Wednesday, 26 May 2010

There's no place like home.

Scientists are strange beings.

Not that it's a bad thing you understand. After all without science I'd be carving this out on a piece of rock, or more likely looking at the piece of rock with rage in my eyes, nursing my bloody fingers and swearing at my flint.

But the thing is, in order to keep inventing an innovating scientists generally speaking view the world a wee bit differently than the rest of us apes. You see rather than look at, say, a tree and think "My that's a pretty tree." a scientist will think "Why are it's leaves green? Why are it's branches that shape? How does it live? How does it love?". It's like when you were a kid and you went through that phase of annoying your parents by asking the question "But why?" over and over again. Well your average scientist never really grows out of that phase.

Often this leads to them discovering all sorts of amazing things, like black holes and pop tarts. Occasionally however a scientist's thirst for knowledge can lead to bizarre circumstances.

For example a news report bandied about the media recently claimed with quite an alarming headline that "Robots will kill humans". Now before you all throw on your hard hat and head to your panic room (Gee Note: Or, as I like to call it, "the shed") there aren't any robots that are going all Wachowski Brothers on us and using our bodies as a cheap source of fuel.

Nay brave reader, the report is actually about a study in Germany conducted by the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. Apparently three researchers decided to construct a 14kg mechanical arm with a 1,1 metre reach. Which is all fine and good of course. Except this mechanical arm's entire reason for being, the whole point of it's existence, is to stab pigs.

No really, that's what it does. It stabs pigs. Specifically pig's legs. (Gee Note: Now my question is this. At which point do you decide that all you need in life is a robot that stabs pigs?

"Wow, Owen, I see you've splashed some cash at the droid store!"

"Why yes I have Ben."

"Say what's this little fella do?"

"Oh he helps out with electronics, fixing planes, that kind of thing."

"Cool. And that gold plated flamboyantly gay one?"

"Oh that's my protocol robot. You know for, er, when the Hutts come for tea."

"When would the Hutts ever come and visit you for tea?"

"They might! You don't know that they wouldn't. Maybe one day they'll pop in for a scone or something. You don't know. Stop hating!"

"Umm, OK bro. Whatever. And that one?".

"Oh that's my pig stabbing robot."

"Your what?"

"My robot that stabs pigs"

"Owen why the f***have you got a pig stabbing robot?"

"Because I don't like them Ben. I don't like them at all."

"Dude you got issues. No wonder Luke wants outta here")

The reason it does this is because... well... I'm buggered if I can find a practical use for it. However these boffins are obviously way more creative than I, as they've decided to use this to study the potential harm domestic robots may cause their future master when carrying out day to day tasks.

The results are both astonishing and obvious (Gee Note: Or astonishingly obvious) depending on how you look at it. It turns out that a robot armed with a pair of scissors or a screwdriver could seriously hurt someone if they’re not careful. But then the folks at the Institute designed a safety mechanism which significantly reduced the danger or losing a limb to the Cutathon 3000. So the morale of this story is a simple one. If you’re going to build a robot that can be handy with a machete, make sure you invest in some safeguards to go with it. Now that may seem self explanatory but until a group of clever dicks got together and stabbed a pig, it wasn’t stone cold truth. That’s what scientists do.

Speaking of what scientists do, or probably don’t as the case maybe, does anyone here remember the Montauk Monster? Well Jenny from Generation Minus One certainly does and sent me something in my mail this morning (Gee Note: By the way, a year or so back Ron Jeremy announced that he believed pornography was better for kids than videogames. Which is of course all kinds mental and ripe for parody. And so I promised Gen-1 that I’d write them an article about it. Unfortunately the only thing I could come up with is that both porn and video games offer unrealistic depictions of the role of a plumber. So if you anyone wants to help out with this feel free to email me with suggestions).

Now for those of you who have no idea just what the Hell a Montauk Monster is, allow me to quickly recap. On July 12 2008 on the Ditch Plains Beach about two miles East of the Montauk Business District in New York, a 26 year old named Jenna Hewitt and three friends found, um, this.

I know, “what the hell” right? Well while sensible folks dressed in smart clothes talked about how it’s obviously a racoon that’s been in the drink too long and had become all kinds of distorted, others disagreed. And despite the fact that the first group wore glasses and had letters after their names, the second group shouted louder and said crazy things so therefore they were the ones who the media listened to (Gee Note: Top tip. If you want to get on to television you could try making intelligent, reasoned statements that make perfect sense. But ,really, that’s probably not going to work. So instead throw on a chicken suit, play a banjo made from the remains of your dead pet cat, and shout the word “cabbage” over and over again. You’ll make the local news at the very least. Seriously, stick with me kid, I‘ll make you a star). And what did this rowdy rabble cry? Well they believed that “Monty” was a failed experiment that had drifted on to the beach from the notorious Plum Island.

Now Plum Island is one of those places that America seems to specialise in. Namely a big spooky venue owned by the Government which has just enough secrecy surrounding it to make the conspiracy loving public think there’s a lot more going on there than the “official” explanation would have you believe. In Plum Island’s case it is, according to the authorities anyway, a facilty dedicated to the study of animal diseases. Of course with it’s high security, remote location, and people walking around there in white coats willy nilly, the idea that there’s something sinister going on there became very attractive to conspiracy nuts in the US and around the world. It also doesn’t help that during the Cold War Plum Island briefly suspended trying to cure animals and instead started testing biological weapons on them. Throw in to that mix a book published in 2004 written by Michael Carroll which claims that Lyme disease originated on the island (Gee Note: I love books like that. It’s like the one I have on the Philadelphia Experiment which is based entirely on the author having met someone who claimed to have worked on it. It would be like me writing a book on real life dragons because some dude I met in a pub once claimed to have ridden on the back of one of the winged beasties. Now where’s my publishing deal?) and we have a broth spiked with intrigue and what not.

The good news is no longer will this small body of land surrounded by water be shrouded in mystery. For Plum Island is apparently under consideration to be sold to the highest bidder, with the Animal Disease Centre making the move all the way to Kansas. In fact, if sources are to be believed, it's more likely to be a case of "when" rather than "if". According to "top real estate broker" Gary DePersia it would "make an awesome resort, with condos and room for a golf course" (Gee Note: Although you may want to stay away from mentioning the Island's history in the brochure. "Come to Plum Island Paradise - Where we've been needlessly exposing moo cows to chemical and biological warfare for 50 years!").

Now along with the temptation to see how much money I can get together in order to buy the island and see if there's a great big smoke monster thing living there where the bodies are buried, and the insanity of setting up an animal disease facility in Kansas of all places (Gee Note: Hmmm. So we've had the Animal Disease Centre on Plum Island separated from the surrounding areas by a body of water. And that's fine and everything it's just, oh I don't know, it's not very on the edge of your seat exciting is it?. Hey, wait, how about we move it to a place surrounded by farm land? That way if any awful contagious disease should some how escape from the facility, it'll cause absolute bloody chaos. That and maybe a whirlwind will take us to Oz, where I can finally get that brain I've always wanted. Whaddya think?) Plum Island's closure would be big enough news as it is. I mean it would be like if Area 51 was suddenly vacated and opened up for the public to come snoop around a bit. But couple it to the fact another unknown animal washed up on a shore recently, this time from a lake in Kitchema… Kitchehu… Kitchenasoo… somewhere in Ontario, and got the world's media in a flap once again (Gee Note: Spoilers. It's a mink) and the whole thing seems to have a strange synergy about it.

Still it's highly unlikely that the new owners of Plum Island are going to move in to find the place overrun by Doctor Moreau and friends. But there's always a chance that if there are skeletons in the cupboard then a change of hands my very well turn up something unexpected.

Which is why all this is potentially very exciting. Could there be monsters living on Plum Island? Could there be some kind of perverse hybrid, like a goat-chicken or something? Could we find a strange disease floating around the island, like the one in Lost the writers completely forgot about? Or is there absolutely nothing there to write home about at all?

Well who knows. But the truth is the idea that there might be is fascinating enough. Even to those of us without scientific minds.

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