Who Is Watching You?

Think the scheming and deception of the spies at the court of Queen Elizabeth I in The Scar-Crow Men is some historical novelty? Much of what I write about in the Swords of Albion books is relevant today. In fact, that’s why I write it…

A two-year Washington Post investigation has revealed the true extent of the top secret world created by the US Government over the past few years.

* one and a half times the population of Washington DC now have top-secret security clearances.
*In the last ten years, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence have been, or are being, constructed in the Washington DC area alone covering 17 million square feet or the equivalent of three pentagons.
* Fifty thousand intelligence reports are published every year, so many that a good number are ignored by time-pressed chiefs.

This hidden world has become so pervasive, so secretive and so unwieldy that “no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”

Eight Unbroken Codes

Anyone who’s read The Scar-Crow Men knows that codes play an important part in the story, as they did for real spies in the sixteenth century…and today.

New Scientist has a great article this week on eight codes that still remain unbroken, from the famous Voynich Manuscript to the CIA’s Kryptos monument to one of the final messages from the Zodiac serial killer.

Worth a read. You’ll have to sign up, for free, but you only get a window of a couple of days to check it out.

No Hiding Place

He described a future two to three years away in which a user could wear glasses equipped with vision recognition technology that display the profile of any person the user comes into contact with, calling up their conversation history and other personal–but private–information.

No hiding from those drunken tweets or FB status updates. On the other hand, you may know who to avoid in the bar…

Mushrooms That Make Zombie Ants

“On a recent field trip to the region, scientists discovered four new species of fungus that infect ants, take over their bodies and eventually kill them in a place that is just right for the organism to grow inside them.

The fungus can destroy entire colonies and leave behind gruseome ant graveyards, where twisted, dark corpses rest with their mandibles locked around leaf veins, a final act that secures the creature’s host in position before it releases spores to infect others.”

On the bright side, they go very nice in an omelette.

Scientists Conduct First Successful Time Travel Experiment

Turns out it wasn’t 88mph after all. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has completed a successful experiment with quantum time travel.

Seth Lloyd and his collaborators “have identified a new approach to the problem that opens up the strange world of time travel to experiments,” according to a report in New Scientist magazine.

What is so tantalising about time travel is that there seems to be nothing to prevent it. As far as the laws of physics are concerned, time can run forwards or backwards. But time travel of the kind that Marty McFly gets up to in the movie Back to the Future is a different kettle of fish. It requires an object to go back in time while everything else keeps creeping forward. Still, there is no shortage of ideas about how this might happen.

Even more fascinating, the MiT team sent a photon back to “kill” itself.

The magazine says, ‘When this experiment is done, something interesting happens: every single time the time travel works, the gun fails to go off. And when time travel fails, the gun works. To put this in the language of the grandfather paradox, as long as there is some chance of your gun misfiring and the assassination failing, time travel may work. “You can point the gun but you can’t pull the trigger,” says Lloyd.’

London’s Secret Cemetery

In Southwark, not far from the resurrected Globe Theatre, the BFI and many of London’s arts establishments, lies Cross Bones cemetery. The graveyard is set aside for “outcasts” – prostitutes and paupers – and was in use for hundreds of years from Medieval times.

It was original the burial place for the Winchester Geese, the London prostitutes licenced by the Bishop of Winchester mentioned in The Sword of Albion.

Every Halloween, there’s a ceremony at Cross Bones to remember all outcasts, living and dead. You can find an account, photos, music and recordings here.

Invasion Of The Zombie Ants

“The parasite, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, appears to take over the minds of infected ants.

The insects are forced to leave their nests and head for a leaf that provides ideal conditions for the fungus to reproduce.

On arrival the ants are compelled to bite hard on a major vein of the leaf before dying. The “death grip” leaves the ant in a perfect position for the fungus to grow and release its infectious spores.”

A thousand authors begin a new story…

Earth Calling All Aliens

After futile decades of listening for any signs of a civilisation beyond Earth, SETI – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – is considering broadcasting our own message to the stars.

New Scientist reports that a meeting will be held in Texas in June to discuss if, and how, and in what form, such an attempt at communication should be made.

There is opposition. Our oldest stories tell us that it’s not always wise to let the gods notice you, which is what’s on the mind of SF author David Brin. He resigned from a SETI panel because he felt there wasn’t enough discussion of the potential repercussions from such a broadcast. He says: “I dislike seeing my children’s destiny being gambled with by a couple of dozen arrogant people who cling to one image of the alien”