrison said, and the qualities that defined Vertigo’s titles have become widely imitated. They have “bled into the mainstream in such a way that you almost didn’t need it anymore.”

Mr. Morrison said he could still remember when his Vertigo series “Sebastian O,” about an assassin in Victorian-era England, sold about 90,000 copies of its first issue in 1993 — a modest quantity that would make it a Top 10 best seller in 2013. (DC said it doesn’t provide sales figures.)

Full Story: The New York Times: Comics’ Mother of ‘the Weird Stuff’ Is Moving On

There is no one who shaped my tastes more than Berger. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

DMT Found in the Pineal Gland of Live Rats

DMT: The Spirit Molecule author Rick Strassman’s organization the Cottonwood Research Foundation announces:

We’re excited to announce the acceptance for publication of a paper documenting the presence of DMT in the pineal glands of live rodents. The paper will appear in the journal Biomedical Chromatography and describes experiments that took place in Dr. Jimo Borjigin’s laboratory at the University of Michigan, where samples were collected. These samples were analyzed in Dr. Steven Barker’s laboratory at Louisiana State University, using methods that funding from the Cottonwood Research Foundation helped develop.

The pineal gland has been an object of great interest regarding consciousness for thousands of years, and a pineal source of DMT would help support a role for this enigmatic gland in unusual states of consciousness. Research at the University of Wisconsin has recently demonstrated the presence of the DMT-synthesizing enzyme as well as activity of the gene responsible for the enzyme in pineal (and retina). Our new data now establish that the enzyme actively produces DMT in the pineal.

The next step is to determine the presence of DMT in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the fluid that bathes the brain and pineal. CSF is a possible route for pineal-synthesized DMT to effect changes in brain function. Successfully establishing DMT’s presence in this gland adds another link in the chain between the pineal and consciousness and opens new avenues for research.

Full Story: Cottonwood Research Foundation: DMT Found in the Pineal Gland of Live Rats

(via Disinfo)

Previously: Scientific Evidence of Psychedelic Body Fluids

Psychopomp Now Available On Amazon Kindle (And You Can Still Read Our Excerpt)

Cover of Psychopomp by Amanda Sledz

Psychopomp Volume One: Cracked Plate, the literary dark fiction novel by Amanda Sledz, is now available on the Amazon Kindle.

You can still read my interview with Amanda here and read an excerpt from the novel here.

You can also buy it in print from Amanda, Powells or Amazon.

Cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson Interviewed On Mindful Cyborgs

Nathan Jurgenson This week cyborgologist Nathan Jurgenson joined Chris Dancy and me on Mindful Cyborgs. Nathan is the co-founder of the site Cyborgology, co-founder of the Theorizing the Web conference, a contributing editor at The New Inquiry and a sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland.

You can download or listen to it on Soundcloud or on iTunes, or just download it directly.

Here are a couple highlights from the transcript:

If you’ve taken a lot of photos, if you’re a photographer and you spend a lot of time with the camera in your hand or up your eye. You develop the thing that is called the “camera eye,” that is even when the camera is not at your eye you start to see the world through the logic of the camera mechanism. You see the world as a potential photo with a framing, lighting, the depth of field and so forth. And that’s called the camera eye and I think social media, especially Facebook, has given us the sort of documentary vision or the Facebook eye where you see the world as a potential Facebook post or tweet or Instagram photo.

That is you see the present as always this potential future past, this sort of nostalgic view of the present. I don’t think it takes us out of the moment. Some people say that, that you’re not experiencing life in the moment because you’re worried about posting it on Facebook. I think that’s just a different experience of the moment. But it’s worth debating whether that’s a better experience or worse experience.

What Eric Schmidt was getting at when he was talking about how using a smartphone is emasculating and you need to have this Google Glass that is somehow more masculine or something like that. It was really, I thought, offensive. And I think the correct reading of that was that the smartphone, now, everybody has a smartphone. How can you look like you’re a rich, powerful man if you have this thing that everybody has?

Well, there’s Google Glass now and again reinforces how what a cellphone used to do. When people see you wearing the Google Glass will say oh, well, you’re an important rich, powerful man. It’s really I think sad in sort of an offensive way to market that product. They’ve done a terrible job marketing Google Glass I think.

More show notes, plus the complete transcript, inside.

Continue reading

How the British Elite Are Trained to Think

Here’s an essay question from a scholarship application to Eton, an elite boarding school in the UK:

Eton College exam question

Laurie Pennie weighs in:

questions like this – topics for debate designed to reward pupils for defending the morally indefensible in the name of maintaining “order” – crop up throughout the British elite education system, from prep schools to public schools like Eton to public speaking competitions right up to debating societies like the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, which are modelled on parliament for a reason.

This is how you’re meant to argue when you’re eventually in charge. You’re trained for it, and part of that training is regularly being presented with morally indefensible positions to defend anyway or risk losing whatever competition you’re engaged with. I have seen perfectly decent young men get carried away defending genocide and torture because that’s the only way to win. Those who are unable to do so are taught that they have no business having political opinions. The people assumed to be the future elite are not rewarded for getting the answer which is most correct, most compassionate or humane or even sensible – they’re rewarded for smashing the opposition. And that’s how you get politicians who will argue anything they’re told to, enact any policy they’re told to no matter how many how many people will get hurt, just so that their team can win.

Moreover, this isn’t just a standard homework question. It appears on a scholarship entrance exam, a test designed to be sat by young men seeking to join the ranks of the rich and powerful by virtue of merit and smarts rather than family money.

Full Story: New Statesmen: The Eton Scholarship Question: this is how the British elite are trained to think

Meanwhile, Tim Maly poses some alternate questions.

The Quest to Find the First Soundscape

Alexis Madrigal on his quest to find the first recordings of the urban soundscape:

Could I go back a hundred years and listen to New York or Paris?

When it comes to film, you can see all kinds of old places. Sometimes even in high resolution, thanks to the work of archivists like Rick and Megan Prelinger. These films are incredibly important records for historians and citizens alike. They give us eyes in the past.

There’s an amazing film sequence of San Francisco in 1905. A camera was placed on a streetcar and driven down Market Street, the diagonal that cuts through the city’s core. Pedestrians, cars, carts, horses, the whole dizzying array of urban life before electricity and the automobile turned our cities inside-out. We recognize our buildings, but not our city. Similar recordings exist of most major cities.

I figured that there had to be similar documentation of the metropolitan soundscape, or any soundscape really.

But there isn’t.

Full Story: The Atlantic: The Quest to Find the First Soundscape

The Strange Discordian Journey of the KLF


Above: The KLF’s The White Room movie

J.M.R. Higgs writes:

Drummond and Cauty claimed that their solicitor was sent…

…a contract with an organization or individual calling themselves ‘Eternity’. The wording of this contract was that of standard music business legal speak, but the terms discussed and the rights required and granted were of a far stranger kind.

“Whether The Contract was a very clever and intricate prank by a legal minded JAMS fan was of little concern to Drummond and Cauty,” Information Sheet 8 continues.…

For them it was as good a marker as anything as to what direction their free style career should take next.… In the first term of The Contract they, Drummond and Cauty, were required to make an artistic representation of themselves on a journey to a place called THE WHITE ROOM. The medium they chose to make this representation was up to them. Where or what THE WHITE ROOM was, was never clearly defined. Interpretation was left to their own creativity. The remuneration they are to receive on completion of this work of art was supposed to be access to THE “real” WHITE ROOM.

The pair claim that they went on to sign this contract, despite the advice of their solicitor to have nothing to do with it. It is worth noting at this juncture that Cauty and Drummond were ignorant of Operation Mindf**k. Their sole knowledge of Discordianism came from Illuminatus!, which Cauty had never read and which Drummond had not, at that time, ever finished. By signing any such contract they were not simply ‘playing along’, for they would have had no context for what the contract was, or where it had come from.

In this reading of events, Drummond and Cauty appear to have taken a Discordian Operation Mindf**k prank letter at face value, and spent hundreds of thousands of pounds making a piece of work that would fulfil their part of a hoax contract that they chose to sign.

As to what the ‘real’ White Room which the contract alluded to was, Drummond and Cauty were typically candid: “Your guess is as good as anybody’s.” In Discordian terms, however, the meaning is relatively clear. The White Room refers to illumination, or enlightenment. The word ‘room,’ however, is interesting. The use of a spatial metaphor defines enlightenment as a place that can be travelled to, or sought in a quest. The search for the White Room becomes a pilgrimage, with the White Room itself taking on the character of the Holy Grail. Drummond and Cauty’s film, when seen in this light, becomes a means to an end. The White Room was not intended as a film that would make money or enhance their careers. It was, instead, a step along the path in a search for enlightenment.

Full Story: The Daily Grail: The Strange Journey of the KLF

I bought Higgs’ e-book KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money but haven’t read it yet.

See Also: The KLF: Genius or Gibberish? (from 1991)

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