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By Ray Lesser


There are fans of sports, fans of the opera, and the fans that were used to cover up burlesque dancers hoo-hoos. But my favorite fan is the one that blows air on me when I’m dripping sweat from the summer heat. It’s amazing how moving air can cool you off so much better than stagnant air. They’re both the same temperature, but when it moves, it grooves. Continue reading

Funny Times February 2015 Issue

February 2015 Issue Cover

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Cartoons about:
2014 . Valentines . Illness . Aging . and more!

Cartoons by: Isabella Bannerman, Clay Bennett, Bizarro, Harry Bliss, Matt Bors, Ruben Bolling, Martin Bucella, Tom Cheney, Dave Coverly, Derf, J.C. Duffy, Samuel Ferri, Anne Gibbons, Randy Glasbergen, Martha Gradisher, Buddy Hickerson, David Horsey, George Jartos, John Jonik, Ham Khan, Keith Knight, Mary Lawton, Carol Lay, Chris Monroe, P.S. Mueller, Joel Pett, K.A. Polzin, Hilary Price, Ted Rall, Flash Rosenberg, Maria Scrivan, Andy Singer, Barbara Smaller, Jen Sorensen, Mark Stivers, Ward Sutton, Tom Swick, Tom Toles, Tom Tomorrow, Tom Toro, P.C. Vey, Dan Wasserman, Shannon Wheeler, Matt Wuerker … and lots more!

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The Future Is Wow

By Ray Lesser

The future is clear to me. It’s the present that I don’t understand. Although it seems hard to imagine, listening to the daily, hourly, and minutely breaking news stories on the collapse of capitalism and the complete breakdown of civilization, a bright and amazing future will soon be upon us. Continue reading


The Future Revisited

By Ray Lesser

The latest technology allows your Nike shoes to tell your iPod how fast you’re going or how many calories you’ve burned during your random shuffle workout. And thanks to the satellite-based Global Positioning System, originally developed by the Navy to guide their nuclear missiles to vaporize Russia, you can now use your cell phone to guide you to any McDonalds on the planet. I’m sure it won’t be long before we’re even able to use GPS to have our iPods guide us to our misplaced Nike shoes.

On the other hand, Scott Silverman, the Chairman of the VeriChip Corporation, has proposed implanting the company’s RFID tracking chip into immigrant and guest workers. Responding to President Bush’s call to know “who is in our country and why they are here,” Silverman suggested using his company’s implants to register all workers at the border, and confirm their identities at their jobs. Livestock and lab animals have been “chipped” for decades and Silverman said, “We have talked to many people in Washington about using it” for immigrants.

The near-future could be the amazing time when we do things like cure cancer. Researchers from Harvard and MIT have already designed nanoparticles with genetic chunks that can recognize the surface molecules on cancer cells. These nanoparticles can attach themselves to cancer cells, burrow inside, and then release toxins to destroy them.

On the other hand, this type of nanotechnology requires trillions of such intelligently designed devices to be effective. To create these cancer killing “nanobots” on such a scale it will probably be necessary to enable them to self-replicate. But in the same way that cancer cells are a biological self-replicate that has gone wrong, nanobot self-replication could also go wrong, leading to something called the “gray-goo scenario.”

If a self-replicating nanobot got out of control, it would need to create about 1039 copies of itself to replace the entire biomass of the planet. This could be accomplished with 130 replications, each of which would double the amount of crazed nanobots, along with the amount of destroyed biomass. If each doubling takes about 100 seconds, then the entire Earth could theoretically be turned into a gray goo of nanobots in about three and a half hours.

So what’ll it be: Will we destroy cancer, or will we destroy ourselves? Will we find our lost shoes, or will we herd immigrants around like sheep and experiment on them like lab rats?

On college campuses the kids who will need to figure these things out are trying to get smarter & by taking drugs. The use of “smart pills” is exploding, because of their supposed ability to increase concentration, focus, wakefulness, and short term memory. Legal drugs such as Adderall, originally developed for people with attention-deficit disorder, and Provigil, for narcolepsy, are suddenly hot black market items in college libraries and dorms throughout America. “You’re going to see this trend continue, not only in schools, but in business, where mental endurance matters,” said Richard Restak, a Washington neurologist. “It’s a very competitive world out there, and this gives people an edge.”

Students using these drugs have reported various side effects such as weight-loss, sleep-loss and jitters. Another unexpected result is some of the cleanest dorm rooms in college history. As one student explained, “You’ve done all your work, but you’re still focused. So you start with the bathroom, and then move on to the kitchen”

Soon drugs (initially aimed at Alzheimer’s patients) will be available that can improve memory by 20 to 50 percent. How long before users of these “brain steroids” start setting new SAT and chem finals test records? Will physics fans boo when Barry Bondobrain comes up with a unified field theory that breaks Albert Einstein’s universe?

Then there are the robots. At a recent Robot Exhibition in Tokyo a barmanbot was mixing perfect cocktails, without ever spilling a drop. Its developer reported, “We are in talks with various American hotels to have these robots serving behind the bar. They never get ill. They never get tired.” Nearby, the Actroid DER, a life-sized robot receptionist, was busy answering questions in four languages, while pointing her servo-assisted finger to help guide questioners toward their intended destinations. An elegantly attired Ballroom Dancing Robot was teaching her human partner some new steps. In the near future robots will be available to clean house, look after children, and care for the elderly. South Korea has set a goal that 100 percent of households should have a domestic robot by 2020.

Other robot uses may prove far more controversial. “People are going to be having sex with robots in the next five years,” says Dr. Henrik Christensen, chairman of the European Robotics Network. “People are willing to have sex with inflatable dolls, so initially anything that moves will be an improvement.”

Even more controversial are robots being developed for military use. The unmanned Predator aircraft is already responsible for numerous reconnaissance functions and assassinations in the Middle East. But much smaller unmanned aerial vehicles the size of bumblebees, and with similar navigational ability, are now being contemplated. Only these “bumblebees'” stings could be lethal.

Robots that behave like insects are also being developed by European researchers to create a robo-cockroach. When their matchbox-sized “insbot” is sprayed with roach pheromones, its programmed behavior is enough to convince real roaches to follow it out of their dark hiding places and into the light. Instead of having to saturate living spaces with dangerous chemicals, St. Insbot could one day lead all the roaches in Ireland out to a place where they could be easily disposed of. Then we might have a huge, drunken, roach-free celebration in Insbot’s honor.

Deadly bumblebees or saintly robo-roaches? The future gets more interesting every day.

Coming Soon: The Future

By Ray Lesser

In the future our hamburgers won ‘t come from slaughtered cattle. Instead every household will have a tabletop nanofactory, which will be easily programmed to produce almost any material we desire. If we want hamburger, we ‘ll simply tell our little factory how much of it to make for dinner, and the nanobot assemblers, using atoms as raw material, will crank out pesticide-free, hormone-free, mad-cow-safe beef, ready to grill, fry, or add to spaghetti sauce. No sentient being will suffer, no rainforests will be slashed and burned, and no methane gas will be released to destroy the ozone. The cost of manufacturing hamburgers (or any other physical product) will be reduced to pennies per pound. Although it won ‘t make it any easier to decide what to have for dinner, this low cost manufacturing process will essentially solve the problem of world hunger.

What ‘s more, based on the many scientific trend lines shown in Ray Kurzweil ‘s newest book The Singularity is Near, this amazing nanotechnology will become available within the lifetimes of most people reading this paragraph, probably by the late 2020s.

Much of the future predicted by Kurzweil ‘s book is easy to imagine. For example, we will move toward a decentralized education system where every student will have access to the highest quality teaching. Major universities are already making many courses available online, so that even students in remote areas (like Kansas) can take classes on subjects not offered by their local schools (like Evolution ). But a huge leap has been made by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is currently offering 900 of its courses – half of all its course offerings – for free online. By the early 2010s, virtual reality environments “will be full immersion, very high resolution, and very convincing,” says Kurzweil. “Most colleges will follow MIT’s lead, and students will increasingly attend class virtually.”

Pretty soon that teenager who locks himself in his room with a computer and cell phone for hours a day, only surfacing occasionally for nachos and Red Bull, might become a college student doing approximately the same thing. Their room will become a virtual lab, where they can perform experiments in chemistry and particle physics, or have wild safe-sex orgies in their virtual dorms. Their room will also become a virtual classroom, where lectures will be given, simultaneously translated into any language, by the leading professors and experts in every field. No longer will parents have to come up with $30,000+ a year to provide kids with the best available college experience, they’ll just need to fix up an extra room in the basement and equip it with a shower, minifridge and Internet access.

Of course, not everyone will want to be locked away in their parents’ basement. With the advent of ubiquitous wireless Internet people will be free to go anywhere, while still remaining in contact with whatever group they are a part of. Communication displays will be built into our eyeglasses and contact lenses, with images projected directly onto our retinas. Cell phones already exist that are part of your clothing, and project sound directly to your ears, and there is an MP3 player that vibrates your skull to play music that only you can hear. So, in the future, that person on the subway who is babbling to themselves and seems to be having a spaz attack, may instead be taking part in a seminar at MIT, or a virtual dance party at the virtual frat house.

Energy production will also become decentralized. The manufacture of nanoengineered fuel cells and solar panels (at pennies per pound) will allow for almost all energy to be collected and converted where it is being used. We won’t have to worry about disruptions in our energy supply lines, or terrorists attacking oil tankers or nuclear power plants, because there won’t be any. We’ll no longer need to strip mine land for coal, or cut down forests for agriculture, fuel, or building materials either. (If we want wooden two by fours, or kitchen cabinets, our tabletop nanofactories can crank them out, pre-cut to exact measurements.) Instead people will move out of overcrowded urban areas to live and build in newly replanted forests, commuting to school or work virtually, designing and making their own clothes and furnishings out of atoms from dirt or garbage, and eating as many hamburgers as they want.

Oh, and by the way, these new back-to-the-landers might be doing such things for a long time because with advanced medical technologies people will be able to live for hundreds, or possibly thousands of years.

Is there a potential downside to this coming techno-revolution? You bet there is. (Can you say “gray goo”?) But I’ll leave that as the subject of another column. This month we can dream about the day energy efficient fuel cells can run on ordinary ethanol as demonstrated recently by researchers from St. Louis University. “We’ve run it on various types of drinkable alcohol,” said Nick Akers, a grad student who worked on the project. “It didn’t like carbonated beer and doesn’t seem fond of wine, but anything else works fine.” Hydrogen ions from the alcohol combine with oxygen in the air to produce power. The byproduct, or “exhaust” of this process is water vapor.

Hey, I’ll drink to that.