The Weekly Update #2

Well, so far, The Weekly Update has survived for two weeks.

What I’m Reading Now: Still Ender’s Game, technically, but I’ve been too busy to read it lately.

What I’m Writing Now: Nothing much.

What I’m Playing Now: Once again, nothing much. Too busy with holiday stuff.

My Inspirational thought of the Week: “Someday you’ll die, but right now, at this moment, you’re alive. Be happy.”

My Weekly Suggestion: Even when you’re on vactaion, do a few things you have to do (and don’t want to do) every day. It makes relaxation even more pleasant.

Hm…when I’m actually doing regular updates, this seems a little foolish, but I’ll try to revamp it next week.

The List of People I Wouldn’t Want to Sit Next to on a Plane (LPIWWSNP)

All right, I remembered several people I left off the list yesterday, so now it goes:

  • Quentin Tarantino
  • Sam Neill (ever since Event Horizon, he scares the hell out of me)
  • Salvador Dalí (see “David Firth” or “Aphex Twin”)
  • M. Night Shyamalan
  • Stephen King
  • Aphex Twin (if the guy’s not crazy, he should be)
  • David Firth (see above)
  • Dane Cook (I wouldn’t want to sit next to him anywhere, actually)
  • Tom Cruise
  • Brad Pitt
  • Anthony Hopkins (”Care for some of my liver and onions? Fffffthfth!”)
  • Any member of Rammstein (see above)
  • Sigourney Weaver
  • Paul Erdős (okay, the fact that he’s been dead for twelve years doesn’t help, but even if he was alive…)
  • George Clooney (he seems like he might be an ass in person)
  • H.P. Lovecraft (see “Anthony Hopkins” or “Aphex Twin”)

A List: Famous People I Wouldn’t Want to Sit Next to On A Plane

This list has been knocking around in my head for a while. I’ll update it as more famous people occur to me. (Note: I actually like most of the people on the list (or their work, at least), but they strike me as the sort that, you know, wouldn’t be good to sit next to on a plane):

  • M. Night Shyamalan
  • Stephen King
  • Aphex Twin (if the guy’s not crazy, he should be)
  • David Firth (see above)
  • Dane Cook (I wouldn’t want to sit next to him anywhere, actually)
  • Tom Cruise
  • Brad Pitt
  • Anthony Hopkins (“Care for some of my liver and onions? Fffffthfth!”)
  • Any member of Rammstein (see above)
  • Sigourney Weaver
  • Paul Erdős (okay, the fact that he’s been dead for twelve years doesn’t help, but even if he was alive…)
  • George Clooney (he seems like he might be an ass in person)
  • H.P. Lovecraft (see “Anthony Hopkins” or “Aphex Twin”)

The Weekly Update #1

I know that I haven’t been great about writing new posts lately, so I’ve decided to try an experiment: at least one weekly update, whether I like it or not, so that my loyal readers (if there are any left…) have something to look forward to every Friday (you know, other than the fact that it’s Friday.) Here goes.

What I’m Reading Now: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It’s one of those sciene-fiction classics (like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or Neuromancer) that I’ve had on my shelf for years and never read. So far, I’m enjoying it, although it’s not exactly the world-shattering novel all the hype made me expect.

What I’m Writing Now: Not much. I’m trying to write another short story for my big, bloated, and rapidly mutating Harvester chronology (see The Long Wait if you don’t know what I’m talking about), but so far, I’ll get a few paragraphs in, get sick of the story, and give up.

What I’m Playing Now: Nothing. I was re-playing Portal a few weeks ago, but I found myself rushing through it, so I stopped.

What I’m Doing Now: Mainly, I’m just recovering from final exams. There were only three this semester, but they were quite enough.

My Inspirational Thought of the Week: “If you learn to be a little pessimistic all the time, then when good things happen, it’ll be even nicer.”

My Weekly Suggestion: If you see a stranger who looks depressed, don’t be afraid to ask what’s bothering them. You might make a world of difference.

Hmm…I’m already starting to doubt the wisdom of this weekly update thing. As if the blog didn’t already have enough lists of random things. Hopefully, though, I’ll have some more substantial posts coming up soon.

Movie Review: “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

In this age of remakes, it’s getting harder and harder for me to write reviews because, usually, I haven’t seen the movie on which the remake was based. That’s a roundabout way of saying that when I went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still this afternoon, my impressions weren’t tainted by having seen the original.

The plot is fairly predictable (doubly so since the movie is so famous): aliens come to Earth to save it from destruction by humans, and they’re perfectly willing to wipe us out in order to do it. The duty of messenger falls upon Klaatu (played by Keanu Reeves), a creature in human form with unusual powers. He has come to pass judgment on humanity, and not surprisingly, ends up in government custody, where his lousy treatment probably doesn’t do much to get us off on the right interstellar foot. Also mixed up in this are Dr. Helen Branson (played by Jennifer Connely), an astrobiologist (extra points to this movie, by the way, for actually using the term astrobiologist, although she never really does anything astrobiological) and her snotty little pain-in-the-ass stepson Jacob, who spends three quarters of the moive doing nothing but getting in the way and aggravating my homicidal tendencies. There’s some other stuff (including John Cleese in a rare but decent straight role), but I don’t want to risk spoiling anything.

From the start, I was rather impressed by The Day the Earth Stood Still. It opens with Dr. Branson lecturing her students on astrobiology, and the movie gets even more extra points by mentioning Deinococcus Radiodurans (the nasty little bacterium that likes to multiply in the radioactive wastewater from nuclear reactors) and Jupiter’s moon Callisto. There are other examples of such unusual scientific accuracy. This is not the hacked-together pseudoscience you’ll find in a movie like Resident Evil (or even Sunshine to some extent). It’s not perfect, and the scientific validity starts to degenerate towards the end, but all in all, this film’s science is more impressive than most of what you’ll find out there.

Then there’s the human side of things. The stark portrayal of the Eichmann-esque soulless bureaucrats who represent the government made my bile rise, in a good way. I’d like to think that if an alien landed in the United States, we wouldn’t treat it as government property, lock it up, and cut bits out of it, but I’m not that native. And, with the aforementioned pain-in-the-ass stepson, the film also does a good job portraying modern xenophobia, although the message is frequently brought home with sledgehammer obviousness, and is watered down by the fact that the irritating little kid gives up his irritating ways by the end of the film. In the end, the neat happy-ending quality of it kind of diminishes the main message: that humans are selfish and evil and horrible, and that if we don’t make a lot of changes very fast, we’re probably going to drive ourselves to extinction.

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead.

There are a few scenes in particular that really grab my attention, and it might be worth seeing the movie just for them. For example, when we first meet John Cleese’s character (who is given pitifully little screen time), he comes upon Klaatu, who is busily erasing and correcting his calculations on a blackboard. He stands next to Klaatu, and there’s a really great moment of silent mathematical communication, an unspoken argument followed by Dr. Barnhard’s (John Cleese’s) realization of who Klaatu is. It was artfully done and subtler than what I’m used to these days, and I loved it.

My other favorite scene takes place towards the end of the movie. The humans (not surprisingly) antagonize Gort (whose name the filmmakers explain through a really shitty reverse acronym, by the way), who suddenly bursts into a swarm of microscopic metal insects who proceed to multiply and start eating everything. And I do mean everything. They swarm over the surface of the earth, eating ever human and manmade object in their path. It’s grim but oddly satisfying to watch all of our meager achievements collapse and evaporate in a swarm of nanomachines, and it’s a nice reminder that we are a temporary fleck of fungus on the surface of a grain of sand in the far corner of nowhere. These two scenes are almost strong enough to hold up the whole movie.

Spoilers end here.

I said almost strong enough. But, for all its good scenes, there are bad ones, too. A lot of the movie feels camp and uninteresting, and there are some scenes that could have been cut or shortened. And there is, of course, the aforementioned happy ending, and a long parade of rather blatant morals that culminate in said ending.

All in all, though, I liked The Day The Earth Stood Still. It managed to be fairly moving and thought-provoking without descending too far into the realm of clichés. The movie was pretty immersive on the whole, and Keanu Reeves was in great form again. It’s not quite the performance he gave in A Scanner Darkly, but it’s still pretty damn good, considering. And, as I said earlier, the movie gets a lot of extra points for actually making an effort to get the science right. There’s something slightly off about the whole film, but I’d say it’s decent enough to see on the big screen, or at least to rent when it comes out.

Final Judgment:

*     *     *     *     *     *     `     .     .     . (6.5/10 asterisks)

New Short Stories: “E-Cology” and “Spiders”

I haven’t posted anything of real value recently, so I thought I’d make up for it. Two (two!) whole stories. They were both written a few months ago. Without further ado:

E-Cology — Rogue self-evolving computer viruses have laid waste to the Internet, and Amon, an uploaded human mind, has taken it upon himself to plunge into the e-wasteland and wipe the viruses out. But now, he’s on the viruses’ turf, and the Internet is a hostile place for a human. Now, he’s starting to wonder if he can actually combat the viruses, or if he can even survive at all…

Spiders — “There had been a lot of scourges before the Spiders came, but the invasion of the Spiders was the only one that came with an explicit explanation of purpose. That was a new wrinkle.”

Spiders is, I think, one of the better things I’ve ever written. I was “in the zone” with the imagery, as it were.

Military Dodecapod

Yet another model I threw together in Blender. It’s a twelve-legged military hunter-killer robot, designed for rough terrain. Yes, dear readers, this is what I’ve been doing instead of writing blog posts or working on my philosophy final…

Decapod

This is something I threw together in Blender and decided to share for no particular reason. It’s supposed to be a sort of military robot or something of the sort, but it ended up looking like a lunar lander or something.

Poor Man’s Liquid Nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen is hard to get, and being someone with no connections and a wild look in his eye, I don’t think I could actually get my hands on any, so I have to settle for watching videos of the stuff in action. I was doing that a few days ago, and ran across this video:

Being a good science nerd, I happen to know a place where I can buy dry ice. And, being a good science nerd, my first thought when I saw this video was “Don’t try this at home? Pffft! I know what I’m doing!” So, I made Poor Man’s Liquid Nitrogen (which I’ll call PMLN, because I’m lazy). Surprisingly, I didn’t manage to injure myself, but heed the following warning!:

DON’T MAKE THIS STUFF! IT’S EXTREMELY COLD, AND AS THE MAN SAYS IN THE VIDEO, VERY STICKY. WHEN SOMETHING IS DESCRIBED AS “CRYOGENIC NAPALM,” STEER CLEAR OF IT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, AND I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANYTHING YOU DO AS A RESULT OF READING THIS POST!

Anyway…onward! (But one more note of warning: I didn’t manage to hurt myself, but I did discover that letting a bunch of dry ice fall in your sink drain is a good way to break a garbage disposal…)

What you need to make PMLN. A 20-liter soda bottle, a 3-liter soda bottle, a knife, isopropyl rubbing alcohol (the video recommends 99%, but the best I could find was 91%), and a pair of gloves to protect myself from frostbite.

In addition to being an excellent way to cool things relatively cheaply, dry ice is also a hell of a lot of fun to play with. Warning: dry ice will make plastic brittle, and is a good way to ruin a plastic colander.

Cut the tops off both containers. Poke holes in the smaller one.

Put the smaller container in the larger one (as if you could do it the other way around…) and surround it with chunks of dry ice. I broke my slab up with a hammer, which is a good way to make really, really cold powdered dry ice, which created a lovely crust of ice on the bottom of my sink.

The “cryo-cell” cooling down. If you decide to disregard my warning and try this experiment, note my safety precautions: gloves, a long-sleeved jacket (in case something splashes), and (not pictured) long pants, socks, and shoes. Just in case.

The alcohol has cooled down to the point that it’s no longer boiling furiously. Time to freeze stuff!

Here’s all the stuff I could find to freeze. At bottom: baby spinach leaves. At the top: a leaf from my jade plant.

Julia the jade plant, from whom I stole the leaf. Sacrificing herself for science once again. Houseplants are noble that way.

The spinach leaf going in…

A shattered spinach leaf. As the fellow in the video advises: do not try to eat stuff frozen this way! Not only will it have rubbing alcohol on it (which is not safe to consume, and could, in fact, kill you), but it will be very, very cold and might freeze to your tongue.

A jade plant leaf freezing in the chilled alcohol. Note: you can’t see it here, but that alcohol isn’t actually liquid. It’s more of a slushy gel-type stuff.

The effects of the cryo-cell. It really works!

I didn’t just want to pour the cola from my 20-liter bottle down the drain, so I put it in a glass. Then, being the amateur mad scientist that I am, I thought “I wonder if you can use dry ice like regular ice…” The answer: you certainly can, but don’t do it with cola. The bubbles from the dry ice will agitate it, and make all the carbonation fizz away. So, the cola was flat, but it sure was nice and cold.

Many, many thanks to YouTube user wbeaty for the demonstration that inspired this post. You should check out some of his other videos. I’m not just saying that so he won’t get pissed off that I copied his experiment; his other videos are actually really cool (no pun intended, honestly).

And one final reminder: don’t do this at home!

25,000 Hits!

By now, it’s kind of a tradition that, every time my hit counter passes some random numerical milestone, I present you, dear viewers, with a random gift in appreciation of your visit. And since my counter just passed 25,000 (wow…I know that’s a really tiny number, comparatively speaking , but it’s huge compared to what the site used to get), I thought I’d spread some holiday cheer. I present to you: 25,000 garishly-colored circles:

Oooh! Ahhh! Ugh!

Oooh! Ahhh! Ugh!

To all the people who have gone to the trouble to give my blog a look, thank you. Have a circle. There’s enough for everyone.