Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

Must See Movie List for Engineers

January 29, 2014

Have you seen “Primer”? And you call yourself an engineer or a film maker? Hah! They made it for $7000 bucks, its about engineers and time-travel. There’s a long-hanging question for a while: “You know what they do with engineers when they hit 40 (30?), don’t you?”.  Spoiler alert: STOP READING HERE! It might be a reference to how all great scientific advances are made by age 25 or so, tops, but the long wind-up punch-line is “They take them out and shoot them”. The line is delivered dead-pan by a kind of lovable old engineer. Reminded me of the old grubby guys that trained me, back in the day.

Anyway, it’s a great flick, and it inspires my own “Movie Classics That Every Engineer Should See!” list:

Hardware,  just because it’s so damned weird!  While it does stress proper re-cycling techniques (1. MAKE SURE THE DAMNED THING IS REALLY DEAD FIRST!!!!… ). The weirdo breather video-calls were a fun kink, taken here to it’s highest form and a typical end for the caller-perv. The rest is just fun and weirdness and fighting a robot that looks creepy as Hell and the wingman is on acid and trying to keep to together and help out, but, well, you know. Probably Slightly Less Boring Than Working life/death struggle and Iggy Pop as the DJ on the radio in the background. Nothing better than that, eh?

Okay, a movie with class? You know “2001: A Space Odyssey” would have gotten first place is I weren’t so curmudgeonly lately. It explains nothing and, ignoring some brand-names (sorry Pan-Am), a lot is starting to line up, if only a little late. Futurists tend toward either way optimist or way pessimist I find. Maybe no-one writes down what the vast normal crowd in the middle says enough to write it down. Largely, that’s an irony of history.

You can watch “City of Ember” with your kids, and see if it hold their attention more than yours. The scary parts are just scary enough and very brief. I love it, myself. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is still a classic! This may be considered a seminal work in the steampunk media canon. Of course, “Modern Times” brings in the warm human heart of the Little Tramp, who lived through a wave of this ‘progress’ mess.

3 Idiots” is a Bollywood slapstick import centering on the search for a lost classmate. This one is a must see. Best movie I saw the year it came out, in fact.

Nothing more fun for engineers than The Flight of the Phoenix“. Yes, I do prefer the Jimmy Stewart version, in fact. The later one, not so much.

Talk about your chess club nerd wish fulfillment, I still get a kick out of “Explorers“. It’s much more dignified than “Weird Science“, in which Ms. LeBrock’s best assets and efforts combined to make it a memorable performance, but not what you’d call “Art”, but amusing anyway.

A lot less fluff in “Apollo 13“, which captured the  heroic guys in short hair and white shirts using slide-rules to save the guys with ‘the right stuff’. It’s inspiring.

 These are listed in no coherent order as yet.
You got any candidates? Leave them in the comments.


They Live, We Sleep

October 30, 2013




I rewatched the 1988 John Carpenter classic “They Live” for what must be the Nth time last night, and I’m amazed at how well it has retained its relevance. The social satire works as well against the backdrop of the voodoo economics of the Reagan-Bush years as it would in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street protests. This is partly because the issues remain the same (increasing income inequality, an economy cratered by the untouchable & uncaring rich, relentless mass-media manipulation) and partly because, well, John Carpenter just plain makes damned good movies.


The script for “They Live” was based on “Eight O’Clock in the Morning”, a short story written by Ray Nelson almost a half century ago. Ray had a very interesting and multi-faceted career, not only as a writer and cartoonist, but as a smuggler of pornography: according to his IMDB bio, in the 1950s he helped Michael Moorcock sneak the works of Henry Miller out of France.

Ray has another claim to cultural fame as well: he has the singular distinction of having been the inventor of the propeller beanie in 1947. While still in high school, he and some friends were goofing around at a science fiction convention and put some together from plastic scraps. The rest is history. He once remarked, “Centuries after all my writings have been forgotten, in some far corner of the galaxy, a Beany-Copter will still be spinning.”

I’m going to install a propeller on my bike helmet and then go read some dirty books in Ray Nelson’s honor, and I hope you’ll all do something along the same lines.

Seventy-five years ago, on Oct. 30, 1938, mere hours before Halloween began, millions of Americans got the fright of a lifetime: Orson Welles, 23 at the time, performed a radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds…without reveling that it was a play. The morning after press conference was a classic.

Radiolab contrasts the aftermath of the original broadcast in 1938 with the repeat performance in Quito, Ecuador in 1949. Let’s just say there was a strong public reaction. And mayhem.

Christianity may have appropriated the honoring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints (All Hallows) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd, but Samhain is what got this party started.

Okay, the link-bait got me, but in a good way: “What is a walipini?”. Turns out it’s a low-tech in-ground greenhouse that uses the thermal mass of the soil to keep it growing things all year round. There’s more on them here.

We humans are “Narrative Machines“, constantly rewriting the stories of our lives. It’s how we make sense of things, pinning the chaos down to a single perspective.

I agree, this church does rather resemble a penis when seen from the air. And it’s not even thinking about butt-sex with Westboro!

Tomorrow is the dream we build today

September 26, 2013

Shooting has begun on Disney’s upcoming movie Tomorrowland. Will it be about Tesla? The Oatmeal investigates… and really whets my appetite.

Shades of Tesla and VALIS: the legendary “Black Knight” satellite continues to intrigue. Here’s a slightly more conventional examination.

Another day, another Atlantis pyramid found. This time it’s 40 meters underwater off the coast of Terceira Island in the Azores.

Like a snake eating it’s own tail.” With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy less than two months away, the Smithsonian Magazine has published an article on the iconic ‘Zapruder film’ that ignited a virtual conspiracy industry.

Neal Stephenson (author of “Snow Crash”, et al) is developing a concept for a 20-kilometer tall skyscraper that could be used to launch rockets into space. Wind loading makes this a little tricky.

Is there life beyond the isoelectric line? What if inside the brain of a person who had already flat lined, there was still something going on—some murmur of electrical signals? Could the person still be considered brain dead?

‘Alien Jesus’: The Pre-Modern History of Outer Space. Giordano Bruno, a renegade sixteenth-century monk from the Kingdom of Naples, argued that God must be “glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, indeed in an infinity of worlds.”

Stand your telepathic ground! Meloney Selleneit, 55, of Centerville UT pleaded guilty but mentally ill last week after convincing her (non-Mensa member) husband  to shoot the neighbor she said had “telepathically raped” her. Rumors of her being a possible running-mate for Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016 are circulating.

Why is the GOP so dedicated to the NO FUTURE!” politics of keeping Americans sick and hungry? Are they members of some kind of secret underground society or something?

Socialist tyranny! An appellate court broke some villainous hearts when it ruled that Onwentsia Club in Lake Forest really did have to pay property taxes on its pool, tennis courts and horse stable.

Let’s take it a step further and end the tax-free status of country clubs.

Koch-backed conservatives go pro-cervical cancer, and just couldn’t be any creepier if they they tried! You know it’s evil if the Kochs are backing it.

From “Know-How” to “No-How!”

September 11, 2013

In a 1969 letter, Asimov wrote in exasperation: “The people of the United States spend exactly as much money on booze alone as on the space program.” {Americans actually spent lots more on booze}In 1983, three decades before the precarious state of space exploration we face today, Isaac Asimov was interviewed for Muppet Magazine on the enormous cultural benefits of space exploration.

One of the world’s largest aquifers has been discovered from orbit under the northern Kenyan desert.

How’s that sequester working out for you? New study shows close to 1 in 5 U.S. scientists has considered moving their research overseas in search of better funding.

Home on Lagrange: how NASA will grow salad in space.

Reflect on the 47th anniversary of “Star Trek”, and how old that makes you. Don’t worry about William Shatner, though. He’s jamming with Billy Sherwood and Tony Kaye of YES fame.

A new study suggests possibility of selectively erasing unwanted memories. Okay, there was most of the third season….

Chris Carter talks about the 20th anniversary of “The X-Files”. It racked up quite a few now-familiar guest stars over its 9 year run.

“The Truth is out there” quote of the day:

We already have the means to travel among the stars, but these technologies are locked up in black projects and it would take an act of God to ever get them out to benefit humanity….. anything you can imagine we already know how to do.

Ben Rich, former Head of the Lockheed Skunk Works

bioMASON, a start-up that harnesses ‘microbial induced carbonate precipitation’ to make bricks from sand without a kiln, just got a $500K prize for being aswesome.

John Robb has some thoughts on “How to deal with Countries that Use Chemical Weapons? Make it Personal”. Think of it as ‘piercing the corporate veil’ for despots.

The NYPD announced today that it busted a group of drug dealers that strictly observed Shabbat.

Suck it, Prius! The new 887-horsepower Porsche 918 Spyder gets up to 94 miles per gallon with a top speed of over 200MPH.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as marketed today:

The NSA, black helicopters, guinea pig orgies

August 21, 2013

Notorious  Sen. Ted “Canadian Candidate” Cruz (R-TX) was heckled at an anti-Obamacare town hall with chants of shouting “you have health care so can we.” Indeed, socialized health care must be just too dangerous for non-senator Americans. Of course, irony has no effect on his kind!

But nothing is more dangerous than Truth, it seems. Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison over the WikiLeaks disclosures.

Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian‘Sending a message’: what the US and UK are attempting to do. And, yes, a British official did actually use the phrase “We can call off the Black Helicopters” while destroying hard drives in the basement of the Guardian. It all sounds a bit taken right out of “Brazil“!

The Wall Street Journal’s full article is pay-walled here, but their interactive graphic of how the NSA scours internet traffic in the U.S. is quite nice.

Human activity is almost certainly the cause of climate change and global sea levels could rise by several feet by the end of the century, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report leaked to media.

A Georgia man is in custody on Wednesday after police said that he shot a 3-year-old relative during an argument with another family member. If only there had been more guns there!

Court orders university to silence wild guinea pig orgies.

From the “It’s about time” department: the Internal Revenue Service was unable to suppress a lawsuit over its failure to audit thousand of churches that allegedly violated federal tax law by engaging in partisan advocacy.

The king of dinosaurs — Tyrannosaurus rex — certainly was not designed to be a carnivore, according to the totally scientific and utterly serious Paul Taylor of Creation Today.

Friday Never Dies!

September 28, 2012

The Curiosity rover has made it pretty clear there was liquid water flowing on Mars’ surface for quite some time in that past. You can almost see the twin moons of Mars reflected in the swiftly running stream. And thoats, don’t forget the thoats!

Jordan is the home of Petra,  “a rose-red city half as old as time”. Another example of the freaking amazing things people can do with only rock and time on their hands.Compare Petra to the Hypogeum in Malta. It is said that at one time you could walk underground from one end of the island to another, but many of those tunnels are now closed “for safety reasons”. At least three known levels of ornate crypts, chambers and tunnels are carved into the soft limestone. There may be other, deeper levels;  deeper than feeble humans have ever explored and lived to tell about!

An experimental proof that you can throw good science after bad.

Shaping the next generations of crackpotologists: GeekDad thinks “Gravity Falls” is great. I have to concur. I can’t not watch it.

Some have devoted much effort to connecting the dots between “sacred sites” like Stonehenge, Petra, Easter Island & etc to draw “ley lines“. The Becker-Hagens grid is one evolution of the ley line.  You can sure run rampant with anything.

Think there’s no difference between the presidential candidates? Check out their energy policies here. Big difference!

Fly the friendly skies of Willard’s World.

Go back 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago, and most of the people in the Congress who could be said to merit the label “extremist” look like cuddle-toys compared to some sitting there today. Not to mention some of the people running for these offices on a major party ticket. “This is someone who kind of makes Michele Bachmann look like a hippie,” McCaskill said of Akin, citing his votes against things like a sex offender registry‘.

‘No mas! No mas!!: An editor for the Associated Press said that  fact-checkers for the organization had to impose limits on checking misstatements by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Or their heads would explode, presumably.

Good news, honey! Pat Robertson is totally down with oral sex, at least for married straights. Sorry, Willard-Ann, no such luck for your cult sect.

Oklahoma’s looney “no-trans-name-changes” Judge Graves gets the ACLU appeal he so richly deserves. Graves has been an embarrassment to the state since his days as a Republican state senator.

We’re all “invited” to the wedding of Mr. State and Miss Church! (Attendance is compulsory)

Postcards from Lemuria

September 27, 2012

I spent last evening chasing down an odd reference that seems to have been infinitely propagated across the Web. I’m digging into the history surrounding Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1887, and everywhere I looked the phrase “The procession through London, according to Mark Twain, ‘stretched to the limit of sight in both directions'” kept cropping up, like a zombie.

There was one problem with this: I could find no source indicating Mark Twain was even at the Golden Jubilee, and I couldn’t find any attribution of the quote other than the “according to Mark Twain” bit.   It was even there on the Royal Family’s official website and it was making me nuts.

You see, it was a matter of life and death for Twain. I was doing research for a bit of fiction, and if he was really there it vitally mattered. So, I finally said the right incantations before the Altar of the Allmighty Google and the source of the quote was revealed to me: the line was a direct quote of Twain’s essay “Queen Victoria’s Jubilee”. Published in 1897. About Queen Victoria’s DIAMOND Jubilee. That’s Golden Jubilee plus ten years. Different event. Completely.

“According to Mark Twain, ‘stretched to the limit of sight in both directions'” stretched to the limit of sight in both directions on the Web. Go ahead and put “Twain” and “Golden Jubilee” into the Allmighty Google and count the number of times “according to Mark Twain, ‘stretched to the limit of sight in both directions'” pops up. All of them are wrong. It was a  cut&paste virus resulting in a massive Wikipocalypse.

So I fixed the most egregiously prominent Wikipedia entry and sent an email to the Royal Family’s web editors asking if they didn’t agree that the reference was misplaced (with chapter, verse and page number to Twain’s essay) because I’m guessing they were the source of the bogus factoid that had been haunting me for days. And what stenographer er, journalist isn’t going to trust the Royal Family on matters regarding Queen Vicky and her jubilees?

No word back from the Royals yet, but I did some serious dancing last night after I finally put a stake through the heart of that undead misapplied quote from Hell. I didn’t have to kill Mark Twain after all. At last I could rest.

Are you an undecided voter? Do you know one? Well, Samuel L. Jackson has a message for you!

Looks like M’Lord Willard of Romney is starting to beg, and the GOP is in total denial mode.



Enter the soulless Chinese mining companies, pretty much the same as the soulless American ones. Destroying ancient Buddhist sites in Afghanistan isn’t just a Taliban thing anymore.

Scientific American’s post-arctic weather report: sunny with a chance of extinctions.

The Vatican’s official newspaper gives Promethius two thumbs down despite Charlize Theron doing push-ups (that’s Oscar material, right Oscar?). Their boss wears dresses and funny hats… I mean, I’m just saying.

Have you heard the good news? Here’s a page-by-page examination of Jack Chick’s famous anti-D&D leaflet that resulted in the collapse of gaming as we know it. There’s a Chick-flick documentary on him too, for any fans in the audience. (Anyone remember which Chick title had the line “Hail Eris!” in it? Leave me a clue in the comments please,  I lost my collection!)

Nick Redfern dusted off the Shaver Mysteries over at Mysterious Universe, and I can see the visions again! I can remember those other-worldy visitors, their ancient tunnels beneath our surface world, their discarded Dero psychotic robot minions left behind to torment us with their psychotronic mind-control rays! Why, I remember it just like freshman year… no, wait, that was freshman year!

The Shaver Mysteries were the greatest stories ever told as far as pulp sci-fi went. As I heard it, the tale began one day in 1943 when Ray Palmer, editor of Astounding Magazine, was entreating his writing staff to come up with some stories that would boost their sales. At one point he reached into the trash-can and withdrew a crumpled letter, saying something along the lines of “You lazy bums, I’ll bet I could pull better ideas out of the trash!”.

As fate would have it, he held in his hand the Magic Letter from Richard Shaver that started it all. Shaver’s letter described how, while working in an auto plant, his welding machine  started telling him things:  strange, menacing, ASTOUNDING things! A few quick edits later and the Shaver Mysteries were launched.

The first “Shaver” issue tripled sales and Astounding  saw their reader mail load absolutely explode. Apparently Shaver’s yarn had unlocked a lot of repressed memories for the legions of unmedicated psychotics out there,  and boy how it relieved them that other people had electrical equipment whisper ancient secrets to them, too! Amazing was left scrambling for more paper amidst war-time rationing and had to make special arrangements just to deal with the daily truck-loads of letters from Those Who Remembered Lemuria Too. It was sort of like the effect Sarah Palin had on the McCain presidential campaign, except for the losing the election part.

For the next five years, Astounding mined that rich vein of crazium that started with Wiliam Shaver’s letter.  Palmer’s place in sci-fi history was assured, while Shaver spend his remaining years in obscurity, studying “rock books” in which he alone could read the secret pre-history of the Earth’s previous extraterrestrial inhabitants recorded in random stones. Astounding might have given him a free subscription, I don’t know. It would have been a nice gesture.

Shaver died in 1975 in Summit, Arkansas, but his name and legacy will live on, having been woven into the rich warp and woof of  ufology, crackpotology and our Modern World of High Weirdness.

Dance of the Crackpots

September 26, 2012

With historic fame there comes the inevitable pressure for historic last words. Some, like Oscar Wilde, have managed to pull off a good final zinger (“Either that wallpaper goes or I do”), while others have had words put into their mouths post mortem. For instance,in reply to the priest who asked him whether he renounced Satan and his works, Voltaire is said to have replied: “This is no time to be making enemies”. That exchange never actually happened, but it wouldn’t have been a bad parting shot.

St. Mark of Twain penned a short yet morally instructive tale involving uplifting final words: “The Story of the Good Little Boy Who Did Not Prosper“. It should be annual required reading for grades K-Deceased.

Damn, I miss Ian Drury! His “New Boots and Panties” LP might have been the last actual vinyl I bought. If you haven’t seen the biopic of Ian’s life, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” (2010) you are missing out. It stars Andy Serkis in one of his rare human roles, and he captures Drury spot-on. Andy is better known now for his motion-capture work as ‘Gollum’ in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and ‘Cornelius’ in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, so I’m sure S&D&R&R was a rare treat for him.

Department of Free-Market Grandchild Solutions: a Hong Kong tycoon has offered a $65 million “marriage bounty” to any man who can win the heart of his lesbian daughter. For that kind of loot I could squeeze out a grandchild myself!

Before Kubric’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” the bar for science-fiction SFX films was set by Ray Harryhausen, a fanboy that made good.

Rolling Stone began a recent article with this provocative lede:

“The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Giving the vampire squids a bad name, they are! The vampire squid eats only the dead, unlike Goldman Sachs, which has to feed on the life-force of living things. Vampyroteuthis =  creepy, Goldman Sachs =  EVIL!!

Graham Hancock makes the case that politicians should have to drink ayahuasca 10 times. He’s more charitable that me, but okay. After 10 sessions with the ayahuasca if there’s still no empathy though, it’s time for a cold hemlock-tini.

Ups and Downs

September 26, 2012

I like browsing the US Patent Office, but don’t bother with their stupid patent viewer! Just do your search, grab the patent number of interest and feed it into Patent2Pdf instead, it’s much cleaner that way.

Every so often I like to take a dip in Technovelgy, inventions that originated in science fiction (Heinlein laid claim to the water bed). Halfbakery is another fun site, the sort of place you post your crazy ideas or just play piñata with other peoples’ brainstorms. HumansInvent is a nice showcase of creative problem solving and other neat stuff.

Tesla Motors has announced it will install a string of “supercharger” stations, some solar powered, throughout California, allowing Model S owners to charge-up for free in only 30-45 minutes. That “free” would be a powerful incentive for budget-minded types… like those of us that could never afford a Tesla in the first place. Still, it’s a neat idea and might do something to take some of the sting out of the big remaining downside to electrics: long recharge times.

Geeks of the world, unite! $1.32 million raised so far for the Tesla Museum land purchase. Who knew that Oatmeal could ever be so darned good?

Plagued by boundless optimism? There’s a cure for that now! It’s the perfect gift for the project manager in your life!

Felix Baumgartner prepares to take a dive from 23 miles up in early October. Talk about optimism!

How’s the weather up there, Curiosity? That daily 10% change in barometric pressure would sure make your ears pop on Earth.

For those upper-class twits sans wits:  an airline pilot makes the whole airplane window thing clear. EBM reminds us that the only aircraft in passenger service that had openable windows for passengers were airships.

You knew I had to do it: Auric Mittfinger opens the window for some fresh air at 28,000 feet.

The “Crank” Mystique

September 3, 2012

Andrew May has a post up on “Theoretical Crankology” that I highly recommend. It deals with the common perception that an interest in anomalies of any type  immediately gets you branded as a “crank”… even if it is the actual cranks that you are studying.  (Microbiologists must get some of the same treatment, because everyone knows that if you study microbes that you must be just dripping with Ebola yourself).  Andrew makes reference to Nick Redfern’s excellent “Ufologists: Do NOT Do These Things!“, which is pretty much a how-to on cementing your “crank-cred” in the public eye. Like Nick says: don’t do that!

Nick’s punch-list for generating a nauseatingly familiar “Bogus-Hunter” generic parastupid reality show is priceless and spot on (“The 10 Commandments of Paranormal TV“). By way of illustration, this SNL send-up of the genre with Hugh Laurie is a treasure…