slowing down light

A Slower Speed of Light is a first-person game prototype in which players navigate a 3D space while picking up orbs that reduce the speed of light in increments. Custom-built, open-source relativistic graphics code allows the speed of light in the game to approach the player’s own maximum walking speed. Visual effects of special relativity gradually become apparent to the player, increasing the challenge of gameplay. These effects, rendered in realtime to vertex accuracy, include the Doppler effect (red- and blue-shifting of visible light, and the shifting of infrared and ultraviolet light into the visible spectrum); the searchlight effect (increased brightness in the direction of travel); time dilation (differences in the perceived passage of time from the player and the outside world); Lorentz transformation (warping of space at near-light speeds); and the runtime effect (the ability to see objects as they were in the past, due to the travel time of light). Players can choose to share their mastery and experience of the game through Twitter. A Slower Speed of Light combines accessible gameplay and a fantasy setting with theoretical and computational physics research to deliver an engaging and pedagogically rich experience.

And if we are already at it: Dream of Pixelsthe prototype of which you can play for free in your browser—completely reverses time in the Tetris universe:

Dream of Pixels is a beautiful falling blocks puzzle game, in reverse. The brilliant twist on the old classic is the unpacking of tetromino blocks in place of the usual packing. Simply tap on the descending grid to unpack the tetrominos and watch them spin, rotate and drop with gravity. Clear the lines from the beautiful cloudy grid fast enough or it’s—dream over.

via this and this entry at boingboing

science as servant

A 1946 advertisement for the Bendix Corporation

A 1946 advertisement for the Bendix Corporation, scanned and put online by Paul Malon—click for larger versions, in order to be able to read all of the small text, too.

The slogan ‘Creative engineering makes science your obedient servant’ not only perfectly sums up the immediate post-war era stance of absolute belief in technological feasibility, but also unmistakingly voices where science’s proper place in society should be. I maintain that the understanding of said era is quintessential for understanding our contemporary world:

In present day society, the term ‘science’ has great potency. Not only is ‘science’ more or less equivalent to ‘valid knowledge’, but it also merges with ‘technology’, that is, the useful application of knowledge […]. (Mulkay 1993: 639—bold emphasis mine)

Knowledge has no doubt always played a significant role in human life. Human action has to a greater or lesser extent always been steered by knowledge. Power, for example, has never exclusively been based on brute physical force, but frequently also on a knowledge advantage. At present, however, knowledge is assuming a greater significance than ever before. Advanced industrial societies may even be regarded as ‘knowledge societies’. A thoroughgoing scientization of all spheres of human life and action, the transformation of both traditional structures of domination and of the economy, as well as the groing impact and influence of experts are all indications of the rapidly increasing role of knowledge in the organization of modern societies. (Meja & Stehr 1993: 639—bold emphasis mine)

‘Power, for example, has never exclusively been based on brute physical force, but frequently also on a knowledge advantage.’ … The ‘also’ is crucial here, because knowledge and brute force oftentimes are in a mutual, dialectical relationship. All the utopian visions of the good life created by science and technology as expressed by the advertisement above notwithstanding, we shouldn’t forget the ultimate goals science and technology so often are put to:
RIM-8 Talos surface to air missile built by Bendix Corporation in test launcher at White Sands Missile Range New Mexico

RIM-8 Talos surface to air missile built by Bendix Corporation in test launcher at White Sands Missile Range New Mexico—I love the colors. Painted that way the rockets would perfectly fit onto Megatron or Optimus Prime … the choice is yours.
MEJA, VOLKER AND NICO STEHR. 1993. “sociology of knowledge,” in The Blackwell dictionary of twentieth century social thought edited by William Outhwaite and Tom Bottomore, pp. 637-639. Oxford, Malden: Blackwell.
MULKAY, MICHAEL. 1993. “sociology of science,” in The Blackwell dictionary of twentieth century social thought edited by William Outhwaite and Tom Bottomore, pp. 639-640. Oxford, Malden: Blackwell.
1946 Bendix ad via entry at boingboing

what is said?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #49
We are in an officers’ mess. Two senior members of the flight personnel are having a conversation while playing pool. What is said in this conversation?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and solution (14 November 2012):
Again Alexander Rabitsch immediately recognized the correct movie: Fail-Safe (Lumet 1964)—congratulations, but because of lack of time till Christmas he is loath to check back for the dialogue of the depicted scene. So, here we go.
    About a quarter of an hour into the movie a titlecard informs us that the now following scene takes place in Anchorage, Alaska at 05:30 AM—presumably at Elmendorf Air Force Base. Colonel Jack Grady, USAF (Edward Binns) and his wingman Billy Flynn (Robert Gerringer) are having a conversation while playing pool at ‘Club Igloo,’ the officers’ mess. Both men are World War II veterans and are now flying for the Strategic Air Command (SAC), piloting fictitious ‘Vindicator’ bombers (in the movie represented by Convair B-58 Hustlers) which are carrying nuclear weapons:

Anchorage, Alaska 05:30 AM
    Flynn: Ploiești was a rough one. We lost half of our group.
    Grady: Regensburg was the worst one for us.
    Flynn: I never flew the B-17, only B-24s.
    Grady: Good airplane, the old ’24. You knew you were flying it, not the other way around, like today’s things.
    Flynn: You still have to fly the Vindicator, Grady.
    Grady: We’re the last of the lot, Flynn. Don’t kid yourself about that. The next airplanes won’t need men.
    Flynn: You’ll be too old, anyway.
    Grady: After us, the machines. We’re halfway there already. Look at those kids. Remember the crews you had on the ’24s? Jews, Italians, all kinds. You could tell them apart. They were people. These kids—you open them up, you’ll find they run on transistors.
    Flynn: They’re good kids, I tell you.
    Grady: Sure. You know they’re good at their jobs, but you don’t know them. How can you? We get a different crew every time we go up.
    Flynn: That’s policy, Grady. It eliminates the personal factor. Everything is more complicated now. Reaction time is faster. You can’t depend on people the same way.
    Grady: Who do you depend on?
    This very moment the conversation is interrupted by an entering officer, saying: ‘All right Gentlemen. The sky awaits.’ [my transcription—put the blame on me]

Although there is no artificial intelligence becoming sentient and then wielding nuclear weaponry, like in Colossus (Sargent 1970), War Games (Badham 1983) or the Terminator franchise, the issue of man having delegated too much authority to complex technology, ultimately leading to thermonuclear destruction, is explicitly voiced in ‘Fail-Safe’ several times. Without spoiling the movie the synopsis collaboratively written by users at imdb gives a perfect idea of the plot:

Warren Black [Dan O’Herlihy] lives in New York City and suffers a recurring nightmare about attending a bullfight that ends in a piercing shrieking noise. The nightmare fills him with doubts about his job as a Brigadier General in the US Air Force who is assigned to nuclear weapons.
    Walter Groteschele [Walter Matthau] is a professor with some audacious ideas about nuclear warfare—namely that the common conception that any exchange of nuclear weapons will inevitably and imminently lead to an all-out exchange and the annihilation of the world is wrong. He is a civilian advisor to the Defense Department and Defense Secretary Swenson.
    Frank Bogan [Frank overton] is commanding general of Strategic Air Command, the nuclear weapons arm of the Air Force, and he possesses faith in the vast array of high-tech equipment at his disposal, enough that he leads a short-notice tour of a visiting Congressman, Hubert Raskob [Sorrel Booke], of SAC headquarters—though he must roust his executive officer, Colonel Warren Cascio [Fritz Weaver], from an unplanned visit with his elderly father, a drunken hillbilly who lives in a basement apartment and whose alcoholism periodically leads to violence.
    Jack Grady, a Colonel in the Air Force, leads Group Six, a squadron of Vindicator nuclear bombers, supersonic jet aircraft derived from the B-58 Hustler bombers of the latter 1950s and based near Anchorage, AL. Grady and his wingman Billy Flynn debate the utility of their fellow pilots, young men who seem more like machines than the pilots they flew with in the Second World War.
    All of these men are soon caught up when a computer malfunction at SAC headquarters results in replacement of a faulty control piece. The replacement is routine but momentarily freezes up SAC’s mainframe as the array of computers reboots. It appears of no concern—except the glitch activates the Fail-Safe box aboard Group Six; at the same time all radios aboard Group Six are jammed by Soviet Russia, and when the fail-safe signal aboard the planes is verified, it leaves Grady and his men thinking that nuclear war has broken out and they must execute their final order—penetrate Soviet Russia from the North Pole and launch multi-megaton explosives onto Moscow.
    The President Of The United States [Henry Fonda] now must become involved as he and his translator, Peter Buck [Larry Hagman], travel deep underground to the White House command bunker, where a ‘Hot Line’ direct voice communicator with the Soviet Premier awaits, with Buck hearing the Russian’s voice and translating his words to the President. The President, the Secretary of Defense [William Hansen], and General Bogan work to try and stop Group Six, but the power of the planes and the crews’ unshakable working orders—orders that include disregard of all outside voice communication on the suspicion of enemy disinformation—means that the six bombers penetrate Soviet Russia and overcome the Soviet Empire’s vast antiaircraft grid.
    With all indications being that the bombers will reach Moscow, the President makes a deal with the Soviets – a deal so stunning as to shake even the Soviet Premier into realizing that the President’s pleas that the attack is an accident are manifestly the truth, but with the sickening realization that the President’s proposal is the only way to avoid omnicide.

Quite probably the story sounds very familiar to you and you’ve got Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove in mind—like ‘Fail-Safe’ produced by Columbia and hitting the silver screen the same year, 1964. But Lumet’s ‘Fail-Safe’ was based on the novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and John Wheeler (1962), and ‘Dr. Strangelove’ was based on the novel Red Alert by George Ryan (1959). Nevertheless the similarities between the two novels are so blatant that Ryan sued because of copyright infringement. The matter was settled out of court. Finally, in 2000 Stephen Frears adapted ‘Fail-Safe’ to a live television play produced by, and starring George Clooney.

BADHAM, JOHN MACDONALD. 1983. War games [motion picture]. Beverly Hills: MGM/UA.
FREARS, STEPHEN ARTHUR. 2000. Fail safe [television play]. New York, Burbank: CBS, Warner Bros. Television.
GEORGE, PETER BRYAN. 1959. Red alert. New York: Ace.
KUBRICK, STANLEY. 1964. Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb [motion picture]. Culver City: Columbia Pictures.
LUMET, SIDNEY ARTHUR. 1964. Fail-safe [motion picture]. Culver City: Columbia Pictures.
SARGENT, JOSEPH. 1970. Colossus: The Forbin project [motion picture]. Universal City: Universal Pictures.

star wars origami

Origami Hailfire Droid by Martin Hunt
Martin Hunt invents great origami models depicting things out of the star wars universe and shows them off at starwarigami. Unfortunately he withholds most of his diagrams as he wants to publish a book in which all of them are collected. But there are countless links to diagrams by others at a subpage of starwarigami. If all those are too complex for you at the moment, try Chris Alexander’s simpler designs at star wars origami. Chris already has published a book, hence at the moment, as far as I can see, only the diagrams for his rendition of the Millenium Falcon is online. Ah, yes, just in case you think that I am a complete n00b at this

via comment by klandestino—tnx!

early near futures

Many of the films discussed so far [films made from 1895 to 1910 and featuring science-fictional elements or qualities] could be said to be cinematic predictions of the future: from future warfare and advanced automatons to trips to the moon and visitors from another planet. Yet most of these narratives (or the film’s mise en scène more generally) suggested that events were taking place in an undefined present, the result of a recent technological breakthrough. This initial absence of futurity can also be found in much of the literature from which these early film narratives were drawing inspiration: Frankenstein, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, The First Men in the Moon, The War of the Wolds, and The Invisible Man were all based in present day (nineteenth century) settings. (Johnston 2011: 67—insertion in square brackets and bold emphasis’ mine)

In other words, they are set 20 minutes into the future

JOHNSTON, KEITH M. 2011. Science fiction film: A critical introduction. London, New York: Berg.

digital cybernator prophet

The infamous Troma Entertainment, Inc. (‘almost 40 years of reel independence’) has uploaded a ton of full-length feature movies to its YouTube channel. Among those are the glorious cyberpunkish b-pictures Digital Prophet (Romero 1996), Cybernator (Rundle 1991), and New Gladiators (Fulci 1984). But there’s also e.g. the horror classic White Zombie (Halperin 1932), starring Bela Lugosi. And much, much more …

FULCI, LUCIO. 1984. The new gladiators [motion picture]. Rome: Regency Productions.
HALPERIN, VICTOR. 1932. White zombie [motion picture]. Los Angeles: United Artists.
ROMERO, CHRISTOPHER. 1996. Cyberstalker (aka The digital prophet) [motion picture]. Long Island City: Troma Entertainment.
RUNDLE, ROBERT. 1991. Cybernator [motion picture]. Long Island City: Troma Entertainment.

joost swarte interview

'Bombs' by Joost Swarte
The Comics Journal just republished online a long interview which Daniel Peniston and Kim Thompson did in 2006 with Dutch comic book legend Joost Swarte. The interview not only shows what a Renaissance man Swarte is, but there also are discussed e.g. architecture, theatre, and the Clear Line aka ligne claire, originally Klare lijn as coined by Swarte. A fine companion piece on the latter subject is Paul Gravett’s Hergé & The Clear Line.


evolution of creationism

I sincerely urge everyone to read David Montgomery’s article The evolution of creationism—it’s just about five pages long and absolutely concise and clear.

For centuries, natural philosophers, their scientific successors, and theologians alike sought to explain the physical and natural world. The now common cultural narrative of perpetual conflict between science and religion simplifies the arguments and struggles of the past and overlooks cross-pollination between those who embraced faith and reason as the keys to understanding earth history. When geologists unequivocally dismissed the idea of a global flood and recognized Earth’s antiquity, many conservative theologians acknowledged that there was more to the past than literally spelled out in Genesis, the opening chapter of the Bible. But some Christians—those we now call creationists—rejected this perspective and chose to see geology as a threat to their faith. In so doing, they abandoned faith in reason and cast off a long-standing theological tradition that rocks don’t lie.

Here are some excerpts:

Buckland went on to admire the way in which originally horizontal strata were inclined such that mineral deposits and coal were accessible to miners, as well as how convenient it was that fertile soils were found in flat valley bottoms. Like many of his contemporaries, he thought geological evidence confirmed the Genesis stories and showed how well the world was designed for human use. (Montgomery 2012: 6)

How could strata have gotten flipped upside down after Noah’s Flood laid them down if the Bible did not mention subsequent catastrophes? Despite such qualms, fundamentalist proponents of flood geology were inclined to assess Price’s credibility by the conclusions he reached rather than the strength of his arguments or evidence. (Montgomery 2012: 7)

In their view, the plain meaning of God’s words trumped anything science could throw at it. “The instructed Christian knows that the evidences for full divine inspiration of Scripture are far weightier than the evidences for any fact of science” (Whitcomb and Morris, 1961, p. 118). (Montgomery 2012: 7)

Whitcomb and Morris simply dismissed fossil evidence for a long history of life “on the basis of overwhelming Biblical evidence” (1961, p. 457) and asserted that it was impossible to learn the age of the world through studying the operation of natural laws now in operation. The idea laughed out of Victorian England took root in Cold War America. (Montgomery 2012: 7)

While struggles over the geological implications of biblical interpretations date back to the earliest days of the Church, the story of how naturalists wrestled over reconciling the biblical flood with a growing body of contradictory geological evidence shows that the twentieth-century revival of flood geology recycled ideas previously abandoned in the face of compelling evidence. (Montgomery 2012: 8)

And yet, the geological case for a global flood that creationists offer as an alternative to evolution was discredited before Darwin set foot aboard The Beagle.
    Geologists assess theories by how well they fit data, and creationists evaluate facts by how well they fit their theories. This simple distinction frames an unbridgeable intellectual rift. (Montgomery 2012: 8)

How many creationists today know that modern creationism arose from abandoning faith that the study of nature would reveal God’s grand design for the world? (Montgomery 2012: 9)

MONTGOMERY, DAVID R. 2012. The evolution of creationism. GSA Today 22(11): 4-9.
via entry at boingboing