Do Movies Hurt People’s Understanding Of Science?

PhyOrg.com has an article entitled UCF physicist says Hollywood movies hurt students’ understanding of science. Basically, the professors who were interviewed take issue with the implausible physics scenarios we see in movies all the time. From there, they go on to say that many students who take physics classes in college are scared of the course, and are in dire need of re-medial classes just to come up to speed.

To help, Prof. Efthimiou created a class called “Physics in Film” to help alleviate the problems many students have. Not surprisingly, its one of the most popular courses on campus. Now all this is interesting in itself, but the fact that a course like this is needed at all is an indication of the serious lack of science education in pre-college schools today. As stated in the article, this lack of education leads people away from the sciences, and will result in America losing its technological leadership.

The headline really doesn’t capture the real message of the story, that America needs to get is science act together, but reaches for sensationalism, which is another problem in today’s society, but I digress. The upshot: we need better science education at the lower school levels. I’m pleased that my oldest son’s two favorite subjects are math and science. But we can’t expect the school’s to do it all for us. I think we, as parents, need to do more to encourage our kids’ interest in science. That’s where SF comes in.

Yes, SF stories don’t always hew rigorously to science fact. But, they are a gateway to the imagination. Many scientists today where influenced by the original Star Trek TV show and entered various technical fields. So we see that visual SF can have a positive effect on people. What would help would be for Hollywood to produce better, more accurate films and TV programs, but we also need better educational curricula and more engaged parents. I think we can, as a society, interest our kids in science, but it will take a lot of work on the part of a lot people to get there.

I think handing a child an appropriate SF book is a good place to start.

Filed under: Science and Technology

Since a few people out there love Land of the Lost so much – and who doesn’t? – here’s Robot Chicken‘s takes on the Sleestaks…

[via Milk and Cookies]

Filed under: HumorTV

Borders Launches Employee Author Program

Borders is holding a contest to turn one of their employees into a full-fledged, published author:

Borders Group, Inc. is offering its more than 30,000 employees nationwide the opportunity to become a published author under the company’s exclusive and proprietary publishing program. Borders Group is holding a fiction writing contest open to all employees in Borders and Waldenbooks stores, the distribution centers and the company’s corporate office. Employee authors are eligible to submit manuscripts appealing to readers in any of the fiction categories. At least one employee whose title is selected as the winner by a panel of judges at the corporate office will be awarded a book deal including the full support of Borders merchandising and marketing arsenal. This includes being featured in the Borders “Shortlist,” an e-mail promotion for Borders Rewards(R) members, which now number more than 19.5 million.

[via Nick Mamatas, who offers 12 responses ]

Filed under: Books

SF Tidbits for 8/16/07

Filed under: Tidbits

Tube Bits For 08/16/07

  • In a move surprising to no one, Painkiller Jane received the axe from Sci Fi. I was never interested in it, did anyone else watch it?
  • Phantom Reflections suggests the reason The Dresden Files and Painkiller Jane failed was because they were adaptations of books, and doomed to disappoint the built-in fans, thus leading to poor ratings. He also suggests that there can never be a successful adaptation of a book to TV/film. I’m not ready to go that far, as The Lord Of The Rings shows it can be done for film. But I’m not ready to trust the wizards at Sci Fi with any adaptations. You have to actually like SF to be able to adapt properly.
  • The Daily POP has a nice article on Dr. Who, reminiscing about the good Doctor’s 45 year run(!) on TV. And for good measure, he as four YouTube links to a 1992 documentary of Dr. Who, called Resistance is Useless.
  • There’s a new Video On Demand channel on the block, and its all about SF&F. Called Illusion, it debuts in October and promises to have over 300 programming hours of TV when launched. I’ll be interested to see the lineup and if Comcast will carry it.
  • From SFX, Brannon Braga finally admits the last episode of Enterprise sucked rocks. Well, it didn’t fit ‘creatively’ with the rest of the season. I think the whole show didn’t fit ‘creatively’ with the rest of Trek, but that’s just me.
  • And finally, a little Cpt. Picard humor for you, from YouTube. Feast your eyes on the awesomeness that is The Picard Video. Who knew he could dance?

Neon Genesis Evangelion To Get The Reboot Treatment

Way back in 1995, Japanese animation studio GAINAX produced what may be the most influential anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. NGE is the story of mankind’s struggle against invading alien entities called Angels. Aside from being chock full of giant mech fights, it was also an impressive feat of storytelling, alternately deep, complex and confusing. The ending of the original TV show was so completely unexpected and storyline free that GAINAX had to create a movie that actually covered what happened. Now, ripping a page from Hollywood’s recent re-imaging kick, GAINAX announced its Rebuild of Evangelion. The official site has more, but is, of course, in Japanese. Good luck.

Set to release in Japan this September, this rebuild will re-tell the story in a more accessible manner, make use of CG effects that weren’t available in 1995, and create a different ending (I think that’s 3 endings now for the story). And instead of being a TV series, it will be release as a set of four movies. Aside from making it more accessible, it shouldn’t come as a shock that NGE is being re-done. It’s one of the most successful series in anime history and, of course, there’s money to be made! The fact that NGE is ripe for a more accessible version is just icing.

NGE made my Top 10 Science Fiction Anime list, and is almost a required viewing for anime fans. I’m actually kind of excited to see this, as I enjoyed the TV series. And with the help of copious internet resources, I have a good grasp on just what the heck happened.

And for your viewing pleasure, the first trailer:

Now I just need my brother to acquire these for me…

Filed under: Anime

Tube Bits For 08/15/07

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer has a short piece on the book What’s Science Ever Done For Us: What The Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life and the Universe (what a long title). I always like it when The Simpsons foray into science and all I can say is, “Mmmm. Forbidden donut.”
  • Despite the horribleness that is Flash Gordon, it still managed to pull in a 1.5 rating, which isn’t bad for a cable show, but doesn’t come close to Galactica‘s premier. It should be very interesting to see the second episode’s ratings. Can you say disappearing faster than Ming’s masculinity?
  • SciFi Chick (hi Angela!) has a couple of nice NBC items: a Heroes clip and a link to the Bionic Woman related website, Ethical Bionics. NBC really seems to have its internet act together. Now if they would just put the HD versions of shows on their website for later viewing, like ABC.
  • How much of a SF fan are you? Are you man, or woman, enough to name your child after a SF character, but can’t figure out the right name? Well Sci-Fi Baby Names offers 500 names to choose from, including Jabba. Seriously. That’s just asking for trouble. Greedo is a much better name.
  • Chris Weigant offers 4 things Hollywood gets wrong about SF. I will say I think people are catching on to the ‘no sound in space thing’. I’d also like to add ‘There’s no up or down in space.” Why do all spaceships seem to face each other and all have the same orientation? Just once, I’d like to see a ship attack at an angle from below. Which points out that the best shape for a warship in space should be a sphere…
  • Buddy TV offers us two shows that evoke similar feelings to LOST, and then asks for your recommendations. If Nowhere Man is on DVD, I may have to check that out. Another canceled Fox show I think.

Filed under: Battlestar GalacticaHeroesLOSTTube BitsTV

SF Tidbits for 8/15/07

Filed under: Tidbits

Wednesday YouTube: Land of the Lost

Filed under: TV

Life As A Video Game?

Bill-Paxton---Aliens--C10103879.jpeg

The New York Times today has an article cover the notion that our universe is really just a computer simulation. While this isn’t really new, the angle John Tierney takes is rather humorous: the ‘creator’ in this case is really just a posthuman geek, sitting at home creating an ancestor simulation while drinking the posthuman version of Mountain Dew.

While this may be rather silly, the idea that our existence is really a simulation is rather mind blowing. We’ve all seen The Matrix, but unlike the movie, we can’t wake up from the simulation, pull the cranial plug and then act all emotionally cool like Keenu. As Dr. Bostrom, director of the Future Of Humanity Institute at Oxford (how do you get that gig?) put it:

technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Assuming we last long enough and are able to create powerful enough computing devices that is. This causes me to think of the book, Programming The Universe by Seth Lloyd. Lloyd looks at cosmology through the lens of information theory. Basically, the universe is a giant quantum computer that just happens to be computing everything we see around us, in effect, a galactic scale simulation. One that is indistinguishable from a big enough ‘artificial’ simulation, with the unanswered implication being we are in a simulation created by someone/thing. A very interesting read.

Back to the story, many things could happen in the future to prevent a ‘simulation’ from being created, such as humanity wiping itself out, losing interest in the past, or even having other, better methods for investigation the past. So there are some outs in this theory if you wish. It all depends on what you feel our chances of survival as a species are.

It’s rather scary to think that everything around us is nothing but a World Of Worldcraft ‘game’, created by posthumans for entertainment. If so, you have to wonder at the huge level grinds they’ve implemented. Maybe being a pocket god isn’t as exciting as you’d think. And what about all the PKers (player killers) or what happens when the server crashes?

Anyway, this is one of those philosophical discussions that is interesting to think about, even if there is little to no practical use to the theory. I just find it interesting how the simulation notion actually has some support from branch of cosmology.

I also thought I’d try something a little different. Below you will find a list of books and movies that touch upon this notion. Enjoy. But a word of warning, if you haven’t seen/read what’s mention below, you may be spoiled by knowing they are included in this post.

Books

Movies

Filed under: Science and Technology

REVIEW SUMMARY: Pacing issues mar this sequel, but it’s still a worthwhile read, provided you read the The Traveler. And you should.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two brothers, Gabriel and Michael, both Travelers able to move between dimensions of consciousness, race to locate their father.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Engrossing plot; smooth prose; more details given about the “secret history”; we get to see “surprise” characters.

CONS: Pacing issues after the first quarter of the book; Maya comes off as a weaker character; abrupt ending.

BOTTOM LINE: Even with its flaws, this is a better read than most “mainstreamy” novels.

Read the rest of this entry

Filed under: Book Review

SF Tidbits for 8/14/07

  • SF Author Sean Williams (Saturn Returns, The Hanging Mountains) weighs in on Mundane SF. [via Pyr-o-Mania]
  • At SciFi Wire, John Joseph Adams profiles Timothy Zahn, author of Dragon and Judge, the fifth book in his young-adult Dragonback series.
  • ActuSF interviews Vernor Vinge. “I think technological acceleration could fail in two rather different ways: (1) Some things may turn out to be much more difficult than we think. Technological trend curves are not laws of nature, (2)Physical disasters (human-made and/or natural) could intervene. As long as we are trapped on Earth, all our hopes are at risk.” [via Velcro-City Tourist Board]
  • Joe Clark is annotating William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Is it me, or is this a strange choice from his canon of work?
  • Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker profiles Philip K. Dick. “Of all American writers, none have got the genre-hack-to-hidden-genius treatment quite so fully as Philip K. Dick, the California-raised and based science-fiction writer who, beginning in the nineteen-fifties, wrote thirty-six speed-fuelled novels, went crazy in the early seventies, and died in 1982, only fifty-three.” [via Locus Online]
  • Free fiction (in PDF) at Concatenation: “Reality Check” by David Brin.
  • Robin Hobb humorously argues that blogging will suck away all your writing time. Justine Larbalestier respectfully disagrees.
  • Michael Swanwick has been added to the list of sf/f authors who blog. [via Locus Online]
  • Now casting: Lost Boys 2. Coreys Haim and Feldman will be appearing. Did anyone ever doubt they would be? [via SFX]
  • REMINDER: Chat with authors and artists! Felix at the #comments blog reminds us that this week is Sci-Fi Week at XFire.
  • A.R. Yngve has posted YouTube videos featuring Tim Powers giving a talk about writing. Marginal video quality, but good audio.

Filed under: Tidbits

Over at WorldChanging, sf author Karl Schroeder talks about Colonizing Planet Earth:

if you ask where we should have been building our cities over the last century or so, the answer is in the Gobi desert, and the Sahara, and the barest and emptiest rocky plains we could find.

We should have been colonizing Earth as though it were a planet with no ecosystem resources to exploit.

Look at the difference between what we do when we settle a new area on Earth, compared to what we’d do on a planet like Mars. On Earth we’d take advantage of the free air and water, ready-made soils provided by local fauna, pollination provided by the local bees, all to minimize the costs of building and maintaining our colonies. This process is documented expertly by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel; he points out that the conquest of the Americas was really the invasion of one ecosystem by another, rather than a simple matter of moving human populations. North America is the greatest success story of European expansionism because its ecology was most similar to that of Europe, more than for any political or social factors.”

Perhaps we coud colonize the set of the new Flash Gordon since there does not seem to be signs of intelligent life over there. [Ba-dum crash!]

[via BoingBoing]

Filed under: Science and Technology

Tube Bits For 08/14/2007

  • The Collector’s Edition Serenity DVD is now available. Whedon has said that any future Firefly activity will depend on how well the DVDs sell.
  • From the Unintended Consequences Dept., ABC is having trouble selling commercials to insurance companies for their new Caveman show. Even more interesting is that Geico isn’t sure how to support the show. I’m guessing it has more to do with how bad the show is, rather than being based on Geico related characters.
  • NBC outfitted 20 regular viewers of Heroes with specialized biometric vests, all in an attempt to measure viewer response during DVR playback. They found people were ‘active engaged’ as they fast forwarded through commercials. Well, duh. We’re trying to time the PLAY button just after the last commercial, thanks to the MPAA and others ‘removing’ the 30 second skip feature from most DVRs.
  • An Infinite Number Of Monkeys offers us ten reasons why Battlestar trump Trek. A very interesting read.
  • Pictures of Bulgari points us to The Babylon Project, a wiki whose 500 articles cover a lot of ground. Use in conjunction with The Lurker’s Guide To Babylon 5 to get satisfy your B5 needs.
  • Masters Of Science Fiction nearly doubled its ratings last week to a 1.5 rating. Still really bad, but look at how awful the ratings are for all shows on Saturday night. I wonder how many of those new viewers were LOST fans tuning in to see Terry O’Quinn….

Filed under: Tube Bits

MOVIE REVIEW: A Scanner Darkly

REVIEW SUMMARY: Director Richard Linklater’s faithful adaptation of Dick’s classic 1977 novel uses a unique film style that immerses the viewer in a comic-book like world of depravity and darkness. Overall, a movie that fans of the book will definately enjoy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A cop is sent undercover to help deal with a major society-impacting drug craze and ends up addicted and in way over his head.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The movie does a great job capturing the feel of the book – oppresive, foreboding, and with a heavy dose of scary reality; Keanu Reaves, Robert Downey Jr, and Winona Rider all give excellent performances; destined to be a cult classic.

CONS: Wierd rotoscoping technique somewhat distracting; not paced like a traditional film and so might throw some viewers off (non sci-fi fans especially); the villianous corporation from the book isn’t quite sinister enough in the film.

BOTTOM LINE: One of the best film adaptations of a sci-fi novel I’ve seen. There is comedy here that works along with brilliant social commentary and solid acting to deliver Dick’s message.

Filed under: Movies

NOMINEES: 2007 World Fantasy Awards

Locus Online has posted the finalists for this year’s World Fantasy Awards:

NOVEL

  • Lisey’s Story, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton)
  • The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra; Small Beer Press)
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch (Gollancz; Bantam Spectra)
  • The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
  • Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

Read the rest of this entry

Filed under: Awards

Stephen King has a really interesting article in this week’s Entertainment Weekly (issue #948, August 17, 2007) called J.K. Rowling’s Ministry of Magic in which he slams early critics of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has some very good things to say about the book and J.K. Rowling, and talks about the state of kids’ literature.

Here’s an excerpt:

The problem with the advance reviews — and those that followed in the first post-publication days — is one that has dogged Rowling’s magnum opus ever since book 4 (Goblet of Fire), after the series had become a worldwide phenomenon. Due to the Kremlin-like secrecy surrounding the books, all reviews since 2000 or so have been strictly shoot-from-the-lip. The reviewers themselves were often great [...] but the very popularity of the books has often undone even the best intentions of the best critical writers. In their hurry to churn out column inches, and thus remain members of good standing in the Church of What’s Happening Now, very few of the Potter reviewers have said anything worth remembering. Most of this microwaved critical mush sees Harry — not to mention his friends and his adventures — in only two ways: sociologically (”Harry Potter: Boon or Childhood Disease?”) or economically (”Harry Potter and the Chamber of Discount Pricing”). They take a perfunctory wave at things like plot and language, but do little more…and really, how can they? When you have only four days to read a 750-page book, then write an 1,100-word review on it, how much time do you have to really enjoy the book? To think about the book? Jo Rowling set out a sumptuous seven-course meal, carefully prepared, beautifully cooked, and lovingly served out. The kids and adults who fell in love with the series (I among them) savored every mouthful, from the appetizer (Sorcerer’s Stone) to the dessert (the gorgeous epilogue of Deathly Hallows). Most reviewers, on the other hand, bolted everything down, then obligingly puked it back up half-digested on the book pages of their respective newspapers. [...] The blogs, by and large, haven’t been much better.

Further along, he talks about how kids are reading beyond Harry Potter.

Read the rest of this entry

Filed under: Books

Tube Bits For 08/13/2007

  • Continuing the it’s homage to Star Trek fans, Nichelle Nichols will be joining the cast of Heroes for five or six episodes. At this rate, it looks like Heroes will resurrect Kirk before the franchise does. And in related news, James Kyson Lee (Ando) is actively campaigning to for the role of Sulu in the upcoming Trek movie. This relationship is becoming incestuous. [via Trek Today].
  • Charlesblog, after a savage review of Flash Gordon, calls for a holy war against the SciFi Channel before other SF propertied undergo the ‘re-imagining’ process which will turn them into crap. I’d just like to see more good SF on Sci Fi.
  • Here’s a dissenting opinion of Flash Gordon. Makes me wonder if we saw the same program. Potentially as good as Galactica? Only if they completely re-vamp the entire show and get some new producers…
  • You knew it would happen. After the success of the Transformers movie, Hollywood is looking for the next franchise. Sci Fi Wire is reporting that Voltron: Defender of the Universe is in the sights of New Regency, and Mark Gordon and Justin Marks are adapting it as a ‘post-apocalyptic tale of survival in New York City and Mexico’. Yeesh, make it stop!
  • The latest TV Ate My Dinner podcast is out and it covers all things Star Trek, including can the new film save the franchise? My guess: No.
  • Imagi-nation points us to YouTube videos of the Canadian TV show Prisoners Of Gravity, which has a lot of author interviews. You can find more videos on YouTube. It’s kinda campy, but fun. Unlike Flash Gordon.

Filed under: Battlestar GalacticaHeroesStar TrekTube BitsTV

SF Tidbits for 8/13/07

Filed under: Tidbits

POLL RESULTS: The “Classic” Harry Potter

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

QUESTION
Is Harry Potter destined to become a classic?

RESULTS

(94 total votes)

One commnet this week. And an insightful one at that.

“I think that we will be selling HP to aliens. That is how good I think it is.” – General X

Be sure to visit our front page and vote in this week’s poll about why you don’t buy short fiction!

Filed under: Polls

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