Naomi Klein makes me angry, again!

First of all, she’s anti-nuclear. Enough said.

But today is about the oceans. Geo-engineering, or sequestering CO2 by tipping iron dust into the ocean, is bad as well, according to Klein. She doesn’t spell out why it is bad: the trial run she’s criticising actually increased ocean plankton blooms to the point where the salmon yield that year quadruped! No, no scientific rationale is offered.

Just fear. Fear of something different, of us tinkering. Sure, everything we do must be monitored by the best scientists and be open for peer-review. But if the initial result is that CO2 was sequestered AND the ocean responded enthusiastically, what’s wrong with that?

Posted in Food, Geo-engineering, Ocean, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

After Earth review

As Rotten Tomatoes says:

A crash landing leaves teenager Kitai Raige and his legendary father Cypher stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape. With Cypher critically injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash. Father and son must learn to work together and trust one another if they want any chance of returning home.


1000 years in the future, the human race was forced to abandon earth and move to a new world. Why geo-engineering schemes failed, and how moving to a new planet was easier and cheaper than saving the Earth we already know and love was not really explained. We find and settle a new home. But there’s a problem. Aliens also covet this new world. So they dump a race of highly fanged and clawed monsters on it.

Hang on, what? They didn’t bombard us from space by droping a rock or firing nukes? They didn’t use HK Drones or terminators or super-viruses or nanotoxin clouds of doom?

No. They dumped giant velociraptors on us. Not only that, they’re blind velociraptors, and sniff out their prey. Not only that, they’ve actually got a really poor sense of smell as well (anosmia or ‘nose-blindness’) and cannot even smell us unless we are terrified and exuding fear pheromones. They sniff out our fear.

Oh no. Anyone already detecting the horrible, inevitable cliche of learning to ‘control your fear’ just at the right moment at the end of the story?

Our hero is Jaden Smith (oh no!) trying to relate to Will Smith who plays an emotionally distant military figure, the General. Cliche much? Surely some army dads love their kids and hug them now and then, eat pizza and watch a superhero movie or two with them? It’s not only distant-military cliche, it’s the whole ‘father and son actors work out their issues on stage’ cliche.

Now it’s a Will Smith movie. Is he going to save the world, again? I can hear Mr Incredible,

“No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!”

How many times is Will Smith going to save the world? He’s already done so in Independence Day(1996), Men in Black(1997), Enemy of the State(1998), Wild Wild West(1999), Men in Black II(2002), I, Robot(2004), 

I Am Legend(2007), Hancock(2008), Men in Black 3(2012), and so will 

After Earth(2013) become number 10?

The introduction seems to suggest no. He’s already done his bit. He already saved the world in the backstory! It’s how he became the great General after teaching those worthy soldiers who could conquer their fear how to ‘ghost’, or so conquer your fear that you become invisible to the enemy. Will Smith’s powers of ghosting are so awesome that he killed many of these monsters in with his cool spear, a nano-shape shifting melee weapon he calls his ‘cutlass’.

Right from the word go we are being lectured that scaredy-cats get eaten, and Jaden Smith will have to conquer his fear to impress his overly distant father. Fine. I can dig another lesson in controlling my fear if they tell a convincing story along the way. But the basic story has so many fundamental technological and cultural inconsistencies that I had trouble not shouting at the TV.

Technology plot-hole 1: guns

It’s 1000 years in the future! So instead of a shape-shifting spear, why not some kind of energy weapon? Let’s call it a ‘ray gun’ for short! ;-) Or if that fails, gee, a few RPG’s wouldn’t go astray! Even an old AK47 should finish one of those beasts off. The lack of guns is never explained. It’s a real problem.

Technology plot-hole 2: space-suits

In 1000 years Jaden Smith runs around in a cool shape-shifting, mode shifting environment suit. It’s so fantastic he can jump of a cliff and it automatically creates webbing between his arms and legs, converting him into a glider possum. It can guard him from various environmental pollutants, help him swim, and who knows what else: it was always changing colour.  He wore on their space ship. But this space-fearing civilisation with an impressive shape-shifting military suit couldn’t muster up a helmet? Gee, a helmet would sure come in handy in the event of — I don’t know — a SPACE ACCIDENT? Apparently we stuffed the earth so bad 1000 years ago in story history that there’s not enough oxygen. Jaden has to inhale medical goo that coats and filters his lungs. Or his suit could helmet up! Seriously, just about any techno-babble explanation could have covered this. The helmet-mode broke in the crash, or it used too much power, or something. But there’s no explanation as to why their suits have no helmet or oxygen tanks or oxygen concentration filters. The techno-babble in this movie just makes no sense. For instance, what’s wrong with the earth’s oxygen content anyway? The place is covered in forest. It looks like there’s plenty of nature producing plenty of oxygen.

Technology plot-hole 3: space-suits: again!

A helmet-mode in their nano-tech space suit would sure come in handy against a dinosaur that was blind to everything except the stink of your fear!  Imagine their new home planet. Everyone could wear these cool suits and the moment a monster showed up, helmet mode would activate and they could casually take their time to go get a few rifles out of the cupboard.  Everyone could ‘ghost.

Technology plot-hole 4: sneaking monsters


In the backstory, Kitai’s sister is murdered by monster that somehow snuck up on the family home. Ahem. How? Did the settlement fail to shoot out the monster-detecting probes that The General used to track Kitai on Earth, and showed where the monster was from kilometres away? Boy, that might be a good technology to deploy around every city on this terribly hostile planet.

Technology plot-hole 5: war?

Their military have monster sniffing drones. Why haven’t they cleared the home planet of them yet? Shoot out the drones, fly over in a futuristic helicopter gunship and blast the beasts! Even today’s helicopter gunships should be able to take them out. One hit, and they’re mincemeat.

PS: If the aliens keep dropping their blind and anosmic-but-for-fear pets on the planet, and they really want that planet, why haven’t they learned that their monsters just are not up to scratch?

Psychology plot-hole: what’s wrong with fear?

A little fear is a good thing: some in the military might say it’s essential and shows reveals that you’re not some sort of psychopath.


Jaden Smith? Again?


In short it had some cool costumes and set pieces, and I liked the semi-organic ships with weird plastic doorways everywhere. The future earth was… unnecessarily alien. It did not explain how so many species had evolved to be so hostile in just 1000 years. But the internal logic of the plot died when they decided to run into battle with a sword, and become Zen Buddhist monks conquering their fear rather than packing some serious heat against a dinosaur. The lack of adequate cultural and technological adaptation, suits and guns, stretched suspension of disbelief till it not only split, but fissioned apart hot enough to dwarf Hiroshima. It deserves it’s 1 Rotten Tomato! Poor M. Night Shyamalan. He just can’t recapture the vibe.

Posted in Movies and TV, Sci-Fi, Science-Singularity-Robotics | Leave a comment

Why I’m not a fan of the F-35

The first 3 reasons are it’s expensive, it’s expensive, it’s expensive. The next reason is a question. What is it? It’s too fat to be a fighter. It’s too thin to be a proper bomber. What is it? It’s trying to be everything?

Is it also going to replace the much cheaper A-10?

It costs so much, that you may as well just build both a dedicated stealth fighter and a dedicated stealth bomber, which would be 2 aircraft for the price of one F-35. But maybe I’m being too conservative? Maybe that would end up being 2 great fighters and 2 great bombers! At least task dedicated planes know what they’re good at! As the National Interest says:

“The fact of the matter is that the F-35 was never intended to be an air superiority fighter—hence it’s called the Joint Strike Fighter. Back about 10 years ago, the U.S. Air Force narrative was that the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor was absolutely vital to national security because the F-35 couldn’t handle enemy fighters or take on the most advanced integrated air defense systems like the Russian S-400. The service changed its story once the Raptor program was terminated.”

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UN estimates for population by 2100

The UN has reported that all factors being equal (which to my way of thinking assumes enough food, no super-viruses, no meteor impacts, and no sudden runaway global warming Extinction Level Events), the population by 2100 should be something like:

By the end of the century, the world’s population will be roughly: one billion in Europe, one billion in the Americas, four billion in Africa, five billion in Asia.

But as Breakthrough author Alex Trembath says in his email circular,

But there’s reason to think global population will never reach 10 billion, let alone 11. Most of the increase in population is projected to occur in Africa, where most countries still have not undergone their own demographic transition. But according to Samir K C at IIASA, the total population of African countries might not grow to 4.4 billion (from around 1 billion today) like the United Nations suggests:

According to our projections at the Wittgenstein Center, projecting population by age, sex, and educational attainment for almost all countries of the World, Africa’s population may only rise to some 2.6 billion by 2100. That number is only 60% of the 4.4 billion predicted by the UN.

The size of the global population is a critical variable in determining what point this century we will reach peak global impact.

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What caused “Bring back our girls?”

What was the geopolitical backstory to “Bring back our girls?” Why did Boko Haram find so many willing recruits in the north? How did Nigeria’s ethnic mix play into this? Indeed, how did the very shape of the land itself influence these events? What is Nigeria’s population expected to be in the future? If interested, grab a coffee and watch the following 14 minute introduction, because this guy is one of my new favourite youtubers.

Posted in Global Warming, Population, Social Justice, Stress, War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Robot taxis in Netherlands

Sorry taxi drivers, but the self-driving shuttles are coming. On the plus side? This will probably lower the cost of cabs, creating a culture that devalues owning and driving one’s own car, and values instead the freedom of the robot cab taking you to the train, trolley bus or tram, where you can continue reading your iphone! Who wants to drive in traffic anyway? It’s stressful. Instead, robot-vehicles could facilitate *less* cars on the road by helping people feel *more* secure on public transport with the robot-cabs filling in any transport gaps. As Gizmodo says:

An Autonomous Shuttle Is Driving Public Streets for the First Time

An Autonomous Shuttle Is Driving Public Streets for the First Time1

This fall, a city in the Netherlands will become the first to allow fully autonomous shuttles regularly on its public roads–in the form of a small bus carting people between two towns.

They’re called WEpods, and they’re only large enough to fit six people comfortably. It’s a project of the town of Wageningen, which is in the central part of the Netherlands where farming is big business. The community is using the buses to shuttle visitors in between the towns of Ede and Wageningen (about a 17-minute drive) as well as around its university, a center for agriculture research. Autonomous buses will lend it an air of “new, flexible, sustainable and social mobility” for visiting businesspeople and tourists, the project’s website explains.

The buses–which are an altered version of those made by Swiss robotics company EasyMile and have been tested in several private projects–won’t go terribly fast: They’ll peter along at roughly 15 miles per hour, asBigThink reports. They also won’t go very far, and a human will always be watching remotely via camera to make sure nothing goes awry. But it’s still a big deal, since it’ll be the first regular use of totally autonomous shuttle on a public road. While Google and others have been testing their driverless cars in public for a while now, but they have humans inside in case of emergencies–meanwhile, smaller autonomous prototypes have seen short tests in public, but nothing permanent.

Seemingly anticipating public anxiety, the project’s creators launched an online forum where people can ask questions prior to the November 30th launch date. Some of these comments are fairly nuts (“I would feel in such a car as a cookie in the cookie jar, which are short lived.”). But another discussion on the forum is actually pretty informative–a postdoc researcher named Joris Ijsselmuiden, who studies robotics and agriculture and works on the project, posted a gif that shows how the pods identify street signs and objects using computer vision.

An Autonomous Shuttle Is Driving Public Streets for the First Time

While of course the buses use GPS data, they also use computer vision to glean information about where the bus is heading independently. Ijsselmuiden explains:

If the accuracy of the GPS system decreases, for instance by trees along the road, it must be helped by landmark detection. Here the cameras detect objects along the way and compare them with known objects from earlier recordings. The position of these objects is known and so the vehicle can calculate where it is located.

It’s pretty cool to see this kind of machine learning literally in motion—even if it’s only going 15mph.

Posted in Robot Cars, Transport | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

3 reasons why nuclear power is AWESOME!

Under 5 minutes

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