Built on Facts

I dislike the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, and I haven’t even seen it. Not for the usual reasons – for instance, I think Keanu Reeves is a good actor when used in the right roles, and “space alien” is certainly one of those roles. I dislike the premise. Some alien species comes down and declares that it likes the other earth species more than it likes the smart monkeys. Therefore it demands that the smart monkeys stop their tool use or it will kill them all.

I suppose it would be too simple for the aliens just to drop the blueprints for some of their own snazzy tools so that the monkeys can keep doing their thing without all that pollution. After all, the aliens have spaceships and robots and apparently unlimited control over electrical power. A vast amount of the pollution we ignorant savages produce could be dropped to zero if we simply had a pollution-free and low-cost way of pushing electrons around. The aliens have it, but they’d rather show their advanced nature by threatening to wipe out the apex predator of an entire planet. Some environmentalists.

While I’m on a bad movie tear, how about Valkyrie? Now it may well turn out to be a fine film, but the ad campaign twists the historical reality somewhat. There really was a plot among high-ranking German officials to kill Hitler, and it almost succeeded. Hitler only survived the explosion by the barest of margins. All that’s true. But what’s not quite so true is the idea that the conspiracy was motivated by people who thought of Hilter’s ideas as we do today. Many of them supported Nazi ideology and German expansionism to a greater or lesser extent, they just also happened to recognize that Hitler was a nutcase who would cause unbelievable suffering and defeat to his own people when the war was inevitably lost. And that’s certainly admirable. They were willing to risk everything to stop Hitler, and died when they failed. But they weren’t perfect either, and Hitler’s broader ideology was not without support among them.

Well. Batman just came out, and I thought it was pretty good.

Now, news from the world of science!

Trouble is brewing between the Obama transition team and NASA. A Time article takes the side of the current NASA administration. Others don’t. I don’t know enough about the internals of the space program to make a judgment, but I hope that the manned space program survives this along with the continuing collapse of the economy.

Which reminds me: I toured Johnson Space Center this past summer, and the tour guide told us that the eventual upcoming lunar missions were going to cost a million dollars a minute. NASA’s entire budget works out to about $33k per minute so he could only have meant the total cost of the program divided by the there-and-back flight time, but that’s not a fair metric. By that standard the Manhattan Project cost a hundred quadrillion dollars a second over the few nanoseconds the Trinity explosion was actually in progress. In any case it seems like a bad PR move, so if any NASA types are reading this you might want to revise your tour scripts.

A Michigan State grad student writes in to talk about her university being selected to host a DoE rare isotopes beam facility. I know some people at Texas A&M’s Cyclotron Institute who would be very jealous! Good for MSU, it’s a huge deal and will keep hundreds of scientists happy and busy expanding our knowledge about the physics of the nucleus.

Everyone saw the robot girlfriend? I’m not sure perfection of this technology would be the species-ending catastrophe a holodeck would be. But it bodes ill, of this I am sure. The thing about being a Cassandra is that Cassandra was right.

At least when the military builds robots they have “kill” right in the name so you know what you’re getting into. To be perfectly honest though if pure physics doesn’t work out that’s a lab I think would be lots of fun to work in.

I think that’s all for now. Have a great weekend!

Oh, and feel free to totally ignore this since it’s kind of self-serving, but if you happen to be doing Christmas shopping at amazon.com, using this link to get there will send a couple percent of Amazon’s profit to help support this blog (by “this blog” I mean “me”) at exactly zero cost to you. It’s a lot better than having some geriatric senators using your money to bailout guys who like to fly private jets to DC to beg for said money!


  1. #1 Kobra
    December 13, 2008

    A Michigan State grad students

    Well, you’re clearly not an English grad student. 😛

    My readers are worse grammar Nazis than me! Fixed, thanks. -Matt

  2. #2 Uncle Al
    December 13, 2008

    Uncle Al did four years at Moo U (Abbott Hall – now with workign toilets!). A common physics lab was to dredge some muck from the Red Sewer River, dry it, and identify radionuclides by decay energies. The good old days. Moo U is the very best at radioactive beams and drip line elements even if their contemporary waste disposal is less exciting.

    If you contemplate being an out-of-state student, get all financial arrangements in writing before you step onto campus. IQs in excess of room temp are imported then abandoned. Moo U only supports undergrad locals.

    NASA is a bad joke. Obama is the final riff.

  3. #3 jomega
    December 13, 2008

    I dislike the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still because it manages to be spectacularly less entertaining than the fifty-seven year old Flying Saucer Movie it’s imitating. Gort turns into bugs that eat everything? Keanu, as always,just comes across as baked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the movie itself just sits there listlessly like a stoner who can’t pry his ass of the couch. Consider yourselves warned.

  4. #4 CCPhysicist
    December 14, 2008

    Thanks for the heads-up about The Day the Earth Stood Still. Like you, we had already decided it had a stupid premise just from the TV ads … and we are environmentalists. The more I learn about it, the worse it gets. Is there no creativity left in Hollywood? Thank God for Turner Classic Movies.

    Oh, and just for grins: Next time you get a chance, ask the nuclear grad students if they know where the design of their cyclotron came from …

  5. #5 CCPhysicist
    December 14, 2008

    I almost laughed out loud when I looked at the Time article about NASA and saw an image of a Titan launching a Gemini capsule.

    I should spend some time in the library looking for articles in Time from the early 1970s that contain statements like
    NASA has moved with uncharacteristic nimbleness in the last five years and is already cutting metal on the new machines in the hope of having crews in Earth orbit by 2015 and on the moon by 2020. Schedules have slipped some the original plan was to launch the orbital missions in 2014 and costs have swollen, though so far not dramatically.
    about the Shuttle launch system.

    In 2004, they said they would launch in 2014. In 2008, they say it will be 2015. True, this is much better than it was when the Shuttle was developed, but the gap between the last shuttle flight (2010) and the first new mission that can put a US astronaut on the Space Station will likely continue to increase, just as it did to doom Skylab. No wonder the Europeans are working to convert their “truck” into a man-capable vehicle.

  6. #6 eddie
    December 21, 2008

    Excellent critique of the bad remake. I’m against remakes in principle as folk should come up with their own ideas. Indeed, studios should let them.

    As for robot assassins/girlfriends… I like mine combined. I so hope they make a movie out of Fire And Rain

    That death-bot (I think it’s pronounced MaKe eViL) looks to be a tough adversary, for the 20secs or so ’til it runs out of fuel. What, does chrysler make it?

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