We Are Wanderers

You will absolutely love Erik Wernquist’s vision of the future, traveling within our solar system, and using narration by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. I encourage you to watch it full screen since it’s even more stunning that way.

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.

Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.

For more information and stills gallery, please turn to: erikwernquist.com/wanderers

(Just in case his website runs slow, here is a link to an imgur album version of the gallery: imgur.com/a/Ur5dP)

We Just *Cannot* Be Alone

The more I learn about the vastness of the universe, the deeper is my belief that we simply cannot be alone in the universe. Watch this animated flight through the universe made by Miguel Aragon of Johns Hopkins University with Mark Subbarao of the Adler Planetarium and Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins. There are close to 400,000 galaxies in the animation, with images of the actual galaxies. The images and data came from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

When you figure that our Milky Way galaxy contains an estimated 200-400 billion stars our own home galaxy is incredibly likely to harbor life. Astronomer Carl Sagan‘s once said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, it sure seems like an awful waste of space

Sagan also continually described the universe’s potential for life being due to the “billions and billions” of planets out there. Though I’ve been watching the Mars Curiosity landing and the first pictures that have returned from that barren planet like this amazing 360 degree panorama, I do so with the knowing (and a tinge of sadness) that it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever leave this planet and explore another world. 

Don’t even bother to do the math on 200 billion+ stars times 400,000 galaxies and the planets and the possibilities and…

…just watch the video. It’s cool:

We Are Not Alone

Dr. Edgar Mitchell, scientist and the sixth man to walk on the moon

Former astronaut, Dr. Edgar Mitchell, came out some months ago on a BBC broadcast stating unequivocally that he had personal knowledge of extraterrestrial visits to earth. This CNN article on Monday reiterated that position well:

Mitchell, who was part of the 1971 Apollo 14 moon mission, asserted Monday that extraterrestrial life exists, and that the truth is being concealed by the U.S. and other governments.
He delivered his remarks during an appearance at the National Press Club following the conclusion of the fifth annual X-Conference, a meeting of UFO activists and researchers studying the possibility of alien life forms.

Mankind has long wondered if we’re “alone in the universe. [But] only in our period do we really have evidence. No, we’re not alone,” Mitchell said.

How many galaxies are there in the Universe? William Keel, Professor of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Alabama, summed up the proposed number of galaxies able to be seen by the Hubble telescope:

“…the Hubble telescope is capable of detecting about 80 billion galaxies (although not all of these within the foreseeable future!). In fact, there must be many more than this, even within the observable Universe…”

Though evidence is necessary to remove any doubt, I’ve long held the belief that we’re not alone. Sheer numbers of possible planets where life could exist number in the billions and in the hundreds of millions for earth-like planets that could inhabit life.

How hard would it be for a civilization advanced enough for interstellar space travel to keep contact to a minimum or make sightings fleeting?

Dr. Mitchell was interviewed on Kerrang Radio, July 23, 2008. Listen to Mitchell saying there is life in the Universe. He says we have been visited, and that UFOs have been covered up by the government for a long time. He says he’s been inside military circles and they know we’ve been visited and talk about it behind closed doors. He says he’s been involved in certain research committees and knows people who know the real story.

Dismiss it or argue the possibility all you want, but what if we are not alone?

EFF Pioneer Awards

Last night I attended the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Awards. Just simply being at this event and absorbing the vibe was meaningful for me and I’ll bring forth a perspective that may be atypical and worth putting into the conversation about EFF.

Nearly four years ago was the first time that I donated to EFF and began my support of this organization. Though I look like “a suit”, a Republican and a mainstream sort of guy, I’m an independent, a closet liberal, enjoy some Libertarian leanings and am quite open to growing in my perspective as I learn — especially legally and politically — as we all push against the membrane of the future.

Five or so years ago I became more enlightened. I was stunned by the multiple, parallel, onrush of efforts by copyright holders, Congress, world intellectual capital bodies, governments globally as well as intelligence communities, to command, control and infiltrate all aspects of the Internet.  As I started to try getting my head wrapped around even a few of the issues, I realized that there was NO way that I could be competently informed about even ONE of these issues shaping our future….let alone dozens of them at a time!

Enter the EFF. I learned that here was an organization whose mission was to be that competent, informed entity who’d act to intervene, stop or shape the debate about the most important issues facing us in our digital future. With more and more of our relationships, commerce, free speech, entertainment — you name it — being created or delivered digitally, I (and you) could either pull the covers over our collective heads or get involved…and support those who’ve rolled up their sleeves, dug their hands in the muck and are in the fray.

So that’s what I did.  Last night was great for a lot of reasons and validated (in spades) the vital importance of this organization and the people who’ve dedicated money, support and all or part of their lives to the mission.

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Qwaq Launches Virtual Workspace

Last week I was delighted to receive an offer to be in a hosted session with Greg Nuyens, CEO of Qwaq, to take a pre-launch peek at a secure, virtual workspace product called “Qwaq Forums”…a product built upon the open source Croquet project (site Croquet Consortium site here).

In April of last year I wrote a post entitled, “Is Second Life the Future of Collaboration and Social Software?” since I’d been thinking deeply about the implications of metaverse world’s like Second Life providing us with ever higher ability to be involved in an immersive, persistent, engaging, fun and creative space. But just like Skype’s proprietary protocol limits the ability to leverage their IP telephony or Apple’s closed iPod (and soon to be closed iPhone launch) limits the expansion, this seemingly needed control limits what organizations can (or will) do with technology.

Qwaq’s approach is that their product, Qwaq Forums, “…enhances the productivity of distributed teams by bringing critical resources together in a virtual place, as if they were in an actual physical location, and providing them with all the tools and collaboration capabilities they need to work more effectively together. With Qwaq Forums, users can work together to establish workflow steps, create or review information in software applications, and evaluate designs in 2D and 3D, all while discussing topics using built-in text and voice chat. Further enhancing employee productivity, Qwaq Forums virtual workspaces are always available so users can return to a forum at another time to access and view changes that have occurred since they last visited the virtual space.”

So what was my experience like and why should you be keenly interested? I think you might be surprised by my perception…

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You may be able to be “Lost in Space”

Cast of the 1960s series ‘Lost in Space’

Ever since I was a voracious science fiction reading young man, I had a knowing that my only shot at getting into space would probably be virtually. After experiencing my first virtual goggles at a SIGGRAPH show 15 years ago, I knew also that if the latency problem could be solved, that I might someday be able to have a robot act as my controlled proxy that I could manipulate and send around distant worlds — as though I was actually there.

Science fiction? Maybe not for long…

This article in New Scientist tells why this notion may not be so farfetched:

Technology that lets a human “inhabit” the body of a distant robot for remote exploration is being tested in Germany.

The robot sits on top of a wheeled platform and has an extendable arm that it uses to manipulate objects. An operator moves the robot around by simply walking or using a foot pedal and can see out of twin cameras positioned on the robot’s head after donning a head-mounted display.

The controller’s wrist is also connected to a touch sensitive (haptic) interface that controls the robot’s arm. Furthermore, a wearable glove provides control over a three-fingered hand at the end of the robot’s arm.

I’ve been writing alot about how the consciousness of our planet is being increasingly connected due to the Internet and how the essence of ourselves is populating virtual spaces. As the days and months go by, we’ll experience better and more efficient means of us collaborating, communicating and interacting virtually as we work on making this global network a multiplier and accelerator of human cognitive evolution.

Sadly, there’s a long way to go before I’ll be able to jack in to some sort of an interstellar network and scream “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Mind Control of Video Games

Over at Slashdot was a post about a teen who controlled the video game Space Invaders with only his mind (article at the web site of Washington University in St. Louis where it occurred).

Just like my interest in robotics, the whole field of brain computer interface (BCI) is a fascinating one. Frankly, I hope to live long enough to have the ability to jack into my computer, get into a virtual world like Second Life, and simply control my avatar through thought.

Another thing I’d like to do is to have experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Imagine a buffered (to eliminate latency) video feed from a rover on Mars. While it wouldn’t be practical to have individuals pilot the vehicle with their individual minds, imagine collectively jacking in and having an immersive sensory experience of the surface of the red planet!

Lastly, the speed with which thought could be transmitted would be amazing. The collective consciousness of all of us could work on problems…or we could absolutely turn into the Borg.

Practical and far more meaningful uses would be enabling the disabled (great Wired article here). As more and more of our work migrates to knowledge-based collaboration activities that are online, the better able all of us — including the disabled — will be in manipulating objects and our virtual representatives in the metaverse.

Guess who NEVER will be on the cover of People?

I’m often at my desk early scanning my news aggregator (I awake to 300+ articles already populating my aggregator from the 200 or so blogs and other news feeds I follow with nearly 1,000 total articles coming into it daily) and something this morning struck my eye.

Scrolling down Yahoo News Top Stories, there were two articles (here and here) on the recent Nobel Prizes won by Americans. Just below the second one on John Mather (who is pictured at left in the photo) was an article about George Clooney’s thoughts about punking paparazzi by dating a different actress every night for months.

You should know that I’m a Clooney fan and admire that he has big ballocks which he used to great effect delivering his recent films Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana. But I’m even a bigger fan of those people who are inventing our future, people like John Mather and George Smoot and the irony of this juxtaposition of news feeds was too blatant for me to ignore.

I’d be living under a rock if I thought for a moment that John Mather would make women swoon like Clooney and therefore would be a good candidate for the cover of People magazine. But the constant and incessant focus on “stars” over scientists is a concern if you care about the minds of those who will invent our future (i.e., our children) and how we’re molding and shaping their thoughts about what’s important and where they should focus their attention.

The September 26, 2006 Global Competitiveness Report 2006-2007 released by the World Economic Forum had this to say about U.S. competitiveness:

Switzerland, Finland and Sweden are the world’s most competitive economies according to The Global Competitiveness Report 2006-2007, released by the World Economic Forum on 26 September 2006. Denmark, Singapore, the United States, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom complete the top ten list, but the United States shows the most pronounced drop, falling from first to sixth.

So who should we be lauding? Putting on the cover of magazines? Encouraging our children to emulate? My own 12 year old son — who is in the 99th percentile for IQ and reads voraciously with all the promise in the world — wants to be a video game designer because that’s what he thinks is cool. Nothing wrong with that (and I’ll encourage his passion whatever that ends up being) but our focus with him is on helping him think about focusing his talents toward building, exploring, creating and we frequently talk-up the accomplishments of those that do (and he could care less about false “heroes” thank God).

I know, I know…there aren’t publicity machines that drive revenue from promoting scientists like there are for sports “heroes”, movie stars and anorexic models, so this cacophony of noise about false heroes is unavoidable perhaps. But as a nation we should hammer, hammer and hammer on achievement, accomplishment, and thought leadership over who is hot or can hit more home runs.

Billions of Earths?

According to an article on BBC.com, possibly “…half of all the known planetary systems today could be harboring habitable worlds.” The Open University team presented its ideas today at the UK National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

A Discover magazine article from five years ago starts out like this: “A little more than 400 years ago, Italian philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno theorized that the universe was filled with an infinite number of stars orbited by an infinite number of worlds. For that astounding insight and others he was branded a heretic by the Catholic Church and burned at the stake.” It goes on to discuss the current state of knowledge around other worlds and the possibility of them.

How can you not look up in the night sky and think about the billions of galaxies that are up there and the planets that are undoubtedly circling those other stars? I’ve had several conversations over the last several months with people whose views are more aligned with the heretic branders than with philosopher’s and scientist’s.

To me a simple glance up in the night sky and even a moment taken to ponder the universe and its mysteries would cause me to not be so narrow. Of course, Copernicus had quite a time convincing the church that the Earth rotated around the Sun and Galileo equally struggled to show that his observations with his new fangled telescope confirmed these and many other theories. Copernicus was informed by Rome that his was, “foolish and absurd philosophically and formally heretical inasmuch as
it expressly contradicts the doctrines of the holy scripture
” and there is evidence that Galileo was warned on his visit to Rome in 1615 not to espouse this Copernican doctrine.

My visit to Mars today…

Between coffee this morning and lunch, I headed over to a local market and was abducted by aliens. Thankfully they were from Mars where anal probes are NOT in vogue.

I knew no one would believe my whirlwind trip, so I begged Commander Dweebezaarb (CD) to take a quick pic in front of the Mars rover (by the way, he’s pretty pissed that we’re sending stuff up there with no intention of retrieving it).

One hilarious thing happened today that I’ve just got to jot down before I forget how funny it was: CD told me a story. Seems there was a Martian teacher and his student in the underground bar beneath the Gusev Crater. They were sitting on these hard bar stools talking about famous Earth philosophers when the teacher said to the student, “Have you read Marx?” and he said, “Yeah…I think it’s from these stools.”

Oh man…those Martians are a hoot.


UPDATE: OK…this was funny to my 10 year old and only got a courtesy laugh from my wife.