Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

TTA Spacecraft 2000 – 2100: Videos, Spacecraft and Book Cover Art

April 19, 2017

I put up a post at the weekend about a video I’d found on YouTube, in which a fan of Stewart Cowley’s Spacecraft 2000-2100 had made a short CGI film as a tribute. The film was a promotional video for the book’s fictional Terran Trade Authority, the global governmental organisation that had overseen the construction of the spacecraft which had taken humanity to the planets, and from then on to the nearest stars, meeting friendly creatures from Alpha Centauri, and fighting a war against aliens from Proxima Centauri.

The book Spacecraft 2000-2100 was a ‘future history’, of the type that was quite common in SF from the 1950s to the 1970s, when scientists and science fiction writers were confident that it would only be a matter of decades, perhaps only a few years even, before humanity established colonies in space – orbital cities, bases and then colonies on the Moon and Mars. FTL – Faster Than Light travel would be invented, and humanity would go on into the Galaxy ‘to seek out new life forms and new civilisations’, in the words of the Classic Trek.

The spacecraft in the book all came from SF book covers by some of the great space artists of the ’70s – Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Peter Elson, Bob Layzell, Fred Gambino and Jim Burns, around which the author, Stewart Cowley, wove his story of invention and exploration. It’s one of my favourite space books. The spacecraft depicted and their settings had a strange, otherworldly, literally alien beauty, even when the scenes were of industry or simple rocket launches. After I found the first video, I found another. This one is rather more complete. It uses the same computer techniques to recreate the spacecraft, as well as a whole scenes from the book. The spacecraft race across alien landscapes, rise into the air, hover above vast future cities, or prepare to dock with huge space stations.

I also found this video by Scott Manley on YouTube, where he talks about the book. He found it amongst his father’s old things, which rather dates me. Along with some of the other facts he mentions, he talks about the picture of an alien spaceship, which was plagiarised a few years ago by another artist, who entered his version for the Turner Prize. Apparently, the book was also republished in 2005, but was not well-received. The future history had to be rewritten, and some of the pictures were replaced by computer art. There has, however, also been a Role-Playing Game created, which is set in the same universe as the book.

Here’s a few of the book covers, from which the art was taken. Top far left is by Angus McKie; top let is Tony Roberts, bottom left is Bob Layzell, while bottom right is by Peter Elson. Neither of the two bottom images appear in the book. Other pieces by them do appear, and these show Layzell’s and Elson’s style
This and other great pieces of SF art can be found in the book Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History by Steve Holland (New York: HarperCollins 2009).

Star Trek Spoof: Kirk Takes Dodgy Pills Prescribed by McCoy

April 14, 2017

This is hilarious. It’s a fan spoof from YouTube, which presents itself as a trailer for a missing episode. It isn’t, of course, but it’s still fun. Kirk has been given some red pills by Dr McCoy, which are causing him to see some very strange things indeed, to the concern of Mr Spock.

Of course, you know when you’re a Trekker when you’re able to name, or at least describe, the episodes from which the various figures and the main clip of Kirk, Spock and McCoy were taken.

Harlan Ellison’s ‘Dangerous Visions’ Published as SF Classics

January 7, 2017

Also looking through Waterstone’s SF shelves last week, I found that Gollancz has published the groundbreaking short story anthology, Dangerous Visions as part of their range of classic works of Science Fiction. The book, edited by Harlan Ellison, who wrote the classic Star Trek episode ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’, caused uproar when the stories were published in the early ’70s. Several of the stories had appeared in Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, and constituted the American equivalent of the British ‘New Wave’. The controversial subjects of some the stories and their sexual explicitness resulted in a questions in parliament about the magazines’ perceived obscenity. This came after the arts council had renewed its grant to Moorcock’s magazine for the following year, which is more than a little ironic. Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, quote Ellison as saying of the ‘New Wave’ writers ‘these guys is blasphemous’. However, in their opinion the American writers were far more traditional and less radical and iconoclastic than their British counterparts. But if you’re interested, you can now read it again and judge for yourself.

The ‘I’ Newspaper on the Invention of Star Trek-Style ‘Tractor Beam’

January 4, 2017

The I newspaper today reported that Asier Marzo, an American doctoral student, now a research assistant at Bristol uni, has invented a tractor beam using sound which can be built by anyone with a 3D printer.

The article by Tom Bawden runs

Fans of Star Wars and Star Trek were given a huge boost last year when a doctoral student in America developed the first sonic tractor beam capable of pulling an object towards it by using sound waves. But alas its use was confined to fancy labs with expensive equipment.

Now, thanks to that same individual – who has since become a research assistant at the University of Bristol – it has become far more accessible, at least to anyone with 3D printing technology.

The tractor beam has long been a staple of science fiction, used in a series of Star Trek episodes to capture and tow other space ships, while the Death Star’s tractor beam memorably catches the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.

A do-it-yourself handheld acoustic tractor beam will now become widely available, according to a new paper published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

“Previously we developed a tractor beam, but it was very complicated and pricey because it required a phase array, which is a complex electronic system,” said Asier Marzo, the researcher behind the developments.

“Now, we have made a simple, static tractor beam that only requires a static piece of matter,” he said.

“We can modulate a simple wave using what’s called a metamaterial, which is basically a piece of matter with lots of tubes of different lengths. The sound passes through these tubes and when it exits the metamaterial it has the correct phases to create a tractor beam.”

With an effect that is determined by the shape of the tubes, the research team focused on optimising the design to allow fabrication with common 3D printers, ensuring it could be constructed by home hobbyists. (The I, 4th January 2017, p. 23).

I think the pseudoscientific explanation for the tractor beams in Star Trek is that they use gravitons – the subatomic particles that carry the force of gravity – to pull other ships and objects towards them. In an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Wesley Crusher is shown having invented a handheld tractor beam. I think it’s in the episode ‘The Naked Now’.

There are some very clever things now being done with sound. There was a piece on The One Show or perhaps the Beeb’s pop science programme, Bang Goes The Theory, where they showed how sound waves could be used to levitate a series of small objects. I have a feeling it was the discovery of acoustic levitation back in the 1990s or early 2000s that inspired one episode of Far Scape, ‘Taking the Stone’ where Chiana joins a group of alien thrill seekers. These young people get their kicks from leaping off a cliff above an alien echo chamber while humming. If they get the tone right, the sound waves resonate and break their fall. If they don’t, they plunge to their deaths. I can’t imagine that ever catching on as sport in real life, but you never know.

Pro-NHS Political Comment in Paul McAuley’s ‘Something Coming Through’

December 27, 2016

something-coming-pic

One of the books I’ve been reading this Christmas is Paul McAuley’s Something Coming Through (London: Gollancz 2015). McAuley’s a former scientist as well as an SF writer. Apart from novels, he also reviewed books and contributed short stories to the veteran British SF magazine, Interzone. He was one of the writers who created the gene punk genre, sometimes also called ‘ribofunk’. This was the genetic engineering counterpart to Cyberpunk, where, instead of using computers, individuals, criminals and corporations used genetic engineering to redesign new forms of life, or spread invasive memes throughout the population to control the way people thought. Back in the 1990s he was one of the guests on the BBC Radio 3 series, Grave New Worlds, in which computer scientists, writers and artists talked about the transhuman condition. This was back when everyone was talking about cyborgisation, and the potential of contemporary technology to produce new varieties of humanity. Apart from McAuley, the guests also included J.G. Ballard and the performance artist Stelarc, who has personally explored the implications of cybernetics for the human body in a series of performances. In one of these he had a mechanical third arm, operated through electrical signals picked up through the stomach muscles. He also gave a modern music performance, in which he was wired up to the internet via galvanic stimulators. A search engine then went about finding images of body parts on the Net. When it found one, that part of the body was electronically stimulated so that it moved. There were also booths in three cities around the world, where participants could also press buttons to move Stelarc via electric impulses. Apart from Kevin Warwick, the professor of robotics at Warwick university, is the person who’s come the closest to being Star Trek’s Borg.

McAuley’s Something Coming Through and its sequel, Into Everywhere, follow the fictional universe he created in a series of magazine short stories about the alien Jackaroo and their impact on humanity. Following a short period of warfare, including the destruction of part of London with a nuclear bomb by terrorists, the Jackaroo turned up and declared that they wish to help. These aliens bring with them 15 artificial wormholes, which act as gateways to 15 worlds, which the Jackaroo give to humanity. Humanity isn’t the only race that the aliens have helped, and the worlds they give to humanity are covered with the ruins and artefacts of previous alien civilisations, now vanished. The Jackaroo themselves are never seen. They interact with humanity through avatars, artificial beings that look like human men. These have golden skin and features modelled on a number of contemporary celebrities. They’re also bald, wear shades, and dress in black track suits. Their motives for helping humanity are unclear. They claim they just want to help, and that it is up to humanity themselves how they use the worlds they have given them. But they are widely suspected of having their own agenda, and despite the protestations of non-interference they are suspected of subtly manipulating humanity.

Accompanying the Jackaroo are the !cho, another alien race, who are equally mysterious. They move about the world in opaque tanks supported on three skeletal legs. Nobody has ever managed to open one up, or scan the tanks using X-rays or ultrasound. It is, however, widely believed that the !cho are sentient colonies of shrimp. Their motives, and their relationship with the Jackaroo, are also unknown.

Something Coming Through follows the adventures of Chloe Millar, a researcher for a company, Disruption Theory, in London, and Vic Gayle, a cop on Mangala, one of the Jackaroo gift worlds. The objects and ruins left from the Jackaroo’s previous client civilisations can be highly dangerous. Some of them are still active, despite the many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of years of abandonment and decay. These can infect humans with memes, algorithms that alter psychology and behaviour. The strongest, most intact of these become eidolons, artificial entities that can take possession of their human hosts. Disruption Theory is a company specialising in researching the effects of these memes as they break out to infect people in Britain. This often takes the form of small sects, whose leaders speak in tongues, uttering nonsense as they try to put in human terms the alien concepts running their consciousness. Millar, the heroine, is investigating a couple of orphaned Pakistani children, who have apparently been infected by an eidolon from one of the gift worlds. Out on Mangala, Vic Gayle is also investigating the murder of a man, who has recently arrived aboard one of the Jackaroo’s shuttles.

Unlike much SF, the book doesn’t indicate how far in the future the story’s set. This is, however, very much a world not too far from the early 21st century of the present. The political structures are much the same, with the exception that the gift worlds are under the control of the UN. People still work in recognisable jobs, and shop and purchase the same brands of clothing. Complicating relations with the Jackaroo is a British politician, Robin Mountjoy and the Human Decency League. The League objects to contact with the Jackaroo as a danger to the dignity of the human race. Their leader, Robin Mountjoy, is described as being ‘in his mid-fifties, a burly man with thinning blond hair and a florid complexion, dressed in an off-the-peg suit. Although he was a multimillionaire, having made his fortune constructing and servicing displaced-persons camps, his PR painted him as a bluff, no-nonsense man of the people whose common sense cut through the incestuous old boys’ networks of the Westminster village’. (p. 51). The League isn’t strong enough to form a government of its own, and so has gone into a coalition with the Conservatives. While Mountjoy is clearly fictional, he does seem to be inspired by Nigel Farage and UKIP, with Britain attempting to gain independence from smooth talking mysterious aliens rather than the EU.

One of the other characters is Adam Nevers, a cop with the Technology Control Unit. This is the branch of the British police tasked with protecting the country from dangerous alien technology. Nevers is described as coming from the entitled upper ranks of society, who go straight from university into high ranking jobs. Which looks to me very much like a comment on the privileged upbringing and expectations of absolute deference and entitlement from certain members of the British upper classes.

Apart from the social and psychological disruption caused by alien contact, this is also a world wear the NHS has finally been privatised. McAuley shows the practical impact this has people’s lives. Without the safety net of state healthcare, people are dependent on their employers to help pay their medical bills, or borrowing money from friends. In his acknowledgements, as well as the many other people who helped him with the book, McAuley also thanks ‘the NHS for life support’. (p. 375). Which suggests that he’s also suffered a period of illness, and is very much aware how much he and everyone else in the country needs the NHS.

I liked the book for its convincing portrayal of the world after sort-of personal contact with an alien civilisation, and the frontier societies that have emerged as Mangala and the other gift worlds have been settled and colonised. I was also fascinated by McAuley’s description of the alien life-forms, and the archaeological exploration of the remains of the planets’ previous civilisations for the technological advances these artifacts offer. I was also drawn to it as it offered a different take on the old SF trope of alien contact. The appearance of the Jackaroo is described as an ‘invasion’, but it’s not really that. The aliens have a ‘hands off’ approach. They haven’t conquered the Earth militarily, and political power is still exercised through traditional human institutions and parties, like the UN and the Tories. Nor are they more or less at our technological level, like many of the alien races in Star Trek, for example. We don’t form an interplanetary federation with them, as they are clearly extremely far in advance of humanity, which is very much the junior partner in this relationship.

It’s not really a political book, and really doesn’t make any overt party political statements. With the exception that rightwing xenophobes would probably form a party like UKIP to join the Conservatives against pernicious alien influence, just like the Kippers under Farage came very much from the right wing, Eurosceptic section of the Tories. But its comments on the class nature of British society does bring a wry smile, and its advocacy of the NHS is very welcome. It doesn’t preach, but simply shows the fear the characters have of sickness or injury in its absence.

And with all too real terrestrial morons like Daniel Hannan, Jeremy Hunt, Dave Cameron, Theresa May, Tony Blair, Alan Milburn and the rest of the right-wing politicos, who have done and still are doing their best to undermine the health service, such comments are badly needed throughout the British media.

Trump and Putin Revive Nuclear Arms Race

December 24, 2016

Yesterday, Mike put up another piece commenting on statements by the American president-elect and Vladimir Putin that they want to strengthen their countries’ nuclear arsenals. Trump had made a tweet on Thursday saying “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Trump did so the same day that Putin issued his own statement, declaring that “We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems.”

Mike makes the point that the threat of nuclear Armageddon will not make the world more secure. It will not make rogue states like North Korea abandon their nuclear programmes. Instead, Mike urged us to listen to George Takei, whose family personally experienced the horror of the atomic bomb in Japan in World War II.

Star Trek’s Mr Sulu tweeted “Trump wants to expand our nuclear arsenal. I think of my aunt and baby cousin, found burnt in a ditch in Hiroshima. These weapons must go.”

Absolutely. I can remember the very large, and vocal demonstrations against nuclear weapons in Japan during the new Cold War of the 1980s. The Japanese had every good reason to demand the reduction and abandonment of the world’s nuclear arsenals: their country had experienced the terrible carnage produced by these horrific weapons.

Mike also reports that back in May, Trump also stated that he would support South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia acquiring nuclear weapons for their own protection.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/23/why-are-trump-and-putin-suddenly-keen-to-revive-the-cold-war/

Mike’s also reported that Trump has followed up his idiotic tweet by making his intentions clear in an interview with Mika Brzezinski, one of the presenters on MSNBC’s Morning Joe programme. He said, ‘Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all’.

Mike makes the point that his comments risk needlessly inflaming tensions with Russia, pointing out that what is currently repeated in the western media about eastern Europe and the Middle East is propaganda designed to manipulate public opinion. He also argues that Putin could adopt the opposite approach, and concentrate on saving precious money and resources through the same policy, that has been considered by Labour Jeremy Corbyn. This means killing or otherwise neutralising terrorists’ leaders through surgical strikes, leaving them without effective military direction.

He also points out that technological weapons are also increasingly susceptible to infiltration and sabotage.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/24/while-trump-spends-all-his-money-on-nuclear-weapons-what-will-the-russians-do/

Trump’s determination to ramp up America’s nuclear arsenal is bizarre, given his previous statements during his presidential campaign in which he deliberately gave the impression that he would be scaling down America’s military intervention around the globe. However, on examination this does seem very much in line with Trump’s determination to go back on every single one of his election promises, with the exception of repealing Obamacare.

Remember the noise he was making about going to Washington to ‘drain the swamp’, and would stop the corporate domination and corruption of Congress? That’s gone. After attacking Hillary for being a fully paid-up stooge for Wall Street, Trump has himself gone and appointed Wall Street bankers – including one from Goldman Sachs – to his cabinet. In fact, if anything, he’s increased the amount of corporate corruption. He’s allowed his daughter, Ivanka, to stay with him during negotiations with heads of government in either Japan or China, despite the fact that Ivanka Trump is also a businesswoman, who could use the information from these interviews to gain a clear economic advantage. And his sons have been raising money for their father by selling tickets to the extremely and not-quite-so filthy rich for them to attend dinners with him and go on hunting trips. All Trump’s talk about tackling corporate power has been a lie. Instead, it’s very much business as usual.

And it appears to be very much the same here. Counterpunch has published several articles over the past couple of months discussing how Barack Obama has been talking to senior military staff in Washington. He has already started to expand America’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He has also considered the possible use of low-megaton ‘battle field’ nukes in a limited nuclear war in Europe. The American comedian Jimmy Dore has several times ripped into Obama on his internet show, bitterly attacking the false image of the soon to be ex-president as some kind of dove and peacemaker. Far from stopping wars, Obama has carried on George Dubya’s brutal military policies in the Middle East, from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, as well as Libya and Somalia. And so this new policy, announced by Trump, really isn’t new at all. It is, as Max Headroom used to say, merely ‘more… of the same’. The difference here is that Max was a fictional character with a satirical edge talking about pop music. The pilot for his series, 20 Minutes into the Future, showed a decaying Britain with massive poverty and homelessness, dominated by ruthless and unscrupulous media corporations. It’s a dystopian vision that is still very relevant today, even if the human brain is far too complicated to be successfully mapped and modelled electronically to produce an AI like Max.

As for the reason behind this dangerous policy, Counterpunch also published a piece describing Hillary Clinton’s vision of America’s role in the world. She seemed to be intent on expanding America’s military power to the utmost. She and the rest of the hawks talked about ‘full spectrum domination’, which means that America is the superior, dominant military superpower with the ability to bomb everyone else back into submission. At the same time, her domestic policies were aimed at keeping the working class as poor and as desperate as possible, so that she could sell American products cheaply to the emerging east Asian market.

It’s also been argued that America spends so much on the military because it is the only way that the American state can stimulate the country’s economy. Leftwing commenters and political analysts have argued that the experience of the Second World War after the Great Depression taught the American industrial and political class that America needed state intervention to create prosperity. This is, however, the Keynsian economic position, which is vehemently rejected by the Republicans and Libertarians as ‘socialism’ or even ‘Communism’. The only way the American state can effectively intervene in the American economy in a manner that is ideologically acceptable, is by doing what the Nazis and Fascists did in Germany and Italy, and invest massively in a re-armament programme. And like the Fascist states, the state has to use its armed forces to maintain its investments and public support for the rearmament programme. This was part of the reason for the outbreak of the Second World War.

As for Trump’s statement that he is prepared to allow South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons, this is grossly irresponsible. Especially in the case of Saudi Arabia. In the case of Japan, it unacceptable for the same reason that the country has difficulty launching its own spacecraft. In the 1980s Japan developed its own rocket launcher to carry its satellites and probes into space. One of these probes was amongst the small flotilla of spacecraft that met Halley’s Comet in 1986. From what I’ve read, the country has only used its launcher a few times because of fears that it would be taken as a missile attack by the Chinese. The same would be true of South Korea. Political scientists and foreign policy analysts have argued very strongly against threatening China, as they respond by passing on nuclear technology and armaments to other nations, such as Pakistan.

And I cannot imagine anything more stupid, more calculated to result a nuclear holocaust, than giving atomic weapons to Saudi Arabia. This is a militant theocracy that has sponsored horrific terror campaigns throughout the Middle East and against America itself. Elements within the Saudi aristocracy and political elite, including its intelligence minister and possibly, if I remember correctly, the current king, sponsored al-Qaeda and ISIS. Terrorist organisations like them, who use suicide bombers and deliberately target civilians, simply cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. But that is what would happen if Trump allowed Saudi Arabia to acquire them.

Trump’s renewal of the nuclear arms race is therefore simply a continuation of Bush’s, Obama’s and Hillary’s arms policies. And it’s insane. During the Cold War of the last century, there were at least three instances where NATO and the former Warsaw Pact were on the edge of full-scale nuclear war. We escaped some of these by the skin of our teeth. This time, we may not be so lucky.

George Takei Condemns Trump’s Plan for Muslim Registry

November 22, 2016

A few days ago, one of Trump’s stormtroopers caused massive outrage by citing the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a precedent for the imposition of a Muslim registry. This is a clip from an American news programme, in which George Takei, who played Mr Sulu in Star Trek, along with many other roles, condemns this vile proposal. Takei’s a Japanese-American, and he and his family, like about 120,000 others, were interned. He states this was a terrible crime, and reminds the viewer that Ronald Reagan publicly apologised for it and paid reparations to the surviving victims in the 1980s. He states clearly that America is a country of law and due process, which internment and Muslim registration massively violate. He makes it clear that Japanese-American internment should never be used as a precedent, as it can only be such for persecution and injustice. He states further that he has been speaking about Japanese-American internment for most of his life, including recently at Penn State college, in the hope that it would never happen again. Now this seems a real threat, and he urges all Americans to come together to prevent his occurring.

The programme also shows that Trump has no clear idea how to go about it either. When asked if he would just register Muslims by going to the mosques, Trump merely says, ‘No, but other places’. Takei rightly condemns this as the criminalisation of entire religion.

Reichwing Watch: Trump Spokesman Cites Japanese Internment to Justify Muslim Registry

November 18, 2016

This is terrifying. It’s another clip from Reichwing Watch, from a news programme in which a spokesman for Trump tells Megan Kelly, the news anchor, to her face that Japanese internment during World War II has set a precedent for Trump’s proposal to have all Muslims entered in an official register. To her credit, Kelly tells him that he cannot use this as a precedent, and reproaches him for using it to get people frightened. The Trump surrogate laughs this off, but says that the president still needs to protect America. She argues back that the protection extends the moment you enter America.

This should terrify everyone, who is sincerely worried about the march of Fascism, including anyone with a knowledge of Roman civilisation. Firstly, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II as enemy aliens led to horrendous suffering and deprivation, and is still naturally resented by Americans of Japanese heritage decades later. George Takei, I understand, the actor who played Mr Sulu in Star Trek, was particularly active in Japanese-American civil rights organisations. American politicos have denounced the internment, and I think the government has paid the victims reparations. And it certainly was deeply unjust that when many Japanese-American servicemen were giving their lives for America, their families, friends and other members of their community were being herded into camps. It is repulsive that Trump’s spokesman should cite this as a precedent, and it does raise the issue of what Trump will do next. If he’s prepared to cite Japanese-American internment as a precedent, is he also considering interning Muslims as well, despite his mouthpiece’s smiling denials?

The American Constitution famously promises Americans freedom of religion. And religious freedom has been at the heart of American democracy, ever since Richard Baxter argued for it, including not just Christians, but also Jews, during the British Civil War. Baxter afterwards emigrated to the nascent US, and the proud, American tradition of religious toleration begins with him in the 17th century. Now Trump’s threatening to reverse this.

Trump’s proposal for Muslims to be officially registered reminds me very strongly of the ancient Roman attitude to religion. The Roman Empire was religious pluralistic, but retained a system of religious suppression. Because the Romans were afraid of the threat of insurrection and rebellion from clubs and other associations, including religious gatherings, they operated a system in which only those religions, which were not considered dangerous to the state, were officially tolerated. The Romans persecuted Christianity because it was not one of the religio licitas – permitted religions. Christians were seen as subversive, because they worshipped Christ as God, instead of the Roman Emperor. Hence the determination to make Christians sacrifice to the Emperor’s numen, his divine spirit, and the statements in the early Christian apologists that, although Christians didn’t worship the emperor, they nevertheless were good citizens, who prayed for him and the other authorities in their services.

Trump is threatening to inflict on American Muslims the type of system that led to the terrible persecution of Christians in ancient Rome.

And where America goes today, Britain and other nations follow tomorrow. I’m not a secularist, but this threatens religious tolerance and freedom right across the modern, democratic West.

And apart from the real danger it poses to Muslims, it also threatens to give the radicals a weapon to use against us. The Islamist bigots, going all the way back to the radicals demanding the suppression of the Satanic Verses and Rushdie’s death, whipped up opposition and hatred towards non-Muslims and the secular state by telling them that they were in danger from White and non-Muslim persecution. Way back in the 1990s the Beeb filmed one of these preachers of hate, Kalim Siddiqui, in his mosque, telling his congregation that ‘British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them’. When the team questioned Siddiqui about his words, he started ranting about how the Satanic Verses was the first step towards a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ This is sheer, poisonous bilge. The book wasn’t blasphemous, and it certainly wasn’t published in preparation for such an monstrous atrocity.

But accusations like this were used to motivate British Muslims, or some British Muslims, into political involvement and opposition to British secularism. And you can bet that ISIS and al-Qaeda will use Trump’s wretched registry to whip up support amongst Muslims by citing it as proof that western society really is intolerant and that we really do have a genocidal hatred of Muslims.

We don’t. Regardless of individual religious affiliation or lack thereof, we need to stand united against this. We can’t let Trump divide us and make the denial of our collective freedoms seem respectable policies. Because it won’t just be Muslims. After them, it’ll be other groups. No-one will be safe from this type of intolerance.

Poppy: 3D Printed Open Source Robot

October 27, 2016

I’ve put up several posts this week about robots and robotics, discussing the ultimate origins of H.B.O.’s WestWorld in Karel Capek’s 1920 play about a robot revolt, R.U.R. This has been performed using real, lego robots, and a short speech about the play given by a British robot, Robothespian, by Café Neu Romance at the National Technical Library in Prague. Robothespian also appeared on the BBC’s Breakfast TV show a couple of years ago in 2014.

The humanoids in WestWorld are less like today’s industrial machines and far more like the Replicants in Blade Runner or Capek’s original robots. They’re a kind of artificial biology created through synthetic chemistry, and produced through something like 3D printing, rather than today’s mechanical devices. Scientists are, however, exploring various synthetic materials, which would expand and contract similar to the way animal muscles move, which gives WestWorld’s humanoids a grounding in scientific fact, even if we are still a very, very long way away from such complex, truly intelligent and self-aware artificial beings.

Looking through some of the videos on robots on YouTube, I found the short video below for a small, humanoid robot, Poppy, created by a group of French scientists and engineers. This is interesting, as it shows how far robot technology has come, including their manufacturing methods, and how close we are to a true age of popular robotics. The machine is bipedal, and designed to be used as a research tool by scientists. It’s also open source and can be made at home using a 3D printer. It’s creators state that it’s a robot for everyone, and so while it can be used for serious research – the video shows the machine walking along a treadmill, for example – it is not solely for professional robotics scientists, but aimed at a popular market.

This brings the world of R.U.R. and other, similar works of SF, where everyone owns a robot, just that bit closer. Along with Star Trek’s universe, in which anything can be produced using a replicator, an idea which the late Arthur C. Clarke explored in his book, Profiles of the Future, some decades ago. Robots pose serious problems in the mass redundancies that have occurred and are threatening to become worse through their adoption in industry, as well as the possibility that they will overthrow and replace humanity as the dominant beings when their intelligence eventually exceeds ours. 3D printing also has its drawbacks and problems for the economy. One of these is how people will be able to make a living from manufacturing, when nearly anything at all can be made cheaply by anyone at home with a printer. We haven’t reached that stage yet, and possibly never will. Nevertheless, it’s a serious issue that needs careful consideration and debate.

Poppy isn’t the only open source robot available that can be created through 3D printing. A glance through some of the other videos available on this subject on YouTube shows that there are a number of them. No doubt this will grow as the technology improves and costs drop so that the technology becomes more affordable. Assuming that everyone isn’t put out of work by then as more firms decide its cheaper to employ machines than people.

Here’s the video for the Poppy robot:

After Attacking Mexicans and Muslims, Trump Now Does Racist Impression of Asians

February 10, 2016

This is another piece from The Young Turks on Trump’s stereotypical views of Asians, like the Chinese and Japanese. It’s a clip from one of his rallies, in which he states that people from these nations don’t come into a room and ask general questions about your health and the weather. No, they say, according to Mr Fascist Dictator Weird Hair, ‘We want deal’. In stereotypical pidgin English. Cenk Uygur, the host for this section, points out that this is how he sees them, including Americans of Chinese and Japanese descent. And he adds that you know that the offensive terms for these ethnic groups is going to follow. It’s all part of his highly simplistic attitude to the various peoples of the world, based on how they work for him. Here’s the video:

There’s still a lot of bitterness amongst Japanese-Americans about their internment as enemy aliens during the World War II. George Takei, who played Mr Sulu in the Classic Star Trek series, was part of a campaign for years to get some apology for this atrocity. Not that it was only Japanese, who were so interned. Germans and Italians were also thrown behind bars, but I think the Japanese were by far the largest group.

The man is so crass and tactless, that if he ever gets into the Oval Office, he’ll start a massive racial controversy, never mind his poisonous and Fascist attitude towards Hispanics and Muslims. For heaven’s sake, we need to keep him out.