Virtual Post Traumatic Reality

Stephen Hawking has said that he does not believe that time travel to the past is possible. If it were, we would now have people from the future around us, and there aren’t, as far as we know. Although it did seem we did for a while, with Steve Jobs. I’ve often imagined, however, that we eventually find a way to travel to the past, and instead of looking at photographs of our grandparents on an iPad, we would be able to see them in our dreams. It would be safe travel too, because since we are dreaming, there is no way to accidentally interact or interfere in any way with that world, something that would be disastrous, because that would modify the future.

 

Hawkings does believe that time travel into the future is possible. Today we know that time goes by at different speeds, like the different parts of a river. As inconceivable as this may sound, matter drags on time and slows it down, so the closer to the Earth, the slower. Also, the heavier the object, the more it drags on time. Sagittarius A, the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, has such gravitational pull that nothing, not even light, can escape it. A black hole like this has a dramatic effect on time, slowing it down like nothing else could.

That time runs faster in space than on Earth has been demonstrated beyond any doubt. Satellites circling the Earth have very precise clocks on board, and these clocks gain about a billionth of a second every day. The system is designed in such a way that it corrects the drift, so it doesn’t upset the whole system. If they didn’t do this, it would cause every GPS device on Earth to go out by about six miles a day. In fact, this is the first practical engineering application of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity

Many movies have used the theme of time travel or travel to different dimensions. Time is, in fact, just one of the many dimensions we have invented to explain and understand the world that surrounds us. In Terry Gilliam‘s provocative film 12 Monkeys, Bruce Willis plays a criminal who is transported back in time from a post-apocalyptic future in an attempt to prevent the outbreak of a virus that kills most of the world’s population. In Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio‘s character, Dom Cobb, is a thief specialized in the art of extraction of valuable secrets from deep inside the subconscious, when the mind is most vulnerable. In Source Code, Colter Stevens, a US Army helicopter pilot, is sent to the past and he is put in another person’s consciousness to try to stop a terrorist attack.

 

Fiction, as we know very well, is usually inspired in reality. But fiction can in turn inspire us too. The US Army has this year awarded almost half a million dollars to a company, to help in the development of an experiment to help its soldiers cope with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after returning from conflict. US soldiers go to war not only to “fight for freedom”. They also become experiments. Up to 52% of combat veterans with PTSD report having nightmares often. This is because when we are sound asleep we cannot control our memory and the dream world can become a frightening experience, completely out of our control.

 

The experiment brief explains the objective: Research and development to augment the current Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) approaches for warrior trainees (WT) and other patients suffering with nightmares related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/traumatic brain injury (TBI) with technological advances in biofeedback and Virtual Reality (VR).

Using a computer program, soldiers would build imaginary worlds and avatars which would be based on the virtual world Second Life. These would become dream sequences designed to counteract the traumatic memories, neurologically distract the soldier and stimulate relaxation. The soldier would have to learn how to activate these scenarios using 3D goggles, which he would put on after waking up from a nightmare. The dream could involve the soldier being surrounded by people he trusts and loves, and they would help him get through this hard moment. Because it is so difficult to call up images that calm you down when you are in distress, the soldiers would help design these images and they would just have to play them back.

-To read this article in PDF: Virtual Post Traumatic Reality

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The AKB48 pop revolution in Japan

Pop music everywhere has become dull due to the use and abuse of song formulas and formats that are tired and are exasperatingly repetitive. A popular song in Germany can sound very similar to one in Finland or in the US. Still, innovation is possible with a little imagination. Japanese impresario Yasushi Akimoto has created an incredibly successful franchise slightly tweaking the typical model of the girl pop band. A Japanese television writer, lyricist, record producer, professor and vicepresident at Kyoto University of Art and Design, Akimoto launched the AKB48 concept in the year 2005.

This is not your regular pop band, although musically it still sounds like just pop. What is interesting is what’s behind. The AKB stands for Akihabara, a distric in Tokyo, famous for being a major shopping area for electronics, computers and anime and is always teeming with otaku -a Japanese word for “geek”. 48 is the number of girls that make up the group. The first original idea behind the group is that they are idols that you can go and see anytime, because they have their own performance venue in Akihabara. The 48 girls are divided into groups that can take turns performing, so there is always a daily show. The theater is located on the 8th floor of a Don Quijote store (a popular department store chain in Japan) and due to the enormous demand now tickets are distributed via a lottery.

The second innovative idea was introduced in 2009: girls aggresively compete against each other and face elections by fans, who decide the member line-up that will record the next single. Only the top 21 members appear actively in the media. Additionally, there are many aspiring members, kenkyusei, which means “trainees”. In 2010 a new and original selection method was introduced to pick which girls participated in a recording: girls competed against each other in a rock-paper-scissors tournament.

Akimoto has been criticized for sexualizing teen girls, because songs say things like “I want to take off my school uniform, I want to misbehave, you can do whatever you like, I want to experience adult pleasure”, but he replies that he simply reflects realities that young Japanese girls experience in their lives; their doubts, their problems, their aspirations and dreams. The lyrics also sometimes address serious issues like teen suicide, he says.

What is clear is that the concept, a unique combination of theatre company, girl band and reality show, is a huge success, with the girls becoming pop superstars and tickets to the theater permanently sold out and some singles selling more than a million copies in a single day. In the first six months of 2011, total sales of merchandise reached almost 70 million euros (aprox $93M). They will also have their own anime series and will have their own official shop where fans can purchase official merchandise and their own AKB48 cafe that will serve Japanese fusion food and desserts. They already have their own fight card videogame –AKB48 Stage Fighter.

Akimoto has already announced that versions of the band will be launched in Taiwan, Indonesia and in Singapore. He has also teamed up with Sony Music Japan to produce a new “official rival” that will be called Nogizaka46.

Below, a photo of AKB48’s new sister group: SDN48. This group is made up of older girls, 23 on average) and there are only 12 members. They will sing both in Korea and in Japanese.

(To read the original article in the BMR magazine, Mar 2012: AKB48)

Eating Bugs

Entomophagy is the consumption by humans of insects as food. Although you may not know anyone who actually eats insects, and may think it is a marginal practice, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization is very serious about the matter. The raising of livestock such as cows, pigs and sheep occupies two-thirds of the world’s farmland and generates 20% of all the greenhouse gases driving global warming. This is a very serious problem.

Max Burgers, the Swedish burger chain recently took the counterintuitive and risky step of trying to influence its customers to eat less meat. The chain even displays climate footprint data in each store. A 2007 Japanese study estimated that the CO2 emitted to produce 1kg of beef is equivalent to the CO2 emitted by a medium-sized car travelling 250km. There is actually a meat crisis, because world population will grow from six billion today to 9 billion by 2050, and we are consuming more meat, not less. 20 years ago the average was at 20kg, now we eat an average of 50kg per year. According to the US Department of Agriculture Americans are eating more than 88kg per year per person today.

The UN, among other institutions, wants to reduce the amount of meat that we eat and is looking for alternatives. The FAO conference in 2008 in Thailand had the name “Forest Insects as Food: Humans Bite Back” and their 2013 world congress will push for greater development of insects as a food source and an alternative to meat.

There are many reasons that should make us seriously consider changing our food habits. In terms of combating global warming, recent research shows that farming insects such as locusts, crickets and mealworms emits 10 times less methane than cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. They also produce 300 times less nitrous oxide, also a warming gas, and much less ammonia. Being cold-blooded, insects don’t need to convert food energy into heat, meaning they need less food to grow. They don’t need light and their growth cycle is only six weeks long. You can breed them any time of the year. All they need to eat is organic waste.

Another reason insects are sustainable and convenient is the relationship between feed input and edible output. For every ten kilograms of feed, you get back one kilogram of beef, three of pork, five of chicken, and nine if we are talking about locusts. The optimisation of costs and benefits is incredible. All this makes farming insects a much more sustainable alternative and some insects have as much protein as meat and fish. FAO says that there are 1,462 species of recorded edible insects.
Despite the fact that insects are often considered carriers of infectious diseases, the sources of the worst viruses of the past few years have been cows (mad cow disease), pigs (swine flu) and poultry (avian flu). Insects are, genetically speaking, very far from human beings, so do not have the capacity to mix their viruses with ours.

The truth is that bugs are already a part of our diet, we already eat traces of them in prepackaged, processed food. There are insect fragments in canned tomatoes, in dried fruit boxes and in peanut butter. Anyone who buys organic produce ingests them in even greater quantities. Insects have been consumed for centuries by Native American tribes, in Mexico, in Colombia and the Amazon basin, in Africa, Japan and of course Australasia. They were popular in Victorian England, as well, when there was a craze for oddities.

The fact that today we are talking about eating insects is not because of a new fad. There is a global food crisis, and it really seems that eating insects isn’t just recommendable, it is inevitable.

For one specialist website, visit edible.com.

(To read my original article, published in Ago 2011, in PDF: Bugs)

(To join my Facebook group for interesting stories and comment everyday: Babyshark’s Minority Report)

Is There Anybody Out There?

ALMA is the biggest array of telescopes in the world and the largest astronomical project ever attempted, a truly global partnership between scientists from Japan, Europe, Canada, the US and Chile. It is located deep in the Atacama desert of Chile, in an inhospitable region called Chajnantor Plateau. Because of its altitude, dry air (this is the driest place on Earth), nearly non-existent cloud cover (320 clear skies per year), and lack of both light pollution and radio interference, it is probably the best location in the world to conduct astronomical observations. It is largely transparent to the millimeter and submillimeter wavelength range that ALMA is designed to detect. Most of the photons in the Universe are in this wavelength, that lies between what is traditionally considered microwaves and infrared waves. Star formation occurs in dense molecular clouds observable only in the submillimeter range, and most of this radiation is absorbed by atmospheric water vapor. This is why such a dry location is so important.

The rarified atmosphere at this altitude is very demanding for humans, this is why the telescopes are assembled from parts arriving from different parts of the world at a camp at 3000m and then transported to their final position. The final configuration should consist of around 60 antennas. ALMA is by no means alone in the Atacama desert. The European Southern Observatory operates two major observatories in the Atacama: the La Silla Observatory and the Paranal Observatory, which includes the Very Large Telescope. Another impressive piece of equipment, the CCAT, Cornell Caltech Atacama Telescope, currently under construction by an international consortium, will also be located in the area, near the summit of Cerro Chajnantor, about 600 m above and only 5 km from ALMA.

ALMA will give astronomers an unprecedented window on the cosmos, enabling groundbreaking studies into areas such as the physics of the cold Universe, the first stars and galaxies, and even directly imaging the formation of planets. This video shows the ALMA facilities. This second HD time-lapse video was shot around ALMA to celebrate its first observations. It’s 5 marvelous minutes of an strange pleasure…the realization that we live in a rock that spins at 1000km per hour, a tiny speck of dust inside a cloud that travels at 250km per second across the inmensity of the Universe.