Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

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what makes you different from us?

January 14, 2010

I finally saw Avatar the other night (in 3D), and I must admit that I was impressed.  After reading some reviews and comments prior to seeing the film (while avoiding spoiling too much), I went in to the theatre fully expecting to hate it.  After complaints about the cheesy dialogue, clichéd story and inaccurate science, I was anticipating that my over-analytical brain wouldn’t be able to stop nitpicking and just enjoy the movie.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only were the visuals stunning, but the story was incredibly moving and I found myself blinking back tears a couple of times.  In fact, the first thing I wanted to do after the movie was go home and sob.

When I first heard about Avatar, I was expecting a dark sci-fi epic along the lines of James Cameron‘s previous movies Aliens and The Abyss.  When I first saw the trailer, I was all, “Tall blue jungle-dwelling aliens?  A love story?  Seriously?” and was having second-thoughts about my excitement for the movie.  Thankfully, Mr Cameron has restored my faith in his film-making abilities, which I’m sure was keeping him up at night.  Avatar truly is an epic film that fits this zeitgeist perfectly, despite being conceived and written fifteen years ago.  There probably isn’t a better time than now for a film like this that addresses the political, environmental and spiritual themes that the film portrays.  If it had been made fifteen years ago, when times were better, when the economic and political landscapes were rosy compared to today, and when global warming was but a glimmer in Al Gore‘s eye, it’s entirely possible that the important messages that the film contains could (and would) be overlooked.  And that, to me, is the amazing thing – here is a much-hyped action blockbuster that actually contains valuable messages, if you can just look beyond the gorgeous visuals, epic battle scenes and rehashed storyline.  This is a film that will undoubtedly be seen by an enormous amount of people, including those for whom war, racism and environmental destruction are things to support, or at least ignore.  It is my hope (as I’m sure it is Mr Cameron’s) that this movie may help people open their eyes and perhaps change their way of thinking.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m aware that all the themes in Avatar have already been thoroughly covered in other (sometimes better) movies – but very few of these other films have the opportunity to be seen by such a large and diverse number of people*.  Those walking in expecting simply sci-fi eye-candy and some big explosions may walk out with more to think about.

So if you haven’t seen the movie, that is what I implore you to do.  Sure, enjoy the beautiful landscapes, chuckle at the corny dialogue, ooh and aah at the 3D, and perch on the edge of your seat during the climactic battle scenes (you may have to – after 2 and a half hours, you’re probably going to need to change positions).  But most importantly, allow yourself to be moved by the message.  We should all envy the Na’vi and the harmonious relationship that they have with their planet and their god, who is merely a representation of the interconnected energy of all the planet’s organisms.  Compared to them, it is humankind that is truly primitive.

On a side note, during the previews my friend Nadia made an interesting observation that we were not unlike people watching motion pictures for the very first time way back in the early 1900s.  Everyone in the theatre was oohing and aahing over the 3D trailer for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland the same way that people well over a hundred years ago would have been gasping at the first moving images – except the Cheshire Cat floating above the audience’s heads would have been a grainy black & white train hurtling towards the screen.  And the way I asked Nadia if she had seen much 3D was reminiscent of people in the early days of cinema asking their friend if they had seen many movies.  Just like the people in the olden timey days, we are experiencing the birth of cinema – except this time it’s in 3D.  Neither James Cameron nor IMAX pioneered 3D films – they’ve been around since the 1950s – but they have become more commonplace.  It’s not uncommon for there to be at least one 3D film playing at any given time, and many films (such as Toy Story and Shrek) have been re-released theatrically in 3D to take advantage of evolving technology.  With 3D television sets already on the market, many people are predicting that 3D will soon become the norm.  It’s only a matter of time before we turn to our friend and ask if they’ve seen any good holograms lately.

*Last year’s District 9, which also features aliens and could rightfully be called an “action blockbuster”, dealt with xenophobia and segregation very thoughtfully – however, it’s possible that due to the appearance of the aliens, it may have been difficult for some people to empathise with them.  Some may argue that the character design of the Na’vi in Avatar lacks imagination – they are, after all, basically tall blue people with tails – but to Cameron’s credit, it is their very human-like appearance that helps the audience relate to them and their plight more easily than to the “prawns” in District 9.

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posthuman and hardwired

August 18, 2007

or “is God a gamer?”

i read an interesting article the other day that suggested we live in a “computer simulation” – that our version of reality is nothing more than a constructed world akin to that seen in the Matrix movies or a Will Wright game.  earlier this evening, i mentioned it to my other half, zero, and we got into a rather heated discussion about the idea on the way to the supermarket (and in the supermarket… and on the way back home… and then for a while at home…).  it was only heated because i can be pretty stubborn when defending an idea – while i don’t necessarily believe we do live inside a computer simulation, i definitely believe it is a possibility.  after all, our universe is so elegant, so mathematically precise, that it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with a computer program.

outside the matrix

the basic idea behind the theory is that if we assume that posthuman civilisations achieve the potential to create “realistic” simulations, perhaps based on their human ancestors, and a great many number of these simulations is created, then logic and probability suggests that our reality could be one of those “virtual” ones.

i think the whole idea upset zero a little, and he kept asking questions like, “if that’s true, then what’s the point of living?”  which is actually a valid question.  if mankind were to discover that life was nothing more than a complex simulation and we are merely “intelligent” Sims, what would that mean for us?  sure, it might answer some of the questions that have been plaguing us for centuries (“why are we here?” “is there a god?”) but it’s unlikely these answers would be the ones we wanted to hear.

i personally see no real distinction between a world that was created as a computer simulation by posthumans, one that was constructed meticulously by God, or one that was brewed in a laboratory by an advanced alien race (apart from the obvious differences, of course).  in all of these cases, the world is merely a stage and we are the actors with no tangible connection to the director.  hell, we don’t even know if there is a director, or if we’re just running around blindly trying to figure out our next line and the meaning of that last pivotal plot point.  and would knowing which of these possibilities was the actual reality drastically alter the way we live our lives?

a reader of the Sentient Development blog commented that “we’ve now entered the realm of an untestable hypothesis.  any and everything could be ‘explained’ with this theory”.  both parts of his statement are true – it is kinda pointless debating something that can probably never be proven (by us, anyway), but i think it’s the latter part of his comment that appeals to so many people – it does appear to explain everything in our universe quite neatly.  (why are our laws of physics so? – because they were programmed that way, etc).  it removes the difficulty of actually having to explain everything.  of course, this argument is really no different from “because God made it so”, but as i said, it really makes no difference who our god is; posthuman, alien or otherwise.

so do we live in a computer simulation?  maybe.  does it matter?  probably not, although there are some implications we should consider.  if we do live in a simulation, it probably means that the human race evolved at some point to a stage where it was technologically advanced enough to create a computer simulation realistic and complex enough to fool its inhabitants.  that’s gotta be a good thing, right?  but if we don’t live in a simulation, then the opposite is probably true – that humans will never evolve to a posthuman stage.  or maybe we did/will evolve, but posthumans had/will have no desire to create simulations.  which would also be a good thing for us, ’cause it implies that our reality is probably… uh… “real”.

i doubt that we will ever know for sure whether or not we exist in a computer simulation, and, like zero, i secretly hope that we don’t.  while it might be nice to suppose that George W. Bush is just the god-gamer’s sick idea of a joke, the idea that humankind might be destroyed (or destroy itself) before it could evolve scares the shit out of me – but not as much as the idea that our thoughts and emotions are somehow…  synthetic.

update:  Keith Olbermann discussed this theory on Countdown the other night.  watch the video on YouTube here, or download a .mov version below.

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don’t be afraid of something new

October 10, 2006

a friend asked if i knew where to find a video of “Light Surrounding You” by kiwi band Evermore that she could put on her iPod.  always up for a challenge, i had a look around but found only YouTube versions, until i stumbled across an avi on a torrent site.  knowing avi files won’t work on an iPod, i converted it into an m4v file – but not after a few hours of reading tutorials and trying out various programs before i finally ended up with a functioning, iPod-friendly video clip.

Violet Baudelaire trading cardof course, i could have avoided all that hassle if Apple would just open a New Zealand iTunes store.  you would think that people in a country that sells iPods through authorised Apple retailers would also be able to legally purchase digital music and video for said iPod.  the video for “Light Surrounding You”, and many other Evermore songs, are all available at the Australian iTunes store – which only brings me to another point: why does the US iTunes store only have one clip (“Running”)?  i don’t understand the disparity in content between stores – i realise that content will be determined by the record companies in each country, but surely something like the iTunes store is a good way for small or local bands to gain some international exposure and sales.

while i’m not a huge fan of Evermore myself (too emo for me), i’m always eager to promote New Zealand bands when i can, so i thought i would share the video here.  if you’re into whiny music that’s still soulful, you’ll probably like these guys.  if you’re already a fan, but Apple hates you, you can put this one on your iPod until you finally get an iTunes store.  i only found the clip vaguely interesting because it features Emily Browning, whom i adored as Violet Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

if you’re interested in how i converted an .avi into an iPod-playable video, i have included some simple instructions on a separate page

and just in case you don’t already hate Apple, here’s a couple of interesting websites.

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swallow words like a placebo

August 23, 2006

a friend of mine recently syndicated my blog on LiveJournal, and when i realised that i didn’t even know what that meant, i knew it was time i investigated what all this rss stuff was about.  i’m often pretty slow with these things – i usually don’t bother finding out what something is until i have to use it – so i was pleasantly surprised to find that i no longer had to surf through my favourites in Internet Explorer when i needed a fix of something.  i now use FeedDemon, a Windows-based feed reader, to read all my blogs and any other sites that happen to have feeds.  with its three-pane layout, it kinda reminds me of the good old days of reading newsgroups in Outlook Express.  it does get a little sluggish sometimes, but only ’cause i insist on reading stuff in newspaper view, where it displays entries from different feeds all on one page like one giant, random blog, images and all.  it isn’t a free program, but you can download a trial version.  i only use it over, say, Feedreader, ’cause it’s more aesthetically pleasing.  they both have great features, and Feedreader is free.

anyway, now i spend entirely too much time reading other people’s blogs.  and i keep adding more feeds to FeedDemon.  in this age where everybody has a blog or a website or a fucking MySpace page, i wonder if i’ll ever have time to read everything.  but i suppose i’ll catch up soon.  i still have a frightening amount of unread posts, but it’ll probably get to point where i’ll just mark them all read and pretend they never happened.

in case you want it, here is my feed.