Geek Month in Review: February 2011

By JB Sanders

In between the snow, some links.

Mars500 Crew Reaches Mars
Ok, yeah, simulated Mars, but still.

Into Eternity
Review of a documentary film about Finland’s building of a nuclear waste repository — one designed to contain the waste and prevent entry for 100,000 years. Which is about how long that nuclear waste crap needs before it’s safe. Building a house that’ll last 300 years seems pretty tame by comparison, doesn’t it?

Snowpocalypse From Space!
Specifically the January 31st to February 2nd (2011) snow storm. Video of what the weather looked like from orbit, which is about the only place in North America you didn’t have to shovel snow.

Teenager Builds Solar Death Ray
And oddly, doesn’t burn down school. See the sun’s concentrated rays burn through concrete! Steel! Other stuff!

Play That City!*
What would happen if you crossed SimCity and a sound synthesizer? This Flash game.

Foxy Graveyard
No, this isn’t some weird erotic thing. It’s about the oldest known graveyard (16,500 years old) which shows evidence that before dogs became domesticated, foxes were all the rage.

Behold the Power of Steam!
Look, it’s a steam-powered vehicle! Now I know you’re expecting a link with pretty Victorian illustrations and gentlemen in top-hats, but you’re wrong. This is New Steam. These guys are trying to break the steam-driven land speed record (currently 148MPH!), and the getup they’ve developed may also be something you see in a production car sometime in the future. No, really!

Older Than Stonehenge and Still Accurate
It’s called Wurdi Youang, and it’s possibly the oldest human-made astronomical structure (known). The aboriginal-built stone “circle” (it’s sort of ovoid) hasn’t been fully officially dated yet, but it looks to be around 10,000 years old.

Zoetrope!
Because it’s fun to say. Also, Pixar has built a real life zoetrope to show how animation works. It’s … wild. You’ll think it’s stop-motion animation, but nope, just a clever use of a strobe light and some awesome sculptures.

Get Your Decoder Ring
Now without waiting, box tops, the post office, or cheesy TV shows from the 60’s. It’s a website. You pick a Master Key (numbered 1 thru 10) and give them your message (up to 133 characters) and it gives you the coded output. It’s a decoder ring on the web.

Link to a Specific Part of a YouTube Video
So, you just want to show someone that scene in that movie with that guy when he does that thing? Only it’s like 18 minutes into the video? Well, worry no more! For now we have a way to add some text on the end of the URL and it goes right to that bit.

My Trilogy Kicks Your Trilogy’s Ass
And if you can’t tell what trilogy by looking at the URL, don’t bother clicking on it: http://1.21jiggawatts.com/

I, For One, Welcome Our New Robotic Overlords
Scientists in Britain are developing a system to allow robots to share learned information with all other robots. Let the robot apocalypse begin! (You know, as soon as they actually have robots that can use the system they haven’t finished developing yet.)

WWII’s Top Secret Rosies
The War Department employed women to calculate ballistic trajectories, both by hand and as the first programmers of the ENIAC. Instead of Rosie the Riveter, it was Rosie the Programmer. Not sure what the poster would look like.

Pothole Detector
You’re picturing some kind of specialty camera mounted under a special city vehicle, right? No. When they say “there’s an app for that”, they just aren’t whistling dixie anymore. The city of Boston has developed an app (iPhone, Android) that uses the accelerometer in your smartphone to detect when you go over a pothole. Pretty nifty.

Blood Wars!
And already, you’re thinking the wrong thing. In this case, Blood Wars refers to an art piece that takes “audience participation” to a whole new level. Kathy High (the artist) has the white blood cells from two people put into a petri dish, dyed for better visibility and then filmed in time-lapse. She then plays the video as an art piece. Who’s blood is tougher?

It’s Old, But Still Indecipherable
Remember the Voynich manuscript? That seemingly-old document written in a language no one can understand, and filled with unintelligable diagrams? Yeah, well, they know how old it is now, anyway: about the 15th century. Or 100 years older than everyone thought it was.

When Britain Became an Island
Thought it always was? Nope. And it wasn’t some tectonic event millions of years ago, either. The current theory is that a massive Norwegian landslide caused a tsunami that broke the land-bridge from Europe to Britain, drowning vast plains in what is now the North Sea. Kind of makes you wonder what lost cities lie beneath the waves, huh?

Buy a Tube Station!
There’s an abandoned tube station for sale in London. How awesome would that be? “Why yes, we do have our own tube stop.”

Interview with Mike Mignola
Yes, you know who that is. He created a few little comics, you know, like Hellboy (I hear it was also turned into a movie). The interview is particularly odd/interesting because it’s conducted by an architecture geek.

Immortal Hobbits!
Ok, first, that’s a horrible title. And second, they’re not immortal, just “completely free of normal age-related diseases”. But they are short. Plenty of technical bio-medical stuff in the article, too, just for you biology geeks.

Anti-Laser
Physicists have built a light-absorbing laser. Make your brain hurt? Try reading the article.

Lost Stories of the Odyssey
Premise of this book is tales that got left out of Odyssey when Homer wrote it down. It’s widely believed to be the case that Homer didn’t create the stories he wrote out of whole cloth — they had been circulating in some form or another orally in the Ancient World for centuries before his time. In this case, he’s more like the Brothers Grimm than an originator, although much like the Grimms, he’s taken his place among the pantheon of literary foundation works of Western Civilization. Anyway, here’s an interview with the book author. As with all BLDBLOG articles, there is a heavy focus on architecture, but plenty of other weirdness to delight the mind.

Flight of the Bumblebees on Bottles
Because if you have enough time and a talent for music, this is what results.

Time-lapsed Starry Skies Rule
Tip of the hat to the Bad Astronomer for this exceptional time-lapse movie of the starry Chilean sky. Be sure to set the resolution to 720p, put it full screen and have some appropriately chill-inducing music on (no sound for the movie clip).

Underground Master Plan
And no, I don’t mean mole people invaders. The folks of Helsinki, Finland are planning on expanding their city below-ground, forming a master plan that encompasses subterranean sea-water-cooled data centers, municipal swimming pools, coal storage, 60km of tunnels, the city-wide heating system, factories and whatever else “doesn’t need to be seen”. All that stuff I just mentioned? That’s the stuff that’s already there right now. With a video tour.

Cubelets!
Not another quantum computing post. Really! It’s about snap-together robotics, where each cube imparts a certain behavior or ability. Link them together to form auto-driving robots, or ones that sense distance and graph it for you. Very cool. Be sure to watch the video.

The Brigadier Has Passed Away**
The actor who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (in Dr Who) passed away in February. He was 81. The man played his iconic character in 107 episodes of the series. 107!

How Far Away is the Moon?
Ever wonder how far away the moon is from the Earth? No? I see you astronomers in the audience going “250,000 miles or so, on average”. Yeah, whatever. Here’s a great YouTube video showing in relative scale the distances involved. It’s good.

* I steal a lot of links from Alex, and this is the credit he gets.
** I got this from Rebecca.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Immortal Blues: Part Four

By Greg Bullard

Welcome to part four of the nine part fiction series “Immortal Blues” by Greg Bullard. In the latest installment blues music reappears and leads the way to a discussion of why a demon might kill you. If you need to catch up, here is Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

Call it hubris.

I was feeling pretty pissy. It’s bad enough someone arranged to have a junkie take a shot at me, but providing him with a .357 Magnum loaded with cold, wrought iron bullets was crossing a line.

I was stomping along in a huff, not particularly caring who took notice of me, which was silly considering it was the middle of the afternoon. As you can imagine, I was carving a wide berth down the sidewalks of the Lower East Side, people were crossing the street or ducking into nearby doorways and shops to avoid me. To them, I must have looked like a loon – a tall loon, dressed in black head to toe, stomping along in a huff. I’m a world class huff stomper, trust me.

I’m not sure how long I’d been hearing the sing, song back and forth guitar notes of W.C. Handy’s, “The Memphis Blues,” before it struck me what I was hearing. Like a blood hound on a scent I threw my head back and turned slightly to the left and right, drinking in the sound, zeroing in on the direction.

My eyes caught the subway entrance cattycorner to me and my gaze and my hearing locked on that spot. Like a sweet miasma I could almost see the notes playing on the stale subway air, pouring forth from the otherwise dank concrete hole.

The last time I heard a great blues guitar, a guy tried to kill me. That’s enough to give someone pause, make them warily approach possible danger – normally. Remember that hubris thing I mentioned? I took the stairs two at a time, to hell with caution.

The subway station crowd was the typical mix of businessmen, teenage miscreants, housewives loaded down with shopping bags and otherwise un-noteworthy inhabitants of Manhattan, both savory and unsavory. As quickly as my vision fell on these people, I dismissed them; none were the one I sought.

Closing my eyes to mere slits to block out the distractions, I tried to follow the music, but the echo from the tile and concrete made it tricky. For longer than I wanted, I stood stock still, an island in a steady stream of humanity parting around me.

The song was coming to an end, and with every note my desperation grew. As the last chord of Mr. Crump’s song played out, hovering in the air, I finally caught the aural scent. With long, quick strides, I reached the edge of the platform and turned to look down the track.

In the distance the darkness was broken by light spilling forth from a maintenance corridor. In that puddle of light sat a figure, clutching a guitar to his chest. As I watched, the figure stood and turned into the corridor, out of my sight.

Rushing forward, I leapt to the bottom of the small set of stairs leading down to the track area and that’s when I sensed it. Even as I skidded to a halt, my foolishness, hubris and rash behavior all collided with what little wisdom I had, giving me ample reason to kick my ass over it later – if I lived to see later. I had blundered into a deadly situation.

A large figure shifted in the deep darkness near the bottom of the stairs. As it shifted, an acrid odor wafted off of it, stung my nostrils and started my eyes watering. I knew that stench.

I blinked away the tears before they could really start and shifted my vision to adjust to the darkness. My eyes met those of the demon, our gazes locked and together we paused.

Now, it’s important to know that a demon will kill someone for a variety of reasons. He could just want to for personal reasons (yeah, demons have personal reasons, what?), he could be summoned and a killing could be bargained for, or, if someone’s capable of doing so, the demon could be summoned and compelled to kill someone – not an easy thing to accomplish, powerful magic.

Also, I’m not just any someone. If it was personal, he would have brought friends and picked a better spot. Besides, if it was personal, I would have known about it. You don’t build grudges like that without knowing what you did right or wrong.

As to bargains, any demon which had struck a bargain to kill me, would know instantly at the sight of me that he had bargained poorly. I don’t care what anyone tells you either, they’re not bound to those deals. It is honor that binds you to a deal, and demons don’t have any. The only deals they go through with are the ones in their favor.

In that instant, outside time, when my pair of eyes locked with his four pair of eyes, we both did the equivalent of whipping it out and measuring. I dropped any glamours masking my true aura. I let him see me in full.

All of the shadows swaddled around me fell away to pool at my feet in ready service to my needs. I stood exposed, revealing my true, glorious form. I wasn’t some simple Wee Folk set about the city for mischief and games. I am a Sluagh warrior, a Prince of the Unseelie Court, a Dark Sidhe loose in the world. I led the 100 in battle. My swords appeared in my hands by act of thought alone. The blades were forged from the metal bones of the old gods and quenched in the blood of my enemies.

The very air around me danced with the power of my presence, the light bent and flickered near me, creating an army of shadows ready to serve my whim. Waves of power rolled off of me, crashing into the world around me like the surging tide lashing out at the beach that eroded before it.

This is the point where any demon having accepted a bargain to kill me would say, screw that and flee. He didn’t flee. He had been compelled to kill me. I think I wet myself a little.

The instant was over. The demon bunched himself, readying a charge. Dozens of people were about to witness something that would leave half of them drooling incoherently for the rest of their lives. The other half would just suffer nightmares until they gave up sleep and later gave up living. I threw my head back and screamed, but it’s not what you think.

The full power of my unmasked voice rippled through and echoed off of the flat stone surfaces of the subway station. Most of the people hearing my scream were instantly knocked unconscious; the few who weren’t were thoroughly stunned. The lights of the station held out for a split second before the glass shattered, plunging the station into utter blackness. My swords flashed in that dying light before the curtain of dark descended over us. I rushed forward to meet the demon’s charge.

About Greg Bullard:
Greg currently resides in Austin, TX, trying to do his part to Keep Austin Weird. While his wife, Julia, and daughter, Emily, both work hard to keep him on his toes, it is Julia’s red editing pen that does the most work. When he is not muddling his way through some fiction, he usually writes about What Greg Eats.

Pantheacon 2011 Report

By Deborah Blake

I don’t much like crowds. Or traveling. So why do I haul my witchy butt across the entire expanse of the country to go to Pantheacon? Because it’s worth it.

Pantheacon is the largest gathering of Pagans/Witches/Wiccans and assorted Heathens in the country, with well over 2,000 people attending over the course of four days in February. (I heard a rumor that they hit 3,000 this year for the first time, but I don’t know whether or not that’s true.) It is held at the beautiful Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California, where they give you a warm chocolate chip cookie when you check in. Yum.

This was my third Pantheacon. I first went in 2008, after my book “Circle, Coven & Grove” came out. I had such a blast, I went back last year, and then again this year. My traveling companion from my first visit, my step-daughter Jenn, loved it so much, she actually moved to San Jose after last year’s con, so one of my perks was getting to spend some time with her. I also got to meet up with my fiction-writing partner, Lisa DiDio, who lives in Northern CA and took the train down to stay with me. We had a blast together.

On the official side of my visit to Pantheacon, I got to go to two great workshops (they literally offer HUNDREDS over the course of the 4 days, including classes given by such Pagan notables as Starhawk, and everyday folks who are willing to share their wisdom with others); a fabulous chanting workshop with the amazing Margot Adler, and a lovely, healing Pagan Death Passages ritual with the also-amazing Selena Fox (I had lost my beloved grandmother less than a week before PCon, so the timing was perfect).

Both these ladies are wise and warm and gracious, and I was beyond pleased to be able to spend a little time in their company.

I also took part in two Llewellyn events; a “Meet the Authors” and 110 Year Anniversary celebration (with cake) on Saturday night, and a Publishing Panel on Sunday morning. [I met a great new Llewellyn author, Melanie Maquis, at the Meet the authors event…you are going to want her new book, “Bag of Tricks”, when it comes out in June. I’m reading an advance copy right now, so I can write a blurb for it, and it is fabulous!]

I also led a workshop of my own, called “Spiritual Spring Cleaning.” There were about 80 people attending, and we had a great time. Raised a lot of good spring cleaning energy, too!

Of course, no trip to Pantheacon would be complete without spending time with my wonderful Llewellyn editor, Elysia Gallo. This year, Lisa and I decided to look for a really fun place to go out to dinner that first night, and we ended up at a Moroccan restaurant called, fittingly enough, Moracco’s. We dragged Elysia out with us, along with my step-daughter Jenn and her friend Madeleine. And, oh, man—the food! If you are even in San Jose, you have to track this place down. It was some of the best food any of us had ever had. We got a variety of things and put them in the middle of the table to share, which made it both cheaper and a lot more fun.

Dessert at Moracco's

The desserts alone made it worth the trip. And the company was as good as it gets. We had a blast.

That’s Jenn, Lisa, me, and Elysia at Moracco’s.

All in all, it was another great Pantheacon. I got to see old friends, make some new ones, visit with authors I admired, meet a few of my fans in person (some of whom I’d already “met” on Facebook or Twitter), eat some great food, and even learn a thing or two. It was worth pushing myself outside of my comfort zone to do it, and I recommend it highly to anyone with the slightest interest in Paganism. Bring an open mind, as much energy as you can muster, and a few dollars to spend on goodies in the Vendors room. (Pagan chocolates…that’s all I’m saying.) And if I’m there next year, be sure to come on over and say hi!

About Deborah Blake:
Deborah Blake is the author of “Circle, Coven and Grove: A Year of Magickal Practice” (Llewellyn 2007), “Everyday Witch A to Z: An Amusing, Inspiring & Informative Guide to the Wonderful World of Witchcraft” (Llewellyn 2008), “The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch” (Llewellyn2009), “Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook” (July 2010) and “Witchcraft on a Shoestring” (September 2010). She has published numerous articles in Pagan publications.

Her award-winning short story, “Dead and (Mostly) Gone” is included in the “Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction: 13 Prize Winning Tale”s (Llewellyn, 2008). Deborah’s first novel, “Witch Ever Way You Can”, was the winner or finalist in many RWA (Romance Writers of America) contests and received the EMILY “Best of the Best” Award.. Her fiction is primarily Paranormal Romance, although she also writes Fantasy, Mystery and Young Adult. She is represented by agent Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency.

Deborah has been interviewed on television, radio and podcast, and can be found online at Facebook, Twitter, www.deborahblakehps.com and http://deborahblake.blogspot.com

When not writing, Deborah runs The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and also works as a jewelry maker. She lives in a 100 year old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magickal and mundane.

Learning about Christian Mystics

The folks over at New World Library were nice enough to send me a copy of “Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations” by Matthew Fox. Now to show you how out of touch I am with authors of spiritual texts, let me share this with you. “Matthew Fox is an internationally acclaimed theologian who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years. He holds a doctorate, summa cum laude, in the History and Theology of Spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris. Matthew Fox is author of 29 books that have been translated into 42 languages,” from www.matthewfox.org. In other words, this guy has game. However, to an under informed pop culture junkie like myself, I saw the author was Matthew Fox and immediately thought, isn’t he that actor from the television show “Lost”? I continue to bring nothing but honor to my clan. Sigh…..

So now that we’ve established that I’m a dunce, what does Fox have to say with “Christian Mystics”? Quite a bit it seems. Much the way I interpreted Julie Loar’s “Goddesses for Every Day: Exploring the Wisdom & Power of the Divine Feminine Around the World” as having a rebellious spirit, with Loar being on a mission to not let another girl grow up without knowing the power and importance of the sacred feminine, (Another book published by New World Library I might add.), Matthew Fox’s “Christian Mystics” also strikes a rebellious chord with me.

“In the West the modern age – meaning the sixteenth to mid-twentieth century – was not only ignorant of but actually hostile to mysticism. As Theodore Roszak has put it, ‘The Enlightenment held mysticism up for ridicule as the worst offense against science and reason.’ Still today, both education and religion are often hostile to mysticism. Fundamentalism by definition is antimystical or distorts mysticism, and much of liberal theology and religion is so academic and left-brain that it numbs and ignores the right brain, which is our mystical brain. Seminaries teach few practices to access our mysticism. This is why so many find religion so boring – it lacks the adventure and inner exploration that our souls yearn for.”, from the introduction to “Christian Mystics”.

Fox is on a mission to shake religious thought free of “Western religious dogma, guilt trips, and institutional churchiness” by attempting to feed the soul words of 25 different individuals he feels are some of Christianity’s greatest mystics from the last two thousand years. Readers will find quotes from Thomas Aquinas, Marcus Borg, M.D. Chenu, Hildegard of Bingen, Dorothee Soelle, Nana Veary, Martin Luther King Jr., and more. 18 more to precise. Each day is a new quote along with some of the Fox’s thoughts about it. Again, like the before mentioned “Goddesses for Every Day”, this book is meant to be a daily tool for thought and reflection. But as we already established in that review, I’m an asshole, and so just like with that book I immediately looked at day 149 which is May 29th, my birthday (again, send gifts!).

Readers today think exclusively of Jesus when they hear the words the “Son of God”. But the phrase had a life of its own before it was applied to Jesus…referring to angels (Genesis 6:2), the whole people called Israel (Hosea 11:1), and the king in David’s line (Psalm 2:7). Direct revelation extends God’s favor to people and angels; each is “the Son,” the beloved,” as Jesus became in his vision at his baptism (Mark 1:11).

Baptism, in fact, was when, according to Paul, God sends the Spirit of his Son into every believer, who cries to God, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). The believer becomes a Son, just as Jesus called upon his father; as Paul says in the same sentence, God sends his Spirit “because you are Sons.” The moment of baptism; the supreme moment of faith, was when one discovered oneself as a Son of God, because Jesus as God’s Son was disclosed in one’s heart.

– Bruce Chilton

Fox goes on to share this note following the quote:

I once met a Rabbi who said to me, “In my tradition, anyone who truly lives a life of wisdom can be called a ‘Son of God.’ For that reason I have no problem calling Jesus a Son of God.” When Christians, often in the name of proselytizing or building up empires, emphasize too much the divinity of Jesus, much is lost. We are all God’s sons and daughters, and this was the teaching of Jesus and even of Paul. But often we have missed that basic message in the Christian faith. Mystics call us back to the truth.

I feel “Christian Mystics” has much to offer a follower of the Christian faith, but also to those of us who are looking to learn more about the actual spirituality of Christianity, not just the political and academic arms of the faith that seem to dominate the mainstream conversation. Matthew Fox has offered up an interesting and engaging way to find a new perspective on Christianity.