Friday, August 30, 2013

City of the Future

The BBC has something nifty going on at their site.

It's an interactive feature called The City of 2050.  The question is simple: what will it be like to live in the future?  Projections show that three quarters of the world's population will be located in cities so the next logical question is "what will cities of the future be like?"

Technology will of course play a key role.  Fiber optics will get faster (I just know Dr. Rich is going to make a comment, attempting a correction re: computer technology...or something else.)  That means everything will be wired.  Everything.  All the services in your life connected to one central network.  The vast amount of data that this will accumulate would likely lead to the prominence of an already burgeoning field: data metrics.  Looking at the data, you can analyze trends and make predictions, including everything from when streetlamps will need replacing to where crime will occur.  Sort of like Minority Report.

Speaking of streetlamps, Cambridge University is working on the wacky but admittedly intriguing idea of using glowing trees for street light.  More on this in coming years, I'm sure.

City buildings themselves will be built with sustainability in mind.  The BBC feature suggests that new buildings could be enormous solar batteries.  Energy is stored and any unused will go back into a "smart grid" for later.  Germany is one nation already implementing similar systems.  Given The Powers That Be, I just can't see this taking off in good ol' 'Murica.  A bit more likely, I believe, are "farmscrapers." As land for agriculture grows scarcer, the sides of buildings could become "vertical farms" that grow food.  This would also alleviate the "food deserts" of inner cities where residents don't have access to things like fresh produce.

I ask myself, however, will there be any need for brick and mortar stores?  When your entertainment is delivered online and perhaps presented in virtual reality, when you have a 3-D printer that creates much of what you need, what else is there?  I suppose there will always be things that need to be special ordered.  Best of all, those things can be delivered by helicopter drones.  Heck, they're already delivering pizza.

The site also said that cars and taxi cabs will drive themselves, reminiscent of "Johnny Cab" from Total Recall.  There would be no need for traffic lights.  This seems highly likely given recent announcements from GM.

Doesn't sound too bad.  Despite the all these improvements, we might be forgetting the crime that will arise from overcrowding, overheating of the planet, and continued social inequality.

Ain't I a bundle of laughs?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Weapon X

With all of the "geek rage" over Ben Affleck's casting as Batman, it's sometimes tough to keep in mind that comics are an art...and literature.

I'm not immediately certain that I got that with my impulse buy of Weapon X, but that is not to say that I'm disappointed.
This trade paperback, collected from a series of stories that appeared in Marvel Comics Presents, is ostensibly an "origin" of sorts for Wolverine.   Most interesting, however, is the fact that the text never once refers to him as such nor do we even get a mention of the X-Men or anyone else from the Marvel Universe.

In this story, the principle character is simply called Logan and we follow his unwilling admission to Department K, a secret section of the Canadian government charged with weapons development.  It is here that we see the utter horror visited upon Logan.  We see the adamantium grafted to his skeleton and there is no question or sugarcoating of just how much pain he is in during the process.  By contrast, those perpetrating the act, the scientists, are utterly indifferent to the man's plight and pay no attention to his cries.  This alone should give pause for anyone to think about those that experiment upon (and torture) live subjects of any kind.

My problem is that the story devolves into a stereotypical "slasher."  "Oh noes, we're trapped in this isolated place and there's an absolute killing machine on the loose in our bunker."  Granted, I want to see those heartless bastards responsible get theirs, but I would have appreciated a more creative approach than just slashing.  Don't ask me what that would be, because frankly I don't know.  One of the reasons we read Wolverine...and let's be honest to watch the claws in action.  So maybe I'm just expecting too much.

As comics go, Weapon X is a good read.  We see additional reasons for why the character of Logan is such a tortured soul.  These reasons are haunting indeed and will remain with me whenever I read the character in the future.  One might even argue that the silver, bulbous helmet (pictured above) is almost as iconic as Wolverine's blue and yellow or brown and tan costumes.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Film Review--Primer

starring...oh hell, I don't know them.

In what seems like a typical garage/IT startup, four friends develop error-checking devices that they intend to market.  Two of these men, however, feel that there is much more they could accomplish.  Through constant revision, these two create a machine of incredible power.  They realize it is too valuable to market...and their trust in one another begins to fray.

First off, a special shout out to my friend Neutron Frog who gave me the hookup for this film (geez, could I have been any more slangy?)

Although you may not think so at first, this is most emphatically a science fiction film.  The driver of the plot is an advancement in technology.  The story itself is the effects the new development has on the characters. More than that, the movie is a prime example of science fiction done well without a mega-budget (in this case it was a pittance, really.)  No, the genre does not mean "an action movie in space" or "expensive, futuristic graphics play on as a gunfight unfolds."  No aliens.  No spaceships.  In fact, we never even really find out what the machine is or what exactly it's supposed to do.  It's all about ideas.
That's another fine aspect of the film.  There are so many questions.  What exactly is this machine?  The characters themselves aren't even sure what is happening or if they do know, they cannot seem to face it directly.  They constantly second-guess themselves, seeming to spend most of the narrative in a sea of uncertainty.  I attribute much of that sensibility to the fine acting of the cast.  You (me too for that matter) may never have heard of these people, but they make the film seem  Almost nothing feels scripted.  I honestly believed that I was watching real lives unfold before me and I don't mean that in the dopey, "found footage" sense that has been all the rage for over ten years now.

This is a good one, even if complicated and hard to follow at times.  I have heard from others that it actually requires repeated viewing to become fully...or even sorta...understandable.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Google Earth Anomalies

I found this site last night.

It's called Google Earth Anomalies.  The site features a nice collection of satellite photographs from Google Earth that seem to depict structures or markings in the earth that don't add up.  Here is a sampling of these anomalies:

-There is a series of pyramids in Egypt the time of the photographing at any rate...are undiscovered.  Photos from visiting the prospective pyramids seem to raise the question as to if they are natural rock formations or not.  The view from above, however, suggests the possibility of an actual pyramid complex.
By the way, click the "comments" section of that series.  There's a zinging discussion of how academics "debunk" purely to protect their own research.

-There are stone circles across Saudi Arabia and Africa.  The purpose of these structures is still unknown, but they are obviously human-made and bear quite a resemblance to one another.  The date given on the Google Earth Anomaly site for the structures is 8,500-6,500 BCE.  Whether that date is accurate or not, I have no idea.

-Perhaps even more tantalizing is that there are similar structures in Belize, parts of South America, and beneath the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina.  Same builders?

-Speaking of North Carolina, I'm quite intrigued by the rectilinear shape that appears attached into the sea floor off of that state.  The mark is, according to the site, 17 miles long and two miles wide.  Posters in the comments section suggest its military cables or even fissures caused by seismic shifts.  I found the former probable and the latter laughable given the geometric symmetry of the things.
North Carolina...they obstruct a person's right to vote and they forbid you from feeding the homeless.  Now there are signs of undersea weirdness.  I always knew those guys were a bit shifty.  ;)

Mind you I have not gone through all of the comments on the anomalies.  There could very well have been mundane explanations found for these things by now.  Such as the holes and lines in the Earth are clandestine explorations by greedy jackasses oil corporations searching for more cash energy resources.

I likewise find accounts of what Google Earth has purposefully censored to be interesting.  The Powers That Be have obviously requested this but a few of selections pass understanding, such as Cornell University's heating and cooling plant.  This is especially head-scratching as places like Area 51 and Pine Gap are plainly visible.

So enjoy your meanderings through Google Earth and happy anomaly hunting.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, August 26, 2013

If you call down the thunder...

If it bends it's comedy.  If it breaks, it's tragedy.

I believe Woody Allen said words to that effect.  If true, then what happened at the Creation Museum in Kentucky qualifies as definite comedy. 

Lightning struck a man who was operating a zip line at the museum.  Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but I'm trying to decide what I find more chuckle-worthy: the fact that the museum devoted to God was hit by a bolt of electricity from the heavens or that the museum has a zip line ride for patrons.

As one might imagine, the museum is dedicated to furthering the idea that the world came about exactly as described in the Book of Genesis (no, not the one written by Phil Collins.  Quit being a punny bastard) despite whatever that scientific gobbledygook has to say about it.  The museum itself was founded by a man named Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis.  If you'd like to see an interview with Ken, check out this clip from Bill Maher's Religulous.  Among the many "gee, I didn't know that" moments one can have at the museum are learning that dinosaurs were indeed on Noah's Ark and therefore coexisted with humans, despite evidence to the contrary.  Again, scientific gobbledygook.  I understand a few of these dinosaurs even had saddles.  In all fairness, I've been enamored of that idea for a while now.

Speaking of dinosaurs, I guess the museum features a replica Tyrannosaurus Rex that is dragging its tail on the ground in an upright position.  This action would have broken its spine in real life.  Also, according to the merry troubadours that guide you through the museum, the T. Rex developed its six-inch, blade-like teeth so that it could open coconuts.  Right.  The fact that it was carnivorous had nothing to do with its dental structure.  It's coconuts.

And they want to teach this in schools.  Get me the hell off this planet.

What was it Isaac Asimov once said?

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'

There is one question that the lightning saga begs to ask.  We are constantly being told that natural disasters (and even dead soldiers and children, according to the preachings of Westboro fundies) are God's punishment for our having turned away from Him. 

So...what does the lightning strike mean?

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cyberpunk Academy

When I was young, I wanted to go to Space Camp.

Not that cheesy Kate Capshaw movie from the 80s.  I'm talking about the actual location.
Now that I am a bit more "seasoned" shall we say, I think I would prefer to go to Cyberpunk Academy.  That's where author Bruce Sterling (writer of numerous fundamental cyberpunk novels and the blog "Beyond the Beyond" on Wired) and writer/artist Jasmina Tesanovic went for Boing Boing and they were nice enough to write about the experience. 

"Cyberpunk Academy" was just the title of the piece and of the organization sponsoring the meet.  The event's real name is Republika and it was held on a rusty ship called the Seagull, docked in the former Yugoslavia.  Among those present:

"...cybergeeks, pirates, dj s and electronic artists. They arrived from all over the world: the Internet-famous, the net-celebrities: the law professors who were were also tattooed djs, the musicians were somehow cryptographers, the elected officials were Icelandic punk poets, the free-software coders who are game designers. They were all young people of searingly high intelligence who lacked any proper career."

My kind of party. Of primary discussion of course was the case of Edward Snowden.  The authors portrayed the gathering of hackers, futurists, and tech experts as being overall sympathetic towards Snowden.  The NSA and other intelligence organizations on the other hand, are not to be trusted.  The same can be said for "Google, and of all the major industries that use the Internet while wrecking its principles."

What I like most about Cyberpunk Academy is that it really is like watching aspects of cyberpunk fiction come to life.  The very locale itself, the post-industrial ship rotting on the Adriatic, evokes images from the works of William Gibson and even Sterling himself.  The most recent example of what I'm talking about can be found in Elysium.  I shall expound.

Once upon a time, computer technology was like magic.  There were only a few people who could hack code or even operate cyber tech.  These modern shamans were known as "nerds" or "geeks." These social outcasts (of which I proudly count myself among) were possessors of rarefied  knowledge.

Today, digital technology is ubiquitous.  Computer knowledge is seen as basic literacy, right alongside being able to read, write, and do basic arithmetic.  One need no longer be a "geek" to implement technology in a way that benefits their life.  We see this in the film Elysium with the rough and thuggish underground element with which Matt Damon's character must ally.  One could hardly call these men and women "geeks," but there they are using high technology proficiently, even amidst their slummish conditions.

This harkens back to a quote by William S. Burroughs that was in turn embraced by William Gibson: "The street finds its own use for things." With technology being omnipresent, the disenfranchised and those knocked to the fringes of society by the political system can use tech to make their own way in the world.  To me, that's the DIY "punk" ethos in "cyberpunk."

If interested in cyberpunk fiction or if you're merely bemused by it all, I recommend checking out the following books and of course my post, "What is cyberpunk? (Not a manifesto)":
Neuromancer by William "The Man" Gibson. This is the no-kidding start of it all in my opinion.  I read both this book and it's follow-up Count Zero in undergrad (thanks, Dorkland).  Gibson made science fiction hip again.
Ultimate Cyberpunk

Both of the above are anthologies which give good cross-sections of the genre.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The orb paintings of Masakatsu Sashie

I am looking at art!

Specifically, the work of Masakatsu Sashie, a Japanese artist who created a series of paintings centered around the geometric shape of the orb.  These particular orbs, however, have a distinct futuristic sensibility to them.  Or perhaps post-apocalyptic is a more accurate phrase.

The orbs look composed of "found" materials.  This makes me think of "junkyard art," something I've seen done in our art department.  An artist goes through a trash pile, gathering up old pieces of metal, wood, or whatever can be found and then creating piece from what they collect.  The orb paintings conjure notions of a ball rolling across a cityscape.  This ball, either highly magnetic or coated with adhesive, draws up everything it comes into contact with, assimilating it into its orb-self.

It's bleak, but also entrancing.  Captivating, really.  If you look at the paintings, the composition of the orbs appear to be sheet metal, ventilation fans, vending machines, and arcade games.  There is even one composed entirely of fast food signs.  What statement is Masakatsu Sashie making on the here and now?  Then again, the backdrops for the orbs are consistently landscapes in decay.  Is this instead a warning of our future?

What is the role of the orb in the art?  Is it meant as a symbol of our current state of or road to dystopia?  Could it also be that the enormous orbs are here to watch civilization's inexorable decline in silence, just as would a full or gibbous moon?

I appreciate art that is open to multiple interpretations.  I have made a few, I now invite you to make your own.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Project Iceworm and Camp Century

Once in a while, even a conspiracy devotee can post something interesting.

I saw this YouTube video posted to a Facebook friend's wall regarding Camp Century.  I found it quite intriguing.  Apparently it was all declassified in 1997 but this is the first I've heard of it.

Camp Century was a project by the United States military in the 1950s to build a massive, city-like complex beneath the ice of Greenland just under 800 miles from the North Pole.  As it's from the 50s, the film has very much a "Disney presents the World of Tomorrow" feel to it or somesuch.  Help support our fighting boys as they conduct arctic research.

Of course the complex wasn't being built for "research." It was built for Project Iceworm

In a furthering of Pax Americana, this was an effort to establish several hundred silos of nuclear missiles within close range of the Soviet Union. These would be "Iceworm" missiles, shortened versions of the Air Force's Minuteman.  The ice would cover the missiles, making them all but undetectable to the surveillance methods of the time.  Additionally, they would be shuffled around to different locations, presumably on rail in a sort of Cold War "shell game." 

What the military didn't know at the time (neither did anybody else, really) was that snow and ice may look solid at the North Pole but they are actually quite viscous matter.  They morph and change shape over time.  The tunnels dug for the "city" complex began to warp, deform, and drop and the whole project was eventually abandoned.

Despite it not panning out, I find this to be an interesting ten-minute chapter in history.  For one, I marvel at the engineering involved.  I've always been fascinated by how the military has built secret fortifications underground or inside of mountains (makes me wonder what's under the sea).  This joint in question was to eventually be a sprawling 50,000 square miles in size, complete with a hospital, a church, a nuclear power plant (!), stores, and a theater.  I'm going to assume the latter was of the movie variety, even though the idea of the military putting on all-male productions of musicals like Oklahoma! or Brigadoon does make me snicker.  But I digress...

Watching the snowcrawlers in the filmstrip, lugging people and materials through stretches of the most inhospitable land in the world, shows me what's possible when we really set our minds to it.  Take that however you want, I'm not going to digress into either space exploration or the eradication of HIV and world poverty.

Aside from that, I guess my interest is very much tied in with my simultaneous fascination with and utter fear of nuclear war.  I've blogged many times about how I spent my childhood convinced the world might end at any moment.  This tidbit of military operations shows just how far the powers that be were willing to go to do it.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Batman vs. Aliens

I want to preface this by saying that I found these comic books at a sale price.

Crossovers are big in the comic book industry.  Personally, I like the idea of mashing up different characters from seemingly disparate mythos.  Or perhaps they are so similar or opposite that it would be an interesting "what if" to imagine them interacting.  Sadly, it is seldom that such stories are executed well.

Then there's your typical fanboy hypothetical of "Who would win in a fight between (fill in the blank.)"  A tedious prospect to say the least.  Nevertheless, when the first Aliens vs. Predator miniseries was released in 1990, I lapped it up.  If I knew then that my monetary contribution would support an endless, uninspired, juvenile glut of "Predator versus" and "Aliens versus" I might have acted differently.

Despite that, I found Batman vs. Aliens and Batman vs. Aliens II in a used bookstore and gave them a try.  The premise intrigued me a bit.  Against the aliens (and by that I refer to the Sigourney Weaver variety from the original films Alien and Aliens), Batman should be way outclassed.  He would really only have his wits to protect him.  Plus both copies were priced supercheap and I figured "why not?"  I'll give you a quick rundown of each storyline.

In Batman vs Aliens, Batman heads to an area on the border between Guatemala and Mexico to search for a Wayne Enterprises geologist who has gone missing.  Once there, Batman encounters a special ops team who have found a crashed spaceship.  The wreck guessed it...aliens.  Isolated in the jungle, Batman and the others are forced to fight on their own to prevent the spread of an alien swarm.

Better in concept is the sequel.  This one starts out in 1927 when explorers find an odd and ancient structure frozen in Alaskan ice.  Contained within it are...yeah, you're catching on fast...the xenomorphs.  Only one person from the expedition survives the onslaught of aliens.  He returns home to Gotham City with a sample of one of the creatures and locks himself in a lab to study it.
Fast forward to present day.  A construction crew demolishes a building and finds the long-forgotten lab in a basement level.  The explorer is long dead, his chest having burst wide open.  A scientist from the army arrives and begins a a strange experiment: combing alien DNA with that of supercriminals in Arkham Asylum.  That means producing "alien" versions of versions of Scarecrow, Two-Face, and of course The Joker as well as a few others.

Each storyline has its ups and downs.  The first is the tired scenario we've seen so many times in both the movie and comic book incarnations of these alien creatures.  "Oh no!  We're done stuck here by ourselves, brought together by the od force even though we hate each other and now these things want to kill us!"  This occurs in tandem with forced and contrived dialogue.  On the plus side, there's art by Bernie Wrightson and a bit of ingenuity on the part of Batman.
For the sequel, I was drawn in right away by the "adventurers and explorers in the early 20th Century" opening as well as having Batman face the aliens on his home turf of Gotham.  I also liked the moment when Batman realizes he's up against aliens again.  The idea of "weaponizing Arkham," however, is one that I just find gimmicky and tough to swallow.

So there you have it.  Read or avoid as according to your tastes.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Conspiracy theory: The dangerous undercurrent

Paul Kimball has been called "the Jack Kerouac of the paranormal."

He also has one of the best personal credos I've ever come across: "Don't believe.  Don't disbelieve.  Think."

In addition to his contribution to paranormal research, he has also made me fully realize an aspect of conspiracy theories that has always unsettled me.  Not only that, but Kimball is doing something about it.

Let me back up a bit.  I used to read a good deal of conspiracy theory.  I did this partly because I feel there's a bit of truth to certain ones but mostly because I think it makes great stories...and not much more than that.  There are variations on the paradigm, but a popular conspiracy is that of the New World Order (yes, I'm giving out the Duran Duran link again.)  It goes something crudely like this:

Jews once went into hiding and became the Masons.  The Masons and the Illumnati then form the basis for the "hidden government" that controls the world.  David Icke, Jim Marrs, Milton William Cooper, and Jim Keith all espouse this theory to one degree or another.  What has always bothered me about this conspiracy theory, besides its absence of solid facts, is what is claimed to be the root of the problem.  If the Illuminati is really in control and responsible for much of human suffering, then we need to look at how they came to be.  According to these gentlemen and others, that would be the Jewish people.

This is a dangerously racist and antisemitic notion.  Syracuse University political scientist Michael Barkun has written books on the subject such as Religion and the Racist Right: Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (revised ed., 1997) and in Disaster and the Millennium (1986), has described the bizarre, alarming subculture of UFO enthusiasts who also zealously believe in Jewish, Masonic, 'Illuminati', or 'New World Order' world domination conspiracy theories in A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003).

Paul Kimball identified yet another supporter of this sort of dangerous thinking.  That would be Jeff Rense.  I used to think Rense to be another paranormal researcher just looking for the truth behind UFOs and other Fortean matters.  Now, I see that he often interviews neo-Nazis and others with similar political attitudes.  In response, Kimball created Rense Watch, a blog devoted to monitoring such speech.  The blog hasn't been updated since 2006, so I don't know what happened.  Perhaps Kimball and Rense came to an understanding or Kimball just thought it was giving Rense free press.  I don't know.  Nor do I know Jeff Rense personally.  He could very well be a fine guy who just wants to apply the opportunity for free speech as widely as possible.  I'll pass on the Nazis and anti-Semites though.

Besides the humanitarian dangers, there is yet another way in which this is all harmful.  Fortean research is already widely viewed as anti-intellectual.  That's one of the reasons that it remains on the shadowy fringes.  No one will commit vast resources and effort to studying the various phenomena.  When claims are made that carry a hideous odor of intolerance and discrimination, that does absolutely nothing to help the cause.

Not only that but wasn't there one other dark figure in history who wanted to blame the Jews for everything?  Come to think of it, he believed in things paranormal as well.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Flying Man

"The Flying Man."

Dorkland calls this short film "Call of Cthulhu with Superheroes."

The nine minute film has definite tinges of horror to it, but I just don't see the Lovecraftian aspects.  Nevertheless, let's take a look, shall we?

"The Flying Man" short film was produced and directed by Marcus Alqueres who has previously done special effects work on movies such as 300 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  I was eager to see this short as soon as I heard about it.  I am always, almost always see live treatments of the comic book-style concepts.  Sometimes they work.  Other times they don't.  When they don't...they really don't.

I am pleased and intrigued to say that in "The Flying Man" it works. Not only does it appear realistic, but there is an entirely original slant to the narrative.  At least it's original to my knowledge.  I'm certain that out there somewhere is an uber geek who can cite an exception.  Oh well.

The idea is that a city begins to have sightings of a "flying man."  The description is just that: a man who is flying.  Beyond that, no one can get a good look at his appearance apart from the fact that either his skin or clothes are gray.  Then he starts killing people.  He picks them up and drops them from the air or shows off super strength by lifting up entire cars and smashing them.  One thing becomes certain and that is that each person killed has an extensive criminal record.

The "flying man" is a vigilante.  But is he in the right?

I would really like to see this developed into a feature-length film.  That is provided it doesn't get screwed up by the suits in the business office as they place over-emphasis on casting a "name" in the lead roles.  Seeing this play out would be really intriguing.

First off, I have a niche interest.  The visuals and the eeriness of what see are all reminiscent of actual reports of Flying Humanoids.  Ok, that's my own weirdness but think about the rest of it.  The main characters might be criminals.  How impolitic a choice.  Would we begin to sympathize with them?  The sense of horror, of being watched and hunted, would it make us question the actions of this paranormal entity?  Sure, "no trial, straight to execution" sounds great for our worst criminals as we grow frustrated with the criminal justice process.  But what if we actually started seeing it?

There is another angle of paranoia here that speaks to our current age.  Note the uneasiness with which one character regards a security camera.  Soon afterwards, death comes from out of the sky.  Is this an allusion to NSA surveillance and drones?  Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

That's why we need a feature length film.  So get on that Hollywood.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Film review--28 Weeks Later

starring Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Renner, Idris Elba, and Kurt Vonnegut as "The Beav."

In this sequel to 28 Days Later, the United States military has deployed to Britain about six months since the initial release of the zombie plague.  The infected have either all died off or have been contained and a section of London has been carved out to repopulate.  As refugee Britons return from exile, life begins anew.
Of course, it all goes horribly wrong.

Ok, full disclosure: I really saw Elysium tonight.  There will likely be a review on that film later.  But this one has been in the review queue longer and since it's late and I'm tired, I'm thinking I can knock this one out faster.
The first film, 28 Days Later, was one of the most bleak, cheerless, and unrelenting movies that I have ever seen.  I am not saying that it was a bad one, not by any means.  In fact, it's probably the most realistic depictions to come from the insipid, tired, trite, redundant, and glutted zombie sub-genre.  More than that, it's probably an accurate portrayal of exactly what would happen to society in the event of a pandemic.  But it really is a nightmare and I'm okay not seeing it again.

This sequel had simultaneously more and less to offer than its predecessor.  On the plus side, it was much bigger in scope.  At stake was not the lives of a few straggling survivors just trying to make it.  This entailed a city on the mend and a large deployment of US military.  That affords bigger, more exciting thrills and a lot of opportunity for Jeremy Renner, who in my humble opinion is one of the absolute best action stars we've seen in a long time.  Big fan of that guy, kinda got a mancrush going.  But I digress...

Despite this, there are considerable downsides.  Yes, there's lots of action, but it relies on lots of cheap jumps and jolts that somehow have become confused with "horror." The film is utterly predictable.  By seeing the first 28 installment, all one needs to do to foresee the direction of the narrative is to ask "what is the absolute worst, most depressing thing that could happen?" Combined with this is the old horror cliche of people who dither and do really stupid things that defy logic.  There is also a woefully contrived "reunion" of sorts but I won't give any spoilers.

Also, Idris Elba plays a military officer, but all I kept hearing was Charles Miner from The Office.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

For fear of terror...

As I have said before, I read The Economist.

Last week I saw an article that caught my attention: Liberty's lost decade.  I'm sure that without even looking at the text, most astute readers of ESE (are there any other kind?) can probably tell that it dealt with draconian, post-9/11 security measures in America, especially surveillance. That latter point has of course been in the news a great deal between the flight of Edward Snowden and the conviction of Private Bradley Manning in the WikiLeaks case, a conviction for which Manning faces up to 136 years in prison.

The clash over civil liberties versus national security is a sticky one.  A conundrum if you will.  America prides itself on individual freedom and privacy as a right.  At the same time, a primary role of any government is to protect its people.  How do those two ideas coexist?  Before you ask, it is evident that the complication is not due to any one party.  True, Bush et. al. did pass the Patriot Act during a time when much of the nation feared more terrorist attacks.  Everyone seemed scared enough to swallow anything.  But as the article points out, the Obama administration has failed to close the prison at Guantanamo and "has seized journalists’ telephone records and pursued leakers with a legal sledgehammer."

There are those who claim we live in a world envisioned by great writers such as George Orwell and Franz Kafka.  I can't say those opinions are entirely wrong.  At the same time, given the damage done to the intelligence community, I can't really embrace what Manning and Snowden did.  Okay, okay, I kinda dig Snowden.  How can you not like a story that reads, "In a world where information is power...a young, self-taught computer hack goes to work for a high-tech and super secret government spy agency.  But his conscience gets the better of him and he goes on the run, leaving his stripper girlfriend behind." The only way it could be better is a scene with him running down a city street, a laptop tucked under one arm and a 9mm pistol in the hand of the other.  But I digress...

If these leakers did any service, maybe it's that this conversation is fully a part of the national dialogue.  How far should domestic surveillance go?  How much say do we as a people have in it?  Who watches the watchmen?  What, if any, oversight is there on these activities?  Do I as a citizen have the right to see "my file?"  Can I even be sure you're showing me the entire file?  Democracy cannot fully exist in the dark.

Plus, isn't it impractical to gather what seems like too much data?  Seems like it would be a lot of work to find the true terror clues amid the texts of "Can you pick me up?" and guys like Wiener emailing their junk.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, August 12, 2013

Project Blue Beam

Have we been sold out?

Certain shadowy sections of the Internet certainly seem to think so.  There is the running theory that President Eisenhower cut a deal with aliens after the UFO era began.  The breakdown is basically something like "we of Zeta Reticuli give you technology, you of Earth give us your cows...and a few of your humans.  And we both agree to keep it all quiet."  But what if that was not the extent of our government's betrayal and machinations against us?

Dig if you will a picture.  One with the name "Project Blue Beam." This is a UFO conspiracy theory that I've come across from time to time but have not delved into that much.  Until now.  Apparently the idea is to create a massive set up for the New World Order (yes, those guys that I'm certain Duran Duran know all about) to take over with its "one world government." What is it, you may ask, that would allow us to become such willing sheep to the slaughter?  Why alien invasion of course.

It would start with a significant increase in UFO sightings.  Then through the use of 3D projection, laser holograms, and devices that can beam voices directly into our heads, the world's populace would be made to believe that an alien attack was underway.  This evidently has a bit of basis in fact.  In the link above, it is asserted that military planners once considered doing this in Iraq.  A massive image of Allah would appear over Baghdad and convince the Iraqis to overthrow Saddam Hussein.  Freaky.

There would supposedly be a religious angle to Project Blue Beam as well.  There would be Jesus-like figures amid the invasion, I presume to help convince fundy Christians that the Rapture was happening.  There is even said to be a device that the government has built that will allow for mass abductions of people, thereby giving greater appearance of the Rapture.  This technology has already been field tested in alien abductions, just as the Blue Beam projections have already been shaken down by creating UFO sightings.  This would act as the matador for our bull, if you will.  After witnessing all of this, we theory...surrender all rights to a one world government so we would be protected.  Strength in numbers, you know.

A fake alien invasion perpetrated by our government has all the hallmarks of taught thriller...or a cheesy made for SyFy original, I can't decide which right now.  It is fiction, however, that presents one of the most intriguing aspects of Blue Beam.  For me, anyway.  And it has to do with Star Trek.  Here's what is printed at the link above, Rational Wiki:

In May 1975, Gene Roddenberry accepted an offer from Paramount to develop Star Trek into a feature film, and moved back into his old office on the Paramount lot. His proposed story told of a flying saucer, hovering above Earth, that was programmed to send down people who looked like prophets, including Jesus Christ.

It's even thought that this incident placed the whole Project Blue Beam into the public consciousness.  The geek in me is actually enthralled by this idea of Star Trek confronting either a fraudulent invasion or a hoax rapture.  Fascinating.

As for Project Blue Beam as a legitimate, shadowy plan?  I doubt it.  Seems like a lot of work. 

Wouldn't staging a more down to earth disaster be easier?

And less expensive?

And less sweaty?

But admittedly...nowhere near as cool.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, August 9, 2013

FFF: Time

 "Time is having its way with you."

That's a phrase I remember from this 1992 video:

It is true, though.  We cannot control time, only what we do with it.  Complicating matters is the fact that time is...more or less...a human construct.  As Douglas Adams said, "Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so."
It allows us to mark when something happened and how long since it transpired.  It also creates demarcation points.  Something "should have happened" by a certain point.

Like New Year's Day.  We think of it as this arbitrary "fresh start" and then bemoan the fact that "nothing changes on New Year's Day."

We're also good at expecting things about ourselves to have happened or been accomplished by specific points on the artificial timeline.  I know that I certainly do.  It probably isn't healthy.  "I should be making this much money by this time," "I should have (fill in the blank) accomplished by this time."

There's that word again.  "Should."
If I've learned anything, it's that "should" doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot.

"Spared and blessed by Time,
Looking tranquility."--Lord Byron

"The wisest are the most annoyed at the loss of time."

That above quote by Dante Alighieri seems almost a predecessor to all of those American sayings such as "time is money."  Hurry up now.  Hurry up.

Well I'm sick of time.  Sick of worrying about it anyway.  Don't know how much more of it I have.  No one does.  I can't finagle more of it.  No one can.  I just know that I want to do something with it.  But no longer will I suffer self or society-induced punishments because I am not "where I should be" or possessed of "what I should have" by this "time."

I don't have a six figure or even high five figure salary.  I am not in management.  I have never worked for a corporation.  I do not have children.   
I chose a different way.  I'm ok with that.  There are losses and consequences as there always are...but I have not lost myself.  Came close once or twice, but I made it.  I would rather disappoint anyone's corporate life timeline than ever lose myself.

"Time won't leave me as I am.
"But time won't take the boy out of this man."

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ice Jupiter Groove

Before you ask, it is not because of their name.

I listen to Jango online radio fairly religiously.  Since it's free, you're required to try new artists and vote on whether you like them or not.  I always click a green thumb's up.  As a struggling artist myself, I'm hoping that karmically paying it forward will eventually help me out too.  I have never once regretted my "liking" of the band Ice Jupiter Groove.

Ice Jupiter Groove is a band from Australia and why they haven't caught on more is a great mystery to me.  At the center of the band are brothers and primary songwriters, James and Sean Lee.  What type of music do they play?  Well, much to what I'm certain must be the consternation of music critics, it's hard to classify IJG.  However, the band's name describes the sound perfectly.

The songs have smooth, cool synthesizers reminiscent of the best of 1980s where the electronic sounds were dense and layered (think "Wishing" by A Flock of Seagulls or the numerous sounds in Duran Duran's "Rio.")  There's the liquid guitar work that nails the intro of the song "Feeling Blue" together and the cool rain that comes in at the end.  The soft, waif-like "whisper singing" of "I Still Love You" with its utterly heartbreaking lyric "it's cold inside your heart"'s all icy blue, like the sort of monitor screen Hollywood likes to use to scream out "high tech."  There's the "ice."

The tunes also groove.  The soulful Sean Lee vocals in "No Excuses" cause this white boy to helplessly launch into a Ray Charles, Joe Cocker sway, helping me pretend I've got a bit of soul to me.  Hence the "groove."

Jupiter, whether in terms of the lord of the Roman gods or the largest planet, sums up the full, powerful sound that IJG swells into at just the right times.  An example would be the bridge during "Moments" as well as the intro to that song.  The guitar there harkens to the style of U2 and Big Country, full licks that sound like they're echoing off of green hills.

Synth fused with guitar, blues, and strong vocals with solid lyrics.  I'm sold on this band.  It just makes me realize how much great music the Aussies have given us.  INXS, Midnight Oil, Icehouse, and now Ice Jupiter Groove.

Australia should be proud.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

3D-storm: the year was 1983.

I love coming across obscure science fiction on backwater channels.

Last week I stumbled onto Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.  It's a science fiction film from 1983 with an all-star cast, including Peter Strauss, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironsides, and an as yet unknown Molly Ringwald.  The plot is fairly straightforward.  Three hot women crash land in an escape pod on a remote planet.  The planet is home to a colony that has fallen into civil war and rampant disease. 

A space scavenger named Wolff (Strauss) hears that 3,000 "mega-credits" (it's in the future so of course they use "credits") have been offered to whoever can bring the hot chicks back.  He heads to the planet hoping to eventually collect the reward.  On the world, he meets Niki (Ringwald), a young girl who is the last survivor of a group of medical missionaries.  Niki decides to help Wolff as he could be her ticket off the planet.  Little does she know the problems they will face.

The women are in the hands of a cyborg named Overdog (Ironsides).  Yeah I know, great name.  He's sort of like a combination of wasteland warlord and drug pusher.  Then there are the blob creatures and the mermaids.

This movie was part of a long line of 3D flicks from the early 1980s, all with terrible plots, bad acting, and even worse science fiction.  Therefore, I began to think of other movies of the same ilk from that time and started looking them up.

Remember Yor: Hunter from the Future?  Huh, no idea why not.  I do.  What I can't remember is whether or not it was in 3D.  Regardless, Yor was named one of the worst movies of 1983 and with good reason.  It "starred" Reb Brown, the original Captain America from TV as a prehistoric warrior who one day questions who he is and why he came into existence.  He wears a medallion around his neck that he is uncertain as to how he came to acquire or what it means.  This sets him on a quest for his own identity, placing him in the path of dinosaurs, ape men, and a futuristic city.  I actually the existential angle of this film.  Everything else, however, is shite.

Remember Treasure of the Four Crowns?  Geez, why am I the only one who remembers this trash?  I'm getting concerned.  Anyway, this one was definitely in 3D and was likewise from 1983.  It was sort of a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with a team of adventurers seeking to reclaim magic gems from a cult.  That's about all I remember other than they used every excuse they could find for 3D gimmicks.

Now you simply must...remember Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.  I actually think it's a cool title in a pulpy sort of way.  Too bad the story isn't on the same level of quality.

This one had Kelly Preston, Richard Moll (Bull, the bald guy from 1980s sitcom, Night Court), and the studly Tim Thomerson from Full Moon Pictures.  Speaking of that production company, the movie was produced and directed by Charles Band.

This has a plot worthy of a Greek epic.  A man named Dogen rescues a woman named Dhyana whose father was killed by the evil Jared-Syn.  In the name of honor, Dogen takes her on a quest to find Jared-Syn in the "Lost City" so that he can kill the bad guy.  Along the way there is a hunter named Baal, a crazy, elderly seer, and a cyclops or two.  What did I tell you?  Greek like Homer, baby. 

There's also a ton of Road Warrior type vehicles and costumes for characters as that post-apocalyptic style was all the rage at that time.  One of the more nifty vehicles introduced here is the "skybike."  Sort of like a speeder bike but with a bit more oomph to it.  Additionally, I thought the character design of Jared-Syn himself (pictured above) was pretty cool.

Again, I need to emphasize that none of these are good films and they certainly aren't good science fiction.  They are however, diverting, entertaining, and a great deal of fun to poke fun at.  Maybe next time I'll cover Hell Comes to Frogtown.

I'm still rather concerned that I have all of these titles floating readily in my head.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Limbo: it's art

Recently, I was fortunate enough to experience an extraordinarily artistic video game at Bernard Sell's house.

It was not exceptional because it was an action-packed first-person-shooter with high res graphics.  On the contrary, it was exquisite because it was none of those things.  It is a 2D sidescroller (a feature that brought back joyous memories of Sierra games) and it is entirely in monochrome black and white.  There is very little action in the traditional video game sense.

It's name is Limbo.  It is the first video game that I can say without hesitation is truly art.

The plot behind the game is centered on a boy who awakens to find himself on "the edge of hell."  He sets out to find his sister and faces many trials and tribulations in doing so.  Difficult as it may be for our protagonist, the imagery is stunning.

What you see is a combination of German expressionism, a style featured in art and films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the minimalist work of Lotte Reiniger, Fritz Lang's Metropolis and M (both of which are exquisite and get my highest possible recommendation), and much of the work of director Ingmar Bergman.  These works eventually led to the rise of film noir in Hollywood.  We see attributes of that style in Limbo as well with shafts of light, harsh shadows, and chiaroscuro.  Don't ask me for examples of film noir as there are literally hundreds.

So how about other more contemporary examples?  Well for starters, you can see a lot of Tim Burton in this game, especially in regard to the Edward Scissorhands-like character designs and a few of the landscapes.  Edward Gorey can't be far behind as an influence either with the horror aspects of the artwork.

Yes, Limbo is amazing to look at and I wouldn't mind watching it unfold as a film.  However, it is also fun to play.  Fun for a thinking person, anyway.  The player must reason through problems and conundrums in order to advance (scroll) to the next scene.  Admittedly, much of my reasoning was carried out in the form of "Hey, Bernard?  How do you do this?"

I'm not sure just how lucrative the game has been for its producers.  I am hoping they've done well because this is the type of game I would like to see a lot more of.  If I can get all of the rest of the things on my docket cleared away...and I am not hopeful of that at this point...I look forward to many more games of Limbo.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Monday, August 5, 2013

We have a new Doctor

Everybody else is talking about Doctor Who so why not me?

That's right.  After months of hyperhidrosis and hangnails, there's white smoke coming out of the BBC chimney.  That means we have a new Doctor for the legendary British science fiction series, Doctor Who.

Peter Capaldi has landed the role and becomes what is colloquially referred to as "the twelfth Doctor."  This is not the first time that Capaldi has appeared on the show, having guested in the episode, "The Fires of Pompeii."  However, it is the first time that someone with an Oscar will be playing the Doctor.   Capaldi won an Oscar for Best Short Live Action Film.

For the uninitiated...and if you are unfamiliar with Doctor Who I give you great thanks for reading even this far...the Doctor is a Time Lord.  This means that he can regenerate into an entirely new form with a different personality.  Not only do said Time Lords have a life cycle, but reactions to and feelings on new Doctors appear to go through a cycle of sorts as well.

When a new Doctor is announced, the reaction often seems to be one of dismay.  "This guy isn't right," "he's too young/old," "they should have cast a woman," and so forth.  As episodes featuring the new lead begin to air, this reaction begins to temper into one of "he's okay I guess."  A season or so goes by and the attitude becomes "he is the absolute best Doctor ever."  Finally, as the actor announces it is time for him (and hopefully one day her) to move on, fans react with outcry.  "No!  He can't go!  He's irreplaceable!"

It looks like we're back at the beginning of a new cycle.  There is a camp out there in fandom that seems to be of the opinion that Peter Capaldi is too old.  This, I suppose, is in comparison with the three "modern era/reboot" Doctors that came before him.  I'd rather we wait and see on this point.

I'm excited to see what Capaldi may bring to the role.  While I haven't seen him work as an actor before (except in this summer's World War Z where he played...ironically...a W.H.O. doctor), I get the sense of something heavy about him.  We may see a Doctor with a little less niceness this time around...and I don't think that's such a bad thing.

One other point: Capaldi is a lifelong Doctor Who fan.  Check out this letter he wrote regarding the show when he as at the tender age of 15. Also, set the TARDIS to the past and click here for more ESE articles on Doctor Who.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

Friday, August 2, 2013

A real life "Plan 9?"

It is not a "UFO film" exactly.

Instead, it is widely regarded as the worst motion picture ever made.  As Penn Jillette says, it actually improves with each viewing.

I'm talking about Plan 9 from Outer Space.  That classic of cinema from Edward D. Wood, Jr.  Bela Lugosi's swan song to Hollywood.  The story (if one can call it that) entails aliens attempting to assault Earth through the resurrection of the dead.  Now, veteran paranormal researcher Joshua P. Warren alleges that a plot eerily similar to Wood's may be happening in Puerto Rico.

On Coast to Coast AM recently, Warren related stories that bodies have been disappearing from cemeteries in Puerto Rico and that it may be related to UFO activity.  The island has long been associated with numerous UFO sightings.  So much so, that there are ufologists who contend that the occupants of the craft have bases located somewhere on the island or beneath the nearby waters of the Bermuda Triangle.  This is to say nothing of the large U.S. military presence in the protectorate.  Now, it appears something far more sinister than mere UFO sightings is afoot.

Warren reports that over 40 corpses have disappeared from a small graveyard.  The location of this cemetery is also one of intense UFO activity.  One local resident snapped a photo of what he claims is a UFO hovering over his uncle's cattle fields.  Or maybe a smudge in a lens, I'm thinking.  Farmers of the region also claim to have seen alien beings.  Warren adds that he saw an "alien in a jar" at a bar.

Insert joke here about seeing things in bars.

As the story goes, a local farmer told the bar owner that a UFO landed on his property.  The farmer found the body of a dead alien the very next day.  This man placed the body in a jar so that he might transport it to the authorities.  In an attempting to preserve it, he filled the jar with rubbing alcohol.  The alien immediately shriveled.

Here is a link to a photo of the purported "alien in a jar."

That's a little guy, isn't it? 

Oh who knows what to make of this thing.  The story is great but the evidence is next to none.  True, there is a one UFO photograph...however bad it might be...and there is the alleged "alien body."  I am currently sifting through Warren's site to see if the body has been brought in for examination and if it hasn't, why not.  In all fairness regarding the situation, the body is not Warren's property and the owner might not release it for study.

For that matter, how did the alien end up on the farm?  Did his cohorts toss him out of that landed saucer because he was already dead?  Was he on the lam from the rest of the landing party?  It's like a tragic E.T.

And what gives with the disappearing bodies?  If this story is true, then what do the UFO occupants want with long dead humans?

Maybe they've watched Plan 9.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Going cybernetic, one part at a time

It happened over pizza.

I was meeting my old friend Dr. Rich.  He posited that the transhuman future really lies in wearable computing, not cybernetic implants.  "That's an invasive surgery," he argued.  "Few people are going to be down for that."  I can see that logic.  At least it's better thought out than the typically dismissive, "That is just science fiction."

The above is a familiar refrain I hear when I discuss concepts in cybernetics and transhumanism.  However, I have come across news stories both general and specific that I can point to as evidence that the transhuman age gets closer every day.

Kevin Warwick appeared on Coast to Coast AM recently.   Warwick is an academic known as the "Cyborg."  He has cybernetic implants wired into his nervous system.  He partly answered the question of what might motivate someone to undergo surgery for cybernetic implants.  The motivation would be what was to gain.

Would you have implants on your eyes if it granted you x-ray vision?  What about brain implants that allowed you to communicate telepathically with another person with similar implants?  What if these would all be possible through procedures that are as safe and non-invasive as Lasek surgery?  It's already happening.  Three of Warwick's students have magnets implanted in their fingers that all them to operate other devices by remote, such as turning on lights and opening doors.  Granted those aren't stellar feats exactly, but it's a work in progress.  Efforts are underway to add sonar to the interface which would expand capability considerably. This would theoretically open up the door for possibly radar and ultrasonic implants.

Far more extensive of a replacement would be that of an entire limb.  Currently, most people seem reluctant to take it that far unless happenstance forces them to do so. 

Such is the case of Nigel Ackland.  Ackland was recently on Singularity 1-on-1 with Socrates on the Singularity Weblog.  He discussed the tragic accident that took his right arm, the crude prosthesis he had to suffer with afterward, and the fortunate connection with RSL Steeper that allowed him to get his bionic arm.  Here is a quote from Nigel regarding his arm as posted on Singularity Weblog:

"Having a bionic arm is like being human again. Psychologically I wouldn’t be without it. I can hold the phone, shake hands and wash my left hand normally. I’m back to being a two finger typist and can even do hand signals. Not particularly functional, but the psychological benefit is immense! It has a great impact on my life: not only does it look more like a human hand but it also functions more like a human hand."

This is the future, folks.  I for one am eager to see it.  This aspect of it, anyway. 
There is however, one point that Warwick brought up that seemed a bit torn from the pages of comic books.  That is a robot with a human brain.   Or "a" brain at any rate.  The current brain is being developed from rat neurons.  Would this mean a fully-thinking, fully-feeling machine one day? 

Dr. Rich was bemused by thoughts such as these.  I didn't tell him just how willing I would be to become the Jondroid.

That was some pizza.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets