Hey people! I’ve always loved Half-Life, the story of one rogue scientist’s mission to save the planet from aliens. The premise admittedly sounds like a failed 80s movie, but the game manages to immerse you in the story by providing a realistic look at what might happen if our technology was a bit further forward and some foul xeno did appear.

I’ll be doing a review on HL2 pretty soon, but thanks to Cheeesetoastie one lucky gamer is going to get the game for free! To celebrate her 50th subscriber she’s put a PC Steam copy of HL2 up for grabs to randomly selected subscriber. Check out the details and go for it here!

Ways to Enhance Your Sorry Self

Who doesn’t like to imagine themselves with super powers? No-one, that’s who. Even young Superman, as he flew around rural America shooting communists with his laser eyes, had a dream of someday being able to talk to animals.

Oh how I envy Doctor Dolittle…

Such dreams are no longer in the realm of comics however. Paradigm-shattering advances are being made in various fields of human augmentation, so here’s a list of my favourite ways to go ‘Homo-Sapien++’.

1: Powerful Prosthetics

Literally since life began losing a limb has sucked. Evolution spent millions of years giving you that damn appendage so you could feed yourself and once its gone eating/living/procreating becomes that much harder. The extent to which a society can mitigate the physical disadvantage is a good measure of how advanced it is, since it means your relying more on brain and less on brawn. We (humans) have been getting better and better at this, but the loss of a limb will always remain a tragedy.

Until now (or at least, soon). A threshold is being crossed as increasingly prosthetics are being designed which in many ways exceed the capabilities of natural limbs. Most recently: The ‘Terminator Arm – A prosthetic arm which operates basically as a regular hand. Take it a step further and we’ve got tiny hands for small-scale work, strong arms for heavy lifting and ridiculously fast running blades for legs (cf. Oscar Pistorius – his first mention anywhere this week which didn’t reference the trial… Ooops…). And why stop there? Flamethrower arms  projector eyes and sonar ears are just around the corner, and that means that increasingly people will see having a limb amputated as a better option than keeping a healthy limb.

Sounds wonderful for those who choose it, however there is one concern. If practical effectiveness is increased by prosthetic enhancement (as it inevitably will be) then the competitive market will begin to favour workers who sacrifice limbs in order to increase productivity. We’re a long way off from evil overlords grabbing babies and experimenting on them, but we’re pretty close to the point where some job somewhere will be done better by an amputee with a prosthetic and people competing for that job will confront an awkward choice.

2: Smarter, Quicker, Less Defective!

A recent Royal Society publication entitled ‘Human Enhancement and the future of work’ (the Academy of Medical Sciences, Royal Academy of Engineering and British Academy helped too) outlines various ways to enhance the workforce. Prosthetics and exoskeletons are covered for the physical stuff, but it also details various ways to make workers smarter, such as cognitive training via computers (I know Kung Fu!), collective cognition (What did you just think to me?!?), brain stimulation to increase learning and (this last one seems a little crude) drugs for old people.

Equal parts terrifying and amazing. So much could go wrong! So much could go right! Mental enhancement offers possibilities that are literally undreamed of (since our brains aren’t advanced enough yet… see what I did there?) and will undoubtedly shape the future of this sorry rock.

It seems pointless to harp on about the details of a recent publicly-available publication so I’ll just point out some salient facts. One conclusion of the report was that policy makers need to be thinking about this stuff NOW if not sooner – mind-enhancing drugs are already available in chemists and the rest of these technologies are not far off. This is not a distant reality to ponder over, it is something that will happen within our life time (possibly in the next decade) and the people alive today will determine how our first steps into mental enhancement go. These are delicate issues, and once human/computer interfaces are a practical reality there will be hundreds of dangers, but if these technologies are used sensibly for the benefit of all we’ll be in Utopia before we know it.

Read the report! : http://royalsociety.org/news/2012/human-enhancement/

3: Telekinetic Tattoos*

*NOT ACTUALLY TATTOOS – I’m not sure why they called it that. This is basically a new tech the size of a hair which you can stick to your scalp and it’ll read your brainwaves. Tie an emitter to the end and set it to transmit wireless to some machinery and BAM – you are controlling stuff with your mind. Harry Potter can go back to Hogwarts.

This one is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand being able to control stuff with your mind is cool, but it seems to require a great deal of set-up time so would only be used for certain tasks – not much of a multi-purpose upgrade. The tasks which would be controlled in this way would probably be the boring/repetitive/simple tasks we hate anyway, and this just gives you the option to do them while sitting quietly and thinking about them. Fun.

If the tech became pervasive and was standardized though it would be awesome – walking through a city where your little ‘Tattoo’ was rigged to open doors, hail taxis, and make purchases would be amazing. Equally, since they are so small and removable, you could have a selection (one for the office, one for the car, one for the deluxe orbital asteroid condo) to get almost the same effect.

Another big advantage this enhancement has is it isn’t permanent – no ethical concerns like with the prosthetics. Since you can take it off at any time if you felt like having a real stone age style weekend you could unplug the phone, take off the ‘Tattoo’ and play Xbox360 on a 37″ Plasma like your Grand Pappy used to.

Full Report: http://txchnologist.com/post/43496630304/temporary-tattoos-could-make-electronic-telepathy

Say NO to teleportation!

I just can’t let this go. This will be a very short post on why teleportation, as presented in a great deal of sci-fi, amounts to ignorant and self-destructive suicide. Even Sheldon Cooper agrees.

The reason for a post devoted to this one, lone topic? If I don’t rant and rave about it here, my open-mouthed astonishment at Captain Kirk’s Lemming-esque leap into the Automatic Death Machine will infect all my other posts with its rage. So.

Most teleportation systems, most notably Star Trek, involve the following steps:

1: Target is scanned, composition is recorded

2: Target is broken down into component atoms and sent flying across the universe

3: Target is reconstructed at the destination.

Let’s put number 2 in a different context:

1: Target defies the Great Cthulu

2: Target is broken down into component atoms and sent flying across the universe

3: Cthulu feasts on the soul of the puny mortal.

See the problem? Step 2 is unavoidably lethal. The illusion that Kirk is ‘appearing’ elsewhere stems from the fact that what appears at the other end is a perfect copy of the original – right down to the patterns of atoms which make up his thoughts/feelings/ability to speak like a Shakespearean comedy and tragedy at the same time. But it isn’t the same Kirk!

Even worse, step 2 is simply unnecessary. If you have the technology to assemble a living human copy at the destination, then all you need to do is rig it up to some vats of carbon, hydrogen etc. and it can make you a million Kirks – without the need to blast the original apart. Of course, these perfect copies present some interesting ethical problems and I recommend Richard Morgan’s “Altered Carbon” for anyone who wants a look at the ‘double sleeving’ issue (and everyone else).

I almost feel guilty pointing this out. Next time you watch the good old OST its no longer a silly space romp, its a heartbreaking tragedy about the Admiralty’s least favourite bumbling captain, and their cruel prank which leads him to die a thousand deaths. Things are improving these days as sci-fi increasingly uses faster-than-light travel to zip around or bending space to accomplish the travel. Even so, I advise you keep this little ditty close to your heart during the next millennium:

“FTL drives can keep you alive,

Bends space and time? Teleport’s fine!

Blast me to Atoms? Fuck Off!”


An introduction to Dookian astrophysics

So I mentioned I’d be doing some cool science-y stuff in this blog and I should probably explain what to expect. I suck at science and I’ve forgotten most of the maths I once knew, but there’s so much crazy stuff being discovered these days that simply beggars belief. My aim here isn’t to explain things or study them (bleurgh) – it’s more to point out all the cool stuff dedicated scientists have found. To begin then:

4 Reasons Why The Pulsar Is The Most Badass Star

1: It’s Also A Neutron Star (cheater)

Pulsar’s are highly magnetized neutron stars, and since neutron stars are their main competitor in the Badass Star Olympics, pulsars have basically screwed over the main competition. Neutron stars are formed during supernova events and consist of nothing but neutrons (Duh) in an incredibly dense, 12km ball.

And when I say dense, I mean dense. When people talk about atoms being almost entirely empty space given the distance between the nucleus and the electrons, that just doesn’t apply to the neutron star – it’s literally solid neutrons at roughly the same density (3×10^17 kg/m^3 for those who are counting) as the atomic nucleus. How heavy is that? Imagine a grain of sand that weighed as much as a boeing 747. Yah. An interesting side effect of this is that it allows another level of magnitude for yo mamma jokes.

2: You can see more than half of it

Since they are so dense, pulsars and neutron stars have more gravity than a sad Morgan Freeman voiceover. This has one awesome and incredible effect:

If you are looking at an object you’re seeing the light that bounces off it and shoots straight into your eyes. Since light travels in straight lines, we can only see things that are directly in front of us…

…Unless the thing in front of you is a neutron star or pulsar (in which case, let’s face it, you’re pretty screwed). These ridiculous objects have so much gravity that the light shooting off the opposite side is bent around and hits your eyes. That’s right – you can see the front half and also part of the back half. Reflect on this mystery of the universe as you get pulped (or, to use the technical term, spaghettified) by those same gravitational waves.


Those lines represent longitude and latitude. W? T? F?

3: Pulsar = Pulsating Star

Now on to the pulsar-specific badassery. When we imagine a star we basically think of just some giant heavenly body made of gas or neutrons or whatever, and they’re pretty impressive sure but they don’t really do anything interesting, do they?

In short? They do. Rather than following mandated star behaviour guidelines like its mother told it to and emitting its radiation evenly across its surface, the pulsar emits strong beams of electromagnetic radiation out of the poles. Since they spin rapidly (record currently held by PSR J1748-2446ad which spins at ¼ the speed of light) they appear to ‘pulse’ as the beams cross earth and then move off. There is rapidly growing scientific consensus that the pulsar is just trying to be difficult, and should be ignored until they learn to behave properly.

4: They are incredibly useful

However we forgive the pulsar its oddities because unlike most stars which just sit there all day smoking and drinking plasma, pulsars have jobs. The regularity of the pulse caused by the spin is more accurate at time keeping than an atomic clock without the danger of a loss of power. Since many have unique spins they can also be used as navigational tools for future space pirates.

The Pioneer plaques were our first prospective messages to aliens – simple symbolic messages screwed onto the Pioneer craft with pictures of a nude man and woman (because scientists are perverts) and directions to earth (which may come back to bite us in the arse if any sci-fi series ever written turns out to be even vaguely correct). How do you direct aliens from another galaxy to our humble little speck? You give its position relative to 14 uniquely identifiable pulsars.

It has just occurred to me that thanks to the brave minds behind the Pioneer Plaques, we may all be royally bollixed.

Image courtesy of wikipedia