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Ghostly Machines

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The Fastest Growing New Religious Movement in the America

13 October 2018 - 10:27 PM

Santa Muerte: The rise of Mexico’s death 'saint'
With readings, hymns and communion, Daniel Santana's Sunday service could pass for a traditional Catholic Mass, if it were not for the cloaked skeletons and skulls that surround him.
The ceremony takes place at a modest temple to Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint of death, in a rundown area of Guadalajara, the nation's second biggest city.
Despite a reputation as a death cult for criminals and drug traffickers, Santa Muerte has surged in popularity and taken on an increasingly prominent and polemic role in the Day of the Dead festivities held every 1 and 2 November.
Also known as the Bony Lady, the followers of Santa Muerte say her appeal lies in her non-judgemental nature and her supposed ability to grant wishes in return for pledges or offerings.
It isn't the Vatican's habit to give its opinion on every passing cult that flashes across the horizon, but the Santa Muerte is special.
That's because, ghastly as the figure may seem, and weird as the Holy Death cult beliefs may sound, its leaders borrow greedily from traditional church ritual for their own services.
In Mexico, the practice of Catholicism among the poor and desperate often involved crawling long distances on one's knees or tying thorny cactus paddles to one's bare back or making promises of future penance if God's favors were received.
Although these sacrifices were not sanctioned by the Catholic Church in Rome, they continued among people who knew of no other imaginable way to change their luck.
It makes sense, then, that when the cult of the Santa Muerte sprang up among Mexicans who are still poor, still desperate in different ways and for different reasons, worship would take on familiar forms.
At the Santa Muerte's most famous shrine in downtown Mexico City, traditional rosaries are said and young men crawl on their knees for blocks, cradling the holy skeleton in their arms. Instead of lighting incense, they exhale smoke from marijuana cigarettes for the Muerte to inhale.
Even worse—from the point of view of the Catholic Church—many of the pilgrims who gather around shrines to the saint of death still see themselves as devout Catholics.
Some self-appointed "priests," claiming to be leaders of a cult that has no hierarchies or structure, have even tried to insist that their temples are part of the official church.
For the Vatican, this month's declaration constituted a delicate balancing act.
On the one hand, the cult is un-Catholic, extravagant, and sometimes horrifying. The arrest last year of eight people charged with murdering two children and a woman in the course of Holy Death worship served to confirm that the Niña Blanca (White Girl), as she is sometimes known, can be invoked in dreadful ways.
On the other hand, churches are losing their flocks at alarming rates, even in predominantly Catholic Mexico, and it may be that Rome is anxious not to alienate millions of practicing believers who might worship a different kind of saint on the side.

NASA Pushes for Nuclear-Powered Space Missions

30 March 2018 - 07:01 AM

NASA's Nuclear Thermal Engine Is a Blast From the Cold War Past
Nuclear thermal propulsion, which was studied in the Cold War for space travel, could make a comeback to fly humans to Mars.
NASA studied "nuclear thermal propulsion systems" during the Cold War, but shelved the idea because it wasn't necessary.
Nuclear-powered spacecraft could send humans to Mars faster and allow them to abort a dangerous mission and return to Earth.
NASA has already hired a company to start working on a new NTP engine design.
To begin work on a new NTP rocket engine, NASA awarded an $18.8 million contract to BWXT Nuclear Energy in August 2017. BWXT, which has a long history of making nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy, will design a nuclear reactor that uses low-enriched uranium nuclear fuel in the form of "Cermet" (ceramic metallic) rods. NASA has also partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to design an engine that could be mated to the reactor to produce thrust, and NASA will study cryogenic storage options for carrying liquid hydrogen propellant. Finally, NASA and BWXT will work to develop an exhaust capture system that would be used for future ground testing of the NTP engine.
A major advantage of NTP engines is that they can run much longer than chemical rocket engines, such as the Space Shuttle main engines or the Merlin engines on SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, and still produce significantly more thrust than an electric propulsion system, such as the ion thrusters used on satellites. NTP is a happy medium.
What is clear, however, is that NASA is turning back to nuclear fission technologies of decades past. With improved materials, a better understanding of engine systems, computer modeling, and a renewed vigor for space exploration, the nuclear technologies that were abandoned during the Cold War could make a comeback in the 21st century—for the colonization of Mars. 
NASA Pushes for Nuclear-Powered Space Missions
The space agency’s Kilopower project could end a half-century hiatus for U.S. reactors in space
The United States flew its first space reactor, SNAP-10A, in 1965. However, from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, space reactor development has been largely unsuccessful. "There hasn't been any tangible progress in fission reactor technology in decades," Dave Poston, chief reactor designer at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said during the conference. 
NASA is considering power sources like solar arrays, Mason said, but a number of factors make nuclear power a more attractive option. For one, the surface of Mars receives about one-third as much sunlight as Earth, and frequently sees dust storms that reduce this even further. Additionally, reactors are smaller and lighter than a comparable system of solar arrays and batteries, Mason said.
The reactors have a variety of applications besides human missions to Mars. They can power orbiters and landers, providing them with far more electricity than their predecessors. The reactors can also power electronic propulsion systems. NASA is also particularly interested in using Kilopower reactors for installations in lunar orbit and on the moon's surface, Mason said. 

Déjà vu: brain tricks, or predicting the future?

19 March 2018 - 05:07 PM

The Neuroscience of Déjà Vu
Déjà vu is a French term that literally means "already seen" and is reported to occur in 60-70% of people, most commonly between the ages of 15 and 25. The fact that déjà vu occurs so randomly and rapidly—and in individuals without a medical condition—makes it difficult to study, and why and how the phenomenon occurs is up to much speculation. Psychoanalysts may attribute it to wishful thinking; some psychiatrists cite mismatching in the brain causing us to mistake the present for the past. Still, parapsychologists may even believe it is related to a past-life experience. So what do we know for certain about what happens during an episode of déjà vu?
Some researchers speculate that déjà vu occurs when there is a mismatch in the brain during its constant attempt to create whole perceptions of our world with very limited input. Think about your memory: it only takes small bits of sensory information (a familiar smell, for instance) to bring forth a very detailed recollection. Déjà vu is suggested to be some sort of "mix-up" between sensory input and memory-recalling output. This vague theory, however, does not explain why the episode we experience is not necessarily from a true past event.
A different but related theory states that déjà vu is a fleeting malfunctioning between the long- and short-term circuits in the brain. Researchers postulate that the information we take in from our surroundings may "leak out" and incorrectly shortcut its way from short- to long-term memory, bypassing typical storage transfer mechanisms. When a new moment is experienced—which is currently in our short-term memory—it feels as though we're drawing upon some memory from our distant past.
A similar hypothesis suggests that déjà vu is an error in timing; while we perceive a moment, sensory information may simultaneously be re-routing its way to long-term storage, causing a delay and, perhaps, the unsettling feeling that we've experienced the moment before.
Researchers have a new explanation for one of the brain’s most uncanny peculiarities – the phenomenon of déjà vu. Presenting his team’s latest work at the recent International Conference on Memory in Budapest, Akira O’Connor from the University of St Andrews described how apparent glitches in the Matrix may in fact just be the brain fact-checking its own memory system.
According to New Scientist, O’Connor and his colleagues began by devising a technique to artificially trigger déjà vu. To achieve this, they presented study participants with a series of connected words, without revealing the one word that links them. For instance, in one trial the words bed, pillow, dream and night were all presented, yet the term sleep – which clearly connects all of these words – was omitted.


The Future of Robotic Exoskeletons

09 February 2018 - 04:49 PM

Robotic Exoskeletons Are Changing Lives in Surprising Ways
Say the term ‘power suit’ and most people think of bold corporate attire. But the expression takes on new meaning when it refers to a powered “exoskeleton,” like Ellen Ripley’s power loader in "Aliens," or Iron Man’s armor from the Marvel films and comic books.
Until a few years ago, such exoskeletons — metal frameworks fitted with motorized "muscles" that can multiply the wearers’ strength far beyond that of normal humans — were entirely fictional. The only real-world exoskeletons were the natural external coverings of animals such as beetles and crabs; protective outer structures that provide a stiff frame upon which their muscles can push against to move their bodies around.
“The timber cutters and construction workers I worked with just loved the MAX suit,” says a workplace injury-prevention specialist who recently field-tested the device. “Right away you could see they all felt like superheroes.”
The workers liked it even more on the job site. “Instead of squatting, they could just sit right down into the suit; it becomes a ‘chairless chair,’” he reports. “If they’re cutting overhead branches or wiring overhead harnesses, the MAX shoulder unit takes the load; all they need do is maneuver the saw or the tools.”
The workers liked it even more on the job site. “Instead of squatting, they could just sit right down into the suit; it becomes a ‘chairless chair,’” he reports. “If they’re cutting overhead branches or wiring overhead harnesses, the MAX shoulder unit takes the load; all they need do is maneuver the saw or the tools.”
The FDA Just Approved a Robotic Exoskeleton That Augments Your Strength
Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne has officially received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make its lower-body exoskeleton, known as Hybrid Assisted Limb or HAL, available to U.S. patients. The exoskeleton, which would be available through licensed medical facilities only, uses sensors to detect bioelectric signals sent from your brain to your muscles, which it pairs with your movement (or intended movement) in order to increase strength and stability.
HAL has been shown to be especially helpful for people with lower-limb disabilities, as many of these conditions involve a disconnect between the person’s intentions to move (the signals the brain sends) and the actual muscle movement that follows — or, more often, doesn’t follow. The exoskeleton also supports itself while being worn, meaning there’s no added weight or stress on the wearer’s body while they’re operating it.
Types And Classifications of Exoskeletons
Exoskeleton systems can be divided into many different categories, types or classifications based on a series of questions:
What body parts are actuated or powered by the wearable device? 
powered exoskeletons use batteries or electric cable connections to run sensors and actuators 
passive exoskeletons do not have any electrical power source
pseudo-passive exoskeletons have batteries, sensors, and other electronics, but they are not used to provide actuation. 
hybrid-exoskeletons are wearables that have all of the controllers and sensors of a powered exoskeleton but use FES (functional electrical stimulation) of the muscles as actuators.
How is it built?

Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’

07 February 2018 - 07:07 PM

The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program
The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.
The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.
Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.
Mr. Reid, who retired from Congress this year, said he was proud of the program. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in a recent interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
In response to questions from The Times, Pentagon officials this month acknowledged the existence of the program, which began as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Officials insisted that the effort had ended after five years, in 2012.
“It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change,” a Pentagon spokesman, Thomas Crosson, said in an email, referring to the Department of Defense
By 2009, Mr. Reid decided that the program had made such extraordinary discoveries that he argued for heightened security to protect it. “Much progress has been made with the identification of several highly sensitive, unconventional aerospace-related findings,” Mr. Reid said in a letter to William Lynn III, a deputy defense secretary at the time, requesting that it be designated a “restricted special access program” limited to a few listed officials.
A 2009 Pentagon briefing summary of the program prepared by its director at the time asserted that “what was considered science fiction is now science fact,” and that the United States was incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered. Mr. Reid’s request for the special designation was denied.
Mr. Elizondo, in his resignation letter of Oct. 4, said there was a need for more serious attention to “the many accounts from the Navy and other services of unusual aerial systems interfering with military weapon platforms and displaying beyond-next-generation capabilities.” He expressed his frustration with the limitations placed on the program, telling Mr. Mattis that “there remains a vital need to ascertain capability and intent of these phenomena for the benefit of the armed forces and the nation.”
Mr. Elizondo has now joined Mr. Puthoff and another former Defense Department official, Christopher K. Mellon, who was a deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, in a new commercial venture called To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science. They are speaking publicly about their efforts as their venture aims to raise money for research into U.F.O.s.
In the interview, Mr. Elizondo said he and his government colleagues had determined that the phenomena they had studied did not seem to originate from any country. “That fact is not something any government or institution should classify in order to keep secret from the people,” he said.
For his part, Mr. Reid said he did not know where the objects had come from. “If anyone says they have the answers now, they’re fooling themselves,” he said. “We do not know.”
But, he said, “we have to start someplace.”
On the Trail of a Secret Pentagon U.F.O. Program
Our readers are plenty interested in unidentified flying objects. We know that from the huge response to our front-page Sunday article (published online just after noon on Saturday) revealing a secret Pentagon program to investigate U.F.O.s. The piece, by the Pentagon correspondent Helene Cooper, the author Leslie Kean and myself — a contributor to The Times after a 45-year staff career — has dominated the most emailed and most viewed lists since.
So how does a story on U.F.O.s get into The New York Times? Not easily, and only after a great deal of vetting, I assure you.
The journey began two and a half months ago with a tip to Leslie, who has long reported on U.F.O.s and published a 2010 New York Times best seller, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record.” At a confidential meeting Oct. 4 in a Pentagon City hotel with several present and former intelligence officials and a defense contractor, she met Luis Elizondo, the director of a Pentagon program she had never heard of: the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.
She learned it was a secret effort, funded at the initiative of the then Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, starting in 2007, to investigate aerial threats including what the military preferred to call “unidentified aerial phenomena” or just “objects.” This was big news because the United States military had announced as far back as 1969 that U.F.O.s were not worth studying. Leslie also learned that Mr. Elizondo had just resigned to protest what he characterized as excessive secrecy and internal opposition — the reason for the meeting.
What the New York Times UFO Report Actually Reveals
The fact that the program really existed was the part that the Times touted as its big get, but that wasn’t what set the internet on fire. What got people excited was the implication that the program had collected evidence of encounters with unidentified flying objects. In reporting this part of the story, reporters Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal, and Leslie Kean were much less careful about maintaining a critical eye. “The program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift,” the article asserted, later adding: “The company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena. In addition, researchers also studied people who said that they had experienced physical effects from encounters with the objects and examined them for physiological changes.”
The straightforward presentation of these assertions implies that the authors believe them to be true. But they beg for elaboration. Were the produced documents credible? In what way were the buildings modified, and why was it necessary to modify them in order to store this material? What does it mean for an object to be associated with a phenomenon? What were the claimed physical effects, and were any physiological changes found?
Making portentous assertions out of context is a powerful technique for creating a sense of mystery and drama. Leaving a question unanswered implies that it is unanswerable. Selectively omitting key details can make a mundane fact seem uncanny. These techniques are great for exciting an audience, but they’re better suited to Ancient Aliens than the pages of the New York Times because the net effect is to cloud rather than illuminate key issues. In this case: What exactly did Elizondo’s team uncover?
In a follow-up story for the Times Insider about how the story came to be, reporter Ralph Blumenthal makes it sound like the Times scored an exclusive by getting Elizondo to open up to them, writing that he and two colleagues “met Mr. Elizondo in a nondescript Washington hotel where he sat with his back to the wall, keeping an eye on the door.” The implication is that Elizondo feared the repercussions of leaking sensitive information for the first time.
In fact, when Elizondo spoke to the Times he had left government and was promoting the launch of a new venture called To the Stars … Academy of Arts & Science, a website that is trying to crowdsource donations to study paranormal phenomena. Before the Times told his story, To the Stars’ main shareholder, former Blink-182 guitarist Tom DeLonge, had previously promoted the venture on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
And what, exactly, did Elizondo uncover during his five years heading a semi-secret arm of the Pentagon investigating possible extraterrestrial visitations? A visit to the venture’s website raises doubts. A video with the title “2004 USS NIMITZ FLIR1 VIDEO” is the same video seen on the Times’ website, with the addition of a detailed technical description of the infrared-imaging system that took it, along with the claim that “this footage comes with crucial chain-of-custody (CoC) documentation because it is a product of U.S. military sensors, which confirms it is original, unaltered, and not computer generated or artificially fabricated.” But no such documentation is provided.

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