Gigantic School of Mobula Rays Attempting to Fly

Amazing video of mobula rays testing evolution to the limits...

Tens of thousands of mobula rays come together off the coast of Baja California in a brilliant display of their massive numbers underwater. Then watch them breach for reasons unknown. The leaps out of the water are spectacular as their pectoral fins flap in the air.

Though it’s hard to tell in this clip, these animals are quite large, likely weighing over a ton and reaching “a disc width of up to 5.2 m (17 ft)…” This is also likely the largest school of rays ever to be caught on film, captured for National Geographic’s Untamed Americas.

Watching them leap gave me a bit of a 'So long and thanks for all the fish' moment...

(via The Kid Should See This)

Slenderman: Five Years

 

 

My brain hurt like a warehouse it had no room to spare

I had to cram so many things to store everything in there

And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people

And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people

I never thought I'd need so many people...

-David Bowie, Five Years

If you had asked me as recently as two weeks ago if I thought the fifth anniversary of Slenderman's birth - today - was worth noting, I would have probably have said, "not so much". Other than the news that a feature length adaptation of the first (and still best) Slenderman video blog Marble Hornets had been announced, there was a feeling that the world's first open-source monster was fading into the background.

Sites were shutting, Tumblr blogs such as Ask Slenderman were posting less and less often and shedding staff. And, though I still find the mythos that has appeared around him fascinating, I would have thought few others would still be interested.

That was before last week. Before Wisconsin. 

The tragic events in the town of Waukesha, Wisconsin - in which two 12 year old girls attacked a third as an alleged sacrifice to Slenderman - horrified the world. Suddenly, every news agency was asking "what is Slenderman?" - the monster, it seemed, had finally found its wider audience. The suggestion of a possible second incident in Hamilton County, Ohio, and the fact that recent Las Vegas cop-killer Jerad Miller cosplayed as Slenderman (and The Joker) only emphasises this.

As readers of Darklore will know, I’ve been watching the Slenderman phenomenon for over half of his lifespan (looking both at Slenderman’s origins and the possibility of killing at least local manifestations of it). One of the most significant aspects of the entire Slenderman mythos has been the way that Slenderman has slipped across the permeable membrane between fiction and reality - occupying a very old definition of the concept of myth, while simultaneously being a child of the most modern aspects of communication.

Right from the very start, Slenderman crossed that line again and again - within the mythos, he has always been shown as a creature capable of crossing supposedly rigid boundaries of space and time effortlessly, and it is apt that this nature is reflected in the wider expression of the myth. In the videos purporting to be found footage of those unfortunates to have crossed his path, for the participants in the many Alternate Reality Games that appeared to further tell his tale, or simply those who, for a second, when playing the Slender game felt his faceless gaze upon them and shivered in terror... his presence is becoming more and more palpable.

Whether you call it by the anthropological term ostension, see it as a manifestation of the hyper-real nature of how we perceive and are altered by symbols in times saturated them, or even believe that Slenderman is truly a new form of deity... there is no question that those entities whose birthplaces were in known fictional works are becoming more and more influential.

Slenderman may simply be the first. Learning what to to do about that may become an important question for our times. It may even offer the possibility of understanding how all our beliefs sway us, can drive us to both atrocity and gnosis.

However it plays out, the next five years of Slenderman will certainly be worth watching closely.

News Briefs 09-06-2014

The news gets newer, as we all get older.

Quote of the Day:

The golden age is before us, not behind us.

William Shakespeare

It Doesn't Matter How Old You Are, Magnets Always Seem Like Some Sort of Strange Magic

Magnets, how do they f***ing work? We can hear all the explanations in the world about magnets (or non-explanations if you like), but they still seem like some sort of strange magic to our monkey brains.

Which is why the simple 'levitation' tricks done in the video above still seem so cool...I particularly like the pile of books, that would make for a great center-piece on the coffee table no doubt. The effect was created by science and illusion YouTube video producer Brusspup, using a magnetic levitation module from Dutch company Crealev:

I've had smaller units before that will float items weighing about 1 pound. This unit can float objects weighing near 20 pounds. Even though it's beautiful to walk in the room and see this unit sitting there, I love to try and hide the unit with various objects. The magnetic disc is hidden under the chessboard, for instance. For the floating books, I made a fake book and hid the magnet in it. The pillow is one of my favorites. The visual of a floating pillow supporting a 7 pound brick is fun to see. And then the last was just so cool to see. As a kid I dreamed of the Millennium Falcon. So to see it floating just brings it to another level of reality.

Not sure what sort of crazy dreams you might have if you used the pillow though (*ahem*)...

(via Laughing Squid)

News Briefs 06-06-2014

”The errors are not in the art, but in the artificers.”

Quote of the Day:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants..”

Isaac Newton

Your Face, Their Algorithm: NSA facial recognition

“You are being watched... The government has a secret system, which spies on you every hour of every day.”

-Opening credits, Person Of Interest

 

Yesterday marked the end of the first year of the Edward Snowden revelations about the horrifying, beyond-the-ravings-of-the-worst-tin-hat-wearing-paranoid extent of American high-tech surveillance, particularly by the National Security Agency. The latest release tells of the extent to which the NSA is researching facial recognition - specifically, the Identity Intelligence project, which harvests millions of pictures of faces online in order to provide data to train their facial recognition algorithms.

In one of the more striking cases of fact and fiction intertwining, this scenario could have been taken wholesale from the CBS TV show, Person Of Interest. Created by Jonathan Nolan a couple of years before the Snowden revelations, the show initially tells of the efforts of the reclusive designer of The Machine (an artificial intelligence computer bought by the government for post-9/11 surveillance, deliberately restricted by its creator to only provide the social security numbers of those about to be involved in violent crime) to aid those who are deemed by The Machine ‘irrelevant’ to national security but still endangered.

Effectively splitting the concept of Batman between two people (the Inventor/Billionaire, portrayed by Lost’s Michael Emerson and The Warrior, in this case an ex-CIA wetworks specialist needing a new, less bloody purpose, played by Jim Caviezel), it brought a clever very-near-future science fictional edge to the idea of the vigilante hero. The show rapidly evolved - not unlike The Machine itself - from an entertaining weekly action/procedural show to one of the best examinations of the effect AI may have on humanity ever shown and a sly commentary on the modern surveillance state.

The Snowden revelations broke during the writing of the second season of the show, and influenced the series considerably. For their Season 3 Comic-Con presentation last year, the show gave away key fobs with the image pictured at right on them.

Nolan and fellow showrunner Greg Plageman have often spoken in interviews about how little fiction their technology actually has - Nolan in particular has often talked about how Google and other firms have spent billions on researching Artificial General Intelligence, whose algorithms can be put to many uses, both fair and foul. (One such interview is here - NB some spoilers for the series.)

Season 3 ended last month with a deepening of the government’s use of AI to detect possible terrorists, plunging headlong into a dystopian world where police and the military locate, detain and even kill those whose metadata is deemed Relevant by an unseen computer algorithm. And frankly, the show looks less and less like science fiction as it goes on.

In commemoration of the Snowden anniversary, a world-wide group of activists established the Reset The Net initiative, offering people free and open-source tools to better protect their identity. I use these tools - so should you.

And, as for facial recognition? Here the options are more limited - especially in the wake of anti-mask legislation which has appeared in several countries (restricting the rights of everyone from devout Muslim women to V-For-Vendetta-mask wearing Anonymous protesters). Possibilities include the CV Dazzle technique of using a combination of asymmetrical make-up and hairstyles to confuse the algorithms that detect faces, and these nifty Infrared LED caps which blind CCTV cameras. And, of course, the awareness that we are watched... the modern pantechnicon surrounds us, and it matters that we remember to look back. Though always, to remember the risks.

----

Person of Interest returns to TV in September. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Dinosaurs and Dragon Bones

 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

"Eric Prokopi, 39, was sentenced by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein for smuggling a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton from Mongolia into the United States by making false statements to US officials, including that the then-unassembled bones were merely reptile fossils from Great Britain.

Once assembled, the skeleton was sold by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions for more than $1 million before it was seized by the U.S. government and returned to Mongolia."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnew...

Robert Plot's 1677 work The Natural History of Oxford-shire featured a drawing of the bone of a giant dug up by Plot himself. The image is now recognised as one of the earliest known western illustrations of a dinosaur bone.

In 1811, at the age of twelve, Mary Anning and her brother Joseph dug up a four foot skull on the Blue Lias cliffs in Lyme Regis in Dorset. A few months later, Mary found the rest of the skeleton. Henry Hoste Henley of Sandringham, Norfolk, who was lord of the manor of Colway, near Lyme Regis, paid the family twenty-three pounds for it. Hoste then sold the skeleton to William Bullock, a well-known collector, who displayed it in London. Mary Anning's family were fossil hunters who would sell the curiosities they found to tourists visiting the area. Once considered little more than a mud-lark, today Mary is recognised as one of the most important figures in 19th century palaeontology.

It was not until 1824 that William Buckland - president of the Geological Society of London - wrote the first full account of a dinosaur detailing the discovery of fossilised giant reptile bones from a creature which he christened Megalosaurus ("great lizard").

The taxon Dinosauria (from which we get the word dinosaur) was formally named in 1842 by paleontologist Sir Richard Owen, who used it to refer to the "distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles" whose fossilised remains were by now being being discovered and catalogued around the world.

By the the latter half of the 19th century fossils were being discovered and catalogued with such ferocity that in America two palaeontologists - Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and Othniel Charles Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale - became bitter rivals. These former colleagues became engaged in what came to be known as the Bone Wars - between 1877 and 1892, both paleontologists used their wealth and influence to finance their own expeditions and to procure services and dinosaur bones from fossil hunters. By the end of the Bone Wars, both men had exhausted their funds in the pursuit of paleontological supremacy.

Long, long before Plot unearthed his giant's bone -circa 300 BC - the Chinese book Shennong Bencao Jing ("Divine Farmer's Materia Medica") documented the medicnal use of "dragon bones" ("longgu") and "dragon teeth" ("longchi"):

"Dragon bone is sweet and balanced. It mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts; it also treats cough and counterflow of qi, diarrhea and dysentery with pus and blood, vaginal discharge, hardness and binding in the abdomen, and fright epilepsy in children. Dragon teeth mainly treats epilepsy, madness, manic running about, binding qi below the heart, inability to catch one's breath, and various kinds of spasms. It kills spiritual disrupters. Protracted taking may make the body light, enable one to communicate with the spirit light, and lengthen one's life span."

Dragon bone is still used in Chinese medicine today. In 2002 samples of dragon bone and dragon tooth obtained from the market place were analysed by several Chinese institutes. The results showed that they contained the bones of stegodons (long-legged saber-toothed elephants), wooly mammoths, wooly rhinoceros, and hipparions (three-toed horses) among other long extinct species. [1]

In 2006 Li Chui, a farmer in Shaping Village in Ruyang County, central China's Henan Province, unearthed a large quantity of dragon bones - enough, he thought, to make him quite a bit of money at the then going rate of 1.4 yuan per kg. The dealer who Li Chui spoke to about selling the bones reported the find to the Beijing-based Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Scientists from the institute spent the next two years on the site. They concluded that the bones belonged to Asia's tallest and heaviest dinosaur that may have lived as long ago as one hundred million years. They named it the Yellow River Dinosaur.[2]

Few (if any) would argue that it is wrong to want to preserve the remains of these amazing creatures which are, after all, finite - there are only so many bones embedded in ancient rock and buried beneath the earth. Some, however, say that with so many people wanting to own fossils there's a danger that we could all lose out. In a recent article on io9.com, scientist and columnist Mika McKinnon wrote "A privately-owned fossil is like privately-owned art, a collectable lost from public view for the pleasure of a special few. While I understand that is exactly the appeal of being rich and privileged, it seems deeply unfair to hide something created by our planet away from public access [...] When a beautiful fossil that has high scientific value is purchased by a collector for their personal enjoyment, that scientific utility is lost to the entire planet." [3]

We've come an amazingly long way in a short few hundred years in our understanding of dinosaurs via their remains. It's tragic enough that many fossils have already been ground down or boiled away in the name of medicine, it would be awful to think that one day the most magnificent which survive might only be viewed by a wealthy elite. Becoming as rare and legendary to the average person as dragon's bones.

[1] http://www.itmonline.org/arts/dragonbone...

[2] http://www.bjreview.com.cn/science/txt/2...

[3] http://io9.com/fossil-poaching-and-the-b...

News Briefs 04-06-2014

Thanks to Susan & King Babar

Quote of the Day:

"“Were you on the square?” the immigration official asked.
“I was,” Chan said, expecting to be detained.
Frowning, the official leaned in.
“Then go and tell the world,” the official said softly, before waving him through."

~Excerpt from the article The Tiananmen Massacre: 25 Years Later, Three Students Tell What They Saw

'The Owlman' Stalks Unsuspecting Users of Chat Roulette

The Owlman on Chat Roulette

You no longer have to go into the woods to have a terrifying encounter with some strange Fortean being...you can now do it in the comfort of your lounge via the Internet. As part of the marketing for the indie movie Lord of Tears (created on the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign), the 'Owlman' from the story made some surprise appearances on unsuspecting users of Chat Roulette (an online chat system which pairs random people from across the globe in webcam-based conversations). The results are at times hilarious, but also give some fun insights into the different ways people react when seeing something from beyond the outer limits.

(Warning: some strong language)