Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More videos on coronal mass ejections

There are a number of YouTube videos warning about solar flares and coronal mass ejections in 2012 (they're not quite the same things). This one "Something Disturbing: Solar Storms Flares 2012", from BlackCatSaloon is interesting, even if it shows mostly scientific and NAS/NASA articles.

The video points out that the reach of an ejection expands as it moves further from the Sun, and the speaker notes, "it's surprising that we don't get hit more often".  There is also work that suggests that sometimes the Earth's magnetic field has weak spots.

The speaker recommends building Faraday Cages at home to protect electronics (as in the film "The Darkest Hour" Monday).

The Sun's activity is expected to increase in 2012.

Another video says that the Carrington Solar Storm in September 1859 actually set grass and paper on fire, and could cause wild fires now.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of naval ship testing EMP warfare (I think in FL).

Monday, December 26, 2011

"The Darkest Hour": a lesson in possible microwave weapons and EMP, as well as a horror movie about plasma "aliens" (like "Skyline")

Well, Newt Gingrich, and perhaps other doomsday conservatives, ought to receive the total experience of the new 3-D horror film “The Darkest Hour”, directed by Chris Gorak, based on a story by Leslie Bohem, from Summit Entertainment, from Russian, French and German production sources, but in English. 

The science is pretty scary. Let’s talk this backwards.  One resourceful Russian engineer has placed a Faraday Cage around his high rise apartment, as if he expected the attack by the plasma aliens. (“I will accept nothing less,” a friend once said, “than an alien attack. That was a joke about global warming – that aliens were gradually reducing the distance of the Earth from the Sun and “they aren’t telling us.”)

Well, here, the aliens first seem like cauliflower light balls  (Summit Entertainment calls it “ball lightning”) descending from the sky one night, just the way “Skyline” (Nov. 14, 2010 here) starts.  Except here, there is a prologue in Moscow. Two nice “kids” – Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) – arrive in Moscow to sell their social networking site – only to get cut out by Russian business practices, through a twenty-something competitor (Joel Kinnaman). Then, they find themselves in a sexy Russian disco, marginally heterosexual, as social as well as business adversaries.  Here the movie is in prologue move (aka “Cloverfield”), and the  incidental scenery of Moscow is quite spectacular.  Suddenly, the power goes out – more or less for good.  They enjoy the descending plasma balls until the said beings start to attack them, going after anything that has energy. 

Now, we can wonder if plasma could host consciousness with a free will, something to reverse entropy and create more beings.  That might make sense, but toward the end we find out more about these critters, and they might well be castoffs in a Biblical sense.  It’s going on all over the world.  But survivors are figuring out that they can shoot them with microwave guns.

These items exist, as well documented before on my “International Issues”  blog (March 4, 2010). Just before 9/11, Popular Science produced an article warning that terrorists could manufacture them to selectively knock out the power grid and all electronics – permanently – in local areas.  So a lot of the science (and maybe religion, or at least cosmology) in the film deserves to be listened to.  The ending leads us to expect sequels.

Now that the Cold War is long over, Hollywood seems to enjoy destroying Moscow, just as with the Kremlin in "Mission Impossible IV".
Maybe a film like this is an expensive substitute for some dangerous professional tourism.
Maybe Hollywood should try making a prescient film about a solar flare knocking out our power grid, and draw comparison with the Carrington Solar Storm of 1859.  In the end, Nature may be a bigger enemy than terrorists or extraterrestrials.  But Stephen Hawking has warned us – we may have attracted their attention, and they may be mean when they show up. The darkest hour may not be just before dawn.

The film opens with interesting foreshadow: Emile's character refuses to turn off his cell phone on a plane when asked to (feeding on the debate about whether consumer electronics can interfere with planes on take-off and landing), and the power in the plane suddenly goes out for a few seconds, just before landing in Moscow. 

Official site is here

I saw this film at the Arlington VA AMC Courthouse (another old complex showing more indie films these days). The 3D looked great, but it was in a smaller auditorium that shows widescreen at about 2:1 (with slight chopping of the widest edges), and it did not have speakers around the auditorium (just two channels of stereo up front). 

Wikipedia attribution link – making ball lightning with a home microwave oven – I don’ t recommend it around computers.
Second picture – stay out of jail, in Russia or anywhere.Third picture:  a submarine can protect humans from the plasma aliens. This picture is from my trip in July 2011, to the Groton CT Nautilus Museum.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"The Blazing Forest" (1952) was oddly prescient of today's brush fire problem

I thought I would make note of one of the first movies (and a prescient one) that I saw with my parents growing up, “The Blazing Forest” (1952), from Paramount, directed by Edward Ludwig. In the film, two brothers (John Payne and Richard Arlen) have a feud, and as a result (indirectly), one of them has a truck accident starting a catastrophic forest fire in tinder dry California Sierras. Agnes Moorehead is the landowner. The film is oddly prescient for one of today’s most serious dangers to property.

Forest, brush, and even prairie fires have caused catastrophic damage in many states, mostly in the west, since the late 1980s (as with Yellowstone in 1988; there was a catastrophic LA fire that I recall being reported in 1978); a few such fires have happened in the southeast, also. The media covered huge fires around Austin TX this summer, and warmer than normal winters can also lead to fires in the southern plains. Some are caused by dry lightning, some by accidents (even cigarettes) and some may be on purpose.

I remember the Cub Scout days of "Smokey the Bear" but we're a long way beyond that view of things. 

NASA has a short film on the relationship between ocean temperatures and fires in the Amazon:

Saturday, December 03, 2011

"Five" (1951) is said to be the first post-nuclear-war drama in film

The 1951 curio end-times drama “Five” (or "5ive" or even just "5") is said to be the first post-nuclear apocalypse film ever made. Directed and written by Arch Oboler for Columbia Pictures, it followed the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949 by only about two years, and appeared before the hydrogen bomb had been tested.  It’s certainly less well known than Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach”; the latest film of this kind is “The Road” (reviewed here Nov. 2009). 

The title is based on the five adult characters in the “play”, and they don’t all necessarily make it. And the forlorn hope that there are other such enclaves around the planet to rebuild a civilization (as in Stephen King’s “The Stand”) is not to be, either. 

As the film opens, a pregnant woman Roseanne Rogers (Susan Douglas Rubes) is wandering through a California coastal town desperately looking for help. Finally she wanders up a hill and finds a neat hut occupied by a former poet Michael (William Phipps) who had worked as an announcer atop the Empire State Building (now, in retrospect after 9/11, ironic).  He rather likes a life with “no problems” (and no money system – no bills  -- but no media audience for his poetry, either).  

Others who stumble in are a former banker Oliver Barnstaple (Earl Lee), an African American who cares for him (Charles Lampkin), and a rather assertive adventurer Eric (James Anderson), who creates conflict.
Roseanne delivers her baby.   The film would have a chance here to go pro-natalist, but doesn’t (thankfully).  The group wanders down to the California beach (in an odd premonition of Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel, maybe even an inspiration), and also scours downtown LA as Roseanne looks for her husband in a medical office.  Everywhere there are skeletons of people  stopped in their tracks.  (The 1982 TV film “The Day After” [this film mentions “the day after tomorrow’] had shown such an effect at the time of impact – I remember watching the 1982 film in a Dallas apartment with a medical resident neighbor, still.) 

Fights ensue, and in one scene Roseanne, resisting, tears open Eric’s shirt.  But this is a pre-parody of what happens today on disco floors: his hairy chest is becoming covered with the white plaques of radiation poisoning.  On her way back to the hilltop Drohega, the baby dies.  She is left to start over farming with Michael. 

The film is in black-and-white, full screen, and the California coast never looked cleaner.  This little film probably is well for groups like the Nuclear Threat Initiative to bear in mind. 

As the film neared an end, I remember a conversation with my father, as a boy, as we drove into Washington DC in Route 50, near the old Rosslyn one time, when I was about 10, that the country might not last much more than 25 years because of the nuclear threat.  (Then why have children?) We did a lot better than that (by about 30 years, at least).

The film doesn't show physical destruction of buildings, and has some inaccuracies.  For example, people are driving cars, and they wouldn't be operable after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) associated with a nuclear blast.  

The music score by Henry Russell is rather post-romantic.  

The DVD has a two-part short “Martini Minutes”: that is, “The Secrets of Deception” and “How to Become a Villain”.

The full film can be rented from YouTube for $2.99 or from Netflix subscription. 

(Note: posting url has misspelling "iis" in title because of a typo, fixed afterward.)