MonthMarch 2010

What is your mutant power?

Communist Mutants From Space

What is your mutant power?

And I don’t mean that in some corny self-help “everyone has a super power, like being really good customer service” sort of way.

I mean it literally – what is your mutant power?

I’ll go first:

I make it rain.

It all started at Burning Man 2003 – the night I got there it rained at Burning Man for the first time in years. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it was memorable.

In spring of 2004, I went to Europe. It rained everywhere I went. This wasn’t necessarily notable – it was spring time. But a weird thing in particular happened – at one my point my traveling companions and I split up. I went to Copenhagen to check out Christiania. They went to Paris. I spent a few days in Denmark then headed south to meet up with them. The day before I left Copenhagen, my friend Mark told me that Paris was beautiful – it had been sunny the entire time they were there.

They day I got there, it rained.

So after the trip to Europe, I moved back to Wyoming. I spent some time saying fairwells to friends in Seattle and Olympia before heading back, and called my dad before I left. He said something to the effect of “Bring some of that Seattle rain with you, we need it here!”

I told him it rained wherever I went. He told me that was depressing. “No, no it’s literally true!” I said.

The night I got home to Sheridan, WY it rained. And it turned into one of the rainiest summers in years.

A year and half later, in January of 2006, I moved from Laramie, WY to Portland, OR. Of course it was raining. But it was raining hard and mean. I found myself wondering if it had always been like that in the northwest and I’d just forgotten what is was like. Nope. I found out around the time I got there torrential downpours started – Portland was experiencing record rain falls.

rainy city

Since then I’ve just sort of assumed it would rain wherever I go. A couple examples – thunderstorms in Casper, WY the night I got into town from Portland last summer. Rain in the desert around Riverside, CA last November while my wife and I were visiting.

I don’t know if they is a particular useful mutant power. I could try to capitalize on it by getting hired by places with droughts to visit for a while. But I don’t have that much faith in my abilities. And there do seem to be some limitations – if I travel only a short distance, for instance, it doesn’t necessarily rain.

And really, I feel silly even talking about it. Mutant powers. Seriously?

But I know there are others. My college roommate Mark (mentioned above) has a really weird one: he opens doors just as people are arriving, without knowing someone is about to arrive, before they knock or anything – sometimes just as they are pulling up in their car. He just gets some sense that he should go open the door. And someone will be just getting there, or the cat will be there wanting in or something. I’ve seen it happen many times, on both sides of the door. He doesn’t hear anything or see anything, he just somehow knows it’s time to open the door.

My wife has a power that she says is dissipating, but I’ve seen this happen several times: cats just walk up to her. We can be walking down the street and a cat will just come out from under a car or something and run right up to her and meow like it wants her to pet it.

So. What’s YOUR power? (Useful or not).

(Communist Mutants From Space image via Danny Chaoflux, city photo by Burning Image / CC)

Brain Waves and Meditation

Brainwaves and meditation

During meditation, theta waves were most abundant in the frontal and middle parts of the brain.

“These types of waves likely originate from a relaxed attention that monitors our inner experiences. Here lies a significant difference between meditation and relaxing without any specific technique,” emphasizes Lagopoulos.

“Previous studies have shown that theta waves indicate deep relaxation and occur more frequently in highly experienced meditation practitioners. The source is probably frontal parts of the brain, which are associated with monitoring of other mental processes.”

“When we measure mental calm, these regions signal to lower parts of the brain, inducing the physical relaxation response that occurs during meditation.”

Science Daily: Brain Waves and Meditation

(via Chris23)

Cybersyn – the Chilean socialist Internet of the 70s

Cybersyn control room

In Chile in the 1970s, Stafford Beer attempted what Technocracy Inc. and Buckminster Fuller advocated:

Stafford Beer attempted, in his words, to “implant” an electronic “nervous system” in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly more equal and responsive than before – a sort of socialist internet, decades ahead of its time.

When the Allende administration was deposed in a military coup, the 30th anniversary of which falls this Thursday, exactly how far Beer and his British and Chilean collaborators had got in constructing their hi-tech utopia was soon forgotten. In the many histories of the endlessly debated, frequently mythologised Allende period, Project Cybersyn hardly gets a footnote. Yet the personalities involved, the amount they achieved, the scheme’s optimism and ambition and perhaps, in the end, its impracticality, contain important truths about the most tantalising leftwing government of the late 20th century.

The Guardian: Santiago dreaming

The article claims that the system was impractical in the end, but its life was cut short rather early. It sounds like they were beginning to have success with it.

The Wikipedia article has many links

(Both via Theoretick)

Offshore, carbon-negative algae-power on the cheap

OMEGA Systems - algae

The NASA-developed technology, called OMEGA (Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae) is a low-cost and low-tech method for growing algae. Unlike other approaches to growing algae, which require construction of massive energy-intensive facilities, OMEGAs are relatively inexpensive. OMEGAs are inflatable plastic membranes filled with processed wastewater, CO2 gas, and freshwater algae. OMEGAs float in water, and can be anchored off the coast of any ocean or salt lake. As the algae grow, using the energy of the sun, they convert wastewater and CO2 into biomass, and oxygen. OMEGA’s uniquely utilize forward-osmosis membranes to permeate purified water out of the OMEGA and into the surrounding water.

Oilgae: NASA Launches with Algae Systems on Eve Of COP 15: Carbon-negative Fuel from Sewage and CO2

Algae Systems web site

More info on OMEGA

See also:

Gasification, terra preta, and mechabolics: carbon negative fuels?

Technoccult posts tagged algae, especially how to build your own algae reactor.

Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is a documentary in post-production on the lives of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge.

Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

The filmmaker is raising money on Kickstarter, though it looks like they’ve already met their goal.

(via Esoteric Heritage)

A drug that could give you perfect visual memory


Imagine if you could look at something once and remember it forever. You would never have to ask for directions again. Now a group of scientists has isolated a protein that mega-boosts your ability to remember what you see.

A group of Spanish researchers reported today in Science that they may have stumbled upon a substance that could become the ultimate memory-enhancer. The group was studying a poorly-understood region of the visual cortex. They found that if they boosted production of a protein called RGS-14 (pictured) in that area of the visual cortex in mice, it dramatically affected the animals’ ability to remember objects they had seen.

io9: A drug that could give you perfect visual memory

(via Edge of Tomorrow)

Professor Abandons Grades for Experience Points


A professor at Indiana University has instituted a system of gaining experience points through classwork instead of receiving traditional grades.

Lee Sheldon is an accomplished screenwriter and game writer, having worked on TV shows like ST:TNG and Charlie’s Angels as well as the Agatha Christie series of games from The Adventure Company. He now teaches game design courses for Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications. Instead of assigning his students a grade at the end of the course, he instead starts every student at 0 xp and they earn points through completing quests like solo projects and quizzes in addition to grouping up for guild projects and pick up groups. How many points they have at the end of the course determines their actual “grade.”

Sheldon put the system in place so that his students were motivated by the game theory with which they were familiar. “The elements of the class are couched in terms they understand, terms that are associated with fun rather than education,” Sheldon said.

Escapist Magazine: Professor Abandons Grades for Experience Points

I could see this being a little more granular as well – awarding points in specific areas. At the end of the course, students could really assess where their strengths are. Over the course of a larger program of study (2-6 years or whatever), “experience points” in certain areas would really start to stack up. Having a bigger assessment of strengths would be more useful than a GPA or a list of pass/fails.

My alma mater Evergreen State College works something like this. You take only one class at a time. Each class is worth 16 credits, and the credits are usually spread across a few different areas. For example, I took a class called “Science of Mind” which awarded credits in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and statistics. If you don’t meet the objectives for one area of study, say statistics, you might lose credit for that subject, ending up with only 14 credits that quarter. There are no grades, so your GPA doesn’t suffer, but you won’t have as many statistics credits.

However, having a more defined set of areas that one could accumulate points over time through different classes and projects (“written communications,” “leadership,” “technical problem solving,” “mechanical aptitude,” etc. etc.) seems like it would be very useful for both the students themselves and for potential employers or graduate program committees or whoever else might need to evaluate a students strengths.

Electro-shock experiment replicated in France

French torture TV show

A French TV documentary features people in a spoof game show administering what they are told are near lethal electric shocks to rival contestants.

Those taking part are told to pull levers to inflict shocks – increasing in voltage – upon their opponents.

Although unaware that the contestants were actors and there was no electrical current, 82% of participants in the Game of Death agreed to pull the lever.

Programme makers say they wanted to expose the dangers of reality TV shows.

They say the documentary shows how many participants in the setting of a TV show will agree to act against their own principles or moral codes when ordered to do something extreme.

BBC: French TV contestants made to inflict ‘torture’

This is, of course, a replication of the Milgram experiment.

Glenn Greenwald notes the irony of Fox News’s moral outrage over the incident.

US Army claims WikiLeaks is a security threat

Julian Assange

(Above: WikiLeaks spokesperson Julian Assange)

To the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States, the Pentagon has added, a tiny online source of information and documents that governments and corporations around the world would prefer to keep secret.

The Pentagon assessed the danger posed to the Army in a report marked “unauthorized disclosure subject to criminal sanctions.” It concluded that “ represents a potential force protection, counterintelligence, OPSEC and INFOSEC threat to the U.S. Army” — or, in plain English, a threat to Army operations and information.

WikiLeaks, true to its mission to publish materials that expose secrets of all kinds, published the 2008 Pentagon report about itself on Monday.

Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, confirmed that the report was real. Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, said the concerns the report raised were hypothetical.

“It did not point to anything that has actually happened as a result of the release,” Mr. Assange said. “It contains the analyst’s best guesses as to how the information could be used to harm the Army but no concrete examples of any real harm being done.”

New York Times: Pentagon Sees a Threat From Online Muckrakers

See also this interview with Julian Assange.

(via Wade)

700-year-old Brain Found Preserved

700 year old preserved brain

ResearchBlogging.orgEvolutionary psychology tends to receive harsh criticism, and often rightly so. One of the main reasons for this is the severe lack of evidence for many of it’s proposals given that the paucity of fossilised brains fails to bolster many a case. And it isn’t even anyone’s fault. That’s just the way it goes sometimes, that the brain is a jelly-like substance that is subject to decay after death, and there’s no way we can objectively analyse or verify any differences in brains of long ago with brains of today.

This isn’t set to change anytime soon, but the remarkable discovery of a medieval child’s brain was the subject of a Neuroimage paper published recently. This is extremely exciting on many counts: the brain has been so fantastically preserved that it is possible to identify the frontal, temporal and occipital lobes, and even the sulci and gyri, the grooves and furrows channeled into brains.

However it is only the left-hemisphere that survived and not the entire brain, which had also shrunk to about 80% of it’s original weight due to the (natural) mummification process.

Neurowhoa: 700-year-old Brain Found Preserved

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