Archive for the ‘forms of communication’ Tag

The Amazing Human-ish Head   Leave a comment

Here’s one of the creepiest videos I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s a work in progress by Australian artist Chris Jones.  It’s a fascinating study on how to reproduce a human without being human at all.  Visit the link to his website and you’ll be fascinated at all of the work that’s involved in creating such a realistic life form.

To me, it’s a game changer…and might even change some of those video games we all think are so real…

Defining Lucy   Leave a comment

What is it about the name Lucy that translates into a woman of exception?

My first exposure to anyone named Lucy appeared like this:


Thanks to “Peanuts” and Charles Schulz

Though depicted in cartoon form, Lucy was mean, authoritative and plain bossy.  Her combative side played against her profession as a therapist, although her rates were rather low to reflect the acidity of her plain-spoken advice.


Credit: “Peanuts” by Charles Schulz

Don’t be fooled by her placid expression – this girl ate boy’s psyches for lunch!

Somewhere along the line, well before the above Lucy’s time, another individual bearing the same name roamed the planet.  None of us were around to duck her left hook or receive any sort of constructive advice from her jaded mind.  This particular Lucy avoided verbal battles and stuck to those pertaining to self-preservation.


Credit: University of Minnesota at Duluth

Lucy’s daily life revolved around the basics: food, water and trying not to be eaten by hungrier life forms.  Her ambitions weren’t to solve ancient mysteries, yet she became one for moderns to discern.  Little did she realize she’d become a celebrity in scientific circles; the most she probably hoped for was to make it to the end of each day in one piece.  Still, I can imagine her fighting off both her kind and others who might interfere with her general happiness and well-being.  Take a look at that face: is that a smile or a taunting smirk?

This brings us to yet another Lucy:


Credit: “Lucy”, Universal Pictures

As you can see, this Lucy beautifully combines the self-preservation instincts as our ancient Lucy with the no-nonsense style of “Peanuts” Lucy.  As the unwilling recipient of a manufactured illicit drug from a notorious Asian drug god, Lucy finds herself evolving rapidly through the 100% capacity of her brain.  All sorts of neat things happen, both for good and ill, but she makes it plain that once she’s got this drug in her system, she’s driving the bus and she’s not waiting for anyone to get on.

My husband Andrew and I went to our local dodecaplex to see “Lucy” for ourselves the other night.  Eschewing overpriced greased popcorn, we scored prime seats and sat through the merciless chain of dull trivia slides, irritating adverts and banal animated rules and regs for the theatre.  As the lights grew dim, we were subjected to the endless onslaught of trailers, including the truly frightening one for “Fifty Shades of Awful” (one look at the male “romantic” lead leaves you questioning:  Him?  Really?  That’s the best casting could do?  Hint from a woman to guys: DON’T take your favorite lady to see this on Valentine’s Day when it opens.  Trust me.  Flowers and chocolate are a far better choice).

Just short of a revolt from the audience, the film finally started.  I’ve always like Scarlett Johansson and she seems to do well with sci-fi roles that have a bit of bite to them.  Though she started off a bit weak, her performance strengthened as the film went on.  What I didn’t like about the film was how it expected viewers to take a real leap of faith about how the plot unfolded, and just expected you to believe what was happening required little or no explanation.  Although that could be said for many sci-fi films, on the way home Andrew and I laughed about how aspects of the plot unfolded without regard to plausibility.  Still, we liked it a lot, it was entertaining and fun and I’d recommend it.

Besides, SJ’s Lucy gets to meet her ancient predecessor.  Shame there was no mention of Charles Schulz’s creation.






The Convenience of Alternate Reality   Leave a comment


Sleep, Salvador Dali, 1937

Just once, I’d like to experience alternate reality.  It’d be so cool.  Its applications easily transform a life of drudgery into one of utter convenience and comfort.

How?  Glad you asked.

Need a vacation?  Press capital “A” and “R” and “enter” on the keyboard.  And there you are, adrift on a tranquil otherworldly beach, fingers tracing a path in the water as you doze contentedly on a bamboo raft.  The best part is, it doesn’t cost you a cent.  Only a bit of a time share of the brain is all that’s needed for a quick and secure purchase.

But why limit yourself?  Imagine all those options now available at the tap of your fingers…

A teenaged daughter melts down in the throes of a mind-bending temper tantrum, the cause of which is as remote and unidentifiable as the chances of the United States winning the World Cup.  Tap the keys and gently glide her towards the closet et voila!  She vanishes into an alternate reality where organization, good grades and a clean bedroom floor rule the culture.

Or the unreasonable boss whose unending, bellicose rants that spew unfathomable opinions regarding what’s possible and what isn’t, and invariably differs from yours, everyone else’s and even the client:  an accidentally-on-purpose keyboard maneuver zaps the offending creature-person into a universe filled with vegetarian peace mongers whose lives are governed by reason and silent meditation.

Sending people off into ARs is terrifically, wonderfully cathartic.  If one had the will to jettison any nasty, reprehensible being into a space-time continuum that requires that person to experience/do what only the reaches of fantasy could dream up, prisons would be a thing of the past.

AR isn’t necessarily punishment for evil.  It’s also a reward for good.  The desperate street person stands in a lush, vibrant Eden after offering assistance to a stranger.  A poor young mother struggling with an empty refrigerator and bank account suddenly grapples with luxury in a 110-roomed mansion, complete with a  safe stuffed with cash hidden behind a library portrait.

One often sees ARs pop up in science fiction.  Alternative worlds, even universes exist, habituated with mirror versions of ourselves living lives alien to our own.  Trouble is, where are these places?  Presently, we can’t seem to determine how our own universe came into being, let alone figure out its size.  Where are we supposed to locate a portal to the plane of existence that remedies, curses, challenges or accentuates the very qualities humans of Earth lack or ignore?

It’s around someplace.  It has to be.  I have about 30 socks waiting to join their partners there.

The Non-Walker Zombie from Outer Space   Leave a comment


Illustration: NASA

Now, doesn’t that sound like a great title for a sci-fi novel?

Actually, this story’s true and it is a great story for a movie.

Way back when Jimmy Carter was president, in 1978, the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 was launched with the mission to investigate solar wind’s interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field.  Later, it was renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) to study comets.  In September 1985, it passed through the tail of Comet Giacobini-Zinner, and in 1986 it was tasked with the mission to observe Halley’s Comet.  During the same year, three rocket burns put it on a course to position it above the moon on August 10, 2014.  With the ICE so near, a space shuttle could snatch it and return it to earth, and NASA had this in mind because it planned to donate it to the National Air and Space Museum.

After a few more missions, it was retired in 1997, although it loops around the sun in a 355 day orbit.  It will catch up with and pass the Earth this August 2014.  But in 1999, the Deep Space Network was upgraded and the transmitters that communicated with ICE were themselves retired, although no one said this to ICE, who continued its end of the bargain by remaining open to communication.  It’s sort of like being kept on hold and waiting forever, without anyone telling you that the person who put you there went home a long time ago, leaving you to listen to horrible Kenny G music in the meantime.

And really, that should have been the end of the story.  But it isn’t.

Within the confines of yet another decommissioned icon, an entrepreneurial engineer named Dennis Wingo has managed the impossible.  He and his team have begun communicating with ICE once more.  Mr. Wingo’s company is Skycorp and it’s located in an ex-McDonalds in a decommissioned Navy base that has been repurposed for nonprofits, academia and small technology firms.

A decommissioned satellite linked with a decommissioned burger factory is kind of cool.  There’s something very Max Headroom about it.  I like it.

Through Mr. Wingo’s determination, a group of engineers, including those who originally worked on the project, plus a crowd funding site RocketHub, they raised approximately $160,ooo to breathe life in the old gal.  And NASA’s doing its part too, donating time on its Deep Space Network to help getting ICE going again.

ICE is still doing its job out there and observing solar flares and other phenomena, as was discovered.  So there was great optimism to position it over the moon as originally planned, which now requires 400 pulses to place it over the sweet spot.  There’s been a few minor setbacks, but if all goes well, Mr. Wingo and his team are all set to pull ICE into a moon gravity-based slingshot into an orbit around the earth, so it can receive instructions for a new mission.

I have to admit that this story has me cheering.  Why should there be a whole pile of forgotten and unused satellites and space paraphernalia after NASA and all the world’s other space agencies no longer need them?  It’s an excellent opportunity for others, corporations like Skycorp but also universities and even astronomy and engineering clubs to find other purposes for them?  Sure, one can say that leaves opportunities for crimes we haven’t even imagined yet.  On the other hand, I’m sticking with the belief that a lot of good can come from that zombie named ICE, and its other colleagues out there.

Just imagine the stories that can be dreamed up from this real-life adventure…






The Plot Thickens   2 comments


Image: Lynette Cook, NASA

There’s a brisk business in the sci-fi fiction world wherein writers devise plots regarding worlds thousands of millions of light years yonder, only reachable by wormholes or imagination.  At the same time, astronomers here on earth keep their eyes stuck to their favorite observing instrument of choice seeking out new planets, and, because there appears to be an obvious lack of wormholes (or so I believe; I could be wrong), they use their imaginations to conceive images of what these new worlds would look like.

On Independence Day, I sat on the porch of my parents’ house (so hard still to visit and not see my mother there) and flipped through the offerings on Endgadget.  A posted article entitled, “The first potentially habitable alien planets we ever found – might not actually exist,” written by Richard Lawler caught my attention.  In it, he writes about Gliese 581g, a planet orbiting Gliese 581, a star located in the constellation Libra.  What made Gliese 581g so intriguing is its location in the “Goldilocks zone,” so called because it’s the correct distance from its sun to possess a moderate temperature for liquid water – not too hot or cold.  It had also been determined that the planet didn’t spin on its axis and one side was perpetually in the dark.  Artists created imaginative drawings, dreaming up visions of what this planet could look like.

Alas, it appears to have been all for naught.  Spectrographic readings taken from Gliese 581 now indicate that 581g might actually not exist.  How is that possible?  The short answer is that the very signals that determined a planet might be located in a particular place also can be attributed to another source, say, “space stuff.”  What would have produced a signal for the spectrometer to read no longer exists.  It faded.  Disappeared.  Or, alternatively, may have been misread.

What a delicious idea for a plot.

Take it from the 581g’s point of view.  Of course, that wouldn’t be the name of the planet.  In my head, it’d be more like Ulele or Onodon – a whispery moniker reminiscent of mystery and exotica.  For millennia the habitants, fiercely protective of their unique home, shrouded their visibility because of a unique feature Ulele/Onodon hosts.  A signal accidentally launched by a careless Uleleian/Onodonite as it lit its cigarette on a rations replenish break, triggers a spectrograph that sits in the Earth lab of Dr. Jill Jackson, a red-headed ball of fire pouncing on a grand opportunity to stake her position as the sharpest astrophysicist in the universe.  Having maxed out her credit cards and on the brink of credit collapse, she aims for the Nobel Prize and its generous financial reward and reveals her discovery to fellow scientists.  Unbeknownst to her, the Ulele/Onodons are hot on her trail, thanks to sensitive instruments tuned to the merest hint of detective devices such as the one Dr. Jackson uses, and seek revenge…but not before re-cloaking their planet.  Vowing to hunt her down like an unwanted cockroach in a Harlem apartment, Ulele/Onodon Fowler Falx is hot on her trail, and won’t stop until she’s obliterated and vanishes from view…just like 581g.

See, that explanation is much more entertaining than, “We thought we saw something…honest!…but it just…disappeared.  Or, a similar incident as detailed above really happened and no one will admit it, because as any watcher of any sci-fi series involving space generally hide evidence regarding alien encounters.  Since the jury is out on aliens’ actual existence, I’d like to seize this celestial development and give it a life, thicken its plot and give it hope for the future.

Keep your eyes to the skies, folks.  The universe is filled with enigmas.


Sounds Like a Mystery   Leave a comment

Sound Pix

Here’s a mystery for you:  How can one recognize a sound if one doesn’t know what one is listening for?

Envision the sound of water dripping.  To us, it’s immediately identifiable.  A persistent plunk of droplets, often landing in unwanted places.  That faucet with the worn valve, a pipe’s joinery weakening, even raindrops plopping a steady rhythm – all instantly recognizable, regardless of different circumstances.  It’s water.  We know that.

Now imagine that sound broadcast over light-years’ worth of distances.  A resident of another galaxy hears it.  Perhaps on his or her planet, water evaporates or freezes.  Will this off-world listener misinterpret our ambient noises to be a distinct language?

As depicted in the movie, “Contact,”  our broadcasts words, laughter, music, applause and other activity drifted out beyond our solar system’s outer reaches.  We only know what passes for language here on Earth.  How do other life forms communicate?  Perhaps applause might not be recognized as having a function.  Music might not exist at all.  Laughing might be a language all unto itself.

We allege that our off-world companions might exhibit the same traits as we humans do.  It’s only natural, since we don’t have any standard method of comparison.  Our Earth is filled with a virtual cacophony of sounds, each bearing a unique interpretation, all providing information we need to assess our reaction, if any is necessary.  How, then, do we describe to our off-world friend what exactly we are hearing when we cannot communicate the definition of it?

What happens when we hear our first off-world sounds from a habited planet?  A friendly gesture might resemble explosions.  Our experience tells us we are in danger.  Our foreign friend freaks out when charged with guns and bombs, and then what?  The Off-Worlder retreats or worse, dies.

Sound waves travel differently given the amount of resistance they encounter.  A bell changes its tune as it rises in altitude.  Temperature also affects sound.  String instruments hate the cold.  Drums can be cooperative, although animal skin drumheads shrink or expand with the temperature and humidity.

An off-world sound brought to Earth can lose its characteristics unique to its planet and present an entirely changed audio experience.  How to identify a sound never before heard?  Good question.  I thought about that and wondered how I’d react.  I’m curious and I’d investigate.  I’d do that, though, only if the sound registers in my ear.  If my cat ran off or the neighbor’s dogs started barking like crazy, and nothing was around to set them off, then what?  Or if that sound destroyed object like a laser – a highly concentrated,focused beam of sound silently destroyed selected targets, I’d seriously worry.

Sounds like a mystery to me…

Posted February 27, 2014 by seleneymoon in science fiction

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