Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Who’

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.

 

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

August 8, 2020

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

Rishi Sunak Considering Putting BAME Heroes and Heroines on Coinage

July 28, 2020

One of the very few items that drew my attention in yesterday’s edition of the I, for Monday 27th July 2020, was an article by Ewan Somerville reporting that our murderous clown chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was considering adding Black, Asian and ethnic minority heroes and heroines to our notes and coinage. It would be the first time this was done, and is a gesture to Black Lives Matter. The article ran

Black and ethnic minority (Bame) figures could appear on Britain’s currency for the first time. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering proposals by campaigners to have influential Bame people featured on a set of coins, the Treasure minister, John Glen, said.

Those under consideration include the first Indian and Gurkha soldiers who received the Victoria Cross, the British-Jamaican Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, and Noor Inqyat Khan, a Second World War agent and one of only four women to have received the George Cross. There has never been a non-white person features on British coins or notes.

Plans have been submitted to the Royal Mint, which has been encouraged by the Treasury to draft proposals and designs for a potential coin. Mr Sunak has previously expressed support for the anti-racist cause highlighted by the Black Lives Matter Protests.

I think there have been calls for distinguished Black and Asian Brits to be put on the currency before, if only a decade or so ago. There certainly have been calls many times for more women to feature on the currency. From the article it seems that all of the figures being considered well deserve such commemoration. I can’t think of anybody objecting to Black, and particularly Gurkha war heroes considering the latter’s splendid record of service in the British army despite the fact that we never conquered Nepal. One of the most striking images we came across at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was of a Black British squaddy, his chest festooned with medals, proudly holding up a union jack. I think the image came from the Second World War. Either way, as the museum staff remarked, it utterly contradicted the BNP’s lies that Blacks cannot be patriotic British citizens, as this man had clearly fought with gallantry and distinction for the Motherland.

I’ve said before, though, that I’m not impressed with Black Lives Matter. I can appreciate the frustration, anger and deprivation fuelling it. But I think that it has an extremely simplistic view of race and class in Britain and is unintentionally divisive and polarising. And I don’t believe that Sunak or the Tories are going to be remotely sincere in their efforts to tackle the structural racism in British society. Boris Johnson has said he’ll set up an inquiry to investigate it. Or think tank. Or some other talking shop, just like the Tories already promised a few years ago.

And there is already a backlash taking shape. Mike posted a few days ago that the Tories had started recruiting racists on Twitter by appealing to their outrage that migrants were still coming to Britain. Labour had apparently sabotaged the government’s efforts to tighten up the migration system. Given how tough the system already is and that some of the noticeable reports are about people coming over here from France in flimsy, leaking vessels, I honestly don’t know what can be done to make it tougher without going into real, genuine Fascism. By which I mean following Katie Hopkins’ suggestion that migrant ships should be gunned down in the Med and left to sink. Or warned off by the coastguard firing automatic rifles, as the Greek navy/coastguard was shown doing a few weeks ago.

And some of the real firebrands in Black Lives Matter are playing into the Tories’ hands. Yesterday TalkRadio put up a video in which one of their right-wing mouthpieces was interviewing a young Black woman, somebody Samuel, of the Orthodox Conservative Black Group, or some such organisation. She was complaining that most members of Black Lives Matter were bored, disgruntled troublemakers. I didn’t watch all of it, so I may well be prejudging what she said. But it started off with a recording from the leader of Black Lives Matter in Oxford, ranting on about how the police were the Klan, defending statues and other acts of racism. She attacked senior Black figures in the Labour Party like David Lammy for being tokenistic, and said that they needed a new party. And then shouted ‘Black Power’.

The police have a racism problem, and it’s been very well demonstrated through a series of scandals over the years. Before the murder of Stephen Lawrence one of the big scandals to his the news was the revelation that members of her Majesty’s constabulary had been part of the League of St. George, an SS auxiliary unit set up for Fascist Brits during the War. But Mike and I had relatives and friends in the police, and no, not all cops are remotely like that, whatever the Met police is like. And it should be obvious that the police aren’t like the Klan. If they were, then that angry lady wouldn’t have the freedom to denounce them as such because of the sheer intensity of the violence that would be meted out, and the anonymity of those inflicting it. If you want to see the real fear the Klan spread and embodied, just watch last year’s Dr. Who episode where she and her ‘fam’ travel back to the American Deep South to stop a White racist trying to stop the beginning of the bus boycott which launched the mass phase of the Civil Rights movement. If the police were like the Klan, then there would be many more deaths and those responsible would be protected by their anonymity.

As for demanding a separate party for Black people, there are several ways in which that would be a non-starter. Firstly she seems to be harking back to the Black Panther Party and the New Black Panther Party in America. Which is all very well if you’re dreaming of revolution, but to the majority of Whites they look very much like anti-White paramilitaries. Small parties also have trouble establishing themselves. UKIP spent decades trudging up and down Britain getting practically nowhere at elections before their electoral breakthrough a few years ago. And as a single issue party, they’ve suffered from Brexit giving them exactly what they wanted. In Britain, blackness is still associated with foreigness and immigration, although Blacks have been here since the days of the Roman Empire. A party that served and only represented Blacks would be seen as anti-White and colonialist, exacerbating the fears of a ‘great replacement’ and White genocide. And part of the problem is the dispersal of Black people geographically throughout Britain. Someone worked out a while ago that if the number of Black MPs accurately reflected the size of the Black population of Britain, there would be 50 or more in the House of Commons by now. But not all Blacks are concentrated in specific, Black majority areas. Many live in more ethnically mixed or predominantly White towns and regions. They therefore have to show that they can represent their White constituents as well as standing for Black rights. And I doubt very many Whites would vote for a party set up solely to represent Blacks. The young woman TalkRadio was discussing was talking dangerously divisive nonsense.

I dare say that, despite her recent notoriety, she’s an isolated figure. Certainly there seem to be many Black Brits who don’t believe that someone like her stands for them. But through her ignorant comments, she’s given an opportunity for the Tories to take the initiative. I’d never heard of the Orthodox Conservative Black Group before, and I doubt many others had either. The Tories have been trying to win Black voters away from Labour by years. The tactic has been to present Labour’s attitude towards Blacks as that of angry, racial alienation – which is in many cases true – but extreme, and unrepresentative of Black Britain. Their racial policies and BAME members, they claim, are all about healing such divisions rather than increasing them. And so we had the unpleasant spectacle by in the 1990s of the Daily Heil drooling over Priti Patel at the beginning of her noxious rise to power under the headline ‘Priti as a picture’. No, she’s a smirking, self-centred, egomaniac bullying thug.

Sunak’s suggestion for more Blacks and Asians on the currency is certainly welcome, but I feel it will be no more than a token gesture. If it every happens at all, and Boris doesn’t decide to shelve it. Along with all the other Tories projects for a better, racially inclusive Britain.

 

Archaeology Recreates Bronze Age Welsh Round Barrow in ‘Minecraft’

July 7, 2020

Here’s a piece of archaeology news from yesterday’s I for Monday, 6th July 2020. An archaeologist and his daughter have recreated a Bronze Age burial mound on Anglesey, Bryn Celli Ddu, in the computer game ‘Minecraft’. The article, ”Minecraft recreates Bronze Age landmark’, by Madeleine Cuff, runs

An archaeologist has recreated one of the UK’s most famous Bronze Age landmarks on the computer game Minecraft, in an attempt to entertain his 11-year-old daughter during lockdown.

Dr Ben Edwards and his daughter Bella have created a digital version of Bryn Celli Ddu, a 3,000-year-old burial mound on Anglesey.

The pair were assisted by Dr Seren Griffiths, a colleague of Dr Edwards at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr Ffion Reynolds of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.

Their digital invention is now being shared with classrooms around the world to help students learn more about ancient civilisations and cultures.

Minecraft is a compute game created by Microsoft, where players can explore a 3D world, discovering natural resources, craft tools and build houses or other structures. Dr Edwards had to draw on his daughter’s greater technical expertise to recreate the ancient site with modern-day technology.

“Bella had to show me how to do a lot of things, because she uses it more than me,” he told BBC News, adding that Bella said the final version was “very realistic”.

Bryn Celli Ddu, which loosely translates as “mound in the dark grove”, is thought to date back to the Bronze Age. The main burial mound is positioned so that during the summer solstice the dawn sunrise shines right through the main passageway.

This is interesting, as Minecraft has been used by its players for a long time to recreate structures and objects that have zilch to do with the game itself. There used to be a number of videos on YouTube put up by people, who had used the game to do this. I remember one fan of Dr. Who had even recreated the TARDIS.

While the reconstruction of Bryn Celli Ddu in Minecraft is clearly useful for getting schoolchildren interested in archaeology, I can also see adult archaeologists using it. There is professional software available for mapping archaeological sites and monuments, but this is so expensive only institutions like universities can really afford it. A friend of mine, who’s into role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons introduced me a few weeks ago to a piece of software that has been developed to enable players to create maps of the fictional landscapes of their games. While not exactly cheap, it’s definitely much cheaper than the academic software for archaeologists and geographers. I remarked then how useful the game software could be to serious archaeologists in their recreations of ancient landscapes.

Now it seems that Minecraft could be the same. I think it would be too crude for a finished recreation of a monument, but it might help archaeologists when they are beginning an analysis by allowing them to do so at rough, initial stage.

Adam Savage and Guest Engineer Build Refrigerated Cooling Suit

June 19, 2020

Adam Savage is a Science Fiction fan and engineer/special effects technician on YouTube. I think he was also one half of Mythbusters, a cable/satellite TV series in which he and his co-host put to the test various popular myths. Such as whether a car door really could shield you from bullets as shown in any number of cop shows and films.

In his YouTube channel, Savage goes off to various SF conventions and gatherings, talking to stars, special effects people and fans. He also builds replica movie props and effects. In this video, he and his guest, biomedical engineer Kipp Bradford, build a refrigerated suit.

Savage says that he’s building it because a few years ago, he went to a convention wearing a replica of the spacesuits worn in the classic SF/horror movie Alien. Wearing its quilted material in such a hot environment, however, nearly gave him heatstroke. He went to another convention after that wearing a copy of the silver space suites from Kubrick’s 2001. This had a type of cooling system built into it to stop him becoming too hot, but it seems to have just circulated water around without being a refrigerator. The refrigerated cooling suit he and Bradford build uses the same kind of technology used in domestic fridges to keep food and drink cool. It works by pumping a refrigerated fluid around which takes heat from the objects to be cooled and radiates it away. In this case, the suit uses a miniature compressor and two heat exchangers. The miniature compressor was made by DARPA for the American armed forces. Nearly two decades ago after Gulf War II the American government called for a similar refrigerated suit to be developed to keep its squaddies cool in the desert heat. The project was abandoned when it was realised that if something went wrong with the suits, the soldiers would be seriously compromised.

The suit the two use for the device is an RAF cooling suit from c. 1975. It’s designed for the British air forces high altitude pilots, and Savage says he picked it up a few years ago at an auction. I have an idea it was a similar suit with tubes for circulating fluid that the costume/make up department of Dr. Who used for the Cybermen seen in the 1980s Peter Davison story Earthshock. 

I don’t think this is something that can be built at home by your average SF fan or DIY enthusiast. Obviously one of the issues is simply getting hold of the components. They mention that one of the compressors is available from a company that will provide single units. All the other companies providing refrigerator components will only supply them in bulk, so unless you order 10,000 of them, they won’t give you anything. They also use a proper, industrial refrigerant as the coolant. There’s a lot of joking about using alcohol, including vodka as the coolant, and they state that this is a viable option. But I really don’t think that is the stuff they eventually use. They do say, on the other hand, that it isn’t the freon used in older fridges in the 1970s, for example, that was one of the gases that put a hole in the ozone layer. That’s been replaced by more ecofriendly chemicals, so that the hole is actually now closing. Which is clearly a win for the environment, even if the planet is still suffering from massive pollution and the destruction of the natural environment and extinction of millions of endangered species.

For all the light, jokey tone, it’s clear that Bradford is an incredibly intelligent man. While Savage jokes that he’s only got honorary degrees, which aren’t worth anything, Bradford has a string of higher qualifications. He’s a biomechanical engineer, who has designed similar cooling units for medevac for injured American troopers.

The two manage to construct a small refrigerator and connect it to the suit. And it works! Through an infrared app on a mobile phone camera they show it lowering Savage’s temperature as he’s wearing it down to quite a cold level. The only drawback for this viewer is that they don’t create any kind of backpack for it enabling Savage to wear it with the suit. Wearing it, Savage remarks that it’s given him an insight into the achievement of the NASA scientists and engineers, who built the spacesuits. Not only did these include similar cooling systems, but they also had to include other vital systems like air.

I found this video particularly interesting as a fan of Dune. In Frank Herbert’s classic novel, the Fremen and other people survive the harsh conditions on the desert planet Arakis by wearing still suits. These reclaim the body’s moisture from sweat and wastes through semi-permeable membranes, treating it so that it becomes drinkable water. Fans of the Australian-American ’90s SF show, Farscape, will also remember the cooling suit worn by the villain Scorpius. Scorpius is half-Skaren, half-Sebatian. The Skarens are tough, reptile-like creatures with a high body temperature and craving for heat. The Sebatians, by contrast, are identical to humans but lack human’s ability to regulate their body temperature. They’re therefore vulnerable to overheating and falling into an incurable coma. In order to stop this, Scorpius wears a refrigerated suit specially designed for him, and has had surgery performed so that he can insert cooling rods into his skull to lower the temperature of his brain. Mercifully, no-one has suggested doing anything like that yet, although some extreme conditions are treated by placing the patient in a coma and lowering their body temperature. This nifty little piece of engineering shows that while we haven’t quite reached the ability to produce a still suit like Dune’s, we’re not far off it.

As you can also see from the video, Kipp Bradford’s Black or mixed-race. There’s a move to make science and engineering more diverse, with more women and Blacks and people from ethnic minorities. I therefore thought the video might also be of interest, as it clearly shows that Blacks are also capable of doing great, awesome science and engineering. Not that there should be any doubt of it. The ‘McCoy’ of the phrase ‘It’s the real McCoy!’, said of any great invention or clever device, was apparently an American naval engineer around about World War II, who became famous for the marvels he could work on board ships.

BBC World Service Programme Next Tuesday on Scientists Generating Electricity from Leaves

May 13, 2020

This sounds completely bonkers, like the academy discussing ways to generate sunlight from cucumbers in Swift’s great satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but apparently is real science. According to the Radio Times again, next Tuesday, 19th May 2020, the BBC World Service programme, People Fixing the World, is about how scientists have found a way to generate electricity from leaves. The blurb about the programme by Tom Goulding on page 120 of the Radio Times runs

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists in Italy might have discovered the next best thing: leaves that generate electricity when they touch one another on a windy day. This process, enough to power 150 LED lights, is one of several remarkably simple ways of producing energy that scientists are just beginning to understand. In this optimistic documentary, reporter Daniel Gordon investigates some age-old ideas that could finally become viable renewable energy sources with new technology, such as the interaction between fresh and salt water at estuaries and a 5 km well being dug to extract untapped heat in Iceland.

The programme is on at 3.05 in the afternoon.

This sound really awesome, though it reminds me a little of the ‘treeborg’, a cyborg tree aboard a spaceship in a Matt Smith Dr. Who story, and also somewhat of the Matrix films, in which the robots have risen up and enslaved humanity. Unable to use sunlight after humanity wrecked the planet’s whether and created permanently overcast skies, the machines turned instead to growing us all in bottles and using the electricity generated from our bodies. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a viable option. After the movie came out, people naturally wondered whether that could actually work. And the answer is, that it doesn’t. The amount of electricity generated by the human body is way too small. Nevertheless, reading this in the Radio Times makes you wonder if someone couldn’t harness it to provide useful power, nonetheless. Should the producers of this programme be giving them ideas?

Going on to geothermal power, I can remember in the 1970s watching items about it in Iceland on the popular science programmes’ Tomorrow’s World on the Beeb and Don’t Ask Me on ITV. That was the programme that gave the viewing public the great science broadcasters Magnus Pike and David ‘Botanic Man’ Bellamy.

I haven’t heard of electricity being generated by the interaction between fresh and salt water before, but I was amazed at how long ago tidal power has been around as a possible power source. Turbine wheels were put in the Thames estuary in the 16th century to provide power for mills. George Bernard Shaw also mentions tidal power in his book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. As an example of the type of wrangling that goes on in parliamentary democracy, he asks the reader to imagine the type of fierce debate that would occur if someone suggested putting up a tidal barrage in one of Britain’s great rivers. There would be a fiery contingent from Wales arguing that it should be on the Severn, and an equally fierce body of proud Scots declaring it should be on one of their rivers. I don’t think he need have worried. There have been debates about building a barrage on the Severn since I was at secondary school, and it’s no nearer being built because of concerns over its ecological effects.

But this programme sound amazing. I thinks there’s a simple science experiment for children, in which electrodes are stuck into a lemon or potato, and connected together to turn on an electric lightbulb. Will we be doing something similar in our gardens in a few years’ time, just as people are now putting solar panels on their rooves?

 

Ho Ho! Black Guardian Embarrassed by Her Bookshelf

May 5, 2020

Sarah Vine plotting the Doctor’s downfall and intergalactic domination.

Here’s a bit of comic relief amidst the continuing grim reality of the Coronavirus crisis. Sarah Vine, Mail columnist and wife of Michael Gove, managed to give the online public a few moments of fun when she gave them a very revealing look at her and her husband’s taste in reading matter.

Vine’s proud of her husband’s membership of Boris’ cabinet, and has taken to giving herself the pretentious internet monicker of @WestminsterWAG, as she clearly regards being the other half of an MP as glamorous as being a footballer’s wife or girlfriend. And to show her and her husband’s astonishing good fortune, she took a picture of Gove taking the daily Downing Street briefing as it appeared on the TV in their home and posted it on Twitter with the caption ‘Surreal’. The TV was underneath a set of bookshelves, and it was their contents which gave such great amusement to those looking at her Tweet. Former New Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell picked out a few particularly noticeable volumes, and tweeted at her that ‘having Hitler, Rommel and Napoleon next to Maggie is not a good look.’

Now there are a number of ways Vine could have reacted to this gibe. She could have made the obvious comment that reading about notorious people doesn’t mean you want to imitate them. The amount written and published about Hitler and the Nazis is colossal, but mercifully very few people reading about them are murderous racists and anti-Semites. Ditto for Napoleon. The Napoleonic period is fascinating because it is such a critical period in European history, when French armies marched across the Continent with the intention of building an empire. But obviously that doesn’t mean that everyone reading about the Corsican general has similar megalomaniac ambitions. As it was, she simply replied “Don’t be so absurd. They are books. You should try them sometimes – you can learn a lot from them. You will note there is also a Peter Mandelson”. And that’s where she should have left it. Unfortunately, she couldn’t resist posting another Tweet, saying “As a very special treat for my trolls and [Alastair Campbell] here is another bookshelf. There are about 20 more. Enjoy!” And the peeps on Twitter did just that. And it wasn’t pretty.

Owen Jones spotted a copy of The War Path, the prequel by David Irving to his Hitler’s War. That’s the David Irving, who really is an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Mehdi Hasan and another Tweeter noticed that she also had a copy of The Bell Curve, a book arguing that intelligence is linked to race. Jones further remarked commented on her reaction to his criticism about an article in the Spectator by Rod Liddle arguing that there should be more islamophobia in the Tory party. Vine called the article ‘Clever and funny’. Dawn Foster tweeted that she’d read Gove’s ‘virulently islamophobic’ Celsius 7/7 and written about his time as education minister, and it was obvious that The Bell Curve had strongly influenced his thinking. It was, she said, ‘dangerous, racist rubbish’. That’s nearly everyone said about The Bell Curve, including a great many scientists, which is why it’s been torn to pieces by critics. Libcom Dot Org also noticed that Vine and Gove owned a copy of Alan Benoist’s Beyond Human Rights: Defending Freedom, adding the significant information that Benoist’s a central figure in the European New Right and Third Positionist movements. The latter movement is a revisionist strain of White Nationalism that doesn’t want Blacks and Asians to be deported from Britain and Europe. But they do want them to be segregated. Zelo Street in their article about Vine and Gove’s wretchedly poor choice in reading matter added that Benoist also has White Nationalist and Russian Fascist links as well.

Vine then got very huffy about all this criticism, and Tweeted  “Extraordinary how many people on here seem to be so censorious of books and the idea of knowledge. In common with the Nazis, the Spanish Inquisition, Communist Russia – and pretty much every despotic, brutal regime you can think of. Says it all, really”. But political liberalism, in the broad sense of defending and upholding free democratic societies, in which people are not persecuted because of their religion or ethnicity, also means recognising and condemning ideological threats. It’s why Mein Kampf was banned in Germany until a few years ago, and why decent bookshops won’t stock copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It’s also somewhat rich for Vine to compare her critics to dictatorships and other savagely repressive movements when the Daily Mail has based much of its sales tactics on stoking similar outrage and demanding anything left-wing or otherwise controversial to be banned.

It also doesn’t change the fact that while the books on Hitler, Rommel and Napoleon don’t mean that Vine and Gove are admirers of right-wing megalomaniacs and dictators, the other books do show that they have a very dangerous taste for the ideas of real racists and Fascists.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/sarah-vine-felled-by-falling-bookshelf.html

 

Discworld Novels To Come to TV and Film

April 29, 2020

Good news for fans of the late Fantasy/SF author Terry Pratchett. According to an article on page 3 of today’s I, for 29th April 2020, a special production company is set to develop his discworld novels for the screen. The article simply reads

Sir Terry Pratchett’s production company, Narrativia, is to bring the late writer’s Discworld novels to life in screen adaptations. It hopes to create “truly authentic” features based on the novels, which remain “absolutely faithful” to Sir Terry’s “original, unique genius.”

I saw Pratchett several times speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. He was a funny man, who spoke to packed audiences. Like Michael Moorcock, the author of the cult Fantasy hero, Elric, Pratchett was also critical about the genre in which he wrote. He once said that if you read The Lord of the Rings when you were 13, and didn’t think it was the greatest book in the world, there’s something wrong with you. And if you still think it’s the greatest book in the world by the time you’re 33, there’s something really wrong with you. He also said that Fantasy was dead, and he was a maggot crawling in its rotting corpse.

But this was back in the 1990s, when the state of genre literature I hope was a lot different than it is today.

There have already been a couple of TV adaptations of his Discworld books, I believe. There has definitely been an animated version of Soul Music, about a lad who makes a pact to become Discworld’s superstar performer of what the trolls call ‘music with rocks in’, narrated by Rowan Atkinson. There’s also a TV adaptation of the book Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman,  and starring David Tennant, formerly Dr. Who, by one of the internet TV services. It’s either on at the moment, or it very recently has been. Apart from Discworld and Good Omens, Pratchett also co-wrote a couple of novels with other writers, including an SF trilogy about parallel worlds, which included The Long Earth, and The Long War with Hard SF writer Stephen Baxter, the author of the Xelee books.

I have to say that I only read five of his books before giving up – The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Mort, Pyramids and Reaper Man. I really enjoyed them, but gave up reading him because I simply couldn’t keep up with the man’s colossal output. His novels were hilarious, but many of them also contained among the humour a serious humanistic message. He was also very appreciative of the fans, who made him one of the great giants of modern Fantasy literature.

It’s great that there is a production company set up to try and translate Pratchett’s unique literary creation to TV and film, and wish them every success. After the horrors of the present, we’re going to need a good dose of humour and healthy, intelligent Fantasy.

Does Sarah Vine Look like Two Doctor Who Villains?

February 20, 2020

Okay, I know this is ad hominem, but it’s been niggling away at me for some time. This is one for Dr. Who fans, and the question is: does Michael Gove’s equally odious wife, Sarah Vine, look two of the villains from the classic series, the Black Guardian of Time and the Valyard.

Sarah Vine

The Black Guardian of Time, as played by Valentine Dyall

The Valeyard, as played by Michael Jaystone

The Valeyard was an evil version of the Doctor, made up of pieces from his 12th and 13th incarnations. He acted as the prosecution in the Colin Baker story, ‘Trial of a Time Lord’. The Black Guardian of Time was the opposing force to the White Guardian. He first made his appearance in the Tom Baker ‘Key to Time’ story, ‘The Armageddon Factor’, and later reappeared during Peter Davidson’s time as the Doctor. Whereas the White Guardian stood for Good, the Black Guardian stood for evil, seeking to destroy the universe and plunge it into chaos and evil.

Which sounds pretty much like the policies of the Tories and Daily Mail. It’s been established in Dr. Who that the Time Lords can change sex when they regenerate. The Doctor’s done it, and before him/her the Master became Missy.

So perhaps the Black Guardian has also done it and is now hiding undercover in the Daily Fail’s office, seeking her chance to once again overthrow the forces of order and spread evil across time and space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lookalikes: Eric Pickles and Monster from H.P. Lovecraft

January 28, 2020

Mike yesterday put up a piece mischievously suggesting that Sajid Javid, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Dr. Who villain, the Collector, from the Tom Baker era story The Sunmakers, and also Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Javid was posing in publicity photo with the new 50 pence piece, which will be issued to mark Brexit. And yes, he does look somewhat like Gollum, shown in a still from the movie in which he peers at the One Ring.

In the same spirit, I’ve also noticed an uncanny similarity between the former Tory minister, Eric Pickles, and a monster in Tim White’s awesome cover painting for the third volume of Grafton’s H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus, The Haunter of the Dark.

Eric Pickles

Lovecraftian Horror

Of course, there’s no similarity whatsoever between stories of a group of monsters aiming to enslave and destroy humanity, and the creatures of H.P. Lovecraft.