Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Immunity Syndrome

My friend recently completed watching all of the episodes and films of Star Trek made thus far. Inspired by her, I've decided to go back and re-watch all of them myself. I'm now on the second season of The Original Series of Star Trek. I just watched the episode called "The Immunity Syndrome". In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise finds their ship and their bodies losing energy due to a gigantic, single-celled space creature. The single-celled organism looks very much like an amoeba, but one that is 11,000 miles long by 3,000 miles wide (that'd be one very large cell!). 

I love sci-fi stories that consider what other types of life could exist. A single-celled organism that is larger than North America may seem far fetched, but could it be possible that life at some point could evolve to form organisms so large? Even though this episode treats this organism as a giant cell (Spock even announces that it's composed mostly of protoplasm), maybe there could be organisms that are gigantic, contiguous structures as large or even larger than planets. Perhaps they have their own biomes composed of multitudes of other organisms inside of them, or perhaps they could be composed of various connected biological organs and tissues. Would such organisms need to eat worlds to live? Would they be able to develop some way to propel themselves through space? I guess we really wouldn't know if this is possible, until we ourselves step out amongst the stars and take a look to see if there are other forms of life out there.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Professor C. Bodin

Professor C. Bodin was LEGO's first female scientist, released back in 2013. It's awesome to see gender inclusivity with toys for children (and some of us who are really just older children), especially with LEGOs, which were one of my primary influences for creativity as a kid. Professor C. Bodin came equipped with two Erlenmeyer flasks, one containing something blue and one containing something yellow. The only thing I'm left wondering with her character is what those two different substances might be and what kinds of ideas children might have for what happens when Bodin mixes some of the blue stuff with some of the yellow stuff.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Ride Robot, Ride

This beautiful piece of art is called "To Boldly Go". It was created by digital artist Matt Dixon and animated as a GIF by fellow artist Billy Allison. You can find this piece and more in Dixon's book of robot art, Transmissions 2.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Modular Body

Those who know me certainly also know that I'm a sucker for sci-fi and horror films that consider what the futures of biotechnology and genetics may bring. Especially when we consider the flawed or even non-existent educations our citizens are receiving in ethics. We're building a future where tinkering with biology will become too easy, while not enough people will question the morality of those tinkerings before they're conducted.

Splice (2012)
Films like eXistenZ and Splice are definitely in this realm. The former considers the future of gaming and our interactions with the worlds we create through our technology, while the latter film considers what might happen in organismal biotechnology research when we're driven by our desires for success to the point of losing our morality. In eXistenZ, we're brought to wonder if we may be able to biologically develop gaming systems that can interact with our minds to put us into virtual worlds. While Splice gives us two young scientists on the cutting edge of medical biotech in developing new model organisms; these two young scientists jeopardize their careers when they create an organism that includes human DNA (and they create one awesome organism).

Now, Floris Kaayk is working on something a bit startling and intriguing that might make us wonder what the future of biotech holds. Kaayk recently came to some internet fame after creating an online "media art project" called Human Birdwing, which included a video of a man flying with artificial wings. Unfortunately, a lot of people didn't realize that the video was not real and consider it more of a hoax than art.

Human Birdwing (by Floris Kaayk)
Kaayk's newest media art adventure is something called The Modular Body, and it's pretty trippy. As reported in DesignColumn: "Developments in the field of 3D-printed organs inspired Kaayk to think about a future in which our body parts could be divided into separate modules. Because the body would be made up of small blocks, it would be easy to alter its composition. We would be able to change certain modules in our bodies simply by plugging them in. For sporting activities you could plug in stronger limbs, while at night you would need only your brain, lung and heart modules" Sounds promising, but also potentially terrifying. For instance, in this video, a "scientist" is unveiling to the world the modular organism Oscar:

It's too bad this one isn't being turned into a full film, but it's pretty cool to see Kaayk turning this into a media art project. I'm sure a bunch of people will take this seriously as well, but maybe we're at a time where this seems believable enough given the current state of our world.
The very potential for little Oscar and other such modular beings could be the stuff of nightmares. Or, maybe, Kaayk's vision need not be so terrible. Maybe the development of such modular bodies really could change the nature of the human form. Might we one day have our brains in one module, while all of the other modules of our bodies could be moved around, or some things added or removed? Can you imagine meeting someone with 10 pairs of legs who walks like a centipede? Could we create limbs that allow us to walk along walls like spiders? I can think of so many possibilities for such modular forms, some amazing and some most terrible. What do you think?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tom Waits, Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart"

Tom Waits has one of the most recognizable voices in music history. His voice is raspy and deep and seems fuller of unintentional emotion than most others. He's one of my father's favorite artists, and has become one of mine as well.

Here's a video where Waits reads the poem The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski. Bukowski's work was known for highlighting the hard life, a writer's life, and his various excursions with sex and alcohol, with Time magazine once calling him the "laureate of American lowlife". Who better to read the work of Bukowski than Tom Waits?

"The Laughing Heart" 
by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Happy Birthday to a Dorkus

Happy day of remembering that this was the place,
Where the world was when we first saw your face.
By “we” of course I mean dad, mom, the world, but not me,
Since you came before me by almost 14 months plus 3.
I honestly can’t remember when you and I first met,
And you have memories older than mine, that’s somethin' I’d bet,
But I do remember all the fun things and bad,
Like us playing together or making each other mad. 
We had lots of fights before we grew tall
(Well, taller a bit since I’m still a bit small),
But we also had lots of fun times and things,
Like when we’d game play and sing us some sings.
Now that we’re adulting, or at least trying to I guess,
And I live a travel away by a day, even at best,
I’m glad we’re both still going on ‘round the Sun,
And passing this place once more at a run. 
As we grow old (though you older than me),
I hope we see each other as much as can be.
Still, sometimes words can’t say in some lines,
The things that we’d say if we just made the times.
Let’s make those times soon and not far away,
But, since all I have is words, let me just say,
Happy Birthday, Big Sister, may you always succeed!
Happy Birthday, Andrea! (Also, P.S., you’re a dorkus, indeed.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Door to Hell

In Turkmenistan lies an open crater where a methane gas fire has been burning for over four decades. This burning pit has come to be known as The Door to Hell!

The crater itself first formed in 1971. Soviet geologists and engineers exploring for oil in the region had set up a camp only to discover that the ground below contained large amounts of natural gas and their drilling gave the gas a way to escape, causing the ground to subside and form this sinkhole crater. Fearing that the release of methane from this site could be a problem, the Soviet scientists decided to set it on fire. 

They had initially hypothesized that the fire would burn out in a matter of weeks, but the fire continues to burn strong, 45 years later.

George Kourounis, an adventurer and storm chaser, has become the first person to set foot in the bottom of the pit (where he also took samples to look for extremophile organisms). I'm definitely jealous that he had the chance to step down into that fiery pit:

I think The Door to Hell is definitely taking a spot on my current Bucket List of "cool shit to see before I die".

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

College Sports, Failing American Education

Colleges and universities have become for-profit businesses focused on building their brands. One of the ways they do that is by building larger sports programs, which have now been destroying our education programs. College sports are one of the main reasons for the high costs of tuition. The money spent on sports has caused there to be less money provided for paying for good educators, for better academic buildings, and for better educational programs to assist students. Here's a great film from Brave New Films on the topic that briefly looks at this issue:

There's no excuse for paying coaches so much more than professors. There's no reason that sports programs deserve so much money from each students' tuition. Education should not be subsidizing sports. This needs to change if we're ever going to fix the American education system.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Go Away Monday

After hitting squats and heavy bag work at the gym yesterday, I'm definitely having that post-leg-day kind of morning. Hello, Monday!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Red is the Rose of Loch Lomond

River Boyne at Bru na Boinne, Ireland (credit: Jean Housen)

"Red is the Rose" is one of my favorite traditional Irish tunes. The Scottish song "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" is very similar (uses the same tune, but different lyrics). I figured I'd share my current favorite versions of both songs here on A Cosmobiologist's Dream. Check it out below:

Red is the Rose by The High Kings:

Loch Lomond by Peter Hollens:

Loch Lomond, Scottland (credit: Hussain et al.)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Answering the Question "Are We Alone?"

 A TEDx Talk by Shawn Domagal-Goldman

Shawn Domagal-Goldman may be one of the hippest of our current generation of astrobiologists. I've heard him speak several times and have found his manner of speaking profound and enjoyable. Domagal-Goldman's work has focused on global geochemistry of terrestrial worlds, including the Earth, as well as on how we can characterize extrasolar planets from afar to learn more about their surface conditions and possibilities for supporting biology. Here's a video of Domagal-Goldman's talk from TEDxMidAtlantic 2015 where he considers how NASA is currently going about answering the all-important question "Are We Alone?":

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Enter Sandman" by SHEL, Delightfully Eerie

Colorado-born band SHEL, composed of four sisters, has a cover of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" that just blessed my ears with soothing, lullabylike sounds. One of my favorite Metallica tunes, "Enter Sandman" performed by SHEL is eerie and haunting and the video is superb. Check it out: