Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Arctic Scramble

While the eyes of conspiracy theorists are permamently fixed on the Middle East and Central Asia as the Last Great Battleground for easy access to oil, it looks like both NATO and Russia are capable of hiring slightly more intelligent people.

At least, those intelligent enough to realize that sitting under the Arctic circle are massive oil reserves, so far claimed by no-one.  And as the economic crisis continues to deepen, both are considering sending in military forces to show everyone who really owns the oil and gas hidden under the ice.

Russia is especially worried.  Their much inflated and hysterically claimed resurgence only came about due to stable political leadership, ie; Putin, along with the strategic use of Russian oil and gas reserves to improve the economy and rebuild its military power.  With the current economic crisis, consumption is down and oil prices have plummeted, putting Russia in a very precarious position.  Economic growth is not assured and Russia’s economy has not really diversified in recent years, arms sales aside.

NATO claims that global warming means sea routes previously closed would open again, and that military forces in the region could act as a stablizing factor to ensure possible rivalries don’t get out of hand.  And while this is true, we’d be fools to consider that the Russian interest in massive energy resources is not also a facor.

It is tempting to put a Cold War pun here, but I will refrain.  But I do wonder how China, Japan and other rising powers (such as India) would react to renewed tension in the Arctic circle.  Concentrating such a crisis away from Eastern Europe, the Far East or South Asia may have interesting repurcussions on previously stable alliances.

Keep an eye on this one.  It’s going to be a slow burner.

Welcome to Professor Cramulus’ Fun Lab

Greetings and Beatings, spagwads and spaguettes from the far reaches of the internet. This week I am kicking off a new feature here at Verwirrung. My corner of the blog, which is theoretically going to be regularly updated, will feature a recurring posts about GAMES, PRANKS, JAKES, and MINDFUCKS.

In my column, which is called Professor Cramulus’ Fun Lab, you’ll read about awesome stuff you can do. Like many, I am not satisfied by movies and TV and the various forms of cultural idolatry available in 2009. I prefer hobbies which allow me to participate creatively. To that end, I intend on telling you about pranks, games, and projects which you can actually get involved with. I’d also like to talk about varying forms of Guerilla Surrealism, (culture jamming, situationism, etc) which I consider a delightful form of game.

I’m really interested in games. It’s weird, but I think that as an adult, you have to re-learn how to Play. Play is something that kids do naturally. They can entertain themselves using their imaginations, something that astoundingly few adults remember how to do. Games are a way of connecting us back the kind of wide eyed, hysterical, can’t catch my breath I’m laughing too hard fun we had as kids, but now we have the added brainpower of adulthood.

I’m also interested in pranks. Pranks are sort of like satire. They suggest a funny or surprising twist on reality. They also have the ability to help depict what’s wrong with the world. I’m not generally into altruistic pranks. To me, fun is the bottom line. There’s a sort of altruism there though – the world could use a laugh at its own expense.

So in the coming weeks, this column will explore some of those ideas and many other stupid ones. This week, I’ll give you a simple one by Max Flax, from the Apocrypha Discordia. (page 40)

check it out below the tear…

Continue reading

Hey kids! Try this at home!

This might be old news for some of you mind hackers, but there are ways of proving that your brain and body filter out external “reality” and add their own interpretations.  And you don’t even need fancy drugs, or a laboratory.  Next time you’re trying to argue the Black Iron Prison position, suggest a few of these experiments:

 

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/graphics/011109_hacking_your_brain/

 

Ok, so they aren’t earth shattering.  But at the very least, they demonstrate that we are constantly creating our own personal universe inside our heads.  It’s good to know that it’s at least possible to consciously manage some of our perceived pain.  And it should be pointed out that the Purkinje Lights effect is not only the basis for Gysin’s Dream Machine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamachine), but it’s been suggested that Nostradamus used the same techniques to create his visions.

Bart Simpson: Now officially OT VII

And now for something completely different. Apparently everyone’s favorite lovable cartoon skateboarder Bart Simpson is a Scientologist and has been doing robocalls in the greater Los Angeles area promoting his upcoming auditing session.

Watch the shocking video here!!!

In case that video gets pulled like the YouTube video did it wasn’t REALLY Bart but voice actresses, Nancy Cartwright making the calls. She’s thrilled about reaching OT VII and wants everyone to come see her speak at the Scientology Center in Hollywood. Nancy is currently in trouble with Fox for unauthorized use of the Bart Simpson voice and name. No word yet on how they will punish her.

Word is that Anonymous will also be attending the event on Saturday in full Simpsons gear.

(hat tip to Hoopla)

Modern Medicine

I had an MRI today.  (Nothing is wrong with me, some researcher just wants pictures of my brain).  The experience is interesting.  It starts with a checklist, basic information to make sure there’s nothing in my body the magnets are going to have fun with.  Next up they have me change into hospital garb.  I’m then told to wait, for about an hour, since they secretly scheduled my visit after the time they told me, for fear I’d be late.

After a great deal of waiting, and signing various release forms, liability waivers, and so forth, I’m taken to a small room, the last of my possessions (a book and the locker key with my street clothes) are stripped from me,.  Then I get to go into a larger room, with even less space thanks to the monstrously large hunk of plastic, super-conducting wire and liquid helium.

I put on the headphones, bizarre things out of the science fiction of a century ago, with no metal, and sound pumped through a tube of air into my ears.  Then the technician straps my head in place.  Thus begins the bondage.  The bench is slid backwards slowly, and I find myself unable to move my arms, which are now pinned between my body and the sides of said tube.

Something they don’t tell you about, when fussing over the potential claustrophobia. MRI machines vibrate.

They start playing a movie, I brought Fight Club with me, since I’ll only get to watch the first half of whatever it is, and I hate the second half of fight club.

Something else they don’t tell you about MRIs, they produce a variety of sensations as they scan.  A strange tugging sensation of my abdomen.  A spot of my skin starts to vibrate, slowly moving up my right side.  My nose starts to itch.  Then my eye.

The movie continues playing just long enough to remind me of the first rule of Fight Club.  Which I will say no more about.  The researcher asks me to please stop moving my foot, and they start playing some cognitive tasks for me, think about this word, watch for green dots, don’t think about anything specific.

I cheat on the last one, and wonder why the windows 2000 desktop I was staring at had a program called ‘SSH secure shell client’ when SSH stands for secure shell.

Finally, after about an hour inside this glorified bondage device, I’m pulled out of the machine, given my things back, and sent on my way.  They even gave me pictures, which I share with you now.

Cropped so you spags can't reconstruct my face.

Tinted Windows

Hi, my handle is Requiem.  You may also know me as KC if I dragged you here, or
you’re just stalking me.  You may also know me by about a dozen other names, but if
so I don’t want you to know this.

My part in the blog will be called Tinted Windows, and is going to focus on
experiences.  I’ll probably touch upon pretty much every other aspect of the
blog at some point.  I usually spend about 23 hours a day in front of a
computer, so actually doing things to write about should at least be interesting
for me, even if you find it complete drivel.

I’d like to apologize in advance for pissing you off, unless I mean to piss you
off, in which case I’ll be laughing.

Private equity meltdown?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has long been a favourite of ours at PD.com, well before the current crisis had materialized.  And since he has been proven remarkably right about the current crisis and how it is unfolding, its worth paying attention to him when he speaks.

Private-equity firms may follow banks into failure should U.S. stocks extend their worst rout since the Great Depression, said Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the best- selling finance book “The Black Swan.”…

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has dropped 4.7 percent this year following a 38 percent plunge in 2008 that was the worst in 71 years. Blackstone Group LP, manager of the world’s largest buyout fund, fell 78 percent since the end of 2007.

“Banks are being bailed out, and private-equity firms are going to go next,” Taleb said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. “These people in a bull market look like geniuses. And now they don’t look that intelligent, and it’s going to get a lot worse for them. If the S&P goes down 20 percent from here, what will happen to private equity firms? They’re all under water.”

Layman’s terms.  You know all those venture capitalist companies with tons of money to throw at possibly profitable projects?  These are those guys.  And private equity was a boom market in the early 2000s, which is why, as Taleb says, these guys looked like geniuses.  Unfortunately, much of this boom was created by loose lending standards.  Now, why does that sound familiar…?

Private equity funds are raised by people with money to put them in the specific funds.  And, as we’ve noticed, the banks are not lending right now.  So unless you have the money to hand, cash for these firms and their managed funds is not immediately apparent.

The upshot of this is that there is going to be another round of bailouts, probably every bit as expensive as the banks.  Possibly slightly more helpful, in that such venture capital firms actually do invest and thus help create jobs.  But so long as the banks refuse to lend, this is a temporary solution at best.

Fungi, our SAVIOR!

Here I was, thinking about symbiosis, and along comes this video by Paul Stamets through TED talks (tip of the hat to Cainad). If you haven’t heard of TED talks before, I pity you.

Anyway, the video is about fungi. Most people wouldn’t care about fungi (aside from the type on your table; yes, those ARE fungi sexparts), but I have a soft spot for Animalia’s closest relative, and this man is truly empassioned.

The truth is, fungi are some of the coolest and weirdest organisms around. What we think of as being a mushroom is only the fruiting body . Maybe you’ve pulled up mulch or rotting wood before and seen a white fuzz, or pulled out an old loaf of bread and found a similar fuzz. This is a mycelium, the vegetative body of a fungus, composed of a closed network of hyphae (hair like cells) in a thin sheet. The network indeed is like a body, as the pockets in between cells become holding tanks for water, food and associated bacteria.

Fungi, like humans, are omnivourous. They decompose material outside their cells. In fact, fungi do most of the decomposing on this planet. Not insects, or worms, but mushrooms, are most important to the regeneration of nutrients in the soil. Fungi also form micorhyzal associations with many species of plants, including most flowering plants. A single mycelium can be long lived and long distance. In fact, the largest organism known is a 10 square kilometer mycelium of the fungus Armillaria ostoyae from Oregon, USA.

This seems like a good time to segwey into my purpose here. I’m a biologist bringing Biological Weirdness, oddities, rants and sermons on why living things continue to astound me, and sometimes pure bio-freak craziness. I’m also here to bring news of a Biocentric Future. There is so much research into genetics, ecology, systematics and behavior these days I can barely keep up. Much of what we are learning is turning into new technologies which will make our lives better.

Take this video for example. Stamets shows excellent opportunities for new ways of pest control (ants and termites terminated by fungal spores which leak into their colonies), new medicines (a rare mushroom showing high activity against flu and pox diseases), fuels from cellulose, and possibly even terraforming other planets. These organisms are amazing, bizarre, beautiful, and useful. The world is full of amazing bizarre, beautiful and useful species.

We just have to be willing to look and wonder.

The Way of MacGyver (10 simple steps)

Are you prepared?  It’s a simple, devious question.  Most folk can mostly deal with the mundane stuff they see day to day, but, depending on the person, are less able to deal with the unexpected and unusual.  When life throws a weird situation at you three things will resolve it; will, ideas, and tools.  Will is the most important, the hardest to measure and instill.  Do you throw up your hands and panic, or work with things and solve the problem?  This, you need to figure out on your own, practice and experience will your best teachers.  Ideas, (concepts, techniques, and resourcefulness), are the next most valuable, as they are take up no space, have no weight, are wear proof, and (according to Alan Moore), bulletproof.  They cost only the time it takes to learn them, (remember, time is your most valuable, fleeting asset).  Tools can’t be overlooked despite their lackluster place on this list.  Actions impossible barehanded become easy with the right implement, we’re a tool using species.  This makes tools indispensable if you know what to do with them. 
People’s takes on what is necessary to know and carry will vary WIDELY, but here’s a rough starting point based on various life and work experience in the city, country, and on the ocean.  These aren’t meant to make you an expert survivor or engineer overnight, but are handy things to know for situation from the minor inconvenience to difficult pinch.  Adopt what works for you, get rid of what doesn’t.  Choose wisely.

5 Useful Things to know:
1. Surroundings:  What is there / happening?  What ISN’T there / happening?  How does it work?  Be aware, size things up, and absorb.  Make it a game.

2. Tool use:  Know how to hammer, pry, screw, or bend things.  Know how to safely and effectively cut, whittle, trim, or prep food with a knife. 
   
3. Fire starting:  Read up on methods and play around to get the hang of them.  Tinder, dryer lint, liquid / solid / gas flammables, napalm, etc.  If nothing else, this makes you look proficient at cookouts.  (Watch your eyebrows!) 

4. Basic Sewing:  Knowing a few basic stitches turns torn clothing from a bad situation into a solved one.  Beyond that, knowing how to manipulate flexible expanses of cloth, hide, or plastic opens up whole realms of improvisation.  Learn knots for thread and rope too.

5. First Aid:  Learn how to clean / close wounds, treat shock, severe allergies, hypothermia, stop bleeding, etc.  You don’t need to be a field surgeon and you SHOULD NOT try to be one unless medical care is a far off hope.  You may need to go beyond basic first aid courses for meaty info, as they defer to the medical system whenever possible.  Advanced Courses or First Responder training are good to have.

5 Useful things to have:
1. A water bottle:  Thirsty?  You will be.  Keep one around and fill up whenever possible.  Dehydration SUCKS.

2.  A knife:  Trust me, you want one around as legality allows.  They are very useful tools.  What knife to carry is a long discussion, but for MOST daily utility uses a well made folding knife, or Swiss Army knife (provides other options), will do. 

3.  A lighter:  Even if you’re not a smoker.  Think of all the things that require or can be helped by application of direct heat.  Fire sterilizes things.  Remeber our cookout example?  It beats knocking rock together should you need a fire. 

4. Sewing kit:  with a few sizes of needle and types of thread, this can save your ass (from exposure caused by an embarrassing rip in your pants).  Yes, you COULD improvise sutures, but leave that to the pros whenever you can (it stings).  Beyond that, you can floss or tie small items with the thread, or use the needles when small scratching or piercing is needed (like removing splinters).  Add some parachute cord to this kit for greater flexibility.

5.  Small first aid kit:  Even an empty mint tin stocked with disinfectant swabs, small bandages, antibiotic cream, antihistamine, a few aspirin, and some tape will NEVER be useless.  People always get hurt.

This list hasn’t covered things like clothing or shoes, which are best adjusted by the individual depending on area, exposure and occupation.   Specific advice for unique situations will follow, but improvise for fun when you can to try out what you know.  Add and remove items as you find need or lack thereof.  This additional practice and knowledge will just build upon and compliment what you already have.

Don’t piss off flight attendants

Or, alternately, everyone at once should piss off flight attendants.  Thanks to Cory Doctorow, I found this very interesting article at Daily Kos, which just illustrates perfectly how laws intended for use against dangerous criminals invariably end up being used to discipline and punish those who fail to show enough fealty to the status quo.

The lesson to take from this?  If you’re going to try and annoy flight staff, do it in such a way that you cannot be personally blamed for it.  Anonymity is the key.  There is no use getting needlessly put on such a list, and thus drawing more attention to yourself from unfriendly agencies, but equally you shouldn’t take this shit sitting down.  As it were.