Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Serenity poll

This is very squee-worthy... SFX magazine has just published the results of a poll of science fiction fans for Best Science Fiction Movie of All Time... and Serenity won. Woot!!! Take that Star Wars! How'd you like them apples?

Quoted in today's MX newsgossip-paper, SFX editor Dave Bradley said,

The TV show may have been cancelled, yet the Serenity universe clearly struck a chord with fans, thanks to its likable characters, witty dialogue and amazing special effects.

The poll wasn't an open-ended poll: the ten movies were pre-selected by SFX, and naturally no Internet poll can be trusted as reliable. But even so, we have to take our little victories for good taste and sense however we find them.

The SFX top 10 movies are:

  1. Serenity (2005)

  2. Star Wars (1977)

  3. Blade Runner (1982)

  4. Planet of the Apes (1968)

  5. The Matrix (1999)

  6. Alien (1979)

  7. Forbidden Planet (1956)

  8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

  9. The Terminator (1984)

  10. Back To The Future (1985)

Putting my serious hat on for a moment, these polls are, by their very nature, biased towards recent and well-known movies. But then, I would hope that recent movies build upon old movies, giving them better ideas, better scripts, better acting, better effects... the alternative is that modern movies are going backwards and getting worse rather than better.

Actually... I'm not at all sure that we can say that recent movies are generally better than their forerunners. Looking at that list, it is obvious that the great bulk of the best SF movies are decades old. I'll have more to say about those ten movies shortly.

Monday, April 02, 2007

You can't buy that

A reminder of just why feminism still matters, despite the foolishness, even despite the wicked man-hating of some feminists -- because weasels (of either sex) are still out there poisoning the minds of girls with toxic memes like this:

I work at a bookstore. I was cashiering today when a woman and her two kids (a boy and a girl, both somewhere between 13-15) came up to the register. The mom was buying 2 celeb gossip magazines, and the boy put down a book. The girl then walked up and set down the newest volume of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.

The mom says "You can't buy that."

Girl: Why?
Mom: Because it's too big.
Girl: [Brother] is buying a book that big. It's not very expensive.
Mom: [Brother] is a boy. You're a girl. And girls shouldn't read big books like that. It's too thick. Boys don't like girls who read thick books. You want boys to like you, don't you?

The girl went and put the book away.

Cat piano

Reminds me of the Amazing Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone: an 17th century Italian musician created a cat piano to entertain his bored prince. Cats with different voices were placed in cages, and then triggered to meow with a sharp spike.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Marmoset chimeras

To my mind, one of the more fascinating biological phenomena is that of chimeras: individual animals which have two (or more) sets of genes. Chimeras have been discovered in a number of mammals, including human beings, but are rare.

Marmosets, on the other hand, are apparently all chimeras: they are almost always fraternal (non-identical) twins, and the twins swap placental cells in the womb. So each marmoset is born with two genetically distinct -- but related -- sets of cells.

Nothing humble about these Humboldts

The LA Times has a story about the amazing Humboldt squid. There are tens of millions of them, invading the coast of California and worrying fisheries officials.

I'm with PZ Myers on this one: they're apparently mugging divers for bling.

Four divers found that out when they tried to document the squids' behavior in the Sea of Cortez 17 years ago. While a non-diving passenger battled to land a 14-foot thresher shark on rod-and-reel, Alex Kerstitch of Arizona and three friends submerged in the nighttime sea, carrying cameras. The divers settled near the dim fringes of the boat's lights. They could see the weary shark being pulled toward the boat. Below, dozens of squid began flashing iridescently, red-white-red.


A squid grabbed his right swim fin and pulled downward. He kicked it away but another grabbed his head. The cactus-like tentacles found his neck, the only part of his body not covered with neoprene.

He bashed the squid with his dive light, far less bright than the movie lights, and it let go, but it swiped both the light and the gold chain he'd been wearing.

Kerstitch was released by the squid, and made it back to the boat wounded but alive.

Security collapsing in the Green Zone

Despite the Surge, despite Senator McCain's ridiculous Pollyanna-ish claim that Americans can travel safely around Baghdad, things are looking bad for the Americans in Iraq. Even the Green Zone, the high-security "safe area" in Baghdad, is no longer safe. After a rocket attack that killed an American soldier a few days ago, the US Embassy has sent out a memo warning all government employees to wear protective armour whenever they are outside of a building in the Green Zone -- including when moving from one building to another.

The occupying forces in Iraq have a term for areas where you have to wear protective gear at all times. That's called a Red Zone.

Security and privacy

Security and privacy are often seen to be in opposition: we're often asked to give up some of our privacy for safety. By letting the trusted good guys watch everything we do, presumably the bad guys won't have a chance to do anything bad.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has just released a report disagreeing with that view. They claim that it is possible to design systems that increase security without eroding privacy.

For many electronic transactions, a name or identity is not needed; just assurance that we are old enough or that we have the money to pay. In short, authorisation, not identification should be all that is required. Services for travel and shopping can be designed to maintain privacy by allowing people to buy goods and use public transport anonymously.

The Register has more, and the full report is here [PDF file].