Monday, 29 September 2008

Private Spaces

A common theme in science fiction is the domination of space by private corporations. This has always seemed to fly in the face of our government-dominated space programs, but now that's all changed.

Yesterday SpaceX successfully launched Falcon 1, the first privately owned liquid-fuel rocket to achieve orbit.

Along with Virgin Galactic, SpaceX are trying to position themselves as a player in this brave new off-world. But unlike Virgin, SpaceX aren't planning tourist rides.

They're aiming to provide the serious stuff . . . satellite launches, freight services and transport to the International Space Station. And it's no coincidence that this is all happening just two years out from NASA's planned decommissioning of the shuttle program.

This is all very exciting. It seems the only question now is not when will we get back to the moon, but rather who will the major sponsors be?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

RSC Renames LHC

The Royal Society for Chemistry has conducted a public poll to choose a better name for the Large Hadron Collider.

Apparently just naming something after what it does is soooo last century.

Anyway, the resounding winner was "Halo".

Which I must admit has a certain ring to it.

Tintin Movie News

Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson's much-talked-about Tintin trilogy has hit a small bump in the road, with Universal pulling funding after getting nervous about the $130m price tag.

Word is that Paramount is in discussions to step into the breach, although given Spielberg's DreamWorks studio is in the process of a protracted and messy divorce from Paramount, negotiations could be interesting.

On the casting front, it's rumoured that Nick Frost and Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will be playing the Thompson Twins.

Note that that's these Thompson Twins . . .

not these ones . . .

Of course the latter was named after the former, but I'm still not expecting Hold Me Now to make it onto the soundtrack.

Hoping. But not expecting.

Paul Newman

Screen legend Paul Newman has passed away at the age of 83, following a long battle with cancer.

This drastically changes the leaderboard for the 2008 dead pool, with Spoon taking the lead on 17 points.

It's a close-run thing, however, with Kate coming second on 16 points.

There's still three months to go, so anything could yet happen.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Closing Hospitals in the Name of God

In a staggeringly arrogant move, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has threatened to close Catholic-run hospitals if proposed changes to abortion laws in Victoria are passed.

His position is that Catholic employees would be required to perform abortions and they couldn't possibly do that in good conscience and maintain their religious freedom and blah blah blah.


I'll leave aside the rightness-or-otherwise of the proposed changes, and I won't dwell on the fact that not all employees of Catholic hospitals are necessarily Catholic, and just say that this beautifully illustrates the danger of allowing essential services to be hijacked by religious interests.

Churches have long made a habit of attaching themselves to charitable enterprises. This is partly out of a genuine desire to do good works, and partly out of a genuine desire to promote their brand . . . much like a Hollywood celebrity being photographed holding a starving African child.

But like the child being unceremoniously dropped when the next $20m pay packet comes up, the charity will always come second to maintaining the Church's perceived moral authority.

So good works are done and people are helped. It's all well and good until they start believing their own publicity.

Case in point: Mr. Hart seems to think that if he makes good on his threat, medical services will suffer because surely nobody other than Catholics would have the social conscience needed to run a hospital.

Doesn't he realise there'll be a huge line of providers ready and willing to immediately step into the breach? There's lots of money in medicine.

But of course he knows that.

After all, that's the other reason the Church got into it in the first place.

Monday, 22 September 2008


After its US release almost three months ago, Pixar's new film WALL-E has finally been released here in Australia.

Presumably local distributors are banking on the just-begun school holidays to rake in the crowds, but this is far from just a kid's film.

It carries a deep environmental message without moralising, a level of character development rarely seen, and some of the most sophisticated CGI animation around.

I won't bother recounting the plot (you'd have to be living under a rock not to know what this film's about so if you have been living under a rock, you can read all about it here), but I will say that for all its complexity this is paradoxically one of Pixar's most accessible films, and it's not nearly as preachy as you might expect.

As a science fiction movie it ticks all the boxes with technology writ large on a dystopian future, the theme of what-does-it-mean-to-be-human explored in some new and interesting ways, and repeated references (both explicit and implicit) to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While the film is generally brilliant the opening scenes are the strongest, with little robot WALL-E working away conscientiously on a devastated Earth. The film loses focus a little when the story moves into space and we see what has become of the human race, but it all comes together in the end.

And like most Pixar films it's well worth staying through the credits to catch the artfully-rendered epilogue to the story.

It's been well worth the wait.

4.5 out of 5

Friday, 19 September 2008

Later That Week

I've been a little distracted this week, hence the lack of updates here.

And it's actually been a good week for blogging. There've been so many interesting things to write about.

We've had alien signals from space, clergymen coming out and openly admitting that God probably isn't real (well, duh), the resignation of Michael Reiss (the Royal Society's Director of Eduction) over his comments about teaching creationism in science classes (actually I might still do one on that), and I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight.

Well, I'm back now.

And the reason I've not seen fit to blog about any of this is . . . we're moving house!

We're buying a cool new place not far from where we're living now, and so have spent the entire week talking to (in no particular order) real estate agents, solicitors, bank people, land surveyors and building inspectors.

I'll try not to let the blog devolve into a blow-by-blow on the trials of moving, but it's sure to impose in some sense, particularly given that one of my major life goals right now is the acquisition of appropriately-sized cardboard boxes.

Anyway, here's a couple of pictures.

These are obviously the real estate ad shots and therefore very flatteringly lit.

It is pretty cool, but of course the main thing is it'll be great to once again live in a place where we can bash holes in the walls if we want to.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Another Argument

Following on from the last one I have once again been arguing with Stan over at the Atheism Analyzed blog.

It's not quite as philosophically analytical as the last one, but still interesting nonetheless.

You can follow all the action here.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Atheism and Me - Part 2

There are many reasons to be an atheist.

There are arguments from materiality, from nature, from the philosophy of logical positivism, and lots of little contradictions in religious scripture which you can have endless pedantic fun pointing out to believers.

But when you get down to it, these arguments are just artifacts of non-faith, in exactly the same way that the rejection of such arguments is an artifact of faith.

I didn't become an atheist because of any of these arguments. And I wouldn't expect anyone to reject their beliefs on the basis of these arguments.

So why atheism? It's actually very simple. The most obvious reason to accept atheism is the simplest.

And it's simply this: every religion is clearly and evidently the invention of humans.

There is nothing in any religion that's even mildly convincing as an argument for the existence of a deity.

Every piece of scripture that is oh-so imperfectly worded, every purported miracle that turns out to be a hoax, every claim of Godly omnipotence that can't seem to do anything more than bestow a "good feeling" in its believers . . .

This is supposed to be an all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent God. So why is he completely and utterly invisible, literally and metaphorically?

Why are so many of the claims of His believers so patently false? Why can't they agree on even the basics of the "truth" that has apparently been divinely revealed? Why are there are no miracles? Why are there no healings?

But most importantly, why is there no power in religion? It all so embarrassingly weak.

If all this theology is the construct of a God, then that God is hardly worthy of our praise.

And if it isn't . . . well that would certainly explain a lot, wouldn't it?

Doomsday . . . ?

Just looked at my watch and realised the LHC was scheduled to be fired up 22 minutes ago.

Assuming it's all gone according to plan, and the fact that I can say categorically we're still all here, it looks like it hasn't caused the end of the world after all.

Given all the build-up, hype, and death threats pointed at the CERN scientists, a lot people are going to be very disappointed.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Monday, 8 September 2008

Seen on Collins Street

Last Saturday employees of the new Rolex store in Collins Street were handing out copies of Saturday's Age.

By an astounding coincidence, that particular edition featured a large wrap-around ad for their shiny new store, although observers noted that the wrap-around had mysteriously migrated from the innards to the outards.

Anyway, like most attempts to give away anything for free, these bastions of charity were met with suspicion, derision and in some cases, outright hostility. Which just goes to show, once again, that no good(ish) deed ever goes unpunished.

I can understand the frustration of the less well-dressed who oddly weren't offered a free paper, but I'm a little more bemused by the people who refused to take one in livid protest at the recent cutbacks at Age publisher Fairfax.

Apart from the fact that these people are obviously bleeding-heart lefties and therefore probably not in the market for a Rolex anyway, I doubt Ron Walker will be all that worried.

After all, the paper had already been paid for.

People are funny.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Distant Digital Futures

An article in today's Age talks about the eventual switchoff of Australia's analog television signals and the permanent move to digital.

The point of the article is that, for the Luddites among us . . .
". . . the Federal Government is considering offering financial and other incentives to convince people to upgrade from analog to digital television before the 2013 analog switch-off."

I would have thought that the option of digital-or-nothing would be incentive enough. But hey, what do I know?

Anyway, the switch-off date made me do a double take. It's 2013 now?

The last I heard it was going to be 2010. And that was after it had already been pushed back from the original target of 2008.

This is bad. Until the analog signals are gone and we've opened up the (much wider) digital spectrum to some decent competition, there's no incentive at all for our oligopolous free-to-air stations to lift their game.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the FTA stations have engineered the delay in an attempt to retain the status quo. If they have, then it'll prove a costly mistake.

They desperately need someone to drag them into the 21st century. In five years' time, free-to-air television will be even less relevant than it is now, with downloadable, streaming and subscription content continuing to take over.

If our FTA stations are still doing then what they're doing now, then before long they'll be nothing more than a distant memory.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

An Interesting Argument

When I'm in the mood, I sometimes wander around the intertubes looking for arguments, particularly of the theism/atheism variety.

An interesting one is going on at moment over at Atheism Analyzed. Stan has written a really interesting multi-part series of posts on why rejection of deism on the basis of scientific argument is irrational.

I've been meaning to write a post on this myself (with, as it happens, very similar arguments but different conclusions) so I jumped on in. My comments are on #4 in the series, although I'm mainly referring to the argument in #2.

It's all a bit wordy and analytical, but I know some of my readers are into that sort of thing. So feel free to jump on in too.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

L to the H to the LHC

Just one more week until the Large Hadron Collider is cranked up to full power and starts bashing particles together at close to the speed of light.

There've had a couple of successful runs bashing particles into blocks of concrete, but really. One does not applaud the tenor for clearing his throat.

So hang on to your hats, kids. The secrets of the Universe are about to be revealed. We might even find that legendary Higgs Boson.

But to keep you amused until then, here's a brief introductory video.

Monday, 1 September 2008


Last night we were treated to the world premiere of Scorched, a new Australian bushfire disaster movie.

It was disappointing, to be honest. But this isn't completely surprising. Apart from a brief flirtation with low-budget exploitation films in the seventies, Australian filmmakers don't have a great history when it comes to genre films.

In a sense, we've been victims of our own (limited) success.

Muriel's Wedding sent everyone scrambling to produce the next low-budget family comedy, and Lantana prompted a huge volume of overwrought family drama.

While these were great films and it's all very well to try to produce more stuff like that, you can't make a living from it.

You need a regular round of crowd-pleasers to fill the coffers, which can then in turn support the quality productions.

So where are the action movies? Where are the buddy comedies? Where are the horror films? Where are the gangster/heist/caper movies?

We have hordes of great screenwriters, directors, and actors ready and willing to ditch their artistic integrity and pump out some lowest-common-denominator dross for a quick buck. So what's the problem?

Well, it's actually quite simple. In fact, Scorched typifies precisely what the problem is, and it's this:

Australians just don't get how to make genre films.

Example: Scorched is a disaster movie about a ring of bushfires threatening Sydney. As such I, the viewer, go in expecting three basic elements:

(1) A shot of an enormous fire-front looming over the city, silhouetting the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge;

(2) A group of wild-eyed characters realising the ground is shaking, just before being almost trampled by a herd of kangaroos fleeing the flames, preferably down George Street; and

(3) A crazed religious character from Queensland, screeching that the fires are God's wrath against the city of sin, and then attempting to stop the flames with prayer before meeting a fiery death.

These are the basic, basic elements of this sort of film. And they just weren't there.

What we got instead was a film with far too much introspection and far too many attempts to be clever.

And that's the problem. This sort of movie isn't about chin-stroking reflection.

It's about visceral reaction. It's a popcorn movie. It's a gee-whiz special effects thrill ride.

This is disaster porn, for goodness sake.

Now do it properly.

A New French Verb

To Google.

This is a regular verb, and hence takes the form googler.

The conjugation is as follows:

Je google
Tu googles
Il google
Nous googlons
Vous googlez
Ils googlent

Babelfish doesn't appear to recognise this. But I suppose that's not surprising.

After all, it's owned by Yahoo.