Sunday, June 24, 2012

Here is what I am pondering about the Engineers in Prometheus

Please note: if your answer to any of the below is "movie magic", fair enough, point made. But what I am really interested in is any cool explanations and speculations for how it might actually work as a story, sci fi or not.

Question 1 (has many parts). Did the Engineers pop along to earth 3.5 billion years ago to start all of life on earth.. or 85 million years ago to start just the primates.. or between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago to start homo sapiens?

How close was the the DNA match between humans and engineers?

How quickly does DNA in general change with evolution? I am wondering this because if the story is asking us to believe we are an exact DNA match with the Engineers, then there is a big puzzle regarding how we turned from crumbling Engineer who drank the black juice to a new race a) within a short enough time that our DNA stayed the same and b) how we managed to "inject" ourselves into the fossil records?

I can imagine that they popped along to earth at any of the times listed above and that their tech is somehow so super smart that it could have even have triggered homo sapiens at any time in the chain - maybe it was like some sleeping function in the DNA that waited for the right conditions before working its magic?

Question 2. Why did they trigger the cave paintings to be made? (And was it indeed an invitation or something else?)

Question 3. Of course, the third question is the same question asked in the movie: why did they change their minds and decide to destroy us with alien black goo?

My pet theory for 2 and 3 is that they were truly interested in creating life and leaving a sign to see if we could grow up enough to follow it. But then over the proceeding thousands of years, their society changed and became more aggressive, more warlike. Perhaps they suffered a terrible war? Perhaps they even had a war with another species they created? Perhaps they have been seeding the galaxy for millennia before they popped along to earth and one of their earlier creations came to fruition, found the Enigneers and started a huge war that was so bad that the Engineers got scared and decided they should destroy their other creations before the whole thing could happen again?

What do you think?

I posed this question on IMDB too. :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Richard Pettifer is Awesome in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. You should see him!

I saw Richard Pettifer perform Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at La Mama theatre yesterday. It is awesome. You should see it.

In case you don't know, Mike Daisey does theatrical monologues that have a social conscience behind them. He did one about Steve Jobs, Apple and Foxconn (who makes devices for Apple and just about every other big tech company in the world) called The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs. None of the themes were new:

  • Steve Jobs was brilliant but also ruthless and a lot of people found him impossible to work with (watch Pirates of Silicon Valley).
  • Foxconn is in Shenzhen, a huge industrial city controlled by corporations where working hours and conditions make for a soulless, depressing existence for thousands of people (see The stark reality of iPod's Chinese factories - August 2006).
  • Steve Jobs knew about these conditions and still went ahead with production of Apple hardware there (like every other big hardware manufacturer). Steve Jobs spoke about this in an interview at the 2010 D8 Conference - here is a three minute extract where he specifically answers this question about Foxconn.

The monologue is an attempt to prick our conscience: to remind us that our tech has a human cost. It is powerful stuff. It got featured on This American Life, and was then retracted because they "learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated". This American Life made another episode all about the retraction, and I must say that Mike Daisey's answers were not forthright enough: I think he should have said outright that this work was a fictitious account, but based on facts - and if there was a reason why he couldn't use his exact experiences in the play, he should have stated those reasons. I think that his monologue should have been entirely factual in the first place, because all the controversy has diverted attention away from the message and can only cause distrust in Mike's work amongst people who might otherwise have been open to hearing what he has to say.

Richard Pettifer performs the monologue and places it in the context of the controversy from This American Life. He does it very simply, by playing an extract of the retraction episode before and after the monologue and wearing a t-shirt with "Liar" printed on it throughout. Richard's delivery of the monologue is intense - I saw the emotion in his eyes and it resonated with me. He told a story I certainly related to about how our lives change with technology, about loving our favourite devices, and about a sense of disillusionment that comes from knowing a few truths behind the construction of this wonderful technology. Richard's presentation was sparse, which suited the venue and allowed me to focus so much more on his delivery. The way he put the monologue within the context of this recent controversy shifted the central theme of the monologue for me in a very interesting way: knowing that Mike Daisey's account of his visit to Shenzhen was not entirely accurate, is there enough truth for us to still be concerned about conditions at Foxconn? Can a liar still be telling us the truth?

The venue is worth commenting on here, because La Mama's plays a very important part in any production set there. La Mama's is small: it only seats maybe 20 or 30 people. When you sit in the front row, you are less than two meters away from the performers. There is no anonymity here: the actors' stare hits you full in the face - they see you as well as you see them. My first time at La Mama's was to see Strands with my Dad and one of the actresses looked me in the eye when she asked a question and for precious seconds I couldn't decide if I was meant to answer aloud! The point is that the venue brings you so close to the performer that the barrier between audience and participant is very thin - they are not actors on a distant stage: they are people talking directly to you. After the show, the actors will join you in the little courtyard - I enjoyed a very lively conversation with Richard and my fellow audience, and we discussed at length some of the issues involved in the performance. My partner Süheyla expressed a very important consideration: this is not just an issue with Steve Jobs - it is a question about the cycle created by capitalism.

Thank you Richard Pettifer - it was a great performance, and I look forward to seeing what you work on next. Props to you as well for setting up the blog just for this performance.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

iTunes Video Stuttering on Win 7 - use VLC Instead

About a month or two ago I noticed that video playback on iTunes (on Windows 7) was stuttering - the audio would remain in sync, but every few seconds the video would stutter or freeze for a moment. Audio files play fine. Tonight I updated to iTunes and the problem is still occurring. I experience this issue even when iTunes is not otherwise busy doing something else, like updating an iOS device etc. I checked the drive and it has heaps of space available.

A search on the Apple Community forums for iTunes video stuttering (or a Google search for the same thing) reveals a lot of people have the same questions with no answers.

I was going to check if I needed to defrag my drive when I decided to play the very same m4v file in VLC (2.0.1) - and it plays fine! So how's that for a work-around: I won't watch Apple media files on Apple's player anymore. (Playback on my Apple TV unit also seems fine, so I have that too.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Two men who killed each other in the most honourable way possible - in prose.

I love the story of the relationship between Robert Block and H.P. Lovecraft: two men who killed each other in the most honourable way possible - in prose.

From the Reader's Almanac post, What Robert Bloch owes to H. P. Lovecraft:

One of the stories Bloch wrote while Lovecraft was alive featured Lovecraft as a character, killed by a monster. Weird Tales required Bloch to get the victim's permission before publishing the story, and Lovecraft authorized Bloch "to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled THE SHAMBLER FROM THE STARS." In November 1935 Lovecraft responded in kind with "The Haunter of the Dark," in which young Robert Blake (living at Bloch's actual address) is killed by an alien. He dedicated the story to Bloch.

I got to searching this out by listening to Drabblecast 213 – The Haunter of the Dark. Drabblecast is about the most amazing podcast in the entire known Universe btw.

For the full text of the other piece featured on that Drabblecast episode, the poem Fungi from Yuggoth, see Fungi from Yuggoth on the H.P. Lovecraft site.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This Easter

This Easter I spent an eventful and sorrowful week with friends at the Gold Coast, in a little suburb called Mermaid Beach right on the coast, with such rough waves that it was perfect for surfing. It so happens that there is a modest tower on the beach that used to be a light house some hundred and twelve years ago, but which has recently been converted into a bell tower, used for signaling the beginning and end of the local surf events. On the day of my arrival, a surfing festival was running for that week and there was a commotion around the tower. Upon questioning, I learned that a man of extremely short stature, a humped back and no arms had shown up and asked for the recently vacated job of alarm activation specialist at the tower. We all watched a demonstration of his skills: after climbing the modest, but still rather tall tower, he made a mighty leap and struck the bell with his head! The sound was clear and pure and indeed he did not seem hurt by this. For two days I would walk down the beach each morning and hear him perform his duties so admirably. But on the third day, I was passing the tower as he made his leap - and the poor fellow missed! He tumbled down some ten metres and fell to his death on the sand below. A crowd of us gathered around as the police arrived, and the sergeant asked if any among us knew his name. With tears in my eyes, I responded honestly: "no, but his face rings a bell."

The poor man was identified later that day and his family notified. We were all downcast, but the next morning I cannot say that I have ever been more surprised to find that, when I took my morning stroll, there was another man of extremely short stature, a humped back and no arms climbing the tower. Upon enquiring among the gathering crowd, I learned that this man was the sibling of the earlier misfortunate alarm activation specialist and, in memory of his sibling, had applied for the same position. I stood still as the man reached the top of the tower, stood facing us bravely for a short moment and leapt into space - but missed the bell! We gave out a collective gasp of shock as he too fell that same ten metres down to his death on the sand. The sergeant was once more called to the scene and in a low voice asked if anyone knew the man's name. Again with tears welling I replied "No I don't know his name, but he is a dead ringer for his brother."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It was the sound

It was the sound of a cockroach slowly crawling out of my ear and across my pillow, its feet making tracks on my linen with the sticky resin of an over-drawn thought trying too hard to become a dream. It was that sound that brought me renewed wakefulness, and a strange clarity regarding the negative affects of drinking coffee at 11.30 at night.