Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Private Spaceflight Watch: Falcon 9 Rocket [Not] Ready to Launch

BBC reports on the launch of the unmanned rocket, the SpaceX Falcon 9, scheduled this morning for 4:55 EDT (in about 50 minutes from the time of this post):
California's SpaceX company is ready to make history by sending a capsule containing half a tonne of supplies to the space station.

It will be the first time the private sector has provided such a service.

The task is usually performed by the vehicles belonging to government space agencies, such as Nasa and Esa.

The unmanned Dragon cargo ship is due to launch atop SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Controllers are targeting a time of 04:55 EDT (08:55 GMT; 09:55 BST), and despite some storms in the area in recent days, the mission team should get favourable weather conditions.

"There's no question - this is a historic flight," said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell on the eve of the mission.

"There've been only four nations, or groups of nations, that have berthed or docked a spacecraft to the International Space Station: Europe, Russia, the United States of course, and Japan. So, we really stand in awe at having the opportunity to attempt this."
See another report at Wired and my earlier posts here and here. This test flight is known as the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Demo Flight 2, and its official emblem is below (the four-leafed clover is a nice added touch).
Image Source: Wiki.

The goal of the mission is to have the Falcon 9, with its unmanned Dragon crew vessel dock at the International Space Station with the help of the Canadarm2 and bring supplies to the ISS once it is docked. It will also bring Earth-bound cargo back home.

Artist's rendition of the expected manoeuvre whereby the Canadarm2 helps the Dragon dock at the ISS. Image Source: NASA (2008) via Wiki.

Hobby Space provides links to the live streams of this event online:
Countdown is proceeding for the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon at 4:55 a.m. EDT (0855 GMT).

Spaceflight Now also has this Q&A with Elon Musk, a gallery of photos of the Falcon 9/Dragon rolling to the launch pad, and a gallery of photos of F9/Dragon on the pad at Complex 40.
Other sites with coverage, webcasts, etc. :
/-- NASA TV - starts at 3:30 am EDT
/-- SpaceX webcast starts at 4:15 am EDT (8:15 GMT)
/-- Florida Today offers coverage starting at 3:30 AM EDT.
Here is the Spaceflight Now webcast:

Addendum (6:45 a.m., 19 May 2012): Due to problem with the fifth engine, the launch was cancelled and will be rescheduled to May 22 or 23. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nuclear Culture 11: Why Cold Fusion Came to CERN

Cold fusion - holding the sun in the palm of your hand. Image Source: Discovery News.

On May 9, American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku discussed Fukushima on a popular Californian radio program and claimed that the uranium core of Reactor #2 had completely liquefied while promoting his book, The Physics of the Future. The book predicts an incredible future, filled with remarkable technological gadgets. But Kaku's anticipated Singularity will not happen if we don't solve our energy crisis.

Certainly, public concern about nuclear power plants is intense. But why is a string field theorist talking in the popular media about the downfall of nuclear power? From the way Kaku approached the subject, including his comments on the San Onofre plant in California, it almost sounded as though he implied that that downfall is now an inevitable precondition for the exponential acceleration of tech and culture.

String theory attempts to reconcile General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Does Kaku's statement about Fukushima hint that quantum physicists are now reappraising 20th century nuclear physics and engineering as far as our energy problems are concerned?

Pavlovian Millennium

Artist Ian Page's 2010 Pavlovian experiment gave him a sip of lemon juice in order to make him salivate every time his cell phone vibrated. Video Source: The Review Crew.

New technology drives a cult of presentism. Virtual reality randomly samples the past without historical context and shapes the future to serve its presentist purposes. It forces a rapture in the now: it cuts to base instincts and immediate emotional responses via compulsive communication. Living instinctively in the now on the Web is redefining whole cultures, conventions of social interaction, and languages. All are rapidly changing beyond recognition.

It is not surprising that the Internet and computing exploded over the past 15 to 20 years, nor that people would be mesmerised by new capabilities in communications and calculations, without really paying much attention to what they were doing to society and to us as individuals. Alarmists feared corrosive impacts of radio and television - and we survived. Thus, the Internet's impact is probably mitigated in many ways, not least because gadgets can be shut off.

Nonetheless, some observers point to damaged attention spans; depleted memory capacities; Web and gadget addictions; and diluted, fractured and layered personal identities, which are still active online after you shut your computer off or even after you are no longer alive. Obsession with information accompanies laziness about information. That laziness compounds with every passing year because no matter what one is looking for, one assumes that one can look it up, when needed, as in, Now.

Instant access to data warps perceptions of what (once hard won) information is worth. Cultures of entitlement, self-righteous self-indulgence, and immediate gratification coexist with false freedoms which increasingly enslave us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Nuclear Culture 10: Hot Headlines

American superheroes battle the 'Irradiated Man' in Tokyo: DC Comics (14 May 2012) solicitation with Perez's cover for World's Finest #4 (Aug. 2012). Image Source: CBR.

Remember when I said (here) that Fukushima had left the restrained, contained and edited world of the Japanese media and as the fallout has spread, the crisis has entered the Wild West that is the American World Wide Web? It is going to be a crazy ride.  But if we all survive, we might learn something about how national media cultures package reality. Canada is at risk from Fukushima's fallout as well. As a Canadian blogger, all I can say is that in Big Media terms, this issue is hitting America first. But I will talk about the Canadian reaction, and other national reactions beyond that, in due course.

The United States is not a country which takes an impending apocalypse (real or otherwise) lying down. You may not have heard anything much about Fukushima last year after the initial coverage of 3/11. This was partly because the Japanese media and government had a hold of the issue. It was still primarily a nationally-confined topic (or so it appeared). What came out in 2011 was the occasional, muted report, until the declaration of 'cold shutdown' at the end of the year. But I promise, you will hear about Fukushima now, from every conceivable quarter. US election year or no election year, the volume just got turned up to eleven.

Yesterday, news raced across the Web that prominent American-Japanese theoretical physicist Michio Kaku remarked on 9 May that the uranium core in Fukushima Daiichi's Reactor #2 had completely liquefied. Before I return to Kaku's comments in my next post, I'll note first how Kaku's viral report was just one of many American reports on Fukushima which surfaced in the past few days.

Nuclear Culture 9: Quantum Futures and Nuclear Meltdowns

Here's an interesting twist on the Fukushima nuclear nightmare. World-renowned quantum physicist Michio Kaku commented on 9 May 2012 about the Fukushima disaster (Hat tip: ENE News). You can hear the short clip from the lecture here, and a full interview with KPFA Pacfica Radio and Kaku's subsequent lecture directly above. The audio file above opens with an intervew about Fukushima. Kaku then delivers a lecture which touches on the San Onofre plant in California and he expands at length on Fukushima's disaster (starting at 27:00 up to 32:00).

Kaku highlights the incredibly disturbing fact that the core in Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #2 has 100 per cent completely liquefied, which has never happened before in nuclear history. Where is that corium now? No one knows. Online, commenters speculate (without sources) that Reactor #2's corium is half a mile deep (see here; and see a report on mid-February temperature jumps in Reactor #2: here). It appears Kaku is clearly stating that the China Syndrome occurred at Reactor #2, which may be (or may not be) the source of the mysterious radioactive black and red dusts falling around Minamisoma since mid-February 2012.

The blogger at EX-SKF asks: "What does that mean? Can anyone please explain what he means that 'Unit 2 we now know completely liquified' and 'A 100% liquification of a uranium core'? Does he mean 'core melt' or something else entirely?"

Commenters at EX-SKF questioned Kaku's source for this information, which they could not find: "OK, so where is Kaku's data? Anything?" Response: "Been looking for the a paper or the wire he cites. Could not find any recent papers or news wire service. Could be some special wire service that only the connected get to see."

Commenters also asked why an eminent scientist would speak on a popular radio show which normally covers conspiracy theories: "I started listening to the podcast and the host is talking about "fluoride, vaccines, secret ... prisons...", what is Kaku doing there?"

Good question. There are Fukushima's facts, which are hard enough as it is to pin down. Then there is Fukushima's role in global media cultures. One commenter responds: "Kaku is an entertainer primarily and educator secondarily. Whatever he says is said for shock value and not to enlighten. Funny how he disappeared for a long time after his initial explosion in the media talking worse case scenarios that never happened. Instead of helping to promote awareness about the danger of Unit 4 he is making wild inexplicable claims meant to shock and awe and increase his visibility in the entertainment world."

Aside from personal concern, why would Kaku, a theoretical quantum physicist, and specifically a string theorist, weigh in on this nuclear crisis at this level of the media and argue that nuclear power has failed?  The famous Boomer visionary is known for his anticipation of a Singularity-driven future, and indeed, his remarks on Fukushima act as preface for a lecture publicizing his book, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives By the Year 2100.

A China Syndrome at Fukushima raises the question of clean energy like never before. Kaku predicts the future in his book, and much of his vision hinges on the question of energy. In tomorrow's post, I'll discuss the quantum angle that Kaku and other physicists bring to this question.

Read all my posts on Nuclear topics.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Neo-Historical Exoticism

An actor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) with Millennial looks played Henry VIII in The Tudors (2007-2010).

The University of Portsmouth's Centre for Studies in Literature is preparing a collection of scholarly essays on 'neo-historical exoticism':
The current phenomenon of the neo-Victorian, neo-Edwardian, neo-Forties, and more recently, neo-Tudor novel, seems to confirm contemporary culture’s persisting fascination with re-visiting and re-formulating certain key historical moments. This edited collection of essays intends to develop critical examination of the recent literary trend of the ‘neo-historical’ novel and to bring fresh perspectives to current debates on its cultural and theoretical underpinnings. We particularly welcome contributions on the ‘exoticising’ strategies employed by neo-historical fiction in its representation of one culture for consumption by another: What motivates this return to, and symbolic re-appropriation of, the past? Are certain historical periods more prone to creative re-interpretations than others? What are the implications of using a discursive practice intent on seeking elsewhere (in this case, the past) a mode of expression for the present? With the possibility of geographical escape now exhausted in our global age, has the past become the latest refuge from (post)modernity?

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:

• Neo-historical fiction in the global/trans-national present
• Exotic nostalgia in the neo-historical novel
• Popular culture, consumerism, and neo-historical exoticism
• Neo-historical fiction in the margins of Empire
• Travel, exploration and the exotic in the neo-historical novel
• Exotic historiography in contemporary neo-historical fiction
The collection acknowledges the Millennial fashion for reviving past time periods through literature, cosplay, costumed film dramas and tech-enhanced effects and gadgets, as well as the Internet's virtual reality historical manipulations and anachronistic reinterpretations.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Photo of the Day: Fukushima's Nuclear Families

Families plant rice the old-fashioned way just outside the 20-kilometre exclusion zone in Futaba District, Fukushima Prefecture (13 May 2012). Image Source: Mainichi Shinbun.

After today's earlier post, I'd had enough of Fukushima for awhile, but it's the gift that keeps on giving (German readers may appreciate the pun). The blogger at EX-SKF picked up a news story from today's issue of the Mainichi Shinbun (translation here), about families who have volunteered to disprove fears of radioactive fallout. They are planting experimental crops of rice the old-fashioned way, just outside the Fukushima Daiichi power plant's 20-kilometre (approx. 12.5 mile) exclusion zone. The rice farm is in Kawauchi-mura; the continuation of farming there is part of an "experiment ... to develop new sales routes for the rice grown in Kawauchi-mura. The project is called 'Revival of Rice Project (復活の米プロジェクト).'"

The location of the farm is marked in the map below (which the EX-SKF blogger took from the Kobe Shinbun); the map includes fallout data, based on Japanese government measurements. The fallout in the area last year (October 2011) averaged 100K to 300K Bq/m2 of radioactive cesium.

You can see a more recent map (November 2011) with a discussion of what level of radiocesium fallout is considered 'safe' in the soil, with that level defined, at the BBC here:
A quantity of radioactive material has an activity of 1Bq if one nucleus decays per second - and 1kBq if 1,000 nuclei decay per second. ... An international research team investigated this area late last year and concluded: "The team found that the area of eastern Fukushima had levels of the radioactive element that exceeded official government limits for arable land. Under Japanese Food Sanitation Law, 5,000 becquerel per kg (Bq/kg) of caesium is considered the safe limit in soil (caesium-137 makes up about half of total radioactive caesium, and therefore its safe limit is 2,500 Bq/kg). The researchers estimate that caesium-137 levels close to the nuclear plant were eight times the safety limit, while neighbouring regions were just under this cut off; the rest of Japan was well below (averaging about 25 Bq/kg) the safety limit. ... A second study, published in the same edition of PNAS, collected over a hundred soil samples from within 70km [approx. 43.5 miles] of the Fukishima plant, and found similarly high caesium-137 levels across the Fukishima prefecture, and its neighbouring regions.
On converting Bq/kg to Bq/m2 (not K Bq/m2 as cited above), see here, and this explanation: "There are methods that can give us estimated conversion between Bq/kg and Bq/m2. Mr. Tetsuji Imanaka at Kyoto University uses a method of multiplying 20 to amount of Bq/kg to have estimated Bq/m2 amount whiles the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission indicated a method of multiplying 65 to amount of Bq/kg." EX-SKF: "It doesn't seem like the 'safe' enough level for a mother to let her small daughter go bare feet and hands to play in the mud."  An environmental disaster, atomic science, and engineering errors now intersect with normally-admirable national stoicism (for a debate on that attitude, see comments beneath this article) and folly.

Image Source: MEXT (link directly above) via Kobe Shinbun via EX-SKF.

Read all my posts on Nuclear topics.

Nuclear Culture 8: Fukushima Culture Arrives in North America

"A frame from [post-Fukushima Japanese film] 663114 shows a cicada being threatened by the powerful waves of an approaching tsunami." Image Source: HuffPo.

Online debate about Fukushima intensifies as problems at the site continue and fallout spreads. As I mentioned here, the mainstream media largely remain silent and Japanese officials release information in confusing bits. Only the German and Russian media offer regular coverage of this crisis. The information vacuum is otherwise filled by denial or reassuring complacency on the one hand - and online speculation, fear and conspiracy theories on the other.  As nuclear poisons move east-to-west culturally, and west-to-east geographically, Fukushima becomes a local issue in North America, not just a Japanese issue.  Each new local culture reshapes Fukushima in its own image. The very real danger is accompanied by a completely separate issue - the way in which that danger is perceived, discussed and interpreted.