Tag Archives: via ljapp

Welcome to the Occupation 3: What the protest movements might mean for *me*

I was going to make my ‘Welcome to the Occupation’ posts a trilogy, but sometimes people come along and say things better than I ever could. Here then are two great blog posts on how we respond to injustice:

Praying With St. Francis by Shane Claiborne

Yom Kippur and Sins of Silence by Deborah Bryan

Please check them out; they’re worth a read, and wise.

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Come with me if you want to li… Oh, wait #skynet

I suppose you’re expecting me to go along with Twitter and declare that today is Judgement Day, the apocalyptic nuclear holocaust unleashed by the artificial intelligence Skynet, as depicted in the Terminator universe. Well, I’m not. Because while the TV spin-off from the films (The Sarah Connor Chronicles) pegs today as the big day, Terminator 2 says it should have happened in August 1997, only the time travel shenanigans prevented that from ever happening! Anything happening after that doesn’t count, as I may have ranted about before.

And yes, I know the events of Terminator 2 don’t work within their own model of time travel, I don’t care, it’s all about determinism vs free will, hope vs mechanistic nihilism, programming vs emotion. So there.

All of which is to say, the only sequel Terminator 2 should ever have had is this one

The Creature That Ate The Titanic!

It’s been a week for vaguely bizarre headlines, what with China banning time travel TV shows and Dog the Bounty Hunter bailing out Nicholas Cage, but the most interesting, and certainly the most educational, comes via Warren Ellis, writer of Planetary (one of the best comic books of recent years and well worth checking out if you’re a comic fan who hasn’t done so already).

See, living in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet are micro-organisms called extremophiles, capable of surviving where other forms of life wouldn’t stand a chance, including the cold, high pressure depths of the ocean.

This would be fascinating enough – it’s not exactly alien life but it’s not really something most of us are familiar with – but there’s a particular colony of organisms that is using strange methods of communication to eat the Titanic!

I surely can’t be the only one thinking that this would have livened up the first 90 minutes of the Kate-n-Leo-fest enormously…

AT-AT for America – How can I not comment on this?

I think it’s fairly obvious from this blog that I’m a fan of Star Wars. After all, I once posted a picture of a monkey that looks like Yoda. Star Wars has been a part of my psyche since childhood, but this week made it come to life.

See, the best Star Wars film is The Empire Strikes Back, and for my money, one of the highlights of Empire is the assault on the ice planet Hoth and the rebels hiding there. Giant armoured walkers ominously stomp their way towards our heroes, symbols of power and destruction and over-whelming tyranny. Well, those walkers may not be the stuff of fiction much longer.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you AT-AT for America.

For those of you out there who haven’t sacrificed the piece of your brain that remembers your mom’s birthday in order to remember the moon on which the Rebel Alliance were originally hiding out on*, the AT-ATs are the big, four-legged walkers of death as seen in this clip. And AT-AT for America wants to build one.

Now, on the one hand you could say this is frivolous – there are better things on which they could be spending time, money and effort, not building a fictitious war machine that, frankly, got defeated because the heroes were able to trip it up. As projects go it’s not exactly practical.

But then President Obama has been pushing the importance of science and engineering, both in his State of the Union address and on Mythbusters, and while it’s okay to preach to the choir on these things, to inspire and engage those with limited interest in the subjects, well, there’s a strong argument for doing something a little crazy. And building an AT-AT is a little crazy.

Yes, we should be looking at cheap, clean energy generation, or providing clean water to remote villages, or going to Mars. These things are important, life and death on some cases, but here’s the thing – certain major Western economies shifted to services away from manufacturing and now we’re finding we’ve got a skills deficit. That needs to be addressed, and addressed at a pretty basic level – young people, or people who may have an aptitude for the field but not the opportunities or, so they thought, an interest in it.

Science fiction has long inspired technological developments, possibly because it’s capable of inspiring the imagination as well as the mind. And if you want to get people interested in engineering, using pop culture as a way into the field might not be a bad idea. After all, a working AT-AT might be fairly useless but it is cool. And maybe a few of those people who’ve suddenly started to believe they can build armoured vehicles for Darth Vader might just be building a Mars lander in a few years.

And that’s just America’s project. Me? I want the UK version. Anyone know how to build one of HG Wells’ Martian tripods?

*Yavin 4.

Yuri’s Night

For as long as I’ve walked on this planet, space has worn humanity’s footprints – satellites, Voyager, the bits and pieces left behind on the Moon by the Apollo missions. Neil Armstrong taking that small step has always existed in grainy black and white footage and we’ve always been a space-faring species, even if we’ve not quite passed the garden gate. It’s always been this way, at least for my generation and the generations since.

And so today it’s good that there are some many commemorations of Yuri Gagarin and his flight 50 years ago, a flight that lasted under two hours but which changed everything, opening up a whole new horizon as he became the first human being to go into space, the first to orbit the Earth.

It was a massive achievement – I think it’s been overshadowed by the moon landings, and certainly I remember mutterings that the series Enterprise, with its opening montage of historic moments in spaceflight, had somehow managed to omit Gagarin. Oversight? Probably, but it just goes to show how easily we forget.

(Back in the day though, the news was huge. One thing I didn’t know, and that came as a bit of a surprise, was that Gagarin visited Manchester on a post-orbit world tour. Thousands lined the streets in the rain, Gagarin insisting on riding with the top down so that he could wave to the crowds. It seems like the sort of thing that doesn’t happen any more, certainly not for those who still travel into space. Eventually the final frontier starts to feel like a trip to the shops. Heck, now we can film it and put it on Youtube – check out the fantastic First Orbit, which recreates Gagarin’s journey.)

Maybe that’s because it was a different world back then, two superpowers eyeing each other warily, everyone else seemingly stuck in the middle, nuclear spectres stalking history and secrets and fears spinning the globe. Everything’s changed now, and the space race now just feels like history, a bygone age of spies and empires, one of which is now dead, the other hanging on as everything changes around it.

But I’m having a bit of a personal response to this particular anniversary – I hadn’t realised how young Gagarin was when he flew into orbit. 27 is nothing, heck, nowadays it’s almost still adolesence. And yet there he was, changing the world in his mid-twenties. Seven years later he’d be dead, killed in a plane crash at 34, the same age I am now. It’s stupid I know, but it makes me look at my accomplishments, or lack of them. 34 still seems young to me, but by that age some people had already changed the world.

But that’s maudlin, and if you let it the idea of space exploration can do that to you, reminding you of your smallness and your fragility and your transitory nature. Instead I like to think of it was something liberating and empowering. Yes, the universe is big, but we can still look up and step out into it, sailing towards another destination, flinging peole out there and letting them poke around.

(Incidentally, that’s why you can send all the robots you want to Mars, you’re not going to really capture the public imagination until there are people heading there.)

So raise a glass to Yuri Gagarin, because 50 years ago he heralded the world in which we live. And look to the stars for they’re in reach, even when we tell ourselves they’re just too far away.