Archive for July 2014

The Convenience of Alternate Reality   Leave a comment

sleep

Sleep, Salvador Dali, 1937

Just once, I’d like to experience alternate reality.  It’d be so cool.  Its applications easily transform a life of drudgery into one of utter convenience and comfort.

How?  Glad you asked.

Need a vacation?  Press capital “A” and “R” and “enter” on the keyboard.  And there you are, adrift on a tranquil otherworldly beach, fingers tracing a path in the water as you doze contentedly on a bamboo raft.  The best part is, it doesn’t cost you a cent.  Only a bit of a time share of the brain is all that’s needed for a quick and secure purchase.

But why limit yourself?  Imagine all those options now available at the tap of your fingers…

A teenaged daughter melts down in the throes of a mind-bending temper tantrum, the cause of which is as remote and unidentifiable as the chances of the United States winning the World Cup.  Tap the keys and gently glide her towards the closet et voila!  She vanishes into an alternate reality where organization, good grades and a clean bedroom floor rule the culture.

Or the unreasonable boss whose unending, bellicose rants that spew unfathomable opinions regarding what’s possible and what isn’t, and invariably differs from yours, everyone else’s and even the client:  an accidentally-on-purpose keyboard maneuver zaps the offending creature-person into a universe filled with vegetarian peace mongers whose lives are governed by reason and silent meditation.

Sending people off into ARs is terrifically, wonderfully cathartic.  If one had the will to jettison any nasty, reprehensible being into a space-time continuum that requires that person to experience/do what only the reaches of fantasy could dream up, prisons would be a thing of the past.

AR isn’t necessarily punishment for evil.  It’s also a reward for good.  The desperate street person stands in a lush, vibrant Eden after offering assistance to a stranger.  A poor young mother struggling with an empty refrigerator and bank account suddenly grapples with luxury in a 110-roomed mansion, complete with a  safe stuffed with cash hidden behind a library portrait.

One often sees ARs pop up in science fiction.  Alternative worlds, even universes exist, habituated with mirror versions of ourselves living lives alien to our own.  Trouble is, where are these places?  Presently, we can’t seem to determine how our own universe came into being, let alone figure out its size.  Where are we supposed to locate a portal to the plane of existence that remedies, curses, challenges or accentuates the very qualities humans of Earth lack or ignore?

It’s around someplace.  It has to be.  I have about 30 socks waiting to join their partners there.

The Non-Walker Zombie from Outer Space   Leave a comment

ZOMBIE-tmagSF

Illustration: NASA

Now, doesn’t that sound like a great title for a sci-fi novel?

Actually, this story’s true and it is a great story for a movie.

Way back when Jimmy Carter was president, in 1978, the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 was launched with the mission to investigate solar wind’s interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field.  Later, it was renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) to study comets.  In September 1985, it passed through the tail of Comet Giacobini-Zinner, and in 1986 it was tasked with the mission to observe Halley’s Comet.  During the same year, three rocket burns put it on a course to position it above the moon on August 10, 2014.  With the ICE so near, a space shuttle could snatch it and return it to earth, and NASA had this in mind because it planned to donate it to the National Air and Space Museum.

After a few more missions, it was retired in 1997, although it loops around the sun in a 355 day orbit.  It will catch up with and pass the Earth this August 2014.  But in 1999, the Deep Space Network was upgraded and the transmitters that communicated with ICE were themselves retired, although no one said this to ICE, who continued its end of the bargain by remaining open to communication.  It’s sort of like being kept on hold and waiting forever, without anyone telling you that the person who put you there went home a long time ago, leaving you to listen to horrible Kenny G music in the meantime.

And really, that should have been the end of the story.  But it isn’t.

Within the confines of yet another decommissioned icon, an entrepreneurial engineer named Dennis Wingo has managed the impossible.  He and his team have begun communicating with ICE once more.  Mr. Wingo’s company is Skycorp and it’s located in an ex-McDonalds in a decommissioned Navy base that has been repurposed for nonprofits, academia and small technology firms.

A decommissioned satellite linked with a decommissioned burger factory is kind of cool.  There’s something very Max Headroom about it.  I like it.

Through Mr. Wingo’s determination, a group of engineers, including those who originally worked on the project, plus a crowd funding site RocketHub, they raised approximately $160,ooo to breathe life in the old gal.  And NASA’s doing its part too, donating time on its Deep Space Network to help getting ICE going again.

ICE is still doing its job out there and observing solar flares and other phenomena, as was discovered.  So there was great optimism to position it over the moon as originally planned, which now requires 400 pulses to place it over the sweet spot.  There’s been a few minor setbacks, but if all goes well, Mr. Wingo and his team are all set to pull ICE into a moon gravity-based slingshot into an orbit around the earth, so it can receive instructions for a new mission.

I have to admit that this story has me cheering.  Why should there be a whole pile of forgotten and unused satellites and space paraphernalia after NASA and all the world’s other space agencies no longer need them?  It’s an excellent opportunity for others, corporations like Skycorp but also universities and even astronomy and engineering clubs to find other purposes for them?  Sure, one can say that leaves opportunities for crimes we haven’t even imagined yet.  On the other hand, I’m sticking with the belief that a lot of good can come from that zombie named ICE, and its other colleagues out there.

Just imagine the stories that can be dreamed up from this real-life adventure…

 

 

 

 

 

Official “Star Wars” Leaks   Leave a comment

You knew it had to happen.

With the impending arrival of “Star Wars: Episode Seven”, there’s all kinds of stuff being posted on YouTube.  My husband sent me one link today and after viewing it, I drooled.  If you hadn’t seen this one already, go ahead, take a glimpse:

Note the exquisite detail.  Whoever did this is a dedicated geek worthy of award status.

Of course, if you have that, you’re also going to have to look at the leaked TMZ photos of Episode 7, too.  Since these have been out for a while and no doubt everyone’s had a look already, I’m including these as a matter of convenience.  You know, so you can geek out all in one space.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/06/leaked-star-wars-footage_n_5562440.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share#slide=start

Enjoy!

The Plot Thickens   2 comments

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Image: Lynette Cook, NASA

There’s a brisk business in the sci-fi fiction world wherein writers devise plots regarding worlds thousands of millions of light years yonder, only reachable by wormholes or imagination.  At the same time, astronomers here on earth keep their eyes stuck to their favorite observing instrument of choice seeking out new planets, and, because there appears to be an obvious lack of wormholes (or so I believe; I could be wrong), they use their imaginations to conceive images of what these new worlds would look like.

On Independence Day, I sat on the porch of my parents’ house (so hard still to visit and not see my mother there) and flipped through the offerings on Endgadget.  A posted article entitled, “The first potentially habitable alien planets we ever found – might not actually exist,” written by Richard Lawler caught my attention.  In it, he writes about Gliese 581g, a planet orbiting Gliese 581, a star located in the constellation Libra.  What made Gliese 581g so intriguing is its location in the “Goldilocks zone,” so called because it’s the correct distance from its sun to possess a moderate temperature for liquid water – not too hot or cold.  It had also been determined that the planet didn’t spin on its axis and one side was perpetually in the dark.  Artists created imaginative drawings, dreaming up visions of what this planet could look like.

Alas, it appears to have been all for naught.  Spectrographic readings taken from Gliese 581 now indicate that 581g might actually not exist.  How is that possible?  The short answer is that the very signals that determined a planet might be located in a particular place also can be attributed to another source, say, “space stuff.”  What would have produced a signal for the spectrometer to read no longer exists.  It faded.  Disappeared.  Or, alternatively, may have been misread.

What a delicious idea for a plot.

Take it from the 581g’s point of view.  Of course, that wouldn’t be the name of the planet.  In my head, it’d be more like Ulele or Onodon – a whispery moniker reminiscent of mystery and exotica.  For millennia the habitants, fiercely protective of their unique home, shrouded their visibility because of a unique feature Ulele/Onodon hosts.  A signal accidentally launched by a careless Uleleian/Onodonite as it lit its cigarette on a rations replenish break, triggers a spectrograph that sits in the Earth lab of Dr. Jill Jackson, a red-headed ball of fire pouncing on a grand opportunity to stake her position as the sharpest astrophysicist in the universe.  Having maxed out her credit cards and on the brink of credit collapse, she aims for the Nobel Prize and its generous financial reward and reveals her discovery to fellow scientists.  Unbeknownst to her, the Ulele/Onodons are hot on her trail, thanks to sensitive instruments tuned to the merest hint of detective devices such as the one Dr. Jackson uses, and seek revenge…but not before re-cloaking their planet.  Vowing to hunt her down like an unwanted cockroach in a Harlem apartment, Ulele/Onodon Fowler Falx is hot on her trail, and won’t stop until she’s obliterated and vanishes from view…just like 581g.

See, that explanation is much more entertaining than, “We thought we saw something…honest!…but it just…disappeared.  Or, a similar incident as detailed above really happened and no one will admit it, because as any watcher of any sci-fi series involving space generally hide evidence regarding alien encounters.  Since the jury is out on aliens’ actual existence, I’d like to seize this celestial development and give it a life, thicken its plot and give it hope for the future.

Keep your eyes to the skies, folks.  The universe is filled with enigmas.

 

Happy Independence Day!   Leave a comment

Independence-Day-1996-MOvie-Image

Scene from the movie, “Independence Day” 

Hooray for America!  Tomorrow is Independence Day, otherwise known as The Fourth of July.  It’s a big deal in this part of the world, mainly because we get the day off, drink beer, eat BBQ and shoot off fireworks in the hope that the cops won’t show up and have you arrested for setting fire to the neighbor’s roof.

July 4th has always been about fireworks of a sort, especially when the aliens come and visit.  You never know what they have up their sleeve, those sneaky gits.  Take, for example, the well-regarded film, “Independence Day.”  As pictured above, the aliens had plans about freeing Americans from the slinky tethers of the White House, because they knew to arrive there and blow it up.  Out of all the grand buildings dotted across the USA, the aliens carefully researched the most appealing targets and thoughtfully removed them from the map.  Intentionally, aliens freed ordinary Americans from the drudgery of law, order and the relative stability of a democratically-elected government…or made a statement about the Tea Party and the Koch brothers.

Independence_Day_Alien

“Independence Day” Alien

Aliens, on occasion, are sticky.  I could name a whole bunch of films that depict our off-world colleagues as drippy, goo-piles that slurp and ooze.  It’s never explained why, but I’m certain if a human should, on the brink of death at the alien’s hand, mentioned that their acceptability rate would skyrocket if they only dried off a bit, then the inevitable all-Earth obliteration would be so much more palatable.  So here’s our friend that I’ll name Indy, dripping.  It could be that the crack in his skull is releasing vital body fluids, or it secretes when harmed/threatened.  Either way, it’s gross.  Stop it, already, before your cred plummets even further!

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Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore, in “Independence Day” 

Often, American presidents are played by grey-haired but dignified old(er) men.  Who wasn’t impressed with prime-of-his-life, hunky Bill Pullman as the ex-Air Force pilot tackling those nasty aliens?  Instead of sitting on his buttocks complaining about the state of things, he went out and did the job himself, just like Obama does when he gets sick of all that congressional shilly-shallying.  And yes, he didn’t quite get rid of the problem (that was left to Randy Quaid, possessor of a problematic off-camera life), but gee, doesn’t he look hot just for trying?

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Brent Spiner as Dr. Brackish Okun in “Independence Day”

What sci-fi film would be complete without data…or Data?  Playing against type, Brent moved away from his android role in ST: TNG to this guy.  Here’s something a few of you might not have known: around the same time (or at least the same decade), he appeared on Broadway in the play, “1776,” which is also about American independence.  I went.  Even took my parents.  And damn, he was good.  The man can sing!

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Swaggering heroes Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum

Because this is an American film using an American holiday as its title, America is entitled, so to speak, to claim the victory.  While three-quarters of the planet’s wiped out, Americans came in and saved the day!  Woo hoo!

So what are you going to do tomorrow?  My suggestion: watch completely predictable, over-the-top, stereotyped-rife Independence Day.  What better way to celebrate?

And you don’t even need to be an American to do so.

 

Children: Alien Specialty   Leave a comment

Devil's Tower

Credit:  Andrew Chattaway – Moon over Devil’s Tower

 

With kids and cute aliens helping out each other again this summer, I’d thought I’d focus on a few past endeavors by Hollywood that exploits children for the greater good of the alien’s quest to rule the planet, or at least have some practical use for it.  Generally, all the aliens wind up doing is using the kids (or their friends/family) to stick it to the man, break laws, wreak havoc and make a positive, heartwarming impression on the kid(s) that will guide them through the rest of their lives.

Quick!  Name five films wherein aliens and kids meet up, bond and learn important life lessons that will guide them through their formative year and beyond.  Name two wherein Devil’s Tower figures prominently.

Drawing a blank?  Here’s mine:

1) E.T. – An obvious choice, eh?  Such a story: a lonely kid from a broken marriage meets up with an ugly-but-cute alien who is also a fugitive from those nasty government people.  After a few tentative missteps, alien and kid learn a few things off of each other and discover that being different has its assets.  Older brother totally embraces the outlaw aspect of harboring said fugitive, gets friends on board to skirt the law after a scary brush with it, then everyone goes on a quasi-high speed dodge-’em bike chase to lose the cops and send E.T. back to the planets.  It’s a heartwarming tale meant to leave the viewer with a warm, glowing feeling…just like the pulsating chest of E.T.  Kids also learn the value of sticking it to The Man by learning that all government officials are evil, hostile sorts who have absolutely no business wondering just exactly what kind of being from another planet goes after young innocents and teaches them how to get away with breaking nation security protocols.

2) Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Kid actually gets abducted by stereotypical, pale verdigris aliens and winds up in a ginormous ship from which mobs of abductees are eventually unloaded back to the planet where they were first plucked.  It’s assumed they’ve been probed, charted, analyzed and documented for future use.  Cherub child, abducted in early scenes of film, runs towards Mommy (who’s been skirting the law herself trying to get the kid back) once he’s set free.  In the film, it’s mentioned that some have an unusual force beckoning them towards the expected alien landing site.  Apparently, they were invited to attend, and the calling card is an unshakable mental image of a strange-shaped mountain located somewhere in the American West.  Well, the kid was dragged through a doggie door.  I get the distinct impression it wasn’t his idea to come to the party or he even had the faintest idea of what Devil’s Tower even was, where it stood or why he, of all kids, was selected for this particular space venture.  Apart from being scarred for life with post-traumatic stress disorder from his abduction, we know that child is going to be just…fine…

3) The Day the Earth Stood Still – Little Bobby Benson’s Dad died in World War II, and Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter’s just the guy who’ll show him not only how to improve his math skills, but nuclear bombs are a bad idea because if anyone on Earth’s ever going to use them, Klaatu’s going to teach all those naughty, nasty Earthlings a big lesson they’ll never forget.  The government’s going after Klaatu, so he uses Bobby’s mom Helen as his ticket to freedom and get back to Gort and that big ship sitting on the President’s Park ellipse.  Kids learn that while they might be able to skirt the law together with their new-found alien friend, their parents might.

4)  Mars Attacks! – Now, these are teenagers that wind up being victorious in the end.  What’s cool about this one is Natalie Portman, as the president’s daughter Taffy Dale, winds up giving Lukas Haas, another teenager, the Medal of Honor, all because Slim Whitman yodeling makes the Martians heads explode.  There really is no law to skirt here, but if nothing else, the cheese factor’s on overload, with Tom Jones providing plenty of it for the film.  Natalie Portman would go on to play Padmé Amidala in the “first three episodes” of Star Wars films.

5) Paul – This one’s a bit of a stretch, but Paul landed on Tara Walton’s dog, who was stigmatized her entire life and called a freak because she met a real alien and no one believed her.  A child at the time, she suffered insults from other kids thinking she was a reclusive nut case, which she did become.  In the end, we find out that she isn’t really skirting the law, only trying to have a wonderful adventure to make up for the rotten hand that Paul dealt her by helping him escape the G-men out to nab Paul for the Big Guy.  One can only imagine the misadventures that lie ahead for both she and her old friend, Paul.  And yes, they go to Devil’s tower, where everyone know aliens go for a good time.

So. What’s your favorite child & alien film?

 

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