Monday, February 14, 2005

Watch the ball and behold the future

Two bits of news that caught my eye. The title of one immediately brought all kinds of cultural references to mind and the other was just plain weird enough to pique my curiosity.

From the London Daily Mail via

Posted on: Friday, 11 February 2005, 00:00 CST
Can This Black Box See Into the Future?

DEEP in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.

At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.

But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.

The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.

Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers.

'It's Earth-shattering stuff,' says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon.

'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.' Dr Nelson's investigations, called the Global Consciousness Project, were originally hosted by Princeton University and are centred on one of the most extraordinary experiments of all time. Its aim is to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can all tap into without realising.

And machines like the Edinburgh black box have thrown up a tantalising possibility: that scientists may have unwittingly discovered a way of predicting the future... (Click here for rest of article).

I went to the website for the Global Consciousness Project and skimmed over their procedures and data. Interestingly enough it does look like some pretty serious and thorough research going on here: the procedure for each step - from numerical generation to graphing - is documented at length. The data is made freely available for anyone to study on their own. And links and abstracts regarding similar research (wait a sec: our tax dollars are funding more of this?!) can be found. Some of them DO sound pretty oddball: like The RetroPsychoKinesis Project, which among other things sponsored an attempt by martial artists to alter past events with their minds. Ummmmm wasn't that the central storyline of at least five or six episodes of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues?

By the way, if you ever hear about how some sociologist named James D.L. Staunton did a study in 1958 on train and airplane disasters dating back to the 1920s and after sifting the data found that fully-loaded planes and trains rarely crash and that passengers who intended to travel on them skipped-off 'cuz they "felt sick" or something, thus implying that there's some kinda mass psychic ability going on here: don't believe it. That one got mentioned a few times in college and have seen it come up on the 'net over the years, but I did a Google search and couldn't find anyone in real life named "James D.L. Staunton" or even a "James Staunton" who was a sociologist studying train wrecks. You will find James D.L. Staunton on page 536 in the paperback edition of Stephen King's The Stand, however: looks like Staunton was just a plot device by King. But if I'm "getting" the technobabble right, the Global Consciousness Project does at least sound an awful lot like how the precogs in the Department of Pre-Crime worked together to detect an "incoming" future murder in Steven Spielberg's movie version of Minority Report...

Y'know, there's an idea right there: let's recruit all the Xbox modding hotshots to work on a honkin' humongously BIG network of Xboxes (hey they're way cheap as PCs) that'll crunch even more numbers and churn out results in HDTV. With that kind of power we'll be able to see EVERYTHING in the next thousand years: from the Second Coming of Christ to the First Coming of "Duke Nukem Forever"! Seriously though, coincidence or not, that is a pretty neat correlation that this project is finding.

Anyhoo, the next lil' item comes courtesy of the London Daily Telegraph:

Robotic ball that chases burglars
By David Millward
(Filed: 14/02/2005)

A large black ball, originally designed by Swedish scientists for use on Mars, could be the latest weapon in the war against burglars.

The device, developed at the University of Uppsala, acts as a high-tech security guard capable of detecting an intruder thanks to either radar or infra-red sensors. Once alerted, it can summon help, sound an alarm or pursue the intruders, taking pictures.

It is capable of travelling at 20mph, somewhat faster than a human being. Even worse for intruders, the robot ball can still give chase over mud, snow and water.

The ball relies on an internal pendulum to control its motion which, when shifted, changes the centre of gravity and starts it rolling.

Other devices, including microphones, cameras, heat sensors and smoke detectors are mounted on its central axis.

Nils Hulth, co-founder of Rotundus, the company which is marketing the ball, said it was especially well-suited to patrolling perimeter fences.

The prototype, just under 2ft in diameter, weighs about 10lb. "It is extremely light, which is why it moves so fast," Mr Hulth said.

While the current version can only raise the alarm, it could be adapted to corner an intruder if the customer wanted, Mr Hulth added...

Bold words were my emphasis, 'cuz after reading this I was laughing so hard that the Coke I was drinking literally came out of my nose! Now there's all kinds of dangerous balls that we know of (no Rollerball doesn't count 'cuz people chase the ball not vice-versa). There's that classic toy from yesteryear Happy Fun Ball:

And who could forget that boulder that tried to squish Indiana Jones? I almost didn't want to mention it because it did miss its target and to date Deadly Amazon Idol Temple Boulder of Death(tm) can only boast a 1-1 record... but since it did wind up killing "Weird Al" Yankovic we'll make note of it:

For some reason, the very first things that popped in my head when I read this article's title were those delightful shiny flying Christmas tree ball ornaments that Angus Scrimm always sends after Reggie the Ice-Cream Man and crew during the big showdown in whatever abandoned funeral parlor they wind up in during those wonderful Phantasm movies:

But that still wasn't it. The thing that darned nearly destroyed my nasal tissue with Coke - no not that coke - was because Rotundus' ball sounds WAY too much like this (Rotundus should pitch this in commercials with the tagline "Who is Number One?"):

I wonder if Rotundus is giving Patrick McGoohan any royalties from this gimmick. They oughtta 'cuz it's Rover, that ball-thingy that relentlessly chased after you - on land or water - if you tried to escape The Village in McGoohan's old 1967 TV show The Prisoner! Of all the crazy ideas that television ever gave us, a homicidal weather balloon was the absolute last thing I expected to become an even remote actuality. Other than it being that the Rotundus ball doesn't suffocate an escapee like the Rover did (thankfully), this sounds exactly like Rover.

Ooh-boy... this could be a lot of fun. Can you imagine having one of these and then needing to call Rotundus Tech Support?

CUSTOMER: Okay, it seems to be working now. Thanks for walking me through this!

ROTUNDUS TECH: You're perfectly welcome sir, and we do appreciate that you chose to purchase our product. If you have any more problems or questions please call this same technical support line. Do you have something to write with?

CUSTOMER: Yes, have a pen right here.

ROTUNDUS TECH: Okay sir, you are ticket number...


"You are, Number Six."


Anonymous said...

I liked your post a few weeks ago about Otto Rahn. I'm a World War II buff too and that's the first I've ever heard about Rahn and how the Nazis had him looking for the Holy Grail. Since then I try to visit your blog once a day to see what else you have. You show a lot of knowledge and wisdom but you aren't "lofty" about it at all; you talk WITH people not AT them and you're one of the few people anywhere that doesn't take sides on party lines. You've got a unique brand of humor too. You should post your life story or more about yourself anyway; I'd love to know where you came from, what made you like this. We need more people with your wisdom and humility and humor in this world :)

God bless,
Jeffrey Davis

PS: did you know that Sister Lucia, the last of the 3 children at Fatima, died yesterday? She was 97 years old. Didn't know if you heard that but you probably knew all about Fatima. Right? :)

Anonymous said...

I think that Number Six is really Number One. Whenever Number Six asked who Number One was he gets told "You are Number Six".

But listen carefully and you'll note a pause mid-sentence.

"Who is Number One?"

"You are, Number Six."

But why would Number Six be Number One, who is supposed to be running the Village, and not know it?

How old are you Knight? You don't look older than 20-25. I'm 37 and remember watching reruns of The Prisoner in the mid seventies on a station in Florida. Even with all the references to it on The Simpsons and others I'm amazed that it's still so obscure to most Americans: its still one of the most cerebral shows ever made. Thanks for nodding toward it like you did :)

Jay Stevens

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey you said that Chris Knight talks "WITH people not AT them" and I wanted to say that you don't know how right you are. I finally met Chris last year and for someone who's an unimaginably complex and deep thinker he's without any arrogance or condescending. He really looks you in the eye when you talk with him. If he's remarkable and unique online then he's immeasurably more in real life. Perfect gentleman. Considerate of others. Passionate. Sincere. Always cheerful and eager to help. Quick with a joke. He's got a very warm smile! My sister thinks he's got the most gorgeous eyes and smile when I showed her a photo I took of him and asked if he was married! I didn't meet his wife but she's one blessed girl to have him as a husband. Speaking of that, Chris yesterday was Valentine's Day you should have shared the story of how you proposed to her! My sister thought that was the sweetest thing for a guy to do for a girl and is very - VERY - wanting her future husband to do the same thing for her. You could have raised the bar on romance man. But maybe it's good that you didn't (LOL!) What you see of him here is what you get, he's not pretending at all.

Chris also has a lot of humility. He's not interested in being praised. But he's definitely worthy of being praised. Hope it's okay to do that for you here brother (:

Jay, Chris said he was 30 years old last week. I didn't know his name then but he was working as Darth Sidious in 1999 at least on so he was 24 then and writing already.

Somebody needs to hire Christopher. If they're sharp they'd offer him craploads of money because he'd return their investment and no telling by how much! He's too good a talent for that to go no farther than his blog. The only liabilities he's got are that he's really _not_ either conservative or liberal and he's not angry or hateful enough and who wants a writer who doesn't hate his enemies but instead _LOVES_ them? But I'm praying he gets noticed and given a shot at sharing his gifts with the rest of the world. The Lord knows it needs them.

God bless guys,