Being an absolutely massive nerd I’ve been up since 4a.m. watching the livestream from NASA of the Curiosity rover landing. It was genuinely nerve wracking, especially the last 15 minutes or so as the lander entered the atmosphere. I was literally on the edge of my seat and then when the first pictures started coming in.


I was also following a really cool G+ hangout featuring intertube luminaries such as Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer and Dr Pamela Gay the Star Stryder. 🙂

I can’t wait until the rover’s head extends and we get the hi-res images coming in. The images above come from the hazard cams on the rover’s wheels. When Curiosity landed it was basically a box with six wheels and all instrumentation was folded inside to protect it from the dust that would be thrown up by landing.

One interesting thing that came up during the hang out was that the folk at NASA don’t get paid until the mission succeeds. No wonder they always look so relieved. That is also a really shitty condition of employment. (Unionise FFS!)

Here in the UK at the moment everything seems to be covered in b/s promoting the latest excuse to try and bolster feelings of patriotism and British nationalism, the Olympics 2012. The Olympics have cost, at the moment, £24,000,000,000. Landing Curiosity cost £1,600,000,000. So, for the amount of money that has been spunked on the Olympics we could have landed 15 rovers. Hell, we could be well on the way to landing a manned mission on Mars. Priorities, ours are clearly skewed.

Some cool pics I’ve found on the interwebs since the landing. 🙂

This dude was awesome 😀

Also, from the Curiosity Rover’s Twitter feed 😀

Prometheus Bland

I went to see Prometheus

Prometheus shouldn’t have been a good film. It should have been a fucking fantastic film. With Ridley Scott directing and an absolutely cracking cast. However despite this and despite having some mind blowing special effects and an overarching plot that promises epic philosophical and ethical exploration it is let down sorely by one thing. Well, one thing and two people. The script and the people, Damon Lindelof and Jon Sphaits, who wrote it.

Overall the script was clunky and seemed to me to be a rehash of a rejected 1950’s B movie. The actors all deserve credit for managing to work their way through it as well as they did. The script is full of major plot holes, cod philosophy and so many basic scientific(and archaeological) inaccuracies that anyone with a high school education should have been wincing all the way through. Character development is nearly non-existent, aside from the character of David played by Michael Fassbender, so it is difficult to find any sympathy for any of the characters. The characters almost all act in a completely unfathomable way, even David who is the most developed character by far.

But it is the simple scientific, and archaeological, fuck ups that really irritated the fuck out of me. I’m not concerned with ‘realism’ when it comes to things that we don’t have today and so need bullshit explanations but when it is things that are available on wiki-fucking-pedia there is absolutely no excuse. Sorry, no fucking excuse.

For starters we are told that the crew have been asleep for a little over two years yet the nearest star to Earth is something like 4 light years away so they must have broken the speed of light to get there. A pretty remarkable advance for the next 70-80 years. But then we are told that they a visiting a galactic cluster that has a star in it around which orbits a planet with a moon. So the planet, sorry moon, we are visiting is in a different galaxy? And they got there in 2 years? And this galaxy, nay this entire galactic fucking cluster, only has one star with a planet? WTF????

Then there is the archaeological stuff that was just absurd. At the beginning of the film we are told that we are on the Isle of Skye at an archaeological dig. We see Noomi Rapace hard at work making a discovery and sending a fellow archaeologist to call Dr. Holloway, hereafter Annoying American Dude(AAD) ‘quickly’. Said archaeologist rushes out of the cave and shouts down the hill to AAD who is hard at work sieving some soil samples(meinne gotte! Some actual archaeology!). AAD quickly throws his sieve to the floor and dashes up the hillside because you have to be quick off the mark to catch archaeology… Anyway, AAD gets to the cave where Noomi Rapace has found a wall full of cave paintings in the style of Lascaux. “Have you dated it?” AAD asks, and here I am willing to suspend disbelief and accept that there has been some super fast and portable means of radiometric, or other technique, dating developed in the 80 years between now and then. The response though “Yes, 35,000 years”. 35,000 years? W.T.F??? The earliest evidence for human occupation in Scotland goes back maybe 10,500 years. 35,000 years ago Scotland, and therefore Skye, was under a sheet of ice a kilometre thick. It was uninhabitable. Also bear in mind that the paintings at Lascaux date back around 17,500 years.

Seriously. Hollywood. There are plenty of folk out there with archaeology degrees. Just pay one of us to give your script the once over. As it goes the film comes across as something produced by the SyFy channel but with better effects and an expensive cast who are wasted on a clunky script written by morons who deserve to have their livers eaten by birds.

It is a pretty film mind…

Edited to add: Lol, can’t believe I missed this one 😀

Love Story

“When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me — it still sometimes happens — and ask me if Carl changed at the end & converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again.

Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous – not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous and so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it’s much more meaningful…

The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.”

Ann Druyan, about her husband Carl Sagan


Carl Sagan

On this day in 1996 one of the greatest communicators of science passed away. Not only was he a great communicator of science but he refused to allow the subjects he talked about to be divorced from the social context in which science ‘happens’. This is extremely clear in his book The Pale Blue Dot in which he talks about capturing an image of the planet Earth, our home, from millions of miles away and what that image means.

A pertinent message and one so needed now as it was when he wrote that book. Nationalism, racism sexism and all things that seek to separate and weaken us are absurd when seen on the real, cosmic scale. After all what matter where you were born, why is being born in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter, something special? What is truly special is that the atoms that make up your body were fused in the heart of a star that then exploded seeding the building blocks of life into the universe. And the same is true for every single being on this planet, for the planet itself, and for all matter in the universe. Now that’s special and it unites us all.

Conan, an Exercise in Fail

So, I just watched the recent remake of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Conan the Barbarian. I always liked the original film for all it’s daft 13 year old boy swords and sorcery fantasy gubbins. It’s probably one of the best fantasy films of the last 30 odd years on account of it really playing up the campyness of the genre and not taking itself too seriously whilst not attempting to parody the genre.

Needless to say I was looking forward to the remake staring Jason Momoa that was released earlier this year. From seeing the adverts it looked like it wasn’t going to be as camp as the original but I was looking forward to a good dark and ‘grity’ fantasy action romp.

It started well with some scenes of awesome brutality from the moment of Conan’s birth and continues throughout scenes of his childhood. Conan is literally ‘born of battle’ as his mother slaughters the man who murders her as she is giving birth in the middle of a battle. Ron Perlman is great as Conan’s father teaching his son the secrets of steel and Leo Howard is fantastic as teenage Conan. In fact he was probably the best thing about this movie. 

Unfortunately from the point where we move to Conan’s adult incarnation things begin to go rapidly down hill. It is shot really well, the action sequences are, again, fantastic and the fight scenes are really well coordinated. Unfortunately the movie is completely ruined by the films utter contempt for all the female characters coupled with the character Conan’s rampant misogyny. The women in the film are either “whiney bitches”, “whores”* or just plain evil.

This being a Conan film I wasn’t expecting it to pass the Bechdel test but ffs! I would have no problem with the female characters being all of the things listed above, it kinda fits with the Conan theme, but to make a film that is as utterly devoid of female characters with… well, character is just beyond the pale. The original film featured Sandahl Bergman as the kick ass warrior-thief Valeria.

She is replaced, in the modern film, with Tamara Amalia Jorvi-Karashan played by Rachel Nichols. Where, in the original, Valeria plays the role of Conan’s equal in all ways. She fights, she steals and does exactly what she needs to do to survive in the world whilst having a good time whilst she’s at it.

Tamara on the other hand merely exists to be ordered around by men, despite occasional hints at resistance which amount to sticking her jaw out, she always complies with doing what she is told. That and to get kidnapped and scream a lot whist generally being completely unable to look after herself in the big bad world without Conan to help her/tell her what to do. At least the whores in the film are able to look out for themselves.

Add to this the character of Conan the Barbarian. In both films he is a sexist macho character, he is Conan the Barbarian after all. However in the original film his sexism is challenged by the character of Valeria who challenges all his preconceptions about women and kicks his arse in a fight. At no point in this film does Conan’s sexism, which amounts to misogyny in places, get challenged. In fact Conan seems to fall for Tamara because she is so useless.

Absolutely disgusting.

This film should be congratulated for one thing though. They have managed to do something that I would have thought impossible. They have remade an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film from the early 1980’s and have actually managed to give it worse gender politics. So well done lads…

Ach well, at least it gives me an excuse to repost this. 😀

*Not that I have anything against sex workers. I am merely using that word to reflect the depiction of the women in the film. So please take that as a criticism of the film makers rather than supporting of anti-sex worker attitudes.

Fighting Fantasy

When I was a kid I was ever so slightly a massive nerd, not much change there then I hear you say, and one of the many geeky things I loved during the 1980s was the Fighting Fantasy series of choose-your-own-adventure books by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

These books didn’t follow a regular narrative and cast the reader as the main protagonist of the adventure. You started by rolling some dice to generate some basic statistics for the character, their strength and so on, and had some basic equipment to take note of in the character sheet at the beginning of the book and you were away! Fighting Orcs, slaying dragons, going toe to toe with all manner of nasty and nefarious bastards. Plenty of what all kids love. Guts, gore, violence and derring do.

This was reflected in the names and covers of the books.






































And the like…

So imagine my amusement when I saw this German version of book one of the series The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.Compare it to the original. Well the version I had as a kid.



















Now which of these says “prepare to do mortal combat with powerful creatures in search of untold riches. What lengths will you go to to secure your prize!!!” And which says “Beezer old chap, let’s go for a lark with lashings and lashing of ginger beer!”? Which cover most accurately represents the game within? I wonder if there are any pissed off German parents out there who didn’t realise quite what it was they were giving their kids? More Conan the Barbarian than harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia. 😀

A Song of Ice and Fire

I’m presently working my way through A Song of Ice and fire at, seemingly, break necking pace. I’ve read Clash of Kings*, Steel and Snow and am half way through Blood and Gold over the last six weeks or so. I have to say the series is fantastic. It carries with it all the intrigue that you expect from reading the tales of classical antiquity, the machinations in both republican and imperial Rome.

I can understand why some folk don’t enjoy the series mind you. I have seen complaints that ‘nothing happens’ in the books. I would have to counter that plenty happens but the story is not forced into a climatic showdown between good and evil. In fact the characters are all shades of grey, even the child characters. This makes for extremely interesting reading as characters you should, were the book written in a tradition fantasy style, despise such as Tyrion Lannister become sympathetic and characters that would normally be rooted for, such as Catelyn Stark, lose your sympathy on a regular basis.

I recommend that anyone who enjoyed the TV show or that enjoys reading of the political machinations of ancient Rome should get stuck into this series.

That said, this cartoon does describe how I have been reading A Storm of Swords(Books 3.1 and 3.2).