Sunday, August 26, 2007

He was a fun guy.

This is my back yard. I am giving you this tantalizing view into my personal life in order to share with you something very special. The centerpiece of this image is an oak tree with a disease. The disease is down low, near the bottom. If you know what that is, then you know how vital and important a discovery it is.

If you don't know what it is, then you're asking me, "What the fuck is that brain thing on your tree, Doctor?"

That, my friends, is sulfur shelf. Laetiporus gilbertsonii. It is a highly coveted and much valued fungus among those in the know.

If you know what sulfur shelf is, then you're saying, "Aww, shit, man. Some dudes have all the luck." Just to piss you off more, I'm giving you a closeup


Tomorrow (after it has matured just a titch more) I am going to cut it off my diseased oak tree, I am going to cut the thing up into cubes, throw it into a big sauté pan with some butter, a little salt, and maybe a dash of garlic--not too much or it will overpower the natural goodness of the fungus.

It's called the "Chicken of the Forest." It has a texture similar to chicken and some say even a flavor somewhat like chicken, but this is subjective. Everything tastes like fucking chicken.

Finding sulfur shelf is almost as awesome as finding morels. I don't know if you've ever had morel mushrooms (if you're not from the northwoods, it's unlikely) but they are the most amazing thing that sprouts from rotting vegetation. I cook them in spaghetti sauce, or just fry 'em in butter.

The interesting thing about this whole thing is that the oak tree is, in fact, suffering from an incurable malady. The sulfur shelf fungus has bored deep into the wood of the tree and will bloom once a year into the shelf mushroom you see in the image. It is parasitic in a living tree (though they are often found on dead and rotting wood, where they facilitate the rotting process in a healthy way). This fungus could very well kill this tree in a few more years. Maybe longer. I'm by no means a fungologist. In the meantimme, every year, it will bloom one of these babies, and the inhabitant of the house--ideally me--will receive a tasty treat, well worth the suffering of the tree.

You want to know something else interesting about fungi? I thought you did. You see, the cell walls of most fungi are made of a chitin. Yes, that's right. Chitin. The stuff that forms the carapace of insects.

Fungi were once thought to be just plants with bad attitudes. Hell, most of them are poisonous. In fact, who knows if even the relationship between molds and mushrooms was well understood until fairly recently. No, fungi are not plants.

In fact, genetically, fungi are much closer to animals than plants. Much closer. Creepily close. Remember the chitin thing? Also, the feed on death and decay. Pause for shudder. The fact that some of them are amazingly delicious is beside the point. My oak tree is suffering so that I can have that delicious treat. I should be ashamed of myself. And so should you.

This video says what words cannot express. You can say it. Holy shit.

Monday, August 06, 2007

There goes the neighborhood.

Dear friends and readers, it is not often that I make mistakes. When I do, I pride myself on being able to do the right thing: act like I planned it all along.

I once made the claim that the coolest possible thing in the universe was the collision of two black holes. I was wrong, but for a very interesting reason. There are... in the universe...these things called Galaxies. I'm sure you've heard of them. In all likelihood, you live in one, or at least vacation in one.

The one I call home is called the Milky Way, named after the popular candy bar.

Far away--about 5 billion light-years....really, really, amazingly, flabbergastingly far away, in other words--four galaxies are currently colliding. Or...were billion years ago.



You can say it. Don't be ashamed. That's probably the coolest thing that could ever happen. Ever. Four galaxies crashing into each other. Together they are a mass ten times the size of our galaxy. Can you imagine the cataclysm? The carnage?

Imagine if you actually live
d in CL0958+4702 about 5 billion years ago. The show would be amazing. Look up into the night sky and see a spectacular, pestilential, cataclysm beyond biblical proportions. Entire galaxies crashing into each other. There isn't a metaphor or analogy strong enough to compare it to because there's no event in all the fucking cosmos that even begins to compare to this spectacle!

The Milky Way crashing into Andromeda, in about 3 billion years or so, will be nothing, a fender-bender, a boring nothingth of a nothing on the Kuha Significance Scale TM. It's a shame, too.

It's exhausting to contemplate. Entire civilizations may have been destroyed. Populated planets decimated. Whole cultures wiped out with no one to mourn their loss.

Well, someone here mourns them. Someone sheds a single tear for all those amazing civilizations that got to die in the most momentous cosmic even in the history of the universe! You know who mourns them? I do, motherfuckers. I do.

It's a Miracle!

It's been a busy week in the world of science. A new Mars probe has been launched, which ought to clear up some big questions in about 300 days or so. Clearly this will serve a dual purpose. They say that they're trying to find evidence of life on the red planet, but scouting out viable sources of water on the planet would be another good use. Don't know if you've ever read Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. I haven't read it either, but I did read the first page last week and was surprised to find out that the minimum trip that a human from Earth could ever take to Mars would be somewhere in the neighborhood of three years.

The trek itself is like ten months. Then you've got to stay there for about a year for Earth's and Mars's orbits to sync up properly again, and then, of course, there's the return voyage. It'd be rough. You'd really get to know your ship buddies. The psychological turmoil would probably be fairly significance. you'd probably want to screen potential trekkers. Wouldn't want any psychotic episodes.

That would make a good suspense movie, though. A quirky crew of astronauts bound for Mars run into a bit of trouble when one of their own decides to stab someone in the throat with the straw he used for his freeze-dried meals. Messed up. Lots of blood. Can you imagine the scene if someone were to bleed out in zero-G? Holy crap would that be fucked! Just little droplets of blood floating, suspended grotesquely in your cramped little cabin of a spaceship.

In other science news: Parthenogensis! Holy, Mary, Mother of God! Jesus, titty-fucking Christ! And the most famous scandal-fucked Korean scientist of the last year discovered something maybe even cooler--and certainly more controversial--than stem cells. I'm sure you all remember Woo Suk Hwang (You Suck Wang?)

It'll change everything. Men, lock up your wives now, because the technology finally exists for them to reproduce without you! Fucked up, right? Soon, it will be just a matter of taking a "pregnant drug" and women will spontaneously give birth to genetically superior offspring. And without all that tedious mucking about with relationships.

"But Doctor!" all you men say, "Won't that leave us with more time to fish, hunt, and masturbate?"

Shaking my head sadly, I say unto you: once women don't need us to make babies with them, they don't need us at all. We're finished. We will no longer be a necessary half of the species. And if I were womenkind, I would have us eradicated. Women might make the claim that they'd keep us around for slave labor. Don't believe them. It's a trick. They're trying to get you to do slave labor. And we all know how fucking bullshit that is.

I think our only option is a preemptive strike, at the heart of the female empire. Um... someone capture Oprah and find out just where the hell that might be. Make it so!

P.S. You know what would have made the Nativity story cooler? If Mary had had eye lasers and Jesus had been born with all the powers of a Bene Gesserit.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Because I choose to!!!!

Okay, here it is, readers. The final straw. The idea, the conclusion, the bit of logic that will make your brain explode!

Look at him. Go ahead, I know he's just too gorgeous, too cool, and too badass for you to keep your mind clear for what's to come, but take in his vapid, empty, almost Buddha-like countenance. Be certain that Keanu is a Bodhisattva.

I just watched this documentary.

I'm not going to ask you to watch it, because it's kind of long, though it is a very interesting BBC production. Probably one of the best on time travel that I've ever seen.

It's also one of those documentaries that's just a huge cock block. They lead you in, sort of give you a bone, make you think that "Yes! Finally, time travel is fucking possible!" but then it drops you on your nuts with a, "but wait, there's a catch."

Of course, the final catch, according to how the math works, is that if you were to build a time machine, you could never travel back in time to before the time machine itself was built.

Yeah. I know. Fucking bullshit, right?

It's at almost exactly the 40 minute mark that the really interesting stuff comes up in the video. The last possibility for time travel: artificial simulation. I'm not sure if Moore's Law still applies, but it is clear that processor power will continue to increase. Our processors will continue to get smaller--just to give you an idea, the most advance chips are manufactured using a 45nm process, 450 times the diameter of an atom....very, very, very, very tiny--hard drives, RAM, things like that will get faster and more sophisticated. The point is, if trends continue--and right now, there's little reason to believe that they won't--some advanced civilization will be able to create a computer with, in essence, infinite computing power.

With a computer that powerful, you can "time travel" by simply modeling the conditions of a long, long time ago and, in essence, bring the past to you, a-la, the holodeck.

If you modeled a human brain, if you built a computer simulation of a human brain and then ran it at speed, do you realize what you'd create? If you built it from the atomic level up in simulation, do you know what it would be? It would be a conscious mind. It would have an ego. It would be, for all intents and purposes, alive.

You get me?

So here's the clincher. In the documentary, linked above, they talked about the laws of probability. ("If-Then Statement" alert) If the computer of the future is creating these simulated realities, these virtual worlds, if this computer is possible theoretically--and we can be reasonably certain that it is--then the machine most certainly has been built at some point. And if that's true, then the probability of the world you and I live in being the original world, the odds against us living in the "real" world are billions to one.


Let it sink in.

The argument is sound, dear imaginary friends and readers. It's rock solid. The odds of you being real, are very, very tiny.

What does that say about the possibility of the soul? How many layers of artificial reality would you have to claw up through to get to the real real world.

You know what would have made The Matrix a better film? If it turned out that the matrix was just a matrix within a matrix and even the machines were a computer simulation that was subjugating a species that was also just a computer simulation. That would have been the mind fucker of the century. I would have hailed the Wachowski brothers as visionary geniuses.

I know I'm not the first stoner ever to say, "What if, like, the matrix is real? What if, like, we are, just in a computer program?" Even the Wachowski brothers weren't the first to think of it. Descartes probably wasn't even the first.

But did it ever occur to you that it was almost certainly the case? Did it ever occur to you, that you're just an NPC in someone else's ridiculously complex game of The Sims?

It's fucking bullshit, I know.

Here I come to save the day!

Schizophrenia is the most awesome of all severe mental diseases. That is to say it is awe-inspiring and powerful and mis- understood. There is no other comparable disease.

They say that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of crazy people, the schizophrenic is a god.

This is why scientists at Johns Hopkins have decided that other species can benefit from this most holy of brain-crippling diseases. In the past, one might reasonably imagine that schizophrenic people might have been elevated in society. It might have been a desirable characteristic in a shaman or chief or medicine man. The schizophrenic sees things that others don't. He hears things that others don't. He pushes aside the Veil of Maya and makes connections that we only see in our dreams.

I myself have witnessed a schizophrenic acquaintance of mine treated as a shaman type by a hippie chick. She followed him around for hours and hung on his every uttered word. Look at Twelve Monkeys. Pitt's character was a lucid schizo who gathered a following.

"But," you say--O ever astute reader--"Doctor! Schizos are just crazy people! They paranoid, delusional, and insane! They imagine things!" And I say to you, my friends, the schizo is often paranoid and delusional and they are most certainly insane, but no one is so...immaculately insane. Get my drift? It's such a perfect disease. The schizo doesn't necessarily see himself as insane. He has lost his ability to separate the incoming stimuli from the outside world and the world that exists solely in his head. The one becomes transposed over the other creating a mesh, a sort of synthetic world in which miraculous things can happen.

Of course, there's sort of an inverse relationship between a schizo's lucidity and insanity. The more lucid, the less crazy (the less inspirational, but perhaps more charismatic). The less lucid, the more insightful, the less charismatic. A balance must be struck.

I don't know if you've ever heard of Louis Wain. A fascinating figure. An artist who drew nothing but cats. He was famed for his anthropomorphic cat drawings, and also for having "suffered" from late-onset schizophrenia. Here is an interesting progression.

This sort of shows his descent into madness. Bear in mind, this guy only painted pictures of cats. He goes from only vaguely intriguing and perhaps whimsical image of a feline, to.....

oh, kinda weird....

that's pretty.....


Holy fucking psycho-crazy shit, Batman!

It's really quite remarkable. I mean, Wain is the only artist I can think of that actually manages to capture even the slightest hint of what it's like to experience LSD intoxication. This page has higher-res versions of the images, along with biographical info that you might find interesting.

Anyway, what this all goes to show, is that we don't really know anything about schizophrenia or its effects on people. It is clear that some of what the mind sees when inflicted with this disease is akin to what many a hippie experiences when consuming psychedelic drugs. We all know that the shamans of yesteryear (and maybe some still today?) used them for ritualistic purposes. Tribes in Mesoamerica believed that psilocybin mushrooms allowed one to contact the divine.

Perhaps it is more utilitarian...more...useful, to temporarily induce the kind of insanity that schizophrenia is famed for, but that doesn't mean that these scientists aren't trying to create some sort of mouse god-speaker that will lead its people on towards a greater and brighter future for all of mousekind. Maybe, the tree of knowledge is just a mental illness away!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

To You, O, Murdoch, We Humbly Pray!

I've been thinking a lot about war lately. I saw this video. I also saw this video. And then I thought about an old movie. And it occurred to me that if we're going to be spending all of this money anyway, why bother with all of this nonsense about sending troops across the ocean?

Wouldn't it be far cheaper to build giant robots and have them duke it out in Death Valley? Two go in; one comes out. It'd be hella entertaining, and almost as much of a resource hog. It would be utterly pointless and absurd, and hell, we'd actually probably spend less money. We could... I don't know, give the leftover money that we would have spent feeding and housing and outfitting, what, 140,000 the poor or something. That'll shut them the fuck up. How was the Iraq war supposed to help America anyway? I can't figure that out.

Giving the gift of Democracy (which doesn't work so well here, I might add) to Iraqis whose apparently unanimous rebuttal is "Who the hell asked you, anyway?" Can you smell what The Rock's cooking now? Mmm...that's right! That smell is just a little bit of Freedom, bitches!

Whether you like it or not.

Giant robots fighting would give us valuable entertainment--and I think everyone can agree that we deserve at least a little entertainment--and it would cut down on the number of casualties from...umm...let's see...27,000 to... well... between 0 and 1, rounding to the nearest whole number.

I think it's only fair that a living, breathing human would have to be piloting the giant robot. I mean, gladitorial combat would lose all of its fun if there wasn't the possibility of death. We can genetically engineer and specially train these pilots from birth and that's all we'd need them for.

And hell, once this little scheme has solved all of the world's problems, we can start having giant robot fighting leagues. That would be sweet. It might even me a new Olympic event!

And speaking of that, what's with all these pussies saying that athletes shouldn't use performance enhancing drugs? I mean, wouldn't sports in general be more interesting if everyone across the board were juicers? Let's require steroids and crystal meth and...I don't know...crack or something. I think if there's enough money pumped into it, we'll see safer and more effective stimulants and 'roids to make our athletes better and better.

Besides, sports are boring as they are. If we kicked everything up a notch, maybe we'll see some crazy shit new records for...I don't know...the hundred meter dash and home-runs and most touchdowns in an inning or something.

It'll be a brave new world of athletics and warfare. Instead of just televising wars, let's make wars into the entertainment event of the summer! Time it for sweeps, and then totally bank. I bet Rupert Murdoch, in all of his crotchety Australian glory would agree.