Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

August 8, 2020

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

‘I’ Article on ‘Bardcore’ – Postmodern Fusion of Medieval Music and Modern Pop

August 5, 2020

I’m a fan of early music, which is the name that’s been given to music from the ancient period through medieval to baroque. It partly comes from having studied medieval history at ‘A’ level, and then being in a medieval re-enactment group for several years. Bardcore is, as this article explains, a strange fusion of modern pop and rock with medieval music, played on medieval instruments and with a medieval vocal arrangement. I’ve been finding a good deal of it on my YouTube page at the moment, which means that there are a good many people out there listening to it. On Monday the I’s Gillian Fisher published a piece about this strange new genre of pop music, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1199’, with the subtitle ‘Bardcare reimagines modern pop with a medieval slant. Hark, says Gillian Fisher’. The article ran

“Hadst thou need to stoop so low? To send a wagon for thy minstrel and refuse my letters, I need no longer write them though. Now thou art somebody whom I used to know.”

If you can’t quite place this verse, let me help – it’s the chorus from the 2011 number one Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye. It might seem different to how you remember it, which is no surprise – this is the 2020 Bardcore version. Sometimes known as Tavernwave, Bardcore gives modern hits a medieval makeover with crumhorns a plenty and lashings of lute. Sometimes lyrics are also rejigged as per Hildegard von Blingin’s offering above.

Algal (41-year-old Alvaro Galan) has been creating medieval covers since 2016, a notable example being his 2017 version of System of a Down’s Toxicity. Largely overlooked at the time, the video now boasts over 4.4 million views. Full-time musician Alvaro explains that “making the right song at the right moment” is key, and believes that Bardcore offers absolute escapism.

Alvaro says: “What I enjoy most about Bardcore is that I can close my eyes and imagine being in a medieval tavern playing for a drunk public waiting to dance! But from a more realistic perspective , I love to investigate the sounds of the past.”

In these precarious times, switching off Zoom calls and apocalyptic headlines to kick back with a flagon of mead offers a break from the shambles of 2020. Looking back on simpler times during periods of unrest is a common coping mechanism, as Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at New York’ Le Moyne College explained in her paper on nostalgia: “Nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation can also elicit nostalgia.”

The fact that Bardcore is also pretty funny also offers light relief. The juxtaposition of ancient sound with 21st-century sentiment is epitomised in Stantough’s medieval oeuvre, such as his cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Originally from Singapore, Stantough (Stanley Yong), 35 says: “I really like the fact we don’t really take it very seriously. We’re all aware what we’re making isn’t really medieval but the idea of modern songs being “medievalised” is just too funny.”

One of Bardcore’s greatest hits, is Astronomia by Cornelius Link, which features trilling flutes and archaic vocal by Hildegard. It’s a tune that has been enjoyed by 5.3 million listeners. Silver-tongued Hildegard presides over the Bardcore realm, with her cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance clocking up 5 million views. Canadian illustrator Hildegard, 28, fits Bardcore around work and describes herself as “an absolute beginner” with the Celtic harp and “enthusiastically mediocre” with the recorder. Her lyric adaptations have produced some humdingers such as “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots which she sings in rich, resonant tones.

HIldegard, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the Bardcore boom can be “chalked up to luck, boredom and a collective desire to connect and laugh.”

In three months, the Bardcore trend has evolved with some minstrels covering Disney anthems, while others croon Nirvana hits in classical Latin. While slightly absurd, this fusion genre has ostensibly provided a sense of unity and catharsis.

The humming harps and rhythmic tabor beats evoke a sense of connection with our feudal ancestors and their own grim experience of battening down the hatches against the latest outbreak. Alongside appealing to the global sense of pandemic ennui, connecting to our forbears through music is predicated upon the fact that they survived their darkest hours. And so shall we.

While Bardcore’s a recent phenomenon, I think it’s been drawing on trends in pop music that have happening for quite long time. For example, I noticed in the 1990s when I went to a performance of the early music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, when they performed at Brandon Hill in Bristol that the audience also included a number of Goths. And long-haired hippy types also formed part of the audience for Benjamin Bagley when he gave his performance of what the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf probably sounded like on Anglo-Saxon lyre at the Barbican centre in the same decade.

Bardcore also seems connected to other forms of postmodern music. There’s the group the Postmodern Jukebox, whose tunes can also be found on YouTube, who specialise in different 20th century arrangements of modern pop songs. Like doing a rock anthem as a piece of New Orleans Jazz, for example. And then there’s Orkestra Obsolete, who’ve arranged New Order’s Blue Monday using the instruments of the early 20th century, including musical saws and Theremin. There’s definitely a sense of fun with all these musical experiments, and behind the postmodern laughter it is good music. An as this article points out, we need this in these grim times.

Here’s an example of the type of music we’re talking about: It’s Samuel Kim’s medieval arrangement of Star Wars’ Imperial March from his channel on YouTube.

And here’s Orkestra Obsolete’s Blue Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Joseph Watson Butthurt Berserk ‘Cos Piers Morgan Won’t Debate Him

April 27, 2020

More hilarity now, though it’s unintentional and comes courtesy of Alex Jones’ British pal, Paul Joseph Watson. Jones is the bonkers American conspiracy theorist responsible for Infowars. This was the internet show that told its audience that the globalists were going to take over the world, stripping us of our freedoms and even our humanity. Obama was going to declare a state of emergency and force Americans in FEMA camps, commencing the mass cleansing of the population. The Democrats were all secretly Satanists and paedophiles. They and big business were in league with aliens/ and or demons to take over the world and create the one-world Satanic superstate of fundamentalist Christian end times theology. Barack Obama was declared to be the Antichrist because he smelt and had flies buzzing round him. Hillary was a lesbian cyborg, who practised witchcraft. NASA was running child slave labour camps on Mars. Feminists and gay rights activists are transhumanists, who want to turn everybody into gender neutral cyborgs. They’re coming to take away Americans’ guns. And the government is putting things in the water that ARE TURNING THE FRICKIN’ FROGS GAY.

It’s a fair question whether Jones actually believes any of this rubbish, or is just exploiting it for the sake of viewers. He was one of the major purveyors of the batshit insane conspiracy theories that are a genuine threat to decent political life. Thanks to Jones’, the bereaved parents of children murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre have been subject to abuse because Jones declared that the massacre didn’t happen and they were just ‘crisis actors’. A Boston pizza parlour has also been subject to abuse and even an intrusion from an armed man after Jones declared that it was at the centre of a Democrat paedophile ring and that the abuse children were kept in a dungeon in the basement. It isn’t, and there is no basement and no children. The gunman had been taken in by Jones’ bilge, and  had come to free the kids he genuinely believed were imprisoned there. After being shown he was wrong, he gave himself up peacefully. It’s a mercy that no-one was killed.

Thanks to antic like the above, Jones has been thrown off a series of internet platforms so that his public profile, and his income, have taken a massive hit. And Paul Joseph Watson, after hanging out with him, has returned to Blighty. He was one of the three, who managed to destroy UKIP under Gerard Batten. When he and another two internet personalities from the far right, Mark ‘Count Dankula’ Meechan and Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin joined UKIP, prompting those of more moderate views to walk out. The party was already losing members to Farage’s latest vehicle for his colossal political ego, the Brexit Party, and the entry of Watson, Benjamin and Meechan just about finished it off.

Coarse jokes have been made about the precise nature of the relationship between Jones and Watson. One theory is that Watson split from Jones because of the latter’s views about Britain’s NHS. One commenter to a video about Jones and Watson jokingly suggested that Watson was over here because he was tired of being the object of the sexual attentions of Jones and one of the others at Infowars. But whatever the reason, Watson is over here, he’s looking for attention, and he’s angry. And to everyone else, it’s hilarious.

Zelo Street has posted up a rip-roaring piece about Watson going berserk at Piers Morgan on Twitter. Watson wants to debate him, but Morgan’s got better things to do like torment the government in interviews, and has simply blocked him. This has sent the man dubbed ‘Twatson’ by his detractors into what Molesworth used to describe as ‘a fearful bate’. And so he’s poured forth a stream of abuse directed at Morgan on Twitter, beginning with this delightful message.

Cowardly little bitch. Afraid of the fact that I’m more popular and definitely more attractive than you. Mercenary twat. Debate me, you yellow belly crusty boomer sellout fraud cuck wanker dickhead”.

And there’s more, much more. He rants that Morgan is afraid to debate him because he’s more intelligent, youthful and handsome. And his spirit animal is some kind of bird of prey. He’s not a misogynist, because when he was at school his mother and grandmother would beat up any kid who picked on him. Nor is he an INCEL. He has no trouble picking up girls, especially Muslims. That still doesn’t alter the fact that he is anti-feminist, and has very islamophobic views.

One of the staples of comedy is a character massively losing their temper, like Donald Duck in some of the Disney cartoons. There’s a similar comedic value in watching Watson explode at Piers Morgan’s refusal to get drawn into debating him. Although perhaps we shouldn’t laugh. As Frankie Howerd used to say, ‘Oh, don’t mock. Doooon’t mock! It’s rude to mock the afflicted.’  But faced with such a massive tantrum, it’s very had to follow Howerd’s command of ‘titter ye not’.

Zelo Street concludes their article about this with ‘Piers Morgan is, for all his faults, successful and well-off. And Paul Watson … isn’t.’ And it’s sending Watson up the wall to the immense amusement of everyone else.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/prison-planet-manhood-meltdown.html

 

 

Murdoch’s Daughter Being Considered as Next Beeb Director-General

February 11, 2020

This is ominous. According to an article by Adam Sherwin in yesterdays I for Monday, 9th February 2020, the BBC is considering appointing Elisabeth Murdoch, Dirty Rupe’s daughter, as its first female Director-General. The I’s article seems to think this will be a positive move, as she isn’t supposed to be hostile to the Beeb like her father. And the appointment of one of Murdoch’s family as the Beeb’s chief will supposedly deter Downing Street from making any further attacks on the Corporation. The article runs

Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert Murdoch, who became a successful television entrepreneur in her own right, has emerged as a surprise candidate to run the BBC.

Mus Murdoch, former head of Shine UK – the production company behind MasterChef and Broadchurch – would be seen as an acceptable director-general by the BBC’s Downing Street critics. However, the prospect of the broadcaster being run by a member of the Murdoch family, which has campaigned against the licence fee-funded BBC through its newspapers, will shock many at the corporation.

I has learned that the BBC is appointing headhunters to broaden the search for a new leader, following the announcement that Tony Hall is leaving.

Current favourites include Charlotte Moore, BBC director of vision, the best-placed internal candidate; Jay Hunt, former head of BBC1 and Channel 4, who now leads Apple’s European TV commissioning; Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4; and ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall.

Insiders say the BBC is almost certain to appoint its first female director-general.

The BBC board, led by Sir David Clementi, is seeking a figure with proven leadership in the creative industries who carries enough authority in Whitehall to guide the BBC through tough negotiations over the future of the licence fee.

Ms Murdoch, who pocketed £130m when she sold Shine to 20th Century Fox, ticks many of the boxes. She does not share her family’s antipathy to the BBC, having sold 20 shows to the broadcaster as a producer.

Stepping aside from her family’s succession battle, Ms Murdoch, 51, has spoken in support of the “universal licence fee” but urged the BBC to how “efficiently that funding is being spent on actual content”.

It is not clear if Ms Murdoch would welcome an approach for the £450,000 post. last year she co-founded Sister, a global television production business which developed the acclaimed Sky drama Chernobyl.

Although Downing Street’s choice to lead the BBC would be a longstnding critic such as Rebekah Brooks, CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, a figure such as Ms Murdoch would prove an acceptable compromise.

In a box article next to this, ‘Power play Smart move?’, Sherwin also writes

Although the appointment of the new director-general is a matter for the BBC board, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s top aide, has privately warned that a ‘business as usual’ successor to Tony Hall would only hasten the end of the licence fee.

Handing the BBC’s future to a scion of the Murdoch dynasty would be a bold move for the broadcaster.

Elisabeth Murdoch has £300m in the bank, boosted by dividends from her father’s sale of Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney, and has made a number of strategic investments in digital start-ups.

But another option could be Alex Mahon, Channel 4’s chief executive. Hired by Ms Murdoch for her Shine group in 2006, it was Ms Mahon who brought the Broadchurch producer Kudos into the business.

The upside of luring Ms Murdoch, once named the fifth most powerful woman in Britain in a Woman’s Hour poll, is the weight her name would carry in negotiations over the BBC'[s future with Downing Street. “It could be a genius move. They woulnd’t dare f**k with a Murdoch,” said one insider.

My guess is that even if Murdoch became director-general, she’d still carry on the and increase the Beeb’s right-wing political bias. I also think that she’d carry out some further privatisation and quiet dismantling of the Beeb for the benefit of its competitors, but not as outright as Cummings and BoJob would quite wish.

Whoever gets installed as the next director-general will still be under pressure to get rid of the licence fee, though I’m sure the Tories would hesitate at attacking one of Murdoch’s own family because of the power of the Murdoch press. On the other hand, she could well reverse her previous positive attitude to the Beeb, and become an enthusiast for its dismantlement once she become D-G.

Whatever happens, the Beeb is still in serious danger. But because of its massive political bias, its traditional defenders on the Left are no longer as willing to support it.

 

‘I’ Newspaper on Scientist Building Artificial Arms from Lego

February 13, 2019

Last weekend’s I newspaper for Saturday, 9th February 2019, carried a profile of David Aguilar, a disabled Andorran scientist, who has been building artificial arms out of Lego since he was a small boy. The article by David Woode, ran

Hand Solo?

A university student who was born without a forearm due to a rare genetic condition has created a robotic prosthetic arm using Lego. David Aguilar, who built three other models before his current one, said “I wanted to see myself in the mirror like I see other guys with two hands.

Is this his first bionic arm?

No. David, 19, began experimenting with artificial limbs as a child. he said his father bought him a lego Titanic set aged five and the colourful bricks became one of his favourite toys. David made his first artificial arm, albeit with limited movement, aged nine. ‘As a child I was very nervous to be in front of other guys, because I was different, but that didn’t stop me believing in my dreams,’ he said.

How does it work?

David uses Lego pieces given to him by a friend. Last year he built a red-and-yellow, fully functional robotic arm, it’s fitted with an electric motor and he can bend it at the joint and flex a grabber attached at the end. His latest prototypes are marked MK followed by the number – a tribute to comic book superhero Iron Man and his MK armour suits.

Could this spawn an army of Iron men and Iron Women?

The rookie inventor from the small principality of Andorra is studying bioengineering at the Universität Internacional de Catalunya in Spain. His post-graduation dream is to design affordable robotic limbs for those in need. He said “I would try to give them a prosthetic arm, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person, because what is normal, right”.

There’s a lot of research going on into artificial limbs, some of it very inspiring. The robotics unit at the University of the West of England has formed a private company to build artificial hands for children. They’ve produced one with the consent of Hollywood shaped like the hand of the Marvel superhero, Iron Man. I think they were also planning to produce one based on C3PO in collaboration with Disney, if I recall correctly. Aguilar’s clearly a very skilled engineer, and his own experience of disability undoubtedly gives him real, personal insight into what disabled people need in artificial limbs and how they can be best designed for them. I wonder what his work will be like after he’s graduated and, hopefully, begun working on them at a higher level. It should be really good.

In the meantime, I’d really have loved to be able to make a proper, working robotic arm out of Lego, Meccano or any other construction kit when I was child as well as knowing how he does it now.

Cats in Space!

December 28, 2017

No, not the Muppets’ ‘Pigs in Space’, nor the 70s Disney film The Cat from Outer Space, but SF paintings of moggies going where no moggy has gone before. It’s from the SF art site on Tumblr, 70sscifiart. And I dare say that some of them may well have been inspired by the Disney film, or came along to ride the Disney bandwagon after the film came out. On the other hand, there are an awful lot of cat fans, including SF authors and artists like Cordwainer Smith. In one of his stories, The Game of Cat and Dragon, the first human pioneers into interstellar space use humans cybernetically linked to cats to operate the defence systems combating the alien monsters that lurk in the darkness between the stars. Cats are used because they’re the topmost, ruthless predators. But Smith liked cats anyway, and they appear in many of his stories.

This is for all the cat people out there. Enjoy!

Sam Seder on Disney’s Animatronic Donald Trump

December 20, 2017

Well, as Freddie Mercury once sang in Queen’s epic track, ‘Machines’, ‘The machines take over’, and this time there really ‘ain’t no rock ‘n’ roll’. Or as the blurb for this video puts it instead, the Trump animatronic is so horrifying it’ll haunt your dreams.

Disney have created a robot version of America’s most unpopular fascistic president for their Hall of Presidents. The Trumpdroid stands in front of the other animatronic US presidents, and recites a speech, with appropriate gestures and body movements, about his august predecessors were responsible for crafting the American constitution and political structure, and so creating the freedom that Americans enjoy today.

And Seder and his co-hosts are right: it is very creepy. The robotics technology used to animate the machine is really impressive, but it does bear out the observation of one Japanese robotics scientist. I forgotten the fellow’s name, unfortunately, but he shrewdly observed that people are uncomfortable with things that resemble them closely, but are still very different. Hence the human discomfort with robots when they become a little too accurate. Something similar was also said by Red Dwarf’s Kryten way back in the 1990s. Lister, or one of the other members of the ship’s highly dysfunctional crew, ask him why his manufacturers have made him look very much less than a perfect replica of a human. He replies by stating that it’s because this would make people feel uncomfortable around him, for exactly the same reasons the Japanese scientist suggested. And way back in the mid-1970s, an irrational fear of robots – ‘robophobia’, or ‘Grimwade’s Syndrome’, was one of the plot elements in the Tom Baker Dr. Who serial ‘The Robots of Death’. This particular serial was set on a sandminer, a vast mining vehicle, operated by a small human crew under which was a much larger labour force of robots. And the robots start shaking off their servitude. It’s explained in the show that some people have an irrational fear of robots, because although they look like humans, they don’t employ any body language. And so to them they appear as ‘the walking dead’.

Rather more humorously, Seder and his friends joke that the other mechanical presidents are looking at the Trumpdroid wondering how on Earth it got there. And that the President Lincoln android is just about to tell the rest of them that there’s no choice for it now: they have to put the pistols to their heads and blow their little robot brains out. They also joke that it’s rather like the bit on the SF series Westworld, when the robots look down at themselves and finally realise what they are.

Rather more seriously, the clip begins with a discussion between Seder and a caller about the GOP’s tax bill, and why people join the Republican party. He states some join, because they hate the Environmental Protection Agency, and what to use highly toxic pesticides on their land, like Tom Delaye. Others really hate trade unions, and what to destroy them to keep ordinary people poor. But the majority do it to enrich themselves through corporate sponsorship. Such is the state of American politics. And the same comments also apply to the corporate Dems of Hillary Clinton, and to the Conservatives and Blairite Labour over this side of the Pond.

If these characters remain in power, perhaps the world would be much better if the machines really took over. Or the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. After all, as Ripley says in the 2nd film, Aliens, when she discovers the way she and the space marines have been betrayed by the Corporation, the aliens ‘don’t f**k each other over for a percentage’.

The Emergence of ‘Cyborg’ Chic?

August 8, 2017

Last weekend’s Sunday People carried a feature, complete with ‘tasteful’ nude piccie, of a former female British squaddie, Hannah Campbell. Campbell, had lost a lower leg while guarding a building in Basra a decade, and was mentally still scarred with PTSD. The accompany photo showed her wearing only Union Flag body paint and her artificial leg.

Aside from the questionable morality of using pictures of women in states of undress to sell newspapers, I’ve absolutely no objection to disabled women – or blokes, for that matter – appearing as sexy or glamorous. I don’t mean in a fetishistic sense, such as amputee fetishism, but simply as people, who remain glamorous and attractive despite their injuries.

But the picture also set me wondering how long it would be before disabled people also became style icons, because of the quality and aesthetic style of their prostheses.

A few weeks ago there was a piece on the news about a company based at UWE here in Bristol, which has developed relatively cheap artificial hands, which people can make for themselves. The designs are only, and I’ve got a feeling some of the components can be manufactured using a 3-D printer. The journos talked to one little chap, who was very well impressed with his new hand. One of the company’s directors also said that they were currently negotiating with Disney for the rights to use some of their characters. They were interested in developing an Iron Man artificial hand, based on the Marvel character’s body armour. I can see children absolutely loving that, and the lad, who wore one of their hands already said that the other kids really admired it. This is great, because the company’s turned something that could easily be a mark of shame – a missing limb, and its artificial replacement – and turned it into something cool.

These two stories have made we wonder how long it will be before models, celebrities, fashionistas and other style icons include those with disabilities, but who have managed to incorporate the latest trends in cybernetic or bionic aesthetics with their own natural good looks or stylish clothes. After all, a few years ago one newspaper, reviewing Britain as the centre of cool design, selected various pieces of technology – I can’t remember whether it was computers or mobile phones – as examples of British design excellence. And just as style is a part of modern computer design, it’s also a factor in that of artificial limbs.

And so there’s the distinct possibility that as the technology advances, so we could see the emergence of a kind of ‘cyborg’ chic, of glamorous people sporting equally glamorous artificial hands and legs. It’d be what the Transhumanists – those extreme technophiles that want to upload their minds into robots and computers – have partly been looking forward to all these years.

Government Internet Censorship in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 6, 2017

One of the very real concerns about the current attacks on freedom of speech by British and American governments is these states’ demands for increasing powers to regulate and censor what is posted on-line. This has all been framed under the pretext of protecting the British and American peoples from pornography, especially paedophile, and terrorism.

Stephen Baxter is one of Britain’s leading writers of Hard SF. This is the subgenre of Science Fiction, which follows Asimov and Clarke in being based on real science, though obviously also with a greater or less degree of extrapolation and invention permitting the inclusion of FTL drives, AIs and aliens. Baxter’s best known for his Xelee sequence series of books. These are set in a universe dominated by the advanced and unknowable Xelee, an alien race so far ahead of humanity that humans and the other intelligent species compete with each other to scavenge bits and pieces of their technology. At the same time, the universe is being prematurely aged by the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures for whom the light and warmth of the universe of normal matter is a hostile environment.

Baxter has also written a number of novels set in an alternative world. In Voyage, he described a crewed NASA expedition to Mars, whose triumph – a successful Mars landing – comes just when the entire American space programme is cancelled. The book was adapted as a radio play and broadcast on Radio 4.

In Titan, published in 1995, Baxter tells the story of a group of NASA and JPL scientists and astronauts, who launch a manned expedition to Titan to investigate further the discovery of living biochemistry by the Cassini probe. This is to be NASA’s last hurrah after the crash of the Columbia space shuttle results in the cancellation of the manned space programme. The story begins in 2004, in a world that is almost identical to the present of the time the book was written.

There are a few exceptions, however. Amongst the new inventions of this future past are computerised tattoos, which change shape according to the wishes of the wearer, and soft computer/TV screens, which can be rolled up and pasted on walls like paper.

And one of the issues that is very alive is the American government’s ruthless censorship of the internet. This is discussed in one scene, where NASA’s head, Hadamard, meets Paula Benacerraf, an astronaut aboard the ill-fated Columbia mission, her daughter, Jackie, who is responsible for publishing the discovery of life on Saturn’s moon, and her young son, at an official ceremony in Texas to honour China’s first taikonaut, Jiang Li.

He found Paula Benacerraf, who was here with her daughter, and a kid, who looked bored and restless. Maybe he needed to pee, Hadamard thought sourly. On the daughter’s cheek was an image tattoo that was tuned to black; on her colourless dress she wore a simple, old-fashioned button-badge that said, mysteriously, ‘NED’.

Hadamard grunted. ‘I’ve seen a few of those blacked-out tattoos. I thought it was some kind of comms problem -‘
Jackie Benacerraf shook her head. ‘It’s a mute protest.’
‘At what?’
‘At shutting down the net.’
‘Oh. Right.’ Oh, Christ, he thought. She was talking about the Communications Decency Act, which had been extended during the winter. With a flurry of publicity about paedophiles and neo-Nazis and bomb-makers, the police had shut down and prosecuted any net service provider, who could be shown to have passed on any of the material that fell outside the provisions of the Act. And that was almost all of them.
‘I was never much of a net user,’ Hadamard admitted.
‘Just to get you up to date,’ Jackie Benacerraf said sourly, ‘we now have one licensed service provider, which is Disney-Coke, and all net access software has built-in-censorship filters. We’re just like China now, where everything goes through the official news agency, Xinhua; that poor space kid must feel right at home.’
Benacerraf raised an eyebrow at him. ‘She’s a journalist. Jackie takes these things seriously.’
Jackie scowled. ‘Wouldn’t you, if your career had just been f***ed over?’
[Censorship mine].
Hadamard shrugged; he didn’t have strong opinions.
The comprehensive net shutdown had been necessary because the tech-heads who loved all that stuff had proven too damn smart at getting around any reasonable restriction put in place. Like putting encoded messages of race-hate and smut into graphics files, for instance: that had meant banning all graphics and sound files, and the World Wide Web had just withered. He knew there had been some squealing among genuine discussion groups on the net, and academics and researchers who suddenly found their access to online libraries shut down, and businesses who were no longer allowed to send secure encrypted messages, and … But screw it. To Hadamard, the net had been just a big conduit of bullshit; everyone was better off without it.
(pp. 130-1).

This is Science Fiction as the literature of warning: against cuts to the space programme, and net censorship. It even mentions rising graduate unemployment, in a scene where Paula Benacerraf arranges a meeting with her team to discuss the possibility of launching a crewed mission to Titan. They meet at dinner party in Benacerraf’s house, served by her housekeeper, Kevin. Kevin is a fine art graduate, who is working as Benacerraf’s housekeeper in order to work off his student debt. His works are the usual horrors inflicted on the world by contemporary artists. In her only visit to his atelier, Benacerraf is shown a 1/4 size sculpture of himself which Kevin has gnawed from a block of lard. This is just a study for a full-size work, which he intends to gnaw from his own liposuctioned fat or faeces. As she and her guests are being served by Kevin, she reflects that he is like the majority of graduates, who will never have a job.

Well, the shuttle programme has been cancelled, but hopefully this will not prevent the further exploration of universe. The Chinese certainly are looking to put a person into space, and are believed to be aiming to land a human on the Moon by 2020. Baxter also mentions this in Titan in his description of the spacewoman’s mission to the Deep Black, where he states that this is believed to be in preparation for a moon landing in 2019.

And Baxter is absolutely correct about the demands for a comprehensive censorship of the internet by the British and American governments. The only difference is the terrorists the governments are panicking about are Islamist, rather than neo-Nazi. So far, the demands for censorship have been limited, so there isn’t the almost-complete shutdown of the net described in Baxter’s version of the recent past.

But this is still a very real danger, as these accompanying threat, which Baxter didn’t predict, of increased state surveillance of electronic communications, for the same reasons as censorship.

Someone once remarked that all science fiction is really about the issues of the time they were set. Titan reflects the fears about the internet that were present back in the 1990s, when it was first emerging. These fears, and the consequent demands by government to censor nearly everything we see or read online, are still very real, and Baxter’s book is still very relevant.

Lucas Gave Profits from Sale of Star Wars to Education

December 16, 2015

The world, or at least Britain and Europe, is gearing up for the release of the new Star Wars film, Episode 7: The Force Awakens. Unlike the earlier features, which were Lucas Film/ 20th century Fox, the new flick has been made by Disney after Lucas sold Star Wars to them. I found this meme on 1000 Natural Shocks, and if it’s true, then it shows another side to Lucas in an extremely generous and admirable gesture.

Lucas Education Donation

Lucas has, of course, made his money cinematically from entertaining children, so its extremely appropriate that he should also try to benefit them educationally as well.

Unlike the current Tory government over here, which is trying to shut everything down or privatise it. And there isn’t even a Death Star to destroy Chipping Norton.