February 27, 2006

Get Smarter, People!

Category: Entertainment — Cranky @

Yesterday I saw a trailer for a new movie called “Ultraviolet”. It appears to be another in a long line of style-heavy action thrillers. It’s discardable entertainment, and nobody expects a movie like this to be heard of when the Oscar nominees are announced. That’s fine.

I don’t expect all movies to be deep, powerful pieces of art. Sometimes I want prime rib, and sometimes I just want a hamburger. From time to time I like ramen noodles. A movie like this is ramen soup for the brain. There’s no real nutritional value involved… but that’s not the point.

As I watched the trailer, I heard Milla Jovovich say in voice-over, “Those of us that survived extinction started fighting back.”

This type of slipshod writing is a symptom of our diminishing literacy levels in North America. If you survive something, it mean something happened and you were alive afterwards. Nobody survives extinction. Either it happens or it doesn’t. By definition it is an all-or-nothing situation. If you survived, extinction isn’t involved. What you may survive is the “threat” of extinction.

What amazes me is how many people dropped the ball on this one. Some “writer”, probably the stupid cousin of some studio exec, had to come up with the dialog. A writing editor had to approve it. The director gave it the okay, and so did the producer. The actress had to record it. The studio engineers had to process it. The video editor married sound to film. Finally everybody involved had to review the final product and give it their blessing.

Nobody caught it.

How does stuff like this get on the air? We need to stop stupidity like this from becoming the norm.


February 23, 2006

And Step and Turn and One and Two…

Category: Science And Technology — Cranky @

Every day I walk to and from work, over several types of terrain, not all of which is even. I’m not particularly proud of this fact… after all, walking is something I’ve done for 35 years. I should be rather good at it by now. But perhaps I should take some pride in it.

One of the thorniest problems faced by today’s robotic engineers involves balance. Robotics has come a long way, but real balance eludes even the most advanced units. Not that there aren’t some pretty amazing robots out there… Sony’s QRIO is a wonderful example of how far we’ve come. It can run (to an extent), jump, dance and throw a ball. But as soon as anything untoward enters the picture – say, an uneven surface where a smooth one is expected – well, down she goes.

This problem is important because one day we want to put exploration units on other planets, and not have them limited to terrain that can be driven across. There are units being prepped by various agencies for this purpose, but most involve four or five legs, and immense amounts of time to move. Each step requires the solidifying and testing of all legs except one, the careful movement of that leg, and then another analysis of the current state before the process begins again. A trip that would take a man twenty seconds might take such a unit days, or even weeks, to accomplish.

We run, jump, stagger, waver, and sometimes we fall down… but more often we stay on our feet. Balance is an amazing thing. I can carry a full laptop bag with books and my gait and center of gravity simply adjust to accommodate the new distribution.

When a talented shooter girl moves through a crowded bar without spilling her tray, we’re seeing a stunning example of biological adaptation assert itself. Often we also might be seeing a stunning example of basic physical structure… but that’s neither here nor there.

The balance system is elegant and simple. In the inner ear there is something called the vestibular system. It is composed of three semicircular canals, at different planes to each other. One for up/down, one for side to side, and one for tilting from one side to the other. The tubes are filled with fluid, and contain sensory hair cells that detect motion in that fluid.

So when you move, the fluid moves, the hairs inside are stimulated, and the brain interprets the motion in order to tell your orientation, and to maintain equilibrium.

It seems so easy, but if you ask the engineers they’ll tell you it’s not easy at all. Mind you they’ve only been working on the problem for fifty years or so. Nature had one hell of a head start.

Think I’m gonna take a walk and be impressed with myself now.


February 20, 2006

And The Sheep Lay Down With The Lions

Category: Science And Technology — Cranky @

Something wonderful has happened. We may be on the edge of a new age of enlightenment.

I’ve discussed evolution versus intelligent design in several articles. I do believe that they do not really have to be enemies. I’ve said before that evolution does not deny God, or any creator. My complaint has to do with the teaching of intelligent design as a science when it is nothing of the sort. It’s religion through and through.

I’ve also claimed that even most religious organizations don’t disbelieve evolution. After all, any microbiology textbook is absolutely stuffed with proof. The problems come when one tries to reconcile the timeline of the bible with the timeline of nature. A few thousand years, or three billion… they don’t quite agree.

I’m absolutely thrilled to say that a large body of clergy has now come out on the side of evolution, and against intelligent design. Warren Eschbach of the Church of the Brethren, a retired pastor and professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, helped sponsor a letter that has been signed by over 10,000 clergy members. I quote from CNN, who quoted the letter:

We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.

The following quote, also sourced from the CNN article, was made by Vatican Observatory Director George Coyne:

“The intelligent design movement belittles God. It makes God a designer, an engineer. The God of religious faith is a god of love. He did not design me.”

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see so many people of faith acknowledge that science and religion do not have to be enemies. To ignore what mankind is learning is foolhardy, and I believe that a religious body that refuses to acknowledge what science uncovers is doomed.

The existence of evolution does not diminish God. And the existence of God does not diminish evolution.

I sent a link to the CNN article to a friend of mine, and he replied with, “And the sheep lay down with the lions.” Interesting. If the religious are the sheep, by laying down with the lions of science are they doomed to never wake up? Or does it simply mean that two traditional enemies are laying down their swords?

I’d like to think the latter is the case. Spirituality is important, whether based in divinity or in something less etheric, and if it can exist side by side with practical knowledge, I think it bodes very well for the future of our species.