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Apr. 18th, 2012

Hey guys! :D It's been a long time (since Agora) since I've written my thoughts about a movie, and mere reason being... I rarely see anything good enough to compel me to write about it. xD  But, as always, European cinema is full of treasures, and this one deserves a mention me thinks.

Movie Review for: Sunshine

Story and Presentation: In the 2050's, a Q-Ball enters our Sun and begins eating it away. The spaceship, Icarus II, is to re-ignite the Sun using a large fissile "stellar bomb".  For anyone with a decent amount of scientific knowledge, the premise for the story probably sounds very ridiculous. But that is the amazing thing about this film: It somehow made a highly believable, beautiful, touching drama out of that premise, I simply didn't care about the technical inaccuracies in the film - because the rest of the film is so strong, suspending disbelief wasn't at all a problem. There were no over-the-top action scenes, none of the characters did anything stupid or tried to be a hero, and the camera angles were all fairly traditional (I think that is part of the problem with Hollywood films - everyone's having so much fun with CG's and doing crazy things with their virtual cameras, they forget the root of cinematography. They forget how to frame shots, how to establish lighting and mood; they forget what "artistic" even means in cinema). Can you imagine if Hollywood tried to make a movie with a similar premise? I can: That movie was called The Core and it is better left forgotten.  The only problem I have with the story is the decision to introduce Pinbacker (the captain from the first Icarus) into the story as a monster-like character, which basically turned the latter half of the film into a horror/slasher movie, which IMO was just unnecessary, and really takes away from the emotional poignancy the film otherwise has.

Character Development: The characters in Sunshine were all very believable. I really liked how each of them are flawed in their own ways, which impacts them when they are forced to make tough decisions. For example, Cassie (the most emotional and gentle of the crew) put the mission at jeopardy on several occasions because she cannot stand the thought of sacrificing a colleague to save their mission. The ship's doctor and botanist, Coryzon, has a strong attachment to the plants in the ship's garden, and when the garden caught fire, she tried to force her way through the door even though the garden was already lost. The communications officer/acting captain, Mace, had a moment of cowardice when they were trapped on another ship and tried to gain control of the only space suit available (the other crew members gave the suit to Capa, the ship's physicist, because he's the only one who can operate the stellar bomb). In essence, I loved everyone on the crew - they were all believable characters, with their strengths and weaknesses, which are all consistently portrayed during the course of the film (in other words, they were memorable because they all had very distinct personalities... Hollywood, take some lessons?) The moral dilemmas in the film are all very well-presented and made for some very interesting character dynamics. The question "Can you weigh the life of one against the survival of humanity?" came up several times during the film, and the scientists and astronauts repeatedly made the hard choice rather than "try and save everyone". Hollywood films ALWAYS try to save everyone, and of course things always turn out to be okay - that overt sense of implausible optimism and American can-do-ism always bugged me - in fact, the director commented on that, saying if the Americans made the film, they would have named the ship "Spirit of Hope" or "Ship of Destiny", but he chose the name "Icarus" to portray the sense of bleakness that is persistent throughout the film.  According to the Wiki, the film's writer meant to depict the "necessary arrogance of science" in his story, and I think the point came across rather well - however politically incorrect it may seem, sometimes the only way to make the best, most informed decision for the society is by leaving those decisions in the hands of people who are actually knowledgeable and informed. As stated by the Icarus II's psych officer Searle, who went against the idea of having a vote when they were deciding whether or not to rendezvous with their sister ship, "We are not a democracy. We are a collection of astronauts and scientists, and we are gonna make the most informed decision available to us: Made by the person best qualified to understand the complexities of payload deliveries - our physicist."  The last thing worth mentioning is the Sun being depicted as sort of a character - there is (arguably) a slight mythical element to the film, as implied by the crew of the first Icarus going insane by staring into the Sun for too long (both Searle and Kaneda were seen lost in thoughts as they stare into the Sun as well; and the film does imply that Searle may be going down the same path of insanity as Pinbacker).  Pinbacker is, according to the Wiki, supposed to be a deeply religious man who believed God meant for the human race to die out, but the way I read it from the film is that he stared into the Sun for so long and began to see the Sun as his God, and therefore the Sun chose to let mankind die. Either way, it was an interesting plot element, and I liked how at the end of the film, when Capa fell into the center of the Sun in the stellar bomb, he was able to see and touch the inner core of the Sun (because space and time is completely distorted) - an act I interpret as "touching the face of God". I think the idea itself is quite beautiful.

Cinematography and Special Effects: As I mentioned briefly before, the visual elements in this film really shines. For one, I really really like industrial designs in sci-fi films, and Sunshine manages to do that without making everything look hideous or boring.  It didn't resort to making everything all sleek, shiney, minimalist and touch-screen (like... Avatar, and Prometheus... gosh I can't even tell the visual designs apart in contemporary American sci-fi titles anymore), and to me that is much more plausible.  The few scenes of outer space were breath-taking, and really depicts that sense of vast loneliness. Space is something that is to both be feared and awed, and the film gets that across beautifully. Again, kudos on the more traditional camera angles used for the SFX scenes - nothing in the visual presentation broke the audience's immersion in the film.

Soundtrack: The music for Sunshine is the kind of drawn-out ambiance similar to ones used in EvE Online and X3: Reunion, which I just loooooooove - I think the music is about as perfect as it can be for the space sci-fi genre.

The Meaning of Transcendence

Good evening everyone. ^_^ Some of you may already know I have recently become an ardent admirer of Carl Sagan, mainly for his documentary series Cosmos... sometimes I leave it playing in the background; the experience is akin to listening to my own thoughts... except voiced so much more eloquently and elegantly.

Anyway, I digress. What really sparked my thoughts for the day was a random curiosity about blackholes - in particular, the theory suggested by physicist Stephen Hawkings that blackholes "evaporate" over time and emit radiation. A quick search on the subject quickly turned to multiple pages of reading on Wikipedia regarding a phenomenon called "vacuum fluctuation". I am not overly familiar with quantum theory, so this was the first time I've heard of the term "vacuum fluctuation". If you have never heard of it before either, here's a quick explanation of what it is...

Remember the Law of Energy Conservation you learned in high school science classes? It states that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Well... it turns out that's not always true. The universe is completely capable of violating this rule - for a very brief moment of time. Particle pairs - consisting of a particle and its antiparticle - can appear literally "out of nothing" - then very quickly annihilate one another and disappear again. Although the law of energy conservation was violated briefly, the "borrowed" energy used to create these particles were returned upon their mutual annihilation, therefore the universe returns to normal and energy conservation is maintained. These "virtual particles" have been experimentally proven.

How does this relate to blackholes? Well, every now and then a particle pair would appear near the edge of the event horizon of a blackhole - one of the particles may become trapped in the event horizon, while the other one escapes. Because the particle pair has been separated, they are unable to annihilate one another - the particle that escaped the blackhole's event horizon becomes a real particle. For the law of energy conservation to be maintained, the particle that becomes trapped in the blackhole must have "negative energy". This means every time this happens, the blackhole loses some energy - and because E=mc2, this means mass has to be lost from the blackhole.

"Vacuum fluctuation" inevitably reminded me of another, somewhat related article I read a while back concerning something called "quantum entanglement", used for a (possible) future communication method called quantum teleportation. Quantum entanglement has to do with a strange "link" between two particles (entanglement) that determines their mutual state - if one of the particles changes its "spin", the other one will do so as well - [i]instantaneously[/i] - even if the two particles are separated across the galaxy.

Aside from the sheer awe of reading about things like this, I do find myself appreciating science all the more... I've always been a science enthusiast and this kind of stuff really tempts me to go back to school and pursue a scientific degree. xD But really, I think what I am trying to say is... may be sometimes I am too harsh in my opinion of mankind. Despite all the problems the world still has, despite all of mankind's imperfections... we have come this far. On this tiny planet of an insignificant star system, life has arisen and evolved to consciousness after 3 billion years of its humble existence. Reading about the vastness of the universe and the endeavors of courageous explorers and scientists who dared to study and speculate, sometimes even risking their lives to defy social conventions of their time - in order to understand the nature of our cosmos... it's a very humbling feeling, and a reminder of how much talent we humans have within ourselves. Modern science is still in its infancy - having only existed for some 500 years since Galileo; and in this 500 years - a blink of an eye in our 2-million year existence - we have come far. If I were the creator of the universe, I think I would have a certain appreciation for the effort of these tiny creatures on the planet Earth, busying about, digging into the deep mysteries of our universe... questioning the concepts of dimensions and time, sending out space ships to explore their tiny region of the galaxy.

Science is, in my opinion, as close as we humans will get to seeing into the eyes of God. It is our best bet, and wisest. It is not the "easiest" way of thinking, nor the most comforting - the universe is rich in mystery still, and many of the questions held by this generation won't be answered by science in our lifetime. But what is better: To turn away from the pursuit of knowledge and resort to superstitious beliefs for emotional comfort? Or to bravely seek out the answers, even if you may not end up finding them, or if the truth turns out to be disquieting?

I for one do not wish to live in an illusion created by fabrications of men... I am entirely certain that I won't regret not believing in a religion or higher power upon my deathbed; I think each and every one of us should feel honored to have had a chance to live on this Earth, to be able to see and feel and understand the world around us... to be reminded that there is an unbroken chain linking us to the very first stirrings of life on Earth, and even to the atoms produced by long-dead stars... we are all made of "star stuff", we are the consciousness of the universe and a way for the cosmos to know itself... how is that not enough to make anyone happy? :)

A Treatise on Love and War

Yesterday, I chatted with a friend I haven't talked to in a long time. We asked each other how we have been, and gave each other updates on life in general. I mentioned that I've moved in with Balaa, and the question I immediately received from my friend was "Is marriage down the road?" and when I said no, the follow up question was "Are you guys in a casual/open relationship?"

I had to explain how I viewed romantic relationships, and it stirred up a lot of old thoughts.

I for one do not follow social conventions, and I do not believe in marriage - at least, not in the sense as it's popularly defined. To many, marriage is a holy religious bond - a sacred promise witnessed by some divine being(s). To others, marriage may serve a more practical purpose - providing legal benefits and, possibly, protection. To others still, marriage is simply a promise of love made between two people.

I belong to that last group - and I personally don't see the need to hold a huge public ceremony with a priest and witnesses and having all my friends and families be there. I do not question the love I share with my Lady, and she doesn't question mine - for us, that is enough. We may love one another, but it is our mutual wish that we remain free and independent - that does not mean we are in an "open" relationship; it simply means I do not wish to restrict her freedom in life. If she chooses to be emotionally or physically intimate with someone other than me, that is within her rights - I neither encourage nor discourage the behavior; and if something like that happens, I won't view it as a sign of "disloyalty". At present, we have chosen to be exclusive to one another - the key point is, it has to be by our own choice, not by external pressure. What I can't stand is the way people regard marriage... as if it a magical word, that somehow "getting married" changes everything. The evidence is pretty clear in our culture - that's why guys have bachelor parties before getting married, or why women push for marriage while guys prefer to put it off. That whole mentality that before you are married you are allowed to horse around and somehow "getting married" changes that just comes off entirely superficial and phony to me. I simply don't see the point for someone to [i]demand[/i] loyalty/sexual exclusiveness if the other person doesn't wish for it.

First off, humans are animals. Unlike the small minority of animals who are genetically coded to be monogamous, humans are not coded for it. If we were, emotions like jealousy and sexual aggression would be completely redundant. Human males have the tendency to "cheat" on their partners precisely because we are genetically coded to mate with as many females as possible; even though our society and culture has evolved, we still carry that evolutionary baggage.

Unfortunately, we are also not like dolphins and bonobos: These animals have recreational sex with many different partners, but unlike us, they do not exhibit emotions such as jealousy - they are not genetically coded to compete aggressively for females like humans are. As far as our social behaviors go, we are probably more akin to lions and canines than some of our closer primate relatives.

In a primitive environment such as a tribal, hunter-gatherer society, emotions like jealousy and aggression might have helped stronger males win over females and hence reproduce more fit offspring. But here comes the problem: As society became larger and more complex, emotions such as jealousy and aggression become destructive rather than constructive to the overall survival of the group, because such emotions are disruptive to the order of the society. I believe this is the reason the concept of "marriage" came into being - by forcing a male and female into a social contract that binds them, they will no longer have excuses to resort to emotions such jealousy and aggression - if they do, the society looks down upon them and punishes them.

This solution works for most people, but it is not perfect; and I think people need to start re-examining the whole concept and define what "love" truly means to them. For one, the concept of marriage, and the religious associations that followed - have corrupted our mentality regarding sex. For a very long time, sex has been regarded as a taboo subject, something you simply don't talk about because it is "dirty" and "sinful". Young people who had sexual urges were looked down upon as if they did something wrong. Couples who engaged in sexual activity before marriage are made a scandal of - and even now, we still get worked up over "Who cheated on who" all the time.

On the other end of the extreme, there are people who rebelled against the religious oppression of sexuality and became... too wild; using "we are animals and sex is in our nature" as an excuse to hump everything that moves. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these people lack the maturity and rationality to control the emotional repercussions of sleeping around. They often become extremely selfish, self-entitled people who end up falling back to that very basic male instinct - wanting to have sex with every female (or male, for homosexuals) possible, while not willing to allow these females the same privilege. If any of these females sleep with another male, a jealousy rage storm ensues. These males therefore end up being extremely destructive to society in general as well as to their sexual partners.

I will be quite honest - I see nothing wrong with polyamory: as long as females get the same right to multiple partnership as males, and both sexes have the mental maturity to control their negative emotions (jealousy, aggression), I frankly don't see how a polyamorous relationship can't work out. Rational people with positive outlooks on life should easily be able to keep such a relationship healthy. However, if a couple decides to remain monogamous, it should be done by their choice alone. Monogamy shouldn't be something that's enforced by external pressures and societal forces - and really, if even one of the partners secretly don't agree with the arrangement or wish to make the promise to be exclusive, do you think societal forces will really help? Even if social pressures somehow keeps the guy from cheating, do you think he'll remain happy and satisfied in the relationship? Sooner or later, those instinctive desires will come out, and just end up hurting those around him unnecessarily. Not everyone is meant to settle down; and not everyone is meant to handle a monogamous arrangement.

I do want to make it clear, I am not proposing that guys should all go sleeping around. Personally, I regard sex as something special - it is as much an emotional experience as it is physical; I cannot have sex with someone unless we share a high degree of trust and friendship (if not more). I won't despise someone for having sex only for physical pleasures; however, I do imagine most people have at least some degree of emotional response when they have sex, even if they weren't looking for that to begin with. And like I stated before, I don't think most people are civil-minded enough and will end up hurting themselves emotionally if they just sleep around. They will end up feeling confused, jealous, or worse.

I will say, though... I do wish humans were more like dolphins and bonobos. Yes, they have sex with multiple partners - perhaps that makes you feel like the value of romance is depreciated. But here's the thing: Jealousy and aggression isn't an issue with them - not just in sexual relationships, but in their overall society. They are much more peaceful species than we - because when it comes down to it, isn't our loyalty to family, ethnicity, and nationality pretty much based on our desire for sexual competition? We humans constantly desire to establish superiority over other people: "Our family line is better than yours", "Our race is superior", "Our country is stronger than yours". If you look at this behavior from an evolutionary perspective, it is pretty clear that it is a mechanism to promote competition; and we have come to a stage in our civilization where such behaviors are more destructive than constructive. Humanity at this point needs to become a cohesive entity to solve some serious global problems; we no longer have the luxury to engage in petty squabbles.

This is the reason I am so vehemently against nationalism and warfare. I am anti-military, not in the way that I look down on people who serve in the military - in the present world state, I admit military forces are a necessary evil. But I do wish a day will come when military is no longer required; when we no longer find the need to kill one another over our differences, and can look back to our long history of bloodshed and feel ashamed rather than entitled or justified.

As hippie as this may sound, I do prefer a world that makes love rather than war. It still confounds me as to why popular media (especially conservative channels) always makes such a huge fuss over sexuality and nudity in movies while violence is by and large a-okay. While I do not much care for meaningless, superficial sex, it is infinitely less destructive than pure violence - is it not?


"As long as there have been humans, we have searched for our place in the Cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions, and by the depth of our answers. We embarked on our journey to the stars with a question first framed in the childhood of our species, and in each generation asked anew with undiminished wonder: What are the stars? Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers - and we are wanderers, still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail to the stars." - Carl Sagan, on Space Exploration.


"There would be no more big questions, and no more answers. Never again a love for a child. No descendents to remember us and be proud. No more voyages to the stars. No more songs from the Earth. I saw East Africa, and thought, a few million years ago, we humans took our first steps there. Our brains grew and changed, the old parts began to be guided by the new parts. And this made us human; with compassion, foresight, and reason. But instead we listened to the reptilian voice within us, counseling fear, territoriality, aggression. We accepted the product of science. We rejected its methods. May be the reptiles will evolve intelligence once more. Perhaps one day, there will be civilizations again on Earth. There will be life, there will be intelligence. But there will be no more humans. Not here, not on a billion worlds." - Carl Sagan, on the scenario of Nuclear War.

A very good anime... :)

Balaa and I have been doing working in the day and having anime marathons at night! xD Over the past month we have finished "Last Exile", "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex", "Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd Gig", "Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society", and once again I discovered a good film by pure accident tonight while looking for new stuffs to watch...

Made by Production I.G., with a GORGEOUS soundtrack by Kenji Kawai! :D A must-see if you like artistic and philosophical films! (and don't mind feeling depressed at the end) ^_^
Didn't you know...?

Okay, seriously... I thought religious fundamentalists are nuts, but this kind of stuff is beyond nuts. People ACTUALLY talk about this like it's a legit intellectual debate. Wow. And the disturbing thing is I (and I think many of you) know a good number of people who are Otherkins in the fandom, are they all this crazy??

I originally started reading this article because I thought it would be funny, but after reading a few external links in it that linked to actual Otherkin sites, I became very scared.

I don't understand why people can't settle for the feeling of identification with an animal (or whatever mythical creature/people). It's okay to say "I feel a close affinity to dragons/unicorns/elves/halflings/faeries because [enter reason here]". It's an ENTIRELY different matter to claim that dragons/unicorns/elves/halflings/faeries physically walked the Earth and conveniently left zero proof of their ever being there.

I love elves, but it takes some serious mental illness to say something like "I'm knowledgable of the fact that they were great warriors." FACT? What fact? The last time I checked, Lord of the Rings is categorized as a work of "fiction".
Okay I know this doesn't have much to do with the fandom and all, but I figured I would start here (I know several scientific minds do dwell here ;) )

I've ALWAYS wondered about the nature of "time". In modern physics, it is considered part of the fabric that makes up our universe (space-time continuum), and I understand its importance in in measurements and calculations in science, as well as a unit to "measure" historical events. Humans have an intuitive understanding of the "passage of time".

What I did always question is whether or not it's justified to consider it an actual "dimension" - i.e. something that actually "exists" as part of the universe and can possibly be manipulated (time travel, or the distortion of time by heavy gravitational objects like blackholes). Now, everyone knows that objects traveling at significant velocity experiences time dilation - it's been proven via experiments with atomic clocks on prolonged jet flights, high-speed spacecrafts, and all artificial satellites have their clocks adjusted to compensate for the effect of time dilation as they go around the planet at 17,000 mph. But how does time dilation "prove" that time is an existing entity, a part of the "fabric" of space?

I've always theorized that time dilation could simply be a natural part of how sub-atomic particles behave that isn't yet well understood. All atoms and sub-atomic particles move and vibrate, so isn't it plausible to think that they behave differently when they are moving at very high speeds?

May be the answer will manifest itself when the physics community finds a way to unify quantum physics with the theory of relativity... what do you think?

Nice Punch, Buzz! :D

Bart Sibrel, a filmmaker, produced and directed four films for his company AFTH,including a film in 2001 called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon, examining the evidence of a hoax. The arguments that Sibrel puts forward in this film have been debunked by numerous sources, including Svector's video series Lunar Legacy, which disproves the documentary's primary argument that the Apollo crew faked their distance from the Earth command module, while in low orbit.

Sibrel has stated that the effect on the shot covered in his film was produced through the use of a transparency of the Earth. Some parts of the original footage, according to Sibrel, were not able to be included on the official releases for the media. On such allegedly censored parts, the correlation between Earth and Moon Phases can be clearly confirmed, refuting Sibrel's claim that these shots were faked. Sibrel was also punched in the face by Buzz Aldrin after Sibrel confronted Aldrin with his theories about the moon hoax while accusing the former astronaut of being "a coward, and a liar, and a thief". Sibrel attempted to press charges against Aldrin but the case was thrown out of court when the judge ruled that Aldrin was within his rights given Sibrel's invasive and aggressive behavior.

Buzz Aldrin was the lunar module pilot of the Apollo 11 mission. :)
I was reading up on NASA's Mars missions, specifically articles concerning the possible existence of life on Mars, which led to an article on the UK newspaper site The Times, which led to a comment someone posted about the Apollo 11 lunar landing being fake.

Then the video led me to look up the Wikipedia article "Moon landing conspiracy theories", which led to me finding out about an organization that has been spearheading various lunar landing conspiracy theories...

Can anyone guess?

The Flat Earth Society!!!

Yes, it was the mid-20th century and a certain Samuel Shenton got up and said, "I have studied the Bible thoroughly and the Earth must be flat!!!"

Here's a juicy expert from their mission statement:
We maintain that what is called 'Science' today and 'scientists' consist of the same old gang of witch doctors, sorcerers, tellers of tales, the 'Priest-Entertainers' for the common people. 'Science' consists of a weird, way-out occult concoction of gibberish theory-theology...unrelated to the real world of facts, technology and inventions, tall buildings and fast cars, airplanes and other Real and Good things in life; technology is not in any way related to the web of idiotic scientific theory. ALL inventors have been anti-science. The Wright brothers said: "Science theory held us up for years. When we threw out all science, started from experiment and experience, then we invented the airplane." By the way, airplanes all fly level on this Plane earth.

Poor Samuel died in 2001, but the pious Charles K. Johnson picked it up in 2007! Here's their web page!


And they are on Facebook!

I am trying to decide if these guys are funnier than the guys who still believe the Sun went around the Earth.

Think we may have a tie there. :)