Vatican secrets: The original Macroscope

2 09 2009

One of my favourite sci-fi novels is Macroscope by Piers Anthony.

Note: Although Anthony is famous for his light-hearted Xanth series. This is a novel for adults, and deals with a lot of serious and heavy historical and social issues, and yes, that means violence and sex.

The macroscope is a powerful transmission receiving satelite that can detect pretty much every wave emitted in the universe. Theoretically with such a device one could observe every event in history anywhere in the universe.

With the device scientists are able to observe the demise of several distant historical alien species (one through personal greed, one through violence, and another reckless abuse of their environmental resources). Scientists also detect another special signal that only the people with high IQ (i.e. most of the scientists) can discern. Unfortunately, everyone who watches this signal turns into a catatonic vegetable. The story follows the one alleged genius who may be able to discover the secret behind this transmission.

The idea of a Macroscope is quite interesting, and is almost what our existing satelites and telescopes do already (receive various forms of radiation as it reaches Earth). So why can’t we observe what happened 40,000 years ago on Earth in real-time?

Apparently, in the 60’s, a Venetian monk, Father Pelligrino Ernetti claimed to have a device that could do just that. The device was called the “chronovisor” and apparently resembled a television.

Instead of receiving broadcasts from local transmission stations, however, the chronovisor could tune into the past to allow the viewer to see and hear events that had occurred years or even centuries earlier. Father Ernetti told [Father] Brune that the machine worked by detecting all the sights and sounds that humanity had made that still floated through space.

That’s right: Catholic scientists invented a virtual time machine. And apparently they saw the crucifixion of Christ, Napoleon’s conquests across Europe, and the penning of Thyestes by the Roman poet Quintus Ennius.


Now here comes the unbelievable part. You can not see the device anymore because the priests destroyed it. It was too dangerous, as it might invade people’s privacy and create a dictatorship. Really? Catholic priests don’t want blind obedience and total information awareness?

Something about that just doesn’t add up.


Princess Leia always sounded “stripper” to me

25 05 2009

Lads night out, originally uploaded by waihey.

There’s 147 more scenes by flickr user waihey (© All Rights Reserved)

Ice ice kitty

18 12 2008

All right. Stop. Collaborate and listen,
Ice is back with my brand new invention

via iO9

The Cryotranz™ concept (which will capture market share over the Kold Kitty Karrier) would allow safe, stress-free, and easy travel for pets. Or small children. Same diff.

Cryogenics rests on the border between impossibly crazy and almost plausible. While tissue and cellular integrity tend not to fare up well during the freezing and unfreezing processes – natural cryptobiosis adaptions allow some animals to survive prolonged cold-induced torpor.

The minds at work behind the thought experiment have considered some possibilities – using a chemicals (proprietary knowledge of course) to slow down kitty metabolism and prevent cellular damage. Perhaps derived from sub-antarctic marine life and cryptobiosis frogs?

The vacuum though? Possibly not the best environment. A fluid would definitely be preferred. While an inert gas (apparently oxygen is “corrosive”) sounds sensible – like a light globe. I think a goop (with a low melting point) of some kind that keeps the animal hydrated (along with important membranes) – but might remove some of the, “no mess, no fuss”, aspects.

more cold kittehs

I want a giant robot that can fly… with a sword!

14 11 2008

Bats with bombs. Remote controlled insects. Synthetic telepthy. The U.S. Department of Defense has something of a reputation for flushing funds into some crazy-shit ideas that seem inspired by Saturday Morning cartoons. The blur between fiction and reality with DARPA possibly comes from them treating Starship Troopers as a guidebook.

But if there is anyone who can give the US military a run for their crazy monopoly money on mega projects. Or should we say mecha-projects. Japan has just announced they are going to create Gundams. For Real. That’s right half-robot half-fighter jet and all-awesome.

With Japan not having any officially sanctioned military forces (just a self-defense force), I am curious as to what non-weaponized applications a giant man-shaped pilotable vehicle that also wields a giant-ass sword and/or gun actually might have. Children’s parties? Oh, hell yes!

And has anyone thought of the carbon footprint left by what is essentially an un-aerodynamic fighter jet?

Mars attacked by robot ants from Earth

8 11 2008

via io9

Yes, those planets are the right way round.

Maybe they are just going to turn the red planet into a big 1950s space horror theme park. Personally I’d much rather a Total Recall theme.

I-SWARM is an EU brainchild that has tiny robots working together to accomplish tasks. Not only will they be small and versatile, but they will adapt to new scenarios, and use a mega-Voltron form to accomplish difficult tasks.

Sounds great. If they don’t kill us all. Autonomous robots capable of “anything” are not exactly going to calm down technophobic doomsayers.

They are microbots, not nanobots, so we are hopefully avoiding the grey goo scenario. Maybe apocalypse by M&Ms?

Anyway, I’m not against them on techno-grounds. I’d just rather it wasn’t ants. Robotic spiders are awesome though.

Water bears in space

23 09 2008

Those naming committees are just not playing fair.

News from space this month the story of the first animals to survive the harsh extreme environment of space – “water bears” (not space bears).

Nature has now gone access-only. So read a summary over at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Water bears, or Tardigrades, are practically microscopic (the largest are dust-speck sized at best – 1.5mm) but they are true animals. There are around 1000 species in a rather unique phylum Tardigrada that is sister to Arthropoda and Onychophora (velvet worms).

The secret to their hardiness in extreme environments – not limited to extreme temperature, dessication, pressure, radiation (all useful resistances* for space farers) – is going into a uber-hibernation-torpor state called cryptobiosis, essentially stopping all metabolic activity. They basically turn themselves into husk or spore of their former selves that will reawaken when conditions are right. You just add water back to your tardigrade spore and it comes back to life, a lot like sea monkeys, actually exactly like sea monkeys (one of the most common examples of cryptobiosis^).

One of the comments at Nature News:

The Genome of these animals, water bears and others such as pup fish and microbes living in extreme conditions should be sequenced. It would reveal a lot about disease and environmental resistance that would be useful for human health

Nature News 09 Sep, 2008 Posted by: Richard Dawson

We’re on top of it Richard. Currently, the genome of Hypsibius dujardini is undergoing sequencing, chosen because of its small and compact genome. More information on water bears and their genomics can be found at Genomicron. Hopefully factors behind its extremophilic abilities will be uncovered, and exploited.

*can I pretend it’s not an RPG reference?

^I think the freezing frog is much cooler

Biology in Science Fiction

20 08 2008

Hattip: Writer’s Daily Grind

Sometimes its good to hear other people whine about the same things you do.

So thanks Biology in Science Fiction for generally caring about the same things I do

Studying biology has definitely made enjoying science fiction just that little bit harder, but I guess sometimes more enjoyable – at least I can lord my superior intelligence over Hollywood producers.

The most recent entry mentions possibly the greatest offender, “Genesis” ST-TNG episode.

It’s not just whining and/or Mystery-Theatre style reviews. There is serious praise, good links and general hot tips on good fiction in there too.