Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bing/Discovery present short video debunking ideas about doomsday viruses

James Williams narrates a 2-1/2 minute Discovery Channel video in which he asks “Could a Single Virus Destroy Humankind?”, link (website url) here (no embed offered).

Bing says this is the stuff of sci-fi horror movies. Williams says that such a virus would have to be asymptomatic while it was transmissible, which is usual except for STD’s. But people may shed some viruses (even smallpox, and certainly flus) before they are noticeably sick.

During the 1980s, there was right wing speculation (“There’s always a first time” – the idea of “eventually” in mathematical analysis or topology) that HIV would mutate into something casually contagious (an idea the right wing could make political use of then); I even heard this at an AIDS convention in Houston in late 1984. But such a virus, in changing transmissibility, would probably adapt to the host and become much less lethal.

The Ebola virus is generally transmitted only in blood contact, but it was thought that the Ebola Reston virus in 1989 (among chimps) was airborne.

In my novel manuscript, I speculate that a virus, containing a radioactive isotope and generating buckeyball-like micro black holes, could cause people to consolidate “identities”. There was an idea vaguely like that in the 1999 horror film (Universal, John Bruno) “Virus” (where an alien life form on a boat views people as “viruses”).

Here’s a table on how things would work in my novel. Not sure it will mean a lot, but I want is somewhere online.


Kind of person

Count

Awake

Memory trace


Kids

Marriage


afterlife

virus

example


Orig angel


144000

Continuous

Real


Yes

Yes


immortal

immune

Toby, Matt, Frankie (corrupt)


New angel

Converges


Continuous, benign infection

Real memories; can share dreams of very few people, not
always permanently


No kids unless eternal marriage

Kids if eternal marriage; must get old soul to have kids

Immortal


Immune w exposure

Sal

Old soul

F (C(new angel))


On permission

Image memories

Yes, must have


Yes

Immortal


No im, sudden non-perm changes

Bill

Ordinary person



Continuous


real

Yes


Yes

Grace or rebirth

No imn


Ali

Ordinary angel




Continuous


Image, shared; other person in dreams

Yes. Must have

n/a


immortal

Immune, must recover


Randy

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Skyline" presents an apocalypse "Cloverfield" style

Well, the movie “Skyline”, from Colin and Greg Strause, opens with the skyline of Los Angeles, with all the glitter even at 4:27 AM, when a single light appears, with a misty object coming down, and then others appear. Inside an apartment building, young swinger wake up and are very confused when they get burned if they look outside.

Then the movie switches into “Cloverfield” mode (Jan 18, 2008 on this blog) as it goes back 15 hours and sets the party up, with Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson). In fact, the movie would be even more effective if shot in dogme with hand-helds, and examined how real people deal with an unknown threat from out of the blue.

The actual extraterrestrial attack is rather overdone. It’s rather like Independence Day. Huge organic octupoid spaceships bud off with little feelers that can probe building, such out people and eat them up.

And I have to say that the sight of people drawn up into the spaceships like moths to a flame, as seen by Jarrod from rear-window-like telescopes. The desertion of the city within an hour or so, with little physical damage, is creepy. But soon the aerial octopuses come looking rather like the SS.

The ending is pretty interesting. Imagine waking up inside the slime of some huge organic vessel, with bodies thrown around you. But if you’re immune, they may give your brain a new body. This sounds like the “warning” originally intended for “Alien”.

Eric Balfour looks “thmooth” – his body waxed absolutely hairless for the movie, and it actually turns out that this is significant – some Freudian games.

Stephen Hawking says we ought to be careful about announcing our presence, because within a few decades aliens from a few dozen light years away could reach us with hostile intentions. It sounds like the equivalent of Chicken Little’s drawing attention to his existence through the Internet.

Seriously, would the power stay on this long?  Real aliens would probably knock us out with EMP first.

Movies about how we respond to sudden and unexpected existential perils are inherently interesting. “What would you do?” But the greatest perils are probably more gradual (even like “The Event”). Perhaps the only thing that interacts with Dark Energy is the karma of our own soul or consciousness, and just once in a while breaks in karma release perturbations.

The film comes from Rogue/Relativiy Media, but Universal stuck its own brand on it.

Rogue’s website is this.


For a comparison to Tri-Star's "District 9" see the Movies Blog Aug. 24, 2009.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fox's "Unstoppable" vs. History Channel's "Glow Train"

Unstoppable”, from Ridley Scott (2oth Century Fox) does recall some earlier out-of-control movies like “Cassandra Crossing” and “Runaway Train”, discussed on this blog March 3, 2010. (Somehow the title also reminds me of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable”).

The “didactic” value of the movie, of course, is to highlight the risk to the public of freight trains carrying hazmat materials through populated areas. The History Channel gave us a scenario like this with “Glow Train”, reviewed here June 24, 2008, where a train with radioactive waste derails near Las Vegas. In real life, Homeland Security has considered rerouting some trains away from the route through Washington DC and Union Station, taking it too near the Capitol. Here, the runaway freight train rambles down the mountains running from northern PA to southern (fictitious towns, as “Scranton” becomes “Stanton”, etc), with eight cars of phenol, highly flammable. A railway engineer makes a “human error” (very improbable), and a comedy of errors and cover-ups (which manager Connie (Rosario Dawson) desperately tries to make right behind her computer terminals and phones).

The film’s tag team (Frank and Will, played by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) form a subplot, which Frank’s (“retirement home”) resenting the younger Will’s (“day care center”) taking his union job. Will has been thrown out of his home by a family court after a domestic custody dispute (itself a scary issue). They commandeer a lone locomotive and try to slow the train down from behind. The heroics mount up toward the end, where the film sometimes takes on the look of a great model railroad set.

The geography of central Pennsylvania, with its Horseshoe Bend curve down the Allegheny Front mountain, could make it prone to accidents.

In the early 1980s, I worked for a man who had previously worked in railroad information technology.

Coming from Fox, the action film with a background warning about railroad safety and hazardous cargo (particularly a potential terrorist target), provides good entertainment for and from conservatives.

Here is Fox’s link for the movie. 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"Attack of the Sun" from Cosmic Journeys; Fox news in 2009 reports NASA warnings about 1859-style coronal mass ejection in 2012; a months-long power blackout for the US?

Cosmic Journeys, “Attack of the Sun” (Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody), starts with an account of the Halloween 2003 solar storm (not the Halloween Blizzard of 1991!) which occurred in the middle of the sunspot cycle, when activity is supposedly the lowest. The Sun emitted coronal mess ejections, making the Sun a “plasma weapon”.

A solar eruption in 1859 set fires in telegraph offices and gave shocks when people touched metal.

The film shows how the Earth, because it rotates quickly (once every 24 hours) has a magnetic field that tends to shield it from the storms somewhat. Venus, because it keeps one face to the Sun, has no such field, and solar storms in the past shred away much of its water, leaving it to build up a greenhouse effect. Earth-like planets around other stars, particularly M stars, may keep the same side toward their sun (if they are close in), which may argue against having magnetic fields and argue against having intelligent life, even if the planets are old and stable enough for civilizations to have developed. Nevertheless, the speculation (as in a National Geographic film on other suns a few years ago) is interesting.

Coronal mass ejections are more dangerous now than before because we are building a “smart energy grid” with many solar components sensitive to the static electricity in the ejections, meaning possible huge power blackouts.

CME’s would also affect the climate, exaggerating El Nino and La Nina in the Ocean.



Michio Kaku talks to Bill Hemmer at Fox News about the 1859 solar storm in this YouTube clip from Fox News (link), 4 minutes, made in April 2009. Kaku warns that an 1859-style event, according to a NASA study, would knock out the US power grid for months. It’s like a “Katrina from Space”. NASA published such a study in 2009, and warned there are some concerns about a solar super storm in 2012 (the Mayan end of time), which could fry the Earth’s technology if the planet happened to hit the CME while revolving around the Sun.  The most dire warnings compare the effect of a direct massive coronal mass ejection hit to that of a terrorist (or even extraterrestrial alien) electromagnetic pulse attack from high altitude.  Can critical instrastructure transformers be reinforced? I'm vaguely familia with the talk of military faraday cages for protection, going back to a 2001 Popular Science article just before 9/11; these would seem to apply to CME's as much as EMP's.

I’ll look for the newer NASA report soon. Here’s an older one from 2000, link.

Monday, November 01, 2010

"The Asteroid that Flattened Mars": a warning for Terra Firma?

SpaceRip has a “Cosmic Journeys” video “The Asteroid that Flattened Mars”, by Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody. The 21-minute film, interrupted by two commercials, gives a history of our knowledge of Mars, starting with Lowell, going into the 1960s when we knew that Mars was a desert, and the 1976 Viking lander with attempts to find life, that had even attracted comment by Dan Fry and Understanding at a 1978 “Man in Space” convention in Arizona.

More recent probe have provided elevation maps of Mars, show in the film in “World Book” fashion with the lowest elevations in blues and greens and the highest in red. The southern hemisphere is much higher than the northern, a fact which the film says leads to the theory that Mars was smacked by a large asteroid early in its history. The asteroid impact seems to have destroyed most of Mars’s magnetic field, causing it to lose most of its atmosphere and become a dry and cold place. In a sense, this seems like a tragedy, possibly depriving us of a planetary neighbor that could have evolved a civilization comparable to our own. (Maybe that protects us from potential competitors or enemies, depending on how you look at things.)

The implication, of course, is that a large enough asteroid strike on Earth might cause not only a “nuclear winter” but also the loss of its magnetic field, or at least a major shift.



National Geographic has a story by Ker Than, May 11, 2009, that corroborates this theory, "'Supergiant' Asteroid Shut Down Mars's Magnetic Field", link here.

Picture: I doubt you can find such accommodations on Mars now.